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Checking questions

Discussion of Japanese Rinzai Zen (臨済宗) including Obaku Zen (黄檗宗).

Checking questions

Postby Kim on Fri Oct 05, 2012 9:20 pm

Is there a common list of checking questions to student's understanding? What are they? I think these are called sessho in Japanese.
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Meido on Fri Oct 05, 2012 11:38 pm

Kim wrote:Is there a common list of checking questions to student's understanding? What are they? I think these are called sessho in Japanese.


They are called sassho.

There are various shitsunai (curricula and ways of using koan) transmitted by the different Rinzai lines. Within each of these, there may be traditional or exemplary kenjo (replies), sassho (checking questions, each with their own kenjo) and jakugo (quotations used to further illuminate a koan) transmitted for some or all of the main cases.

One may indeed find similarities in different shitsunai, but there is no single common list of sassho. This is one reason why training with different teachers may be illuminating. And of course even students training under the same teacher may each experience a very different koan practice, depending on the teacher's estimation of what koan, sassho and so forth suit the individual.

In short, these things when transmitted are not viewed as definitive or restrictive: personally experiencing and clearly expressing the point are the only rules.

~ Meido
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Jage on Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:38 am

Checking questions:

What is Mu. Show me Mu.

A Zen master asks, “Show me your Original Face, the face you had before your parents were born.”

But what your Teacher ask in dokusan are much more difficult.

Teachers ask some more impromptu questions.
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Kim on Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:09 pm

Ok, thanks Meido. Found some additional info from the web with sassho, too :)
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Meido on Sat Oct 06, 2012 5:19 pm

You're welcome, sir.

As an aside: for anyone interested in these things, I usually recommend Victor Sogen Hori's Zen Sand. The book itself is a translated collection of jakugo, but Hori's wonderful introduction contains a wealth of information on Rinzai koan practice in general. Chapter 2 in particular, "The Steps of Koan Practice", very clearly lays out the structure and purpose of this training. It's invaluable for anyone wanting to learn more about how koan are actually used in Rinzai Zen (including the function of sassho).

I've just seen that this introduction is available for free download (pdf) from the Nanzan Institute here:

http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/publications ... ion%29.pdf

~ Meido

P.S. I think this is a useful enough resource that I'll post it in a separate thread!
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Kim on Fri Dec 28, 2012 10:23 pm

Question to all:

What sassho did your teacher ask from you? Feel free to list as many as you can remember.
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Meido on Fri Dec 28, 2012 10:36 pm

Kim wrote:Question to all:

What sassho did your teacher ask from you? Feel free to list as many as you can remember.


Generally, what passes between teacher and student in sanzen is considered inappropriate to discuss with others.

~ Meido
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Kim on Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:44 am

Anyone know any sassho?
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Re: Checking questions

Postby island on Sun Dec 30, 2012 6:11 pm

These "checking questions" are like little koan, unpacking the different angles of the main koan. You can have a response to the koan you are working on, and yet stumble a little with the checking questions if things haven't really sunk in. Also the process of going through the checking questions tends to bond you with the teacher in a deep, spontaneous way.

I think Meido was politely suggesting that you really shouldn't give out such things. Partly it's like giving out answers, though that's not the best way to put it. But mostly it is that this challenging spontaneity would be negatively affected if some of these things were all spelled out in advance.

It is also the case that this kind of one-on-one teaching is a kind of "transmission" that is face-to-face and in many cases relies heavily on non-linguistic means. It is an embodied practice.
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Gregory Wonderwheel on Sun Dec 30, 2012 7:19 pm

Kim wrote:Anyone know any sassho?

The issue with asking is that it is out of context and only feeds the desire for intellectual mastication or emotional voyeurism.

It is not that there is some esoteric or secret handshake. It is just that thinking about it ahead of time defeats the process, and if a person is not in the process, thinking about it doesn't really help either.

But just so it is not made into something that it is not by filling in the unknown with even more mysterious ideas, here's an example.

After presenting MU, a student might be asked "How old is mu?"

Here's a reference to checking questions in Victor Sogen Hori's essay about coming to write the translation of the Zen Phrase Book which was later titled Zen Sand.
But when I was given the jakugo assignment for “Mu”,everything
came to a complete halt. I had passed all the checking questions for “Mu” ("Divide
'Mu' into two,” and the like) but try as I might, I could not find a capping phrase to
sum up “Mu.”


_/|\_
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Pedestrian on Tue Jan 01, 2013 5:37 pm

Gregory Wonderwheel wrote:It is not that there is some esoteric or secret handshake. It is just that thinking about it ahead of time defeats the process, and if a person is not in the process, thinking about it doesn't really help either.


Gregory is right. Checking questions are your own personal rafts, and you won't know which ones get you to the other side or become burdens until you're in dokusan. The means by which they become burdens is thinking; the means by which they can become rafts is non-thinking, or thinking non-thinking, or....

If you're committed to this practice, Kim, I strongly urge you to find a teacher and initiate a relationship in which you can discover what koans and checking questions are for yourself. Can't be explained; no substitute; thinking won't help: you gotta sit there, facing that teacher, and....
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Checking questions

Postby Zendudest on Wed Jan 02, 2013 3:39 pm

Not that this is of any use in sincere Zen practice, but there is a book out there which lists many standard checking questions along with 'answers'.

http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Hand-Yoel-trans-Hoffmann/dp/0465080790
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Re: Checking questions

Postby unsui on Wed Jan 02, 2013 4:41 pm

The first book about Zen practice that I read was Three Pillars of Zen. The "entries" about koan practice and checking questions scared me away from Rinzai Zen for about 9 years. Finally jumping in was much different than anything I read so even if you can read a sample selection of these questions, it really does not give real meaning. Even after all these years, it is still fun to see what surprises dokusan holds.

If the need or desire to learn ABOUT how this works is strong, then the best advice I know is to find a teacher.
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Gregory Wonderwheel on Wed Jan 02, 2013 5:55 pm

Zendudest wrote:Not that this is of any use in sincere Zen practice, but there is a book out there which lists many standard checking questions along with 'answers'.

http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Hand-Yoel-trans-Hoffmann/dp/0465080790

This book is a great embarassment to some Zennists!

It is a translation of an underground Japanese book that was passed around surpticiously within Zen circles.

The fact is that the book doesn't really help someone who has not seen something of their nature because it just ratchets up the intellection in sanzen-dokusan and the thought process is exposed by the tongue being tied. A good teacher can see, "Oh you got that from the book!"

_/|\_
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Pedestrian on Wed Jan 02, 2013 6:10 pm

What in the world is attained by knowing the answers to checking questions? Or knowing the questions? Methinks some confuse koans and dokusan with school textbooks and exams....
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Checking questions

Postby Pedestrian on Wed Jan 02, 2013 7:27 pm

I think it would shed light on your mind's desire for "right answers" above all else! Makes me hear John Daido Loori's booming voice when he reads one of his "Correct -- nonetheless wrong" footnotes to a koan....
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Checking questions

Postby Carol on Wed Jan 02, 2013 7:53 pm

I think if one's interest in koans was academic, it would be interesting to read. But it's pretty useless for those actually working with koans with their teacher. "Cheating" is silly and pretty impossible.
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Pedestrian on Wed Jan 02, 2013 7:56 pm

Indeed! "How would you cheat on this koan?" would make a good checking question!
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Checking questions

Postby Jok_Hae on Wed Jan 02, 2013 8:01 pm

My teachers see through my BS all the time...there is no book, and also no amount of acting, that can provide passage through to the next question. Any teacher worth a darn will cut one's legs out immediately. :heya:

Good luck and thanks or practicing,
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Re: Checking questions

Postby Kim on Wed Jan 02, 2013 8:49 pm

I wasn't asking for the answers but for the questions. I've understood, read somewhere, that there is a standard set of questions for the Mu and Sound of hand-koans, for example, like 20 standard questions listed for each and that there are hundred or so other standard sassho for other koans. Is this incorrect information? I understand it is a whole another situation to sit there in front of your teacher but if these questions are listed somewhere, I'd be interested to know...
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