Sunday, April 22, 2012

Zen Without Koans Like Christianity Without Christ

Zen without koans is like Christianity without Christ

A visiting Zen monk asked, “In the Rinzai School of Zen they introspect koans. In the Soto sect we are taught that introspecting koans in meditation only leads to intellectual understanding and diverts us from true, objectless meditation. Do you think that koans are even necessary in Zen?”

Louie Wing said, “Zen without koans would be like Christianity without Christ. The koan literature and practice methods are really the only major factor that distinguishes Zen from the other Mahayana Buddhist schools. If you are attracted to a path that does not utilize koans, fine, but why call it Zen?”

The monk said, “We don’t disregard koans; we just don’t use them for objects of meditation.”

Louie Wing said, “If you distinguish meditation from no meditation then you turn meditation itself into an object.”
The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing by Ted Biringer, p.151


Unknown said...

The visiting monk might be right Sir. To 'introspect' a "koan" during zazen or daily life is to intentionally colour the state that Buddhists revere. Did old Gautama set himself to introspection beneath the Bodhi tree, or did he, having given up all intention of reaching perfection, look up and see the morning star twinkling brightly in the sky unfettered by any effort to attain more than what already is?

'Zen' may not be a tangible "school" of Buddhism seperate from other "schools" of Buddhism, but may actually be the direct teaching of the Buddha himself. If this is so it might be that other "schools" of Buddhism, including those who use koans for introspection, have added to the religion of sitting in the lotus posture, because for some reason 'just sitting' is not a complicated enough practise for those who have set up in their minds the impossible task of going beyond ordinary life to reach a place of magical perfection. A practitioner like this expects to be bamboozled along the way by mysterious sentences that really only serve to hide this full and bright moment of the present.

One thing is clear from this story, we have not all been lucky enough to find a Ju Ching.


Ted Biringer said...

Thank you for your comments.

In regard to Zen koans, this may accord with your experience - but it differs widely from my own. My own experience with koans has been remarkably harmonious with the accounts, described, elucidated, and recorded in the classic literature of Zen.

As far as the ability to "colour the state that Buddhists revere", I have not heard of such an "ability" or such a "state."

I suspect what distinguishes between states to "revere" or "not rever" is the same that distinguishes a "Buddhist" from a "Buddha."

Three classic koans (cases 2, 58, and 59) that may be helpful in clearing up the significance illumine this point in light of the Hsin Hsin Ming (Faith in Mind - A verse attributed to the 3rd ancestor of Zen in China. The first line of which reads:
The great way is not difficult, for those that make no preferences. When reverence and aversion are both absent, all dharmas are clear and unconcealed.
An alternate translation:

The Way of the supreme is not difficult, If only people will give up preferences. Like not, dislike not. Be illuminated. - Lok Sang Ho

As far as what "old Gautama" set himself to introspect "beneath the Bodhi tree" after "having given up all intention of reaching perfection" and looking up and seeing "the morning star twinkling brightly in the sky..." - accounts are many and various.

Some say he remained seated beneath the tree for seven days and introspected what had happened, some that he sat facing the tree for seven days introspecting that, some that he introspected how he could teach others, some that he immediately sought his five friends to tell them about it, etc. Most agree that, at some point, he set out and spent the rest of his life expounding the Dharma - which the Zen masters say continues this very moment.

As far as Zen being a particular "school" or "sect" - the classic literature seems to refute the notion - the authentic Dharma is the authentic Dharma (truth is truth) - The only Buddha is the one manifest in/as/of this very place-moment.

If by "just sitting" you mean "sole-sitting" or "shikantaza" - which, as Dogen teaches, is discerning true nature in/of the present place/time and conducting one's thoughts, words, and deeds accordingly (sitting, standing, walking, or lying down), this is not seperate from koan training.

If by "just sitting", you mean "mere sitting", that is not advocated in the classic records, although it is common among psuedo-Zen communities and writers.

I don't know about finding "a" Ju Ching - but I think it easy enough to find "the" Ju Ching. I think the following words of Soto master Keizan apply equally to Ju Ching:

If you study the Way sincerely and investigate it through in every detail, not only is Kasyapa not exitinct but Shakyamuni too is eternal... If you just work on the Way with alacrity today Kasyapa will be able to appear in the world today...
Thus the flesh of Shakyamuni's body will still be warm and Kasyapa's smile will be renewed... you will succeed to Kasyapa, and yet Kasyapa will be your heir.
-Transmission of Light, trans. Thomas Cleary

How do we "study the Way sincerely and investigate it through in every detail"? Or "just work on the Way with alacrity"? According to Dogen:

People who study the Buddha Dharma should first know the sayings of Buddhas and ancestors...
Eihei Koroku, Leighton & Okumura

We should by all means have as our investigation through training and practice an exploration that broadly spans the sayings of all the Buddhas and Ancestors.
Shobogenzo, Kokyo, Hubert Nearman

Thanks again.


Unknown said...

Thanks Ted. I like your sincerity very much.

My experience of koans is that they are records of the behaviour of those who have clarified the state. What else could they be? Koans can be recognised as such when we clarify the state for ourselves, otherwise we get lost in opinion or think they have something special to give us. The story of Gautama beneath the Bodhi tree can be clarified too, by sitting in the state, as like recognises like. The teacher Keizan wrote a book about like recognising like.

Those who know this state intimately, like the teacher Sangstau, know that 'in it' all opposites reach an equilibrium and drop away without effort. However, when we steer a boat we need to make an effort to differentiate between water and rocks. As the teacher Kodo Sawaki said "There is no Buddha outside of practise."

Can you tell me the difference between "just sitting" and "mere sitting"?



Ted Biringer said...

Hello Martin,

Thank you for your comments.

As the "comment" section is not formatted for an adequate response - and because you raise some important points that others may be interested in - please see my response in the main blog post section for Jan-14-2013

Thank you.