Discussions of Zen Buddhism in all shapes and sizes.
[Moderator's note: this topic has been split off from the Conference on Zen Master Dogen topic here.]
I am not sure that Dosho listened to the same talk I listened to!
Foulk was not saying that understanding the literary, poetic, historical references and other "hidden mataphors" in Koans is all that there is to Koans and Awakening! I believe his point was simply that such knowledge and awareness is helpful in knowing where the Koan is coming from ... and going to ... and neither coming nor going. Otherwise, heck, why even bother to listen to the words of the Koans at all ... and instead just listen to the sound (some do in fact ... anyway, the point is hearing the sound, not listening!) ... why not then just read them in classical Chinese without understanding classical Chinese and bothering to translate them at all?
That whole thing about the Koans being only understandable when we suspend all logical thinking, or any thinking at all, is koany-baloney! In fact, the old Koan stories are usually an expression of some aspects of Buddhist philosophy, teaching and perspectives that are quite 'logical' ... or better said, 'Buddha-logical' (meaning, for example, in Zen perspectives sometimes 1 + 1 = 1 = 7 = Shit Stick and the like, not our normal ways of viewing things). However, there are vital aspects of the madness that can be quite clearly explained in words, other aspects that need to be felt and experienced. For that reason, Koans are actually quite similar to poems or songs or paintings. There are times to discuss or think about the meaning of a poem or song or painting, times to just let the sound and feeling wash through us and "us" just wash away, times to sing along, times when there is no one right 'meaning' to the poem or song or artwork. In all cases, the classic Koans carry lessons and tastes of Wisdom and Compassion which are helpful to "grock"** and make our own.
** (Grock (from the Urban Dictionary) ... understand, appreciate actively and profoundly, fully comprehend; also, to think about, listen to, play, or contemplate something or someone with full love and understanding, even ecstacy ... To thoroughly understand something through the metaphorical process of drinking it in.)
As Foulk points out ... Koans have always been central to our Soto way. The old, 'classic' Koans ... "The Sound of One Hand Clapping" "Does a Dog have Buddha-Nature" and the like ... have had a cherished place in Soto Zen for all these centuries. Dogen's writings such as Shobogenzo are chock full of Koan stories that he is "riffing" on.
But Dogen also taught that all of life is, not only each of the old "Classic Koans" realized, but 10,000,000 ever new Koans alive all around and through us each moment. This is what Dogen called the "Genjo Koan" ... the Great Koan manifesting always. Koans are not just old stories to pierce, but ever new and alive and constantly written and created right now.
As Foulk points out, unlike the Rinzai folks, we do not hold Koans in mind during Zazen ... or anything else in mind during Zazen. Also, in Soto, there is generally no set series of Koans that must be "passed" as a curriculum (though some Soto teachers, like Dosho, may dabble in this and have done so through the centuries). As Foulk pointed out in his talk, that does not mean that Awakening is not central to our Way, nor that (like Dogen) we cannot distinguish the enlightened from the unenlightened. But, certainly, we do not wrap ourselves into the Koans with (to paraphrase a friend of mine) "some greed to fathom, an appetite for high states and breakthroughs ... found perhaps in some forms of koan practice with long low MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU ringing along".
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjyqGnWG ... re=related
(Not to say that that may not be a good way for some, or even the only way to approach Koan practice, or that one way is better or worse than another for different people, of course! To each their own!) Yet, in our "Just Sitting" way, one experiences how Zazen is all the Koans introspected, resolved and illuminated at once!
In other words, in our Soto Way, all of life-reality is the BIG KOAN, the "Genjo-Koan", the koan ever manifesting right before our eyes and our eyes too! Koans are manifesting in endless ways in life each moment.
Gassho, Jundo Cohen ... not Koan
"...found perhaps..."? Who is your friend, and where did he/she experience koan practice presented in the manner described?
Since this characterization of koan practice is incorrect in such an exceedingly obvious manner, I wonder who this person's teacher is. Let me know by PM if necessary, and I'll contact that teacher directly.
What student(s) do you think such a way of practice would be a "good way" for?
Yes, that is a good description of Rinzai koan practice.
Yes, that is a excellent description of the Rinzai way.
In general I do not presume to comment on practices I don't do. For example: I of course practice shikantaza because it is one of the practices used in the Rinzai tradition. But I would never presume to comment on how Soto folks practice shikantaza, simply because I have never trained under a Soto teacher sufficiently to do so.
If you personally do koan practice or use koans in a specific manner beyond the general way that you have described, it would be useful to hear how, and what the correct way to do it is from the standpoint of your tradition. Then we could compare...and I might learn something.
But descriptions of the incorrect way to do koan practice (your friend's), presented disingenuously as a viable option ("To each their own!") are misleading, and do us all a disservice. And it leads me to question your intention. Triumphalist polemic has a distinctive flavor which is more palatable when presented openly.
As I thought I had said, not all folks practice Koan Zazen the same way (Yet I think that both you and I, though neither of us have practiced Koan Zazen in all the ways that all people practice it, nevertheless have enough familiarity that we can say that much about the various ways it is practiced). Are you saying that there is nobody and no tradition you know, some popular in the West, that might be described as having "an appetite for high states and breakthroughs" with a certain "greed to fathom"? And if so, then how can you say that their way is an "incorrect way to do koan practice" as you do?
And even then, it may be a good way for such practitioners ... and not for me to say.
Some of this is being discussed today on the "Hakuin" thread, I believe ...
I am glad that your Koan Practice is so much like Shikantaza, or just Shikantaza, and so good for you.
No, I know of no tradition in which
would be a description of correct practice.
Do you know of groups practicing in a manner of appetite and greed? Some are popular in the west, you said. Name them. Perhaps some of those folks are here and would then join the conversation to give their perspectives as people who actually know.
Statements about a practice from anyone who has not done it are of limited usefulness. Statements about a tradition from anyone who has not deeply experienced it are of limited usefulness. That is why I asked what your friend's actual experience was. And that is why your inclusion of his/her oddly inaccurate description of koan practice, accompanied by a video clip showing a Rinzai teacher doing sanzen, was extremely unskillful.
Questions, on the other hand, are very welcome in discourse like this. How refreshing it would have been, if your friend's description of koan practice had been presented in the form of a question: "Is this an accurate description of how anyone here does koan practice?"
Of course this is just basic procedure for respectful interfaith/inter-tradition discourse.
For myself, I'm interested to hear how the Soto tradition uses koan, historically or today, which is what attracted me to this thread. I'd certainly be interested to hear how you use them. I'm just not interested to hear the inaccurate ways that anyone thinks others use them. What a waste of time.
I'm glad also. As a teacher once joked to me, "Shikantaza is the highest teaching of Rinzai Zen!".
Oh, this is really very simple! I will only respond since you asked.
However, for what I am about to say, I realize that it is just an opinion ... not the last word. By way of example, if you ask a Jew if he believes in his heart that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God ... he might answer honestly that he fully respects the right of others to believe so, but in his heart considers such things to be foolish. He might (if properly open minded) also respect, however, that Jews do not have the final word ... and honor the right and fact that we all need to live together on this planet. If you press him about what he really, truly feels about "Jesus", he might put it quite like that from all such "live and let live" angles. I answer here in the same way.
So, with that disclaimer in mind, I will answer since you asked ...
Yes, I would define any interest in attaining a "Kensho" as greed for a breakthrough. In my heart, I feel that the emphasis on Kensho that swept through Zen practice many centuries ago is very unfortunate. It is what I call the "running after enlightenment" view of Zen practice, and is incompatible with the inherent wholeness and fullness of Shikantaza, Practice-Enlightenment. End of story. This is especially true regarding those lineages that push for Kensho very intensely ... and there are such Lineages (do I truly need to provide examples?).
You wrote ...
As a teacher once joked to me, "Shikantaza is the highest teaching of Rinzai Zen!".
I do not think you have any idea how we practice what you call "Shikantaza", so I would appreciate your stopping to make comparisons! To be perfectly blunt, in our Way, Shikantaza is the highest teaching of Zen, beyond and before which not a drop more is needed.
However, I say that only because you asked, and I in no way insist that my way of viewing Kensho is the only, right or proper way to view Kensho. It is not. It is just one view. Nor is it the only way to practice suited to everyone. I am (Thank Buddha to all concerned) not the last word in Zen!
PS - As an outsider, it was wrong of me to imply that all or any Rinzai Lineages "run after" Kensho or even seek it. I have no right to comment. If any do, however, then I think ... from my limited perspective ... that it is not good. It seems that we agree there.
Last edited by Jundo Cohen on Mon Nov 21, 2011 6:12 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Thank you for being here. I have long maintained that our practice is largely misunderstood and subject to conjecture by folks who know little or nothing about it (but are certainly happy to pontificate about it ad nauseum). While I practice in a style that has Korean roots, it also has much in common with Rinzai style practice. Thanks for helping to set the record straight.
good luck and thanks for practicing,
You are most cordially invited to post a reply, as a Teacher, in the "Koans as Teaching Stories" topic [originated by myself] in the "Ask a Teacher" restricted forum.
BTW, I very much like your writing style here.
This topic is so sensitive around here that I will post the following disclaimer at the start and finish!
I would like to continue a conversation I was having with Rev. Meido here ...
... regarding this statement by a friend of mine I quoted
The misunderstanding (on one or both our parts ... and that means perhaps my misunderstanding) may stem from this fact: From the pointless point of view of radical non-seeking and goallessness, original Wholeness and nothing to add or take-awayness of Shikantaza ... whatever or however Kensho is being sought, is the goal, is to free or uncover is ... by its very Original Nature ...
... "a greed to fathom" or "appetite for a breakthrough".
** However, I will change my friend's comment about "an appetite for high states" (he was referring to other types of practice or meditation seeking peak states and such, not applicable to our conversation here) to "an appetite for "Kensho" (which, I recognize, is not truly a "state", let alone a high one!).
I wonder if I may ask Rev. Meido to describe for me, as best he can ...
What is the point (or lack thereof if none) in the context of his tradition of Koan Practice during Zazen (Kan'na Zen), Kensho and the ringing MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU (as heard in the video I linked to):
Again, the purpose is not to criticize another way of Zen Practice, or to put one above the other. Rather, it is to see that criticism of one only arises in the context of the other. For example, Ai-ki-do is a fine martial art, and Karate is a fine martial art ... each complete in its way ... but from the perspective of Ai-ki-do one might be justified in saying that Karate is too aggressive and violent in an Ai-ki-do context (not a Karate context) ... Ai-ki-do too passive in a Karate context ... although both ways might be said to have the same purpose and objective of self defense [in our Zen case ... defense from self ... Awakening and Enlightenment].
Last edited by Jundo Cohen on Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:31 am, edited 3 times in total.
hey, no fair, You put this in this in Soto forum!
All I can say on this topic, is that don't believe everything you read or hear. Better to experience than imagine, imho.
Good luck and thanks for practicing,
Hey, we finally agree on something!
I would be happy to move this out to "neutral territory" ... or we can just call this place "neutral territory". The Zen DMZ.
Yes, will miracles never cease?
For whatever reason, I just decided to not get so worked up about your words!
And thanks for the offer to meet out in the "DMZ". I think it would be easier the participants to stay within the discussion rules.
The video mentioned was uploaded to YouTube by yours truly, I know these persons who appear in the video. It might not help to say that the latter person yelling his ass off is in fact a Soto-monk! Or at least was ordained and has remained in that school.
Moderator's Note: I moved this topic to the general Zen Buddhism part of the forum, and changed the derogatory subject heading. Members are cautioned concerning the ZFI Terms of Service against "sect bashing." Kindly continue this discussionn in the spirit of inquiry.
Practitioners who cultivate the personal realization of buddha knowledge dwell in the bliss of whatever is present and do not abandon their practice.
LOL! Yes, it is interesting to note also that the Zen Master shown in that brief video, Shodo Harada Roshi, is frequently referred to as a "teachers' teacher". Zen teachers from many different Zen lineages go to train with him at Whidbey island when he is there. I know of at least four who have done so, including my own teacher Daniel Terragno Roshi, and two who had Soto Zen training background.
He has a wonderful new book out: Moon by the Window: The Calligraphy and Zen Insights of Shodo Harada
Practitioners who cultivate the personal realization of buddha knowledge dwell in the bliss of whatever is present and do not abandon their practice.
If you want to learn to play a saxophone, don't go to someone who only plays the tuba, especially if they deny that saxophones are part of jazz.
Although it may be that a philosophical understanding helps begin to work with a koan, a philosophical approach is not sufficient for realizing a koan. Koans are not metaphors. They are not resolved through using language in a representational manner.
Dosho teaches with Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training and with Wild Fox Zen in Minnesota. He is a successor to Dainin Katagiri and trains in koan introspective with James Ford and Melissa Blacker. Dosho's Wild Fox Zen blog can be found at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildfoxzen.
I might propose that, from a certain perspective perhaps, a Soto monk might go to taste such other practice because the "Soto monk" never truly fathomed and pierced the bottomless bottom of Shikantaza ... for, had they done so, they would have no need to go chasing after such things. By definition.
In other worldless words ... if one truly pierces the meaning of "no place to go" and "nothing to seek" ... one would not seek to go someplace to seek it.
That is, again, not a criticism of such monks ... just an observation. They may need that other medicine. However, the fact of the matter is that if a Soto monk goes to some other practice (not simply out of curiosity or to dabble) but because they feel something was missing or lacking in Shikantaza ... then they never truly pierced Shikantaza ... because by its very original nature nature ... nothing is or can be missing or lacking in Shikantaza. Therefore, by their very feeling that something was lacking ... they demonstrate a lack of true understanding of Shikantaza even if having tried it for many years.
If one feels something is missing and not whole, one thus experiences ... and self-creates ... that very not wholeness.
Last edited by Jundo Cohen on Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:17 am, edited 3 times in total.
Yeah, that's right. When I was doing time at Sogenji, I met many teachers from the US and Europe who came for sesshin and sanzen with Harada Roshi.
Perhaps I'm going a bit off topic but I've talked with several senior zen-practitioners, mostly from Rinzai school, one among them is a teacher-disciple of Harada Roshi, of this "yelling sickness". Some people seem to get stuck with this kind of approach. Is the string of a violin going to play better if you keep tightening it? No. Concentration needs to be balanced with relaxation and thats the issue here. Personally, I had to go through a bad nervous breakdown before I figured out that it might be good to learn to relax as well... This is very unfortunate in general.
On this vid at 5:00 you can hear another MU, shout by a monk-student of Mumon Roshi.
And here we have the sugar at the bottom at 1:40
I take exception to that ... but let's move on. Just for the record, the original thread title was the following ... since Shikantaza was mentioned togethor with all else, I fail to see what is derogatory ...
Shikantaza, Ka'na Zen, Kensho, Mu & "The Greed To Fathom
Last edited by Jundo Cohen on Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Yes, very important point Kim. A deft touch is needed. And I suspect that is where the false assumptions come from.
Practice and see what happens.
I for one am very glad that there are teachers around who have practiced for decades and have beginner's mind to keep exploring with a teacher in their own or another tradition.
Those who consider themselves to have arrived are welcome to believe so, of course.
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