Phoebe, Welcome to the Yahoo! Zen Forum! My response/comments to your first post are embedded below:
Thank you all for this group. I am currently studying a book called "Zen Flesh Zen Bones". Does anyone else have this text or is currently reading it? I would like very much to study and discuss the Koans in this book and/ or post Koans here to be discussed with all. [Bill!] I have read the book before, and remember I like it a lot. However I looked for it on my bookshelf and no longer have a copy. I must have loaned it to someone who needed it more than I did. I am currently working on a Koan with a friend whose interpetation/ understanding was so vastly different from my own that I would be very interested in the interpetation of others in this group. [Bill!] First and MOST IMPORTANTLY of all, I SERIOUSLY DISCOURAGE you from trying to 'work on' koans by yourself, with a friend, or with anyone who is not a bona fide zen master. Secondly, I'll ask you WHY do you want to work on zen koans? And lastly I'll ask you HOW are you attempting to 'work on' this koan? I've made some other comments below the koan. Mokusen's Hand Mokusen Hiki was living in a temple in the province of Tamba. One of his adherents complained of the stinginess of his wife. Mokusen visited the adherent's wife and showed her a clenched fist before her face. "What do you mean by that? asked the surprised woman. "Suppose my fist were always life that. What would you call it?" "Deformed," replied the woman. Then he opened his hand flat in her face and asked: " Suppose it were always like that. What then?" Another kind of deformity," said the wife. "If you understand that much," finished Mokusen, "you are a good wife." Then he left. After his visit, this wife helped her husband to distribute as well as to save. [Bill!] The zen story above is indeed a koan - a 'public case' that records a display of Buddha Nature, but without a zen master there is nothing to 'work on'. The koan above doesn't ask you a question. That of course is what a zen master would do - turn this zen story into a koan for you by asking you a question (or questions) about it. You are trying to do that yourself by inferring what you assume would be the most obvious question - 'what does this story mean?', or 'what lesson did the wife learn from Mokusen?', or 'what did Mokusen's fist/open hand mean?'; but that's not necessarily the question that a zen master would ask of you. You assume this because you are used to 'working on' such things by 'figuring them out'. By trying to understand them, relate to them, make sense out of them, rationalize them, etc. Koans are not meant to be 'understood', they are meant to assist you in discovering or uncovering and then displaying Buddha Nature. My dear friend found the Koan to make them "uneasy". [Bill!] I'm not sure what your statement above means. I can't imagine why anyone would feel uneasy after reading this story. My thoughts on the Koan were: saw something completely different in my reading of the Koan. I didn't assume any implication of gender roles. (How would the teaching read if it were the wife complainng of the husband? Or if it were a mother to a child? a Father to a child? - what if it was a bear to it's cubs). [Bill!] You are correct that gender or relationship between the participants in a koan are not relevant. I interpreted the closed fist as giving nothing at all. The open hand as giving everything. Neither the closed or open hand existing in harmony. But what is the middle... to distribute and share with all...and to save being not to give so much as to have nothing left? I didn't see any violence in the action but an oppurtunity to see ones own actions, the actions of another, and the affect on the self and others created by the actions taken and expressed. I also say the giving nothing, the giving all, and a more harmonious way of doing bath as a representation as these ideas as a applied to all things. [Bill!] You've created an intellectual interpretation of the koan. You've related Mokusen's visit to his adherent's wife to the adherent's complaint that she is stingy. You've also related Mokusen's display and questioning about a closed fist/open hand to stinginess/generosity. You then further assumed the wife also made this relationship when Mokusen called her a 'good wife'. And finally you related the wife's reported change in behavior to Mokusen's visit and actions. As I said, all this is just a superficial, intellectual interpretation of this koan - and it is not the only interpretation possible. For example I could interpret Mokusen's closed fist and open hand as threatening the wife with a punch and a slap if she didn't start acting in a manner more pleasing to her husband. This is just as valid of an intellectual interpretation of this koan as yours. The important thing to learn is that 'understanding' a koan is not the point. It is useless. In fact it might be worse than useless, it might be detrimental to your zen training. You might start thinking that you 'understand' what the koan 'means'. That is not going to bring you closer to uncovering Buddha Nature. In my opinion the best koans are those for which there is very little possibility of trying to exercise the intellect. The 'perfect' koan in my estimation is 'Mu'. I'm sure you've heard it , it's short and very simple: 'Joshu was a great zen master. One day one of his students ask him in all earnestness, 'Does a dog have Buddha Nature?', to which Joshu replied, 'Mu!'.' A zen master giving you this koan might then ask you to 'Show me Joshu's Mu', or 'Bring me Joshu's Mu'. And then you go off by yourself to sit (zazen) and 'work on' the koan. The one hint I'll give you on Mu is that you do not need to know what language 'Mu' is, nor what it means. You don't need to UNDERSTAND what Joshu's reply MEANS. It doesn't MEAN anything. It's just 'Mu'. Bring me Joshu's MU! Please share you thoughts on this Koan. [Bill!] Sharing THOUGHTS on this koan are not important. Reponses are important. My response to this koan is: Just THIS! And please remember that way up at the top of this post I asked you two things: 1. WHY do you want to 'work on' koans? 2. HOW are you attempting to 'work on' koans? .Bill!