Do you happen to hold any alternative views on Koan Practice that are
not consonant with Genjo Marinello Osho's article below?
--- In Zen_Forum@yahoogroups.com, "ED" <seacrofter...@...> wrote:
Zen Koan Practice
By Genjo Marinello, Abbot Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji
<http://www.choboji.org/> (Great Plum Mountain - Listening to the
Dharma Zen Temple )
Koan is a Japanese word that comes from the Chinese, kung-an, that means
"public dictate." It is a reference to examples that are meant to guide
life; or in the case of Zen, these dictates are meant to be catalysts
for awakening one's true/deep/pure nature.
They often recount an encounter between master and disciple, where the
master's response or question is said to reveal the deep nature of
things as they are. Perhaps the earliest example of a koan comes from
the fable of the time the historical Buddha held up a flower before an
assemblage of followers and spoke not a word.
It is said that all remained silent and puzzled except for his disciple
Venerable Kasho who is said to have smiled in recognition. What was
transmitted when the Buddha held up a flower?
"Don't explain it, show me your understanding!", shouts the Zen master.
To do so you must at once become the Buddha, Kasho, and the flower!
Koans are an advanced tool, and have no inherent power in and of
themselves, but can be very enlightening when used properly. I have
heard Genki Roshi (Zen master & Abbot) refer to them as a can-opener for
the Heart/Mind (kokoro). They are like a door-knocker, they are of no
use, unless used properly as a tool to knock on the door of one's
Koans should only be used after one's meditation has entered some
Samadhi. Samadhi is the condition of one's mind when most of the silt
and ripples (ideas, thoughts, feelings, judgments) have quieted and the
mind has become more or less clear, calm, clean, naturally reflective
and free-flowing in this moment. If your mind has not yet achieved at
least a small measure of Samadhi, don't bother with koans.
Koans deliberately stir up the waters of the mind, and if the mind is
already disturbed, koan practice will only make things worse. This is
why Genki Roshi only assigns koans during Sesshins (long concentrated
periods of meditation) where reaching Samadhi is more likely. If the
mind is practiced at a given level of Samadhi, then a koan can be used
to stretch one's Samadhi-mind to a bigger dimension. By resolving a
koan, that is to say encompassing the example/dictate/question with
one's understanding, small mind is slowly or suddenly stretched and
awakened into Big Mind.
Koans are NOT answered. Any descriptive response, yes/no response, or
this/that response will be rejected. Yet, no response is also no good!
How then can one respond at all? When the deep meaning of the koan is
understood directly, then a token of that understanding is easy to
present. Usually no words are necessary, some poetic or creative gesture
will suffice. This is why I say that koans are not answered, but
To work on a koan is to let a koan work on you. Once a measure of
Samadhi is attained, the practitioner calls the example or question to
mind. The only volition appropriate in Koan work is calling the question
gently but repeatedly to consciousness. Do not waste any time trying to
figure the koan out. Let it stretch your mind through the questioning
alone, make no effort to solve it. Any analysis is a waste of time, and
at best will produce a "fox" or pseudo-Zen response.
Koans are a devilish instrument because they deliberately tempt us to
make an interpretation, explanation, imitation or analysis; and yet, it
is only when we exhaust or give up these lines of investigation that a
deeper level of inquiry becomes possible.
Often, only when we are able to admit in frustration that we don't know
anything, can true koan practice begin. Allow the koan to sit in your
belly, there it may begin to feel like you have swallowed a hot iron
ball that can not be digested or expelled. Eventually, sometimes after
years of practice, the koan will do its work, the mind will open in
gentle deep understanding, and any number of simple direct responses
will seem obvious.
Koans are questions or statements that are like a challenge to your
person, your most fundamental perception of self. Koans act like swords
to stab at your ego and draw forth your Buddha Nature (your fully
natural nature that is not dependent on your self-definition). The
practitioner's job is not to fight or struggle with these attacks, but
to neutralize them. This is done by making a genuine, authentic,
spontaneous, gut response.
Whenever a response to a koan arises within me prior to dokusan
(personal interview between Roshi and the student) I let it go, this is
the best guarantee that the response that arises in the dokusan line or
in front of the Roshi will be fresh. Now, it is often the case that the
response that I make at dokusan is nearly identical to my first
inclination; yet, by letting the first and subsequent responses go, the
Koan has the best chance to broaden one's understanding into the fullest
To understand a Koan with your rational mind is only the beginning; to
understand the koan fully through and through, with every fiber of your
being, is just a good start. To respond to a Koan we must learn to
manifest our understanding simply and directly without hesitation. To
manifest our response is to give a pure reflection of what is being
pointed at. For example, the "answer" to the koan "What is the sound of
one hand clapping" is SILENCE: the silence that permeates the universe,
the Tao itself.
Yet, this somewhat rational understanding says nothing. As a response it
is already long dead. How will you feel this silence in every fiber of
your being, and once this is directly experienced, how will you manifest
a token of your experience to the Roshi's satisfaction? Be courageous,
do not be just still and frozen; at least say "I don't know." Any
response that is turned away will close off a blind alley, or push you
down some new direction. Slowly the Roshi will help eliminate any
response but a pure reflection of what is being pointed at.
Each Koan begs for a uniquely individual response within the frame of
the question. If a Koan is like a fist to the head it is useless to
respond with a kick to the shins. If the Roshi asks for an apple, bring
your own variety; but understand that a orange or a loaf of bread won't
Koans are like seeds of awakening. Sometimes there is a prolonged and
difficult growing period, sometimes the growing period is short and
direct. Always, we await the fruit of one's response to ripen and fall
of its own accord. To fully resolve a koan one must allow it to grow to
full maturity; a koan must reveal itself. To nurture and care for a
koan, simply and repeatedly prod your awareness with the essence of the
"question" or "encounter."
For example, if the koan is "Bring me the essence of the temple bell
sound," then first we nurture the ground in which the koan will be
planted by settling into samadhi (the condition of one's mind when we
are naturally calm, balanced, present and intimately involved in this
moment of eternity). Once samadhi activity is established (sitting, i.e.
zazen, walking, i.e. kinhin, working, i.e. samu), we plant the koan
gently, repeatedly and attentively by bringing the koan to our awareness
and allowing it to rest in our abdomen.
There it will grow and ripen without any further effort on our part. In
the example of the essence of the temple bell sound, we allow the sound
of the temple bell to resonate in our abdomen until it can flow out of
us without any rational discrimination, analysis, or hesitation. At this
moment of awakening, the fruit of the koan will spontaneously erupt from
our core as a clear resonating response without any coloring of "it" or
"me." Nothing will separate the practitioner and the sound, they will be
one without interference from discriminating consciousness.
Over the years of doing koan practice with four different Roshis (Zen
masters), I have come to understand that koans fall roughly into five
different categories. Actually, any number of sub-divisions could be
devised, and all are ultimately meaningless, a koan is just a koan.
However, for the benefit of trying to communicate the flavor of koan
work, I have dreamed up the following five groupings.
Some koans beg the practitioner to drop the barriers between oneself and
nature. Koans like "bring me the sound of rain," "the essence of
flower," or "a mountain on a rope," all move a practitioner in this
direction of expanded awareness.
Other koans beg the practitioner to drop the artificial and conceptual
barriers between oneself and Buddha. Koans like "bring me the essence of
the standing altar statue," "bring me the essence of Zen master activity
(Gutei, Zuigan, Rinzai
)," or "If hanging from a branch by your
teeth over a precipice, with your hands and feet unable to grasp a
branch, how will you respond to a sincere request to reveal the Dharma
Some koans beg the practitioner to open all the doors to the human
condition by asking "bring the essence of old man (or women, child,
infant, trickster, fool, priest, monk, teacher, death, birth, friend,
foe, joy, sorrow
Some koans beg the practitioner to reveal the Tao itself (the foundation
of Reality that transcends life and death, form or no form, right and
wrong, yin and yang, male and female, and all other dualities). Koans
that get the practitioner to stretch their awareness in this direction
might ask "what is the sound of one hand clapping," "reveal the essence
," "show me the source of earth, wind, fire, and water."
Finally, there are koans which beg the practitioner to put it all
together and reveal ordinary activity as fully awakened activity. Koans
that prod us to open in this way can ask "reveal the true nature of the
universe while washing bowls," "what do you do after you reach the top
of a hundred foot pole (after enlightenment then what?)," "how do you
climb Buddha mountain," "where is master Rinzai's person of no-rank and
no-post right now."
All koans beg us to wake up right now and live fully in this moment
without any filter between us and the rest of reality.
When formal koan study is well on its way, we discover that our life
itself is the greatest of all koans. Any problem or condition that seems
to separate us from ourselves, or anyone or anything else, can be used
as a koan. Plant the problem in your gut as described above and wait for
it to ripen and fall without trying to fix, change, or analyze it. You
will discover that all problems are illusions of one kind or another. To
see reality clearly is to remove all the barriers within and between
one's self and other than self.
The third Dharma ancestor in Zen has said that nothing is separate or
excluded, all things move and intermingle without distinction. For
example, I am often obsessed by various thought patterns that seem to
repeat endlessly; yet, if I step back from the pattern or pain and hold
it gently and attentively in my belly or lap, then in fairly short order
the pattern or pain dissolves, sometimes revealing a previously unseen
truth or story, sometimes just dissipating without a trace. Sometimes
the relief is temporary, sometimes it is permanent, but always with
gentle attentive awareness there is some resolution or at least
I was once asked if responding to a koan was like acting, and I said:
"yes, like very good acting where, in pure genuineness, there is nothing
separating the actor or actress from the role being played."
Genjo Marinello Oshô <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Osh%C5%8D> began
his Zen training in 1975 and was ordained an unsui
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Unsui> in 1980. In 1981-1982 he trained
at Ryutaku-ji <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Ryutaku-ji> in Japan with
Sochu Rôshi and Soen Nakagawa
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Soen_Nakagawa> Rôshi. Genjo Oshô
was installed as Abbot on Rinzai Gigen
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Zenji> 's (d.866
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/866> ) memorial day, January 10, 1999.
After Genki Rôshi's retirement, Genjo Oshô continued his training
with Eido Shimano Rôshi
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Eido_Tai_Shimano> , abbot of Dai Bosatsu
Monastery <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Dai_Bosatsu_Zendo_Kongo-ji> . On
May 21st, 2008, Genjo Oshô received dharma transmission
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Dharma_transmission> from Eido Shimano
Rôshi <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Eido_Tai_Shimano> , in a ceremony
also involving Genki Rôshi, other honored teachers, family, and
sangha <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Sangha> . 
In addition to being a Zen priest, Genjo Oshô is a psychotherapist
certificated spiritual director (interfaith member of Spiritual
&referer=/group/Zen_Forum/message/21425&use_rte=1#cite_note-5> ), and as
a member of the American Zen Teachers Association
fulfills their membership criteria.
Genjo Oshô <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Osh%C5%8D> has served as an
Adjunct Faculty member of Antioch University
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Antioch_University> Seattle in Buddhist
Studies, a signer of the Religious Coalition for Equality's statement in
Support on Antidiscrimination,
volunteer Buddhist pastor for the Washington State Department of
Corrections, a Spiritual Director associated with Anamchara A
Program of Multifaith Works,
meditation instructor for Birankai International
&referer=/group/Zen_Forum/message/21425&use_rte=1#cite_note-9> and has
worked repeatedly with the Seattle Church Council as part of an
interfaith trauma response team (for example see Seattle PI
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Seattle_PI> , 3/29/06
Genjo Oshô's Dharma Talks <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Dharma_Talk>
have been published in several Dharma
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Dharma> journals, including the
Theosophical Society <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Theosophical_Society>
's Quest Magazine,
&referer=/group/Zen_Forum/message/21425&use_rte=1#cite_note-12> and the
journal of the Zen Studies Society
Genjo Oshô's commentary on Zen <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Zen>
Koan <http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/Koan> Practice
been translated into several languages and is a highly ranked WWW
<http://groups.yahoo.com/wiki/WWW> article on the subject.