I have no alternate views on koan practice than those expressed in the
article below that are significant.

The slight differences I hold are:

[Genjo] Koans should only be used after one's meditation has entered some
[Bill!] There are koans called ‘breakthrough’ koans that can and are used to
INDUCE Samadhi.  Examples of those are ‘Mu’, ‘One Hand Clapping’, ‘Face
Before Your Mother Was Born’.  The majority of koans however are used AFTER
Samadhi to help fully integrate and enable the actualization of experience
into everyday life.

[Genjo]  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.
[Bill!]  Understanding has absolutely nothing to do with responding to a

I hadn’t ever heard of koans being grouped into the 5 groups that Genjo
suggests.  I liked those groupings, but as he himself said, "... any number
of sub-divisions could be devised, and all are ultimately meaningless, a
koan is just a koan."


From: Zen_Forum@yahoogroups.com [mailto:zen_fo...@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
Sent: Sunday, November 21, 2010 10:53 PM
To: Zen_Forum@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [Zen] Re: Zen Koan Practice


Do you happen to hold any alternative views on Koan Practice that are not
consonant with Genjo Marinello Osho's article below?
Thanks, ED
--- In Zen_Forum@yahoogroups.com, "ED" <seacrofter...@...> wrote:
Zen Koan Practice 
By Genjo Marinello, Abbot  Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji    (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 Heart/Mind. 
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.
[Bill!] There are koans called ‘breakthrough’ koans that can promote
Samadhi.  Examples of those are ‘Mu’, ‘One Hand Clapping’, ‘Face Before Your
Mother Was Born’.  These can and often are used BEFORE the student has been
able to enter Samadhi for the specific purpose of INDUCING Samadhi. 
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 resolved. 
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 flowering. 
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 do. 
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
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 (Truth/Zen essence)?"
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 of Mu…," "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 evolution. 
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." 
>From Wikipedia:
Genjo Marinello
Genjo Marinello Oshô began his Zen training in 1975 and was ordained an
unsui in 1980. In 1981-1982 he trained at Ryutaku-ji in Japan with Sochu
Rôshi and Soen Nakagawa Rôshi. Genjo Oshô was installed as Abbot on Rinzai
Gigen Zenji's (d.866) memorial day, January 10, 1999. After Genki Rôshi's
retirement, Genjo Oshô continued his training with Eido Shimano Rôshi, abbot
of Dai Bosatsu Monastery. On May 21st, 2008, Genjo Oshô received dharma
transmission from Eido Shimano Rôshi, in a ceremony also involving Genki
Rôshi, other honored teachers, family, and sangha. [3] [4]
In addition to being a Zen priest, Genjo Oshô is a psychotherapist
(LMHC),[5] a certificated spiritual director (interfaith member of Spiritual
Directors International[6]), and as a member of the American Zen Teachers
Association fulfills their membership criteria.[7]
Genjo Oshô has served as an Adjunct Faculty member of Antioch University
Seattle in Buddhist Studies, a signer of the Religious Coalition for
Equality's statement in Support on Antidiscrimination,[8] a volunteer
Buddhist pastor for the Washington State Department of Corrections, a
Spiritual Director associated with Anamchara – A Program of Multifaith
Works,[9] meditation instructor for Birankai International (Aikido
association)[10] and has worked repeatedly with the Seattle Church Council
as part of an interfaith trauma response team (for example see Seattle PI,
Genjo Oshô's Dharma Talks have been published in several Dharma journals,
including the Theosophical Society's Quest Magazine,[12] Sansho Journal[13]
and the journal of the Zen Studies Society.[14]
 Genjo Oshô's commentary on Zen Koan Practice[15] has been translated into
several languages and is a highly ranked WWW article on the subject.[16]

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