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A kōan is a fundamental part of the history and lore of Zen
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

. It consists of a story
Narrative
A narrative is a constructive format that describes a sequence of non-fictional or fictional events. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount", and is related to the adjective gnarus, "knowing" or "skilled"...

, dialogue
Dialogue
Dialogue is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people....

, question, or statement, the meaning of which cannot be understood by rational
Rationality
In philosophy, rationality is the exercise of reason. It is the manner in which people derive conclusions when considering things deliberately. It also refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons for belief, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action...

 thinking but may be accessible through intuition or lateral thinking. One widely known kōan is "Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?" (oral tradition attributed to Hakuin Ekaku
Hakuin Ekaku
was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. He revived the Rinzai school from a moribund period of stagnation, refocusing it on its traditionally rigorous training methods integrating meditation and koan practice...

, 1686–1769, considered a reviver of the kōan tradition in Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

). The word koan, the name by which the practice is known to the West, comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters (公案).

In summary


Kōans originate in the sayings and events in the lives of sages and legendary figures, usually those authorized to teach in a lineage that regards Bodhidharma
Bodhidharma
Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century AD. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Ch'an to China, and regarded as the first Chinese patriarch...

 (c. 5th–6th century) as its ancestor. Kōans reflect the enlightened or awakened
Bodhi
Bodhi is both a Pāli and Sanskrit word traditionally translated into English with the word "enlightenment", but which means awakened. In Buddhism it is the knowledge possessed by a Buddha into the nature of things...

 state of such persons and sometimes confound the habit of discursive thought or shock the mind into awareness. Zen teachers often recite and comment on kōans, and some Zen practitioners concentrate on kōans during meditation
Meditation
Meditation is any form of a family of practices in which practitioners train their minds or self-induce a mode of consciousness to realize some benefit....

. Teachers may probe such students about their kōan practice using "checking questions" to validate an experience of insight (kensho
Kensho
Kenshō is a Japanese term for enlightenment experiences. It is most commonly referred to in Zen Buddhism.Literally it means "seeing one's nature" or "true self." It generally "refers to the realization of nonduality of subject and object." Frequently used in juxtaposition with satori , there is...

) or awakening. Responses by students have included actions or gestures, "capping phrases" (jakugo
Jakugo
, or of a kōan is a proof of solution of the case riddle, but not the solution itself. In Zen Buddhism, kōan is used both as a meditation device and as an expression of – a radical experiential insight into the nature of things and the self alike. A capping phrase is supposedly an...

), and verses inspired by the kōan.

As part of the training of teachers, monks, and students, kōan can refer to a story selected from sutras
Sutra
Sūtra is an aphorism or a collection of such aphorisms in the form of a manual. Literally it means a thread or line that holds things together and is derived from the verbal root siv-, meaning to sew , as does the medical term...

 and historical records. They may consist of a perplexing element or a concise but critical word or phrase (話頭 huàtóu) extracted from the story. It may also refer to poetry and commentary added to the story by later Zen teachers.

English-speaking non-Zen practitioners sometimes use kōan to refer to an unanswerable question or a meaningless statement. However, in Zen practice, a kōan is not meaningless, and teachers often do expect students to present an appropriate response when asked about a kōan. Even so, a kōan is not a riddle or a puzzle. Appropriate responses to a kōan vary, since different teachers may demand different responses to a given kōan, and the answers may vary by circumstance. One of the most common recorded comments by a teacher on a disciple's answer is: "Even though that is true, if you do not know it yourself, it does you no good." The master is not looking for a specific answer but for evidence that the disciple has grasped the state of mind expressed by the kōan itself.

Therefore, although there may be "traditional answers" (kenjo 見処 or kenge 見解) to many kōans, these are only preserved as exemplary answers given in the past by various masters during their own training. In practice, many answers could be correct, provided that they convey proof of personal realization. Kōan training requires a qualified teacher who has the ability to judge a disciple's depth of attainment. In the Rinzai Zen school, which uses kōans extensively, the teacher certification process includes an appraisal of proficiency in using that school's extensive kōan curriculum. In Japanese Zen, Chinese Ch'an, Korean Son, Vietnamese Thien, and Western Zen, kōans play similar roles, although significant cultural differences exist.

Examples

  • A student asked Master Yun-Men (A.D. 949) "Not even a thought has arisen; is there still a sin or not?" Master replied, "Mount Sumeru!"
  • A monk asked Zhàozhōu
    Zhaozhou
    Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn , was a Chán Buddhist master especially known for his "paradoxical statements and strange deeds".Zhaozhou became ordained as a monk at an early age. At the age of 18, he met Nánquán Pǔyuàn , a successor of Mǎzǔ Dàoyī , and eventually received the Dharma from him...

    , "Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?" Zhaozhou said, "
    Mu (negative)
    or Wu , is a word which has been translated variously as "not", "nothing", "without", "nothingness", "non existent", "non being", or evocatively simply as "no thing"...

    ".
    • ("Zhaozhou" is rendered as "Chao-chou" in Wade-Giles
      Wade-Giles
      Wade–Giles , sometimes abbreviated Wade, is a romanization system for the Mandarin Chinese language. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century , and was given completed form with Herbert Giles' Chinese–English dictionary of 1892.Wade–Giles was the most...

      , and pronounced "Joshu" in Japanese. "Wu" appears as "mu" in archaic Japanese, meaning "no", "not", "nonbeing", or "without" in English. This is a fragment of Case #1 of the Wúménguān
      The Gateless Gate
      The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Chan koans compiled in the early 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k'ai . Wumen's preface indicates that the volume was published in 1228. Each koan is accompanied by a commentary and verse by Wumen...

      . However, another koan presents a longer version, in which Zhaozhou answered "yes" in response to the same question asked by a different monk: see Case #18 of the Book of Serenity.)
  • Huìnéng
    Huineng
    Dajian Huineng was a Chinese Chán monastic who is one of the most important figures in the entire tradition, according to standard Zen hagiographies...

     asked Hui Ming, "Without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born."
    • (This is a fragment of case #23 of the Wumenguan.)
  • A monk asked Dongshan Shouchu
    Dongshan Shouchu
    Dongshan Shouchu was a Chinese Zen teacher and an heir to Yunmen Wenyan. Dongshan is the subject of Case 18 "Three Pounds of Flax" in the Mumonkan, a collection of koans authored by Mumon Ekai in 1228....

    , "What is Buddha?" Dongshan said, "Three pounds of flax
    Flax
    Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

    ."
    • (This is a fragment of case #18 of the Wumenguan as well as case #12 of the Blue Cliff Record
      Blue Cliff Record
      The Blue Cliff Record ; Vietnamese: Bích nham lục ) is a collection of Chán Buddhist koans originally compiled in China during the Song dynasty in 1125 and then expanded into its present form by the Chán master Yuanwu Keqin .The book includes Yuanwu's annotations and commentary on Xuedou...

      .)
  • A monk asked Zhaozhou, "What is the meaning of the ancestral teacher's (i.e., Bodhidharma
    Bodhidharma
    Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century AD. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Ch'an to China, and regarded as the first Chinese patriarch...

    's) coming from the west?" Zhaozhou said, "The cypress tree in front of the hall."
    • (This is a fragment of case #37 of the Wumenguan as well as case #47 of the Book of Serenity.)

Roles of the kōan in Zen practice


Kōans collectively form a substantial body of literature studied by Zen practitioners and scholars worldwide. Kōan collections commonly referenced in English include the Blue Cliff Record
Blue Cliff Record
The Blue Cliff Record ; Vietnamese: Bích nham lục ) is a collection of Chán Buddhist koans originally compiled in China during the Song dynasty in 1125 and then expanded into its present form by the Chán master Yuanwu Keqin .The book includes Yuanwu's annotations and commentary on Xuedou...

 (Chinese: Bìyán Lù; Japanese: Hekiganroku), the Book of Equanimity (also known as the Book of Serenity; Chinese: Cōngróng Lù; Japanese: Shoyoroku), both collected in their present forms during the 12th century, and The Gateless Gate
The Gateless Gate
The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Chan koans compiled in the early 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k'ai . Wumen's preface indicates that the volume was published in 1228. Each koan is accompanied by a commentary and verse by Wumen...

 (also known as The Gateless Barrier; Chinese: Wúménguān; Japanese: Mumonkan) collected during the 13th century). In these and subsequent collections, a terse "main case" of a kōan often accompanies prefatory remarks, poems, proverbs and other phrases, and further commentary about prior emendations.

Kōan literature typically derives from older texts and traditions, including texts that record the sayings and actions of sages; from Transmission of the Lamp records, which document the monastic tradition of certifying teachers; and from folklore and cultural reference points common among medieval Chinese. According to McGill professor Victor Hori, a native English speaker who has experienced extensive kōan training in Japanese monasteries, kōan literature was also influenced by the pre-Zen Chinese tradition of the "literary game" — a competition involving improvised poetry. Over the centuries, the collections continued to inspire commentary, and current kōan collections contain modern commentaries. New kōans are on occasion proposed and collected — sometimes seriously, sometimes in jest.

A kōan or part of a kōan may serve as a point of concentration during meditation and other activities, often called "kōan practice" (as distinct from "kōan study", the study of kōan literature). Generally, a qualified teacher provides instruction in kōan practice in private. In the Wumenguan (Mumonkan), public case #1 ("Zhaozhou's Dog"), Wumen (Mumon) wrote "...concentrate yourself into this 'Wú'... making your whole body one great inquiry. Day and night work intently at it. Do not attempt nihilistic or dualistic interpretations." Arousing this great inquiry or "Great Doubt" is an essential element of kōan practice. To illustrate the enormous concentration required in kōan meditation, Zen Master Wumen commented, "It is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball. You try to vomit it out, but you can't."

A kōan may be used as a test of a Zen student's ability. For monks in formal training, and for some laypersons, a teacher invokes a kōan and demands some definite response from a student during private interviews. Kōans are often presented with the teacher's unique commentary. A kōan may seem to be the subject of a talk or private interview with a student. The dialog, lecture, or sermon involving the kōan may resemble a performance, ritual duty, or poetry reading.

Etymology and the evolving meaning of kōan


Kōan is a Japanese rendering of the Chinese term (公案), transliterated kung-an (Wade-Giles
Wade-Giles
Wade–Giles , sometimes abbreviated Wade, is a romanization system for the Mandarin Chinese language. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century , and was given completed form with Herbert Giles' Chinese–English dictionary of 1892.Wade–Giles was the most...

) or gōng'àn (Pinyin
Pinyin
Pinyin is the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. It is also often used to teach Mandarin Chinese and spell Chinese names in foreign publications and used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into...

). Chung Feng Ming Pen (中峰明本 1263–1323) wrote that kung-an is an abbreviation for kung-fu an-tu (公府之案牘, Pinyin gōngfǔ zhī àndú, pronounced in Japanese as kōfu no antoku), which referred to a "public record" or the "case records of a public law court" in Tang-dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 China. Kōan/kung-an thus serves as a metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

 for principles of reality beyond the private opinion of one person, and a teacher may test the student's ability to recognize and understand that principle. Moreover, commentaries in kōan collections bear some similarity to judicial decisions that cite and sometimes modify precedents. An article by T. Griffith Foulk claims "...Its literal meaning is the 'table' or 'bench' an
AN
An is an indefinite article in the English language; see also: a and an.An, AN, aN, or an may also refer to:- Culture and language :* An , a god in Sumerian and Babylonian mythology...

 of a 'magistrate' or 'judge' kung
Kung
Kung may refer to:*ǃKung people*ǃKung language*Kung , an historical village of the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, Canada; also Kung Indian Reserve No...

..." Kung-an was itself originally a metaphor — an article of furniture that came to denote legal precedents. A well-known example of this legal usage is The Cases of Judge Dee
Judge Dee
Judge Dee is a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie , magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. The character first appeared in the 18th century Chinese detective novel Di Gong An...

 (狄公安 Di Gongan in Chinese), a Ming dynasty novel based on a historical Tang dynasty judge. In the same way, Zen kōan collections are public records of the notable sayings and actions of Zen disciples and masters attempting to pass on their teachings.

Before the tradition of meditating on kōans was recorded, Huangbo Xiyun
Huangbo Xiyun
Huángbò Xīyùn was an influential Chinese master of Zen Buddhism. He was born in Fujian, China in the Tang Dynasty. Huángbò was a disciple of Baizhang Huaihai and the teacher of Linji Yixuan .-Biography:Very little about Huángbò‘s life is known for certain as, unlike other Transmission of the...

 (720–814) and Yun Men
Yunmen Wenyan
Yúnmén Wényǎn , , was a major Chinese Zen master in Tang-era China...

 (864–949) are both recorded to have said, "Yours is a clear-cut case (chien-cheng kung-an) but I spare you thirty blows," seemingly passing judgment over students' feeble expressions of enlightenment. According to Foulk, Xuedou Zhongxian (雪竇重顯 980–1052) — the original compiler of the 100 cases that later served as the basis for the Blue Cliff Record — used the term kung-an just once in that collection, in Case #64.

Yuanwu (圜悟克勤 1063–1135), compiler of the Blue Cliff Record (碧巌録) in its present form, "gained some insight" by contemplating (kan) kōans. Yuanwu may have been instructed to contemplate phrases by his teachers, Chen-ju Mu-che (dates unknown) and Wu-tzu Fa-yen (五祖法演 ?-1104). Thus, by the Sung Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

, the term kung-an had taken on roughly its present meaning.

Subsequent interpreters have influenced the way the term kōan is used. Dōgen Zenji
Dogen
Dōgen Zenji was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto, and the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan after travelling to China and training under the Chinese Caodong lineage there...

 wrote of Genjokōan, which points out that everyday life experience is the fundamental kōan. Hakuin Ekaku recommended preparing for kōan practice by concentrating on qi
Qi
In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts...

 breathing and its effect on the body's center of gravity
Center of gravity
In physics, a center of gravity of a material body is a point that may be used for a summary description of gravitational interactions. In a uniform gravitational field, the center of mass serves as the center of gravity...

, called the dantian
Dantian
Dantian, dan t'ian, dan tien or tan t'ien is loosely translated as "elixir field". It is described as an important focal point for internal meditative techniques.There are various points of dantian...

 or "hara" in Japanese — thereby associating kōan practice with pre-existing Taoist
Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

 and Yogic
Yoga
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India. The goal of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility while meditating on Supersoul...

 chakra
Chakra
Chakra is a concept originating in Hindu texts, featured in tantric and yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Its name derives from the Sanskrit word for "wheel" or "turning" .Chakra is a concept referring to wheel-like vortices...

 meditative practices.

Role of kōans in Soto, Rinzai, and other sects


Study of kōan literature is common to both Sōtō
Soto
Sōtō Zen , or is, with Rinzai and Ōbaku, one of the three most populous sects of Zen in Japanese Buddhism.The Sōtō sect was first established as the Caodong sect during the Tang Dynasty in China by Dongshan Liangjie in the 9th century, which Dōgen Zenji then brought to Japan in the 13th century...

 and Rinzai Zen. Kōan practice — concentrating on kōans during meditation and other activities — is particularly important among Japanese practitioners of the Rinzai sect; few Soto practitioners concentrate on kōans during meditation.

The Soto sect has a strong historical connection with kōans, where many kōan collections were compiled by Soto priests. During the 13th century, Dōgen
Dogen
Dōgen Zenji was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto, and the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan after travelling to China and training under the Chinese Caodong lineage there...

, founder of the Soto sect in Japan, compiled some 300 kōans in the volumes known as the Greater Shōbōgenzō
Shobogenzo
The term Shōbōgenzō has three main usages in Buddhism: It can refer to the essence of the Buddha's realization and teaching, that is, to the Buddha Dharma itself, as viewed from the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism, it is the title of a koan collection with commentaries by Dahui Zonggao, and it...

. Other kōan collections compiled and annotated by Soto priests include The Iron Flute (Japanese: Tetteki Tosui, compiled by Genro in 1783) and Verses and Commentaries on One Hundred Old Cases of Tenchian (Japanese: Tenchian hyakusoku hyoju, compiled by Tetsumon in 1771.) However, according to Michel Mohr, "...kōan practice was largely expunged from the Soto school through the efforts of Gentō Sokuchū
Gento Sokuchu
Gento Sokuchu was a Soto Zen priest and 11th abbot of Eiheiji in Fukui, Japan who greatly deemphasized the use of koans in the Soto school. According to Steven Heine, "Gento's efforts to 'purify' his lineage of foreign influence seems to have contributed to Ryōkan's decision to leave Entsūji and...

 (1729–1807), the eleventh abbot of Entsuji, who in 1795 was nominated abbot of Eiheiji".

Many members of Japan's Sanbo Kyodan
Sanbo Kyodan
Sanbo Kyodan is a Zen sect derived from both the Rinzai and Soto traditions of Japanese Zen.-History:...

 sect, and of various schools derived from that sect in North America, Europe, and Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, use kōans in their meditative practice. Sanbō Kyōdan was established in the 20th century and has roots in both the Soto and Rinzai traditions.

Interpretation of kōans


The purpose of kōans for a Zen practitioner is to become aware of the difference between themselves, their mind, and their beliefs, which influence how they see the world; and, ultimately, to help them realise their true nature. Once a Zen practitioner becomes aware of their mind as an independent form, the kōan makes sense and the teaching point is realised.

Zen teachers and practitioners, for example, Seung Sahn
Seung Sahn
Seung Sahn Haeng Won Dae Soen-sa , born Dok-In Lee, was a Korean Jogye Seon master and founder of the international Kwan Um School of Zen—the largest Zen institution present in the Western world. He was the seventy-eighth teacher in his lineage...

, insist that the meaning of a kōan can only be demonstrated in a live experience. Texts, including kōan collections and encyclopedia articles, cannot convey that meaning. Yet the Zen tradition has produced a large amount of literature, including thousands of kōans and at least dozens of volumes of commentary. Nevertheless, teachers have long alerted students to the danger of confusing the interpretation of a kōan with the realization of a kōan. When teachers say "do not confuse the pointing finger with the moon", they indicate that awakening is the realization of one's true nature — not the ability to interpret a kōan with one's mind. Many traditions have students solve kōans in a series; as a kōan is resolved, another kōan is presented to the student.

Kōans emerge from a literary context, and understanding that context can often remove some — but presumably not all — of the mystery surrounding a kōan. For example, evidence suggests that when a monk asked Zhaozhou "does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?", the monk was asking a question that students had asked teachers for generations. The controversy over whether all beings have the potential for enlightenment is even older — and, in fact, vigorous controversy still surrounds the matter of Buddha nature. Teachers typically warn against over-intellectualizing kōans, but the mysteries of kōans compel some students to place them in their original context — for example, by clarifying metaphors that were well-known to monks at the time the kōans originally circulated.

The Blue Cliff Record


The Blue Cliff Record
Blue Cliff Record
The Blue Cliff Record ; Vietnamese: Bích nham lục ) is a collection of Chán Buddhist koans originally compiled in China during the Song dynasty in 1125 and then expanded into its present form by the Chán master Yuanwu Keqin .The book includes Yuanwu's annotations and commentary on Xuedou...

  is a collection of 100 kōans compiled in 1125 by Yuanwu Keqin
Yuanwu Keqin
Yuanwu Keqin was the Chinese Chan Buddhist monk who wrote commentaries on the one-hundred koans compiled by Xuedou Zhongxian . The koans and commentaries together are known as Blue Cliff Record .-References:* J. C...

 (圜悟克勤 1063–1135).

The Book of Equanimity


The Book of Equanimity or Book of Serenity (Chinese: 從容録; Japanese: 従容録 Shōyōroku) is a collection of 100 Kōans compiled in the 12th century by Hongzhi Zhengjue
Hongzhi Zhengjue
Hongzhi Zhengjue was a Chinese Chán Buddhist monk who authored or compiled several influential Buddhist texts. Hongzhi's conception of "silent illumination" is of particular importance to the Chinese Caodong and Japanese Sōtō Zen schools; however, Hongzhi was also the author of an important...

 (Chinese: 宏智正覺; Japanese: Wanshi Zenji) (1091–1157).

The Gateless Gate


The Gateless Gate
The Gateless Gate
The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Chan koans compiled in the early 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k'ai . Wumen's preface indicates that the volume was published in 1228. Each koan is accompanied by a commentary and verse by Wumen...

 (Chinese: 無門關 Wumenguan; Japanese: Mumonkan) is a collection of 48 kōans and commentaries published in 1228 by Chinese monk Wumen
Wumen
Wumen Huikai is a Song period Chán master most famous as the compiler of and commentator on the 48-koan collection The Gateless Gate . Wumen was at that time the monastery.Wumen was born in Hangzhou and his first master was Gong Heshang...

 (無門) (1183–1260). The title may be more accurately rendered as Gateless Barrier or Gateless Checkpoint).

Five kōans in the collection derive from the sayings and doings of Zhaozhou Congshen
Zhaozhou
Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn , was a Chán Buddhist master especially known for his "paradoxical statements and strange deeds".Zhaozhou became ordained as a monk at an early age. At the age of 18, he met Nánquán Pǔyuàn , a successor of Mǎzǔ Dàoyī , and eventually received the Dharma from him...

, (transliterated as Chao-chou in Wade-Giles and pronounced Jōshū in Japanese).

The True Dharma Eye


The True Dharma Eye 300 (Shōbōgenzō
Shobogenzo
The term Shōbōgenzō has three main usages in Buddhism: It can refer to the essence of the Buddha's realization and teaching, that is, to the Buddha Dharma itself, as viewed from the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism, it is the title of a koan collection with commentaries by Dahui Zonggao, and it...

 Sanbyakusoku) is a collection of 300 kōans compiled by Eihei Dōgen.

Killing the Buddha


Thinking about Buddha is delusion, not awakening. One must destroy preconceptions of the Buddha. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki
Shunryu Suzuki
Shunryu Suzuki was a Sōtō Zen roshi who popularized Zen Buddhism in the United States, particularly around San Francisco. Born in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan, Suzuki was occasionally mistaken for the Zen scholar D.T...

 wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is a book of teachings by the late Shunryu Suzuki, a compilation of talks given to his satellite Zen center in Los Altos, California. Published in 1970 by Weatherhill, the book is not academic. These are frank and direct transcriptions of Suzukis' talks recorded by his...

 during an introduction to Zazen
Zazen
In Zen Buddhism, zazen is a meditative discipline practitioners perform to calm the body and the mind, and be able to concentrate enough to experience insight into the nature of existence and thereby gain enlightenment .- Significance :Zazen is considered the heart of Zen Buddhist practice...

, "Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature."
One is only able to see a Buddha as he exists in separation from Buddha, the mind of the practitioner is thus still holding onto apparent duality.
One translation of "kill" would be with the word "cut" instead - bearing in mind the importance of the sword for the Japanese culture in the days of the Zen foundation.
The sword is also an esoteric symbol and one uses a sword to cut through the veils of illusion.

The sound of one hand


"...in the beginning a monk first thinks a kōan is an inert object upon which to focus attention; after a long period of consecutive repetition, one realizes that the kōan is also a dynamic activity, the very activity of seeking an answer to the kōan. The kōan is both the object being sought and the relentless seeking itself. In a kōan, the self sees the self not directly but under the guise of the kōan... When one realizes ("makes real") this identity, then two hands have become one. The practitioner becomes the kōan that he or she is trying to understand. That is the sound of one hand." — G. Victor Sogen Hori, Translating the Zen Phrase Book

See also

  • Apophthegmata Patrum
    Apophthegmata Patrum
    The Apophthegmata Patrum is the name given to various collections of Sayings of the Desert Fathers, consisting of stories and sayings attributed to the Desert Fathers from approximately the 5th century CE....

  • Dharma
    Dharma
    Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

  • Hacker koan
    Hacker koan
    Out of hacker culture, and especially the artificial intelligence community at MIT, there have sprung a number of humorous short stories about computer science dubbed hacker koans; most of these are recorded in an appendix to the Jargon File, where they are called AI Koans...

    s, humorous expressions of hacker culture
    Hacker culture
    A hacker is a member of the computer programmer subculture originated in the 1960s in the United States academia, in particular around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 's Tech Model Railroad Club and MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory...

  • Kirigami
    Kirigami (Soto Zen)
    The kirigami were esoteric documents of the Sōtō school in medieval Japan which "reflect a creative use of traditional kōan records integrated with popular religious themes such as devotion to local gods and the exorcism of demonic spirits." For instance, "Various kirigami present the deity of...

  • Original face
    Original face
    The original face is a concept in Zen Buddhism. It originates in the following koan:This koan is an invitation for one to recognize the empty nature of reality by looking beyond the particulars of one's socio-cultural and psychological understanding of self, body, and mind...

  • Tanzan
    Tanzan
    Tanzan was a Buddhist monk and professor of Philosophy at the Japanese Imperial University during the Meiji period. Considered a Zen Master, he figures in several well-known koans...

    , Subhuti
    Subhuti
    Subhūti was one of the Ten Great Śrāvakas of Śākyamuni Buddha, and foremost in the understanding of emptiness. In Sanskrit, his name literally means "Good Existence" . He is also sometimes referred to as or "Elder Subhūti"...

     and Tetsugen

Further Readings

  • Loori, John Daido. Sitting with Koans: Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Koan Study. Wisdom Publications, 2005. ISBN 978-0-86171-369-1
  • Hoffmann, Yoel.tr. The Sound of the One Hand. Basic Books, 1975. ISBN 978-0-465-08079-3 This book contains examples of how some Zen practitioners answer the koans "correctly". Originally published in Japan almost a century ago as a critique of fossilization of Zen, that is formalization of koan practice.
  • Kirchner, Thomas Yūhō. Entangling Vines : Zen Koans of the Shūmon Kattōshū 宗門葛藤集. Saga Tenryuji (Japan): Tenryu-ji Institute for Philosophy and Religion, 2004.
  • Seung Sahn, Ten Gates: The Kong-an Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn. Primary Point Press,1987. Letters on koans from a Korean Zen Master.
  • Steven Heine, and Dale S. Wright, eds. The Kōan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-511749-2

External links