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ZAZEN MEDITATION GUIDE - Chapter 07. How to Work with a Koan
a. Koan: Joshu's Dog, by Zen master Mumon Ekai:
from "Wu-men Kuan" by Zen master Wu-men, the 1st koan, translated from Chinese text).
A monk asked Zen master Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature?
Joshu replied: "No."
To study Zen you must pass through the barrier of the Zen patriarchs; for wonderful enlightenment you must exhaust all your mental circuit. If you do not pass through the barrier of the patriarchs, and do not exhaust your mental circuit, you are like a shadow of a ghost leaning on leaves of plants and blades of grasses. But what is the barrier of the patriarchs? This one word "NO" that is the very door to the source; so it is called the "Gateless Barrier of Zen."
Those who can pass through this barrier not only see Joshu in person but also will be able to walk with the patriarchs of all time hand in hand, be a part of each other, see the same eye, and hear the same ear. Would that not be joyous?
Isn't there anyone who wants to pass through the barrier?
Take all three hundred sixty bones in your body, forty-eight thousand pores on your body, and with your mind, too, make them all into a mass of doubt, inquiring the word No, bringing it to mind day and night. Do not understand the word No as the existence, do not understand it as the non-existence of something.
It will be like having to swallow a hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out no matter how hard you try. Wipe out all the previous misconceptions and misperceptions, eventually it becomes tamed, inside and outside become one mass. It is like a dumb person who has had a dream, you can only see it for yourself.
When you suddenly break through, startling the heaven and shaking the earth, it as though you obtained the great sword of the General Kwan: meeting buddhas, you kill the buddhas; meeting Zen patriarchs, you kill the Zen patriarchs. On the shore of life and death, you are totally independent; in the midst of six realms of rebirths and four modes of existence, you walk freely and enjoy with samadhi.
But how do you bring it to mind? Using all of your energy day and night, bring up this word No. If you can keep it continuously, you will be like a torch of Dharma that lights up at the moment fire just set to it.
A dog Buddha-nature!
This is presentation of the whole, the absolute imperative.
As soon as you get into "has" or "has not"
You lose your body and forfeit your life.
b. Koan " What Is It That Hears?" by Zen master Bassui Tokusho (Jap.):
from "Three Pillars of Zen" , translated by Philip Kapleau, 1989.
In zazen neither despise nor cherish the thoughts that arise; only search your own mind, the very source of these thoughts grasping the source of the sounds of the world about him.
We must understand that anything appearing in your consciousness or seen by your eyes is an illusion, of no enduring reality. Hence you should neither fear nor be fascinated by such phenomena. If you keep your mind as empty as space, unstained by extraneous matters, no evil spirits can disturb you even on your deathbed.
While engaged in zazen, however, keep none of these counsels in mind. You must become the question "What is this Mind?" or "What is it hears these sounds?" When you realize this Mind you will know that it is the very source of all Buddhas and sentient beings.
The Bodhisattva Kannon [Avalokiteshvara] is so called because he attained enlightenment by perceiving that:
At work, at rest, never stop trying to realize who is it that hears.
Even though your questioning penetrates the unconscious, you won't find the one who hears, and all your efforts will come to naught.
Yet sounds can be heard, so question yourself to an even profounder level. At last every vestige of self-awareness will disappear and you will feel like a cloudless sky. Within yourself you will find no "I." Nor will you discover anyone who hears.
This Mind is like the void, yet it hasn't a single spot that can be called empty. Do not mistake this state for Self-realization, but continue to ask yourself even more intensely, "Now who is it that hears?" If you bore and bore into this question, oblivious to anything else, even this feeling of voidness will vanish and you won't be aware of anything - total darkness will prevail. Don't stop here, keep asking with all your strength, "What is it that hears?" Only when you have completely exhausted the questioning will the question burst; now you will feel like a man come back from the dead. This is true realization. You will see the Buddhas of all universes face to face and the patriarchs past and present.
Test yourself with this koan: " A monk asked Joshu: 'What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming to China?' Joshu replied: 'The oak tree in the garden.'" Should this koan leave you a lightest doubt, you need to resume questioning "What is it that hears?"
If you don't come to realization in this present life, when will you? Once you have died you won't be able to avoid a long period of suffering in the Three Evil Paths. What is obstructing realization? Nothing but your own haft-hearted desire for truth. Think of this and exert yourself to the utmost.
c. How to Work with a "Hua-tou" by Zen master Hsu Yun :
End of ZAZEN MEDITATION GUIDE - Chapter 07. How to Work with a Koan
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from "Practice of Zen" translated by Garma C. C. Chang, 1970.
When beginners first practice Zen, they always have difficulty in subduing their ever-flowing errant thoughts, and suffer the miseries of pains in their legs. They do not know how to work these matters out.
The important thing is to stick to Hua-tou (Chinese word: the most important word or phrase to stick to in a koan, for example, the word "No" in the koan Joshu's Dog) at all times, when walking, lying, or standing. From morning to night observing Hua-tou vividly and clearly, until it appears in your mind like the autumn moon reflected limpidly in quiet water. If you practice this way, you can be assured of reaching the state of Enlightenment.
In meditation, if you feel sleepy, you may open your eyes widely and straighten your back; you will then feel fresher and more alert than before.
When working on the Hua-tou, you should be neither too subtle nor too loose. If you are too subtle you may feel very serene and comfortable, but you are apt to lose the Hua-tou. The consequence will then be that you will fall into the 'dead emptiness'. Right in the state of serenity, if you do not loose the Hua-tou, you may then be able to progress further than the top of the hundred-foot pole you have already ascended. If you are to loose, too many errant thought will attack you. You will then find it difficult to subdue them.
In short, the Zen practitioner should be well adjusted neither too tight nor too loose; in the looseness there should be tightness, and in the tightness there should be looseness. Practicing in such manner, one may then gain improvement, and merge stillness and motion into one whole.
I remember in the old days when I practiced the circle-running exercise in Golden Mountain Monastery and other places, the supervising monks made us run like flying birds! Oh! We monks really could run when the warning board suddenly sounded its stop-signal, everybody stopped and stood still like so many dead poles! Now think! Under these circumstances, how could any drowsiness or distracting thoughts possibly arise?
When you are meditating in the sitting posture, you should never bring the Hua-tou up too high; if you bring it up too much, you will get a headache. Nor should you place the Hua-tou in your chest; if you do, you will feel uncomfortable and suffer a pain there. Nor should you press the Hua-tou down too low; if you do, you will have trouble with your stomach and see delusive visions.
What you should do is to watch the word 'Who,' softly and gently, with smooth mind and calm, steady breath, like that of a hen as she hatches her eggs or a cat when she watches a mouse. If you can do this well, you will find that one of these days your life-root will suddenly and abruptly break off!"
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