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Koans and such

To: alt.zen
From: (Luke C. Bairan)
Subject: Re: Koans and such (another explaination) (9409.kungans.kk)
Date: 499409xx

Quoting: Kenneth Kraft

	Here's an excerpt from "Zen: Tradition and Transition" Edited by
Kenneth Kraft.  It's a recent book compiling essays from modern Zen
Masters and scholars dealing with both Zen tradtionally and it's
westernization.  It's not really a beginner's book but it does give some
inside information on things like Dokusan, Koans, etc.  This particular
excerpt is from an essay on Zen Medititation by Master Seng-Yen.  In this
part he gets into a brief discussion of koans which has relevence to
certain threads in this group.


	Koan practice is taken up by Roshis Kapleau and Eido in the next 
two chapters, so the treatment here will be brief.  A koan is an account 
of an incident between a master and one or more disciples which involves 
an understanding or experience of enlightened mind.  A koan usually, but 
not always, involves dialogue.  When the original incident is remembered 
and recorded, it becomes a "public case," which is the literal meaning 
of koan.  Often what makes the incident worth recording is that the 
disciple's mind, if only for an instant, transcends attachment and logic, 
and he catches a glimpse of emptiness or Buddha-nature.  At that moment 
there is a "transmission" of Mind between master and disciple.  Once, 
after the Buddha gave a sermon to his senior disciples, he picked up a 
flower and silently held it up before the assembly.  All the monks except 
one were mystified.  Mahakasyapa alone knew the Buddha's meaning; he 
smiled, saying nothing. Thus the Buddha transmitted to Mahakasyapa the 
wordless doctrine of Mind.  Although this incident preceded the rise of 
Ch'an by over a thousand years, it exemplifies the spirit of koans.
	The earliest koans were spontaneous incidents that arose 
naturally in the context of practice.  During the Sung dynasty 
(960-1279), Ch'an masters began using these "public cases" as a method of 
meditation for their disciples.  In attempting to plumb the meaning of a 
koan, one has to abandon knowledge, experience, and reasoning, since the 
answer is not susceptible to these methods.  The student must find the 
answer by "becoming one" with the koan.  Only when there is nothing left 
in the mind but the koan is awakening possible.
	Closely related to the koan is the `hua-t'ou' (literally "head of 
a thought"), a question that the meditator inwardly asks himself.  "What 
is Mu?" or "Who am I?" are two good examples.  As with the koan, the 
answer is not resolvable through reasoning.  The meditator devotes his 
full attention to asking heimself the hua-t'ou, over and over.  His 
objective is to probe into the source of the question, that is the state 
of mind that existed before the question became a thought.
	Koans and hua-t'ous ar both methods of ts'an Ch'an, 
"investigating Ch'an".  Because the Buddha sometimes used a 
question-and-answer format to deepen the understanding of his disciples, 
the word ts'an is also applicable to the Buddha's teaching methods.  
Another instance of ts'an Ch'an is the practice of making the rounds to 
accomplished masters in order to engage them in dialogue.  Sometimes the 
practitioner has reached an impasse in his investigation, and needs some 
"turning words"  from a master to give him the impetus for a 
breakthrough.  Advanced practitioners also visited masters in order to 
assess their own understanding of Ch'an or certify their own attainment.  
Koans and hua-t'ous were well suited to these situations.  Any 
interchange between master and disciple can be an opportunity for a live, 
spontaneous koan or hua-t'ou;  these practices are not limited to sayings 
and questions from the historical record.
	Another way in which koans and hua-t'uos are related is that a 
hua-t'ou can give rise to a koan, and vice versa.  For example, the 
question "If all the myriad things in the universe return to the One, to 
what does the One return?"  was originally a hua-t'ou.  When a student 
asked Master Chao-chou this same question, he answered, "When I was in 
Ch'ing Province I had one hempen shirt made weighing seven pounds."  
This exchange became an important koan.  Conversly, a key phrase in a koan 
frequently serves as the source for a Hua-t'ou.  Thus "What is Mu?"  is 
derived from the koan "Does a dog have Buddha Nature?"


	The rest of the book is interesting also.  There's even a section 
where one Master reccomends a whole new set of Western koans.



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