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Sufism and Koans

To: tariqas Elist
From: Haramullah (
Subject: Sufism and Koans
Date: 49940827

My brother Rahim quotes a koan and writes:

|--"Why did Bodhidharma come to China?  (Answer:) The oak tree in the

Individual koans only have answers within the context of the student
and master.  To take them out of it and say that 'the answer' is a
particular thing is to misconstrue the event.  The word above should
not be "Answer" but "Response", for this was the response given within
a traditional (popular/famous) interaction.


|-Do we experience this answer as incongruous? The zen perspective is
|-that the question is absurd. 

There is no 'zen perspective'.  Zen is beyond any single perspective.
This is why there is such a voluminous torrent of books and books
about books with commentaries and whatnot.  There is no firm and stagnant
doctrine except within particular religious sects.

|-What matters is the suchness of the tree, the experience of reality 
|-as it is, rather than how it is distorted by conceptual filters.
|-Although I can only hold open the question as to whether such unfiltered 
|-perception resonates with the stages of haqiqat and ma'arifat, I suggest 
|-a parallel to the fact of the revelation of Qur'an to the Messenger of 
|-God, as compared to the dunya-devious taunting challenge by the Quraish 
|-to physically demonstrate a book descending from heaven.

I'm not sure that such intellectual speculation truly applies to the koan,
though it is interesting and worthy reflection.

[Rahim responds:]

|Unlike Zen, Islam does not spurn intellectuality.  One cannot leap
|from ignorance to marifat.  Every level is to be traversed and

This is an overly extreme statement.  Not only is Zen Buddhism too wide
a range to encapsulate in such a statement, due to the fact that there
exist two major schools within the tradition (centering on 'sudden
enlightenment', to which Rahim refers, and 'gradual enlightenment',
which contradicts the above), but sufism itself extends beyond the
'gradual enlightenment' camp:

"How shall a man know God?  Not by the senses, for He is immaterial;
 nor by the intellect, for He is unthinkable.  Logic never gets
 beyond the finite; philosophy sees double; book-learning fosters
 self-conceit and obscures the idea of the Truth with clouds of
 empty words.  Jalaluddin Rumi, addressing the scholastic theologian,
 asks scornfully:

      "'Do you know a name without a thing answering to it?
	Have you ever plucked a rose from R, O, S, E?
	You name His name; go seek the reality named by it!
	Look for the moon in the sky, not in the water!
	If you desire to rise above mere names and letters,
	Make yourself free from self at one stroke.
	Become pure from all attributes of self,
	That you may see your own bright essence,
	Yea, see in your own heart the knowledge of the Prophet,
 	Without book, without tutor, without preceptor.'

"This knowledge comes by illumination, revelation, inspiration."

_The Mystics of Islam_, Reynold A. Nicholson, pp. 69-70.

I suspect that the most extreme difference between the use of the
teaching story and the koan is that while the story may inspire
within us a *readiness* for the Grace of God, the koan is thought
to catalyze a transformation and make possible the Leap to the Other
Shore.  That is, it is the context in which they are used which is
most at variance.  The sufis locate the responsibility for progress
ultimately to Allah, while the buddhists rest the responsibility
squarely upon the shoulders of the individual monk.  The master or
guide may facilitate preparation in both cases, and it must proceed
from a ground of dedication on the part of the aspirant, yet the
expected *result* of teaching the story or giving the koan appears
to be different.

Alaikum dinakum waleyah din.


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