What are three good reasons for studying koans? First of all, koan study is an efficient and effective means to bring students to realization of their true self. Second, koans attract type A personalities and goal-oriented people to meditation. Third, they give you something to think about while meditating.
What are three really bad reasons? See answer to question one.
Do you have a favorite koan? I have many favorite koans, and it is hard to pick only one. I especially like case 20 in the Book of Equanimity, when Master Jizo asks Hogen what is the nature of his pilgrimage and Hogen replies, “I don’t know.” Jizo then says, “Not knowing is most intimate.” Hearing that, Hogen experiences great enlightenment.
As soon as we think we know something, then we become rigid and unresponsive. You know the famous phrase: “For the beginner there are many possibilities, but for the expert there are few.” Maintaining a mind of “not knowing” allows us to respond to situations with openness, freshness, and joy.
When none of the monks could say a word of Zen to save the cat, Master Nansen cut the cat in two. Does that mean he was a dog person? There is no indication in the historical record of Nansen’s preference for cats or dogs. But there is a theory that, at the time of the cat incident, the dogs were in the zendo meditating on whether or not they have Buddha-nature.
If Michael Corleone came to you like the monk came to Bodhidharma and said, “Please put my mind to rest,” what would you do? I would tell him to make a large donation to our building fund. After all, it’s business; it’s not personal.
What if it were Fredo? I would tell him that life is short. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. And be sure to include the Zen Center in your will.
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