Koans (teishos 593-1998 & 1026-2006)

To say it in the abstract is easy, but to explain reality in words is difficult. This is the key to koans. When one is working on a koan, any explanation is an utter waste of time.

When one thinks of what language has made possible, it is awe inspiring. Yet we take it for granted, we do not give it a thought. But despite all of this linguistic magnificence words just cannot touch it, cannot explain the colour red; try to tell a blind man what the colour red is. When one starts looking at what words cannot do one realises that despite all their magnificence, they are very thin things. What am I? Where is a word that can come anywhere near it?

This is the reason we have koans. To try to put up a frame to focus the mind in a way that is not a convergent focus. A focus that is not seizing or grasping. It is a way by which one can set the mind in readiness.

When one is asking What am I? one must go right to the source of that word ‘I’. Cut right through. There is a koan that tells of Layman Pang being asked to give a talk on the Diamond sutra. He comes up to the lectern and “CRACK”, then walks away. In that CRACK are all the sutras.

To see into your true nature you must walk the razor’s edge, you must wake up to this razor’s edge, this subtlety of perception.

Awakening is always a flash. It isn’t a question of time even. It is not that one moment there is the unawakened state and the next moment the awakened state. It is talked about in this way because we have to divide things up to talk about anything. There is no before and after with awakening. It is no moment. One realises one was never unawakened, that one is always in samadhi.

“The bodhisatva, holding to nothing whatever, is freed of delusive hindrance, rid of the fear bred by it.” Everything is just as it is.

What do you want? What are you looking for? It is so easy to be carried along by the stream of events. We think that knowledge is desirable and that there is a self that we can gain knowledge about. Knowledge is over-emphasised in our society. What is it that gives status to knowledge? Why do we want to know? Knowing is our very nature and we believe that in knowledge we can capture that knowing. Nisargadatta: “True knowledge of the self is not knowledge. It is not something you find by searching. “

Dogen said, “You must think the unthinkable” and this is using the mind in an intense way. What is the difference between using the mind and gaining knowledge? Using the mind is awakening the mind, but it can only be awakened if there is some kind of problem, something that doesn’t fit. It is in being presented with a contradiction that the mind becomes active. This is why knowledge is deadening. It says: this is how it is. There is no argument; no room for contradiction or ambiguity. When we use the mind to deal with an ambiguity, something that doesn’t fit, the mind is aroused. So when we say use the mind, we want you to search out that which is contradictory, which doesn’t fit. Search out the absurd, ask questions about that which nobody asks questions about. Look at things differently, turn things on their head. This is koan practice. A koan always has a contradiction. The basis of all koans is: “there is nothing you can do. Now, what are you going to do?”

Use the confusion of your life. Life is constantly throwing up conflicts, ambiguities. Use the tension; the mind is dull and torpid if we leave it alone, we sink easily into inertia, into habit. It is for this reason that we have to take up a koan. One uses the mind, not in the direction of resolving something, but in order to find the problem, to realize the problem, not to get away from it.

Take the koan Mu. Mu means No. Everything has Buddha nature, and yet Joshu says that a dog does not have Buddha nature. Mu. How do you know “No”? How can you enter into No? How can you enter into a negation? You have to ponder this, question it, dig deeply into it. You have to use the mind. It is thinking, but not in the way of closure. You are enlivening the questioning condition. It is because one realises that nothing one can do is of any avail that the question becomes so imperative.

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