Zen koans, anyone?

Discussion in 'Buddhism' started by brian, Apr 18, 2003.

  1. brian

    brian Administrator Admin

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2003
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    0
    Anyone familar with ridiculous sounding questions, such as:

    Well, that's what's referred to in Zen Buddhism as a Koan.

    I thought I'd open this thread and see how many Koans we could collect, and then see about finding the answers to them. ;)
     
  2. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste Brian,

    thank you for the post.

    yes, i'm very familiar with Zen and it's koan's...

    i would characterize them more as "nonsensical" rather than ridiculous... and as for finding answers :)

    often the Koan is given to a student until they understand it... and this can take years depending on the capabilities of the student.

    there are two Koans that i really think are provoking...

    one is a modern koan:

    Picture a massless particle.

    the other one that i like is:

    When the Many are reduced to One, to what is the One reduced?
     
  3. Elizabeth May

    Elizabeth May New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2003
    Messages:
    106
    Likes Received:
    0
    A massless particle? Doesn't that look like,,wait a mo,, !;D
     
  4. Elizabeth May

    Elizabeth May New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2003
    Messages:
    106
    Likes Received:
    0
    Oh hi and welcome to comparative religion, Vajradhara!
    :)
     
  5. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste,

    thank you for the welcome :)
     
  6. brian

    brian Administrator Admin

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2003
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    0
    A massless particle? Is a photon not massless? In which case to picture a massless particle I need only picture light?

    Or am I being too literal here? I never was very good at riddles. :)
     
  7. Iacchus

    Iacchus God of the Mask

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2003
    Messages:
    114
    Likes Received:
    0
    I think koans are more like rhetorical questions in response to inquiries about the nature of reality - that must ultimately be answered for oneself. For example, here are a few examples from Alan Watts', Behold the Spirit ...

     
  8. Dave the Web

    Dave the Web New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2003
    Messages:
    187
    Likes Received:
    0
    I like the last one. It made me smile!
    :)
     
  9. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste Brian,

    thank you for the post.

    a photon does, indeed, have mass though it's quite literally not discernable apart from the observation.. Heisneberg's principle at work there...

    recall that energy is mass and vice versa :) so the photon has a mass... generally though, the modern physics would posit a different type of mass... a "resting mass" for the photon even though the photon itself is never "at rest".

    ahh... you've got to like modern quantum physics :)


    also, something to keep in mind... Zen uses to techniques... Koan and Mondo. basically, the Koan has no rational answer and is desgined to provoke the mind from it's habitual patterns whereas the Mondo does have a rational answer and is usually given as a meditation point.

    *ducks as the Soto and Rinzai folks throw their zafus at me* :)
     
  10. Arch

    Arch New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2003
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    0
    'What is the sound of a mute person laughing'?
    Would that count as a koan?
     
  11. brian

    brian Administrator Admin

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2003
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    0
    Rest mass - ah, of course. :)

    And that explains a great deal! Mondos is not a topic I remember encountering - which you be interested in taking this up?

    As to the quotes system - sorry - new board coming next week that should make it all much easier. :)
     
  12. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste Brian,

    no problems... i'm getting it figured out :)

    as for your question... i'm afraid that i don't quite follow... could you clarify?
     
  13. brian

    brian Administrator Admin

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2003
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    0
    I was simply asking for a quick example of a Mondo - though I'll do a quick search on Google instead. :)
     
  14. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste Brian,

    ah... i see it now.. it was worded a bit oddly for me ;)

    nevertheless...

    there are a few things that we need to keep in mind...

    a mondo is a process, if you will, of verifying or testing the student to see if there is a proper understanding of the Dharma. it is commonly referred to as "Dharma Combat" which connotes something which it isn't :) it's really more of a running Q&A between a master and student.

    by contrast, a koan is typcially a phrase that the student mediates over and it does not have a logical answer.

    a few examples of mondos:

    "I am going to pose a question," King Milinda said to Venerable Nagasena. "Can you answer?"
    Nagasena said, "Please ask your question."
    The king said, "I have already asked."
    Nagasena said, "I have already answered."
    The king said, "What did you answer?"
    Nagasena said, "What did you ask?"
    The king said, "I asked nothing."
    Nagasena said, "I answered nothing."

    A Zen Master was asked by a monk: "What is Buddha?"
    And he replied: "The cat is climbing up a post."
    When the monk confessed that he could not understand the Master, the latter said: "You go ask the post."

    Question: "In what way do my hands resemble the Buddha's hands?"
    Answer: "Playing the lute in the midnight."
    Question: "In what way do my feet resemble the feet of a donkey?"
    Answer: "When the heron stands in snow, its color is not the same."

    D.T. Suzuki tells of a disciple who asked a Zen Master: "With what frame of mind should one discipline oneself in the truth?"
    And the Master answered: "There is no mind to be framed, nor is there any truth in which to be disciplined."
    "If there is no mind to be framed and no truth in which to be disciplined, why do you have a daily gathering of monks who are studying Zen and disciplining themselves in the truth?"
    The Master replied: "I have not an inch of space to spare, and where could I have a gathering of monks? I have no tongue, and how would it be possible for me to advise others to come to me?"
    The questioner then examined: "How can you tell me a lie like that to my face?"
    The Master said: "When I have no tongue to advise others, is it possible for me to tell a lie?"
    The disciple then said despairingly: "I cannot follow your reasoning."
    "Neither do I understand myself," concluded the Zen Master.

    A monk asked Chao-Chou, "If a poor man comes, what should one give him?"
    "He lacks nothing," answered the Master.
     
  15. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste all,

    something else to keep in mind... recall the setting in which Koans and the like were formed... a monastic setting. these statements that have been recorded as koan's are not the normal way of speaking in a Zen monastary, it's precisely because the turn of phrase is so odd that it has been preserved.

    there is a concept in Zen called "special pointing to outside of doctrine" and that is the specail method by with the Zen master transfers his knowledge to the student.

    gassho.
     
  16. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2003
    Messages:
    6,532
    Likes Received:
    10
    I have to say, I find the Koans and Mondos perplexing. None seem as like answers in a rational sense. I gather that is precisely the point, though?

    I can understand the need for someone to learn for themselves upon a journey of spiritual exploration, thus comprehend their experience - rather than simply be provided with a shopping list of "Truth". I presume that part of the emphasis in the Koans and Mondos is very much a part of that?
     
  17. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste Brian,

    yes, that is very much the case. generally speaking koans and modos were given by a teacher to a student based upon the students need, as such, any given koan or mondo may or may not make much sense or be of any meditive value.

    a well used analogy that still seems to work is.. that of the menu and the food. whilst reading the menu will give you an intellectual understanding of the meal, it's the actual experience of eating the food that is what is important.
     
  18. Dave the Web

    Dave the Web New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2003
    Messages:
    187
    Likes Received:
    0
    And I thought Christianity could be confusing!
     
  19. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2003
    Messages:
    3,786
    Likes Received:
    45
    Namaste Dave,

    :) it can be :) one of the things that, in my opinion, is necessary to understand other religions is the culture in which they came from. Buddhism, luckily for us, comes from the Indian culture of which there are plenty of history and cultural books from which we can educate ourselves to the particular world view of that people.

    when we can understand their world view, in my opinion, only then can we begin to truly understand what the religion is trying to convey. to be sure, we can read books that are devoid of the culture (i.e. the religious texts themselves) however, many of the things that they talk about are presupposed to be understood by the reader.

    actually, we find this same type of thing in every reglious text that we read. we pretty much need an understanding of the area and times or a lot of the text is incomprehensible.
     
  20. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2003
    Messages:
    6,532
    Likes Received:
    10
    Absolutely right about context. :)

    Without trying to divert the thread, I've found some important references in the Bible that have cultural connotations that can completely change their meaning.

    For example, the famous quote by Jesus about how a rich man has about as much chance of entering Heaven as a fully laden camel through the eye of the needle. It turns out that apparently there was a gate to the Jerusalem Temple, that was very small - enough for a mule - and was known as "the Needle". A 1st century Judaic audience would understand this - and would probably laugh at the absurd imagery. In fact, this would therefore mean that Jesus effectively told a joke. Which in itself is a much more satisfying rendition of the comment, but one where the context is apparently lost.
     

Share This Page