Tuesday, April 26, 2005
5. After anyone proceeds in practice long enough, even koans that a student is not formally studying begin to take on meaning that wasn't apparent previously. What koans do you find particularly inscrutable?
Well, first of all, I'm a Soto Zen student, not Rinzai, and in Soto, we don't have a formal koan practice. To be sure, we use koans as dharma study, and discuss them, but we don't have a formal system of working on each one and becoming one with the koan before passing on to the next as in Rinzai study, and the focus of Soto study is on gradual enlightenment through shinantaza ("just sitting") rather than a sudden kensho experience. We feel that life presents enough riddles in and of itself, there's no need to challenge ourselves with any more.
This is not to say that one way is correct and the other isn't. It's just that it's been my karma to have met a Soto teacher, and I study under his direction in the Soto tradition. I appreciate and am fascinated by much in Rinzai, especially the koan practice, but feel it is better to work under one teacher than to smorgasbord around willy-nilly for what interests me here, what satisfies my ego there. So it is not a criticism of Rinzai that I do not do formal koan practice, but just an acknowledgement that my practice is shikantaza.
Many koans, on first hearing, sound inscruitable - almost like absurdist theater: "Shokai met a teacher on the road. He put his sandals on the back of a turtle, and the teacher hit him with a stick. At that moment, Shokai was enlightened." What amazes me is that with practice and teaching, many koans become clearer with time, despite the bizarre behavior and speech documented.
The upside of this is that although I may never work my way through a particular koan, I'll never get stuck on one either.
Posted by Shokai at 2:11 PM