Meditation throws out my gas problem
Meditation and Koan: Understanding the incomprehensible
I stand in front of the door that leads to the Zen master. I collect myself briefly, turn the handle and stand in the semi-dark room. A candle illuminates the almost empty room and casts flickering shadows, the hint of incense brushes my nose, and there it is, the motionless figure of the teacher. Now is the time to stay focused. Three bows, then I sit across from him on the mat. It's a formal encounter, we don't look at each other, it's silence. The intended process requires that I start speaking. It is the koan that I am working on. I repeat the exact wording word for word. Now is the moment when I try to express my understanding of what this kōan is about with my whole being. The teacher asks. If I have actually understood the koan, the answer comes easily and spontaneously. If I have to think first, it's over. Missed the chance for this time. The teacher rings the bell, the sign for the end of our 'dialogue'. I get up, bow three times and am already at the door outside. Now I go back to the meditation room and in meditation let the koan sink into my inner being, turn it around, many, many times. Until I am called back into the conversation room. I repeat the wording again and again present my understanding ...
While our everyday understanding lulls us into the security of a firmly established world, Kōan's intensive training in meditation destroys the 'ideal world' of the Zen students and lets them see a reality behind reality.
Kōans - the language of the masters of meditation
A kōan is a brief episode of an encounter between a student and a Zen master. Here is an example:
An old monk asked Ummon, "What time is it when the trees change color and the leaves fall to the ground?"Ummon said: "Then the golden wind reveals its whole being."
Grand Master Ma was seriously ill. The head of his monastery went to the sick bed and asked: "How is your condition, venerable?"The Grand Master replied, "Buddha with the sun face, Buddha with the moon face."
Usually when we hear a story like this we don't really understand what it is about. Kōans are not as easy as one might think. We understand the words, but our minds cannot make sense of them. Outsiders such as the religious scholar Nakamura Hajime therefore simply describe the Koans as paradoxical. Practitioners, however, experience and discover that they are not nonsensical, but rather have a deep inner logic that they can uncover for themselves.
The two Chinese characters for the word Kōan (Chinese Kung-an) are made up of the syllables of two words: kōfu - 'public' and andoku - 'document, testimony' and they mean a testimony to the truth, an expression where the truth is comes to the day.
Chung-feng Ming-pen, a Chinese Zen meditation master of the 13th century, describes Kōans as case histories as in the case law. Just as fundamental principles are revealed in the judicature, the kōans are based on the expression of the way of all wise men and bodhisattvas. He writes: “When these case histories (kōans) are applied, principles and laws come into effect; when these come into effect, the world will be all right. When the world is right, the royal way is in good shape. "
Kōans are therefore not a person's private opinion, but rather they provide direct access to the spiritual source, they “destroy birth and death”, writes Chung-feng Ming-pen, “and transcend all passions. They cannot be grasped by logic, nor can they be passed on in words. They are ... like a great fire that burns all who come close to it. What is called the 'special tradition on the Vulture Mountain' was the tradition of it. "
This 'special tradition on Vulture Mountain' alludes to the well-known story when Buddha Shakyamuni, instead of giving a verbose discourse, turned a flower in his hand. Only one disciple understood what he meant at the time, namely Mahakashyapa, who indicated his understanding with a smile and to whom the Buddha passed the Dharma succession on this occasion.
This wordless tradition is what the inner truth of the koans is about. Beginners are initially faced with a riddle. The sentences of a koan describe a situation and words are necessary for this. Then you have to peel away the words like the skin of an onion. We think ourselves into the situation: What does the monk actually want to know? Is it about autumn or is it about the spirit or something else? What would I have said in his situation? How would I have reacted?
Usually we think in certain lines that deepen the longer we think in these lines. Like when a tractor drives through a damp meadow and leaves deep tracks. The next tractor goes in the same grooves and so they get deeper and deeper and tighter and tighter. We are used to solving problems and questions in a certain way. This way, problems of the same kind are solved more easily, but only of the same kind.
Unlearn what you have learned in meditation!
This method, which makes everyday life easier for us, does not work with Kōans. Kōan disciples often think: Hurray, now I have the solution! That is an almost certain sign that this is not the case. The student tries again and again, but is always rejected. The whole thing becomes more and more hopeless, to the point of near-giving up. But exactly then it is important to stay tuned! We stand in front of the impenetrable wall and try again and again. And at some point, after great effort, we recognize an almost invisible handle and effortlessly open the door. And stand in a wonderful room full of clarity and lightness.
For the first time in the history of Zen, Kao-feng Yuan-miao (China) in the 13th century and later Hakuin Zenji (18th century Japan) named three necessary factors that are needed in Zen meditation for this inner process: deeply ingrained great trust (daishinkon), great determination (daifunshi) and great doubt (daigijo).
First, it takes great confidence to engage with the kōan. Trust in taking up the traces left by the great Zen masters of the past and making them your own.
Second, it takes great determination to try again and again. Some Zen students, who later became famous Zen masters, only worked on a single koan for several years.
The third factor, great doubt, is the most important. Ta-hui (China) wrote: “The thousand and ten thousand doubts that arise in your chest are really just one doubt, and they burst when the doubt dissolves in the koan. As long as the kōan is not resolved, you must deal with it with all your might. ... You shouldn't settle too easily with a koan solution that you have found out. You should still think about it more and lose yourself in distinctions. Tie your attention there where discriminating thinking is not sufficient ... In the great doubt there necessarily lies the great enlightenment. "
Again I sit across from the teacher; try again to make my understanding understandable; again only hear the gruff 'ringing out' of the teacher as an answer. So let's go into meditation: keep sitting! To a new one!
Fleur Sakura Wöss
Original text published in Cause & Effect on August 18, 2017.
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