drafty mountain hut

always at home, forever on the way

Category: zen

your life is a shadow

by tendo zenji

Your life is a shadow
lived inside a dream,
Once that is realized
self and other vanish.
Pursue fame, the glory
of a prince won’t suffice;
Take a step or two back
a gourd dipper’s all you need.
No matters in the mind
passions quiet of themselves
mind freed from matter
means suchness everywhere.
The moment these truths
are grasped as your own
the mind opens and clears
like the empty void above

— Baisao from The Old Tea Seller: Life and Zen Poetry in 18th Century Kyoto translated by Norman Waddell

Komuso

by tendo zenji

two komuso

When Ch’an was transmitted to Japan the major school (Lin-ji) arrived first and evolved into the Rinzai school.  Dōgen brought the Caodong school to Japan which through his genius became a new school known as Sōtō.  In China Ch’an continued on and took on many of the the elements of Pure Land Buddhism.  Eventually there was another transmission of Ch’an to Japan based on this later Ch’an which in Japan became the Ōbaku school.  These would be the three largest zen sects in Japan all derived from Ch’an schools.  But there is a fourth school, the Fuke sect, that all mythology aside, was developed in Japan.

There is a lot of mythology around the Fuke sect, which the sect itself promoted from it’s earliest records. But details around the founding aside, it does seem that the basic outlines of the sect can be pretty easily determined.  The core feature of the Fuke-Shu is that their practice revolves around the playing of the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo end blown flute.  The instrument itself seemed to have come to Japan from China, but in a somewhat different form. Over the years it was developed in Japan into it’s own instrument, primarily by the Komuso, who were the “monks” of the Fuke sect.

There has been a tradition of wandering musicians in Japan and they often could be religiously affiliated. One group of these were known as the Komoso or “mat monks” who played a proto-shakuhachi and carried a rolled up mat with them to sleep on.  It was this group who started the basis of the religious aspects adopting Fuke (Puhua) from the Rinzai-roku (Lin-ji Yulu) as their patron.  I personally find this rather striking as Fuke is probably amongst the wildest and most idiosyncratic individuals in the Ch’an literature.  It seems very much like musicians to adopt such a figure.

Figures of Edo Japan sm

During the Edo period in Japan, the samurai went into decline and there were increasing numbers of masterless samurai (ronin) attempting to survive in an increasingly peaceful culture.  Becoming wandering mendicant musicians appealed to a number of them and thus the Fuke-Shu developed into a genuine religious sect. At this time it affiliated itself with the Rinzai sect and developed a set of structures for it’s adherents.  Ronin were required to turn in their swords and they would wander playing shakuhachi with their identities obscured by a basket they wore over their heads.  Alone in Japan they were granted the right to travel freely throughout the country.

The combination of anonymity and the ability to travel freely was rife for abuse and there are many legends of spies, assassins and corruption of myriad kinds.  However the Fuke-Shu seemed to become increasingly religious from it’s more spurious roots and they really developed into a serious practice. And this practice is very interesting and unique.  The sect was eventually disbanded by the government during the Meiji Restoration but in less than a decade the government was convinced to allow the shakuhachi to become a secular musical practice and much of the komuso repertoire was preserved.

It is this repertoire of music that is of primary interest to myself.  These pieces have come to be known as honkyoku which means original music.  That is the music originally composed for the instrument.  These pieces, though their origin is lost and there is much mythology surrounded them, served the same purpose as different chants in traditional zen practice. That is that there are pieces that you would use for various ceremonial purposes, that a zen monk would undertake.  Furthermore numerous pieces were played as zazen that is for the purposes of cultivating samadhi.  The breathing techniques, the singleminded concentration required and the unstructured flow of these pieces really facilitates this.  They may sound “meditative” to the listener at times (but some of these pieces, definitely do not!) but they functioned as meditation for the performer.  There were ceremonial pieces used for mendicancy or ceremonies, which could be thought of as a performance repertoire, but the pieces used for meditation were, like zazen, an individual practice.

Komuso Schematics

The komuso, in their formal, monk like attire and with the striking basket on their heads became a figure of popular legend in Japan. Sometimes thought of as scary, usually as mysterious, often with the veneration that clergy can be granted.  Their name translates as “monks of nothingness” and there is I think a very appealing romanticism to their striking anonymous images. There are many pictorial representations of the komuso in the Japanese arts, including photographs once that technology arrived on the island.

As I explore the honkyoku repertoire and the aspects of practice therein, it will be interesting to investigate it in terms of traditional Rinzai practice.  This will be an occasional focus of this blog over the upcoming years.  But learning these pieces is slow going — they are complicated and intricate and the shakuhachi has a very demanding technique, especially in the honkyoku tradition — so occasionally we will look at what we can find on the Fuke-shu and it’s traditions as well as publish images that I have collected of the komuso in Japanese artist representation.


A very good and succinct overview of what seems historically accurate about the komuso can be read on Jon Kypros Shakuhachi site here: Komuso shakuhachi monks of Japan.

The best text that I have encountered on a general history of the shakuhachi and it’s performances practices is:
Shakuhachi: Roots and Routes
by Henry Johnson
Brill Academic Pub; Lam edition, 2014
ISBN-10: 9004243399

 

Nyogen Senzaki Day

by tendo zenji

NyogenSenzaki

Nyogen Senzaki (千崎 如幻, 1876–1958)

“Why were we secluded in this mountain temple? Nothing but realization was the reason. Some of us were sitting under old trees, others on moss-covered rocks as night spread its darkness around us without hesitation, dew falling heavily on our black robes.” (p. 101)

For Further Study

by tendo zenji

Twice a year Chobo-Ji hosts an Eight Week Introductory Series. Composed of two four week sections it covers both the particulars of the form practiced here, and some of the basic thought and history of behind our practice.  This last year brought some changes to the program, updating it’s structure and goals and sketching out of a base curriculum.  In the course of this work some basic reference material was compiled.  Here is that list organized by the topics of the eight week intro series.

Texts for Further Study

Week 1

Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy
by Katsuki Sekida
Shambhala, 2005
ISBN 1590302834

Rohatsu Exhortations
Hakuin Ekaku Zenjo, translated Edio Shimano
The Zen Studies Society Press, 2006

The first week covers temple etiquette and the basic practice of zazen.  Zen Training has the most explicit, detailed yet straightforward explanation of posture, breathing and settling the mind.  Hakuin’s Rohatsu Exhortations offers encouragement in dedicated sitting and the practice and value of breathing count in Hakuin’s inimitable style.

Week 2

The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2011
ISBN: 9781935209928

The second week covers  activities that we engage in as a mindfulness practice: kinhin (walking meditation), chanting and sharing tea.  While Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice of walking meditation is pretty far from the kinhin practiced in the Rinzai tradition, the spirit is here. The practices here for occupying the mind during kinhin are universally applicable and the general practice is useful when walking on one’s own outside of formal  kinhin.

Week 4

Sitting with Koans: Essential Writings on Zen Koan Introspection 
by John Daido Loori  (Editor), Tom Kirchner (Introduction)
Wisdom Publications, 2005
ISBN: 0861713699

Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice 
by Victor Sogen Hori
University of Hawaii Press; 2010
ISBN: 0824835077

Zen Dust: The History of the Koan and Koan Study in Rinzai (Linji) Zen 
by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Isshū Miura
Quirin Press; 2nd edition (July 15, 2015)
ISBN: 1922169129

Koan Zen from the Inside (pdf)
Jeff Shore

The fourth week, which concludes the first half of the series, our abbott, Genjo Osho, teaches the nature and practice of koan study.  These four texts will give one a very thorough grounding in the history and practice of koan study in China, Japan and the US.

Week 5

In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon 
Bhikkhu Bodhi
Wisdom Publications, 2005
ISBN: 0861714911

The second half of the Intro Series covers the core teachings and history of Buddhism and Zen.  It begins with an examination of the the Four Noble Truths. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s excellent collection of the early sutra’s from the Pali Canon contain the earliest discourses where the Four Noble Truths were explicated and taught.  There truly is no better source on this material.

Week 6

The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering 
Bhikkhu Bodhi
Pariyatti Publishing. 2006
ISBN: 192870607X

The sixth week continues with early Buddhist teachings with an examination the Noble Eightfold Path.  Again the best source is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations from the Pali Canon which contain these original teachings. Beyond that his short book explicitly on this subject explains how this essential teaching relates to the Four Noble Truths and other early teachings and how it is understood and practice contemporarily.

Week 7

The Diamond Sutra
Translation and commentary by Red Pine
Counterpoint 2002
ISBN-10: 1582432562

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts
by Reb Anderson
Shambhala; 2000
ISBN: 1930485018

Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up 
by Norman Fischer
HarperOne; 2004
ISBN: 0060587199

The Four Great Vows (and sometimes the Ten Grave Precepts) are the topic of this week and bring in the moral core of Buddhism.  The Great vow can be found in the early Mahayana Sutra’s and is clearly and concisely explicated in The Diamond Sutra. The books by Anderson and Fischer do a very good job of examining the Vows and Precepts in terms of applying them to contemporary lives.

Week 8

Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings
Andy Ferguson and Tenshin Reb Anderson
Wisdom Publications, 2011
ISBN: 0861716175

Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China
Edited and Translated by David Hinton
New Directions, 2005
ISBN-10: 0811216241

The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen
By Jeffrey L. Broughton
University of California, 1999
ISBN-10: 0520219724

Zen Masters of Japan: The Second Step East
Richard Bryan McDaniel
Tuttle Publishing, 2016
ISBN: 0804847975

Third Step East: Zen Masters of America
Richard Bryan McDaniel
Sumeru Press, 2015
ISBN: 1896559220

Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy: The Zen Teachings and Translations of Nyogen Senzaki
by Nyogen Senzaki and Eido Shimano
Wisdom Publications, 2005
ISBN-10: 0861712803

Cypress Trees in the Garden: The Second Generation of Zen Teaching in America
Richard Bryan McDaniel,
Sumeru Press, 2015
ISBN: 1896559263

The final week covered the development of Zen and it’s flowering in China, Japan and the West.  This is a large topic (too large for one week) and thus there is a lot to look at. Zen’s Chinese Heritage is a translation of several “Transmission of the Lamp” texts which covers the primary Ch’an (Zen) teachers in China. Mountain Home while a collection of Chinese poetry has a fine essay on the aspects of the Chinese character that led to Ch’an arising from Indian Buddhism. The Bodhidharma Anthology looks at the earliest development of Ch’an which was more diverse and varied than the traditional stories will lead you to believe. Zen Masters of Japan is a modern take on the “transmission of the lamp” teacher to student based history of Zen in Japan. The transmission of Zen to America is a complicated story which since it has occurred in the last hundred years or so is fairly well documented. Nyogen Sensaki was the first Zen master living and teaching in the US and often wrote about Zen in the West. McDaniel’s write’s in the Third Step East about the interstitial period and then in Cypress Trees in the Garden of American Zen teachers.

 

New Year

by tendo zenji

tendokanshobell

On New Years we ring the Kansho Bell 108 times to dispel the 108 defilements

108 Defilements

egoism
ignorance greed
hatred
wrath
quarrelsomeness
enviousness
imposture
obstinacy
envy
deceit
irresponsibility
lechery
insidiousness
intolerance
excessiveness
vanity
abuse
hurtfulness
mendacity
falseness
sarcasm
manipulation
cruelty
pretence
hypocrisy
contempt
inattentiveness
being a know-all
torment
blasphemy
deviousness
negativity
stubbornness
shamelessness
sadism
effrontery
derision
garrulity
ridicule
arrogance
unfriendliness
hostility
anger
discord
high-handedness
unyieldingness
malignancy
humiliation
callousness
discontent
imperiousness
stinginess
insatiability
greed for money
ambition
calculation
jealousy
censoriousness
oppression
headiness
pessimism
conceit
ostentatiousness
voluptuousness
gluttony
sexual addiction
lust for domination
obsession
capriciousness
lust for power
dipsomania
tyranny
intransigence
aggression
mercilessness
rapacity
presumption
hard-heartedness
rage
self-hatred
dogmatism
violent temper
masochism
violence
haughtiness
belittlement
baseness
deception
disrespect
desire for fame
disrespectfulness
gambling
prodigality
seduction
faithlessness
vindictiveness
cursing
indifference
self-denial
lack of comprehension
dissatisfaction
pride
prejudice
impudence
grudge
delusion
ingratitude

Polishing the Mind Mirror

by tendo zenji

Polishing the Mind Mirror

(originally published in Plum Mountain News Autumn 2016)

Zen is not a religion based on faith; nor is it some sort of speculative philosophy. It is the actualization of the unselfish life. (1, p. 85)

This past summer a podcast was released from Roshi Bodhin as part the fiftieth anniversary of the Rochester Zen Center (2) in which he discussed their founder, Roshi Philip Kapleau. He covered Roshi Kapleau’s training in Japan and he noted that as he prepared to return to the United States his primary concern was how to translate his experiences into an American context (2.1).  This, Bodhin noted, is the great issue for every teacher of Zen in America.  He backed this up with an anecdote that at every American Zen Teachers Association (AZTA) meeting this is always the primary topic (2.2).  Whenever an American Zen teacher is interviewed this issue always comes up, whether implicitly or explicitly and it is one that everyone on that path has to address.  So it was of interest to me that Nyogen Sensaki wrote an essay entitled American Buddhism in 1932 that shows this has been the primary concern since year zero.

Modern religions must keep pace with science and human reasoning generally; otherwise, they lose their authority and perish. The true value of a religion should be judged by the brightness of its mirror of reasons; it should satisfy the intellect of whoever studies it. It should be judged by its ability to harmonize with actual life. (1, p. 77)

This quote from Nyogen has quite a bit to unpack.  I wonder how many religious teachers would say that their religion must “keep pace with science and human reasoning generally”? I do think that the evidence supports this statement; religions that do not evolve along with the changes in peoples understanding and culture do not last.  There seems to be generally three responses to this fact among the various religions. In the fundamentalist churches that I was raised in they tended to reject mainstream science and reason but instead created their own alternate universe of “science” to support their beliefs. These had the veneer of reason to them and satisfied at a surface level.  But it is a Red Queens Race where they have to run faster and faster to try to just keep pace with science and never quite succeed. Building their faith upon these foundations means that as they are disproved by mainstream science their beliefs are thus disproved.

“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” ― Dalai Lama XIV (4)

Another common response is to deny this truth. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Fundamentalist Islam, Evangelical Christians and many others take this approach.  They become increasingly alienated from society, withdrawing into their own increasingly medieval enclaves as science and humanity pass them by. Finally there are those like the Dalai Lama who fully embraced this and strive to keep pace with developments in science and acknowledge shifts in cultural and societal thinking. He has stated that core beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism such as karma and reincarnation can and have been rethought based on changes of scientific understanding.

Zen is based on self-evident fact, and so can convince anyone at any time. Because it is based on fact, Zen can pass freely through the gates of the innumerable teachings of the world; it offers no resistance and posed no threat, since its foundation is completely nondogmatic. The brighter one polishes one’s mind-mirror of reason, the more this true value of Zen can be appreciated. Because Zen is fact and not “religion” in the conventional sense of the term, the American mind, with its scientific cast, takes to it very readily, whereas other religions of an emotional nature do not have a lasting influence. (1, p. 78)

This dense quotation contains numerous ideas as well as some rather interesting assumptions about Zen, religion and Americans.  The notion that Zen in based on “fact” goes back to the original teachings of the Buddha.  In these early teachings he’d often encourage experimentation.  He’d explain something like the Eightfold Path and urge people to just try it out.  Just try Right Speech for a couple of weeks, he’d suggest, and see if it doesn’t make your life easier, reduce your suffering a little bit.  These basic rules, like the Golden Rule, are self-evident – you can just read them and understand that if you followed them things would go easier for you.  They aren’t tied to any particular belief either, unlike say the Ten Commandments, and are thus non-dogmatic.

The brighter one polishes one’s mind-mirror of reason, the more this true value of Zen can be appreciated”. This statement is a little more difficult to unpack considering that human reason is a tool we use in daily life that in Zen practice can be of limited value. In koan practice for instance you have to exhaust reason and eventually express your deep nature.  But here Nyogen is saying that through reason we can see that Zen is experimental, experiential and essentially human. It’s nondogmatic nature means that it poses no threat to established belief systems and norms. It is essentially a practice and the clearer we can see that the more its value can be appreciated.

Lastly this idea that the American Mind has a “scientific cast” is perhaps a bit outdated. Later in the essay he says “The American Mind is more inclined to practical activity than to philosophical speculation.” (1, p. 79) which I think is demonstrably true.  The thirties, when this was written, was a golden age of science, which was seen as a pure and guiding light. At this time in particular the Civic Religion of the US as well as many of the standard religions adopted a scientific cast, as this was generally accepted as the way forward. It was an Age of Reason, where science felt it only had a few ’t’s’ to cross and ‘i’s’ to dot before everything was understood.  But in the intervening years there has been an increasing skepticism toward science, a turning away from fact-based actions, an increase in fundamentalism, and conspiracy minded thinking.  “Scientism”, a superficial adoption of science into a system of belief, and dogmatic non-belief has eroded its authority.  When surveyed contemporary Americans are much more likely to have a non- or even anti- science bent and there is greater belief in conspiracy, the fantastical and outright false ideologies here then anywhere else in the Western World. (5)

The most beautiful part of a religion is its practical faith, not its philosophical argumentation. The American thinker requires that faith walk hand in hand with reason; only in this way can it be harmonized with the practical world.  The mere postulation of dogmas and creeds will never be approved of by the majority of Americans. … America Buddhism must be built upon a practical foundation. (1, p. 79)

This statement is one that I fully agree with, except that I question that this is the case for the “majority of Americans”.  As noted in the previous paragraph contemporary evidence shows that a majority of Americans do not exist in the “reality based community”.  Dogma and creeds – those of American Exceptionalism, White Supremacy, Male Privilege, and so – dominate over acting in rational ways.  There is a large subset of people who “require that faith walk hand in hand with reason” – I would number myself as one of them – but American Zen has poorly served them. Zen, as practiced in America, is often “soft”, descending from the Sixties fascination with the east and does not demand reason and criticality.  Ideas that bare no relation to the practical world are tolerated, even entertained.  Where is the demand for a practical foundation?  Nyogen recognizes this problem and cites this historical example:

Some sixty years ago H.P. Blavatsky established her Theosophical Society for the practice of the kind of esoteric Buddhism she had learned from Trans-Himalayan masters. After her death, strange elements from different cults began to creep in and corrupt the practice, until eventually the movement ceased keeping pace with modern science and philosophy, thereby disqualifying itself as a possible foundation for American Buddhism. (1, p. 80)

Nyogen, working alone at this point, laid the foundations of Zen to avoid these issues.  His Zen was based on reason, eschewed these “strange elements” and emphasized practicality, engagement with science and being in the world. But his faith that this being inherent to Zen is I think misplaced when brought to Zen Practice. Anything can be corrupted, people will always bring in “strange elements” and it is the rare person who will shift their beliefs to keep “pace with modern science and philosophy”.  While Zen itself eschews this kind of thinking, the mere toleration of this kind of wooly thinking erodes its fidelity. What would Nyogen think on seeing “New Age” elements tolerated, or even encouraged in various zendos?

In keeping with their reaction against sacerdotalism, the young thinkers of America are dreaming of a religion of practicality, which is precisely what Zen is. (1, p. 80)

Before I ever came to practice at Chobo-Ji this describes me exactly.  I have a file of notes for what I was calling “practical Zen” which married the practical self-reliance of Transcendentalism with Zen Practice (along with the devoted naturalism of both beliefs). Coming to practice in a Zen Center has taught me that self-reliance, while essential, can be overdone, can be another barrier.  No-one comes to realization on their own.  I have also come to understand that a sense of the scared is essential.  Form and ritual are things that people crave which feeds their sense of connection to all things.  But I’ve also seen a lot of compromises, many of which belie Nyogens conjecture of the inherent practically of Americans.  Some of the people attracted to Zen are as he describes.  But many are not and as noted they can bring many a corrupting influence.

Thus this question of American Zen continues to bedevil us fifty years after Roshi Kapleau tried to work out how to bring his experiences to America and almost a hundred years after Nyogen Sensaki began teaching a small group in San Francisco. We stand at an inflection point right now, where American Zen is in a particularly vulnerable state. Scandals have rocked sanghas across the country, but more damaging in my mind is the soft corruption of low standards. The rigor of Zen practice, if not corrupted by woolly thinking, is a natural preservative. But if that rigor is allowed to be diluted then it is a structure built on sand.  I’ll close with a quote from Jeff Shore that emphasizes this point.

Rinzai condemned – and in no uncertain terms! – what he called blind idiots, old shavepates, wild fox-spirits who can’t tell right from wrong. After all, Rinzai Zen only comes to life when one is dependent on nothing, within or without – deceived by no one, deceiving no one. Let us take this opportunity today to truly “know [our own] shame” so that the present quagmire can be cleaned up and the Way made clear.

Then, with the 1,200th memorial fifty years from now, a real and vital Zen will have taken root in the West. Let us open our eyes to what has happened. We cannot afford to hide our heads in the sand. Humbly aware of our own shortcomings, let us dedicate our lives to planting genuine Zen in the modern world and work together to ensure that it takes root. (3)


(1) Nyogen Sensaki, Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy: The Zen Teachings of Nyogen Sensaki
Edited and introduced by Eido Shimano
Wisdom Publications, 2005, Boston, MA
ISBN: 0-86171-280-3

(2) Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede,  Fifty Years of Change and Adaptations June 26, 2016 Rochester NY
Available online: http://rzc.org/sites/default/files/media/2016-8-21.mp3

(2.1) ibid. “One of the great distinctions of Roshi Kapleau, as compared to at least most other first generation Zen teachers – both Japanese and American – is his instance, from the beginning, that we have to find western forms for this historically Asian tradition.”

(2.2) ibid. “In our annual meetings of American Zen Teachers Association (AZTA), this is the central mission, we all agree is ours, which is to find ways to adapt an Asian Tradition to the West.”

(3) Jeff ShoreRinzai Zen in the Modern World, paper from the symposium on “Rinzai Zen in the Modern World”, May 13 & 14, 2016, Tokyo, Japan.
Available online: https://beingwithoutself.org/inspirations/rzitmw/

(4) Dalai Lama XIV The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality
Morgan Road Books, 2005
ISBN: 076792066X

(5) For one study on American’s beliefs in conspiracy see: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2013/04/conspiracy-theory-poll-results-.html

Sōyen Shaku Day

by tendo zenji

soyenshaku

Sōyen Shaku (釈 宗演), January 10, 1860 – October 29, 1919

On Sōyen Shaku

Scolding words and iron first are yesterday’s dream.
Smiling face and kind speech are icicles in the sun.
What mountain guards my teacher’s bones?
The moonlight slants a bare branch across the window.

-Nyogen Sensaki, November 1st, 1953
from Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy: The Zen Teachings and Translations of Nyogen Senzaki

Dōgen studies (I)

by tendo zenji

“To study the way of enlightenment is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dōgen’s Shobo Genzo
Zen Master Dōgen and Kazuaki Tanahashi,
2013 Shambhala, Publications, Boston
ISBN: 9781590309353

koan study

by tendo zenji

Once my own teacher explained the role of the koan in Zen training with an easy simile, and I shall quote it here as it ably explains what the koan is: “Needless to say, the task or role of the koan is to help a student open his Zen eye, to deepen his Zen attainment, and to refine his Zen personality. It is a means in Zen training , but in actual practice the koan does not lead a student along an easy and smooth shortcut, like other ordinary means. The koan, on the contrary, throws a student into a steep and rugged maze where he has  sense of direction at all. He is expected to overcome all the difficulties and find the way out himself. In other words, the koan is the most difficult and rough means for the student to go through. Good koan, called nanto, are those that are most intricate, illogical, and irrational, in which the most brilliant intellect will completely lose its way.

“Suppose here is a completely blind man who trudges along leaning on his stick and depending on his intuition. The role of the koan is to mercilessly take the stick away from him and to push him down after turning him around. Now the blind man has lost his sole support and intuition and will not know where to go or how to proceed. He will be thrown into he abyss of despair. In this same way, the nanto koan will mercilessly take away all our intellect and knowledge. In short, the role of the koan is not to lead us to satori easily, but on the contrary to make us lose our way and drive us to despair.”

– Zenkei Shibayama, Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan

winter

by tendo zenji

“The preparation of a monastery for winter may seem unremarkable. Everything that needs to be attended to is done, yet no trace of effort is apparent.  This expresses the spirit of my teacher, Gempo Yamamoto Roshi, who spent most of his time doing zazen, and who was often completely absorbed in studying the Diamond Sutra. He would say that you are not yet mature if you are seen as great or wise by others. It is not good to be absentminded, but you should be unpretentious while being aware of all necessary matters. This is important!”

Sōen Nakagawa, Endless Vow: The Zen Path of Soen Nakagawa, p. 116