PZI Teacher Archives

koan practice

Text October 30, 2023

You Can’t Cage a Koan – Make It a Raft!

John Tarrant, PZI Teachers

In the Blue Dragon’s cave, everything is there. If you think you haven’t seen a dragon, you may be wrong. In fact, who says you’re not a dragon? And if you think you don’t know about koans, you may be wrong, too. Who says you’re not a koan? Transcript of a dharma talk in Summer Sesshin 2020.

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Article September 17, 2021

Escape Arts & Sam the Cyborg

John Tarrant

Escape arts disassemble the walls or, as in dreams, allow us to step right through them. We can also think of escape arts as practices that appear in moments of natural clarity. They are often similar to the moves you make if you are interested in Zen and koans, but the world teaches escape arts to us; they just appear in a situation without any conscious feeling that you are entering spiritual territory.

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Text March 2, 2021

Koans in Your Life

John Tarrant

To turn toward the difficult thing is usually a move of compassion. We think it’ll be a fierce warrior move, but it’s not, actually. And when we turn toward what’s difficult, it becomes mysterious and unknown and strange and interesting. Whatever it is, your dilemma—if you turn toward that, it’s to let the koan be there. So we stop trying to flee. And suddenly we’re at peace, and instead of it being the thing that we don’t want to do, it’s the gateway into freedom.

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Text September 18, 2019

Working With Koans

John Tarrant

A koan is a piece of old wisdom in a very concise form. I think of it as a vial of ancient light that has been passed down to us. It’s the same light that was in the heart of the teacher who invented the koan. So, if you can get the vial open, what will pour out is your inheritance. It won’t be the usual kind of inheritance with bank accounts, real estate, debts and family feuds. This inheritance will be a perspective—the way an old master saw and experienced the world.

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Text September 18, 2019

Lost And Found

John Tarrant

The practice part of it is that it doesn’t matter if you think you lost the coin and start to be unhappy about life. That is another theory. And it doesn’t matter how many times that theory rises. Even that theory is the coin. A koan practice means that you go back to the river over and over again and you can trust that process.

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Text September 17, 2019

Straight Down the Road of 99 Curves

John Tarrant

Everybody probably has a road that would come to mind. I remember getting a bus in Tasmania and driving through the west coast mountains to a mining town where I was going to work, get a job, and how the snow was coming down and the bus would just go around this really narrow road like that, and there are certain parts of the world that have truly alarming narrow mountain roads with truly alarming drivers and very ancient buses.

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Text September 17, 2019

The Nature of Practice

John Tarrant

A practice is different from a plan. You know what a plan is; you’ve probably made a few of them. A practice has more love in it, because a practice is something you’re doing without being sure of the outcome..

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Article November 24, 2017

How to Practice Zen Koans

John Tarrant

A koan is a little healing story, a conversation, an image, a fragment of a song. It’s something to keep you company, whatever you are doing. There’s a tradition of koan study to transform your heart and the way you move in the world. Article by John Tarrant published in Lion’s Roar magazine, March 2016 and September 2018.

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Text November 15, 2017

A Koan Starter Kit

John Tarrant

“Working with a koan can make the world more transparent and alive and at the same time shift your consciousness in small and large ways. It’s a work of art as well as a spiritual method and intended to be useful in your life and contribute to your happiness.”

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Article November 15, 2017

The Great Way Is Not Difficult

John Tarrant

“Koans light up a life that may have been dormant in you; they hold out the possibility of transformation even if you are trying to address unclear or apparently insoluble problems.” Originally published in Shambhala Sun Magazine, November 2004.

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Text November 15, 2017

Hindrances and Gates

John Tarrant

In meditation whatever arises in the mind or in your life is the gate. The hindrances are the gates; when they appear, it might be an indication that meditation is going well.

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Text November 15, 2017

Starter Kit for the Koan “No”

John Tarrant

A monk once asked Master Zhaozhou, “Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?” Zhaozhou said, “No!”

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Article November 15, 2017

The Power of Koan Practice

John Tarrant

Those who have used koans have described them as a poetic technology for bringing about awakening, a painful but effective gate into the consciousness of the Buddha, an easy method of integrating awakening into everyday life, the most frustrating thing they have ever done, an appalling waste of time, a tyranny perpetrated by Zen masters… Well, you get the idea — about koans, opinions differ. Article by John Tarrant published in Shambhala Sun magazine, May 1 2003.

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