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Fall Sesshin 2021: Koan Practice or Not? Going Beyond Form


David Weinstein gives a morning dharma talk on being captured by the mystery and the koan, “Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise,” and on the metamorphosis of Monarchs on his windowsill. Constant change and the constancy of who you are do not contradict each other. As recorded Wednesday, October 20, 2021, in Fall Sesshin.



Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise.

—Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans, Case 45 (from the Lankavatara Sutra, chapter 3)

Entering into the koan, being captivated by the mystery of “not-knowing.”

David recounts his early days as a Zen student in Japan with Koun Yamada Roshi. Upon arriving at Yamada’s temple, he declared, “I don’t do koan practice, I just sit,” and Yamada replied, “Ohhh, that is very difficult. Not many people get realization with that practice. But—I want YOU to come to realization with that practice. And let me ask you a question: How do you stop the sound of the distant temple bell?”

Thus began David’s journey of being slowly steeped in koans without his realizing it.

Where is the beginning of practice? Is this koan practice or not? Weeds become soil, we digest all of it.

Always asking the questions, “What is this koan reflecting back to me? What is it trying to help me understand? What is this koan in my life?” Allowing himself to really “have” the koan, and then to let it go, letting there be space.

Miscellaneous koans? Harada had 22. PZI currently has 75. Hakuin had 135 koans. The tradition itself is always changing. It flows like water and crashes like water. Going beyond what appears and beyond form itself—beyond who we are—that ability to change, has allowed the tradition to go from culture to culture, flowing like water.

A story about raising Monarch butterflies—David reflects on radical change, relatedness, and spontaneous gratitude:

A dull, fallow phase is part of the process, a chrysalis turns dark like being in a stone crypt. David is out swimming, missing how one Monarch has needed help getting its wings dried in the sunshine. They have already departed on flights as long as a thousand miles.

As he returns home, he parks his car and sees a single Monarch flying by. The strange relatedness of things.

Constant change and the constancy of who you are do not contradict each other.

There is a yes to everything where we are able to feel the gratitude.

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