Rachel Boughton, Director of the PZI Santa Rosa Center, how-to talk on working with zen koans.
A Zen ancestor was gathering wood and heard a line being recited that struck him. “What was that again?” he asked. “Oh, it was just something I heard up north in a temple.” So he went to study up north.
“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.” March 2016.
“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.”
“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.” n.d.
David Weinstein Roshi continues the conversation during retreat regarding the ancient Koan about the buffalo passing through a lattice window. How can the buffalo get through the lattice window all but the tail? What is it that is difficult for me to let in? Can we be compassionate with ourselves when we find the place on our life where there is a no trespassing sign?
John opens the evening with the koan “The True Person of No Rank.” It goes something like this: “There is a true person of no rank who comes and goes from the portals of your face.” Who is that person of no rank?
Linji was a great teacher and the ancestor of most of the koan lines of Zen and this is a koan of his. It has been used since ancient times as a meditation both for beginners and advanced students.
Probably the best way to work with it is to play with it. Don’t rank how you are doing. Just let it keep you company, like an animal would. You forget about it, but every time you look, there it is! And after a while it doesn’t go away. October 17, 2013.
On the second day of Bare Bones retreat John brings to light the many ways in which we find ourselves in
situations where we feel hopelessly trapped. Often we are not even aware that we are living in the stone crypt because the door has closed and we can’t remember how to find out way out. Working with a koan might just be the way to open the door. January 20, 2014.
“John had us work with a series of miscellaneous Koans during retreat. Stop the war was one of my favorite talks. Looking at how I/we are at war within ourselves and how that internal war becomes a battle with those around us. A cold war or a war of words, fists or weapons. By practicing meditation we can mediate a truce with our fears.” January 22, 2014.
Allison presents a talk on another miscellaneous Koan, “Stop the fire across the river.” Just like stopping the war within ourselves, where does the fire arise within and what form does it take. Passion, anger, demons, delusions all taking form within us.
Allison demonstrates the possibility of working with the fire of anger through humor and diligent practice and attention to what flares up within the body. January 22, 2014.
John Tarrant Roshi completes our week long sesshin retreat with the miscellaneous koan, “the storehouse of treasure opens by itself, you can take them and use them any way you wish.” January 23, 2014.
After the talk we did a writing exercise with these questions, “what storehouse treasure is closed to you, what is a problem that is not resolved and what is a treasure?