Posts Tagged ‘Koan’

go straight on

April 18th, 2018    -    1 Comment

Here are audio excerpts from a dharma talk given on April 14, 2018 at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City.

the koan of boredom

September 27th, 2012    -    4 Comments

Please see the link at the bottom of this post to read the entire essay online.

The message comes with good intentions, as do most things designed to inspire, so I click on the link in my email and watch the short video.

First I see a sleeping newborn swaddled in a blanket, followed by a silken black butterfly perched on a finger, a dewdrop dangling from a leaf tip, and a nest cradling two luminous robin’s eggs. Images dissolve to a piano serenade—a foggy meadow at daybreak, the fiery blaze of an ocean sunset, a peach pie cooling on a plank table, and a vase of peonies gracing a windowsill. A boy bites a glistening red popsicle at that perfect instant before it slides off the stick. A golden-haired girl blows the dancing flames from her birthday candles. “Moments,” the voiceover says. “Moments like this are all we have.”

They are happy, captivating shots, drenched in color and sentiment. The eye wants to drink them in and dwell. Compared to this, my life seems mostly washed-out and even wasted.

I stop the show. Something’s wrong with this picture. Pies and popsicles are appealing, but these pictures don’t quite capture the essence of life. Not the whole of it.

Later on, in the bathroom picking up dingy wet towels, I notice the mildew creeping up the bottom of the shower curtain. This is not the life of precious tributes. It’s not one of the moments you want to frame and keep. It’s one you want to throw out. And many of us do. We replace people, places, and things that have grown charmless and tiresome— which they always do. Fascination fades and restlessness stirs.

Chasing the picture perfect, we can lose what we have in abundance—the times that teach us even more than the rare delight of butterflies or a robin’s blue eggs. We lose the hours, the days, and the decades when nothing much seems to happen at all. Time freezes. Paint dries. Mildew spreads. We’re bored out of our minds.

Boredom is the unappreciated path to patience, peace, and intimacy, so who would read a paean to it? Let that be your koan.

Don’t quit now! Continue reading this complete article online at Shambhala Sun.

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head over wisconsin

August 16th, 2010    -    5 Comments

Whenever Roso saw a monk coming, he immediately sat facing the wall. Hearing of this, Nansen said, “I usually tell my people to realize what has existed before the kalpa of emptiness, or to understand what has been before Buddhas appeared in the world. Still, I haven’t acknowledged one disciple or even a half. If he continues that way, he will go on endlessly.”Case 23, Shoyoroku

I hate it when people talk about koans. I’m going to Wisconsin next weekend. This gives me a chance to talk about koans.

First, Wisconsin:
Extraordinary Ordinary: How to Fall in Love with the Life You Already Have
Sat., August 21, 2-4 p.m.
YogAsylum, Brookfield WI
Register by clicking here or arrive at the door
A wisdom teaching and book signing

Just this morning at the yoga class I teach in my dinky little hometown 2,042 miles from Wisconsin, someone told me his sister was coming to see me next Saturday in Brookfield. Then I heard from the venue manager, and the kitchen table tour host, one after the other, with last-minute details and well-wishes. All of that and I immediately sat up straighter and faced the trip before me with enthusiasm: “I love Wisconsin!”

Come see me so I can tell you in person.

Now, koans.

What is a koan? Nothing like what you’ve probably heard tell. Take this for instance, a perfectly reasonable and popular definition of koan as “a paradoxical anecdote or a riddle that has no solution.” It’s perfectly reasonable to define koan that way and it is completely wrong. Every koan has a solution; otherwise we wouldn’t train with koans as we do in my Zen lineage. We train with a collection of 750 koans including the one above. By train, I mean that when a teacher directs you to a koan, you meditate with it and then present the depth of your realization of the koan to your teacher in a private meeting. Most of the time, the depth of your realization isn’t deep at all: you just grasp at the meaning off the top of your head. You try to tease out some kind of explanation. At those times, the teacher tells you kindly and straightforwardly to keep working on it, and you are relieved of at least one of your erroneous concepts. read more

No teacher here

June 23rd, 2009    -    No Comments


Obaku said, “I do not say that there is no Zen, but that there is no Zen teacher.”

This is a living teaching by one of the most influential Zen teachers you’ll ever encounter, even though he lived 1,100 years ago. Obaku (d. 850) was the teacher of Rinzai, founder of the school of Zen that bears his name and still flourishes, particularly in the West. His words are useful and relevant because they point out the obvious. The Dharma, or the teaching, is self-realized and self-actualized, and you have to see it for yourself. No one can do it for you.

That being said, you really need to have a teacher, the kind that keeps telling you to open your eyes and see it for yourself.

I am not a teacher, and I don’t say that with humility, because I’m not yet that humble. I practice in a lineage center, a practice place that some people might find old-school and irrelevant, where the teaching is transmitted, so to speak, from teacher to student, one at a time. My training is in the Rinzai style, through koan practice, and until I finish the 750 koans in our collection, I am nowhere near done. Even then, I will be a teacher only when my teacher tells me I am a teacher. I could find more wiggle room away from the tradition – it’s easy to find – but why would I want to do that? And whom would it serve? I’d be uncomfortable in my own skin in a hurry.

Read the rest and comment on “The Laundry Line”
my blog at Shambhala SunSpace

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