From very early on starting with Zen practice some are confronted with koans.
One of the most popular ones is…
… When both hands have clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Sometimes the koan is set in question-and-answer form, as in the question “What is Buddha?” and its answer, “Three pounds of flax.”
Some definitions say a koan is a riddle or puzzle that Zen Buddhists use during meditation to help them unravel greater truths about the world and about themselves. Zen masters have been testing their students with these stories, questions, or phrases for centuries. … It is up to the Zen student to tease out their meaning.
After reading some of them and books like Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, I don’t believe that as well, because they don’t seem to be riddles to be solved.
It is something to meditate on and lose attachment but I don’t get behind it.
I know I shouldn’t even think about getting behind it and just sit with them. Even that seems to be too much.
As I do get that Zen practice is a lively exchange and dialogue between master and student and there, koans do have their own meanings and dynamics.
As I don’t have a live Zen master but approaching this through books and podcasts those koans are very troubling.
I do get that they should help to lose any attachment, to be like a meditation in words, to lose any logical sense of the world and just let me sit, unattached, but aware.
I don’t know if that’s right but according to Zen practice there is no wrong or right, there is just it, and that’s ok.
Maybe I get to a retreat once and learn from real masters and get a better approach to koans. For the time being, I just let them be as they are and not disturb me.
When meditating and asking myself „Who am I?“ I think of „a blue elephant with a red ponytail sitting on a cloud“ and I hear some master say „You are attached to color“ and my reply would be „I’m a protein bar without chocolate“, maybe he’s answering „you are hungry?“.
As I did study literature and I know about the power of concepts created by our own language and how misleading they can be, my western socialized mind thinks of Jacques Derrida and his deconstruction.
This comes from an intellectual point of view near to the concept of koans, demanding to question everything which comes as a tradition through language over time, constructed by men and their biases.
I know I shouldn’t use an intellectual approach because this seems just wrong in Zen practice but I can’t help it.
Maybe I just should let that go but it seems too important.
I also tend to look back at lyrics where language is used to create a feeling and also is illogical in many cases.
Benjamin Myers, in his novel ‚The Offening‘, lets his protagonist Dulcie say to Robert…
… a good poem breaks open the oyster shell of the mind to expose the pearl within. It finds words for feelings whose definitions defy all attempts at verbal expression.
With such a definition I can work and I decided, though it has nothing to do with Zen practice, I go back to lyrics (many poets are Zen practitioners also) and away from koans, for the time being, not neglecting them totally but let them rest.
Maybe time gives me a good teacher and I can reactivate an approach to koans again.
Maybe time also resolves all the cognitive dissonance and after they sit with me for a while and meditating with them I’ll find my peace with them.
Picture from Book of Longing, by Leonard Cohen, a collection of his poems and drawings from the last twenty years. Reprinted by arrangement with Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing, ©2006 by Leonard Cohen