Questions & Koans

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Q. How should we accept the following part of the Bible found in Luke 13?

Q. How should we accept the following part of the Bible found in Luke 13?

‘Luke 13:4 What about those 18 people in Siloam who were killed when the tower fell on them? Do you suppose this proves that they were worse than all the other people living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you that if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did.’

This scripture causes us to have the following realistic questions. One is ‘Are those who were recently killed in wars or accidents worse than those who remain alive now?’. Another is ‘Did Jesus turn from his sin?’ considering that Jesus himself who stated this also couldn’t avoid death. The third is ‘If Jesus’s didn’t die and his death is different from ours, what is the difference between his death and ours?’ All these eventually lead to the questions: ‘What is to turn from our sin?’ and ‘How can we avoid death?’.

Turning from our sins means being freed from our discriminating mind, our original sin that began with the fruit of the tree of Good and Evil in the beginning of the world. This means to see things as they are without discriminating, which is to realise that everything is empty. When realising that everything is empty, we can see everything as one as emptiness. Then, we can truly understand what ‘John 14:20, When the day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that I am in you just as you are in me’ means. This means that we are one with God and Jesus.

To sum up, to turn from our sins is to realise that everything is empty and that we are one with God and Jesus. To realise that death is empty is to avoid dying.

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Qingyuan’s “Come Closer”

Qingyuan’s “Come Closer”

Once a monastic asked Qingyuan, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”
Qingyuan said, “It’s just like this!”
The monastic asked further, “What do you have to teach these days?”
Qingyuan said, “Come closer.”
The monastic moved closer.
Qingyuan said, “Keep this in mind.”

Student: “What is this that Qingyuan told the monastic to keep in mind?”
Master: “You should not keep it.”
Student: “Tell me what it is. How could I keep or not keep it when I don’t know what it is?”
Master: “Keep it.”

Commentary:
What can be kept is not it because it can’t be discarded.

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Rinzai 9

Rinzai 9

The master went close to him and said, “How goes it?” Magog hesitated.
The master in turn pulled Magog down from the seat and resumed his place.
Magog left, and so did the master.

Commentary:
Rinzai countered Magog by going close to him and saying, “How goes it?”, which implies, “This is my answer to your question. Can you see what my answer means?” Magog responded to Rinzai’s by pretending to hesitate, which also means, “This is my answer to your question. Can you see what I mean?” This time Rinzai, by pulling Magog down from the seat and resuming his place, answered Magog’s question. This answer too, is not only an answer but also a question ‘Do you know what I mean by this answer?’. Magog wanted to finish the demonstration by answering Rinzai’s question by leaving the place and Rinzai, sensing his intention, answered Magog’s final question by also leaving.

You should know that these two great masters took the trouble to roll in a puddle of mud in order to show the Avalokitesvara, the true-Self to the assembly. Their words and actions are just mud. You should not be deluded by it but see what is beneath it. In other words, to see the Avalokitesvara they revealed, you should see and hear what is beyond their words and actions.

Student: “You say that the two masters took the trouble to show Avalokitesvara, the true-Self, but I still cannot discern Him.”
Master: “What a shame! I showed you Avalokitesvara. Why do you slander me as if I had talked about the masters?”

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Q. How can I be perfectly motivated to practise Zen?

Q. How can I be perfectly motivated to practise Zen?

A. For the sake of the people who neglected their practice, Buddha gave an appropriate metaphor ‘the Burning House’. He compared us to children who are playing in a burning house that is bound to collapse on them sooner or later. We are at risk of losing our lives if we fail to escape from the house in time. However, most people are so preoccupied by playing in the burning house that they not only don’t know that outside the house there are much more interesting things than those they are toying with in the burning house now, but they also don’t perceive the danger approaching them at every moment.

The purpose of Zen practice is to enable people to escape from the burning house and enjoy eternal happiness. Which is your choice, to keep playing in the burning house, or to get out of it?

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Changsha’s Dharma talk

Changsha’s Dharma talk

A monastic asked Changsha, “What is a dharma talk?” Changsha pointed to the left of his meditation seat and said, “This monastic is doing a dharma talk.” The monastic asked, “Is there anybody else who can do it?” Changsha pointed to the right of his meditation seat and said, “That monastic is doing it, too.” The monastic asked, “Then why can’t I hear it?” Changsha said, “Haven’t you heard that a real dharma talk makes no sound, and in real listening there is no hearing?”

Student: “How can I hear a dharma talk when it makes no sound and there is no hearing in real listening?”
Master: “Hear what is beyond sound.”
Student: “How?”
Master: “Don’t leave sound in order to hear what is beyond sound.”

Commentary:
Forsaking winds to seek air is not the right way.

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Rinzai 8

Rinzai 8

The master said, “The Great Compassionate Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara has a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. Which eye is the true one? Speak quick, quick!”
Magog pulled the master off his seat and himself took the place.

Commentary:
Master Rinzai’s response to Magog’s question by repeating Magog’s question and adding a few words ‘Speak quick, quick!’ may sound eccentric and illogical but this is an airtight answer to Magog’s question. You should be able to recognise Avalokitesvara that Rinzai showed just as you can recognise the invisible wind by seeing leaves moving and the invisible autumn by seeing leaves turning red and yellow. If you are confused and perplexed with this answer, that is the evidence that you are being deluded by words.

Then, Magog, admitting Rinzai’s answer, brings another question by pulling Rinzai off his seat and taking the place. You should know that this action includes both approval and another question: “I know that you mean just this as your answer to my question. Then, what is this? Tell me another answer.” You should know that however leaves may flutter and sound, it’s all just the function of the wind.

Student: “Why did Rinzai repeat the same question that Magog asked instead of answering the question?”
Master: “Because a correct answer must be the same as the question.”
Student: “Why did Magog pull Rinzai off his seat and take the place?”
Master: “Why do you see only Magog and Rinzai instead of seeing Avalokitesvara?”

©Boo Ahm

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Q. Without suffering there is no need for Nirvana, as these are two sides of the same coin. So, can we say that suffering is the cause and Nirvana is the effect?

Q. Without suffering there is no need for Nirvana, as these are two sides of the same coin. So, can we say that suffering is the cause and Nirvana is the effect?

A. We can say not only that suffering is the cause of Nirvana but also the other way around. They are just like right and left since one can’t be without the other. Either of them is cause of the other and effect of the other at the same time. As long as there is Nirvana, there has to be suffering and vice versa. If one vanishes, the other is bound to disappear along with it spontaneously. So, there is no Nirvana in the realm of Nirvana, just as there is no Buddha in Buddha’s land. So, an ancient master, when asked how to enter Buddha’s land, would answer, “Don’t stay where there is Buddha and go past quickly where there is no Buddha.” All these imply that Nirvana and suffering are just illusions, imaginary lines created by our imagination. If we can be above being deluded by illusions, then true Nirvana is no other than just where we are standing or sitting at this moment.

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Student: “Where is Nirvana?”
Master: “Near.”
Student: “How near?”
Master: “You can’t escape from it.”

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Daowu’s “Alive or Dead”

Daowu’s “Alive or Dead”

Daowu visited a family with Jianyuan for a condolence call. Jianyuan tapped the coffin three times and said, “Alive or dead?”
Daowu said, “I won’t say alive. I won’t say dead.”
Jianyuan said, “Why won’t you say?”
Daowu said, “I won’t say. I won’t say.”
Jianyuan could not understand at the time.

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Student: “Why did Master Daowu not say an answer even though his student entreated him for an answer to his question?”
Master: “Whatever you may be offered, it is not yours until you take it.”

Commentary:
Concealing it is much more difficult than revealing it.
Not answering the question is more difficult than answering it.

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Rinzai 7

Rinzai 7

One day the master went to the provincial capital. The governor, 0 Joji, invited him to take the High Seat. Then Magok came forward and asked: “The Great Compassionate Bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara has a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. Which eye is the true one?

Commentary:
Magok was also one of famous masters at that time. This question by Magok was a very well-known koan among monks who practised Zen meditation and is still popular with Zen practitioners. Avalokitesvara, a symbol of compassion, is said to have a thousand hands and a thousand eyes and save any sentient beings from suffering who call his name. A thousand hands implies that he can help anyone, and a thousand eyes implies that he can see anyone.

Many people have the wrong idea that Avalokitesvara and Buddha are different and separate from each other and that Avalokitesvara is one of Buddha’s students, or a being a little lower than Buddha. This misunderstanding is due to being deluded by words.

In fact, the core idea of Buddhism is that everything is empty. When everything is empty, everything is one as Emptiness, which is called non-Duality, Oneness, or Emptiness. So, it is said that the main idea of Buddhism is the idea of non-Duality, or the idea of Emptiness.

Emptiness is referred to as Buddha, or the true-Self, and the personified name of the function of Buddha is Bodhisattva. There are many Bodhisattvas with different names according to the functions. Avalokitesvara is one of them. In fact, there is no action that is not Bodhisattva because every action is the function of Emptiness. It follows that no matter how many Bodhisattvas there may be, they are just one as Buddha, the true- Self. This means that all the eyes of Avalokitesvara are just one as Buddha, Emptiness. So, realising the true-Self, Emptiness is referred to as opening the eye of wisdom, and the true-Self is also called the single eye.

Although Magok seems to try to check Rinzai with this question, he is actually asking the assembly if they know what Emptiness, the root of Avalokitesvara is by asking which eye is the true one.

Student: “What is Avalokitesvara true eye?”
Master: “How could you see without it?”
Student: “What is it like?”
Master: “It can’t be closed.”

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Q. How did we come to be in this situation where we do not know what we are?

Q. How did we come to be in this situation where we do not know what we are?

A. Buddhism says that this situation is from a discrimination from time immemorial. According to the Bible, this situation started when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil in the beginning of time. Anyway, both say that a discrimination was the source of this situation.

Buddha gave us a very nice answer by using a metaphor when he was asked this question by one of his students. He said, “Let’s suppose that you, hit by a poisonous arrow, are dying with the poison spreading in your body. Which is more critical at this moment, pulling out the arrow from you and saving your life, or trying to find out where and whom the arrow is from?” We should know better than to lose our lives whilst trying in vain to find out the source of the arrow.

Try to see everything as it is now, which is to get rid of the poisoned arrow from you and save your life. When you come to see everything as it is, you can not only save your life but also clearly know the answer to your question. That is, you can understand what is mentioned in the first paragraph.

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