Ordinary Mind is the Way

This koan is an exchange between Master Nansen and his student Joshu that would have taken place in China around the 9th century. Their dialog concerns the nature of the Way and how to attain it. Nansen advises his student that ordinary mind is the key, but that it is not something he can seek… Continue reading Ordinary Mind is the Way

Book Bits, Koans, The Masters

Nansen Kills the Cat – Koun Yamada

This famous koan from the Mumonkan or The Gateless Gate, tells the story of Nansen killing a cat that a group of monks were arguing over in a monastery, an action that elicited a bizarre response from another monk, Joshu. This particular translation of the koan comes from Koun Yamada's book of teachings on the… Continue reading Nansen Kills the Cat – Koun Yamada

Book Bits, The Masters

Suffering, Crying, Happy Buddha

The kind of happiness Buddhism proposes to us is not of the sunny, skipping-through-a-field-of-daisies variety, but rather a readiness and a sense of composure in facing whatever feeling might come up, be it pleasant or unpleasant. In this chapter from his book, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness - which is based on a series… Continue reading Suffering, Crying, Happy Buddha

Book Bits, The Masters

Thomas Merton on Zen Koans and Untying the Knot of Individuality

Those of us unfamiliar with the practice of the study of koans might view it as a method of problem solving, of learning how to think out of the box enough to understand the non-sequiturs entrenched in the recorded dialogues of Zen masters and disciples through the ages. In his essay, 'The Zen Koan', Thomas… Continue reading Thomas Merton on Zen Koans and Untying the Knot of Individuality

Book Bits

Jumping off the 100-Foot Pole

The koan of the 100-foot pole is frequently invoked to expose our ideas and misconceptions about Zen practice, namely the idea that there is some kind of apex that can be reached and from where a great vista can be seen. According to Shunryu Suzuki in this talk featured in the book 'Not Always So',… Continue reading Jumping off the 100-Foot Pole

Book Bits

All The Peaks are Covered with Snow—Why is this one Bare?

Nine Headed Dragon River is Peter Matthiessen's account of his life with Zen from his first experience in the practice. In the book, he shares sections of his notebooks and diaries to illustrate his Zen trajectory and travels. This section is from the second part of the book and set in Shey, Nepal, from where… Continue reading All The Peaks are Covered with Snow—Why is this one Bare?

Chinese Texts, Koans, The Masters

Master Ma-tsu and Original Mind

"Strange words and extraordinary actions" were the hallmark of 8th century Ch'an master Ma-tsu (also written as Mazu Daoyi) whose teaching methods involved the kind of unorthodox actions that became associated with certain forms of Zen, especially Rinzai. Ma-tsu was particularly fond of holding up his fly whisk, shouting and hitting his students, in order… Continue reading Master Ma-tsu and Original Mind

Koans, The Masters

Gutei’s Finger

'Gutei's Finger' is the 3rd case or koan in the Mumonkan, The Gateless Barrier, a collection of koans compiled in the 13th century by Rinzai master Wumen Huikai (known as Mumon Ekai in Japan). The 48 koans in the collection are all sourced from well-known scenes and moments through the history of Zen that Master… Continue reading Gutei’s Finger

Koans, The Masters

The Ultimate Path is Without Difficulty

  Chao Chou, teaching the assembly, said, "The Ultimate Path is without difficulty; just avoid picking and choosing. As soon as there are words spoken, this is picking and choosing", "this is clarity." This old monk does not abide within clarity; do you still preserve anything or not?" At that time a certain monk asked, "Since… Continue reading The Ultimate Path is Without Difficulty