Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby paulus_germanus » Mon Jul 01, 2013 4:12 pm

I practice zazen with koans - or more like Kong-Ans, since it's the Kwan Um School of Jogye Zen.

I've been recently doing some reading of the Majjhima Nikaya and listening to Ven. Boddhi's lectures on it, and questiona arose:
1. What are the Therevada Buddhism's views on Zen koan meditation?
2. How would the Zen koan practice be classified in terms of the classical Theravada division of meditation types? (i.e. Vipassanā, Samatha etc., obviously excluding Anapanasati = 'mindfulness of breathing' [?])
3. Is it worthwhile, as a path to liberation, from the Theravada point of view?

Any help and discussion will be much appreciated.
:namaste:
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Re: Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby Aemilius » Fri Jul 12, 2013 11:51 am

You could see the utterances in the Udana resembling koans. There are instances in the Nikayas where a person attains enlightenment upon hearing a simple verse, which is similar to the koans, as public cases. And there instances of meditation on a simple verse that expresses the truth or reality, which again is similar to the koans.
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Re: Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby Astus » Fri Jul 12, 2013 1:39 pm

It depends on how you practise with koans. If you use them as a fixed object of meditation, that's samatha. If you use them to investigate the way the mind works, that's vipassana. If you use them to cut conceptual proliferation and maintain awareness, that's the combination of samatha and vipassana.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby Koji » Fri Jul 12, 2013 11:23 pm

paulus_germanus wrote:I practice zazen with koans - or more like Kong-Ans, since it's the Kwan Um School of Jogye Zen.

I've been recently doing some reading of the Majjhima Nikaya and listening to Ven. Boddhi's lectures on it, and questiona arose:
1. What are the Therevada Buddhism's views on Zen koan meditation?
2. How would the Zen koan practice be classified in terms of the classical Theravada division of meditation types? (i.e. Vipassanā, Samatha etc., obviously excluding Anapanasati = 'mindfulness of breathing' [?])
3. Is it worthwhile, as a path to liberation, from the Theravada point of view?

Any help and discussion will be much appreciated.
:namaste:


What do you think koans are meant to reflect or the same, to reveal to the person working on one?
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Re: Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jul 13, 2013 3:54 am

Many of the short suttas and verses (such in the Udana, as already mentioned) sound paradoxical. The first sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya, Ogha-tarana Sutta: Crossing over the Flood is like this. In fact the translator comments:
This discourse opens the Samyutta Nikaya with a paradox. The Commentary informs us that the Buddha teaches the devata in terms of the paradox in order to subdue her pride. To give this paradox some context, you might want to read other passages from the Canon that discuss right effort.

"Tell me, dear sir, how you crossed over the flood."
"I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place."
"But how, dear sir, did you cross over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place?"
"When I pushed forward, I was whirled about. When I stayed in place, I sank. And so I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place."

:anjali:
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Re: Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby Ramon1920 » Sat Jul 13, 2013 5:08 am

paulus_germanus wrote:I practice zazen with koans - or more like Kong-Ans, since it's the Kwan Um School of Jogye Zen.

I've been recently doing some reading of the Majjhima Nikaya and listening to Ven. Boddhi's lectures on it, and questiona arose:
1. What are the Therevada Buddhism's views on Zen koan meditation?
2. How would the Zen koan practice be classified in terms of the classical Theravada division of meditation types? (i.e. Vipassanā, Samatha etc., obviously excluding Anapanasati = 'mindfulness of breathing' [?])
3. Is it worthwhile, as a path to liberation, from the Theravada point of view?

Any help and discussion will be much appreciated.
:namaste:


1. I don't speak for Theraveda, but I think that speaking in an unclear way is either a sign of incompetence with language or the intent to deceive someone into thinking highly of you by using convoluted speech.
2. Koans being used for meditation would be a verbal fabrication.
3. I don't speak for Theraveda, but I don't see them as useful. If being confused by words led to liberation we'd all be liberated by now.

Buddha Shakyamuni was incredibly precise in teaching. He did not waste people's time, he did not play word games.

"They don't make open what isn't open, don't make plain what isn't plain, don't dispel doubt on its various doubtful points. This is called an assembly trained in bombast, not in cross-questioning."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Re: Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby nem » Tue Jul 16, 2013 5:53 am

I can speak about Theravada 'practices' a little. But I don't speak for Theravada or anything else. What is Theravada and Mahayana? Are they 2 separate things? There is a koan! :smile: I've been in group meditations several times lead by Bhante Seelananda of Bhavana Society and other lesser known teachers. Basically, they teach to start with meditation on the body, of perceptions of sounds as just sounds. Like if you hear an airplane passing, it's not "an airplane." Realize it's just a sound.

I asked Bhante Seelananda about the Thai practice of the Buddho mantra, or of the counting of in-breaths and out-breaths taught by Ayya Kheema. These are a little like koans in the sense that they are thinking, thinking about impossible questions, or Buddho, or numbers.

The advice was, that this too is ego. When you are thinking about koans, or counting, or mantras how can annata 'hit' when you are clinging to koans, or numbers or mantras? There is a lot of self in thinking about a mantra or koan. What is it, the analyzer who thinks about mantras and koans? Is there anyone there? There is no one in you, to be thinking about a koan or mantra, only the sensation of the breath is real. That was the teaching of Bhante Seelananda of Bhavana Society. He seems like the stories of arahants in the Nikayas. You only need to see his countenance, or his manner of walking meditation as he walks to receive alms, to appreciate his understanding of the dhamma. He seems..empty. Really profoundly empty more than any other monk that I've known. He seems. there with amaravati. He is 'gone'. That was what his form, told me about koans, mantras, counting numbers. They just reinforce the idea of self. The futility of looking for 'you' who is to be thinking about koans, mantras, counting numbers when that 'you', does not really exist.

Who or what is typing this message to you now on Dharmawheel? Does nem exist, or is nem some glitch in an internet server that caused this message to appear in front of your eyes? There's a koan. 'nem' cannot prove whether "nem" exists or not. and does not care about the answer to the koan. It's the same, either way. :) It's all fun too. Not to be taken too seriously. Everyone is maybe wrong..it's all uncertain. The Buddha set the example, and never clung to ideas like correct or incorrect, and dwelt right down in the muck of the uncertainty. Remember in the Nikayas, there were times when he stayed silent regarding uncertain topics. Like the koan, of "does a Buddha exist, not exist, or neither exist or not-exist after death of the body?"...He didn't bother with koans like that. At least, that's what the Nikayas say. But they may be false too!!!
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Re: Koan practice in the light of the Nikāyas?

Postby yoga lion » Sun Oct 27, 2013 8:17 am

Kong an are Chinese words. They are stories or conversations between a disciple and a master that usually leads to the Self Realization (or awakening, not enlightenment) of either the disciple or the master. The context is very important. Most of the Kong ans are illogical and even eccentric because the master in the story tries to confuse the disciple by getting his mind stuck and break it at certain moment when the master finds the opportunity. Of course, as a reader, you are often confused too until you experience the awakening yourself.

Awakening is just the beginning of the true spiritual practice in the school of Chan (zen). If you don't have an experienced teacher near you, I would say its not worthwhile. There are many other ways.
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