Koan study

Dgj
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Koan study

Postby Dgj » Mon Dec 05, 2016 11:42 pm

Is koan study always taught in a way that leads to an experience like swallowing a red hot ball of iron, or are there any teachings out there in which one can study koan in a more neutral or even pleasant way?
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Astus
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Re: Koan study

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 06, 2016 12:34 am

Dgj wrote:are there any teachings out there in which one can study koan in a more neutral or even pleasant way?


The Blue Cliff Record, the Book of Serenity, and numerous writings of Dogen are like that.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

Dgj
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Re: Koan study

Postby Dgj » Tue Dec 06, 2016 12:53 am

Astus wrote:
Dgj wrote:are there any teachings out there in which one can study koan in a more neutral or even pleasant way?


The Blue Cliff Record, the Book of Serenity, and numerous writings of Dogen are like that.


You, sir, always have such great information and I really appreciate it.

Could you elaborate please?
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Re: Koan study

Postby DGA » Tue Dec 06, 2016 2:19 am

Here's a post in an old thread that could be useful to you.

viewtopic.php?t=10450#p132825

Dgj
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Re: Koan study

Postby Dgj » Tue Dec 06, 2016 2:45 am

DGA wrote:Here's a post in an old thread that could be useful to you.

viewtopic.php?t=10450#p132825


Thanks!
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Astus
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Re: Koan study

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 06, 2016 11:22 am

Dgj wrote:Could you elaborate please?


The teaching of kanhua chan, where one uses a phrase to elicit doubt and through doubt a breakthrough, is a technique introduced by Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163) and further elaborated by Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1238-1295). The Blue Cliff Record (Biyanlu) and the Book of Serenity (Congronglu) present the previous state of Chan that was named wenzi (literary) chan. Dogen disagreed with and criticised Dahui's innovation and followed the practice of the older tradition of composing expositions on stories, and such works make up a good part of the Shobogenzo. Therefore those are the sources you may turn to that do not follow the kanhua method.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

Dgj
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Re: Koan study

Postby Dgj » Tue Dec 06, 2016 2:42 pm

Astus wrote:
Dgj wrote:Could you elaborate please?


The teaching of kanhua chan, where one uses a phrase to elicit doubt and through doubt a breakthrough, is a technique introduced by Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163) and further elaborated by Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1238-1295). The Blue Cliff Record (Biyanlu) and the Book of Serenity (Congronglu) present the previous state of Chan that was named wenzi (literary) chan. Dogen disagreed with and criticised Dahui's innovation and followed the practice of the older tradition of composing expositions on stories, and such works make up a good part of the Shobogenzo. Therefore those are the sources you may turn to that do not follow the kanhua method.


Oh okay that information is usually glossed over and Dahui's method is presented only. Thank you. Is there a book that covers the history of this and are there any that cover how to practice using the older method in addition to the Shobogenzo?
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Re: Koan study

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 06, 2016 4:39 pm

Dgj wrote:Is there a book that covers the history of this and are there any that cover how to practice using the older method in addition to the Shobogenzo?


Morten Schlutter: How Zen Became Zen - this is a good introduction on early Song era Chan developments.

As for practice, you simply need to study the stories and commentaries. If you want meditation, you do zazen.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Koan study

Postby DGA » Tue Dec 06, 2016 5:04 pm

Astus wrote:
Dgj wrote:Is there a book that covers the history of this and are there any that cover how to practice using the older method in addition to the Shobogenzo?


Morten Schlutter: How Zen Became Zen - this is a good introduction on early Song era Chan developments.

As for practice, you simply need to study the stories and commentaries. If you want meditation, you do zazen.


The second part, about practice, will get different answers depending on who you ask. To the best of my understanding, if you want to practice Zen generally (inclusive of koan practice), the way to do it is with a competent teacher. Studying isn't bad but it's not the same thing. We're talking about a living tradition here, an oral tradition, and a teaching method based on interaction with people who "get it" in meat space. Others describe this better than I can.

For Dgj, here are some useful threads/posts...

(this is the most important one): viewtopic.php?f=69&t=20488&start=40#p298602

http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?t=12693

viewtopic.php?t=21791#p321219

viewtopic.php?f=39&t=20915

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=21078

viewtopic.php?f=53&t=21082

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Astus
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Re: Koan study

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 06, 2016 5:06 pm

DGA wrote:if you want to practice Zen generally (inclusive of koan practice), the way to do it is with a competent teacher.


I said nothing regarding koan practice, besides that it was initiated by Dahui.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Koan study

Postby DGA » Tue Dec 06, 2016 5:15 pm

Astus wrote:
DGA wrote:if you want to practice Zen generally (inclusive of koan practice), the way to do it is with a competent teacher.


I said nothing regarding koan practice, besides that it was initiated by Dahui.


I read this post differently:

viewtopic.php?f=69&p=367434#p367431

Here, I see Dgj asking for books describing koan practice. Your reply includes the words "As for practice..." and describes a regime of study.

But that's not the most important point.

Dgj was asking for leads on how to practice koan, and I made an attempt to offer useful resources, as you did too.

頑張ってください, everyone.

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Re: Koan study

Postby Astus » Tue Dec 06, 2016 5:22 pm

DGA wrote:Dgj was asking for leads on how to practice koan


There he asked not on the Dahui method but the other one. And for the practice of kanhua chan, I'd first recommend this: What is Ganhwa Seon?.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

Dgj
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Re: Koan study

Postby Dgj » Tue Dec 06, 2016 6:40 pm

Astus wrote:
Dgj wrote:Is there a book that covers the history of this and are there any that cover how to practice using the older method in addition to the Shobogenzo?


Morten Schlutter: How Zen Became Zen - this is a good introduction on early Song era Chan developments.

As for practice, you simply need to study the stories and commentaries. If you want meditation, you do zazen.


Okay great thank you.
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Matylda
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Re: Koan study

Postby Matylda » Wed Dec 07, 2016 4:11 pm

Dgj wrote:Is koan study always taught in a way that leads to an experience like swallowing a red hot ball of iron, or are there any teachings out there in which one can study koan in a more neutral or even pleasant way?


No.. in fact it depends on a teacher or lineage... however nowdays it is probably very seldom to see the state of swolloing iron ball :)
There were or are teachers who siply do not make much pressure... and even if a teacher is more demanding one can hardly see among students that they are in situation of swollowing iron ball or anything like that... but it does not mean that they cannot practe and study koan in earnest..

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Re: Koan study

Postby Meido » Wed Dec 07, 2016 6:23 pm

A few general thoughts on the subject:

"Swallowing a red hot ball of iron" comes from Mumon's description of how to practice with the first wato or koan (in this case, #1 of Mumonkan). It is hardly something to be understood unless one has actually passed through it. Basically, it points to the experience of an all-encompassing samadhi which arises in that practice; the "red hot ball" is Mumon's way to convey the feeling of kufu (i.e. grappling or struggling with one's whole existence) to merge with the method. The entire passage where he describes how to do it is best taken as a whole:
Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu." Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not." It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try. All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.

Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth. It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan'u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi.

Now, I want to ask you again, "How will you carry it out?" Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this "Mu." If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!


Be that as it may, it's worth noting that even in lineages (such as Rinzai ones) that used a structured approach to koan practice, not all koan are approached in this manner. The method Mumon describes is a way to work with the first or so-called "breakthrough" koan, which in Rinzai lineages is classed as a Hosshin (Dharmakaya) koan, the penetration of which is to directly see one's nature, i.e. the entrance gate into authentic Zen practice, which is taken as the basis of future practice. But there are other classes of koan which are approached differently, at times what we might call lightly, and even requiring intellectual consideration and expression. In other words, koan practice in those lineages is not one-dimensional at all, and "swallowing a red hot ball of iron" describes one facet only.

Anyone interested in such things can read the beginning of Victor Sogen Hori's Zen Sand, which has the best English-language overview of the structure and intent of Rinzai koan practice which I have read.

But as Matylda says, ultimately much depends on the teacher as well as the student. There is no "one size fits all" way of working with koan anywhere. The so-called "great faith, great doubt, great effort" can and does manifest in myriad ways (and non-koan practice also contains those three elements).

~ Meido
Even though you have attained insight into the True Nature (kensho), there is yet the barrier of differentiation, and there is the One Path of Advanced Practice. If you have not yet even seen into the True Nature, what a lot there is yet to do! - Torei

明道禅徹
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org
Madison, WI Rinzai Zen Community [機山龍源寺] - http://www.madisonrinzaizen.org
The Rinzai Zen Community - http://www.rinzaizen.org
http://rinzaiheartland.blogspot.com

Dgj
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Re: Koan study

Postby Dgj » Thu Dec 08, 2016 12:18 am

Meido wrote:A few general thoughts on the subject:

"Swallowing a red hot ball of iron" comes from Mumon's description of how to practice with the first wato or koan (in this case, #1 of Mumonkan). It is hardly something to be understood unless one has actually passed through it. Basically, it points to the experience of an all-encompassing samadhi which arises in that practice; the "red hot ball" is Mumon's way to convey the feeling of kufu (i.e. grappling or struggling with one's whole existence) to merge with the method. The entire passage where he describes how to do it is best taken as a whole:
Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu." Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not." It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try. All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.

Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth. It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan'u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi.

Now, I want to ask you again, "How will you carry it out?" Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this "Mu." If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!


Be that as it may, it's worth noting that even in lineages (such as Rinzai ones) that used a structured approach to koan practice, not all koan are approached in this manner. The method Mumon describes is a way to work with the first or so-called "breakthrough" koan, which in Rinzai lineages is classed as a Hosshin (Dharmakaya) koan, the penetration of which is to directly see one's nature, i.e. the entrance gate into authentic Zen practice, which is taken as the basis of future practice. But there are other classes of koan which are approached differently, at times what we might call lightly, and even requiring intellectual consideration and expression. In other words, koan practice in those lineages is not one-dimensional at all, and "swallowing a red hot ball of iron" describes one facet only.

Anyone interested in such things can read the beginning of Victor Sogen Hori's Zen Sand, which has the best English-language overview of the structure and intent of Rinzai koan practice which I have read.

But as Matylda says, ultimately much depends on the teacher as well as the student. There is no "one size fits all" way of working with koan anywhere. The so-called "great faith, great doubt, great effort" can and does manifest in myriad ways (and non-koan practice also contains those three elements).

~ Meido


Thank you so much for the well worded and informative response! I trained under a Zen teacher for a year and wrestled with a koan in the iron ball fashion. The teacher had an odd opinion of my efforts: he would tell me that I practiced too hard and that I would end up giving up prematurely and he would also tell me that practicing in a more easy going fashion would not yield results very well. It was confusing. Nonetheless I stressed myself out struggling so hard and am now wondering if there isn't a less stressful way.
I wish I knew what I was talking about but, let's face it, I probably don't.

Dgj
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Re: Koan study

Postby Dgj » Thu Dec 08, 2016 12:32 am

Matylda wrote:
Dgj wrote:Is koan study always taught in a way that leads to an experience like swallowing a red hot ball of iron, or are there any teachings out there in which one can study koan in a more neutral or even pleasant way?


No.. in fact it depends on a teacher or lineage... however nowdays it is probably very seldom to see the state of swolloing iron ball :)
There were or are teachers who siply do not make much pressure... and even if a teacher is more demanding one can hardly see among students that they are in situation of swollowing iron ball or anything like that... but it does not mean that they cannot practe and study koan in earnest..


Okay thank you.
I wish I knew what I was talking about but, let's face it, I probably don't.

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Re: Koan study

Postby Meido » Thu Dec 08, 2016 3:23 am

Dgj wrote:I trained under a Zen teacher for a year and wrestled with a koan in the iron ball fashion. The teacher had an odd opinion of my efforts: he would tell me that I practiced too hard and that I would end up giving up prematurely and he would also tell me that practicing in a more easy going fashion would not yield results very well. It was confusing. Nonetheless I stressed myself out struggling so hard and am now wondering if there isn't a less stressful way.


The things is, exerting effort need not be stressful. Wrongly directed effort, with undue tension, is stressful.

Think distance runner: able to exert effort, even to the limits of strength, but with relaxation born from confidence and sufficient training in the form of running.

Naturally I couldn't say what occurred with your teacher. But generally speaking, we can say it is a disservice if this method using koan/wato is given to the student too soon. If the student can't hold the koan seamlessly for extended periods of time, and has not integrated the bodily aspect of practice, it's really not going to ripen. It is a samadhi practice. This is why typically another method like susokukan (breath counting) is given first; once a certain stability manifests using that or a similar method method (for example, the student can hold the count without wandering or the arising of gross mental activity for at least the period of a typical meditation session) then it could be useful to pick up a wato or koan. It's not uncommon for a student to practice like this for a few years before being able to do so.

There are always exceptions, of course. Some students might purposefully be given the koan method before they are ready because the method itself can develop the same qualities as methods like breath counting. There are lots of other tools in the toolbox also...some people are not suited to the koan method at all. For some folks, a method like susokukan could be sufficient for their whole lives: the fact that is is often taken up as a foundational practice does not mean it is not extremely profound. There is also something we are not discussing here, which is that the role of the teacher goes beyond just prescribing methods.

In any case, I hope you will find a teacher in whom you feel confidence. Once you do, I'd say don't give up no matter what. All so-called methods should come to be easy and without stress; all, however, require the utmost exertion and a heck of a lot of practice...especially the ones that claim to be highest, most direct, most easy, least stressful, etc.

~ Meido
Even though you have attained insight into the True Nature (kensho), there is yet the barrier of differentiation, and there is the One Path of Advanced Practice. If you have not yet even seen into the True Nature, what a lot there is yet to do! - Torei

明道禅徹
Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org
Madison, WI Rinzai Zen Community [機山龍源寺] - http://www.madisonrinzaizen.org
The Rinzai Zen Community - http://www.rinzaizen.org
http://rinzaiheartland.blogspot.com

Matylda
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Re: Koan study

Postby Matylda » Thu Dec 08, 2016 8:16 am

Dgj wrote:Thank you so much for the well worded and informative response! I trained under a Zen teacher for a year and wrestled with a koan in the iron ball fashion. The teacher had an odd opinion of my efforts: he would tell me that I practiced too hard and that I would end up giving up prematurely and he would also tell me that practicing in a more easy going fashion would not yield results very well. It was confusing. Nonetheless I stressed myself out struggling so hard and am now wondering if there isn't a less stressful way.


well I think it is better to say such things in the beginnig.. otherwise one may wrongly interpret your question.. in fact one has to be confident when studying under teacher.. otherwise it does not make one practice sound.. whether with or without 'iron ball'.. but to practice under the teacher and then to go around asking questions is not best ideas.. it may harm practice in fact. If you trust your teacher just follow him or her without doubt even if there is no dawning result yet... the point of past masters realisation was in complete trust.. and it was not easy for any of them to go through the struggle and despair sometimes.

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Re: Koan study

Postby Dgj » Thu Dec 08, 2016 9:42 pm

Meido wrote:
Dgj wrote:I trained under a Zen teacher for a year and wrestled with a koan in the iron ball fashion. The teacher had an odd opinion of my efforts: he would tell me that I practiced too hard and that I would end up giving up prematurely and he would also tell me that practicing in a more easy going fashion would not yield results very well. It was confusing. Nonetheless I stressed myself out struggling so hard and am now wondering if there isn't a less stressful way.


The things is, exerting effort need not be stressful. Wrongly directed effort, with undue tension, is stressful.

Think distance runner: able to exert effort, even to the limits of strength, but with relaxation born from confidence and sufficient training in the form of running.

Naturally I couldn't say what occurred with your teacher. But generally speaking, we can say it is a disservice if this method using koan/wato is given to the student too soon. If the student can't hold the koan seamlessly for extended periods of time, and has not integrated the bodily aspect of practice, it's really not going to ripen. It is a samadhi practice. This is why typically another method like susokukan (breath counting) is given first; once a certain stability manifests using that or a similar method method (for example, the student can hold the count without wandering or the arising of gross mental activity for at least the period of a typical meditation session) then it could be useful to pick up a wato or koan. It's not uncommon for a student to practice like this for a few years before being able to do so.

There are always exceptions, of course. Some students might purposefully be given the koan method before they are ready because the method itself can develop the same qualities as methods like breath counting. There are lots of other tools in the toolbox also...some people are not suited to the koan method at all. For some folks, a method like susokukan could be sufficient for their whole lives: the fact that is is often taken up as a foundational practice does not mean it is not extremely profound. There is also something we are not discussing here, which is that the role of the teacher goes beyond just prescribing methods.

In any case, I hope you will find a teacher in whom you feel confidence. Once you do, I'd say don't give up no matter what. All so-called methods should come to be easy and without stress; all, however, require the utmost exertion and a heck of a lot of practice...especially the ones that claim to be highest, most direct, most easy, least stressful, etc.

~ Meido


That is really eye opening. I don't know how to evaluate myself in this light. I had already been practicing jhana for 13 years before being given a koan to study, so I do not believe it was lack of samadhi ability. Perhaps I was approaching the koan with the wrong attitude? Like a runner who puts mental stress into running despite having plenty of stamina? I feel that perhaps I took the word "doubt" the wrong way and it got worse and worse as I pushed harder and harder I got more and more intense, negative doubting.

I felt like I was tenaciously interrogating myself. "What is the answer?! What is it!? What!?" I practiced like this nearly at all times. Even in my dreams sometimes. I did two retreats as well. I thought this was right practice; to DEMAND an answer with great force until the koan was solved. It was exhausting and extremely stressful.
I wish I knew what I was talking about but, let's face it, I probably don't.


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