How to Practice Zen Koans



John Tarrant demystifies Zen koan follow. Sure, it’s paradoxical, poetic, and completely private. And so is life.

Illustration by Tomi Um.

The koan: The coin misplaced within the river is discovered within the river.

A koan is a little bit therapeutic story, a dialog, a picture, a fraction of a tune. It’s one thing to maintain you firm, no matter you might be doing. There’s a convention of koan examine to rework your coronary heart and the way in which you progress on the planet.

The trail is about studying to like this life, the one you’ve. Then it’s simple to like others, which is the opposite factor a follow is about.

Koans don’t actually clarify issues. As a substitute, they present you one thing by opening a gate. You stroll by way of, and you are taking the journey. Earlier than something is defined, there may be the sky, the earth, redwood forests, pelicans, rivers, rats, town of San Francisco. And you might be a part of all that. We’re all a part of that. Within the land of koans, you see that all the pieces that occurs in your life is for you. There is no such thing as a one else it may be for. Your life counts.

It’s acquainted to succeed in for belongings you already learn about, and meditation means stepping past that. It’s not coaching your thoughts as a result of that’s one thing you already learn about. What’s required is more bizarre and in addition much less effort; it’s exterior of simple or onerous, yesterday or tomorrow.

You may suppose meditation is tough—that your job as a meditator is to vary your thoughts about actuality and see by way of your illusions. However the ambition to enhance your frame of mind is a part of the consciousness that finds fault with itself and lives in ache.

With a koan it’s totally different. You simply go together with the koan, and it attracts your consideration to one thing you have already got however won’t have valued. Actuality is in your facet.

There are various koans. When you have heard of a koan and it stayed with you, you possibly can attempt that one out. It may be like an ear worm—it seizes you and received’t go away. On this manner, a koan can select you. It’s for you the way in which your life is for you. Nobody else’s opinion actually counts. If no koan has already grabbed maintain of you, right here’s one to attempt:

The coin misplaced within the river is discovered within the river.

How do you’re employed with this koan?

1. Initially, don’t attempt too onerous.

Simply repeat the phrases of the koan to your self a bit.

The coin that’s misplaced within the river is discovered within the river.

You’re becoming a member of a timeless dialog and you might be forming a relationship with the koan, so you possibly can let all that occur with out worrying about it.

2. You present up.

Have the life you’ve, and let the koan into it. Consider it as play. Everybody needs to develop meditation as a ability, however constructing a ability is simply making your life smaller than it’s. Earlier than that, meditation is displaying up to your personal life. It’s private; one thing in your life will rise to satisfy the coin that was misplaced. It won’t be what you anticipated.

3. Belief what you don’t know.

Normally if we wish to perceive one thing we take it as much as the highest flooring and discover a shelf with a label for it. If we try this with meditation, we’re nonetheless exterior of our personal lives. As a substitute, you possibly can let the koan into your coronary heart and your physique. Let it change you.

4. Experiment.

Fall into the koan, make errors, attempt to misunderstand it, discover its virtues. You may’t break a koan. Ask your self questions: “Is that this a coin?” “Is something actually misplaced?”

Man walking with dog

5. The koan could be your good friend.

It may be the nice canine that follows you round. So you possibly can cease struggling. Simply questioning about that coin will change you; you’ll start to note it in all places. Go along with the koan no matter you might be doing. Even if you end up asleep it may be there, an unnoticed kindness.

6. Any a part of the koan is the entire koan.

Your thoughts presents all kinds of issues—cash, misplaced and located, hidden treasure, the ever-flowing river. Loss is itself a type of coin. Even should you had been delirious, dying, or simply actually excited, the gold could be there. The follow is strong like that. Secretly, inside any state there’s the glint of one thing that has all the time been right here. You simply present up in any situation and also you begin to discover.

Man holding coin

7. You don’t want a particular frame of mind.

There are various calm and clear states of thoughts, however the meditation will not be about chasing after them. Meditation happens earlier than any states of thoughts turn into mounted.

8. Trust in your self.

An important factor is to not choose, criticize, assess, or discover fault with something that arises in your thoughts. This contains how you might be doing with the koan. In case you can’t assist it and also you do choose, criticize, assess, and discover fault with your self, don’t criticize that. Then the compassion has someplace to return in.

Any closing options for attempting this?

We are able to flip towards no matter arises. No second of life is unworthy of us or incorrect, and each being has a treasure that was by no means misplaced. It’s fantastic to take pleasure in your koan, to let it turn into you, to relish your life. Ah, the coin!

You may be doing it proper.


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