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Why Did Bodhidharma Come from the West?
Hakuin's Daruma

A.M.A. Samy Gen-Un-Ken-Roshi

Zen has come to stay in the West. But there are some vital questions over Zen Transmission to the West. First, has it legitimacy? Is it authentic? How rooted is it in the new land? This brings us to the question of Christianity and Zen. Does Zen need Christianity? Or, Christianity needs Zen? Is Zen religious at all? Can a Christian be a Zen Master?
Besides, there are questions of ethics, and of therapy: Has therapy conquered Zen in the West? Zen has had a poor record as regards ethics and justice. Should Zen now become an engaged Buddhism? Finally, in Zen Transmission to the West, what is vital, and what is peripheral? These are some of the questions touched upon in this probing and challenging book of AMA Samy. This book has already been published in German and Dutch. His earlier book, Emptiness and Fullness, was published only in German and Spanish.
AMA SAMY is a Christian priest and Zen master. "Gen-Un-Ken" is his Dharma name as Zen master.
He belongs to the line of Sambo Kyodan Zen. He teaches half the year in Europe (Summer), and the other half in India.
His address in India: Bodhi Zendo, Perumal Hills, Kodaikanal-624104, India.



Zen is not confined to Zazen, the seated meditation on the cushion. Zen is a way of life, and the whole of life is the field of Zen. However, seated meditation or Zazen --- which comprises both shikantaza and koan meditation --- is central to the Zen way. Zazen is to Zen what the Eucharist is to the Christian Church. It is sacrament and symbol, of expression, authentication and articulation. Of course, it is by practicing that one learns the way, but I would like to give a frame for understanding and guidance. For, not only do we need guidance and frameworks for Zazen; Zazen itself gets its meaning and validity only in the context of the whole of Buddhism and Zen tradition.


There has been a tendency to isolate and detach Zazen from Zen Buddhism --- its tradition, doctrine, praxis, history, symbols, faith --- and focus on some objectless awareness of the so-called unity- or, non-dual consciousness, calling this `pure Zen', and relegate all else as so much useless baggage. It is a complete distortion and travesty of Zen. Zen is not some isolated experience or some particular state of consciousness, nor an a-historical or uprooted mysticism. (see remarks on experience, in chapter IV.). Rowan Williams, discussing mysticism, remarks, "So far from "mystical states" being a sort of paradigm of certainty, they have authority only within a frame of reference which is believed in on quite other grounds, and are therefore properly to be tested according to their consistency with this"(1). Carl Bielefeldt in his study of Dogen's teaching of Zazen, shows how: " ....perhaps more than most in the tradition (Dogen) is concerned to ground his practice in history and identify it with the orthodox transmission of the Buddhas and Patriarchs. In the end, the selection of Zazen as the one true practice is an act of faith in a particular vision of sacred history. When Dogen summons us to slough off body and mind and just sit, he is, in effect, calling on us to abandon other readings of Buddhist tradition and commit ourselves to his. In religious terms, then, the act of sitting becomes the sign of our faith in the historical reality of the tradition of enlightened practice and our acceptance of participation in it."(2)

Authentic Zazen takes place within the horizon of the historical and religious dimensions; it is the actualization and recapitulation of the Buddha and the Patriarchs, transmitted from master to disciple, and nourished and validated in the matrix of the Sangha. But it is not a mere repetition of doctrine, ritual or behavior. It is, using Rowan William's redefinition of mysticism. "Whatever in a religious system is thought to enable re-establishing of contact with the generative element, over and above the ordinary ritual means of recollection or reappropriation." It is going back to the roots, establishing the relationship with the primordial reality of self and world. Not an isolated or neutral act of consciousness, but an embodied, historical, religious consciousness in language, symbols and practice.

Renewal, regeneration and adaptation take place in going back to the roots, as well as through dialogue with other traditions and movements; it is provoked by the questions of the times and by our own felt discrepancy and the need for authenticity. Such renewal brings forth a regeneration of vision and symbols, a new birth and reformation. This is what is happening now for Zen in the West. It is not a matter primarily of methods and techniques, but of a re-visioning and re-imaging.


I do not want here to describe the methods and techniques of Zazen; you can read about these at length in the many books available. Methods and techniques are needed and helpful --- but only in going through and beyond them can you come to authentic Zen. There is a great temptation to turn Zen into a how-to-do technique, into an automatic, mechanical method. Some emphasize too much effort, discipline and concentration, as if by concentration and effort one can come to a breakthrough. Sure, one may come to a breakthrough, but it will be often a breakdown; for such an effort is only a further intensification of ego-consciousness. Zen awakening is one of realization, and Zen practice is one of letting-go and surrender; it is self-transformation.

Mention of techniques and methods reminds me to give one or two warning: Some books and teachers lay stress on deep abdominal breathing, and students mistakenly try to force the breath into the abdomen. Such breathing is harmful. Breathe normally; but if you can, it is good to let the outgoing breath be a bit longer. And keep your lower abdomen controlled, but not tensed or contracted (3). It is OK to put attention on the hara. But do not simply believe and follow the misleading directions of K. von Durckheim or of some overzealous Zen manuals on hara breathing. As regards pain, some pain in Zazen may be even helpful. When there is pain, get into the pain, be the pain, be with it. But if there is sharp, shooting pain, it is a warning to change your posture. And let not your legs go to sleep. To think that more the pain, the better, is an illusion and masochism.

What is central in shikantaza or just-sitting is just that --- just sitting, being here and now, being present; letting-go and letting-be. It is not a matter of trying to achieve some particular state of consciousness. Not trying to achieve anything, and not trying not to achieve anything. No goals, no comparisons, no judgments, no achievements. It is just be-ing there, present, aware and grounded in body awareness. Be-ing with oneself, being one's self, being with all. In a deep sense, Zazen is consciousness becoming conscious of itself, awareness resting on awareness. It is the transformation of body-mind-universe into a non-dual awareness/consciousness.

"....in Dogen's conception of zazen-only, non-thinking is used not transcendentally so much as realizationally; it is objectless, subjectless, formless, goalless, purposeless. But it is not identical with a vacuum, void of intellectual content. What zazen-only does is not the elimination of intelligence but the realization of it. Furthermore, what intelligence does in zazen-only is to unfold, rather than circumscribe, the mysteries of existence."(4)

Ordinarily, if after shikantaza, you feel exhausted, tired or restless, your shikantaza was not good; perhaps you had been straining yourself to concentrate, or trying to achieving something or other. You will have to learn from your own experience.

People often ask me for help on how to deal with thoughts in zazen. I will be saying something more later, but here one or two helps: Sitting in pure or "bare" awareness is sitting in spaciousness; it is to be unified and master of oneself, and open and transparent. It is the ideal. But do not be attached to this state, and do not try too much to achieve it. Do not try to repress or suppress thoughts. You are your thoughts: emotions, images, ideas, attitudes, judgments and decisions. At the same time, you are more than your thoughts. And you cannot realize your self which is more than thoughts except by going through your thoughts. Your thoughts are basically the questions life puts to you as well as your questions to life. Sitting in zazen is rightly ordering yourself in the space of these questions. Sit with all the questions of your life, let them be ordered in the light of the beyond-of-thoughts.

But when your very existence or the meaning of your life itself becomes a question, it then becomes your koan. Of this, later. But even when your life has been ordered in the light of the ultimate truth, and you have come to settle where there is no settling down, vain concerns, unwanted thoughts, and inescapable emotions may invade you and take you away repeatedly. Here (besides breath-counting) controlled abdominal breathing is of help. But do not overdo it, do not turn it into a mere technique. Rather practice it as a form of non-doing: Action in non-action. The goal is, through breath-awareness, the mind becoming the body, and the body-mind being "cast-off" or "dropped", into unfocused, nondual awareness.

Here are a few other helps and hints: Initially, it is helpful to "name" the thoughts as they arise. When a thought or emotion arises, look at it, feel, it, look into the deeper or underlying attitudes and patterns, and call it by its name. eg: concern; fear; anger; feeling unwanted; hurt to my ego; wanting to play the hero/heroine, or savior; impatient; etc., Also, it helps to see the emotion in perspective, to be aware of its pattern and history, and what it may be telling you. All this, without analyzing; it is just feeling and seeing the movement and tone and texture and pattern; and at same time to be with body-awareness, to be here and now. This dual presence-awareness, being `there' and being `here' helps one to become detached and freed. Particularly for emotions like anger, resentment, paranoia, or sex, simply becoming "non-dual", or one-with the images and the emotions is not helpful. Better become aware of the inner need, and longing, or hurt, pain or fear, without getting lost in the images and emotions, and also be grounded in body-breath-awareness.

Let me quote an anecdotal example from an addict:

"I did two things. First, I began to take good care of the body, good diet and exercise. Second, I began to meditate in a different manner than I had been taught, instead of directing attention to a specific object (tunnel vision) such as breathing. For example, I would sit still and let attention to whatever was distracting me at the moment, whether it was thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and give complete attention or completely embrace whatever it was with each breath, without reacting. For example, if I desired a drink I would embrace the desire without repressing the desire (control) or acting out the desire by drinking or whatever (also control).

"I began to trust this process completely because the more I did it, the freer and happier I felt, the more I realized I could turn to this process, which I secretly named the wisdom of attention process, whenever something was distracting or bothering me instead of turning to drink or other processes or substance which are unhealthy, including meditation teachers."(5)

Sometimes, however, you will have to firmly say to yourself "Enough" or "No", to the endless chain of thoughts and emotions --- particularly when it is an unending indulgence in self pity, blaming, anger, resentment, sex, paranoia, etc. You need to be firm with yourself without being harsh. It involves basically some fundamental decisions and choices as regards your life and relations --- decisions and choices for the true and the good. However, often an underlying, deeply hidden self image may be activating the negative emotions. It will be, then, helpful to re-image yourself and your environment, letting self-images of faith, hope, trust, courage, freedom and compassion emerge and re-enter your consciousness and sub-conscious. The self image is an activating agent, a skillful means; do not cling to the image as such. What is vital is to let faith and trust, courage and compassion well up from your depths. Such welling up is the function of Bodhicitta, the heart-mind of the Bodisattva. And such faith, trust, courage and compassion involve letting-go and dying - to die to your attachments and aversions, to your desperate clinging to survival, and to self seeking, security and comfort. This letting-go and letting-be in a sort of action in non-action. However, there is a danger of this becoming a wilful striving, a subtle form of ego assertion. Then you will need to let go all striving and struggling and wanting, and surrender yourself in unknowing faith and trust into your own embodied existence. Carl Jung's words are apt here:

"The patient has not to learn how to get rid of his neurosis, but how to bear it. His illness is not a gratuitous and therefore meaningless burden; it is his own self, the "other"..he was always seeking to exclude from his life."
Then self acceptance can happen, and self transformation.

"... sometimes it happens they receive the power to say `yes' to themselves, peace enters into them and makes them whole, self-hatred and self-contempt disappears, and their self is reunited with itself. Then they can say that grace has come upon them (Paul Tillich)."


Let me now give a central image or symbol for Zazen: Zazen is being at the center. It is to realize oneself as the center as well as the process of centering. The medieval Christian metaphor for God can be applied to the self: a sphere whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. In zazen you are at the heart of the universe, and you are the heart of the universe. The self enfolds, infolds, and unfolds all of reality, history, time and space. The center of the human being is a hole, a zero, an empty nothing, through which the entire universe flows in and flows forth, transformed and recreated. It is not flight from body, the world, the others or time and history. It is not a uni-linear passage from one moment to another, from past to future. It is to be at the heart of the convergence and emergence of all times and beings. It is to be present, present to oneself, and through self-presence, present to all of reality. Not to be carried away by thoughts, images, memories and emotions; and not to control or repress them. But, to be, to be present; to let be, to let in and to let go. To be present to the past, to the present and to the future; to be present to self, to world, to others.

Gabriel Moran expresses very well this sense of being at the center:

"When time is understood as a series of points, then the movement towards death is almost of necessity a march of despair. Erik Erikson describes despair as the feeling that one is running out of time. But many people do not experience the approach of death this way. They have discovered from religion or somewhere else a meaning of time in which the present is constantly enriched by the past; they are content with the day. `He who lives with sense of the present', writes Abraham Heschel, `knows that to get older does not mean to lose time but rather to gain time'. One sinks into the middle of time, toward the still point at the center of the world. `And do not call it fixity, where past and future are gathered' (T.S.Eliot)." (6)

Again, in another place Moran writes:

"If one imagines development as a straight line up or forward, then ground gained is an individual and permanent conquest. It seems to me that Christianity and every other major religion opposes this assumption. One's life as a whole is at issue throughout all one's life. That could be terrifying because no ground is securely possessed. However, not being in control of everything, we don't have the burden of constructing the whole world. We just have to sit ourselves at the center of creation, listen attentively, and then respond the best we can. When we come to die, we do not have to change our position radically, except perhaps to lie down rather than sit ... A theory of religious development is a circle about the unreachable center of our own lives and the lives of all creatures."(7)

This sitting at the center is the sitting in Bodhimandala, in Emptiness. It is Emptiness itself sitting thus: The Formless Self presences and exerts itself as this form through and through; and the entire universe is attained in this form. "Such is the I that is life, the life that is `I'," says Dogen (8). Now is all times, all of reality.

Your Now is eternity as this time, "Eternal time is just this moment," runs the verse to Mumonkan case No.47. "All are blessed, all are blessed," proclaims the verse to case no.35. You are blessed, graced, accepted and affirmed unconditionally. Your behavior in the world many be inadequate or a failure; but you are blessed, good, beautiful. You lack nothing, your poverty is fullness. It is at times helpful to remind oneself in so many words of this vision and realization, particularly when your heart-mind is confused or lost in forgetfulness. "Buddham Saranam Gacchami". Buddha is yourself; Buddha is your home; come home. This is the opposite of trying to run away from the human conditionedness of multiplicity and duality. At times, it is true, one can come to a gracefulness as that of a dancer who is one with the dance, of freedom, spontaneity and unity. But do not identify Emptiness or Buddha mind or the No-Self with such a determinate condition or state. It is human temptation to crave and seek for such an absolute and unified condition of mind, of Pure Action. Such a craving can lead to many evils. It is a craving for the abstract and flight from the concrete, it is the dualism of one condition opposed to other conditions. Hee-Jin Kim describes Dogen's approach as not one of trying to transcend dualities but of realizing them:
"... in Dogen, opposites of dualities are not obliterated or even blurred; they are not so much transcended as realized. The absolute freedom in question here is that freedom which realizes itself in duality, not apart from it."(9)

Yet, the overall approach of Dogen seems inadequate and wanting. You dwell in many levels, in many selves; ambiguity, plurality, dividedness, finitude, unfinishedness is the human condition. To sit at the center of stillness and emptiness is to embrace this conditioned humanness wholly and fully, to realize that darkness is itself light, that all is 'empty' and all is grace. It is not, either, to ignore or deny evil in the world or in one's heart. But it is the realization of the primordial vision of goodness and beauty, of the mystery that is graciousness. In love, there are two levels: the basic and fundamental level of affirmation, which is the assent to your/other's existence and being as good: it is good that you are. The second level, flowing from the first, is doing, changing, working. Sitting at the center is to utter the great Amen, the yes, to your own existence, and to that of the other, as well as to all that is: "Yes to all that is, thanks to all that has been." It is good that you are. All are blessed, all are blessed. Arising from the sitting, you can go forth into the world to act and change things. "Thinking neither good nor bad, at this very moment, what is your original self?"(10).

I would like to offer another metaphor or image for Zazen: Having space for oneself or being-with oneself. In the child's growth, play space, or Spielraum, occupies a vital place. It is an 'Inner' space, which enables the child to acquire a sense of selfhood. Play-space or Spielraum denotes the dimension where the child plays by itself and talks to itself, in the enabling personal ambience of the mother or care-giver. As Piaget describes it:

"What the (the child) says does not seem to him to be addressed to himself but is enveloped with the feeling of a presence, so that to speak of himself or to speak to his mother appears to him the same thing. His activity is bathed in an atmosphere of communion or syntonization, one might almost speak of "the life of union" to use the terms of mysticism, and this atmosphere excludes all consciousness of egocentrism. But, on the other hand, one cannot but be struck by the soliloquistic character of these remarks. The child does not ask questions and expects no answer; neither does he attempt to give any definite information to his mother who is present. He does not ask himself whether she is listening or not. He speaks for himself just as an adult does when he speaks within himself."(11)

The personal, indirect and non-intrusive presence of the mother/caregiver enables the child to be-with itself, to play-with itself, to acquire a sense of inner selfhood, to be in touch with inner emotions and images. The play-space is the foundation for the adult's sense of self-confidence and identity of an inner self and freedom:

"The cardinal feature of the pre-school child's play is an embryonic "innerness", ....This emergent "innerness" is an immediate precursor to that stage of experience which is maturely "inner", when one's thoughts are truly one's own"(12).

When there are disturbances in this play-space, the child becomes oriented to the external world. Its language then becomes linear, logical and directed towards "reality". In this space is generated the "social me", it is the sense of 'me' where the child sees itself as others see it. These are two different "spaces". In the play-space the child brings into being a personal reality, in the social space, the social and public reality. Without the experience of the play-space, one feels not in touch with oneself, lacks a feeling tone to life and inner freedom, and misses the sense of reality.

I would like to apply this metaphor of play-space or Spielraum to Zazen. Zazen is being in a play-space. Sure, it is not mere repetition of the childhood play, but it is sort-of. The great Christian philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas likened contemplation to play in that neither has any purpose beyond itself. Dogen describes zazen-only as "playing joyfully in such a samadhi", the samadhi of self-fulfilling activity, jijuyu-zammai:

"When you forget all attachments steadfastly, you will become zazen itself naturally. This is the art of zazen. Zazen is the Dharma-gate of great repose and joy."(13)

What I mean by zazen as Spielraum is being-with oneself. Being-with oneself in an overarching personal ambience and presence --- there is room to be oneself, to let-be oneself as oneself; being present to oneself, one realises one's being --- with all the universe, being present to the world and to the others. Not a face to face encounter, however. There is awareness, but no sharp distinctions, no definitions, separations and differentiations, no unilinear, discursive, rational, logical thinking. At the same time, it is not being at the mercy of fantasies or emotions. One is present to oneself, one is with oneself. Whatever comes into awareness, take note, and let it pass. Neither denying, repressing, fighting, nor acting out, indulging in, or being carried away. One bears-with and befriends all. In this being-with dimension, your childhood becomes present, your adolescence and all your past --- you are now a child, but it is not a simple regression.


Zen talks about intimacy. In the zazen of being-with, you become intimate with yourself, with your own heart and mind, emotions and imagination, particularly with your inner heart-mind. You are in touch with your own feelings and realize your authentic heart. In this sense, it is therapeutic and healing. However, therapy is not the main goal of zazen, only a by-product. Besides, being with yourself means also going through darkness, emptiness, loneliness, fear and what-not. This is also the birth of compassion. Not only have you to be-with and bear-with your own madness, dread and darkness, and pain, but in a mysterious way, all the world enters your heart and emerges from your heart. By being-with and bearing-with your own passions and fears, you can become compassionate. Going through the pain of your own loneliness, you can enter aloness or solitude, in which you are no more lonely. Patience and waiting belong to the inner dimension of Zazen. Patience, above all, with oneself. To be patient is to suffer, to suffer oneself. We are so often impatient with ourselves and the world, we are in a hurry to change, to manipulate, to order according to our wishes and desires. 'Nature', the nature of our own being and the nature of the other and the world, resists and offers an intractable obstacle to our wilfulness and egoism. In Zazen, we have to learn to suffer ourselves, to be-with ourselves, to let-go our wilfulness and learn willing surrender.


Zazen 'play-space' is constituted by a personal ambience, it was said earlier. "Transpersonal" may be a more appropriate term. Many have a negative reaction to the mention of 'personal' and 'presence'. Very often it is a misunderstanding of Zen, or a reaction to the earlier experiences of an oppressive presence of power-over. For many Christians the idea of God has been imaged as such an oppressive, dominating, judgmental, almighty power-over and out-there. It is in reality an evil power, an idol and Moloch. It has to be exorcised by the practice of authentic Zazen. In Zen vision, the whole universe is personal presence or, if you wish, transpersonal; it is Consciousness, Intelligence, Awareness and Compassion. The Buddha-mind or Buddha-nature is both one and not-one with the universe. The compassion of Bodhicitta and the majestic 'activities' of the active Buddha suffuse the entire world and the original vow of the Buddha undergird and guide all beings. Torei Zenji's Bodhisattva vow proclaims:

"When I look at the real from of the universe all is the never-failing manifestation of the mysterious truth of Tathagata. In any event, in any moment, and in any place, none can be other than the marvelous revelation of its glorious light ... Our daily food, drink, clothes and protections of life are the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnation of the Buddha."(14)

Zen transmission is intensely personal, from the heart-mind of the master to the heart-mind of the disciple. Gratitude and commitment moisten and interfuse the heart of the disciple as well as of the master. Awakening itself is "putting on", or realizing, the heart-mind of the Buddha and the Patriarchs. D.T. Suzuki points out: "Kierkegaard says that faith is an existential leap. So is satori. Faith has a Christian ring, while satori is specifically Zen. In my view both are experientially identifiable."(14a) Zazen is an act of deep faith and trust.

"Faith and enlightenment are often regarded as two antithetical ideas, so much so that Zen Buddhism is mistakenly thought to be exclusively the religion of enlightenment, faith being an inferior or even a foreign element, or at best a preliminary to enlightenment. But in Dogen's thought, faith and enlightenment interpenetrate each other so that without one the other cannot be fully meaningful. The inferior status of faith is repudiated once for all; it now becomes the very core of enlightenment."(15)

Not only for Dogen, it was so for Rinzai and for other great Zen masters. The misunderstanding arose due to a misunderstood equation of faith with believing a dogma as well as a reaction against Christianity. Faith is constitutive of being human and it is not the possession of Christianity. Emptiness is Fullness, Emptiness is transpersonal. Gerta Ital writes of a remark made by Shinichi Hisamatsu, the "atheist" Zen man:

".... I started speaking again, saying, 'And so the void...' But the Master interrupted me the moment I said the words `the void', for which I used the German expression 'das Nichts'. 'Don`t say 'das Nichts', he said in German, say 'der Nichts'! 'Das Nichts' is neuter, it cannot express the essence of it!" (16)

Only in a personal universe can humans become human persons. Psychotherapist Robert F. Hobson makes religious confession: "In becoming a person 'I' am more nearly myself in those relationship with other persons which intimate a self which transcends and yet embraces all other selves, both inner and outer."(17)


As an aside, I would like to recommend "contemplation of nature" as part of Zazen. Very often zazen is done within an enclosure, cut off from immediate nature and surroundings; even if one sits in the open, one shuts one's senses or concentrates on oneself away from the environment. Yasutani Hakuun says somewhere that the Zen person doesn't stand and stare at nature; he or she walks or works. I find such activist Zen wanting in spirit and soul. It is very helpful, during sesshins, to give time to sit outside, looking out into open nature. Choose a comfortable place, sit at ease but straight; let your senses be open to the world of nature. It is not merely looking; it is rather taking in, or letting in, nature-the green trees, the murmur of the stream, the soft breeze, the flying birds, the fluttering butterflies. ... Be relaxed, be open, let nature fill you. Thoughts, images, emotions may flit through your mind. Take note of them and come back to your contemplation of nature. Your mind is an open space. Just be. No goal to be achieved. At same time, it is not mere relaxing as, say, in sun-bathing. The soul is nourished by such a contemplation. This is, in a sense, the chanting of the sutras of the mountains, the rivers and entire universe. Nature presences itself in you and to you. You are the universe, the universe is yourself. Be, let be. Of course don't try to overdo it. And some may find it hard to sit still. For them, it may be good to take a contemplative walk through fields and woods.


I'd like to summarize this part with the image of Sakyamuni Buddha seated in lotus posture, one hand pointing to the earth and the other resting on the lap holding a begging bowl. It is the image of the Buddha overcoming Mara, the tempter. When Mara challenged the Buddha and told him that he could not sit on that piece of earth since it belonged to him (Mara), the Buddha points with his right hand to the earth calling the earth to witness that the earth belonged to the Buddha, not to Mara. Holding the begging bowl in the other hand shows the interrelationship of all beings. This is a beautiful image for zazen. Be seated at the center. You're already at the center; and you are the center. The center is nowhere but where you are. Being at the center is also being-with yourself. And be grounded in and rooted in your body and earth. Breath connects you to all beings. Be with your breath, be with yourself --- with all that happens to you and in you --- let-be, but be not be carried away, do not "lose" yourself. The samadhi of self-fulfilling activity, jijiu-zammai, is not one of loss of self, but of selfactualization and freedom. (During your daily life, when your mind gets scattered and you are "somewhere else", it is good to take a breathing-second to center yourself in the here and now in your body-hara, in gentle awareness. Also, recalling yourself to your authentic vision of life and reality.) And do not be "entrapped" either by body-breath sensations. Some people can be completely entrapped in body sensations or external stimuli as an escape from inner turmoil or, they do not have any inner space for fantasy and imagination (18). They are unable to be-with themselves, and so, unable to be-with others, for they lack a sense of space. Often books describing shikantaza describe it in terms of sitting taut and alert, totally aware, concentrated and one-pointed. This is to have no space at all and it sounds more like an intensification of ego-work than the zazen of the Buddhas and the Patriarchs. Body-feeling is central to a sense of selfhood and to being present here and now; but 'body' is more than the fixed envelope of skin. Your body is truly your body in being-with others and the world, the center being one of marvelous exchange of self and the world, as the Buddha's begging bowl symbolizes.



The foregoing section was primarily about shikantaza, just sitting. But it doesn't exclude koans, the questioning and seeking heart-mind. The human mind and heart are essentially questing, seeking, desiring, questioning. It is by this questing-questioning that the heart-mind is opened up and through this opening all the world can enter. More than the quest of well-being, it is the ultimate questions that are heart-mind's quest: What is the meaning of my life? Where do I go after death? What is really real? Who am I? How can my heart find peace? Why evil? and so on. The second Patriarch, Eka, struggles with a heart that is restless and seeks peace; the Third Patriarch, Sosan, yearns to be liberated from his sins; the Fourth Patriarch, Doshin, seeks liberation. There are questions for the intellect, to know and to be known; there are questions for the heart, to love and to be loved. There are questions and questions. It is not so much you who puts the questions; it is life which questions you. You cannot just ignore the questions of the heart-mind; as the saying goes, an unexamined life is not fully human. But, there is more involved in this than a mere decent human living. Listening to the deeper questions and desires, longings and urges, and articulating them takes time and patience and effort. It can be done only in dialogue with human others and the world. Such listening and articulation is the basis of spiritual life. And your questions, moving and contained in your heart, can become focused attention and energize your zazen and the spiritual path.

Answers from books, and authorities, scriptures --- all these are only fingers pointing to the moon; they cannot really fulfill your heart and mind. Ultimate questions of life are not just problems to be solved. Usually, our concerns are of immediate self-concerns --- of security, comfort, power, prestige, and of control, fear, etc., --- but beneath them lie deeper concerns and questions concerning your very self and existence. As Rilke writes to a young poet, you have to carry these questions in your heart and bear with all that is unresolved in your life --- until you are re-formed and transformed. Such transformation takes place in exploring your questions in the trusting presence of another human being and in the dialogue of friendship and love. But your heart-mind cannot finally rest in another human heart or mind. Augustine of Hippo said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." The world cannot contain your heart.

The Zen master occupies a central place in koan zen journey. The master is there not so much to give assurances or answers; he/she is there primarily to help to evoke, provoke, de-struct and re- structure your questions. We are, as said earlier, constituted as subjects in our questions --- our questing, seeking, desiring --- of who we are, and of our desiring to be recognized --- not objectified --- as more than or other than what we are. The master must look beyond the surface and help explore our heart-mind's questing and seeking for truth and love. This can be done only by questioning of who I am in reference to what I am not. It can lead into paradoxes, contradictions, and mysteries. The heart mind's seeking and desiring can be fulfilled only in the surrender into fathomless abyss and incomprehensible unknown, where the questions come to silence. It is the silence of fullness. The self has disappeared in the mystery that is graciousness. But this has to be realized and authenticated in the in-between of the human relationships and in the actuality of the world. "Dwelling nowhere, let your mind come forth (1)." The river flows just as it flows; the flowers bloom, just as they bloom.

Zen koans were originally such life questions. Such questioning and seeking is basic to every authentic spiritual way, but Zen refined and honed it to a great art. Everything became such a language, not only words; and paradoxical, illogical, strange use of such language became the hallmark. It all sprang from the realization that words cannot comprehend reality, that the unutterable and the inexpressible can only be presented, that the most pressing question was how to realize reality here and now, attain liberation and self transformation. But soon the living and dynamic questions and responses became reified into models and paradigms for later students. Charism and creativity were institutionalized and koan collections and commentaries on the koans, and commentaries on the commentaries, were published. By Southern Sung period in China (1127-1279) the masters were giving to their students old, well-known koans for meditation. Many of these koans had their original answers, but the students don't seem to have been expected at the period to bring some fixed answers. It was left to the Japanese genius to systematize the koans into a training system. Daito (1282-1337) seems to have begun such a systematization. But it was Hakuin (1685-1768) and his disciples who codified, graded and arranged the koans, with set answers. Hakuin and his disciples made up most of the koan answers --- many of the answers are wonderful, fitting like a jar and its lid, and are paradigmatic; many of them are also contrived and trivial. Subsequent masters have been trying to improve upon the answers, or invent new koans.

The present Rinzai koan system falls into two schools --- they are not much different from each other --- which bear the names of Takuju school and Inzan school. Takuju Kosen (1760-1833) and Inzan Ien (1751-1814), were disciples of Torei Enji (1721-1792), who was the immediate disciple of and collaborator with Hakuin. There are said to be 1700 koans. Actually, there are any number, and anything and everything can be turned into a koan. Great koans spring from the insoluble paradoxes and the ultimate questions of life. The systematization of koan training revitalized Rinzai Zen, but it also destroyed originality and creativity. Now Rinzai monks go through hundreds and hundreds of set koans with fixed and set answers. It is a training in studied spontaneity, ritual routinization, a learning of a particular language and behavior. It has become mostly a learned acting-out and imitativeness without realization. "Right" koan answers have become the dogma of Rinzai Zen, as "right" manners and ritual that of Soto Zen. One hears often of one attaining satori by breaking through the first koan. It is an euphemism. Rarely does any Rinzai monk come to a breakthrough enlightenment by "passing" the koans; of course, there can be exceptions, no doubt. One can run through all the hundreds of the koans giving the 'right' answers without any experience of awakening. But, the koan training is not without value. It can be a training in acquiring Zen language, and in learning to let oneself go in studied spontaneity and behavior. And it can prepare one for an awakening; the post-awakening training in koan can be a deepening, refining, purifying process. However, only to the one who is already seeking and struggling, the koan becomes truly alive and life-giving. But if there is no 'space' for listening to the heart's questions and, no room for creative exploration and enquiry and dialogue, the spirit cannot really flower and flourish. This is what has happened to Japanese institutional Zen. There is over much of authoritarianism and institutionalism as well as almost sadistic harshness.

Modern Soto Zen in Japan focuses only on just-sitting or shikantaza and decries the use of koan for meditation. Shikantaza as objectless meditation is modern Soto ideology. In early Soto history, Rinzai and Soto were not that clearly separated. Soto masters used koans, and Rinzai and Soto monks studied koans at each other's temples (2). It seems that it was with the Soto Patriarch Menzan (1683-1769) that a definite reaction against the use of koan set in in Soto. Some masters like Harada Sogaku Daiun (1870-1961) and his disciples (Yasutani Haku-un, 1885-1973, was disciple of Harada) in Japan, and Taizan Maezumi and his school in USA, have returned to koan practice. Harada Sogaku and Maezumi both trained with Rinzai masters.

Early Soto koan use seems to have been a bit different from the Rinzai approach. Soto masters used koan language and actions, besides in koan training (monsan), in secret initiation (kirigami) rituals and funeral ceremonies. One or two examples of Soto koan use, which call for non-verbal bodily gestures, are given in Bodiford (3):

(1) "What is "Tozan's the inanimate preach the dharma?"
Student's (non verbal response): Cough, (then) sit, wait, saying nothing.
(Then,) Thump the cushion two or three times.
Teacher: "That's still too weak".
Student's (non verbal response): With fists, strike straw mat.
This is the teaching (San) of Tokuo (Horyu).

(2) "How does (one) sit atop a hundred-foot pole?"
Substitute:"Sitting in (total) forgetfulness"
Question: "How does (one's) whole body appear in all directions?"
Substitute: "Jumping up; falling down,"
Question: "A verse?"
Shinjin datsuraku
Datsuraku shinjin.

Very often, the teacher answered for the student - that is he substituted for the student.
The Soto koan use seems to be more of teaching and explanation, lacking in the active challenge and dynamism of Rinzai approach. Another example:

(3) Teacher: "The evaluation (Sandame) of an incense burner?"
Student's (non verbal response): Points at his own body.
Teacher: "As for the burning incense?"
Answer:"Exhalations and inhalations"
Teacher:"A verse?"
"Within one wisp of burning (incense);"
"Grasp the mind."

Today, the method of Soto and that of Rinzai seem to be quite opposed. 'Rinzai, the general; Soto, the farmer' is the popular image. Conrad Hyers makes an interesting study of these contrasts in his 'Once-born, Twice-born Zen' (4). Rinzai Zen is all fight and struggle, doubt and questioning. Hakuin's advice is typical:

".... at all times in your study of Zen, fight against delusions and worldly thoughts, battle the black demon of sleep, attack concepts active and passive, order and disorder, right and wrong, hate and love, and join battle with all things of the mundane world. Then in pushing forward with true meditation and struggling fiercely, there unexpectedly will come true enlightenment."(5)

Dogen on the other hand:

"The way is essentially perfect and exists everywhere. There is no need either to seek or to realize the way. The Truth which carries us along is sovereign and does not require our efforts... Essentially the Truth is very close to you; is it then necessary to run around in search of it ?....That which we call zazen is not a way of developing concentration. It is simply the comfortable way."(6)

Hyers uses William James's expression of once-born people and twice-born ones to explain the different mind-sets. The once-born grow serenely, are naturally good-natured, optimistic and accepting of the world; whereas, the twice-born personalities are filled with guilt, anxiety, dread, doubt, despair and melancholy --- they are restless seekers, for whom conversion, and born-again breakthroughs are characteristic modes of liberation. Hyers thinks that the first one tend to Soto Zen, the second to Rinzai Zen. So it is the psychology and temperament of the practitioners which make different Zens. Hyers upholds the gentle way of Soto Shikantaza as equally valid as Rinzai koan and kensho, and he tends to prefer the Soto way as superior. He ends his slim volume with an example of one who, reading Rinzai Zen books, gets into Zen and gets addicted to manic-depressive mood swings, traumas, and apocalyptic expectations. Finally, coming to Soto Zen, he sees the futility of all the dramatics, and settles down into peace and self acceptance. "The lotus rises from the bottom of the pond; the flower unfolds to the light."(7)

I would agree with Hyers very much. But, he fails to see the centrality of questioning and seeking in human life, and of the need for understanding and realization, all of which are best actualized in koan Zen. True, as said earlier, the modern Rinzai approach has turned the koan training into an ideological tool for feudal, patriarchal Zen society. Its talk of Great Doubt, Great Death, Great Breakthrough and so on only fosters in students ego trips, dramatics, and story-making; and it can lead to compulsions to achievements and making the grade and to manic-depressive cycles and to illusions. Hakuin set the stage for this. He is supposed to have said. "I have had 18 great enlightenments and my small enlightenments are countless". To this Iida Toin Roshi commented that the first 17 enlightenments must have been fake ones! (From a teisho of Yamada Ko-un). Hakuin seems to have been fond of story-making and dramatizing --- for example, his story of his meeting with the old man Hakuyu (in, "Yasenkanna") is probably fiction. But the intent and the central thrust of Hakuin --- koan zen is sound, and essential to the human journey. How can one not be gripped by the question of the heart and of life?; the whither and whereto of life; the mystery of the universe; and the question of the unimaginable suffering and evil? "Darkness lies at the heart of psychotherapy" says R.Hobson (8). Each has to face one's own life-koan and struggle with it as Jacob struggled with the angle the whole night. And the traditional koan can give a "handle" to the search and struggle, Of course, the emotional and psychic ups and downs will vary from person to person. And the teacher must exercise restraint and caution over the dramatics and stories of satories and breakthroughs. The goal must not be some particular experience or esoteric illumination, but authentic realization leading to transformation of one's whole being and life.

Let me give a few koan illustrations. I'll use the koans and the answers from "The Sound of One Hand: 281 Zen Koans with Answers" (9). It is translation of part of the Japanese book, "Gendai Sojizen Hyoron ("A Critique of Present-day Pseudo Zen"), published in 1916. There has been much dispute, and unease over the book. If Zen is truly a transmission "not dependent on words and letters," there should have been no problem with the publication of koan answers. The first two part koans and answers in the translation --- koans `Mu' and `Sound of One Hand', and `Miscellaneous koans' are almost --- not exactly, but almost --- the same in all the Rinzai schools even today. In most schools, the first basic koan is Joshu's `Mu'; koan `Mu' is very apt to lead one to a complete letting go of oneself and deep insight. However, one can enter through any gate and the teacher should see what will help the particular student.


Let me give a few from the Miscellaneous koans:
"The Original Face - the face before you were brought into the world by your mother and father. What is it?
Answer: Placing both hands on his chest, the pupil stands up."

"Your original Face/Self" is a well known koan; it can be seen in Mumonkan case no.23. This asks you the basic question: Who are you truly and ultimately? Are you only a thing of the world come today and gone tomorrow? Are you only your history, social status and physical form, or are you more than these ? Or, are you only your relationships, loves, and friendships? Who are you before the world, before others, and to yourself? Nangaku Ejo (677-744) came to visit the Sixth Patriarch, Eno (637-713) and the latter asked him "What is this that has come thus?" After eight years of struggle and seeking, Nangaku came to awakening and gave the answer, "Whatever I say I'm, will miss the point --- That exactly is the real 'I'." The person or self cannot be captured by concepts or images --- it is not one, it is not two, it is not non-dual; it is not same, it is not different, nor same-in-difference, nor difference-in-sameness. The interrogative words such as What? Who? Why? Whence? point to the ultimate truth of thusness. As Dogen remarks on this incident, "The 'What' is not an interrogative; it is the 'coming of thusness'(10)." These words point to and express the inexpressible, the unknowable, the unnamable and the unutterable; they are utterances without asserting anything. The question dislodges you from your settled positions: do not be settled in any ideas, opinions or statements. It challenges you to realize your Formless Self, your Original Face; but the Formless Self is no other than the form of this very self here and now.

The realization of Emptiness is central in Awakening --- it is the awakening to the realization of the incomprehensibility and mystery of one's own self as well as of all reality; but first and foremost of oneself as empty; and as one with all the world. This is Rinzai's Person of No Rank. But as Dogen would point out, everything or everyone dwells at its own Dharma position and nothing or no one can claim to be "without rank". It means that "no abiding place" or "no rank" should not become a conceptual attachment and one realizes the 'no rank' only by 'losing' oneself in a relationship and position. The Formless Self actualizes and presents itself in acting and relating. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form. This is what takes place in Zen exchange and dialogue, in samadhi of self fulfilling activity, jijuyu zammai, and in total exertion (gujin).

Let me say a few words on the psycho-social dimension of human formation and transformation which apply to Zen as well as to any authentic spiritual way. 'Formation' and 'Transformation' are terms used by Rosemary Haughton (11). Let me use the sociological terms 'structure' and 'anti-structure'. 'Structure' refers to formation, training, education, discipline, samadhi, self-building, self-affirmation. 'Anti-structure' refers to conversion, self-losing, dying, transformation; it is 'sudden', and subversive, it is rupture of structure, continuity and well-being. The heart of Zen is this rupture and letting go, dying and self-surrender. In anti-structure or transformation, law, institution, self-identity are taken away or fail. It is entering the liminal state of the between and betwixt, of the nowhere. Transformation takes place from out of this nothingness, creatio ex nihilo, and it will be a new creation, a new being. Formation and transformation, structure and anti-structure, need each other, however. (What has been described above is the experiential dimension in Zen and koan work, and it should not be equated with the ontological and religious reality as such.)

The movement of structure and anti-structure, formation and transformation take place in koan-zen in the context of master-disciple relationship and dialogue. It has already been touched upon in the section over questioning and seeking. The Zen exchange between master and student is dialogual, and most often rhetorical and performative, more on the side of transformation than of formation. The student often comes to the master to be approved or to prove oneself and the master has to help him/her to let go off such futile efforts, to go beyond such demands, controls, manipulations, expectations and the like. And above all the master's raisin d'Ítre is to lead you to awaken to the Formless Self. The master cannot give you that; no efforts, no work of yours can bring it about. But your efforts, and master's waiting, are not in vain. When it 'happens', it comes, as Tillich says, as "grace", in a surrender and at-one-ment: it is a freedom from yourself and a freedom to be yourself, selfless openness and compassion. Unfortunately, the Zen exchange is often portrayed as a battle, each party trying to be one-up on the other, and the master as usual holding all the cards. This is description of the sickness as the cure.

The expression and presentation of your realization to the master is essential for authentication. Indeed, the presenting and actualization of yourself in dialogue is itself the realization and authentication. This realization-authentication has to be further tested and attested to in your everyday life. But here and now, the core of the presentation dialogue with the master is the actualization of the identity of the awakened self with what is awakened to, in the non-duality of self and world. It is to lose oneself, again and again, and in losing oneself to find oneself. It is not so much a matter of what is presented as the how of it; the how is the authenticity of your realization, as well as your freedom, spontaneity and compassion.
A deep realization will flow freely in authentication-actualization. But you need also to learn the Zen idiom and language. The Korean master Seung Sahn talks of three kinds of enlightenment answers. For example, to the question, 'What is this?' of an apple, to answer 'an apple' can mean you are caught by name; to say 'not an apple' may mean you're attached to emptiness. On the other hand, if you hit the floor or shout 'Katsu' you throw away all names and no-names, it is presenting Emptiness. It is called "the first enlightenment". Next comes "original enlightenment", which is to answer, "the sky is blue, the grass is green, the wall is white, the apple is red." It is "like this" answer, and means that things are as they are; it is "three times three equals nine. "The third is "Final enlightenment": you take the apple and have a bite of it. This is "just like this" answer (12).

All this is helpful, but there is a danger of stereotyped and blind actions and answers. It may reduce Zen and Zen dialogue to tactics, tricks, techniques and gimmicks of the game. "Correct answers" need not be authentic realization. Zen master Rinzai talks of his Four Procedures:

"At times one takes away the person but does not take away the environment. At times one takes away the environment but does not take away the person. At times one takes away both the person and the environment. At times one takes away neither the person nor the environment"(13).

These 'procedures' are about the process of teaching as well as the stages and steps of enlightenment. They are also about how one enters the way. The self can be forgotten and then you enter through the environment. Or, the environment can be forgotten and you enter through the self. Or, both the self and the objects can be transcended. Or you can move and realize freely in the thusness of the self and of the world. Tozan's Five Ranks are similar, too, but more refined and detailed. There are levels and stages of awakening and enlightenment. And your responses will be or have to be, in accordance with the level. The answer must be fitting and appropriate. When you have come to deep and authentic realization, you throw away koans and koan answers and you'll walk freely between heaven and earth.

Another koan and its answer:

"When someone asks you in a dream about the purpose of our founder coming from the West, how will you answer? If you cannot answer this, then the truth of Buddhism will have no effect on you.
Answer: The pupil snores, "zz....zz," imitating one soundly asleep.
Or: With certain masters, should the pupil respond as above, they immediately demand, "you think this answers it?" If the pupil answers, "AAAAooooooeeeeei" the master fails him. If without a word, the pupil continues the pretense of sleeping soundly, the master passes him.

The "meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West" is a Zen phrase meaning,'`the essence of Zen', which means 'the ultimate reality'. What can be the ultimate meaning when you are in the situation of sleeping, apart from the situation you are in? Rinzai said that if Bodhidharma had a purpose in his coming from the West, he wouldn't have been able to save even himself. The ultimate cannot be an object over against the concrete here and now. And you, as you are, are at the center of the limitless reality. Can you surrender yourself to your being here and now completely and present yourself in thusness? The koan answer has to be imaginal --- not imaginary --- to suit the koan situation. Being an openness and emptiness, you can enter, in imagination, into all the realms, into any possibility.

It is not mere pretending. "Imagination is Reality", as the title of a book of Avens, runs (14). It is not an imaginary fantasy, it is not a so-called concrete fact. Do not literalize the koans and answers. Do not be stuck with the so-called "correct" answers. At the same time, you must be exact and to the point in your response. Now, how will you respond to the koan?


"Without using your hands, make me stand.
Answer: The pupil stands up and walks two or three steps".

"Without taking the cover from the lunch box, say what is inside.
Answer: The pupil pretends to take the cover from the lunch box and says: `Ah, rice cakes --- Thank you very much."

There are many such koans: e.g. Speak without opening your mouth. Walk while riding on an ox. These koans, first of all, deal with our social-psychological situation of double-binds, and contradictory injunctions and prohibitions. From childhood onwards we are caught by such contradictory, but implicit and unexamined commands and judgments. The core of it all lies in confusion, confusion as to which is the message and which the context. For example, a mother angrily shouting to a child: is the context loving acceptance or hatred and anger? They produce in us pathological beliefs and emotions, imprisoning us in a sort of lose-lose frame of mood and mentality; eg., Be spontaneous; Love me freely; Be yourself. If you follow such injunctions, you lose, if you don't follow, you lose. Many of us are caught by these irrational and impossible demands and beliefs. We either resign ourselves, and stay passive and conflicted, feeling useless; or we go on banging our heads against the immovable wall till we breakdown and fall; or we can become angry, rejecting rebels. The koan challenges us to walk free of the trap, as Isan walks free of the trap set by Hyakujo (Mumonkan, case 40), or as Joshu to the trap of Nansen (case 14). These cases are not exactly of the double-bind sort, but they create pseudo dilemmas and illusory alternatives in the student. The response has to be not a rejecting, negative one which will be only the confirmation of the trap; but a creative and free response sublating the "evil" spirit of the context into a liberative new birth.

Secondly, the deeper dimension of the koan is that of the so-called "Essential world". It is the realization that "from the beginning there is nothing at all." As the Heart Surta says, there is no form, no feeling etc., in Emptiness. The five skandhas are empty; Form is Emptiness. But this "there is nothing at all from the beginning" can be only realized in "Emptiness is Form." Do not stick to the idea of Emptiness. By entering into Form, you realize Emptiness.


"Turn the heavenly switch, and spin the earthly axis.
Answer: The pupil turns a somersault in front of the master"

"How old is Amidha Buddha?
Answer: "As old as I am."

"Let Mt. Fuji walk in three steps.
Answer: The pupil stands up and takes three steps."

These don't need any further comments. The answers point to the realization that the empty self is the mountain, the rivers and the entire earth. It is a 'knowing' in which the two become one; in the unity of the self with the other is true knowing. Such a self is a no-self or empty self. It is realization, not an ego inflation; nor a concept or a mere emotion. Sometimes people think that if one is in deep samadhi, with no thoughts, then when one hears a name, one becomes that name, when one sees an image, one becomes that image, etc., and that is how one comes to answer the koans. Koan training is cultivated in the field of samadhi, but samadhi itself is not realization. For if it is so, it will be just reducing realization again to a particular state of the mind. Realization is prior to and the basis of all particular conditions and states. However, whether you're in realization or not, koan training can help you to re-educate and re-image your emotions, sensibilities, thinking and behavior.

Koans are symbols; they are polysemous, ambiguous, open to endless possibilities, depths and variations. They should not be literalized nor taken as mere problems to be solved or passed. All the traditional koans, kosoku koan, finally come to the koan realized in life, genjo-koan. Life is your koan; you are the koan. Let me end with the words of Hee-Jin Kim on Dogen's approach to koan:

"To Dogen, koans function not only as nonsense which castigates reason, but as parables, allegories, and mysteries which unfold the horizons of existence. In this sense they are realized, though not solved." (15)

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