There are barriers and pitfalls to working with the koans. Just not beginning is the first. But just beginning is not a ready solution either. Treating koans like a DIY project in lifeless meditation practice: when something is not happening, something is wrong with my practice, my attention, my teacher, my life--”Maybe try a little MU”--is not a sure fire way to fix things up. There are at least as many misunderstandings about what they are as there are koans. If you want to count them you can start counting from where you begin.
We might think that koans hold a key to unlocking the big mysterious secrets behind All of It, but they are just the great privilege of eavesdropping on conversations between some really cool practitioners. Like a fly on the wall.
Zen can’t fix anything. People think that Zen is a cure, like medicine, or maybe a panacea for some thorny life problem. That is a lovely hope (There is even a koan that uses these words: ”The whole earth is medicine.” Be careful if aspirin is the first thing that comes to mind). Dream on if you must, but see a competent psychotherapist if you need to. There is no self-contradiction in any of those statements.
The difference between good design and bad design, good or bad practice, good writing or bad writing, is the time you spend on it. And sometimes inspiration hits like lightning.
Are they’re good reasons--aside from the usual ones--to get over any aversion to lots of talk about the shamantic origins of Zen? Bury useless chatter alongside Tarot cards and astrology as if your future depends on it.
I’ve often wanted to retrace my steps to an insight or an experience in meditation. It is by its very nature an impossible task, but sometimes as the saying goes, you just get lucky.
The Map Salesman will tell you that his or hers show the basic terrain, even the quickest route, in more or less detail, to the 10 highlights of London, complete with a timetable and fare schedule for the Tube. Beware. This is someone else’s experience, including their personal proclivities. They might skip the hidden gem. There are no perfect maps. Road conditions change, among other things, but traveling in groups is safer so keep your companions close.
No one knows!
In our rural Connecticut village, my mother taught me to look both ways before crossing the road, first to the left first and then to the right. It’s automatic. When I lived a block from Chinatown in San Francisco, I noticed something that I found unsettling. At the complicated intersection of Stockton, Columbus, and Green, you had to look even if crossing with the light. But standing next to one of my Chinese neighbors, she looked to the right first. Her mother also taught her well. Now living in Asia, I also look to the right but it was something that I had to relearn.
You might be mugged by reality! If you are lucky, or honest, But there are real reasons to be wary. There are bandits on the road set to deceive you. “Teacher, teacher, be vigilant. Don’t be deceived.”
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