At the beginning you have to take up a koan, Zen master Bukko

Burmese Buddha Photo © Sir John AskeThe way out of life and death is not some special technique; the essential thing is to penetrate to the root of life and death. It is in the centre of everyone, and everything else is dependent on it. Zen is to pierce through to it.

Zen sitting is not some sort of operation to be performed. It is going into one’s true original nature before father or mother were born. The self seeks to grasp the self, but it is already the self, so why should it go to grasp the self? Look into it. Where was it then? Where is it now? When life ends, where does it go? When you feel you cannot look any more, look and see how that inability to look appears and disappears. As you look and see how the looking arises and goes, satori, realization, will arise of itself.

At the beginning you have to take up a koan riddle. One such is this: ‘What is your true face before father and mother were born’. For one facing the turbulence of life and death, such a koan clears away the sandy soil and opens up the golden treasure which was there from the beginning, the ageless root of all things.

In concentration on a koan, there is a time of rousing the spirit of inquiry, a time of breaking clinging attachments, a time of furious dashing forward, and there is a time of damping the fuel and stopping the boiling. In general, meditation has to be done with urgency, but if after three or five years the urgency is still maintained by force, the tension becomes a wrong one and it is a serious condition. Many lose heart and give up. In such a case, the koan is to be thrown down. Then there is a cooling. The point is that many people come to success if they first have the experience of wrestling with a koan and later reduce the effort, but few come to success when they are putting out exceptional effort. After a good time, the rush of thoughts outward and inward, subsides naturally, and the true face shows itself as the solution to the koan. And mind, free from all motivations, always appears as void and absolute sameness, shining like the brightness of heaven, at the centre of the vast expanse of phenomenal things, and needing no polishing or cleaning. This is beyond all concepts, beyond being and non­being.

Leave your innumerable knowing and seeings and understandings, and go to that greatness of space. When you come to that vastness, there is no speck of Buddhism in your heart, and then you will have the true sight of the buddhas and patriarchs. The true nature is like the immensity of space, which contains all things. When you can conform to high and low, square and round, to all regions equally, that is it. The emptiness of the sea lets waves rise, the emptiness of the mountain valley makes the voice echo, the emptiness of the heart makes the Buddha. When you empty the heart, things appear as in a mirror, shining there without differences in them: ‘Life and death is an illusion, and all the buddhas one’s own body’.

The Sayings of Bukko, are an extract from:
The Old Zen Master, Trans. Trevor Leggett

Categories: Buddhist meditation, Chan / Seon / Zen, Trevor Leggett

Tags: , , , ,

5 replies

  1. How does someone become a zen Buddhist?

  2. Reading ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’ was a turning point for me. I had purchased the book over 15 years ago and, at the time, didn’t “get it.” But when I rediscovered it just a couple of years ago I found myself absorbed!

    I continue to re-read it, even now, and each time I discover something new in the riddles. Not solutions; more like stages of revelation.

  3. I find the koan very interesting, I am practice Theravada Buddhism, where there is no mention of koan. Is koan non self, nothingness, that everything is an illusion?

    • Hello Madhu.

      No, a koan is purely and simply a method for getting away from our own conditioned mind. It is just another way of being aware of this very moment where the mind is not occupied with beliefs, views and opinions and thoughts of past and future. There is nothing magical about it; it purely stops the thinking mind so that we wake up to this moment without thought. That gives the opportunity for seeing ‘beyond words and letters’ as they say in Zen.

      Hope this helps.


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