HyC Adventures
The Poetics of Perception
Zen Koans

 

 

Koan

公案

 

 

As Steven Heine points out, the koan is “Zen’s main religious symbol” and John Tarrant calls them “ancient technologies for transforming the mind.” Dale Wright observes that “koan meditation may be the most condensed and self-conscious linguistic practice ever devised in any culture.”

 

Heinrich Dumoulin:

 

“The use of koan in Zen Buddhism is a unique phenomenon in the history of religion; nothing like it exists in other religious traditions. Developed in China, koan testify to an authentically Chinese mentality, particularly in the way they are rooted in real life. If Zen can be called the Chinese expression of Buddhism, then koan are the most Chinese dimension of Zen.”

 

Here are a sampling of these Zen stories with the English translation before the original Chinese version:

 

 

 Joshu's Dog

 

A monk asked Joshu in all earnestness, “Has a dog Buddha nature or not?”

Joshu said, “Mu!”

 

趙州狗

 

趙州和尚因僧問狗子還有佛性也無

州云無

 

 

 Tozan’s Three Pounds of Flax

 

A Monk asked Master Tozan, “What is Buddha?”

Tozan said, “Three pounds of flax.”

 

洞山三斤

 

洞山和尚因僧問如何是佛

山云麻三斤

 

 

 Yunmen’s Shit-Stick

 

A monk asked Unmon in all earnestness, “What is Buddha?”

Un­mon said, “A dried up shit-stick!”

 

雲門屎橛

 

雲門因僧問如何是佛

門云乾屎橛

 

 

 Not the Wind, Not the Flag

 

The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks were hav­ing an argument about it. One said, “The flag is moving.” The other said, “The wind is moving.” They argued back and forth but could not reach the truth. The sixth patriarch said. “It is not the wind that moves. It is not the flag that moves. It is your mind that moves.” The two monks were struck with awe.

 

非風非幡

 

六祖因風颺剎幡有一僧對論

一云幡動一云風動

往復曾未契理

祖云不是風動不是幡動仁者心動

二僧悚然

 

 

 No Mind, No Buddha

 

A monk asked Baso in all earnestness, “What is Buddha?”

Baso replied, “No mind, no Buddha”

 

非心非佛

 

馬祖因僧問如何是佛

祖曰非心非佛

 

 

 The Oak Tree in the Front of the Garden

 

A monk asked Joshu in all earnestness, “What is the meaning of the patriarch’s coming from the West?”

Joshu said, “The oak tree in the front of the garden.”

 

庭前柏樹

 

趙州因僧問如何是祖師西來意

州云庭前柏樹子

 

 

 Every Day Is a Good Day

 

Yunmen said, “I don’t ask you about before the fifteenth day; try to say something about after the fifteenth day.” Yunmen himself answered for everyone, “Every day is a good day.”

 

日日是好日

 

舉雲門垂語云十五日已前不問汝十五日已後道將一句來

自代云日日是好日。

 

 

 Ryutan’s Name Echoes On and On

 (a.k.a. Ryutan Blows Out the Candle)

 

One night Tokusan persisted in asking Ryutan for instruction.

Ryutan finally said, “The night is late. Why don’t you go to bed?”

Tokusan thanked him, made his bows, raised the door curtain and left. Seeing how dark the night was, he turned back and said, “It’s pitch black outside.”

Ryutan lit a candle and handed it to Tokusan.

Just as Tokusan reached for it, Ryutan blew out the candle.

At that Tokusan came to sudden realization and made a deep bow.

 

久響龍潭

 

龍潭因德山請益抵夜

潭云夜深子何不下去

山遂珍重揭簾而出見外面黑卻回云外面黑

潭乃點紙燭度與

山擬接潭便吹滅

山於此忽然有省便作禮

 

 

 Think Neither Good Nor Evil

 

The sixth patriarch was once pursued by the monk Myo as far as Mount Daiyu.

The patriarch, seeing Myo coming, laid the robe and bowl on a rock and said,

“This robe represents the faith. How can it be competed for by force? I will allow you to take it away.”

Myo tried to lift it up, but it was as immovable as a mountain.

Terrified and trembling with awe, he said, “I came for the Dharma, not the robe. I beg you, please reveal it to me.”

The patriarch said, “Think neither good nor evil. At that very moment, what is the original face of Monk Myo?”

In that instant, Myo suddenly attained deep realization, and his whole body was covered with sweat.

 

不思善惡

 

六祖因明上座趁至大庚嶺。

祖見明至即擲衣缽於石上云、

此衣表信可力爭耶任君將去。

明遂舉之如山不動。

踟躕悚慄明曰、我來求法非為衣也。願行者開示。

祖云、不思善不思惡正與麼時那箇是明上座本來面目。

明當下大悟遍體汗流。

 

 

 Who Is That One?

 

Patriarch En of Tozan said, “Even Shakyamuni and Maitreya are servants of that one. Just tell me, who is that one?”

 

他是阿誰

 

東山演師祖曰釋迦彌勒猶是他奴

且道他是阿誰

 

 

ZZZZ

 

 

 

 

Zen Koans
Four 12th-Century Zen Letters
Dogen's Metaphors of Enlightenment
Dogen Preaches on Nonduality
Dogen's Fukanzazengi: A Tale of Three Texts
Two Zen Cooks Show Dogen the Way
The Karma of Words: A Poem by Bai Juyi
The Zen Koan
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