Friday, April 29, 2011

Heads and Tails

A couple of Mondays ago, it was this koan that intrigued me -- Case 38 from the Gateless Gate:

Goso said, "For example, it's like a great cow passing through a latticed window. Her head, horns, and four legs have passed through. Why is it that her tail can't pass through?"

This week I offer you a koan that's not mentioned elsewhere on this blog. Please sit with it for a few days. As Mumon suggests, reflect upon the tail.

Then get back to me and tell me if any Step(s) came to mind in relation to this koan. I look forward to your replies.

And if nothing comes up for you, that's OK, too.

It's just as likely that this koan may affect you in entirely different ways. As Sensai Deb Saint said, "Koans shine a light in the places that need it."

Good sitting to you,

Bill K.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just let go ...

.. easy for you to say. See -- here I am, holding onto my favorite "heart" rock -- clutching it tightly so I won't lose it. Remember, this is my favorite one, extremely valuable to my mind's eye. Not wanting to let go is intimately involved with not liking change. I suppose they may be interchangeable. Arrgghh!

But it's by letting go, where we stop trying to control matters, where we truly get to experience life as it is (instead of life as we're trying to make it). It's by letting go when I discover there's a more interesting plan available.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake." This happens and this happens and this happens because that happened and that happened and that happened. And yes, if we're holding onto something, that's not a mistake either, nor are the consequences we receive. If only we could receive a cosmic revelation: "You can let go now or let go later; but you are going to let go sometime. The sooner you let go the better off we both will be."

I can actually let go of my favorite "heart" rock without losing it, at least until the time comes for us to part ways. Succumbing to letting go (either voluntarily or involuntarily) can be such a relief -- when we trust the Universe with the outcome, any outcome. In other words, we accept whatever comes next (non attachment). Better yet is when we invite whatever comes next, welcoming it as we would a guest -- this brings happiness.

Not wanting to do a Step thoroughly, or at all, is holding on; our mind's fist clutching to old ideas, habits and fear of what might happen. Not allowing or resisting koan practice is also holding on to what we "think" we need or don't need. In holding on, we essentially place ourselves in prison.

By letting go of these thoughts, the prison walls crumble as we carry about our Steps and koans -- carried together as if in an open hand -- in a way, allowing them permission to lead us to the deeper place of less suffering and more happiness.

Accepting change, letting go, and ultimately finding freedom in the moment, I think, are all fostered by our practice ... 12 Step practice and koan practice. They also foster surprises counter to our everydayness. Here's an amusing example from my PZi friend, Jesse:

"My girlfriend and I were making breakfast for dinner last night -- eggs, potatoes and toast. Mmmmm. It reminded me of when my parents would make pancakes for dinner because they were too tired or lacked the ingredients to make an appropriate evening meal. Or maybe they just wanted pancakes.

Mom or Dad would ask, "So, should we just have pancakes for dinner?" Yes! My whole world seemed to flip-flop. The meal paradigm I had been living in was toppled and I had entered a strange world where people ate breakfast for dinner. Kind of like a little vacation from normality.

It occurred to me that koans are kind of like that for me. The world is simultaneously completely different and the same one I've always lived in. I end up doing strange things like laughing when I'm angry or going to a yoga class. It's funny how the ordinary things are the staples of my reality."

Bill K.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Changing" our Ways

At a meeting last week the topic was "change." Can you hear the collective moans from the crowd? This brings me back to the days as a newcomer where I wanted things to be different; but I didn't want to change... or I wanted things to change; but didn't want things to be different. I didn't like the way my life was, nor where it was heading. Everything seemed to be getting worse [it was]. I wanted things to be different, but please allow me to choose what to be different and what to remain the same. Emphasis on "me" of course. "I" am the problem, aren't I?

There are the changes that others make in our life that aren't so appealing, changes the world presents that are disagreeable, and especially upsetting are the changes I'm forced into against my will. GASP! "Selfishness, self-centeredness, that we think is the root of our problems...." The Buddha did say that our suffering comes from our attachments: holding onto something brings suffering, pushing things away brings on suffering ... all these constraints of the mind. These constraints of the mind tell us that this or that will make us happy; but they are all lies. Just like we cannot figure out koans, we can't figure out how to be happy, since happiness is something that comes from within.

Change seems to happen more easily when I have no intention of changing, but am willing to believe it may be possible . Deep down inside, isn't that where the yearning for change begins? By originating, not in our heads, but from within our body's center, deep down inside, it's possible to shift to a different perspective. We're tapping into the "deep down inside" where a realization of sorts begins, not "our little plans and designs." This is how the 12 steps work on us -- this is the way koans work on us. But they can only work on us if we give them space, that space between our thoughts, it becomes more broad when we meditate regularly.

They work on us when we carry them about, to filter through our everyday thoughts and activities. Any part of a Step or koan is enough: Brushing my teeth, "came to believe" (2nd Step) -- driving to work, "can hear her voice" (koan) -- jammed copier, "came to believe" -- tree, flat tire, that first sip of coffee, "can hear her voice".

May your Steps and koans become the catalyst for change.

Bill K.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Koan" Means Public Case

Chinese Chan Master Linji (d.866) is considered, if I may use the term, the father of koan study. Because of the way he taught his students, using koans as a new element in teaching, Linji's methods spread quickly in China, Korea, Japan and to some extent Vietnam ... and continue today, primarily as the Rinzai (Japanese) school of Zen.

The word koan means "public case." Koans came about via encounter dialogs between Chan (Zen in Japanese) teacher and student. By the 11th century, they had been crafted into collections, the first by Wumen in 1229 called the Wu-men-kuan (Chinese), Mumonkan (Japanese), The Gateless Gate (English). There are around 1700 koans recorded; but less than half of them today are regularly used in koan study.

I'm supposing that Linji didn't simply go into his "study" and invent koans. They came as direct interactions with his students and others. He integrated them into his own practice. He had proof before his very eyes of the transformational properties of koans. He saw that koans were bringing freedom to others. His teaching method spread to other Chan masters.

Wait a minute! This is sounding all too familiar, like the process of how AA got its start.

Beginning about 75 years ago, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob met. Since Bill had been sober for a while and Dr. Bob was trying to get sober, it would not be a stretch to say this was somewhat a teacher/student dialog. Together they created what we now know as Alcoholics Anonymous, a new method on how to stay sober. What worked for them (a form of "encounter dialogs") was shared with others... who in turn passed this method onto still others. Bill and Dr. Bob could
see some successes in their work. Like Linji, they didn't just sit in a coffee shop and invent AA -- it all came from trial and error, from working with other alcoholics, and practicing what was working to keep themselves sober. The 12 Steps spread far and wide because of how it was changing people's lives by allowing a "spiritual awakening" to come forth.

Just as koans were crafted into collections, the same process evolved in AA (thus all 12 Step programs), with the dialogs being the personal stories told by one drunk to another in the form of "what I was like, what happened, and what I'm like today." These personal stories have been crafted into the book Alcoholics Anonymous as well as the AA Grapevine Magazine. What we have here are anonymous cases!

"Solving a koan requires a leap to another level of comprehension," which may lead to an awakening. Koan (public case) practice, brings about freedom. Practicing the 12 Steps brings about awakening and freedom and a complete psychic change in the process. Just imagine the possibilities of practicing koans and the steps together.

Bill K.