The Koan Arrives Naturally

I’ve been chewing on something these past days. This morning I swallowed! Now waiting for digestion and the accompanying nourishment that comes from taking something into oneself. And really it was non-digestion that was at the root of what I’ve had my teeth into. Let’s see if I can find the necessary words now while I’m in digestion mode. Or perhaps better still I’ll describe chewing and leave the digestion and learning for later. Better not get ahead of myself ay.

In Soto Zen we don’t have a formal koan system where one is given an enigmatic saying which one then chews on (or more traditionally one sits with.) The point being to solve the koan/problem. Which is basically to digest and deepen, and thus mature, ones understanding of how to live. We say that the koan arises naturally in daily life, and it does. The trick, or skill, is to recognize the koan when it arises. And not shy away from the inevitable pain of having ones nose (more often than not) pressed up against ones fondly held sense of oneself. Most of us like to carry a reasonable sense of ourselves. A kind and considerate person able to have empathy with all that comes to us. Yes, there are the shadow sides too and you can’t ignore them. However for the most part we step from light to dark and back again fairly seamlessly and (hopefully) without overly beating oneself up when the shadows loom. Or overly pleased with ourselves (hopefully) for being the way we like to appear.

I liken the koan to a bone. A dog is given a bone, it’s then received with teeth closing around it then chewed for awhile. Then left lying around and eventually buried! Is it buried to mature in the darkness of the earth? Readying for the time it’s dug up, chewed on some more, eaten and digested? Does the time in the earth render it more digestible? Who knows what that dogie bone burying thing is all about.

For we humans the bone can come in many forms. The origin might seem to emanate, like the bone, from an outside source however if you look at it the origin is far more complex. I’m seeing the source as the press of the moment to moment (moments so fleeting as to render that expression meaningless) dynamic interplay between oneself and existence. So the koan comes both from outside and from within – and arises naturally! And actually on close examination the arising of the koan is one movement, not two. Whether it is a sharp word, uttered by oneself or by a friend. A disappointment. A challenging of some kind – mentally, emotionally, practically, spiritually. One has a bone! Depending on circumstances, and past causes and conditions, it tends to be the common way to think that either (crudely put) I act on the world or the world acts on me. And which ever way I look. Life is not fair! And it isn’t.

That there are the very well off and the woman whose image I saw yesterday, picking grass for a meal, is simply – beyond words. That people encounter a circumstance which results in suffering, long term. A circumstance such as rape, senseless acts of violence, random killing sprees. The list could go on and on and on. These ARE senseless, unasked for uninvited and basically tragic. There are of course consequences flowing from ones actions and words and thoughts, constantly. Consequences are realized immediate, or later, or very much later. Like the bone those consequences can lay buried and often unknown to us. That is until some kind person, or condition, digs it up and hey presto a bone – to chew!

So my current chewing bone had been buried for a lot of years. It concerns something I said which was false, unwise and very hurtful. I’d no idea of this hurt I’d been part of creating. It is so often the case that we do not know the consequences of our acts, it would be impossible to know all of them actually. I’ll not go into details about the event since that’s private and personal. Which does not mean I am not openly contrite.

M, please accept my unreserved apology.

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8 thoughts on “The Koan Arrives Naturally”

  1. wow, of course – the dynamic interplay between oneself and existence! The scales suddenly fall from my eyes – what I saw as the problem is actually the way forward. Thanks so much.

  2. Harvey, yep sometimes somebody saying something (you have most likley heard a million times before) using different words makes the difference in terms of getting a grip on daily life training. Hum, I think I have been inspired to write more about this business of chewin on the koan.

    Thank you for taking the time to drop this comment. Much appreciated. It helps to know that the arrows one fires off hit a target. now and then.

  3. I usually have a smile at the sign for ‘Coan wood’ on the road to/from Throssel.

    But more seriously, the koan arising each day and being awake to it -‘ah, yes, here it is, how to sit with this?’, well that’s the challenge is it not? This post is so true in my experience! First to SEE that it has arisen, then to have the wisdom to know how to chew, when to leave it, when to do who knows what with it. And to see this me, this koan, this complex of thoughts and feelings around it, the stuff that at first seems outside it; ALL aspects of the whole. No independent self, just an inter-dependant self. And what is the attachment, what if anything needs to be done? Not easy I find even when I can remember not to beat myself up about it. Which is just one more part of the koan.

    But the koan I have found most painful and one which can feel like having too much in the mouth to chew has (I think) come not from attachment to wanting to be seen (by me or others) as a certain way but from having experiences be other than they were or are. Life is basically unsatisfactory, but if you can accept that then it’s great! Then the next koan comes along.

  4. Your message brings me joy dear friend. Thank you so much for writing and making contact. Presents come in all shapes and sizes.

  5. Not seen that sign. I will have to look out for it.

    I’d intended to write about ‘how to sit with it’, meaning how to sit with the koan as it is arrising. Wanted to describe how it is for me. What happened though is I ended up talking about that to another monk here and so left no time for posting yesterday. Today is going to be much the same I think.

    Reading on I see you have a good grasp of the project though. Years ago somebody said quoting Dogen that ‘Attachment and detachment flow together…but I can’t remember the rest. The gist I got was that as long as we are human we will get attached and we will invariably detach from what ever it was. Because nothing stays the same anyway. I think the issue we all face is the clinging to what we have, what we know, what we love, what we want, what we don’t want but have!

    I’m going to use a bit of what I have said here in todays post. Hope you don’t mind. I think it goes with a video I have wanted to post a link to. Have a great time this holiday.

  6. This was absolutely what I need to read this morning – a different, and wise, perspective on a challenge I’m sitting with!

    1. Dear Sujatin, How wonderful to know that you are there. Glad that post is helpful. The message as always is to gain a wider perspective on that which narrows and tightens us. Thank you again for being there and for leaving a comment. Much appreciated.

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