Tag Archives: koan

No love

Love does not exist just as hate does not. If it exists then Buddhism would mean nothing. The question is therefore one of what truly exists – love, hate, Buddhism, nothing – or to be more accurate what does it mean for some thing to exist. Such is the irony … and mystery.

Listen without ears

Speaking of frogs (which are a favourite topic in Zen) there is an article about a species of frog which listens without ears. But if listening without ears weren’t an actual fact this may well have been a koan which would go something like this:

Who is the man who
Speaks without tongue,
Listens without ears,
Sees without eyes?

Keichu’s Wheel

Getsuan said to his students: “Keichu, the first wheel-maker of China, made two wheels of fifty spokes each. Now, suppose you removed the nave uniting the spokes. What would become of the wheel? And had Keichu done this, could he be called the master wheel-maker?”

Mumon’s comment: If anyone can answer this question instantly, his eyes will be like a comet and his mind like a flash of lightning.

When the hubless wheel turns,
Master or no master can stop it.
It turns above heaven and below earth,
South, north, east, and west.

Getsuan is Rep and Senzaki’s transliteration. Sekida and Yamada call him Gettan. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen says Gatsurin or Getsurin. Whichever way you pronounce it it is as irrelevant as the axle being removed in this koan. Remove the axle and the cart is useless or rather the cart has lost its essence. That is the point of the koan though. What is left is Emptiness. But to see that Emptiness as Emptiness that is another thing. That is called Enlightenment, something which I do not have. And all I have shown here, much to my regret, is the ordinary of kind emptiness called intellect or concept.

Basho’s Frog Poem and Gutei’s Finger

Old pond
A frog leaps in –
Sound of the water

Furu ike ya
Kawazu tobi komu
Mizu no oto

Perhaps the most well known haiku.

Often said to embody all that is Zen in it, the old world and now are linked by the sound of the water.

I wrote a poem which goes like this:

There is no old pond.
There is no frog that leaps in.
No sound, no water.

This is a pale imitation of the style of the old masters like Mumonkan or Hakuin. Our fixation with the old pond, the frog and the sound will ultimately undo us. To reach enlightenment it is necessary to forget – so to speak – these things which belong to the mind’s illusion.

There is a koan – Case #3 in the Mumonkan – that is similar:

“The Zen master Gutei used to raise one finger as a gesture of Zen. Once a visitor asked Gutei boy attendant what does his master teach. The Boy raised his finger. Master Gutei hearing this cut off the boys finger. In pain, the boy ran crying. The boy called by his master turned, only to see the master riase his finger. At that moment the boy was enlightened.”

I doubt Gutei really cut his finger off and so the boy was also crying in mock. But doubtless was his enlightenment.

The point is Gutei’s teaching has nothing to do with the finger or the gesture. So the boy’s raising of the finger has no meaning, no power. It is as ordinary as Gutei’s gesture. But Gutei’s gesture has all the ability to bring about enlightenment, as does Basho’s poem, but no the boy’s finger.

Why should this be so? If you can say then you have glimpsed something.

One further note: the visitor to Gutei no doubt was pushing the boy. He had seen something in him. He knew he needed one more nudge to be pushed over the edge. In other words this was no ordinary visitor but someone with insight. Zen koans and their dialogues are not accidental. They are carefully orchestrated for the benefit of the student, to bring about enlightenement in him or her.

No sound, no water.

There is no old pond.
There is no frog that leaps in.
No sound, no water.