Prologue: Expressing my thoughts through writing had never ever been a difficult job for me, before embarking on this topic. Several times I abandoned the idea of completing this note but then repeatedly kept returning to it as if out of compulsion.
The concept of Zen Koans is a difficult one for those who shall read it for the first time but I suggest you to ‘go slow’ and take in small doses at a time.Over several readings it becomes intoxicating and literally a way of life.
Well in advance, I beg to apologise to those who might find some of the concepts outrageous, maybe not subscribing to their frame of thoughts or even might hurt their religious sensibilities. I sincerely register my apologies to them and make it clear that this is purely my feeble understanding of the concept of Zen Koans and I found it intriguing after having read about it some months ago.
OF ALL YOU KNOW, YOU MIGHT FIND MY CONCEPTS ABSOLUTELY FLAWED AND RIDICULOUS. Never mind if that is the case.
ZEN is one of the schools of Buddhism—The Mahayana (the other being Hinayana))where the Chinese, Japanese and Indian concepts of Meditational states merge.
Meditation in :
Japanese is called ZEN
In Chinese it is Chan
And in Sanskrit it is termed as Dhyaana.
Zen stresses on the cognitive acuity ( in simple words- ‘understanding’) called ’ PRAGYA’ to attain enlightenment or in simple words to attain the realisation of a‘superior power’ or who we call God. It calls for the self realisation of God through meditation as opposed to and rather rejecting the steroetypical beliefs based on our worldly, logical reasoning.
Zen promotes a very different way of understanding and dealing with reality. One of the most baffling aspects of Zen is the practice of Koans.
Koans are a teaching tool used to break down the barriers to enlightenment. To put it in simple words it is the actual teaching of the concept of Zen to the disciples by their masters, using simple examples.
Koan literarily translated means “A public document”. It refers to a statement made by a Master to a student of Zen or a discussion or dialogue between Master and the student. The purpose of a Koan is to open the mind and perception to the truth. Koans are questions or riddles designed as instruments by the Zen Master to aid the student in finding the truth behind the everyday images of reality.
Koans are not rational questions with final linear conclusions. They are especially designed for one purpose; this purpose is to open the mind that has been closed by habitual responses to the world and reality.
To put it in simple words—
Our perception of the world is clouded by:
Firstly, the habitual responses that we are taught by our surroundings in the society
Secondly, by the habit forming creation of our own selves
In everyday life and through societal learning , we develop ideas about reality and possibilities that are well endorsed by our peers. We accept these “laws” as irrefutable and immutable because of its certification by our society.
For example, scientific authorities state that there is a law of gravity and that time is linear and proceeds form one second to the next. These “truths” are supported , cemented and bolstered by our society, our parents, our teachers, our education, by our peers and even by our common sense until they become unquestionable facts.
This also applies to our ideas of human personality and of ourselves.At the same time we apply the same human attributes to God too.
NOW KABIR AND ITS COMPARISON WITH ZEN PHILOSPHY
Kabir is a master of Zen way of thinking using extremely simple examples and words—which appealed to the average minds of his time.
Being a common man himself—a weaver who sat amongst the simple minds he had to resort to these simple words in order to explain the concept of higher discernment or higher wisdom.
Here are the three Dohas touching the ‘out of the box’ thinking i.e. the Zen way of thinking:
Fisrt two being the classical, and the third only to some extent.
Ek Kahun To Hai Nahin, Do Kahun To Gaari
Hai Jaisa Taisa Rahe, Kahe Kabir Bichari
If I say one, It is not If I say two, it will be a violation
Let ‘It’ be what ‘It’ issays Kabir upon contemplation
A classical Doha with an illustration of Kabir mysticism that parallels the Zen Koans.
Kabir here is alluding to the futility of describing the cosmic experience. In that vein, he underscores the limited vision of both the Advaitic (one God) and Dvaitic(God is separate from the devotee) schools of thought. He says that the final experience is what it is and cannot be cast into any thought, words or description. A first-hand direct experience is the only way of knowing. And when that happens all else becomes literally irrelevant.
Aag Jo Lagi Samand Mein, Dhuan Na Pargat Hoye –
So Jane Jo Jarmua, Jaki Lagi Hoye
With the ocean set ablaze – The smoke yet manifests not
Only the one who gets burnt – Envisions the heat of loving thought
This Doha by Kabir is again a superb example of mystic poetry where in two lines, Kabir is able to project the agony and the ecstasy of true love and devotion.
The agony and turmoil in the heart of a devotee, is symbolically shown in this Doha as the flame that is burning the ocean. Yet none knows or can know about this pain because the “smoke” is not visible! Only the one who is suffering the separation from one’s lord can understand the force of such a fire.
Kabir, in this Doha depicts the agony that a devotee feels for his Lord , or in our normal day to day life, a person feels for the loved one. To others, the intensity, the pain of separation is not comprehensible for this too is precious and abstract for the devotees to explain and reveal. It is but a private affair!
Simply saying: Don’t they say, only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches!!
Kabir Soota Kya Kare, Koore Kaaj Niwaar
Jis Panthu Tu Chaalna, Soyee Panth Samwaar
Arise from slumber O Kabir, divest yourself of the rubbish deeds
Be focused and illumine the path on which you were meant to tread
Here slumber refers to a state of daze and fixation on what is perceived by the senses. Sleep is no different from the normal waking state in that it engages our senses completely. Both are essentially of the same intrinsic nature where mind is the central player. Kabir recognizes the futility of mental and physical worlds and categorizes everything in these domains as “rubbish”. He then urges us to focus ourselves on finding our true spiritual root – putting an end to the cyclical realities that have kept us engaged thus far.
28 0ctober 2010
Loori, John Daido. Sitting with Koans: Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Koan Study. Wisdom Publications, 2005. ISBN 978-0-86171-369-1
P.S. Finally I gathered enough drive today to upload this on FB……DATED: 14 DECEMBER 2010