A koan is a riddle or puzzle used by Zen Buddhists to help them reach an enlightened state and unearth greater truths about their consciousness.
Zen masters have been using these puzzling stories to test their students for centuries, often having their students meditate on them for prolonged periods. It is thought that the journey of solving (if that is possible) is more important than the answer the student come up with.
Think of the koan as a tool which opens up the mind of the student, not a question that is to be solved with a definitive answer. I could read one koan and come to a realisation which is very different to the one that you reach, with both of our answers being wrong and right consecutively. Ultimately the koan, if you give it enough of your attention will send you on a journey of self discovery, here are 3 to get your mind thinking!
- This Mind Is Buddha
Daibai asked Baso: “What is Buddha?”
Baso said: “This mind is Buddha.”
Mumon’s comment: If anyone wholly understands this, he is wearing Buddha’s clothing, he is eating Buddha’s food, he is speaking Buddha’s words, he is behaving as Buddha, he is Buddha. This anecdote, however, has given many a pupil the sickness of formality. If one truly understands, he will wash out his mouth for three days after saying the word Buddha, and he will close his ears and flee after hearing “This mind is Buddha.”
Under blue sky, in bright sunlight,
One need not search around.
Asking what Buddha is
Is like hiding loot in one’s pocket and declaring oneself innocent.
- This Mind Is Not Buddha
A monk asked Baso: “What is Buddha?”
Baso said: “This mind is not Buddha.”
Mumon’s comment: If anyone understands this, he is a graduate of Zen.
If you meet a fencing-master on the road, you may give him your sword,
If you meet a poet, you may offer him your poem.
When you meet others, say only a part of what you intend.
Never give the whole thing at once.
3. The Girl Comes Out from Meditation
In the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, Manjusri went to the assemblage of the Buddhas. When he arrived there, the conference was over and each Buddha had returned to his own Buddha-land. Only one girl was yet unmoved in deep meditation.
Manjusri asked Buddha Shakyamuni how it was possible for this girl to reach this state, one which even he could not attain. “Bring her out from Samadhi and ask her yourself,” said the Buddha.
Manjusri walked around the girl three times and snapped his fingers. She still remained in meditation. So by his miracle power he transported her to a high heaven and tried his best to call her, but in vain.
Buddha Shakyamuni said: “Even a hundred thousand Manjusris could not disturb her, but below this place, past twelve hundred million countries, is a Bodhisattva, Mo-myo, seed of delusion. If he comes here, she will awaken.”
No sooner had the Buddha spoken than that Bodhisattva sprang up from the earth and bowed and paid homage to the Buddha. Buddha directed him to arouse the girl. The Bodhisattva went in front of the girl and snapped his fingers, and in that instant the girl came out from her deep meditation.
Mumon’s comment: Old Shakyamuni set a very poor stage. I want to ask you monks: If Manjusri, who is supposed to have been the teacher of seven Buddhas, could not bring this girl out of meditation, how then could a Bodhisattva who was a mere beginner?
If you understand this intimately, you yourself can enter the great meditation while you are living in the world of delusion.
One could not awaken her, the other could.
Neither are good actors.
One wears the mask of god, one a devil’s mask.
Had both failed, the drama still would be a comedy.
Welcome to the strange world of Koans, I hope you have found them enlightening. What I would advise is for you to pick one that resonates, copy it and read it over a few times. Then a few more, then a few more until it starts to make a little more sense. Then try to come to some kind of conclusion to the message that is hidden within. Please share this article with your friends, family and loved ones!