Art and Tradition

Koan Examples

The Koan is a term that comes from Buddhist beliefs, tradition indicates that it is a problem that is raised by a teacher to the apprentice in order to determine the level of progress that has been achieved, they are usually problems that have a difficult solution or that they simply do not have it, several of them are based on real facts and dialogues between ancestral teachers within Buddhism and if they get an answer this will be an absolute and irrefutable truth, the apprentices or disciples nowadays use these techniques to achieve a higher and narrower level with the teachings of their teachers.

The Koan is usually delivered directly from the teacher to the disciple, in case of being several the koan will be different for each one and thus they will have to look for a solution, it is necessary to limit that there are different levels of difficulty and it is the teacher who decides which level will be delivered to each disciple depending on their current level. In other words, the koan is also usually posed in a way that generates confusion in the disciple at a logical and rational level, it is said that in many cases it can cause an impact on an emotional level so great that it serves to open the way to a new type of consciousness, teachers reserve special moments for long meditations focused on a koan and as we said it is also their tool to determine the progress of the learner,

Examples of koan:

  • What sound does one hand make when clapping?
    If all things must return to the One, where must that One return?
    -Only when you look for it do you lose it. It cannot be retained, nor can one get rid of it.
    -If you understand, things are as they are. If you don’t understand, things are as they are.
    -Bashô said to the assembled monks: ‘If you have a staff, I will give you one. If you don’t have a cane, I’ll take it from you. ‘
  • A Zen master named Gettan lived at the end of the Tokugawa era. He used to say, “There are three types of disciples: those who impart Zen to others, those who care for temples and altars, and lastly there are sacks of rice and walking perches.”Gasan expressed the same idea. When he was studying Tekisui, his teacher was very severe. Sometimes he even hit her. Other students did not tolerate such methods and gave up.

    Gasan stayed, thinking: a bad disciple uses the influence of the teacher. A righteous disciple admires the kindness of the teacher. A good disciple grows strong under the discipline of the teacher.

  • A Zen student went to see Bankei: ‘Master, I have an uncontrollable temper. How could I be cured?“You have something very strange,” Bankei replied, “let me see it.”

    “Right now I can’t show you,” replied the student.

    “When can you show it to me?” Asked Bankei.

    “It comes out suddenly,” replied the student.

    ‘Then,’ Bankei concluded, ‘it must not be your true nature. If it was, you could show it to me at any time. When you were born you didn’t have it, and your parents didn’t give it to you. Think about it.”

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