Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Application of Truth

In our lineage of Zen, we practice with Koans. A great piece on Koan study from Zen Master Wanji is here. Koan practice is designed to help us practice what the Buddha learned. Here is an example.

People come to Zen for many reasons. One of the reasons I remember had to do with a story that had a line something like: "When a Zen master drinks tea, he just drinks tea." I thought that was great because I was not living in the moment at all. My thinking was always going, always in control. This is why meditation is practice. People do not simply become aware, or live in the present moment just because they decide they want to! They must practice. Back to the story, and it does relate.

When a great Zen Master of the past (Mazu) was asked "What is Buddha?" He replied, "The cypress tree in the garden."

A little back story might help. "What is Buddha?" is a question that is pointing to the truth of the moment. At the moment Mazu was asked "what is truth?" He answered with some truth in that situation. If you were to ask me "What is Buddha?" and I replied "The cypress tree in the garden." Would you accept my answer?

Please excuse the crudeness of the following examples. People throughout the years have written various things like "Buddha is a stinky fart" or "Buddha is a dirty toilet." What does that mean? I hope you can see the problem. We are trying to practice being present in this very moment. Without context, are these sayings helpful?

So I ask you right now: What is Buddha? Here is a Koan that helps to drive the point home:
Dòngshān’s & Yúnmén’s ― What is Buddha?
Zen Master Dòngshān was asked by a monk, "What is Buddha?" He answered, "Three pounds of flax."
Sometime earlier Zen Master Yúnmén had been asked by another monk, "What is Buddha?" He had replied, "Dry shit on a stick."

The questions are:
  1. What is Buddha?
  2. What does three pounds of flax mean?
  3. What does dry shit on a stick mean?
  4. Three pounds of flax, Dry shit on a stick, Which one is the best answer?

Feel free to send your answers to and I will be delighted to read them and comment if you so desire. There is more commentary on the koan in the book, and on the internet if you feel you want to read more. If you want to try Koan study with a teacher, please contact me at the above email address or contact the school at and Zen Master Wonji will help you to find a teacher.