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Retreats & Programs
What is Zen.
These are questions / answers with the Master. During retreats the teacher poses some kongans to each student. 'What am I?' is considered to be the original kong-an. The Chogye order uses a collection of 1700 other kong-ans coming from the Indian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese traditions. The attitude created by the kong-an can help the mind to be most attentive to meditation and to daily activities. One teacher of the Kwan Um school said: 'Like a weight at the end of a fishing line can help the hook to fall deep in the ocean, a kong-an can guide the mind towards a profound realisation, towards places that are often difficult to reach unless one maintains a consistent direction.'
Zen Master Dae Bong about kong-an practice
Very distinctive to Zen practice is kong-an practicing. Kong-an practicing has two main functions. First, to help us to always return to our correct practicing direction. Some people practice to feel better. Some people practice to take away problems. There are many kinds of reasons, and all those reasons can be very good, but very important is our practicing’s original direction, which is don’t know, only go straight don’t know. So when you can’t answer a kong-an, already your mind returns to don’t know. So this helps us keep our practicing direction. Some people just want quiet for meditation. That’s okay, but that cannot really help your life. So kong-an practicing helps you keep this correct practicing direction of don’t know.
Kong-an practicing helps us to find correct function. As we go through kong-an practice, we begin to see very clearly substance, truth, and function, and can find the correct function in our life. There are basically two kinds of kong-ans. One kind checks our meditation mind, how much our mind is unmoving. It’s like sword fighting; the teacher attacks, you go back, then the teacher, then you, then the teacher, then you. Then you can see how long you can keep this not moving mind. The second type of kong-an checks our wisdom, that means our functioning. Another kind of kong-an is checking our cognition.
Very important is that our kong-an practicing connects with everyday life. So the three main aims of kong-an practicing are to help us keep our correct practicing direction, don’t know, to find correct function, and finally, to attain no hindrance.
Example Here’s a famous example:
A monk asked Joju, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” Joju answered “Mu.”
That’s the kong-an. Then there are questions attached to the kong-an, for example: “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”
Sometimes the kong-an and the question are the same, for example: The whole universe is on fire; through what kind of samadhi can you escape from being burned?
Associated with kong-ans are short commentaries, sometimes in the form of poems.
Kong-an Interview There is a form to use in the interview room, involving prostrations. The Head Dharma Teacher or any senior student will help you through it your first time, and as many times as you need afterward.
Kong-an Book In our school, we use the kong-ans collected by Zen Master Seung Sahn in a book “The Whole World is a Single Flower”.
Zen is Understanding Yourself
Zen is Understanding Yourself
One day a student from Chicago came to the Providence Zen Center and asked Seung Sahn Soen-Sa, “What is Zen?”
Soen-sa held his Zen stick above his head and said, “Do you understand?”
The student said, “I don’t know.”
Soen-sa said, “This don’t know mind is you. Zen is understanding yourself.”
“What do you understand about me? Teach me.”
Soen-sa said, “In a cookie factory, different cookies are baked in the shape of animals, cars, people, and airplanes. They all have different names and forms, but they are all made from the same dough, and they all taste the same.
“In the same way, all things in the universe – the sun, the moon, the stars, mountains, rivers, people, and so forth – have different names and forms, but they are all made from the same substance. The universe is organized into pairs of opposites: light and darkness, man and woman, sound and silence, good and bad. But all these opposites are mutual, because they are made from the same substance. Their names and their forms are different, but their substance is the same. Names and forms are made by your thinking. If you are not thinking and have no attachment to name and form, then all substance is one. Your don’t know mind cuts off all thinking. This is your substance. The substance of this Zen stick and your own substance are the same. You are this stick; this stick is you.”
The student said, “Some philosophers say this substance is energy, or mind, or God, or matter. Which is the truth?”
Soen-sa said, “Four blind men went to the zoo and visited the elephant. One blind man touched its side and said, ‘The elephant is like a wall.’ The next blind man touched its trunk and said, ‘The elephant is like a snake.’ The next blind man touched its leg and said, ‘The elephant is like a column.’ The last blind man touched its tail and said, ‘The elephant is like a broom.’ Then the four blind men started to fight, each one believing that his opinion was the right one. Each only understood the part he had touched; none of them understood the whole.
“Substance has no name and no form. Energy, mind, God, and matter are all name and form. Substance is the Absolute. Having name and form is having opposites. So the whole world is like the blind men fighting among themselves. Not understanding yourself is not understanding the truth. That is why there is fighting among ourselves. If all the people in the world understood themselves, they would attain the Absolute. Then the world would be at peace. World peace is Zen.”
The student said, “How can practicing Zen make world peace?”
Soen-sa said, “People desire money, fame, sex, food, and rest. All this desire is thinking. Thinking is suffering. Suffering means no world peace. Not thinking is not suffering. Not suffering means world peace. World peace is the Absolute. The Absolute is I.”
The student said, “How can I understand the Absolute?”
Soen-sa said, “You must first understand yourself.”
“How can I understand myself?”
Soen-sa held up the Zen stick and said, “Do you see this?”
He then quickly hit the table with the stick and said, “Do you hear this? This stick, this sound, your mind – are they the same or different?”
The student said, “The same.”
Soen-sa said, “If you say they are the same, I will hit you thirty times. If you say they are different, I will still hit you thirty times. Why?”
The student was silent.
Soen-sa shouted, “KATZ!!!” Then he said, “Spring comes, the grass grows by itself.”
The London Zen Centre Ja An Sa
Practice at London Zen Centre
The London Zen Centre is the home of the Kwan Um School of Zen in London and the head temple of the school in Great Britain. Members and visitors are welcome to attend any of the meditation practice sessions at the centre. Please contact the guiding teacher, Ja An JDPSN, in advance if you are attending practice or a retreat for the first time. Kong-an (Jap. koan) interviews take place most Sundays at the midday practice.
Our guiding teacher is Dharma Master Ja An, who lives at the London Zen Centre. She received inka, the seal of teaching authority in Zen, from Zen Master Wu Bong at the Warsaw Zen Centre on 19th September 2009.
Please always contact the guiding teacher before your visit to the London Zen Centre on 0207 502 6786 (evenings, till 21:00) or 07742 979 050 (daytime, mobile phone). International: +44 207 502 6786.
Email: Please contact her through firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com