Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

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Desafinado
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Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by Desafinado »

For the past year or so I've been studying The Blue Cliff Record, both the Cleary and Sekida translations, and I'm curious if there are any koans in this collection that have been historically regarded by the Zen community as more important than the others.

In my own experience and research, 1, 2, and 41 are standouts, but as I don't have the free time to slowly, and diligently go through the whole book I'm wondering if there are some others would recommend gravitating to. So:

1) Throughout history, has Zen considered some of these Koans more important than others?
2) Which Koans do you like most out of the collection? And why?

Thanks in advance for any replies
master of puppets
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by master of puppets »

Mine top 3 from mumonkan

CASE 41. BODHIDHARMA'S PEACE OF MIND

Bodhidharma sat facing the stone wall. The Second Patriarch of Chinese C'han (Zen), Suika, stood long in the thick snow. Finally, he severed his own arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. He said, "Your student cannot pacify his mind. You, the First Patriarch, please, give me peace of mind!" The First Patriarch replied, "Bring that mind, I will calm it down!" The Second Patriarch said, "I search for it everywhere, but I cannot find it!" Bodhidharma replied, "I have already pacified it for you!"

Mumon's Comments:
That toothless old chap from India proudly travelled ten thousand li over the ocean (to China). This was indeed as if he deliberately raised waves where there was no wave. At last, he got only one disciple, who was maimed by cutting off his own arm. Alas, he was a fool indeed.

The First Patriarch from India taught straight forward,
A series of all the troubles has initiated from him.
The one who disturbed the calm world,
Is Boddhidharma, you indeed!


CASE 3. GUTEI'S FINGER


CASE 14. NANSEN CUTS THE CAT IN TWO
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Aemilius
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by Aemilius »

You can read the koans of Blue Cliff Record in a different order, like very other koan, or every third koan, and so on.. even every seventh koan, and always read all of the koans. It requires some mathematics but that isn't too difficult. You can also start form the last koan and go backwards to the first one. This method gives new variety to the book and enhances your experience of it.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
Desafinado
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by Desafinado »

Thanks for the replies.

I know it's not something you're supposed to say out loud, but I feel like I largely grasp the underlying themes of many of the Koans, after studying (and experiencing) Zen for about five years now. So this is partly why I don't go through the book with fervor, sometimes I'll pick it up and read one or two miscellaneous ones.

So this thread is more about historical interest than anything, I'm curious if the Koans have all been largely regarded equally in Zen history. Although I could see that stating a preference for some over others is kind of antithetical to the exercise itself, so I could see Buddhists not saying something like this out loud.
narhwal90
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by narhwal90 »

Its one thing to look at underlying themes, perhaps they are even tropes, but a different thing entirely when the Roshi looks at you for your reply.
reiun
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by reiun »

Desafinado wrote: Wed Feb 21, 2024 9:48 pm For the past year or so I've been studying The Blue Cliff Record, both the Cleary and Sekida translations, and I'm curious if there are any koans in this collection that have been historically regarded by the Zen community as more important than the others.

In my own experience and research, 1, 2, and 41 are standouts, but as I don't have the free time to slowly, and diligently go through the whole book I'm wondering if there are some others would recommend gravitating to. So:

1) Throughout history, has Zen considered some of these Koans more important than others?
2) Which Koans do you like most out of the collection? And why?

Thanks in advance for any replies
1) The only koan that need be considered should be the one assigned by your teacher.
2) "Like" is never a consideration.
tingdzin
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by tingdzin »

narhwal90 wrote: Fri Feb 23, 2024 5:58 pm Its one thing to look at underlying themes, perhaps they are even tropes, but a different thing entirely when the Roshi looks at you for your reply.
Good answer. One can read koans in search of themes or approaches, and IMO this is not entirely useless provided one has some grounding in actual experience of how koans work, and the more experience one has, the greater the possibility of getting some fruit from doing so. Nevertheless, checking answers with a roshi can stop a tendency towards drifting away from the meat of the koan.
Meido
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by Meido »

Desafinado wrote: Fri Feb 23, 2024 5:23 pm I know it's not something you're supposed to say out loud, but I feel like I largely grasp the underlying themes of many of the Koans, after studying (and experiencing) Zen for about five years now. So this is partly why I don't go through the book with fervor, sometimes I'll pick it up and read one or two miscellaneous ones.
The reason saying such a thing would be discouraged in Zen circles is that grasping the essential point of a koan means that one shares the mind of the master(s) featured within it, or from whom the koan arose. That is, one has awakened.

So to claim that one has grasped what a koan is about is the same as claiming that one is awakened. For example, if you say you understand the theme of Tozan's Three Pounds of Flax, you are saying that you share the same mind Tozan had at the moment he uttered those words.

From a practice standpoint we can say there are different classes and functions of koans, but actually there is only this one underlying theme: awakening. Before one arrives at even a shallow awakening, there just is no way at all to know what it is. One's ideas about it (and koans) will invariably be completely false. And actually, as one's realization deepens, one also frequently sees that previous understandings even of koans one has penetrated were insufficient and incomplete.

So we are always hesitant to claim that we have plumbed the depths of anything. Of course, it's possible to view koans through a historical, literary, linguistic, or other lens...or just to enjoy them as entertaining stories. There is no Zen police preventing one from doing that. But if one intends to practice, stirring up deas about them will generally just be piling on layers of shit.
Desafinado
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Re: Important koans in The Blue Cliff Record

Post by Desafinado »

Meido wrote: Sat Feb 24, 2024 6:20 pm
Desafinado wrote: Fri Feb 23, 2024 5:23 pm I know it's not something you're supposed to say out loud, but I feel like I largely grasp the underlying themes of many of the Koans, after studying (and experiencing) Zen for about five years now. So this is partly why I don't go through the book with fervor, sometimes I'll pick it up and read one or two miscellaneous ones.
The reason saying such a thing would be discouraged in Zen circles is that grasping the essential point of a koan means that one shares the mind of the master(s) featured within it, or from whom the koan arose. That is, one has awakened.

So to claim that one has grasped what a koan is about is the same as claiming that one is awakened. For example, if you say you understand the theme of Tozan's Three Pounds of Flax, you are saying that you share the same mind Tozan had at the moment he uttered those words.

From a practice standpoint we can say there are different classes and functions of koans, but actually there is only this one underlying theme: awakening. Before one arrives at even a shallow awakening, there just is no way at all to know what it is. One's ideas about it (and koans) will invariably be completely false. And actually, as one's realization deepens, one also frequently sees that previous understandings even of koans one has penetrated were insufficient and incomplete.

So we are always hesitant to claim that we have plumbed the depths of anything. Of course, it's possible to view koans through a historical, literary, linguistic, or other lens...or just to enjoy them as entertaining stories. There is no Zen police preventing one from doing that. But if one intends to practice, stirring up deas about them will generally just be piling on layers of shit.
I appreciate the reply and explanation.

Shortly after posting this thread I realized that it was ill-conceived, but there is a real historical interest there. Long before my interest in Buddhism I was studying religion more broadly, but when I picked up a title by D.T. Suzuki I was sucked in and ended up becoming a practicing Buddhist, and student of the religion. But part of me still views Buddhism through the lens of history. I'm convinced that if you constructed a religion from modern principles, it would look a lot like Buddhism, which makes it fascinating to me. So I'm practitioner, but I also see the religion as a solid philosophical system, and response to the world at large. Of course this all sounds too academic, and removed from the experiential point.

Anyway, the learnable for me with this thread, is that this forum has more emphasis on day-to-day practice. And in that sense it's been a huge help for the practitioner side.
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