Some koans are stories -- a teacher sends his students to visit with a woman in a tea house on the side of a mountain and confusion ensues. Other koans present a predicatment -- you are hanging by your teeth, you are in a seamless tomb, a woman raised a goose inside a bottle -- and ask for a response. Some koans turn things on their heads, like Jesus when he said, "Blessed are the poor." Koans of all types do two things it seems:
they help us to discover and explore the vastness of life, the inconceivable realm before and beyond our thinking or imagining. They introduce us to a vast brilliance that is shared by all -- your true self, your Original Face, your Christ nature. Koans are a sort of hack, or a way to open to the brilliance of life, and the kindness and love that pervades it all. So, ok, koans do that. They also...
Introduce you to yourself, to the delusions that you hold about yourself and the world. Last week's koan, "Abiding nowhere, the heart-mind comes forth," for instance, introduced us to the "somewheres" where we set up camp and dwell. While we might consider these as "bad," the koan has no opinion, Your delusions after all, are life too. The koan just helps you explore and discover what they these delusions might be, knowledge that can be helpful if you find yourself suffering for your delusion.
So, this weeks koan, "Count the stars in the sky," can seem to be a request, or perhaps an oppressive demand. It depends on the you approaching the koan. It may seem boring. It may be a gate to greater insight. The way to find out is to keep it company, to explore what life seems to be like with the koan, to find the koan in your life, in your meditation. Every koan is unique to you. This is the first you have ever sat wtih a particular koan, so as it reiterates itself in your heart-mind it is new, opening a field for you to explore. That's what we do together at Open Door Interfaith Zen every Wednesday evening at 6:30 pm as we become friends with awakening.