This is a koan. You’ve probably heard the term “Zen koan,” perhaps used in the sense of a riddle or something confusing or paradoxical. Perhaps you didn’t know that they’re also a practice, a kind of meditation. Some are like poems, some are like little stories, some are like jokes, and they all are a kind of can opener for the mind, a way to get free of the tangle of thoughts and feelings and into a world that’s freer, where things just seem more possible, and where the meaning of life is obvious.
What do you do with a koan, then? Well, you can bring it to mind while you’re meditating, any part of it, even, and wonder about it, let it settle inside you like a question. You can carry it around in your life, bringing it into your attention when nothing else is working, or on a walk, or while stuck in traffic (“…what is happening?”). And the koan will come to you unbidden as well, perhaps in a dream, or while you’re talking to a friend (“the golden wind is revealing itself”). It will clear a little space in your life and in your mind.
At Pacific Zen Institute there are also teachers who can help you with your meditation practice and your work with koans, through dharma talks and retreats as well as individual work with students. There are many surprising things to be learned from working with koans, from the ways that they enter your life and make you see things in new and different ways. Sometimes it helps to have a guide to this new territory. Pacific Zen Institute is also a wonderful community of people who meditate together and live all sorts of different kinds of lives and bring their meditation practice into those unique lives. They are a help and support, too.
When the tree withers and the leaves fall, what is happening ?
The golden wind is revealing itself.
What is a Koan?
Frequently Asked Question:
Is there a “right answer” to a koan? Everyone wants to get things right and succeed. Koans cans seem like a puzzle to solve, but the real measure of success is whether the koan helped you understand something important, whether it changed your life.
There are traditional responses to koans, often physical presentations, which are part of an elegant system created by the great Japanese teacher Hakuin Ekaku. These responses are a kind of assay to see if the student understands the heart of the koan, but they are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the content of the koan is concerned. For this reason we don’t talk much about right answers. When you engage with a koan, the way you see the world opens up. Then showing that understanding is not a problem.
To find out more about working with koans go to John Tarrant’s Blog called Zenosaurus