The Zen Koan - parallels, practices that cover?

Discussion in 'Comparative Religion' started by Pineal, Nov 11, 2011.

  1. Pineal Banned Banned

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    It seems that only Zen Buddhism has the practice/ritual of the koan. I was wondering if the functions of the koan ritual in Zen are 'taken care of' in some way in other religions. IOW I don't think there is a direct parallel in other religions, where a sentence or short dialogue or question that is hard to logically interpret is given to a 'student' who then works on finding a meaning or response that is approved by the master.

    It seems to me Koans are challenging naive realism in language, cognitive habits, literalness, and even left brain approaches to understanding.

    Are there practices in other religions that go at these issues or whatever issues/problems you think the koan ritual is attempting to solve?
     
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  3. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Oh yeah, it's in other religions. Jesus went out to the desert to meditate and seek God. Seeking God is a form of a koan. There doesn't have to be a God for this to work, just like there isn't a self to find, which is often the task of a koan.
     
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  5. Pineal Banned Banned

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    So going into the desert and looking for God is the serves the same function as contemplating....

     
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  7. origin Trump is the best argument against a democracy. Valued Senior Member

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    I think that chanting by monks is along the same lines. Even the repeating of phrases such "Mother Mary full of grace..." can focus the mind much like a koan.
     
  8. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    I think it can. There's nothing magical about that particular line.
     
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, this is one way of saying it. Another popular way of describing koans is that they are meant to bring the conditioned mind to a halt, so that afterwards, the person can think clearly.

    To be noted, though, that traditionally, koans were exclusively between the teacher and the student, and were not meant to be written down and published to be read by people outside of the student-teacher relationship.


    A koan is essentially a multi-layered double bind.
    We act on our creativity and freedom when we resolve or surpass a double bind.

    So when in other religions, we encounter double binds, the may have this similar purpose as koans.
     
  10. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Yes. I never thought I would say this, but Signal is right.
     
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    As neither a Buddhist nor an Abrahamist (and many people claim that it's quite possible to be both), perhaps I don't have the credentials to referee this debate. On the other hand I am a linguist, and everything I have ever read or heard about koans very clearly identifies them as verbal constructions: statements, questions, conversations, or other artifacts of language.

    Perhaps the most well-known koan in America is, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" A Japanese koan that a friend of mine learned during the many years he lived there is, "A master and his pupil walked through the forest. He kicked him, and they parted forever." (This is much less awkward in Japanese, whose syntax does not revolve around subjects, verbs and objects. Perhaps it could be translated as "a kick occurred.")

    These and other examples of koans clearly highlight the weakness of language in general, or of a particular language, in expressing our thoughts.

    Therefore, I don't see how seeking God can be a koan, since it is something that is done, rather than something that is said or written.
     
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Time to rethink what it means to do things with words!
     
  13. Pineal Banned Banned

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    Sure. I am not looking for 'conundrums' (say) in other religions, but rather thinking...
    Zen has this practice that is considered valuable and serves a purpose.
    Is not only this practice unique to Zen - which I think is the case - but is the purpose also unique to Zen.
    If it is not a unique purpose/goal/process, how is it being taken care of in other religions?

    I was thinking, vaguely, along similar lines. Certain mysteries - Jesus' dual human and deity nature (for those Christians who believe this, the unification of male and female deities into one overriding diety in some branches of Hinduism, sufi teaching stories, some parts of the Dao.

    (as a side note, I don't know if you have read Bateson on double binds, or it might be RD Laing, about how one message is contradicted by a higher order medium. Body language trumping the verbal message, for example. I think I might do a thread on double binds, just to wake up my memories of this)
     
  14. Pineal Banned Banned

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    I would say it focuses the mind, but chanting does not begin with a tension between ideas. The mind is not being forced into a crisis, but rather being given a focus, and a non-contradictory one. To me chanting only serves on purpose in Koans. Though it also has ones that are not present in Koans - devotional intent in the one you mentioned and many others.
     
  15. Pineal Banned Banned

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    Perhaps if you fleshed it out for me. The koan achieves X by ____________. Seeking God achieves X by _________.

    It seems like Jesus found God in the desert (again). He considered this a personage of some kind, one one communicates with, even in language - which he later does on the cross.

    It doesn't seem like koans lead to finding God, in Zen Buddhism, who one then talks to like you talk to a person.
     
  16. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Buddhism as such probably has a unique goal.
    I am not sure that any other religion promotes the kind of liberation aimed at in Buddhism.


    I am somewhat familiar with Bateson and Laing on double binds. I used to have quite a bit of interest in double binds.

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  17. Pineal Banned Banned

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    and that is a bold statement! Good! IOW this is one solution to the little mystery of why koans might show up in only one religion. I am not sure I agree, but it is a clear answer.

    Can you extend it? What is the unique goal and how does the koan play a role in this?
     
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    My wife is a lifelong atheist and more recently a Buddhist. She would be as angry as a Buddhist can be (and I don't know what their limit is) if she heard you calling Buddhism a "religion." It has no requirement to believe in gods or any supernatural phenomena. She still agrees with me 100% that religion is arguably the worst thing humans have ever invented.

    Yes I know that it's often called a religion. That riles her too.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2011
  19. Pineal Banned Banned

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    Buddhism is a term that covers a lot of different phenomena, including monks and nuns who vow to be chaste amongst other vows, the seeking and testing of the reincarnated masters - in Tibetan Buddhism - bowing down to icons, chanting - and I believe the Buddha himself was concerned that one not get attached to the sounds, the idea that bhodissatvas will wait to take the final steps to enlightenment until all beings are ready to make that step, devotional ceremonies and rituals, invocations of Buddhas and so on.

    Once Buddhism came to the 'West' it tended to become more secular, less hierarchical, had less deities, less rituals - though the Tibetan versions, which are 'hotter' still have more of these.

    Since there is no central authority for Buddhism as a whole, one can make one's own Buddhism without 'getting in trouble'. It seems to be addressing the same issues that other religions do and similarly setting up practices and beliefs, some of which cannot be verified scientifically, to aid one in achieving those goals. It is not a coincidence that many people shift from another religion to Buddhism or vice versa in the West. (not that Buddhism demands, necessarily, leaving behind the other religion).

    I think it makes sense to refer to it as a religion.

    But we could split this topic off from this Zen Koan thread and have another thread.
     
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Then it's strange she calls herself a Buddhist.



    *tsk*
    Anger is not one of the four sublime attitudes, which are the only four that are worth cultivating if one is to achieve the goal of liberation.
    And Vajra wrath is somethig different altogether.
     
  21. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Not at all. In order to legitimately consider oneself a Buddhist, one has to belong to a particular Buddhist tradition/school, and within those, there are clear authorities.


    The Dalai Lama once noted that people should not convert to Buddhism or change their religion other than as a last resort, and that instead, they should try to do everything in their power to meaningfully practice the religion they were born into.


    Yes.
     
  22. Pineal Banned Banned

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    Well, I said, as a whole. There is really nothing to stop anyone from branching off from a center and starting a new center and giving it a new name within Buddhism. This has happened quite a bit in the West and I see divisions in the East so I assume it happened there also, if slower. This is frowned upon by some, but there is no Pope or excommunicating body. And within the various Korean, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Japanese, Sri Lankan Buddhisms - these seem to be the most popular there - that are in the US, for example, you have a great deal of differences in approach, rituals, discipline, what people wear, hierarchy, meditation, integration of business into the centers and so on. And these Buddhisms have changed both leaders and forms when they entered the US. Or after entering, really. From there people split off and started new centers. Also some leaders, sometimes from the originating countries, were ousted by Boards of Directors - Westerners - and the Boards appointed new leaders, sometimes with advice from ruling bodies in the originating country, sometimes not. IOW there is divergence regularly from origins, in terms of personnel and practices. (I realize there are other ways of divvying up Buddhism, but I went with nationality because this was how it was broken down in a book I just read on Buddhism in the West - though the focus was primarily on Buddhism in the US.
    He also loves books about fighter jets.

    He also says you don't really need a religion.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2011
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Many people in the West do in fact keep their religion. They find that being a Buddhist while remaining a Christian or Jew (I'm not sure there are very many Muslim Buddhists) is no different than being a Republican or a Mason while remaining a Christian or a Jew.
    Well I did say "angry as a Buddhist can be." That scale includes zero. I can't recall actually seeing her angry about anything lately.

    Does anyone "cultivate" anger? In my family it was the inevitable default resulting from the suppression of all other emotions--or at least their expression.
     

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