Waking Up with a Koan

I wish I meant “waking up” in the “getting enlightened” sense, but I mean it in the “woke up when The Cop got home from work at 2AM and couldn’t fall back to sleep and got to thinking about a koan” sense.

The fatal flaw was to wake and think about work. It must have been playing in my mind while I slept. We had a long meeting today, and one of the people in my department, though not on my immediate team, was just pretty darned disrespectful throughout the meeting. And pointedly disrespectful to someone on my team. I walked away quite conscious of the fact that this person is angry about the evolution of the organization, and I keep trying to feel compassion for that, but I also feel like I am supposed to do something to help the situation.


Okay, so this person is suffering, and creating that suffering, and attached to that suffering. And I don’t know the right thing to do. Leave it alone? Call her on it? Oh boy. A simple shift of perception would alleviate her suffering, but I know if I were to suggest that, it would be taken as an insult or an oversimplification. So I wake at 2AM and suddenly think of the last koan I was given by my Korean teacher (they’re called kong-ans in the Korean schools, BTW). This sucker has been dogging me for years:

Somebody comes to the Zen center smoking a cigarette. He blows smoke and drops ashes on the Buddha.

If you are standing there at that time, what can you do?

LOL! So I wake up and have this little drama of the day playing in my mind and all of a sudden, I think: Hey, it’s the dropping ashes on the Buddha koan! When you sit with koans, you kind of put them in the back of your mind. Sure, the text messes with your conscious mind and makes you try to figure out logical answers; but the koan eludes logic–it eludes you, and your ideas–over and over. Until one day something happens in life and you realize, “Hey, it’s that koan!”

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t realized the koan. I just finally had an example of what it’s trying to teach me. I still don’t know my correct function in this situation. I’m a step closer, though–I can feel that there is a shift of consciousness that is possible, that will make this come clear–and I just have to keep the question and keep “not knowing” as much as I can.

The beauty part of this whole thing is that I set aside koan practice a couple of years ago because I was getting so attached to it. But then, a couple of days ago, I thought, I ought to go back to some koan practice, when I saw a new book by one of my favorite zen writers, John Daido Loori. And after all this time of thinking I wasn’t thinking about koans, up from my subconscious bubbles the last one I was working on, and the small insight that it relates to this current situation.

I know, this is a lengthy bit of chatter about something that isn’t Ashtanga. But it is kind of like getting a new pose. I can almost feel my fingertips in the bind of this koan. I also know that if I focus on it too much, if I try to figure it out too much instead of just doing it, I’ll lose ground. But if I just practice practice practice…well, we all know how that will work out πŸ™‚


4 Responses

  1. If you’re not supposed to apply logic to it (and is that applying logic to it already) then perhaps you’re not supposed to do anything at all. ie practice detachment. Without full knowledge of the situation (that the Buddha and the Somebody know) you’re just a bystander. If you act you’re taking ownership. Perhaps the Buddha requested this act of the stranger? Who knows. If it were me, I’d do nothing unless specifically asked to else I’d be projecting my views of the situation onto something that I’m perceiving. Intuition, gut instinct, tells me to help out of common decency though. I guess the thing is how to word your approach to the stranger…

    Geez, this thing’s working on my mind already…. HHmmmn.

  2. LOL! A lot of zen answers don’t use words. You can let that mess up your mind even more! πŸ™‚

  3. How about offer him an ashtray…
    I love koans, they’re fun!

  4. Sorry I woke you … just wanted to let you know I was home once again sans bullet wounds πŸ˜‰
    The cop

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