Monthly Archives: October 2009

Zentraveler on Zen Koans!

My concept of a Zen Koan is a statement to make you think and possibly allow your mind to get closer to the truth…. helping you with higher meditation practices to obtain enlightenment. One of the best examples is: Zen Buddhism can be broken down into two simple words…not necessary so!

A puzzling, often paradoxical statement or story, used in Zen Buddhism as an aid to meditation and a means of gaining spiritual awakening.

A Zen teaching riddle. Classically, koans are attractive paradoxes to be meditated on; their purpose is to help one to enlightenment by temporarily jamming normal cognitive processing so that something more interesting can happen (this practice is associated with Rinzai Zen Buddhism). Defined here because hackers are very fond of the koan form and compose their own koans for humorous and/or enlightening effect.

In Zen Buddhism, a brief paradoxical statement or question used as a discipline in meditation. The effort to solve a koan is designed to exhaust the analytic intellect and the will, leaving the mind open for response on an intuitive level.

There are about 1,700 traditional koans, which are based on anecdotes from ancient Zen masters. They include the well-known example “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand clapping.”

(Japanese, a Koan is literally an official document or public notice; a final arbiter of truth or falsehood) Koan are stories, often in the form of questions and answers, set as problems for meditation in the practice of Zen Buddhism, although the problems are not for solving by linear or rational processes.

The mu-koan is the reply mu (meaning nothing) given by the master Joshu in answer to the question whether a dog has the nature of Buddha. Another is the interchange: ‘What is Buddha?’ ‘Three pounds of flax.’

Sometimes referred to as ‘zen riddles’, kōans are brief stories or dialogues from the Ch’an/ zen tradition upon which Zen students focus during their meditation in order to penetrate their meaning. During the late T’ang and early Sung dynasties in China, the Ch’an community experimented with many new teaching methods that would allow masters to directly elicit an experience of awakening (Satori) on the part of their students. These ‘shock Ch’an’ or ‘crazy Ch’an’ techniques included beating, shouting directly into the student’s ear, or giving paradoxical or nonsensical responses to their questions.

Later, during the mid- to late Sung period, stories of master-student encounters that had succeeded, or simple tales of a master’s strange behaviour, circulated within Ch’an circles in the form of ‘sayings of the master’ or ‘transmission of the lamp’ (Chinese, ch’uan teng lu) literature. Examples included the Record of Lin-chi (Chinese, Lin-chi lu) and the Patriarchs’ Hall Anthology (Chin, Tsu t’ang chi).

As students reflected upon these stories, they found that they could use them as helpful devices in their own meditation. In reading the story of a master whose teaching methods had led a student to enlightenment (bodhi), they could ask themselves: what was the master’s mind at that moment? What did the student experience? In other cases not involving the recounting of an enlightenment experience but simply giving an instance of a master’s teaching or even a casual dialogue, the student could try to break through the obstructions in their own mind that kept them from directly experiencing their own nature and seeing their own inherent enlightenment. The formal use of such stories as a teaching device for students is first mentioned in connection with Nan-yüan Hui-yung (d. 930).

IN BRIEF: A paradoxical anecdote or a riddle that has no solution.

Tutor’s tip: The “Cohen” (a member of the Jewish priestly class) pondered the “koan” (a paradox posed to a student of Zen Buddhism to help bring about enlightenment) as he ate his ice cream “cone” (a geometric solid with a circular base tapering to a point opposite.

A Koan is a story, dialogue, question, or statement in the history and lore of Zen Buddhism, generally containing aspects that are inaccessible to rational understanding, yet may be accessible to intuition.

In summary
Kōans originate in the sayings and doings of sages and legendary figures, usually those authorized to teach in a lineage that regards Bodhidharma (c. 5th-6th century) as its ancestor. Kōans are said to reflect the enlightened or awakened state of such persons, and sometimes said to confound the habit of discursive thought or shock the mind into awareness. Zen teachers often recite and comment on kōans, and some Zen practitioners concentrate on kōans during meditation. Teachers may probe such students about their kōan practice using “checking questions” to validate an experience of insight (kensho) or awakening. Responses by students have included actions or gestures, “capping phrases” (jakugo), and verses inspired by the kōan.

As used by teachers, monks, and students in training, kōan can refer to a story selected from sutras and historical records, a perplexing element of the story, a concise but critical word or phrase (話頭 huà-tóu) extracted from the story, or to the story appended by poetry and commentary authored by later Zen teachers, sometimes layering commentary upon commentary.

English-speaking non-Zen practitioners sometimes use kōan to refer to an unanswerable question or a meaningless statement. However, in Zen practice, a kōan is not meaningless, and teachers often do expect students to present an appropriate response when asked about a kōan. Even so, a kōan is not a riddle or a puzzle. Appropriate responses to a kōan may vary according to circumstances; different teachers may demand different responses to a given kōan, and a fixed answer cannot be correct in every circumstance. One of the most common recorded comments by a teacher on a disciple’s answer is: “Even though that is true, if you do not know it yourself it does you no good.” The master is looking not for an answer in a specific form, but for evidence that the disciple has actually grasped the state of mind expressed by the kōan itself.

Thus, though there may be so-called “traditional answers” (kenjō 見処 or kenge 見解) to many kōans, these are only preserved as exemplary answers given in the past by various masters during their own training. In reality, any answer could be correct, provided that it conveys proof of personal realization. Kōan training can only be done with a qualified teacher who has the “eye” to see a disciple’s depth of attainment. In the Rinzai Zen school, which uses kōans extensively, the teacher certification process includes an appraisal of proficiency in using that school’s extensive kōan curriculum.

A kōan or part of a kōan may serve as a point of concentration during meditation and other activities, often called “kōan practice” (as distinct from “kōan study”, the study of kōan literature). Generally, a qualified teacher provides instruction in kōan practice to qualified students in private. In the Wumenguan (Mumonkan), public case #1 (“Zhaozhou’s Dog”), Wumen (Mumon) wrote “…concentrate yourself into this ‘Wu’…making your whole body one great inquiry. Day and night work intently at it. Do not attempt nihilistic or dualistic interpretations.”

Arousing this great inquiry, or “Great Doubt” is an essential element of kōan practice. In an attempt to illustrate the enormous concentration required in kōan meditation, Zen Master Wumen further commented: “It is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball. You try to vomit it out, but you can’t.”

A kōan may be used as a test of a Zen student’s ability. For monks in formal training, and for some laypersons, a teacher invokes a kōan and demands some definite response from a student during private interviews.

Kōans are presented by teachers to students and other members of the community, often including the teacher’s unique commentary. A kōan may seem to be the subject of a talk or private interview with a student. However, a kōan is said to supersede subject-object duality and thus cannot necessarily be said to be the “subject” of such encounters. The dialog, lecture, or sermon may more resemble performance, ritual duty, or poetry reading.

Before the tradition of meditating on kōans was recorded, Huangbo Xiyun (720-814) and Yun Men (864-949) are both recorded to have uttered the line “Yours is a clear-cut case (chien-cheng kung-an) but I spare you thirty blows”, seeming to pass judgement over students’ feeble expressions of enlightenment. Xuedou Zhongxian (雪竇重顯 980-1052) — the original compiler of the 100 cases that later served as the basis for the Blue Cliff Record — used the term kung-an just once in that collection (according to Foulk) in Case #64.

Subsequent interpreters have influenced the way the term kōan is used. Dōgen Zenji wrote of Genjokōan, which points out that everyday life experiences is the fundamental kōan. Hakuin Ekaku recommended preparing for kōan practice by concentrating on qi breathing and its effect on the body’s center of gravity, called the dantian or “hara” in Japanese — thereby associating kōan practice with pre-existing Taoist and Yogic chakra meditative practices.

The purpose of kōans is for a Zen practitioner to become aware of the difference between themselves, their mind, and their beliefs that influence how they see the world as an aspect of realizing their True nature. Paradoxes tend to arouse the mind for an extended duration as the mind goes around and around trying to resolve the paradox or kōan to an “answer”. This is a lot like a dog chasing its tail and, while it’s chasing, the mind makes itself more visible. Once a Zen practitioner becomes aware of their mind as an independent form, the kōan makes sense and the teaching point is realized.

Zen teachers and practitioners insist that the meaning of a kōan can only be demonstrated in a live experience (after all, only you can witness your own mind and realize its nature). Texts (including kōan collections and encyclopedia articles) cannot convey that meaning. Yet the Zen tradition has produced a great deal of literature, including thousands of kōans and at least dozens of volumes of commentary. Nevertheless, teachers have long alerted students to the danger of confusing the interpretation of a kōan with the realization of a kōan. When teachers say “do not confuse the pointing finger with the moon”, they indicate that awakening is the realization of your True nature — not ability to interpret a kōan with the mind.

Even so, kōans emerge from a literary context, and understanding that context can often remove some — but presumably not all — of the mystery surrounding a kōan. For example, evidence… suggests that when a monk asked Zhaozhou “does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?”, the monk was asking a question that students had asked teachers for generations. The controversy over whether or not all beings have the potential for enlightenment is even older — and, in fact, vigorous controversy still surrounds the matter of Buddha nature.

No amount of interpretation seems to be able to exhaust a kōan, so it’s unlikely that there can be a “definitive” interpretation. Teachers typically warn against over-intellectualizing kōans, but the mysteries of kōans compel some students to place them in their original context — for example, by clarifying metaphors that were likely well-known to monks at the time the kōans originally circulated.

If you are thinking about Buddha, this is thinking and delusion, not awakening. One must destroy preconceptions of the Buddha. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind during an introduction to Zazen, “Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature.” Contrariwise, the kōan, similarly to the quote “God is dead”, teaches not to believe everything you hear and to make conclusions for yourself.

“In the beginning a monk first thinks a kōan is an inert object upon which to focus attention; after a long period of consecutive repetition, one realizes that the kōan is also a dynamic activity, the very activity of seeking an answer to the kōan. The kōan is both the object being sought and the relentless seeking itself. In a kōan, the self sees the self not directly but under the guise of the kōan…When one realizes (“makes real”) this identity, then two hands have become one. The practitioner becomes the kōan that he or she is trying to understand. That is the sound of one hand.” — G. Victor Sogen Hori, Tanzan, Subhuti and Tetsugen

The koan is when there is nothing you can do what do you do – A Zen koan – when the mind knows the way and the I of you is full of merit where is enlightenment hiding? ….. adapted from

So there you have it Koan heads or is it cone heads!

QUOTE: “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” — Linji


THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO SAVE: Gold coins and Koans!

ZENTRAVELER SAYS: You ain’t nothing but a Houndog!

From here to Infinity is a relatively short ride! The next leg takes eons and eons as you fly through the Barycentric Dynamical Time Zone! …and on and on and on.

Follow the Zentraveler Blog often for Travel, Health and Zen-like stories and such. Where else can you get a three in one blog for the price of free?

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Zentraveler goes Bananas over Bananas!

I was recently talking to a friend on Bantayan Island, Philippines and she served up some killer fried bananas. In fact she had an entire stem of fat yellow ones and boiled the rest for our work crew. She went on to say the reason monkeys don’t have heart attacks is because they eat this very type of fat yellow banana.

Just when you thought you knew something about bananas you would be be out of luck at the local market in Bantayan. They have fat red ones, fat yellow ones, fat green ones… and oh yea most of the regular looking bananas that are green are the best tasteing. They also have small yellow ones, large yellow ones… and all kinds of sizes and shapes in between.

I became intrigued over the Banana when I learned one of the top ten restaurants in the world (located in China) only serves Banana. They serve the stem thinly sliced from young banana trees, they serve the heart of the stems cut into plugs that make a wonderful desert, and they make all sorts of flambeaus and salads to get you through the elaborate banana menu!

Then their is something about the sound of bananas. “Yes! We have no Bananas!”, a broadway song sung by Groucho Marx, slipping on banana peels in the supermarket and what a lovely bunch of bananas… and you can’t play second banana to me!

“Here are 25 facts about one of the world’s most popular fruits: The Banana!

The banana “tree” is not really a tree, but a giant herb. The banana is the fruit of this herb.

The cluster of bananas sold in supermarkets is a “hand” of bananas, while the individual bananas on the hand are called fingers.

The strings that go up and down the length of bananas are called Phloem Bundles. They help distribute nutrients to every part of the growing bananas.

The yellow bananas that are most often sold in supermarkets are sometimes called “dessert bananas” because they are soft and sweet.

Plantains are a type of banana that are not as sweet and are usually cooked. While not as commonly eaten in North America, plantains are a dietary staple in many tropical regions.

It is believed by many experts that bananas were the first fruit cultivated by humans.

Alexander the Great first came across bananas in India in 327 B.C.

Bananas were introduced to the United States at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Celebration, where they were sold wrapped in foil for 10 cents each.

Worldwide, bananas are the fourth largest fruit crop.

The average American consumes 28 pounds of bananas per year.

The banana peel is edible, though perhaps not very palatable unless cooked.

About 50 percent of people who are allergic to latex are often also allergic to bananas.

India is the #1 banana producer in the world.

The most popular banana cultivar in the world is the Cavendish. This is the banana most often seen in U.S. and European markets.

Before Cavendish, Gros Michel was the main banana cultivar exported on a mass, commercial scale. In the mid-20th century, Gros Michel was ravaged by Panama disease and is no longer sold commercially.

Panama disease, or Fusarium wilt, is a fungus that attacks banana plants. It was reported in Australia in the 19th century.

It is believed that the Cavendish, like the Gros Michel, will be devastated by Panama disease within 20 years and will no longer be able to be produced commercially. This would be a difficult blow to the banana industry.

Scientists are trying to develop a hybrid, disease-resistant banana.

Chiquita was initially called the United Fruit Company. In the 20th century, they played a controversial role in the politics of Central America, where they had vast holdings. The company earned the nickname of “The Octopus” in the region because they had their hands in so many political pots.

The CIA-sponsored 1954 coup that overthrew the democratically-elected Guatemalan government headed by Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán is believed to be a direct result of influence by the United Fruit Company, which had an antagonistic relationship with the Arbenz government.

In Uganda, bananas are such a big part of the diet that the same word, matooke, is used for both “food” and “banana.”

The pejorative term “banana republic” was coined by American writer O. Henry. He used it in reference to Honduras, but the term became widely used in reference to any Latin American, Caribbean, or African country that was politically unstable, relied heavily on basic agriculture, and was not technologically advanced.

The banana split was invented in 1904 by 23-year-old David Evans Strickler, an employee at the Tassel Pharmacy soda fountain in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

The song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” was released in 1923 and became a huge hit. It refers to the banana shortage at the time.

In 2001, Britain recorded 300 incidents of injuries related to bananas. The majority of these involved people slipping on banana peels.”

So there you have it! If you want to be healthy and be depression free….eat lots of bananas!

QUOTE: I think cheese smells funny, but I feel bananas “are” funny. I’m assuming Swamp told the whole story of the executives seriously asking us to replace the banana with cheese because they thought it was funnier.

THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW: Eating a banana can cheer you up. Bananas are the only fruit to contain the amino acid, tryptophan plus Vitamin B6 which together help the body produce seratonin, the natural chemical which alleviates mental depression. (It’s also found in Prozac.) That’s why we call them “nature’s good mood food.”



From here to Infinity is a relatively short ride! The next leg takes eons and eons as you fly through the Barycentric Dynamical Time Zone! …and on and on and on.

Follow the Zentraveler Blog often for Travel, Health and Zen-like stories and such. Where else can you get a three in one blog for the price of free?

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Zentraveler treks to Bantayan Holy Week!

As I have been in the Philippines less than a year I also realize how important festivals are to the people. It gives the people a chance to have a parade visit with relatives and friends and sell every sort of snack and item you would normally find at a carnival.

“The ancient customs of observing the traditional religious festivity during the Lent is drawing bigger and bigger crowd of devotees every year to Bantayan. The main attraction is the passion and death of Jesus Christ well illustrated in life size figures, mounted on high, richly decorated and brightly illuminated “carrozas””. These are paraded along the main streets on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Besides the passion and death of our Lord, images of saints as related in the Bible are also depicted. To this date, the scenes are complete from the Last Supper down to the scene when Jesus was being laid to His tomb”….Bantayan. gov


“BANTAYAN – Origin of a name. BANTAYAN as the name implies has a very interesting history as an island group.

During the time of Governor Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera ( 1635 – 1644), the Visayas were continually harassed by the Moros. Consequently, tall stone walls and watchtowers wer built in the different parts of the archipelago, for refuge and protection of the people from the moro aggression. The tall walls surround the convent and the church including half of the area where the Public Plaza now is. These watchtowers were loacally known as “BANTAYAN SA HARI ” , meaning, ” WATCHTOWERS OF THE KING” “KING OF SPAIN”. The watchtowers served as look-outs for the incoming moro pirate vessels. In the course of their vigil after the moros, it became the common expression for them to say, BANTAYAN! BANTAYAN!, meaning, “KEEP WATCH! KEEP WATCH! , and that was how this island-group got its name. The presence of the relics of those watchtowers till today, attest to the well-.fitting name BANTAYAN.

There are no dates to fix the time when the first people came to Bantayan, nor do we know of their places of origin. NO conscious records of their doings were left us to arrive at amuch certain conclusion. Some said, they can be traced back to Panay, others believed that the bulk of them were of cebuano origin, and still others say, they came from Leyte and Bohol.

However, there are indications that there existed some connections between Bantayan and the aforementioned places are the mixed dialects spoken by the people, the family names of the prominent old inhabitants, and their ancient culture such as cloth weaving, dances and architecture. AS to family names, the Rubios, the Arcenaces, and the Alvarezes, can be traced back to Panay, the Rodriquezes, the Ancajases, the Mansuetos and the Villacrusises to Cebu, the Villacins, The Villaflors, the Ortegas, and the Carabios to Leyte, the Hubahibs, the Garcias, the Caquilalas to Bohol. The majority of the old inhabitants, however, agree that they are a mixture of all these, a product of different blood and cultures.”…..Bantayan .gov.

I had the opportunity to meet the curator of the St. Peter and Paul Parish Church’s Museum which dates back to the days of Magellean. The walls of the church are at least six feet thick of square cut rock and once had cannons mounted on top and through the sides of the church to defend Bantayan Island against intruders.

The story told to me by the owner of Kermits… Eumel Lopez (a fantastic restaurant and stop for foreigners) who want to get really excellent snacks including: Italian cannolies, home made herb and wheat bread, and all sorts of delicious looking sweets in the cases. He also makes a real bacon cheeseburger that is to die for. And if you want any local information Eumel will be glad to share with you his knowledge of the area and probably sit down and have a cup of coffee with you… as his staff makes freshhy baked goodies of all sorts. When you go to Bantayan it’s a must visit to go to Kermits just off of the main plaza.

The story goes something like this the history books show Magellean coming into the Philippines and locating somewhere near Cebu City! According to local ledgend Magellean actually probabbly landed in Bantayan Island first and then sent his warfareing and discovery crews through the sea as a scouting party… and kept their main brigade right here in Bantayan… so they wouldn’t lose their entire brigade in a suprise battle in Cebu!

As I toured the churchs museum I saw robes made of pure gold, wooden replicas of religious figures, and an extremely rare manuscript with the pages made of pure sheeps leather… which is hundreds of years old and in perfect condition.

You cannot photo anything and I asked if I wrote an article about the museum it might be helpful to include some photos. The curator has now agreed to let me photo the rare items in the churchs museum . The only problem I have been back about ten times and cannot find the museium curator and the museum is closed.

Magellan’s Cross
This cross of tindalo wood encases the original cross planted by Fernando Magellan on this very site April 21, 1521

At any rate a Holy Week in Bantayan, Philippines is a really significant event and something you should consider experiencing on your own. As the religious tone intensifies you can witness the different stations of the cross as well as watch a magical parade displaying some of the important religious figures of Christainity. One that stands out is a float with Jesus on the cross in the trees with sun streaming down and the next float has hime being buried in the tomb.

The park adjacent to the Colonial built stone church is picturesque with an array of flowers and trees and serves as the focal point for the festivities. The parade goes clockwise around the park with the streets packed full of people. The central plaza is filled with flowers, cotton candy, all sorts of barbequed foods, and baloon vendors….adding even more color to an already colorful festival.

As part of religious tradition… you purchase a handful of candles and watch them burn over the embers paying your respect to the dead ancestors and pray for the future! Everyone goes to the festival including all babies, grandparents etc. People flock here from all over the world with the majority coming from the Philippines to attend Holy Week! Their literally is not one space to be found for sleeping.

The young and more adventerous simply camp-out on the beaches and others pile into the houses as if they were the best relatives ever! All of transportation in on a standsdstill and ferries are overloaded handling the approximate crowd of 70,000 new members coming onto the island for the Holy Week celebration!

As one foreigner said: “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, but maybe next year I will seek an deserted island for quiet and rest.”

So there you have it! If you would like to experience one of the most festive Holy Weeks in all of the Philippines… why not plan ahead and book into the beach resorts of Santa Fe just twenty minutes away from Bantayan Holy Week! Fair warning… the prices are escalated and it is very difficult to get your rooms… so you must plan ahead-and yes it is certainly worth the effort to see a celebration of life as only the Pilipinos can do!

QUOTE: Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. (Confucius) …

THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW:Magellan brought Christainity to Bantayan Island in the year 1521 as is witnessed by the placement of the cross called Magellan’s Cross… located in St Peter and Paul Parish just off the main plaza.

THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO SAVE: Religious Cards! Just go on the internet and google religious cards, which are collected around the world, and sold to collectors who are not only enjoying this hobby, but also makeing a business out of it. It’s great to open the mails from Romania, Germany and foreign destinations and see the beautiful work the artists created.

ZENTRAVELER SAYS:Maybe it not the Holy Grail but it’s a great time to explore and give regards to all of the religions of the world!

From here to Infinity is a relatively short ride! The next leg takes eons and eons as you fly through the Barycentric Dynamical Time Zone! …and on and on and on.

Follow the Zentraveler Blog often for Travel, Health and Zen-like stories and such. Where else can you get a three in one blog for the price of free?

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