Wednesday, 30 October 2019


373. In the realm of the 'not one, not two', there is freedom, freedom from ... and freedom to  ..., a mysterious freedom. And though 'thought after thought arises in the heart-mind', there is no disturbance in the heart-mind. Here 'all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well '. Here there is freedom, mystery, graciousness. Here Seijo is 'not one, not two'.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019


372. 'The moon above the clouds,' writes Mumon in his verse comment on the Seijo koan, 'is ever the same'. Someone might like to add, 'though now full, now half, now quarter'. Mumon's verse goes on: 'valleys and mountains are separate from each other'. Again, someone might add, 'even if one land'. Moon, clouds, mountains, valleys: 'all are blessed, all are blessed' -- whether or not we 'realize what the real is'. So now, with regard to Seijo and her separated soul, 'are they one or are they two?' Someone who has realised the real might respond, 'not one, not two'.

Saturday, 26 October 2019


371. Mumon has a warning for the disciple who cannot resist rushing about wildly. He says: 'When earth, water, fire, and air suddenly separate, you will be like a crab struggling in boiling water with its seven or eight arms and legs '. The warning seems to point to a future event, an event that no one can avoid, the event of one’s own death. But those who lack insight into 'what the real is' fail to see that they are already caught up in the separation of earth, water, fire, and air. Indeed, in their rushing wildly about, they are already the 'crab struggling in boiling water with its seven or eight arms and legs'. Zen Master Mumon would alert his disciples to the perils that beset those who fail to 'realize', here and now, 'what the real is'.

Friday, 25 October 2019


370. Mumon allows for the possibility that we might 'not realize it yet'. And so he gives advice on how we should proceed. He writes: 'I earnestly advise you not to rush about wildly'. That is: don't go racking your brains; don't go running off to scholars and commentators. So what to do? Just 'realize what the real is'. But how? By doing the opposite of running about wildly. That is, sit quietly in zazen. 

Thursday, 24 October 2019


369. Mumon, in his comment on Case 35 of the Mumonkan, makes no attempt to dredge up the old ghost story. Mumon writes: 'When you realize what the real is, you will see ....' Pause to note Mumon's use of the word 'see' - perhaps we might here call to mind the role of 'seeing' in Wittgenstein's philosophical practice. What will we see? '... that we pass from one husk to another like travelers stopping for a night's lodging.' We might also recall the Hebrew scripture: 'In this house I am but a passing guest, a pilgrim and a wanderer like all my fathers'.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019


368. The question that Goso asks is not just a question of identity. It is much more in that it is a question that bears on real identity. The Zen practitioner is here being challenged to manifest his or her real identity. The sort of questions the practitioner must face are: 'What is real? Who am I really?'
   Scholarly concerns with the origin of Case 35 of the Mumonkan, the tracing of the koan to a Chinese ghost story, the re-telling of the story, the details of the story - these are so many red herrings.
   Goso asks : 'Which was the real Seijo?' In order to respond appropriately here, the practitioner must ask: 'Which is the real Seijo?'

Tuesday, 22 October 2019


367. The first thing to notice about Case 35 of the Mumonkan is that it is not about Seijo. In terms of the grammar that governs the language of the language-game of koan, the question that Goso asks is a question about the identity of the one who mediates on this koan. Everything necessary for working with, and responding to, Case 35, is contained in Goso's formulation. So: 'Which was the real Seijo? Was it her being, or the soul that separated from her being?' Notice the disjunctive choice: either this or that. 

Monday, 21 October 2019


366. Paradigm cases of how the koan language-game might be played can be found in such koan collections as the Mumonkan and the Hekiganroku. 
   As found in these classical collections, koans are presented without context. Yet knowledge of their context, some might think, would seem to be necessary. Consider the following case: 'Seijo's soul separated from her being. Which was the real Seijo?'
Commentators hasten to inform us that this koan has its origin in a Chinese ghost story and then tell us the story. But do we need to know all this?

Sunday, 20 October 2019


365. Wittgenstein says: 'Language did not emerge from reasoning '.  The same can be said of the koan. Koan language did not - does not - emerge from reasoning. The Zen novice learns, and becomes proficient in, the language of koan by engaging in specific practices. He or she comes to understand and speak this language by joining in, by becoming a participant in, the language-game of koan. The learner learns by becoming a player in the game. This suggests a process of trial and error - like this, not like that. This in turn suggests a readiness to accept the tutelage of a master.