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Question About Kong-ans (koans) to Zen Master Bon Soeng

This was posted on facebook today by Empty Gate Zen Center. As someone who is doing ongoing work with kong-ans (though I usually just use the colloquial American “koan” at this point), this spoke to me.

Question About Kong-ans (koans) Zen Master Bon Soeng by Empty Gate Zen Center on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 9:49am

Question: If you read to many books about kong-an practice, or kong-ans in general, do you run the risk of having your interviews tainted?

Zen Master Bon Soeng: It’s not the interviews you have to worry about, it’s your own mind. Interviews will take care of themselves. But too much thinking about kong-ans only confuses the issue. Kong-ans about before thinking mind. So reading about it a little bit might help you get a feel for something, but a lot of thinking about it only gets you lost in the dream of what you think it’s supposed to be. Kong-ans aren’t really about the answers, kong-ans are about raising great doubt. Everybody comes into interviews, and it’s a tricky situation because I ask you a question, and traditionally you’re expected to know the answer. So of course you want to be able to give me the right answer. But that’s just your ego-mind. “I want to be good”. “I don’t want to be bad”. “I don’t want him to think I’m stupid”. But Zen Master Seung Sahn used to tell us all the time, “More stupid is necessary!”

Everything is turned on it’s head. So, it’s about not knowing. And kong-an practice can be very frustrating because you don’t leave the room until you get one wrong. So don’t worry about getting the answer. Kong-ans are about raising great doubt. Stopping the mind for a moment, and opening to wonder. You can read about them, but that wont help you. Back in the early 1900’s, a Japanese monk published all the answers for all the kong-ans. That doesn’t help. It’s not about the answer, it’s about the question. So, try to move away from the answer to the question. Then the answer will take care of itself.