We use a range of koans for this purpose, according to need and affinity. Examples are Zhaozhou’s No, Yunmen’s Medicine, What is your original face before your parents were born?, Linji’s The true person with no rank, Zhaozhou when times of great difficulty visit us, how shall we meet them? Zhaozhou said “Welcome.”
When this koan starts to open up there is an extensive process of exploration using checking questions to make the view clear and to teach the language of koans. The What is the sound of one hand? koan is included in this process. The final koan in the checking process is What is the source?
2. Miscellaneous Koans. By tradition the first koan in the miscellaneous collection is Stop the sound of that distant temple bell. These koans include a lot of explorations of emptiness.
3. The Gateless Barrier (Wumenguan) 4. The Blue Cliff Record (Piyen lu) 5. The Book of Serenity 6. The Five Ranks of Dongshan 7. The Sixteen Bodhisattva vows 8. Entangling Vines
Following the completion of this course senior people usually work on other books.
The Record of Linji The Kido Koans The Record of Zhaozhou
The first koan was by tradition called a Dharmakaya koan because through it the body of reality is revealed. The point of undergoing the rest of the koans is to discover subtleties not seen initially, and also to find out how insight actually transforms our lives. Yamada Koun called this process the development of character. I think of it as taking into account the idea that insight is always embodied. Insight has consequences and is inhabited anew by every student.
The curriculum teaches a language useful for describing the world more accurately. There is also an emphasis on embodying koans physically. Some koans will take you into deep places over time. Some koans deal with the reversals of emptiness and form. Other koans may also be deep but you may respond to them quickly out of a knowing that might not be in awareness.
It is important to bear with the feeling of risk, failure and inadequacy that sometimes appears in koan work. Koans draw out resistance and the resistance always has the flavor of the particular koan that drew it out. I had to get over the need to be right and to impress my teacher and risk offering the understanding I had.
The curriculum is a map of the path and finishing it was a good thing for me. What was happening wasn’t always clear at the time but the course changed my consciousness in a lot of ways, not towards perfection but towards the ability to rely on emptiness. The fact that I wasn’t a particularly good student or that my teacher had many limitations wasn’t as crucial as the smelting process I was undergoing.
When I was in despair over a koan I found it helpful to remember that it was a gift from a great teacher. The interesting hypothesis was that the old masters knew what they were doing. The hypothesis that there was something wrong with the koan made my life small and dull. If I don’t know and can rest in it, that is likely to lead me somewhere I have never been.