Zen in daily life

Zen teacher Dogen and the Soto approach to Zen

The appearance of a Koan in daily life

By zen master Danny Waxman

According to the Soto Zen approach, you must solve your difficulties and the problems as you pursue Truth in daily life. In the Soto Zen tradition those problems are called Koans. Everyone has it's own Koan according to his own level of development. What is your Koan?

The Koan is, How to break the holdups, How to break through ones limitations, to overcome all blocks and obstacles, for the goal of reaching the true self; not for achieving the power for making a decent living, have girlfriends, or the ability to write well etc.

How could the problem not appear? You see, it is you. You are built up of problems. You are constructed from holdups. What distract someone to reach his true self? His problems.

The true self is situated within us, sleepy, submerged, covered; each of us having its own current level of submerging and sleepiness. Day by day, when we practice it continues to rise into the surface, as if you are starting to wake up from a deep sleep. It is as if we are sleeping all the time; drowsed. We live but our true self is sunk deep down because of so many holdups. Without practice, focusing, and concentration you would not notice the problems, and you will never reach your true self.

It is not at all a search for riddles in reality; it is not the case of searching problems to be solved. The appearing of your Koan in your life today depends on your level of your current development and on the continuity of your practice. The Zen man or woman does not leave traces. There is no need to add or subtract anything from what was said or done at that moment. His movements are so complete and perfect, suitable to the situation. The thoughts are economical, perfect, and continuous. The Zen woman and man are very close to perfection, and that's why they don't leave traces. Form without form is the wisdom. In Zen, everything is happening inside; there are no forms, no technique, only internal work and stillness of the mind (Fudo).

The teacher sees you objectively. It is hard for the student to see himself. The Zen student sees him or her self through the teacher, and also through other trainees in the Zen Dojo. Those who start to see themselves are very advanced in their quest for reaching the true self. When the students start to understand and see themselves, they know what must be improved and they improve themselves accordingly. Knowing what has to be removed, and where exactly they should be more efficient and effective. In most cases, a beginner Zen student does not see his Koan and does not discover it!  She or he must develop and advance through day by day practice; everyday, more and more, without stop, without falling into despair. That's why your personal practice and the training sessions in the Dojo are so important.

When our Koan appears we become more objective, less dependent, we find more connections between things and events around us. We can be more objective in our life, in combat, and in our practice because we understand more what is right and correct and what is not in a given situation, what we must do, and what we should not do. We do less wasteful and redundant movements.

The appearing of our Koan in daily life, does not only reflect our level of development and maturing in practice, but also assists us in advancing and developing more. We are so benefited because our ability to observe our weakness points and to notice our non-accurate or uncorrected movements and deeds is developing too. We are free to see the true.

It is essential to note that when a Koan appears in your life, you do not get stuck with it. When we practice the way of the Soto Zen, we do not detained or being delayed by Koans. Time passes swiftly, and we already encounter with something new. The new moment already appeared. Everyday brings its innovations, and includes its problems. The Zen student must overcome and pass his or her obstacles, and advance until reaching satori. Even after satori, you continue to practice Zazen everyday.