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Lions Roar : March 2016
THE KOAN: The coin lost in the river is found in the river. A koan is a little healing story, a con- versation, an image, a fragment of a song. It’s something to keep you company, whatever you are doing. There’s a tradi- tion of koan study to transform your heart and the way you move in the world. The path is about learning to love this life, the one you have. Then it’s easy to love others, which is the other thing a practice is about. Koans don’t really explain things. Instead, they show you something by opening a gate. You walk through, and you take the ride. Before anything is explained, there is the sky, the earth, redwood forests, pelicans, rivers, rats, the city of San Francisco. And you are part of all that. We’re all part of that. In the land of koans, you see that everything that happens in your life is for you. There is no one else it can be for. Your life counts. It’s familiar to reach for things you already know about, and meditation means stepping beyond that. It’s not training your mind because that is some- thing you already know about. What’s required is more strange and also less effort; it’s outside of easy or hard, yester- day or tomorrow. You might think meditation is dif- ficult—that your job as a meditator is to change your mind about reality and see through your illusions. But the ambition to improve your state of mind is part of the consciousness that finds fault with itself and lives in pain. With a koan it’s different. You just JOHN TARRANT, ROSHI, directs the Pa- cific Zen Institute, writes the online koan course Zenosaurus, and publishes the new online Zen magazine Uncertainty Club. keep company with the koan, and it draws your attention to something you already have but might not have valued. Reality is on your side. There are many koans. If you have heard of a koan and it stayed with you, you can try that one out. It can be like an ear worm—it seizes you and won’t go away. In this way, a koan can choose you. It is for you the way your life is for you. No one else’s opinion really counts. If no koan has already grabbed hold of you, here’s one to try: The coin lost in the river is found in the river. How do you work with this koan? 1. FIRST OF ALL, DON’T TRY TOO HARD. Just repeat the words of the koan to your- self a bit. The coin that’s lost in the river is found in the river. You are joining a timeless conversation and you are forming a relationship with the koan, so you can let all that happen without worrying about it. ILLUSTRATIONSBYTOMIUM HOW TO PRACTICE Zen Koans JOHN TARRANT demystifies Zen koan practice. Yes, it’s paradoxical, poetic, and totally personal. And so is life. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 31 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE