Life is a Kongan

Q: Can you talk a little bit about life kong-an’s?
Zen Master Bon Haeng: What is your life?
Q: Just to be here right now.
ZMBH: No thank you. That’s your explanation, not your life kong-an. The fact of the matter is that the real life kong-ans are oftentimes too intense. So we start small, we start with an interview. We start with a situation where we can let our spontaneous nature appear; then we can see if there is a connection – see if a mind to- mind connection takes place. Working with life kongans can be like getting dropped into the NFL- we get banged around pretty hard! Interview is like pee-wee football. It’s just a chance to get a sense for letting go, a sense for opening up to an experience. Some of the kong-ans are 1000 – 1500 years old. For example, Joju was asked about a bridge: “What is the meaning of this bridge?” He answered, “Horses pass, asses pass.” That’s an old kong-an. We might say, “Mercedes pass, Volkswagons pass.” But the quality of the teaching is the same, and the human mind is very similar. Can we open up to the kong-an, and in so doing, can we loosen up a little bit to the experience of now and have that be okay? Can we be comfortable in our skin-bag – comfortable in our not-knowing? The kong-ans are simply a tool for that. Some people get frustrated with them. I can assure you, if you get frustrated with kong-ans, you also get frustrated with your life. Some people are afraid to go into the interview room. The fact of the matter is, if you have fear going into the interview room, you also have fear in your everyday life. So why not address it? Why not experience it, so that it can dissipate. As long as we’re chasing what we like and trying to avoid what we don’t like, then in fact the things that we’re chasing and avoiding are controlling our life. So we sit without pushing away or clinging to. That’s our practice.

When we practice, we sit – we sit still, and we accept. Accepting without judgment means that the energy is here, in our abdomen. We’re not trying to control the universe with our head. There’s a simple reason for that: we can’t. It’s like saying, “I’m never going to die.” Well, we are. We cannot control the universe. We can’t control the universe because –and this is really intriguing- we can’t be separate from the universe. It’s not like we’re sitting here going, “Oh yeah, there’s the universe going on over there, I’m just going to fix this and adjust that.” We are the universe! We can’t be separate. Zen Master Seung Sahn was asked about death and said, “This body, this human existence, is life and death!” It’s not something that is out there. It is it. And each one of us is living it, moment by moment. That’s incredibly beautiful! Dying time comes, die! Eating time comes, eat! Shitting time comes, shit! The point is, for each one of us, what are we doing with our life? How are we going to address it, what are we going to do with it? It’s funny, it’s ridiculous, it’s sad, it’s absurd, it’s terrifying- if we get hooked by it with our thinking. But when we really address the question: “What am I??? Don’t know…” then we return to before thinking. Then our situation is clear, our function is clear, our job is clear.
That’s all we can do.

By Zen Master Bon Haeng (Mark Houghton)
From Providence Zen Center Newsletter April 2011

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