Although koans are often perceived as riddles designed to unlock our ego-centric consciousness and propel us into hitherto unknown experiences of “no-self” or “oneness,” their actual function in practice may be to compel us to understand and engage the deep psychological dualisms or conflicts within ourselves. The spiritual longing for “not-self” often masks a desire to uproot the “not-me,” all of the dissociated or split-off aspects of myself—my vulnerability, dependency, sexuality, mortality—that can be sources of shame and self-hate. Dharma practice, rather than leading to the mastery over our minds we all secretly crave, requires us to face those aspects of our self that we probably came to practice, in the first place, to escape. Through the vivid imagery and emotionally evocative metaphor of traditional Zen koans, along with guidance in the meditative art of shikantaza, “just sitting,” we will experience how these practices can illuminate the splits in our own psyche, and ultimately return us to a fuller engagement with the whole of ourselves, a wholeness far greater and more encompassing than we ever imagined.
To understand that practice is fundamentally not about self-improvement, progress, or mastery but rather a request to deeply engage with ourselves as we are, and life as it actually is; cultivate one's practice as one of sitting in the fire of spiritual, psychological and ordinary dukkha; and discover wholeness and freedom as we are.
Suitable for both beginning and experienced practitioners