nem wrote:My impression from reading many of the Pali suttas, that apart from having heard the Bhudda explain the Dhamma in person with his particular knowledge and skill in teaching, enlightenment is a gradual progression from practicing the path and using the jhanas or insight meditation along with practice in your daily life to realize the truths and penetrate them, internalize or become one with them, and not to something that would dawn on you from a koan for example unless you have already practiced to destroy the taints and had already developed through practice to that point.
What is the understanding of the people who use koans? To use the koan to launch out into the realm of neither perception or non-perception from some near Jhana.
If you have a genuine interest in understanding a little of the koan practice, there is the following introduction to Victor Sogen Hori's Zen Sand (it's legal!):http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/publications/nlarc/pdf/Zen%20Sand/Zen%20Sand%20%28Introduction%29.pdf
I will quote a bit from it, if I may:
To begin with, like all Buddhist practices, Rinzai kõan practice is religious in nature. This point seems to be forgotten in current accounts. Popular descriptions
of the kõan as “riddles” or “paradoxes” make it seem as if the Zen practitioner is interested in little more than the solving of intellectual puzzles. Those interested in
enhancing the spontaneity of athletic or artistic performance tend to focus on Zen as a training technique for attaining a state of consciousness in which “the dancer is one
with the dance” (Gallwey 1974, Sudnow 1978). Scholars who study Zen as a language game give the impression that the practitioner is basically learning a new set of rules for language (Sellman 1979, Wright 1992). Others insist that the notion of religious experience (Proudfoot 1985) or Zen experience (Sharf 1995a, 1995b) is a concept manufactured and manipulated for ideological reasons, depicting the practitioner as primarily engaged in some form or other of cultural politics. Critics who suggest that the kõan is a form of “scriptural exegesis” (Sharf 1995a, 108) give the impression that the Zen kõan practice differs little from scholarship in general. These kinds of interpretations of Zen practice are misleading at best. The kõan practice is first and foremost a religious practice, undertaken primarily not in order to solve a riddle, not to perfect the spontaneous performance of some skill, not to learn a new form of linguistic expression, not to play cultural politics, and not to carry on scholarship. Such ingredients may certainly be involved, but they are always subservient to the traditional Buddhist goals of awakened wisdom and selμess compassion. In saying this, I am making a normative statement, not a description of fact. The fact is, in most Rinzai monasteries today, many of the monks engage in meditation and kõan practice for a mere two or three years in order to qualify for the status
of jðshoku W4 (resident priest), which will allow them to assume the role of a temple priest. For many of them, engagement with the kõan may indeed consist in little
more than the practice of solving riddles and learning a ritualized language, a fraction of the full practice. In the full practice the Zen practitioner must bring to the
engagement the three necessities of the Great Root of Faith, the Great Ball of Doubt,and the Great Overpowering Will (daishinkon Ø=Í, daigidan Ø”ê, daifunshi Øcƒ).4 The kõan is an arti³cial problem given by a teacher to a student with the aim of precipitating a genuine religious crisis that involves all the human faculties— intellect, emotion, and will.
At ³first, one’s efforts and attention are focused on the kõan. When it cannot be solved (one soon learns that there is no simple “right answer”), doubt sets in. Ordinary
doubt is directed at some external object such as the kõan itself or the teacher, but when it has been directed back to oneself, it is transformed into Great Doubt. To
carry on relentlessly this act of self-doubt, one needs the Great Root of Faith. Ordinarily, faith and doubt are related to one another in inverse proportion: where faith
is strong, doubt is weak; and vice versa. But in Zen practice, the greater the doubt, the greater the faith. Great Faith and Great Doubt are two aspects of the same mind of
awakening (bodaishin ¬Ø). The Great Overpowering Will is needed to surmount all obstacles along the way. Since doubt is focused on oneself, no matter how strong, wily, and resourceful one is in facing the opponent, that opponent (oneself) is always just as strong, wily, and resourceful in resisting. When self-doubt has grown to the
point that one is totally consumed by it, the usual operations of mind cease. The mind of total self-doubt no longer classi³es intellectually, no longer arises in anger or
sorrow, no longer exerts itself as will and ego. This is the state that Hakuin described as akin to being frozen in a great crystal: Suddenly a great doubt manifested itself before me. It was as though I were frozen solid in the midst of an ice sheet extending tens of thousands of miles. A purity filled my breast and I could neither go forward nor retreat. To all intents and purposes I was out of my mind and the Mu alone remained. Although I sat in the Lecture Hall and listened to the Master’s lecture, it was as though I were hearing
from a distance outside the hall. At times, I felt as though I were μoating through the air. (Orategama iii, Yampolsky 1971, 118)
In this state, Hakuin happened one day to hear the temple bell ring. At that moment the ice shattered and he was thrust back into the world. In this experience, called the
Great Death (daishi ichiban Ø‘sŸ), the self in self-doubt is ³nally extinguished and the Great Doubt is transformed into Great Awakening. As Ta-hui says, “Beneath
the Great Doubt, always there is a Great Awakening Ø”î4×ÀØ;.”5 Kenshõ, the experience of awakening, is more than merely the state of concentrated
sam„dhi. When the Great Doubt has totally taken over the self, there is no more distinction between self and other, subject and object. There is no more differentiation,
no more attachment. This is merely sam„dhi and not kenshõ. Kenshõ is not the self’s withdrawal from the conventional world, but rather the selμess self breaking back
into the conventional world. It is only when this sam„dhi has been shattered that a new self arises. This self returns and again sees the things of the world as objects, but
now as empty objects; it again thinks in differentiated categories and feels attachment, but now with insight into their emptiness.
Again, I am speaking in normative terms. The particular aspects of Zen kõan practice on which scholars have concentrated their attentions—its nondual epistemology,
its ritual and performance, its language, its politics—are aspects. They are facets of a practice whose fundamental core is a religious practice.