Zen Koan Practice


Kyogen’s Man Up A Tree

I was stuck on this koan for 3 years. I would present my answer to the Zen Master and he would shake his head and yell; “No good. Go sit more practice. The answer will come to you.”

I sat and sat and sat and tried my answers on different teachers. Different Zen Centers. Sometimes one teacher will pass you on a koan and another will shake his head in disgust. I would think, these guys really need to get together to work out their answers.

I presented my answer to this koan to one teacher after I had been working on it for a year and I began my answer like this; Well…….

He refused to even look at me when he rang a bell and yelled out for the next Zen Student to come. He yelled, ‘NEXT” and I was dismissed. I had thought out my answer for a week. I had it prepared. I was excited and knew beyond a doubt that I had the answer. And he yelled NEXT after I only uttered one word. I was crushed. I came close to hitting this Zen Master. I was furious, but I put my tail between my legs and let the next student enter the room.

It took me 3 years to answer this koan. Some people chew on a koan for 5, 10 years or more. A koan can shatter your mind, which is exactly what they’re designed to do.

The funny part of this story is that I had given the correct answer a month after the Zen Master had given me this koan, but I didn’t believe in myself. The Zen Master would yell, “No Good” and I’d believe him. I would believe him!! I would believe that ‘HE’ held the key to my mind. I believed ‘HE’ knew the answer to this stupid puzzle.  It took me three years to come full circle and stand firm in myself. To stand against the great and powerful OZ!! If I had gone ahead and hit the Zen Master who had rejected me so quickly, he might have said, “Ahhh…very good answer!!”

I see this koan played out every day. The friend who rejected me, the employer who wouldn’t hire me, someone thinks I’m ugly, dumb, old, I get flipped off while driving, and on and on. This world will literally drive me insane if I believe everyone has the answer I need.


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