Natural Koans

Working with disowned voices to turn our light inward and illuminate the self


Student:  It seems like what you’ve done with the way you do these disowned voices is you’ve found a way to really unlock the beginner’s mind, the not-knowing and the beginner’s mind.

That’s right.  And a koan.  It becomes a koan.  Instead of traditional koans, we can also do a koan by saying, ‘OK what’s the opposite, or what’s disowned?’  I mean, if you ask to speak to an emotion, like anger, everybody knows what anger is.  But when you say anger disowned, well, wait a minute.  And then you go, OK now we’ve owned anger and we know what anger is, so let me speak to the opposite of anger, but disowned.  ‘What am I?’

And that’s a natural koan, a real koan.  What am I?  If I’m not anger, what am I?  If I’m not anger, and I’m disowned, what the hell am I?  Am I calm?  Tranquil?  What am I?  And that gets the mind working by turning it inward. 

And the whole point of meditation – not the whole point, but a big point of meditation – is to turn our own light inward.  Because normally our light is projected out.  Normally our consciousness and everything is projected out there, and we see the world out there in this way we see the world.  But rarely do we turn it in on itself, turn the mind in on itself and illuminate the self.

When we turn the light inward, it’s like a jack o’ lantern, or a pumpkin.  We put the light inside the pumpkin, it lights up the pumpkin from inside.  When the light is going out like a torch, like a flashlight, it doesn’t light up the pumpkin.  So we turn the light inward, and we illuminate the self.

So the trick is, how do you get people to turn their light inward?  It’s not so easy, because we’re very conditioned – and this is the habitual pattern – to only go out, and we don’t look in.  We never ask who’s feeling these sensations?  Who’s thinking these thoughts?  Who’s perceiving these things?  We don’t ask that question, because the moment I start to ask ‘Who’s hearing these sounds?’ I don’t know.  There’s hearing, but I can’t find a guy, can’t find the guy that’s hearing them.  And I know there’s hearing, there’s the act of hearing, the process of hearing it, but who’s there?’  Well it turns out I can’t find that.  He’s ungraspable.  Same thing with all the others.

That brings about illumination.

This is an excerpt, recorded live, from a retreat led by Genpo Roshi in December 2016.

3 thoughts on “Natural Koans”

  1. This appears to be one of the, if not THE major questions that arises in looking into the matter of what is our True Nature. For most of us, it seems that when we ask the question, Who am I? or What am I? or What is it that is observing, looking, hearing, etc, that it feels like whatever that is feels like it is behind us. That is, the observer wants to look inward and it feels like to do this one has to “turn around and look inward”. The problem is, however, when one turns around in one’s mind to look at what may be the observer, one is still conditioned to feel that looking inward that we have turned around and whatever it is that is observing is still behind us.

    At this juncture one may consider the possibility that this endless turning around to try to look within at what feels like it is behind us is just an image we are projecting. This seems to be what is happening. We may even get a little bit dizzy, or simply hit a wall which we label as “don’t know” or merely give up in defeat.

    There is also another question which may be worth noting, Why are we asking “Who am I? What is it that is seeing, observing?” etc. etc. Are we asking because someone else has posed the question, or some authority or some book, tradition or whatever has stimulated us to seek the solution because we are looking to some outside source to enlighten us and from the second hand information we inherit we think that maybe this is something we should do in order to attain some kind of breakthrough or experience or to become liberated.

    In any case, what Roshi may be suggesting is that we consider “What is the seeking mind?”, “What is the seeking mind disowned?” , shifting to “What is the non-seeking mind?” From there a dawning of the Apex may also reveal a sense of the implied wholeness.

    If I am hearing what Roshi points to in what he is saying above, it appears he is saying to us that one might consider as well “What is the non-seeking mind disowned?”, not because he is Roshi and says so, but rather he is moved to encourage us to see if we have the seriousness, or the energy and sensitivity to appreciate the beauty in what he is describing and pointing out to us that this plain, transparent and factual sane form of inquiring into the reality of ourselves and what we actually are as well as what we may possibly discover for ourselves to be the underlying Truth of our human condition, not as a concept but rather the same thing that koan study is pointing to in all its dynamism and ordinariness.

    Obviously I am only interpreting what I think he is saying, which is already moving away from the value of it, but keeping that in mind, it does appear to me to be a noteworthy and striking thing he is compassionately and generously communicating.

    It leaves me even more uncertain than I was before I listened to what he has pointed out. For that I’m very grateful to Genpo Roshi.


  2. There is such a liberating sensation whenever I sit and ponder on this aspect. The more I learn about the self, non -self and all the voices, the more I feel this sense of perfection in the moment. Thank you for this gift.


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