Koan Practice


For those of you who've never heard of a koan, a koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle. Used often in select schools of Zen practice, a koan is intended to demonstrate how logical reasoning can sometimes be inadequate. It can demonstrate, too, how bypassing logical reasoning can bring about illumination.

Most of us in the west rely so much on logical reasoning that we often miss the deeper truths that must be felt (or experienced) outside of rational understanding. At times, the Ways of God can appear irrational. I don't believe they are, but to live them out requires an approach that, at times, bypasses our typical logical reasoning. In such instances, our logical approach can become a stumbling block to genuine illumination and to the transformation such illumination is intended to create.

In my life, I devote considerable time to "sitting (both physically and emotionally)" with biblical koans. Here's one I'm sitting with right now (and have been for some time):

Gal 2:19b (NIV): "...it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me..."

Rationally and logically, the above verse is very difficult to absorb.

What do you mean "it is no longer I who live"? I'm alive, and I'm still me; how is it not me? How can it be Christ and not me who's living in me when it's clearly me who's doing the living?

Those are some fabulous questions. The problem? Such questions will most likely get you nowhere. The reason? They come from the rational faculty.

To absorb what the Apostle Paul wrote, you must sit with the words—perhaps for a very long time. I've been sitting with the above verse for years, and I feel differently (in my body and mind) as a result. Can I explain why I feel differently? No. I just feel differently; and because I feel differently, it's probably because I am different. I just have no way of quantifying it. (And that just may be part of the point.) Mathematically, it's possible to describe a sunset; but would such a scientific description ever capture adequately the essence of such an event? Probably not.

Rather than just paying lip service to koan practice ("Yeah, that all sounds kind of cool, Dave. Especially for those who have a lot of time on their hands."), work at it instead. Pick a verse of Scripture, perhaps something Jesus said that makes little sense to you or makes you feel uncomfortable, and sit with it. Not in an analytical way, but in a way similar to how you might sit with (and listen to) a friend who's going through a really difficult time. Often the Word of God is like a hurting or misunderstood friend: it wants to be heard, felt, and experienced, not analyzed or even applied practically. Another verse I'm sitting with right now comes from Jesus in Mt 16:25 (DLNT): "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." Hmmm...to save my life, I must lose it? And do it for Christ's sake? Now that's something to sit with for a while.

I hope you take me up on this challenge. If you do, please let me know (in a year or two) how it's going.

Peace...

 

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The Life You Were Born to Live