9. Zen Koans

Zen literature is unique. It consists, in the main, not of talks or textual homilies but of encounter dialogs between Zen adepts challenging one another to discern the main point of the teachings as it manifests right now, on the spot, in the midst of things. The Zen koan literature is a record of such encounter dialogs.

In Everyday Zen we understand this literature as literature: stories meant to convey spiritual meaning. It is not part of our tradition to work with koans in the formalized style that has been popularized in Zen books and is used today by some Zen lineages. This method involves a step-by-step koan curriculum, with answers presented by the student (usually in few words, or in pantomime) in the interview room during retreats. Rather, we read, contemplate, and discuss koans, with the recognition that discursive meanings cannot do full justice to them.

Our effort is to let them seep into our bones, to live them. As you see, the Everyday Zen Study Guide contextualizes the koan literature in the larger framework of the whole of Buddhist thought, and within the understanding of Dōgen and Suzuki roshi. Zoketsu has for years been working on a way of speaking of and working with koans that honors our intelligence and understanding, and the problems of our daily lives, while at the same time not selling short the need to meditate on and spiritually penetrate this great religious literature.

Study Guide

Please note: we are currently the process of editing and properly categorizing our teachings library. The teachings will become available here in the study guide as soon as they’re ready, please check back soon.

1. The Gateless Barrier | The Wu-Men Kuan (Mumonkan)

By Robert Aitken | 1991 | North Point Press | ISBN 0865474427

Zen teacher Robert Aitken’s thorough-going translation of and commentary on the 48 koans of the Mumonkan.

2. The Blue Cliff Record

By Thomas and J.C. Cleary | 2005 | Shambhala | ISBN 159030232X

Translation (with traditional commentary) of 100 koans.

3. The Book of Equanimity

By Gerry Shishin Wick | 2005 | Wisdom Publications | ISBN 0861713877

New translation of Book of Serenity, with good comments by a contemporary American Zen teacher.


4. The Book of Serenity: One Hundred Zen Dialogues

Thomas Cleary, translator | 2005 | ISBN 1590302494

Translation (with traditional commentary) of 100 koans.
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