It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Matsuyama, the head monk at Taizō-in Temple.
Have you heard of “zenmondō”? More officially, it is also called “kōan."

I am going to throw a few questions your way. These are all questions instructors ask trainees in the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

For example,
“I clapped with both hands, but how would it sound with one hand?”
“Do dogs have the heart of Buddha?”
“How old is Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha?”

Pick one of these questions, pause the guide, and think about it. A few answers should come to mind. Some may think that these questions in zenmondō have no correct answers, but actually, they do.

Have you come up with anything? Unfortunately, we won’t be going over the answers here as that would be against the teachings of the Rinzai sect, which forbids us from speaking of this. Even during training, instructors can only say whether a student is correct or not. Actually, in the Rinzai sect, there is no “answering” per se, but only “devising.”

So, what do you think? Frustrating, right? But that’s training.
Zenmondō, this sort of questioning from master to student, is said to have begun with the historical Buddha Shakyamuni’s questions to his disciples. For example, one sermon tells of a story in which a student asked Shakyamuni if heaven exists. To this, Shakyamuni kept his mouth shut, indicating that he could not answer because he simply did not know.

In Zen Buddhism, everything we do or experience, is done with diligence. Eating is training; cleaning is training; even going to the bathroom and thinking counts as training. Zazen meditation and zenmondō are just clear manifestations of training. But, why is it that we are so diligent about what we do and experience?

I’ll explain this in a moment, but first, I’d like you to experience something.

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