Inside The Heart of Zen: 13 Koans (And Their Answers) to Awaken Your Deepest Heart and Mind
Jun Po Kelly Roshi and Ken Wilber
Jun Po Kelly Roshi talks to Ken Wilber about his upcoming book, The Heart of Zen, co-written with Keith Martin-Smith. Listen as Jun Po and Ken explore the 13 koans of Mondo Zen—and then give you the answers to each of them!
In the Zen tradition, koans are questions or statements offered by teachers to students to guide meditation practice—contemplative riddles that often employ paradox and contradiction to seize up the gearworks of the rational mind, opening the student to trans-rational illumination and invoking a deeper experience of the nonduality of subject and object. Traditionally the teacher offers the student one koan at a time, and the student then meditates on the koan for weeks, months, or even years until a suitable answer finally arrives. The student brings that answer back to the teacher, who then either rejects or confirms the response depending on whether it comes from a clever intellect or from a truly embodied understanding of nondual wisdom.
Koan practice is a powerful methodology for transmitting transcendent states of consciousness, as well as for gauging an individual's familiarity with these states. It has been an important part of the Zen tradition for nearly a thousand years, and remains a central pillar in Jun Po Kelly Roshi's Mondo Zen training, though he has made some significant updates to the practice in order to make it more suitable for the modern and postmodern world.
For one, Jun Po has formulated an entirely new set of koans. Whereas traditional koans are often too rooted in agrarian Japanese culture to be useful to today's Western practitioners, the koans found in Mondo Zen are crafted with a renewed emphasis on simplicity, accessibility, and cultural compatibility.
Secondly, and even more boldly, Jun Po actually tells you the answers to these koans up front. How could he do this? Doesn't this undercut the true power of the practice? Aren't we supposed to not actually know the answer until the insight arrives? And isn't pointing to this radical not knowing sort of the point of the koan practice in the first place?
But these are new koans for a new era—an information-driven era in which the "answers" to the classic koans are just a Google search away. Ultimately, the words we use to answer the koans are far less important than being able to demonstrate the direct interior understanding these words represent. Repeating the signifiers does nothing to prove any genuine understanding of the signified: you can memorize a thousand names for God and never actually experience for yourself the infinitely vast, silent, and imperturbable presence behind all things.
So Jun Po's approach is to give you the homework, the cheat sheet, and the teacher's manual all at once. He asks you to meditate on both the question and the answer simultaneously, until both finally dissolve into the cloud of unknowing, the seamless absurdity of nondual recognition, and all that remains is the gentle weight of the sunlight pressing through your skin.
Pushing the essence of the Rinzai Zen tradition through the Integral framework, Jun Po is reinterpreting and reformatting ancient wisdom for today's world while retaining the fierce intensity and urgency of his Samurai precursors. He is sitting in the heart of the integral impulse, reconciling the ceaseless throb of evolution with the empty clarity behind this and every moment—the gentle but explosive sound of an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable subject.