Posts tagged ‘ancestors’

Do you remember learning how to read? Most people are taught the letters of the alphabet and are told that these letters can form sounds. But this is a new way of thinking, and it takes time to adjust to it. For most people, the next step, recognizing words and sounds, is a breakthrough. Suddenly, the marks on the page make sense. They can read.

According to Zen Buddhism, enlightenment also calls for a new way of thinking. We are used to solving problems using reason. But enlightenment isn’t reasonable. So Zen uses unreasonable ways of teaching to help students reach enlightenment.

One unreasonable teaching method is the use of koans. These are problems, but problems that rational thinking can’t solve. In order to find an answer to a koan, the student must think in a different way. One koan asks, “What was the appearance of your face before your ancestors were born?”


How do you think it would feel to be given problems like this one to solve? Try to imagine your reaction to solving koans. Describe your reaction.

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