#Rinzai Zen: 臨済宗, face-already-school

Yesterday night I came across this passage while playing The Witness and I thought I’d share it. Oriental culture and philosophy often open doors taking to paths worth exploring…

Two major schools of Zen exist in Japan: the Rinzai and the Soto. Both have the same goal, of seeing the world unmediated, but their approaches are different. In the Soto school, the emphasis is on quiet contemplation in a seated position (zazen) without a particular focus for thought. The method in the Rinzai school, however, is to put the intellect to work on problems that have no logical resolution. Such problems are known as koans, from the Chinese kung-an meaning "public announcement." Some are mere questions, for example: "When your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born?" Others are set in a question-and-answer (mondo) form, like: "What is the Buddha?" Answer: "Three pounds of flax" or "The cypress tree in the courtyard" (to name but two of the classic responses). According to tradition there are seventeen hundred such conundrums in the Zen repertoire. And their common aim is to induce a kind of intellectual catastrophe, a sudden jump which lifts the individual out of the domain of words and reason into a direct, nonmediated experience known as satori.

Zen differs from other meditative forms, including other schools of Buddhism, in that it does not start from where we are and gradually lead us to a clear view of the true way of the world. The sole purpose of studying Zen is to have Zen experiences — sudden moments, like flashes of lightning, when the intellect is short-circuited and there is no longer a barrier between the experiencer and reality. Sometimes its methods can seem bizarre and even startling. To catch the flavor, if a Zen master found you reading this book he might grab it from you and hit you over the head with it, saying: "Here's something else for you to think about!" Such shock tactics, however, are intended not to offend but rather to wake us up from our normal symbol-bound frame of mind.

Zen may seem chaotic and irrational (often unfuriatingly so!). Yet traditionally it is pursued and imparted in a highly formal, doctrinal way. Students at a Japanese Rinzai monastery must abide by strict rules and follow a precisely prescribed path of development, involving regular periods of meditation and private interviews with the Zen master (roshi), in which koans are given and discussed. When the student attains, in the master's judgment, the correct insight into a koan, he or she will be given a new koan designed to open up a further appreciation of the