I sit here looking out at a snowy spring morning and think of all the changes that have taken place in my life over the winter. New understandings, new intentions, new ways of taking my seat. Each of them seeds that all seem to be sprouting over the last month, laying dormant through the cold and preparing themselves to come into being as the warm days lengthen. This reflection ties in, as it often does, with practice. It struck me that this winter’s process of clarifying situations and preparing for new adventures that are now beginning is much like the seeds and fruit of the path. 

The sudden seeds of faith and understanding. The gradual harvesting of the fruit of practice and realization. These are the right and left feet that walk the path. The natural ebb and flow of the cycle of life. 

While there are many ways that this has been expressed in the dharma over the millennia, this pairing has always been at the core of the yogi’s spiritual work. As one very basic example, classical Buddhism starts the process of liberation by releasing belief in a personality and skepticism of the buddha-dharma’s validity as a prerequisite to practice. This is faith and understanding followed by practicing it in our lives. 

This is the same way that the Mondo Zen Koan Practice begins. The introduction is establishing our correct understanding, hopefully persuasively enough for us to really take on a new view. This new view can be summarized by the statement on page 4.

Because our ego is a wholly-conditioned process and not a fixed entity,  it can and must be reconditioned to become liberated. 

Even if we believe this completely from the very moment we hear it, it must still be grounded in our own realization. This is the reason to engage in the koan work that follows, and the koan process’ efficacy is correlated to the completeness of this shift in view. Having taken on this new view, we start with the injunction to “Listen.” This “listening” is turning the light in on itself or “going against the flow and returning to the source.”  The practice of “just listening” is a vehicle that can take us straight to the experience that we suddenly awakened to – that “our ego is a wholly-conditioned process and not a fixed entity, it can and must be reconditioned to become liberated.”

So many of us cannot “listen” this deeply early on in our practice. In the “old ways” this would remain the sole practice until we “passed the barrier,” only then would we be allowed to move on to the next step of the training. Each subsequent step bringing this awakening even more into our lives. While this is true in the Mondo Zen process, we take a different approach and continue on in the process “provisionally.” This way we can slowly step into increasingly dualistic and gradual forms of practice that allow us to chip away at the obstructions keeping us from simply realizing the deeper truth. Perhaps finding a place where we do step into a new “Ah ha!” shift of faith and understanding.

Eventually, we end up at the emotional koan. Having arrived at it through “passing” each koan and reconstructing our ego from the depth of the awakened perspective, it is an immediate and powerful tool for rapidly changing how we live our lives. Having come to it provisionally, taking each koan before on “faith” or with a “partial” insight, it is a powerful tool for establishing ourselves in the foundations of mindfulness and gradually changing our conditioning to support a “deeper” awakening the next time through the process. 

What is most essential is to take on the constant inquiry of life – How do I understand this? Is this understanding skillful? What is the deeper information here? How must I show up now and in every moment going forward? Suddenly, our understanding deepens, as does our faith in ourselves to live in accordance with the deeper truth. Gradually, we practice according to this understanding and eventually realize liberation from suffering in our lives. 

Each moment holds all the seasons, with every second bringing the opportunity to suddenly awaken to a new truth and actualize it through our body, speech and mind. We are never stuck, never limited, when we rest in the pure potential of “not knowing.” 

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