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Koans, Realization, Enlightenment and Happiness
on November 3, 2012
Koans are gateways for a Zen practitioner to realize Buddha nature. John Tarrant's book is a pleasant introduction to some of the "Greatest Hits" of Koans, adding one new one of Australian aboriginal origin. (Tarrant is a Tasmanian.)
The form of realization that Tarrant focuses on is the one-ness of all things. Over and over he describes the experience of realization as perceiving all things as glowing with presence and meaning, accompanied by the feeling of certainty that you are all things and that all things are you. He makes it seem as if that specific experience - should you ever get there - is the end of suffering, the beginning of the potential for true happiness.
The initial Kensho (realization) experience is, in general, a shallow one. If you place too much emphasis on it and get stuck in the initial experience of one-ness there's a "zen stink" associated with that condition. It takes years to internalize and broaden the initial realization to the point where you can be called "realized". Even a long-ripened realization can be seriously incomplete. Tarrant and also Yasutani roshi, Eido Shimano roshi, Genpo Merzel roshi (among many others) are cases in point that being realized - even deeply realized - doesn't necessarily make you a good person, a happy person, a smart person, a compassionate person, or someone who does not suffer or cause others significant suffering.
John Tarrant broke with Aitken roshi's Diamond Sangha in 1999 due to a well-publicized dispute about unethical behavior. Readers of this book should learn more about that split to understand who Tarrant is in the Zen world. See the link to a PDF on Matthew T. Ciolek's Web page entitled "Sanbo-Kyodan: Harada-Yasutani School of Zen Buddhism References & Footnotes number 001-200" in footnote 74 ('Diamond Sangha Teachers Circle Open Letter to John Tarrant', dated 16 Dec 1999 and signed by Robert Aitken, Augusto Alcalde, Subhana Barzaghi, Gillian Coote, Jack Duffy, Nelson Foster, Pat Hawk, Danan Henry, Michael Kieran, Leonard Marcel, and Marian Morgan. Reprinted in: 'Sydney Zen Centre Newsletter', Feb-Mar 2000, pp. 4-5).
Still, the book is well-written and a good read. It reflects Tarrant's expertise as a psychologist with a Jungian orientation.