The 48 Mummonkan Koans
Koans Questions - Koan Answers
"Person without an "I"
The Chinese Master Wumen Huikai (Jap. Mummon) in 13th century collected 48 short riddles, most Zen student have to answer until today.
You'll find a list of these riddles
, called "Koans", at the right hand side further down the page. Just click on some of them to see the answer!
The Koans are strange. Their questions
are quite tricky and the answers
it seems, are hardly related to the Koan.
The trick is not to ponder about the Koan, but about yourself. "Who are you?" is the universal questions of all Koans.
Stupid question. You are you, aren't you?
But in Zen you are the "Person", that calls itself "I"
This distinction between "Person" and "I" seems unnessary, but helps to deal with Koans in "Zen's World".
It's a the bedrock of "reality" where only the "real" things exist.
The most ancient Zen-Koans
already need the "Person" you are to solve a Koan in Zen's World. Try.
Find more information about Mummon's Koans, Person 'I' and Zen's World in the boxes below!
(If you wonder about the strange pictures on this page go to Box four.)
Box one: How Person "I" answers Koans
Wumen Huikai's Koan collection today is called "Mummonkan".
A first snippet of Person "I"
Most Koans, refer to the mystical past of China and to fictional biographies of Buddhist Masters in India and China.
At first glance these Koans seem to pick up Buddhist teachings and concepts. But theory is just a misguiding bait.
The proper response on Koans isn't discussion but intuitive action or reaction without thinking.
What does that exactly mean in Zen? To find out goto the Person that calls itself "I"
and follow the Person into "Zen's World".
To train your Zen abilities deal with some ancient Zen-Koans
While answering the 48 Koans of Wumen Huikai's riddle collection, never forget they're all about you, the "Person" you are.
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Box two: Person "I" is a Split Personality
From time to time most people will realize a certain split in their identity.
On one side there's me, my "hidden persona" nobody knows about nobody can feel and experience.
On the other side there's my normal, everyday "I" as well, the "I" my friends and relatives know.
Person "I" - first snippet added
That's nothing special, no exceptional condition or madness, just human nature: Humans are not one but (at least) two.
Not always though.
We are born as a tiny baby-Person, that adds many "snippets" of the world and "learns" to develop its individuality, to become "someone", an "I".
During this process the Person, baby once was, seems to fade away. But it doesn't.
It's very much needed, e.g. to react without thinking in an emergency, to create art or to simply fall asleep.
Dealing with Koans is similar to an emergency.
We are supposed to "answer" a Koan by acting as "Person": on the spot, creative, without thinking.
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The 48 Koans of Chan Master Wumen HuiKai (jap. "Mummonkan")
Click on a Koan to open its question and answer.
Click again to close.
1 Joshu's Dog
Has a dog Buddhanature or not? Joshu shout's MU!
2 Hyakujo's Fox
Does an enlightened person fall under the law of causation or not?
3 Gutei's Finger
Hyakujo said: "The enlightened person is one with the law of causation."
Howl like a little fox: juiiii juiii !
Master Gutei cut off a boy's finger.
Why was the boy enlightend, when Gutei called him and raised his finger?
4 Beardless Bodhidharma
"Ow, ow, my finger! Ow, ow, ow."
Why has Bodhidharma no beard?
5 Kyogen's Man in a Tree
Stroke your beard.
A man clinging on a tree branch with his teeth is asked:
Why did Bodhidharma from India to China?"
6 Buddha Twirls a Flower
Acting: Swinging like hanging from the tree. Falling down, dying.
Buddha twirled a flower. Only MahaKashyapa smiled. Why made him Buddha his successor?
7 Joshu's Wash your Bowl
Hold up a flower.
Monk: Please teach me! Joshu: Have you had your porridge? Monk: Yes master. Joshu: Wash your bowl!
8 Keichu's Wheel
Wash a dirty dish.
Keichu made a cart. Each wheel had 50 spokes. If you remove the wheels and every thing else. What does it tell about Keichu?
9 A Buddha before History
Drive a car. Toot, toot!
Asked, why Daitsu, a Buddha before history, didn't realize the truth, Seijo said: "Because he did not."
10 Seizei Alone and Poor
Get up, do something, work, dress.
Seizei said, I'm alone and poor. Master Sozan, please give me a donation!
Sozan shouted: Seizei! Seizei said: Yes, sir? "You drank lots of wine", Sozan said, "and pretend you had none!"
11 Joshu Examines two Hermits
"Hallo, where are you?"
Johu asked a hermit: What's up? The hermit raised his fist. Joshu said: "Schallow water!" and went to see a second hermit. What's up? The hermit raised his fist. "Fully enlightened!", Joshu said.
12 Zuigan Calls Himself Master
Raise your fist.
Zuigan called himself daily: "Master!" and answered himself: "Yes, Sir!" And added: "Awake, awake!" and answered: "Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir!" Said:
"Don't be decieved by others!" "Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir!"
13 Tokusan Holds His Bowl
Shout: "Master! Master!" and answer "Yes!"
Tokusan with his bowl went to dinner too early. A monk told Ganto about it and said: "Old Tokusan doesn't know the last word yet." What is the last word?
14 Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two
Nansen hold up a cat. "If anybody can say a word of Zen, you save the cat." Silence. Nansen cut the cat in two. Why placed Obaku his sandles on his head when he later heard about the cat?
15 Tozan's Three Blows
Cry like a dying cant, place your shoes on your head and go.
Tozen said to Ummon: "You should get three beatings, but I spare you." Next day Ummon asked: Why did spare three beatings? Ummon scolded him.
Why was Tozan suddenly enlightened?
16 Bells And Robes
Ow, ow, ow and wander around.
Unmon said, "The world is vast and wide.
Why do you put on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?"
17 The Three Calls Of The Emperor's Teacher
Put on a shirt.
Kokushi, called his attendant, Oshin, three times and three times Oshin answered, "Yes!" Kokushi said, "I thought I had deserted you, but in reality, you deserted me."
18 Tozan's Three Pounds of Flax
Shout and call yourself. Answering yourself: Yes, Sir!
A monk asked Tozan, "What is the Buddha?"
Tozan answered, "Masagin!" (Three pounds of flax) What does it mean?
19 Everyday Life Is The Path
Joshu asked Nansen, "What is the Way?" Nansen answered, "Your ordinary mind--that is the Way."
20 The Enlightened Man
Today I went the road from [name of a town] to [name of another town].
Shogen said,"Why is it that a man of strength cannot lift up his own legs?" He added: "It is not with our tongue that we speak."
21 Dried Dung
Go around and talk a bit.
A monk asked Ummon: "What is Buddha?"
Ummon answered him: "Dried dung."
22 Kashyapa's Preaching Sign
Ananda asked Kashyapa, "The Buddha gave you the golden robe; did he give you anything else?"
"Ananda!" cried Kashyapa. "Yes , Sir!" answered Ananda.
"Knock down the flagpole at the Gate," Kashyapa said.
23 Do Not Think Good, Do Not Think Not-Good
Call your self! Say: "Yes, Sir!"
Eno was pursued by Monk Emyo. Eno laid robe and bowl on a rock. Eno said: "Take it". But Emyo couldn't lift it.
Eno asked: What is the original face of monk Emyo?
24 Without Words, Without Silence
Run and sweat.
A monk asked Fuketsu: "Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?"
Fuketsu said: "I always remember spring-time and birds in southern China."
25 Kyozan Preaching in a Dream
Sing a little, like a bird.
In a dream Kyozan went to Maitreya's and was asked to preach. Kyozan hit the gavel and said: "The truth of Mahayana is above words and thought! Listen, listen!"
26 Two Monks Roll Up The Blinds
Hit with a hammer.
Hogen came and pointed to the blinds. Two monks rolled them up.
Why did Hogen say: "One has it, the other not."
27 It Is Not Mind, It Is Not Buddha, It Is Not Things
Just roll up a blind.
"Is there any teaching no master has ever preached before?" Nansen replied, "Yes, there is."
"What is it?" Nansen said, "It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things."
28 Blow Out The Candle
Push against: "this wall". Point to "that mountain", to "those trees".
Tokusan said:"it's dark".
Ryotan lit a candle and gave it to Toksan.
Why was Tokusan enlightened when Ryotan blew out the candle?
29 Not The Wind, Not The Flag
Blow out the candle.
"The wind is moving the temple flag", one monk said. The other said: "Just the flag is moving". Eno said: "Neither moves. Your mind is moving."
30 This Mind Is Buddha
Move like a flapping flag.
Daibai asked Baso: "What is Buddha?"
Baso said: "This mind is Buddha."
31 Joshu Investigates an Old Woman
Today I feel tired.
Asked for the way to Taizan an old woman always said, "Go straight ahead."
Joshu, investigating her, got the same answered.
Coming back, Joshu said: "I've investigated the woman for you."
32 A Philosopher Asks Buddha
A philosopher said to the Buddha:“I do not ask for words, I
do not ask for no-words.”
The Buddha just sat in silence. The phillosopher praised him, and left.
33 Baso's Not Mind, Not Buddha
Just sit in silence.
A monk asked Baso, "What is Buddha?"
Baso answered, "No mind, no Buddha."
34 Nansen's Knowledge is not The Way
I'm tired this morning.
Nansen said: "Mind is not Buddha. Knowledge is not the way."
35 Two Souls
I know it was raining yesterday.
Goso asked his monks, "Seijo's higher soul separated from her being. Which was the real Seijo?"
36 Meeting A Master On The Road
Hallo, nice to meet you.
Goso said, "When you meet a master, do not meet him with words or in silence. Tell me, how will you meet him?"
37 The Oak Tree In The Garden
Going and say: "good morning!"
A monk asked Joshu: What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming to China?"
Joshu said, "The oak tree in the front garden."
38 A Buffalo Passes Through The Window
Stand up and move like a tree.
Goso said, "A water buffalo passes through the window lattice; the head, horns, and four hoofs go past. Why can't the tail pass too?"
39 Ummon's Trapped in Words.
Wag your little finger like a tail.
"The brilliant light silently illuminates the whole univers and.."
Unmon interupted, "Aren't those the words of Choetsu the Genius?"
"Yes, they are", the monk answered.
Ummon said, "You are trapped in words!"
40 Tipping Over A Water Jug
Good morning, master!
Hyakujo put water jar om the floor and said, "You cannot call it a water jar. Then, what will you call it?" The chief monk said, "One cannot call it a wooden stump." Master Hyakujo turned to Isan, Isan kicked the jar over and walked away.
41 Bodhidharma Pacifies The Mind
kick over a jug.
Eka, the Second Patriarch, asked Bodhidharma:"Please, pacify my mind." Dharma said, "Bring your mind and I will pacify it."
Eka: "I searched everywhere, but I can't get hold of it."
Dharma: "Now your mind is pacified."
42 The Girl Comes Out From Meditation
Searching, searching. ("Where is the mind?")
A woman sits in meditation close to the Buddha. The sage Manjusri, walks around her three times and snips his finger to wake her up. He can't.
Why is Mo-myo, who comes from the sands of the ganges, wakes her up by snipping his finger?
43 Shuzan's Short Staff
Momyo lives a normal life and can do normal things. Don't live as a sage!
Master Shuzan held up his short staff. "If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Tell me immediately, what is it?
44 Basho's Staff
The short staff.
Basho taught his disciples, "If you have a staff, I will give it to you. If you have no staff, I will take it from you!"
45 Who Is He?
Throw something away.
Hoen said, "Even Shakyamuni and Maitreya are his servants.
Who is he?"
46 Step Forward from fhe Top of the Pole
Call yourself by your name and answer: "Yes, Sir!"
"How do you step forward from the top of a one hundred meter pole?"
47a First Gate Of Tosotsu
Pushing aside the grass and explore Zen is simply a way to see your true nature. Now quickly, where is your nature?
47b Second Gate Of Tosotsu
With your hands push the long grass out of your way.
If you realize your true nature, you are free from life and death. How can you free yourself from life and death?
47c Third Gate Of Tosotsu
Fall to the ground, dying in pain.
Free from birth and death your body separates into the four elements. Where will you go now?
48 Kembo's One Road To Nirvana
I think I'll have a cup of coffee.
Kembo was asked "There is only one road to Nirvana. Where is this road?"
Kembo with his staff drew a line. "Here it is!"
Mit dem Finger einen Strich ziehen.
Box three: Person "I" is a Child
To shorten the process of finding an immediate reactions, the (traditional) Koan "answer" is given together with a short explanation.
Person "I" - as a child
At first glance the Koan questions and its given answer seem to be unrelated.
But see them like a child. They react directly on the world, instinctivly, without rational filters.
The child-like simplistic attitude is needed while dealing with Koans.
Concentration, or fixing the mind through meditation helps.
Another way are "slow-motion" activities like going for a walk, hearing your favorite music, looking at pictures or coloring pictures.
During "slow-motion" activities you may ponder about the Koan and find your child-like personal response.
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Box four: Pictures of Person "I"
Comics necessarily reduce reality to pictures of lines and colors.
Koans reduce reality to simple stories and questions.
Person "I" - second snippet added
The comics on the left don't illustrate Koans but show, underlying similarity.
In Zen like in modern sciences, reality is fixed into abstract pictures or narratives (In science they are called theory).
Science uses experiments and electronic microscopes to find out about reality.
In Zen, Koans are the "lenses" to look down to the bottom of reality.
With this methode down there Zen finds nothing but black shapes, lines and dots. That's nothing but "Zen's World"
It is what reality, in this case represented by comics and Koans, basically consists of: black patterns.
Person "I" - the full picture
To reverse this process as the strip on the left shows, just add some color and insert more and more snippets of reality and a bigger picture emerges.
By repeating this process several times finally reality as we know it - the comic, the Koan - becomes visible again.
In the same way the basic Person, like all of reality is made of black patterns.
By adding snippets of reality one by one the "I", Person "I", everybody knows, becomes visible.
This Person "I" by thinking about a koan, measuring and creating relations and meanings, only pilles more and more garbage and complicate details on it.
Person and world
To avoid this dead alley, just get the Person-part of you involved.
If you become aware of useless struggeling with reality you can't take yourself serious anymore.
At some stage it may provoke strange reactions. Especially laughter.
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Box five: How to find a Koan of Mummonkan
There're several ways to find a Koan you're interested in.
The easiest is, to go down the list of Koan headlines. If you find an interesting one. Just click on it and the Koan question as well as its answer is available.
If you want to find a specific Koan and you know it's number, just go there. Koans are in their traditional numerical order.
For some Koans there is more information available. The number of these Koans will increase.
Today's Zen is it's Japanese versions.
Therefore Japanes Names of Masters are used in our list of Koans.
The Chinese names and an English translation of the Chinese Text will be given for the extended versions Mummons Koans. (under construction).
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Go to Ancient Zen Koans
Go to The Person that calls itself 'I'
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