The 48 Mummonkan Koans

Koans Questions - Koan Answers

the person

"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".

first snippet
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 first.

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 - child
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

2 Hyakujo's Fox

3 Gutei's Finger

4 Beardless Bodhidharma

5 Kyogen's Man in a Tree

6 Buddha Twirls a Flower

7 Joshu's Wash your Bowl

8 Keichu's Wheel

9 A Buddha before History

10 Seizei Alone and Poor

11 Joshu Examines two Hermits

12 Zuigan Calls Himself Master

13 Tokusan Holds His Bowl

14 Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two

15 Tozan's Three Blows

16 Bells and Robes

17 The Three Calls Of The Emperor's Teacher

18 Tozan's Three Pounds of Flax

19 Everyday Life Is The Path

20 The Enlightened Man

21 Dried Dung

22 Kashyapa's Preaching Sign

23 Do Not Think Good, Do Not Think Not-Good

24 Without Words, Without Silence

25 Kyozan Preaching in a Dream

26 Two Monks Roll Up The Blinds

27 It Is Not Mind, It Is Not Buddha, It Is Not Things

28 Blow Out The Candle

29 Not The Wind, Not The Flag

30 This Mind Is Buddha

31 Joshu Investigates an Old Woman

32 A Philosopher Asks Buddha

33 Baso's Not Mind, Not Buddha

34 Nansen's Knowledge is not The Way

35 Two Souls

36 Meeting A Master On The Road

37 The Oak Tree In The Garden

38 A Buffalo Passes Through The Window

39 Ummon's Trapped in Words.

40 Tipping Over A Water Jug

41 Bodhidharma Pacifies The Mind

42 The Girl Comes Out From Meditation

43 Shuzan's Short Staff

44 Basho's Staff

45 Who Is He?

46 Step Forward from fhe Top of the Pole

47a First Gate Of Tosotsu

47b Second Gate Of Tosotsu

47c Third Gate Of Tosotsu

48 Kembo's One Road To Nirvana

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 - child
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
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 - finish
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.

the person

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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