caution: post uses biology slang terms proceed at your peril
zen masters are known for saying coarse things like "if you see the buddha, kill him" and enlightening each other with insults or violence like punching your teacher, slapping your student, chopping off fingers, etc. which is meant in a comical context not always literal and definitely not advised in this age
typically you need some context & training for koans to make any sense
they're about the process of questioning not the answers but I give some thoughts here for my own reflection
- A student of the way asked Yunmen, “What is Buddha?”
Yunmen replied, “Dried shitstick.”
A monk asked Ummon: "What is Buddha?"
- Ummon says "Dried shit."
people say by buddha they mean buddha nature, which is what you aim for in meditation, in zen typically things are boiled down till nothing is left
so what is buddha? meaning, how can I practice? you strip away conditioning, ego, etc. and what is left? when do you know you've made it? what remains?
meditation is removing obstacles, removing the ego, thought, dualism, etc. so it's like using a stick to clean away waste
or you could say, look at reality and accept it as it is, good or bad
or being practical, what works? you can wipe your butt with a stick, this is good, this is real, this exists, life, nature, etc.
or Unmon pointing out no stick is needed, maybe he's saying if you're careful you can eliminate even the stick
why not fresh shit, why dried? maybe he means wisdom comes with age, time reveals the truth, be patient
maybe he's saying this is a silly old question to ask and shouldn't be asked
koans some say have no answer, questions shouldn't be asked, and thought is meaningless, koans are a result of thought, they are a distraction from discursive thought, searching for answers is just more thoughts
typically the goal is to exist without labelling everything and thinking in categories or fixed meanings, to be beyond labels, to know things without getting into coarse thoughts leaving things refined as they exist, that you cannot capture anything with words without losing something
it makes you wonder if koans are just a prank, someone wise wouldn't even bother with it and would recognize them as simply more thought
maybe the goal of koans is to get people to shut up and stop thinking, coming up with endless questions, endless answers, going in circles...