The First Koan: Drinking the Hot Iron Ball

post by Annoyance · 2009-05-07T17:41:43.586Z · score: -4 (16 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 57 comments

In the traditions of Zen in which koans are common teaching tools, it is common to use a particular story as a novice's first koan.  It's the story of Joshu's Dog.

A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: `Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?'

Joshu answered: `Mu.'  [Mu is the negative symbol in Chinese, meaning `No-thing' or `Nay'.]

What does this koan mean?  How can we find out for ourselves?

It is important to remember certain things:  Firstly, koans are not meant to be puzzles, riddles, or intellectual games.  They are examples, illustrations of the state of mind that the student is expected to internalize.  Secondly, they often appear paradoxical.

Paradox is a pointer telling you to look beyond it.  If paradoxes bother you, that betrays your deep desire for absolutes.  The relativist treats a paradox merely as interesting, perhaps amusing or even -- dreadful thought -- educational.

Thirdly, the purpose of Zen teaching isn't to acquire new conceptual baggage, but to eliminate it; not to generate Enlightenment, but to remove the false beliefs that preventing us from recognizing what we already possess.  Shedding error is the point, not learning something new.

Take a look at Mumon's commentary for this koan:

To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriachs. Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriachs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost. You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriach? This one word, Mu, is it.

This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriachs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through ever pore in your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallor nor spit out.

Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but cannot tell it.

When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriach offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in this way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground. I will tell you how to do this with this koan:

Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation, your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

I'll give you a hint:  Joshu's reply isn't really an answer to the monk's question, it's a response induced by it.  Joshu answers the question the monk didn't ask but should have - the question whose answer the monk is taking for granted in what he asks.

This morning I passed by a gym with a glass-walled front, and I saw within the building many people working at machines, moving weights back and forth.  What was being accomplished?  Superficially, nothing at all.  Their actions would appear to be wasted; nothing was done with them.  The real purpose, of course, was to exercise the body, to condition the muscles and strengthen the bones.

The point of the koan isn't to find the 'right answer', the point of the koan is to struggle with it, and by struggling, develop one's own understanding.  Contradiction and apparent contradiction is a powerful tool for this purpose.  Trying to understand, we usually perceive a contradiction and let the process terminate.  But if we keep struggling with the problem, even though we cannot expect to achieve anything, we build within ourselves ever more complex models, ways of seeing.  Eventually the complexity will be useful in dealing with other problems, ones with solutions we didn't see before.

One warning:  the fact that a problem is used as a source of contradiction does not mean that it doesn't actually have an answer.  Don't mistake the use for the reality.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.

57 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-05-08T04:33:46.077Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

If I say "What a load of crap! This post conveys about as much insight as a Rorschach test!" then that means, more or less by definition, that I don't get it and am unenlightened, right?

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You [lose status by not realizing that the Buddha-nature is first and formost about conveying to others that you have Buddha nature without revealing what it is].

I say we've got more than enough 'buddah-nature' here already thanks. Any use of 'rationalist' without direct relation to utility maximisation or epistimic accuracy in a specific context. Any "can you prove your rationalist mettle and one box on this obfuscated newcomblike problem?"

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
WTF? Tell me what Buddha nature is. Give me a metric to measure it by. Then I'll tell you. Now, why do I care? What useful correlations does Buddha-nature have with anything else I need to know about dogs? Dumbass. Who made you Master and if this institution promotes people based on that kind of nonsense why do I want to be a part of it?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-05-08T09:20:16.363Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Annoyance asked, "What does this koan mean? How can we find out for ourselves?"

Cameron answered, "Bullshit!"

Cameron's reply isn't really an answer to Annoyance's question, it's a response induced by it. Cameron answers the question Annoyance didn't ask but should have - the question whose answer Annoyance is taking for granted in what he asks.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T18:54:05.665Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your response is very illustrative. Next time I'll discuss the koan about the boy who lost his finger; it's quite appropriate in this context.

comment by scotherns · 2009-05-08T08:35:40.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. I was very surprised to find Zen was discussed so much in GEB. Although in context it did serve to (slightly) illustrate some points being discussed, it seemed rather out of place, and I found it very tiresome to read.

It looks like there is no chance of enlightenment for me, but as there is no consistent definition of it, I find it hard to care :-)

comment by abigailgem · 2009-05-08T10:37:05.254Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I value koans as an exercise. I am not sure whether this makes me "enlightened", or whether I have a "better" way of understanding than anyone else, merely that I have valued the experience.

The point of the koan isn't to find the 'right answer', the point of the koan is to struggle with it

I have struggled like that. It seems from the inside like I have come out the other side of that struggle, better able to be in the World.

If I say "What a load of crap! This post conveys about as much insight as a Rorschach test!" then that means, more or less by definition, that I don't get it and am unenlightened, right?

Only if you believe that to be the case. To use a Less Wrong image, only if you are not Winning.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-05-08T15:50:10.923Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

that means, more or less by definition, that I don't get it and am unenlightened, right?

Only if you believe that to be the case.

Believe that to be the case? That seems to imply you define 'enlightened' as 'believing that you are enlightened'.

To use a Less Wrong image, only if you are not Winning.

When Eleizer uses that phrase I tend to cringe but mostly let it past without comment because Eleizer tends to include it among a page or three of quite sound reasoning that explains what he is actually trying to convey. Apart from preferring actual true statements on things that are important, the only problem I have with Eleizer's use of the 'rationalism is winning' is that it opens the door for abuse and confusion. Like here for example.

How in the heck does 'only if you are not winning', in the usage as intended on Less Wrong, imply the conclusion 'contempt for koan usage as described implies that I am unenlightened'? It doesn't..

The worst kind of bullshit is that which comes dressed up to look very nearly like insight and happens to include a 'if you don't agree you are naive/unsophiscated/unenlighted/possibly heretical'.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-05-08T16:04:48.433Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The worst kind of bullshit is that which comes dressed up to look very nearly like insight and happens to include a 'if you don't agree you are naive/unsophiscated/unenlighted/possibly heretical'.

You have much to learn. The Zen that can be accurately criticized is not the true Zen.

comment by thomblake · 2009-05-08T18:03:56.906Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just like a Westerner to paraphrase Taoism when commenting on Zen.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-05-08T18:42:09.236Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a Zen Taoist -- I worship an unspeakable shapeless void that doesn't exist.

comment by jimrandomh · 2009-05-08T16:19:41.620Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds like the No True Scotsman fallacy to me.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T18:53:02.942Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The source of existence does not itself exist. The necessary precondition for a property can never possess that property itself.

This would be clearer if you could explicitly state what you mean when you assert that something exists, but I very strongly suspect you can't do so. (You're hardly alone in this, so it's no particular shame if it's the case.) I could of course be mistaken.

comment by abigailgem · 2009-05-08T17:51:51.948Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do not define "enlightened", claim to be enlightened, claim that you are less "enlightened", or say that you would be in any way better if you tried koans, or better if you wanted to try koans. I only said I had found them valuable.

I do not define "enlightened", because it is something which I only, as it were, gain the odd glimpse, from my peripheral vision. If I define "enlightenment", that means I place it in a box, make my understanding of it concrete. If I did, that would make it more difficult for me to gain in understanding of what "enlightenment" means, because I do not see the bits which go beyond my definition.

For over two thousand years, people have been using koans, and finding them valuable. Though I am not Buddhist, I tell you that I find them valuable too. I do not ask you to value them, but you might consider them a bit more before dismissing them.

I recommend "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" (can't remember the author, discussing some Buddhist ideas from an atheist, fairly rationalist standpoint. It is out of print but should be available on Abe Books.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-05-09T13:04:32.888Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I do not define "enlightened", claim to be enlightened, claim that you are less "enlightened", or say that you would be in any way better if you tried koans, or better if you wanted to try koans. I only said I had found them valuable.

That's good. It's just that the way you used the words in the context did make those claims.

I have a lot more respect for your perspective as presented here than for the logic of the replies that you made. Unfortunately, while there is certainly perspective to be gained in (some) usage of (some) koans, one thing that tends to be uniform is that they encourage sloppy reasoning.

For example, if you say "Woah, go easy there Cam! There are some potential benefits!" then I'll probably acknowledge the point. However, if you feel the previous sentiment but actually reply with explicit claims like "only if..." then your words are no longer opinion or perspective. They are logical claims with very interesting implications. For example, you did make a couple of those claims regarding enlightenment although I can see that your actual beliefs are far less insane!

comment by conchis · 2009-05-09T14:12:28.840Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have somewhat more respect for the substance of your views than for the intemperate and largely counterproductive ways in which you choose to express them.

comment by Cameron_Taylor · 2009-05-11T04:18:43.574Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I have no particular idea of what your views are but have good reason to believe you do not have an accurate perception of what the substance of my views are. 'Productivity' must be considered relative to my utility function, which by my evaluation was achieved quite adequately. Can you think of another word that more accurately expresses the judgement you are trying to make?

(Intemperate was good example. Significantly normative but including a descriptive component that sticks to the facts.)

comment by conchis · 2009-05-11T08:08:15.192Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

'Productivity' must be considered relative to my utility function

Well, no. It could equally well be considered relative to mine. As it happens, I was guessing (perhaps wrongly) at an approximate community utility function. Based on previous evidence, this seemed to have a negative term for potentially inflammatory language that is unnecessary to making the commenter's substantive point.

comment by abigailgem · 2009-05-09T13:52:27.184Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I said, "only if you believe that to be the case". By "that", I intended to refer to the belief that [thinking the post is worthless means that you are unenlightened].

This is thinking in rigid categories. "All people who do not value koans are unenlightened". I do not really know what "enlightenment" is, but that false view is unenlightened.

comment by Cyan · 2009-05-08T16:03:52.566Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That seems to imply you define 'enlightened' as 'believing that you are enlightened'.

That's not a fair point. If the definition of enlightenment includes, "if you do not believe you are enlighted then you are not enlightened," the correct inference is the contrapositive, "if you are enlightened then you believe you are enlightened."

/pedant

comment by steven0461 · 2009-05-07T17:56:30.308Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

the purpose of Zen teaching isn't to acquire new conceptual baggage, but to eliminate it

if we keep struggling with the problem, even though we cannot expect to achieve anything, we build within ourselves ever more complex models, ways of seeing.

Huh?

Anyway, people only run on treadmills because they don't have a lot of places they really need to go to on foot. People only lift weights in gyms because there isn't a lot of heavy stuff that needs lifting. But someone who seeks to sharpen the intellect will never run out of real, important practice problems. Insight, unlike transportation and lifting, has not yet been mechanized or obsoleted. So why settle for fake problems?

comment by conchis · 2009-05-08T11:04:36.509Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But someone who seeks to sharpen the intellect will never run out of real, important practice problems.

Is Newcomb's Paradox a "real, important practice problem"?

More specifically, what distinguishes thinking about Newcomb's Paradox from thinking about this koan? Is it just that most of us have enough background in these sorts of things to see the purpose of NP immediately, but not to see the purpose of the koan (and we're reluctant to spend time on things we don't immediately see the point of)?

Is it that we don't trust Zen traditions/Annoyance enough to think that there is an interesting purpose behind the koan unless we can immediately see it for ourselves?

If so, is that a good reason to ignore it? [added:] Could Annoyance encourage greater engagement by trying harder to convince people that there is an interesting point (without giving the away too much)?

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-07T18:01:46.304Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Huh?

When the answer is too simple for us to perceive it, the quickest way to simple is through complex.

Humans are silly that way. Eliminating false concepts often involves lots of hard, complicated work. You'd think it would be simpler...

comment by AlanCrowe · 2009-05-08T19:29:03.177Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In the traditions of Zen in which koans are common teaching tools,

This is misleading. Koans are not stand-alone teaching tools. If you are interested in Zen Buddhism, learn to meditate, practise 20 minutes, twice a day. Go on retreats to deepen your practise. Once you have experienced some of the mental states that koans allude to and play off you might then get something out of meditating on one.

What are we doing on this site when we attempt to use a Zen koan as a stand-alone teaching tool, separate from a meditation practise? We are not doing anything to do with Zen Buddhism, and imitating Hofstadter's ignorant writing about Zen is futile. I cannot see that we are doing anything worthwhile at all.

A little story from my life may bring the point vividly to life. Edinburgh Go Club is tiny and its meetings on Monday night share a function room above a pub with Edinburgh Philosophy club. The game of Go holds a certain fascination for people interested in philosphy and artificial intelligence because it is much harder to program computers to play it than is the case with chess. Occassionally the philosophers will fall to talking about Go. You can imagine how ignorant and foolish they seem to the Go players on the other side of the room, even as they admire the depth and wisdom of each other's insights into a game they do not play. Contemplate the comedy of it. They come to the Meadows Bar every Monday night, they have only to cross the floor for a few weeks and they can learn to play and know something of what they are talking about.

Most big cities have Buddhist groups. If you are interested you can go along and learn to meditate. If you go on retreats then after a couple of years you may well have had some experience of the first dhyana. Try writing down what the experience is like. Tricky isn't it. At this point you have some idea of the problem that the authors of the Zen koan's are trying to solve, and the futility of picking them over as though they were logic puzzles.

If you are not interested, you might or might not be missing out, but you are definitely saving a lot of time. Life is short and time is precious; you could be winning big by ignoring Zen. Be happy with your choice and save a little more time by keeping away from discussions of koans that, like this one, treat them as stand-alone teaching tools.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T19:41:31.628Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Try writing down what the experience is like.

Okay.

There's a particular Far Side panel that many people find funny: it has no caption or title, but is often referred to as the Midvale School for the Gifted cartoon.

If you look at the door, you can see that the hinges and tension spring are on the outside, there's a handle, and a panel that reads 'PULL'. Noticing any one of these things should be enough to convince someone that they should pull the door to get it open.

Enlightenment is the state you enter when you realize that you've been a fool and have been pushing as hard as you can trying to get the door open, when all along it was clearly a pull door.

Intelligence is the capacity to question your initial assumption that the door required a push upon detecting that circumstances didn't match your expectations. Wisdom is the capacity to notice the contrary circumstances in the first place.

comment by AlanCrowe · 2009-05-08T20:03:35.620Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't read like a description of lived experience at all, let alone the specific experience I asked about.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T20:11:32.911Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The student probably believes that he is very clever.

Only when he seriously considers the possibility that he is a fool, undermining his preconception, will he be able to recognize what he's doing wrong and determine the correct course of action.

The task is to recognize that the correct answer to the question might not be within our preconceived ideas about what the solution will be. If you assume that either yes or no is the answer, you exclude out of hand the possibility that neither might be.

Recognizing that you've excluded potential solutions without cause is the enlightenment.

comment by thomblake · 2009-05-08T19:36:58.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the traditions of Zen in which koans are common teaching tools,

This is misleading. Koans are not stand-alone teaching tools

You seem to be after a straw-man here. Is this what the article is for? Why did you add an emphasized word that was not in the sentence you quoted, which was not suggested by it at all?

comment by AlanCrowe · 2009-05-08T19:53:47.802Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I added the emphasized word because I read the whole post and saw that Zen koans had been stripped from the context that gives them meaning, reducing them to gibberish. The author referred to them as common teaching tools without appreciating the significance of whether they were part of a system of teaching or whether they stood alone. The author's initial error lay in leaving out the word stand-alone, so I put it back in. Leaving it out forces the second error, which is failing to realise the "koans are common stand-alone teaching tools" is false.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T20:01:40.770Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've previously written a brief article which discussed how many 'nonsense' koans make perfect sense once you recognize the context of teachings and background information that Japanese Zen students would have had.

The "sound of one hand clapping" koan, for example, is a reference to a teaching to which students would have been exposed prior to the koan in which two methodologies / perspectives interacting were compared to two hands coming together to make a noise.

If viewing things through a binary, dualistic lens produces certain conclusions, what is the conclusion reached when examining the problem in a non-dualistic way instead? That's the question the koan asks.

comment by kim0 · 2009-05-10T09:16:32.546Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

My experience is that neither the Go players nor the philosophers have deep understanding of Go. The Go players have practice in the culture of Go, while philosophers often know philosophy.

The problem is that Go is actually not a game, while people believe that it is. Go are belief systems, and cultures, and in that respect similar to Zen.

The reason that Go is not a game, is that it do not have clear rules. The only people I know that have practical and deep understanding of Go is John Tromp, who has made some nice Go rules, and Robert Jasiek, who claim to have formalized the Japanese practice into rules.

As for me, I gave up the "game" when I realized it had no true core, and the same goes for Zen.

comment by loqi · 2009-05-10T21:03:57.145Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is that Go is actually not a game, while people believe that it is.

Massive semantic confusion. Just because the word "Go" is used to denote a family of games and game-like activities doesn't mean there can't be concrete realizations of the concept that capture most or all of its interesting qualities. Concluding that the game has "no true core" and giving it up, merely because its label is too broad for your taste, strikes me as very confused thinking.

comment by kim0 · 2009-05-11T03:58:53.112Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Giving it up is rational thinking, because there is no "it" there when the label is too broad.

In Bayesian inference, it is equivalent to P( A | B v C v D v ...), which is somewhat like underfitting. The space of possibilities becomes too large for it to be possible to find a good move. In games it is precisely the unclear parts of the game space that is interesting to the loosing part, because it is most likely there will be better moves there. But when it is not even possible to analyze those parts, then true optimal play regresses to quarreling about it, which is precisely what the Japanese tradition has done for at least some hundred years.

I have played enough Go to know that the concrete rules can make the endgame very different. The usual practice is to pretend it is not so, and stop the game before the endgame starts.

So Go is riddled with quarrels and pretense. Not a game in practice. More like politics, or Zen.

Optimal playing strategies in games can be very different from what people believe them to be, as examplified by the program Eurisko which won the Traveller TCS championships with very unconventional fleets. I suspect strongly that similar thing will happen for true Go games.

I might have found a variation of minimax that can tackle Go, but to use it, it MUST be possible to evaluate a Go position, at least in principle. So I will probably go for the Tromp-Taylor rules, if I get the time to do this. And perhaps the Japanese rules of Robert Jasiek.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-11T20:09:15.955Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The rules of Go are perfectly clear. It's the consequences of those rules that we have a great deal of trouble understanding.

Or that you do, at least.

comment by kim0 · 2009-05-12T06:00:51.902Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You are wrong. Here are some links showing that Go is not perfectly clear:

Introduction:

Discussion of a lot of problems with scoring:

Some concrete positional examples:

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-12T13:15:14.116Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The rules of chess don't explicitly state whether the vast majority of moves are good ideas or bad ones. (Exceptions involve moves that would put your king in check - and that's not bad, it's disallowed.)

You can know all of the rules, and not be able to determine how you should react in a chess game. Because all of the principles that govern 'good' play arise as consequences from the explicit rules.

If proper moves were as easy to determine in chess as they were in Tic-Tac-Toe, no one would bother playing it.

Go is the same, only more so.

comment by Mario · 2009-05-07T21:05:09.682Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Am I the only one that has always assumed that story was a joke epically misunderstood? If the monk had instead asked, "What is the nature of a dog's path to enlightenment?" I think Joshu would have answered "Rough."

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-08T04:27:13.539Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia lists this as a possibility, that "mu" in archaic Japenese was "wu" the sound that a dog makes. While this also makes the koan a pun, I think it now works even better as a koan:

Q: Does a dog have a Buddha-nature? A: Woof!

Does 'Woof!' mean 'yes'? Does it mean 'no'? It's still just 'mu', but better. (For one thing, we'd expect an English-speaking dog to respond to the question.)

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-05-07T21:18:32.575Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Once, a young monk asked Joshu, "Master, does a cow possess buddha-nature?"

Joshu thought briefly, then replied, "Muuuuuu."

comment by loqi · 2009-05-10T20:08:03.002Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I would love to see an explanation of the value of "enlightenment" as produced by Zen that distinguishes it from the kind induced by LSD or strokes. Funny how a temporary loss of function in one hemisphere can reveal so much deep meaning about the interconnectedness of everything. I've known a few acid junkies, and Taylor's "insights" sound awfully familiar to me.

But wait, I'm pretty sure I've got both hemispheres online right now, and I understand perfectly well that "everything is interconnected, we are all one", by way of participating in a shared reality. For me, this fact triggers associations with my concepts of causality, time, physical interaction, and the subjective experiences of other minds. For Taylor's right hemisphere, this apparently triggers associations with... everything. Same data, different subjective "quantity of meaning". I think of this overflow of internal associations as "semantic superstimulus".

For most of us, learning is affective. Drawing a new line on your map is exciting, rewarding. But there are other stimulating things you can do with a map that have nothing to do with reflecting the territory. You can draw prettier icons for the places you've previously marked. You can draw highlights over your favorite lines and view the map under a black light. Your map's accuracy remains unchanged (assuming you can still read it), but it looks so much cooler.

Is there any evidence that the various states of enlightenment are anything other than these semantic superstimuli? You claim that by wrestling with paradoxes, we

build within ourselves ever more complex models, ways of seeing

But koans aren't the territory, so it sounds to me like you're just having fun sprinkling glitter on your map. Is there any evidence that Zen actually helps us shed false beliefs, or even just anticipate different outcomes? If your best answer is "You can't understand the evidence until you understand Zen", then do us a favor and peddle your psychedelic snake oil elsewhere.

comment by conchis · 2009-05-10T20:19:09.252Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Mmmm... learningness: the feeling of learning, without the constraints of actually learning.

comment by pjeby · 2009-05-10T21:17:55.953Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Is there any evidence that Zen actually helps us shed false beliefs, or even just anticipate different outcomes?

Meditators routinely report noticing their false beliefs during meditation, and an increased ability to notice their beliefs as beliefs even when not in meditation. That is, Zen practice is helpful in noticing that the map exists and being able to read it as a map.

comment by orthonormal · 2009-05-07T18:39:53.299Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please use the "summary break" button when you have a reasonably long post.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T18:56:05.592Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I thought about doing so, but I decided that the chance of its appearing on the main page (where it would be visible alongside others) was negligible. Since it can only be accessed by itself, I didn't think that feature was needed.

I will consider adding it to future posts as per your request, though.

comment by orthonormal · 2009-05-08T22:57:13.723Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I tend to look through "New" instead of "Promoted", and I think many others do the same.

comment by Mycroft65536 · 2009-05-07T20:56:05.287Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The question is an either/or, the similarities between "not" and "Mu" appear to be coincidental and misleading. The idea that an enlightened nature of a dog could be properly communicated to us to the degree we could understand it seems flawed. The idea that a Buddha dog and a Buddha person would be the same is silly. Having a Buddha nature seems to be fulfilling one's potential in at least one respect. Do all dogs have the same nature? Do all men? Mu

It's important to struggle with fictional problems because all the beginner real problems have been spoiled. Eliezer seemed to point this out with his zogged utopia's educational system. We jump into the deep end of the pool thinking we've mastered the shallow end, when the shallow end was filled with concrete by our fore bearers.

comment by hrishimittal · 2009-05-08T11:48:30.831Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Annoyance, can you please tell this koan without using the words 'Buddha-nature' and 'enlightenment'?

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T18:48:29.462Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Master Mu was lecturing upon Turing equivalence and mentioned the game of chess as an illustrating example. He pointed out that through an appropriate series of moves, a knight can reach any point that a rook can, and vice versa.

A monk said "So the two pieces are equivalent in what they can accomplish." Master Mu said "The false assumption behind your statement renders it both true and false."

Any sufficiently-powerful system

can emulate any other system.

Are they therefore the same?

The answer is more complex than yes or no.

comment by thomblake · 2009-05-08T18:59:08.519Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is this an original story? I may have to cite this one.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T19:27:31.492Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Um... well, I made it up.

The idea behind it is hardly original, of course.

comment by JulianMorrison · 2009-05-07T22:53:15.375Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I find most koans non-contradictory. In this, Joshu teaches the moment of free cognition during surprise. Yes and no run in grooves of assumption. Joshu stomps the grooves flat. The mind will quickly cut a new groove, but for an instant inputs are considered as themselves, and you actually see the dog.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-08T00:44:47.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

struggling with the koan:

Why does Joshu lose his Buddha-nature if he answers yes or no? First, what is the answer? Does a dog have a Buddha-nature? No.

But realizing this, you negate your own Buddha-nature because it is an arrow pointing from your Buddha-nature to the dog's Buddha-nature.

Eventually the complexity will be useful in dealing with other problems, ones with solutions we didn't see before.

I'm sure the Buddha-nature is analogous to many things. As something extra-contextual that exists within a context but (paradoxically) not outside it, I see it as an analogy for morality, since that's what I've been meditating on lately.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T03:04:56.912Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does a dog have a Buddha-nature? No.

Joshu's 'no' is a rejection of the question, not a response to it per se.

Mumon suggests that the monk wasn't genuinely interested in truth or increasing his understanding of enlightenment, merely in pondering an intellectual puzzle. In doing so, the monk made a fatal assumption that leads to an incorrect question.

Why ponder whether and how a dog can reach enlightenment when the goal is to become enlightened yourself?

comment by conchis · 2009-05-08T09:11:12.380Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Why ponder whether and how a A can reach X when the goal is to become X yourself?

In general, because it might give you insight into the nature of X.

I agree that the initial question in this case is ill-formed, but I don't think your final sentence has any bearing on why it is ill-formed. It only seems like it does because the initial question is ill-formed.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T18:42:43.938Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In general, because it might give you insight into the nature of X.

Yes, precisely! Mumon suggests that the monk wasn't asking the question for that purpose. The monk's mistake wasn't an honest one in that sense.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-08T03:38:58.040Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Joshu's 'no' is a rejection of the question, not a response to it per se.

I know: Mu doesn't mean "no"; it means the "third answer", the something else left when you eliminate "yes" and "no".

Rather, I was answering "no" to the question, "Does a dog have a Buddha-nature?" to see what would happen.

What if the answer is "yes"? Why would saying "yes" make you lose your own Buddha-nature? I agree, the reason may be somewhere in how the Buddha-nature is different for the dog, it somehow negates our own Buddha-nature. So we choose our own Buddha-nature (we choose our context) and negate the dog's...but then that negates our own.

Analogously, either way you answer the question, "Do other people's moral beliefs have value?", you lose the value of your own. I suppose the power of the koan is that you can apply it to anything, like a torch pointed wherever you happen to already be looking. Or you can not focus it anywhere, and keep going with it, embracing "mu" indefinitely, becoming really, really wise...

comment by pjeby · 2009-05-08T15:25:02.529Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why would saying "yes" make you lose your own Buddha-nature?

Because to label a thing is to demarcate a category... thereby verbally overshadowing your experience.

Much of Zen tradition basically consists of tying verbal intelligence in knots to force some non-verbal thinking or experiencing to occur.

The moment where it really hits you that you can't say yes or no, is the moment where you directly experience the limitations of your verbal reasoning to provide an accurate map of the territory.

The moment, however, that you reduce this back to a verbal summary of the non-verbal experience -- for example, this explanation of mine! -- you've gone back to the non-Buddha nature: verbally tagging the map of your experiences, rather than being aware of the (untagged, unlabeled) territory.

In effect, koan practice is a way of learning not to trust your brain's naive reasoning. And GEB had a lot about Zen because it's sort of like trying to "Godel" or "Escher" out of your own brain's limitations -- to leave its own printed page and join the world of three-dimensions.... even though in the end, even enlightenment is still an illusion.

(A worthwhile illusion, though; it may only be 2.5D, but that's still .5 more than 2D!)

comment by Annoyance · 2009-05-08T20:31:31.232Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"What if the answer is "yes"? Why would saying "yes" make you lose your own Buddha-nature? "

If I say that "this statement is false" is true, isn't that just as much an error as saying that it's false?

How can something be without growing from the source of existence? How an existent thing be part of the source of existence, which does not exist itself?

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-07T20:41:35.494Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

May we struggle with the koan aloud?

On second thought, I am hiding my thoughts on the koan until there are more thoughts on the koan.

Until later, I am hiding it here.