Standing in One’s Position

Koun Franz

It’s a pleasure to introduce Koun Franz to you as a guest blogger. This is great fun for me because Koun is fine, young priest and in my crystal ball, I see him as an important emerging figure. He’s 100% shikantaza, Japan-Soto trained. This background gives him quite a different perspective, I think you’ll agree.

Koun was born in Helena, Montana, but has spent more than half of his adult life in Japan.  From 2006 to 2010, he served as resident priest of the Anchorage Zen Community (some of his talks can be found on their website).  Two years ago, Koun and his family moved back to Japan (Kumamoto), where he studies, trains, lectures, and does Buddhist-related translation work.

I encourage you to read this post through (and the upcoming offering on authentic practice) and mix it up with Koun by making a comment or asking a question.

Here’s Koun:

In his post of January 14 (“More on Koans and Who Gets to Comment”), Dosho wrote, “This mode of interpretation, btw, may be largely a Western invention as a Japanese-trained priest once told me. Kind of literary interpretation, I think he said, which he’d never heard in a dharma talk in Japan.” That priest is me. After some email back and forth, Dosho very generously suggested that I expand on a couple of our exchanges directly, as a guest blogger. I’m honored.

The conversation in question took a place a couple years ago in Alaska, when Dosho was visiting the Anchorage Zen Community. Specifically, we were discussing a style of dharma talk in which a classical Zen text (maybe Dogen, maybe a koan) is juxtaposed with something from Western literature, maybe a Stevens poem or a Dylan song. In my limited exposure to Western Zen teachers, I have bumped into this style of talking quite a few times, but in all the years in Japan, I have never heard anything even remotely similar.

For that matter, I have never even heard a Soto Zen teacher in Japan talk about a koan–as a koan, that is.  I cannot recall any teacher using the word “koan” to introduce a story.  But that doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the conversation.  I recently watched a lecture on koan literature by T. Griffith Foulk from the Dogen Conference held last year, and in it, he explains how new research is showing that Dogen is constantly referencing both known and obscure koans in his writing, to a degree far beyond what we previously knew.   In the talks I hear in Japan, the famous exchanges and awakenings do occasionally come up, but they are presented as illustrative stories, as a part of our history.   They are a launching pad for expression of the dharma, but then, what isn’t?

In Japanese Soto Zen, there are a few different categories of what we might generally call “dharma talks.” The following terms are defined differently according to region and individual, but the categories stand:

Houwa (法話, literally “dharma talk”). Houwa are usually short talks given to laypeople on the occasion of a private ceremony, such as a wake. There might be a discussion of impermanence (and how death is like the changing of the seasons), but what’s being conveyed is more emotional than philosophical. (I have heard many priests, especially those in small towns, express their exhaustion at trying to come up with something new to say in houwa when the same people attend every single funeral. It’s a kind of performance, one that a priest might have to repeat every month or even every day.)
Sekkyou (説教, “expounding on the teachings”). These talks are also directed towards laypeople, but the teacher is usually invited, and the event is often a larger annual ceremony (such as one marking the Buddha’s enlightenment). The tone is usually encouraging, and the message is a simple one. There is actually a testing process by which one can receive various ranks as a lecturer, and since the lecturer’s audience is almost always a new one, it’s possible to repeat and polish the same basic talk for years. (I have given quite a few of these talks in the last few years; I assume that people hope the novelty of a foreign lecturer will bring more people to the temple that day. The expectation is that I will explain how I—of all people—became a priest, and that I’ll tell interesting stories about feeling out of place in Japanese culture. I always disappoint by talking about Buddhism.)
Houyaku (法益, “benefit of the dharma”). This is the kind of talk you might find at a genzo-e (Shobogenzo study group) or at a monastery. Houyaku tend to be very academic in nature, picking apart a text line by line while adding information about its historical context, its application in a monastic setting, and so on. Teachers who are “good at” houyaku must be very knowledgeable, but unlike the categories above, there is no expectation that a houyaku will be inspiring or polished or even engaging. It is a class, not a performance.
Teisho (提唱, “a proposal”). It is rare to hear teisho in Japan, but this is the category that corresponds most closely to what people in the West call a “dharma talk.” In my experience, the context in which one is most likely to hear teisho is during sesshin, while people are actually sitting in zazen. An in-depth discussion of zazen and true moment-to-moment practice would be surprising in any of the above categories, but since teisho are so often delivered during periods of sitting, zazen is a favorite topic.

Skillful or not, interested or not, all priests who do temple work related to laypeople will deliver houwa, perhaps frequently. A particularly charismatic or respected or even just confident (oh—or foreign!) priest will probably receive some invitations, in the course of his career, to do sekkyou. Houyaku is the realm of those who are particularly well educated, or who have become specialists in one or more areas of the tradition. And teisho is the domain of a very limited few, usually just the officers of monasteries. The vast majority of the priests I know in Japan will never be in a position to deliver either houyaku or teisho, nor could they imagine themselves doing so. In a country with tens of thousands of Soto Zen priests, there are people to do those things.

But I suspect that in the US, the situation is perfectly reversed: teisho are offered almost constantly; houyaku are expected whenever there’s some kind of study group; sekkyou are for the occasional guest-speaking gig, for larger groups, and for outreach; and houwa are relatively rare. It’s not just that Western priests have to do it all (since there are so few around), but also that the audience’s expectations are completely different. (When the AZC first contacted me about serving as their resident priest, a teacher here congratulated me—jokingly—on my promotion to ikinari douchou, “instant head teacher of a monastery.” He suspected, from what he’d heard about Zen centers, that my job description would be closer to that than to the duties of an ordinary priest. And he was right.)

In 2006, when I was preparing to move to Anchorage, one of my teachers sat me down and offered this advice: “Always stand in your position.” What he meant, essentially, was to accept the role of being a priest, not to apologize for it. It’s easy to refuse to sit in the high seat, to laugh at the silliness of having everyone bow in your direction, to wink and say in a thousand little ways, “Don’t worry—I know we’re just playing. I’m just like you.” People practically beg you to do it. But my teacher’s stance was, and is, that deep down, people do not want the priest to be just like them. They want that person to have the strength to sit in the position of the Buddha, unflinchingly, and to speak and act from that place. Because who else will do that?

“Stand in your position” means to open your mouth and let it fill with the dharma, to put on the robe of the Buddha and to embody the lineage stretching back to the Buddha, with no excuses. It also means to accept the projections and transference of others—as father figure, as distrusted school principal, as saint, as charlatan—without stepping outside of your role to say, “No, no—I’m really this.” It is not about being stubborn or immoveable; it is a question of knowing one’s function and realizing that function wholeheartedly. It is a way of offering yourself to others.

In my whole life, no single phrase has permeated my consciousness in the way that “Stand in your position” has. It pokes me every day—not just in the role of Zen priest, but also as an educator, as a citizen, and recently as a father. It is incredibly difficult—in part because there are so many tempting excuses not to do it, but mostly because in order to stand in one’s position, you must first understand, even if only intuitively, what that position is. Even if you cannot fully know what to do, you have to do it anyway.

I bring this up because as I kick around the questions Dosho raised about commenting on koan literature, I keep coming back to this issue of position. Who gets to talk about what, and how? I don’t know who gets to talk about what. I’ve been thinking about it for days, and my perspective keeps shifting. In some cases, maybe it’s better to say nothing. Perhaps just the word “koan” can mislead listeners to believe that they are entering an entirely different kind of dialogue, one the speaker does not intend. Could it be that simple? I’m not sure about that.  But if we do open our mouths, if we do take that leap, if we stand in that position, then I am sure that part of that function is to speak with the full thunder and music of the Buddha’s own voice. We do this while not knowing, because not knowing is our fundamental condition. But we do it. We just do it. Because who else will?

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  • Austin Keith

    Amazing words. Inspiring and clarifying and sobering.

    Thank you!

  • judy

    Hello Koun,
    Thankyou for your moving post.
    It is fascinating to hear how things are in Japan.

    What you describe as your teacher’s recommendation for how to ‘enact’ the role of zen priest, is very beautiful and inspiring. It is very much how I experienced Katagiri-roshi “wearing” the role here for us, which I deeply appreciated.

    As the years have passed, however, I have learned (very reluctantly!), that zen roshis, tibetan rinpoches, and all dharma teachers and dedicates, are, in fact, ‘only’ imperfect people who are “just like me”, who are “playing the game”.
    As I came to understand that, in my nievete, I felt betrayed, heartbroken, forlorn, and angry.
    And it actually is a more of a moment-by-moment ongoing process, not just something I “have learned” (past tense), as all of us are flawed and imperfect and just doing the best we can; it is an ongoing struggle to ‘allow’ and accept myself and others in our imperfection, with love and compassion and without judgement and expectations – ie. simply “as we are”, “as it is”.

    So… I find myself now drawn to people who are genuine and honest about who and how they actually are (ie. flawed), than to people who pretend that they are not flawed…
    I definitely agree that people “do not want the priest to be just like them”. We human beings also do not want all phenomena to be impermanent, and tainted with suffering.
    But, since Zen is about truth, I wonder if it might not make more sense, and in fact be more helpful for us all – priest and not-priest – to remain in the ‘roles’ of standing in our positions, while at the same time being honest about our imperfections..?
    It is wonderful to aspire and dedicate ourselves to “unfinchingly speak and act from the position of the Buddha”, to “open our mouths and let them fill with the dharma”, etc.. but everyone can only do that imperfectly, as flawed beings. So how can it be helpful to anyone, including ourselves, to pretend otherwise..?

    Whenever zen priests (or any of us) can manifest genuine honesty and acceptance of our own as well as others’ flaws and weaknesses with loving-kindness, I think that goes a long way towards helping others do the same in this difficult world..

    In deep respect,

    • kounfranz


      Thank you for your reply. I sympathize with your experience of discovering that teachers are people who are just like yourself; I, too, went through a similar process. I suspect, given the nature of spiritual practice, that all but the most cynical few have to pass through that gate before they can enter into the real substance of a teacher-student relationship. There are certainly those who would try to fool students (or themselves) by putting on an act, but I think most of what we discover in this process is not so much about the teacher’s faults but about our own unrealistic expectations. After all, in what other sphere do we enter into a relationship imagining that the other person is not fully human? Romantic relationships can start this way, but they cannot evolve into mature, healthy relationships until we start to see the other more clearly. I am very aware of the three-dimensionality of my teachers, but that is the fruit of time and proximity, both of which, in my opinion, are fundamental to making that dynamic work.

      An important aspect of this is the impersonal nature of practice, but since Dosho has already asked me to write something about that, I’ll save that discussion for now.

      In any case, I do believe, from my experience, that embodying one’s position is an act of generosity, and an honest one. To truly stand in that place (not as an act, but with all of one’s energy) is a very exposed, vulnerable, even raw place.


  • Harry

    I don’t particularly look to Japan for approval on protocol etc or anything else, and I’d be happy if I could come to just fully express the broken toy that I am as an unremarkable lay person (not looking to inspire and impress in any other way), but I appreciated the sincerity of this post, and the info on the various types of presentation is very helpful.

    ‘Dharma talks in the West’…hmmm… I’ve been at some where it would have been better to empty the room by chasing everybody out with a big stick (certainly would have woken me up!) Have been privvy to conversations where attendees have been rating said talks and comparing teachers… maybe we should set up a ‘Rate Your Dharma Talk’ website?

    I think there is certainly some ‘magical thinking’ around koans just as there is around zazen; and I suspect that there are some strong assumptions/ethnocentric perceptions about Japanese culture and character generally that are still affecting the western approach to Zen.

    Transference is really a problem I think and it raises all sorts of ethical questions. The fact is that some people in the west, due in no small part to our western values and traditions, go to buddhist centres to get ‘saved’, or with other expectations that make them vulnerable. The notion of ‘Zen as a helping profession’ was debated recently. It’s not a helping profession of course, as it does not have any professional standards and checks, but maybe it should have. In my opinion, where you effectively have a power relationship (even if this is only a power relationship due to the student’s expectations/transference) then the teacher has a duty of care for the student if he/she is presenting themselves as a teacher.

    Maybe it’s different in Japan, and Japanese priesthood is really none of my business, but the nature of the teacher in western centres needs to be more equal, less of a ‘position’, as they are not trained to use or even recognise transference, and do not avail of the professional standards of checks (on-going supervision etc) which are put in place to ensure that they do not abuse the student in transference, among other things.

    Also, Buddhism is a religion and there is a danger that a teacher may impose his/her values on a vulnerable and expectant person in this way. I see that all the time on the internet: Buddhist teachers blowing off about what’s right and wrong for people… that’s a pretty good indication that they should not have access to vulnerable and/or easily mislead people, and the pressure placed on vulnerable people in Buddhist groups is a real problem methinks (not always, or all, a teachers fault of course).

    Sorry, went off topic and rambled a bit there…

    Thanks & Regards,


    • kounfranz


      Thank you. All the dangers you mention are real, certainly. We must be careful–I’ve heard many Zen teachers say essentially the same thing, that we need to move toward a “spiritual friend” model of the teacher-student relationship. That model is beautiful, and it has thrived in many parts of the Buddhist world. But if Zen went that way, I think it would be a real loss. Rather than eliminate that teacher position because of the dangers, I would rather see us commit ourselves to cultivating teachers who can authentically–and with integrity–stand in that position. That said, when I hear stories of things gone wrong, I do think that there have been real misunderstandings (both among teachers and students) about the nature of the relationship–specifically, it seems that the dynamic often becomes intensely personal, and that brings with it both obvious and subtle pitfalls too numerous to count.


  • Oreb

    The japanese built a whole society around knowing one’s position, neh?

    In the end a father might be better than a Father. It’s Kuan-Yin’s many arms and reaching around for the pillow at night all over again.


  • Getsuei

    My first impression of Koun Franz was “this guy is the real thing.” Of course what did I know? I had only read a couple of books and feebly sat on a pillow in my kitchen a few times. Hearing you speak about “standing in your position,” I can see now that is exactly what I was witnessing. Having been privy to many of your talks I can honestly say that you did just that.
    It was not that you were “trying” to be this priest that everyone expected you to be, I doubt that most imagined you to be flawless having herd you openly speak of your flaws. As you said, you opened yourself to all those who wished to see, hear and experience you. Because if I understand what you say, standing in your position means being true to your title, your role, and yourself, all at once, and in every moment, and maybe even a bit more than that.
    There is no doubt that having been a student of yours I am filled to the brim with bias, but I cannot help feeling that what you say about a teacher being a teacher, or a worker being a worker, or a parent being a parent to their very core, embodies this practice one hundred percent.
    Thank you for your words, and thank you Dosho for giving us the opportunity to get a little peek at the ever mysterious Japanese side of things.


    • kounfranz


      I am so, so happy to run into you here, of all places.

      Thank you, and thank you for all that you do for the sangha in Anchorage. I know the effort you make to bring this kind of practice to life.


  • Cliff Clusin

    BOTH, me thinks, Stand in one’s position as living Buddha, AND, I’m just like you.
    Jump past dualism, you can do it!

    • kounfranz


      Yes, absolutely. But what makes the dynamic dynamic is the agreement to stand in different positions. Perhaps I should have pointed out in my post that as difficult as this kind of practice can be for the teacher, it can be even more difficult (and more rewarding) for the person in the position of student. To face a teacher, in all of his or her exposed, messy humanity, and relate as a student requires not just humility, but also a deep sense of what “self” really is. It is often said that students make teachers, and that’s true–the moment-to-moment invitation to stand in that position is critical.


  • Desiree

    I’ve attended one sesshin; commemorating the Buddha’s enlightenment in 2010. One experience I had during this session resonates with me as being similar to what you call “Standing in your Position.” I was washing dishes with one other person, and it came up for that person to mention “keeping my mind on my job.” From this point I’ve explored how my role exists, short-term and long-term. My job is not just my job, but also whatever role I am called to fulfill moment-to-moment. What is my position outside of my resume? What my mission is…my long-term role.

    I feel that through your post, a sort of teisho, I am invited to passionately fulfill my life role. In that way the text was a proposal, an invitation to marry the ideas introduced into the day-to-day operation of my mind.

    Your assessment of interactions in American society is apt. It is like how the details in context that allowed “keeping my mind on my job” to blossom, in that moment and the coming year, are not essential. Blossom it does. In this way, the lack of traditional Buddhist interactions, monastarily, in American society leading to more teisho by clergy – invites me to look toward traditional American (and international) hum-drum & pop culture to inform my practice today; seeing the dharma in all the myriad of interactions that exist, here & now, for us in the states.

    Eleanor Roosevelt
    Great minds discuss ideas
    Avg. minds discuss events
    Small minds discuss people

    I hear this reflected in conversation often, though not literally stated. I am looking at the categories you proposed on a wide scale. Dharma lessons being offered in traditional and untraditional settings by traditional and non-traditional characters. Sekkyou seems to be offered most, due to the frequency of interaction people have with entertainment industries. Sekkyou, to me, is an event – with a great volume of people – where average ideas are discussed (though it is often the most difficult to “pull off”). Houwa, to me, is a great idea discussed by everyone – almost all the time, but usually non-verbally (>70%< of communication). It is verbally discussed surrounding and depending upon the frequency of traumatic events. Houyaku, I feel, is undertaken by the young (not small) or the “young in heart.” Perhaps the opportunity for houyaku is taken for granted because of its prevalence in different forms. Teisho, taking up the broom, to me, is always there – just not presented as such (like koans in the State of Japan). This is where all sorts of people ingest all sorts of ideas at all sorts of events and filter data into Small, Medium & Large concept buckets to think about, discuss and put into action.

    I, of course, don’t know the use of these terms in Japan – but these are my feelings surrounding the terms based on your definitions.

    Do you think it is possible to teach the dharma w/out expounding the dharma, and is that ethical? I find that non-traditional houwa, sekkyou, houyaku are often disguised teisho – inviting me to be more deeply engaged with the intimate aspects of my life “role,” the fruit of many lives.

    Who else will, indeed! :)

    • kounfranz


      Thank you for clarifying something I perhaps should have spelled out directly in my post, which is that the discussion of “one’s position” is not in any way limited to the role of teacher, or even to what we usually call a “role.” As someone washing dishes, you can stand in the position of dishwasher. Or not. It’s a constant choice, and doing it always requires more effort and more clarity of purpose than not doing it.

      Do you mean, “Is it possible to teach the dharma without talking about the dharma?” If that’s the question, then my answer is yes. Not only is it possible, it’s the standard method. What I have learned from my teachers’ words is a drop in the ocean of what I’ve learned from watching how they carry themselves in the world (and more specifically, how they hold the tradition). But I would also classify all of that non-verbal teaching as “expounding dharma.” When the Buddha held up that flower and Mahakasyapa smiled, the dialogue couldn’t have been louder if they were shouting.


  • Harry

    Hi Koun,

    Re ‘personal’: Maybe it’s too personal, maybe it’s not personal enough. I’m not at all convinced that authenticity in expounding Zen is, or should be, or even can be, of one flavour: Sometimes a thundering, towering patriarch in the ancient lineage may express it… sometimes the same goofball dancing badly to ABBA at a cocktail party may ding the bell.

    What was that line of Dogen’s where he talked about student and spiritual chum being so close that their eyebrows become entangled? He seemed to have acknowledged, even celebrated, the twisty, entangled intimacy of it.

    And, speaking of koans as we were, this one from Shinji Shobogenzo springs to mind:

    Whenever Master Ho-un of Roso Mountain in the Chi district saw a monk coming toward him, he would turn to face the wall and begin sitting in Zazen at once.

    One day Master Nansen went to see him. Master Ho-un turned to face the wall and began sitting in Zazen. Master Nansen finally laid a hand on his shoulder.

    Master Ho-un said: Who are you?

    Master Nansen said: Fugan.

    Master Ho-un said: What are you doing?

    Master Nansen said: This is just normal conduct.
    (Nishijima trans.)



    • kounfranz


      Wonderful koan! Thank you.

      I would only offer that, in my understanding, “intimate” and “personal” (in this tradition) do not have to be the same thing.


  • desiree

    koun –

    Yes that is my meaning.

    Thank you for Clarity.

    “Deep down people do not want the priest to be just like them.” This may be true, but do people deep down want to be as the priest is?


  • Harry

    Hi Koun,

    The idea of intimacy without being too personal reminds me of the ‘Core Condition’ of ‘empathetic understanding’ from Carl Rogers’ 3 Core Conditions for creating a therapeutic encounter. This humanist, phenomenological model is applied a lot in social care settings by both professionals and non-professionals (and has been applied in other settings too) because it is easy to understand, and it is non-oppressive, so it is considered very applicable and safe.

    The Core Conditions are qualities which are brought to the encounter by the practitioner, so in the case of ‘empathetic understanding’ the practitioner seeks to understand the client or service user from his/her own point of view, and within his/her own frames of reference or world views, without becoming too personally involved. The other two ‘Core Conditions’ are ‘congruence’ and ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ (UPR).

    It seems to me though that, although we can distinguish between ‘initimate’ and ‘personal’ theoretically in this way, in practice things might be much more entwined. I’d be interested in how you would see these as distinct or seperate.

    BTW, I think Roger’s 3 Core Conditions and humanistic/phenomenological approach offers an excellent touchstone to Western Buddhist teachers, although it is best practiced with the element of peer review/supervision and in the context of ongoing reflective practice.



    • kounfranz


      I just looked up the core conditions online–it seems like a very reasonable construct.

      “Empathetic understanding” is a really useful way to describe the stance of the teacher, though my feeling is that the goal of the teacher-student relationship, and what the teacher is seeing, differs significantly from what we usually find in a therapist-client relationship. This is far too simple a way of drawing the distinction, but it seems that a therapist is helping a client to figure out his/her story, hopefully to arrive at one that fosters healthy relationships and action. In contrast, the teacher is helping the student to see past his/her own story, to meet in that place where we can recognize that which is universal and impersonal about our experience, hopefully to reveal a mode of expression that is unhindered by the limitations of a personal narrative. The challenge for the teacher is to look at the student and to see past the story, to the place where they can truly meet. But it’s rare that this works. Just as in therapy, it’s all too common for the teacher to be seduced by the power of the student’s story (or to be stuck in his/her own). If that’s the case, then as you say, you have a person acting as someone in a helping profession, but with no training (and a false foundation to start). We have to be careful.

      As for intimacy, sitting in zazen with another person or a group of people is, in my experience, deeply intimate (there is a palpable intimacy among sesshin participants, even in settings where people never speak or make eye contact for a week). The bodhisattva’s relationship with all beings is intimate; our relationship with this moment, if we are open to it, is profoundly intimate. And in the context of the above paragraph, recognizing that another’s suffering is identical to my own suffering–regardless of particulars and individual narratives–is intimate while being radically impersonal. That’s my sense of it, anyway.

      Thank you.


      • doshoport


        Interesting exchange here.

        You write “…to meet in that place where we can recognize that which is universal and impersonal about our experience, hopefully to reveal a mode of expression that is unhindered by the limitations of a personal narrative.”

        Is the universal “unhindered” leaping beyond our narrative or leaping through our narrative?


        • kounfranz


          I choose “beyond.” That’s not to say that we leave our stories behind–to transcend something is to include it, but in a space which allows it to fall into its proper perspective. The personal is not simply ballast.

          I say “beyond” because I don’t think it’s reasonable to enter that space by diving more deeply into our own narrative. That is the ego trying to look beyond the ego. I don’t want to suggest, by the way, that deep personal exploration is something to be avoided–that kind of inquiry is fundamental to the human experience, and can often be a prerequisite for the kind of process I’m (unskillfully) describing. But what is personal is, by definition, limited. We have to step outside of that narrative–somehow–to be able to see it for what it really is.

          When we throw ourselves body and mind into something that is not “ours” (this action, this moment, this encounter), that is always a leap out of our narrative, and into something larger and less clearly defined. There’s a great freedom to be tasted there.

          I’ll work on finding a more skillful (and hopefully concrete) way of describing this.


          • doshoport

            So a person of great practice is free from karma?


          • kounfranz


            If, by “free from karma,” you mean “is often able to take an objective and flexible stance towards what might otherwise be unconscious patterns,” then sure, maybe. :-)


  • judy

    Do you think it would be true to say that in learning to “recognize that which is universal and impersonal about our experience” and to “reveal a mode of expression that is unhindered by the limitations of personal narrative”, that we might as a result hope to arrive at ways of being-in-the-world through, with, and beyond our stories, that (among other things) would “foster healthy relationships and action” in our intimacy with all beings..?

    • kounfranz


      Yes. :-)


  • judy

    Dear Koun.
    Well, you certainly talk a good game! :-)
    Thankyou for your eloquent and inspiring posts.
    I think it will continue to be my particular ongoing ‘koan’ to work with fully and whole-heartedly “standing in my position” at the same time as being fully honest about my weaknesses and imperfections.. ie. without slipping into pretense, vanity, self-righteousness, self-deception.. and those other unfortunate things that can arise.
    And when they do.. as they will.. in myself and others.., to receive them with compassion…

    I am forever forgetting that we are all “fully human”, always hoping for perfection in myself and others.. just as I am forever wishing for the place where there is no hot or cold..
    in deep bow,

  • Desiree

    Instead of leaping beyond or through – and certainly not into : P – what about leaping within? :)

    I’m reminded of this quote from Dosho ~
    “..conserving the fundamental which of course cannot be destroyed. But our pointing through it can point away or directly. ”

    listening to the clock tick sporadically,

  • Cleveland

    Many thanks for spending some time to describe the terminlogy for the noobs!

  • desiree

    Its interesting to me, enough to note, that the words subjective and objective have switched places over the years.

    I guess i dont believe in either term fully…. I think right now objective means to me that it is tested and attested to by a majority of people in a field.

    I think about the terms of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Objective seems to relate to the latter…being about reducing a numerical equation to its constituent parts -observationally without bias. Qualitative data existing more in the social sphere, linguistically – more prone to personal bias of perspective.

    Koun – did you mean objective in a different sense than I’m thinking(from what you can muster of it by the stream of consciousness)?

    • kounfranz


      When we talk about objectivity in the context of personal experience, of course, it’s always going to be a matter of degree. What I was referring to is that conditioned behavior is almost always unexamined, and therefore our experience of it is purely subjective–we’re in it, so we don’t see what it is. Objectivity, in this case, means recognizing that conditioned behavior, it’s causes, and the fact that repeating that behavior is optional, no matter how many times we’ve repeated it in the past, no matter how much we imagine ourselves to just be that kind of person (someone with a temper, for example–people often talk about a temper the way they might talk about a nose, as if it’s just attached and that’s that). The most concrete expression of karma in our daily lives is that we fall into these same ruts over and over again, with no awareness of why or the way out (or, often, that we do it at all). Some types of practice create opportunities for people to see that their every response is actually a choice among many choices–that discovery is what I’m calling “an objective and flexible stance.”


      • Desiree


        Seems to be a good case for free will. But, free from karma?

        • kounfranz


          “Free from karma” only works if we very strictly define karma for the purpose of this conversation, which I played with when Dosho asked. But really? Free from karma in the sense of being free from causality? No.


          • Desiree

            My sense of humor never seems to come off right in print…

            Perhaps I’ll gain a more flexible stance as I age. I don’t quite know what else to say, so I’m sure nothing will suffice for the time-being.

            Thanks for cross-posting, its truly nice to hear your unique voice.

  • Harry

    Koun: If, by “free from karma,” you mean “is often able to take an objective and flexible stance towards what might otherwise be unconscious patterns,” then sure, maybe.

    In that case, it may be that the freedom of realising a buddha may be invariably yoked to the smelly old hide of a wild fox: Free to be stuck, stuck to be free.



  • Raj

    A challenging post. Thank you.Standing in one’s position is the most simple thing and so the most enigmatic.To assume the Buddha robes may be right for some but the scene has risks.Particularly the preacher.In case any hypocrisy creeps in that won’t be authentic practice.Only an old story.So the preacher is encouraged to speak knowing the pitfalls. Along with the many tempting excuses not to do it are the tempting excuses to do it. A king or the head of a house are also exposed to similar challenges.What is true in the Buddha position is true in every position.To do it is a really wonderful thing and the question’who else will do it’ mirrors and puts one in gaze.Thank you.