# 241: The Business Koan

Miura, Isshu, and Ruth Fuller Sasaki (1965). The Zen Koan: Its History and Use in Rinzai Zen, 5.

Story behind the Passage

I am struggling with a business problem again that keeps coming back. And today, it hit me completely unexpectedly. Whenever I think of so many other things that seem to be three steps beyond this thing that I am talking about but not mentioning in detail today, it pops up again, usually because people I talk to draw my attention to it. In these moments, I am also reminded that I have not fully solved the issue yet. If I had, it would not “haunt” me anymore because it would have been transformed into something else already. All of this now made me think of my entire business as a koan.

The first time I heard about koans was by a meditation teacher who had spent considerable time in a Zen monastery. Back then, I knew exactly what he was talking about when he explained it. Or at least, kind of. When he described what the function of koans is, I mostly thought of complete surrender. You have to reach the point of complete surrender if you want the Zen master to accept your answer to the koan he gave you before. I mean, you cannot ‘want’ him to do anything. But this is the state you have to get into after struggling so long with a koan. You have to chew on it until all your previous means of problem solving fail. This is when you reach the fulfilment or awakening that Buddhism talks about as “satori.” And now I am thinking that my entire business has turned into my koan.

My Learnings

“The koans do not represent the private opinion of a single man, but rather the highest principle, received alike by us and by the hundreds and thousands of bodhisatvas of the three realms and the ten directions.” To make this very short: I cannot talk about the three realms here simply because I have never taken that much of a theoretical approach to Buddhism. Neither can I talk about the ten directions. And this in and of itself shows something about the way in which I approach most things in life. I do not approach them with pure reason simply because life has shown me that outstanding things are not possible this way. None of the great things I ever achieved came from mere reason.

“So, how do they come about?” you might ask now.

The answer is: There is no answer. I guess, you have to go through some stages of the Buddhist path to free yourself of other restraints and do whatever your inner destiny or whatever you want to call it makes you do. As you do it, you simply know in this somewhat metaphysical way that this is what you are supposed to be doing and that it will create impact. It plays no role whatsoever if other rational voices tell you something else. It does not matter what your own rational voice says about this. The only thing you have to make sure is that your own rational voice does not get too loud or at least so loud that you start paying attention to it. This is what continuously throws me off track.

When I say that my business is my koan, I am slowly getting a sense that there is no solution to the “problem” or the specific issue at hand. There simply is not. But there still seems to be a purpose in my grappling with it. The koan itself seems to test my sensitivity towards knowing the universal principles which the sentence above talks about. And people who have been in touch with them will know what this feels like and they also know what it feels like if you lose that connection again for some reason. “Highest principles” can never be overruled, no matter by what. But its worst enemy is: reason.

“It cannot be understood by logic; it cannot be transmitted in words; it cannot be explained in writing; it cannot be measured by reason.” I know this sounds quite frustrating to people who place a lot of emphasis on logic and rational thinking. For me, it has turned out that reason has become my worst enemy. It often destroys my business and it leaves only bad traces. But whenever I lose touch with working in harmony with bigger principles, reason is my last resort, it gives me pseudo security. It shows me a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, this usually turns out like a small candle flickering that dies quickly. And it makes me head into the wrong direction for a while.

All this is what you go through when your Zen master gives you a koan, I guess. I have never lived in a monastery and I never had one consistent spiritual teacher. But from what I have heard about koans, this is exactly how it works. You simply chew on it till you almost go crazy. Maybe you do get crazy while working out the answer. And then you try and try but nothing seems to work. When you finally give up all the trying, “salvation” happens. You let go of all the fighting, of all the efforts. You do not look for rational answers anymore. And you give up all the struggles of asking other people for “advice” who use their own rational logic for answering.

At the point where I am now, I know that I have gone through many loops of surrender already. But it seems, those were not the final stages yet. I know this for the simple reason that this question has come up again. No matter how much I hate this personal koan that I have created for myself, it is there for a reason. I have to continue chewing on it. Life is showing me something, I just cannot see it yet because my eyes are blinded by thinking. Underneath, however, I have not lost touch with the universal principles that made me achieve great things and that made me move many people. And maybe that is all there is — moving people to move the world.

Reflection Questions

1) Are there questions that keep coming up again and again and you simply cannot find an answer? What would finding an answer change?

2) How do you think about not approaching questions with a rational mindset?

3) What else do you know about Zen Buddhism?

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