Kantaka To Koan (gong’an) (Buddhism)


Kantaka was the horse of Prince Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. When Prince Siddhar-tha left his youthful life, he also relinquished his horse Kantaka. According to the Buddhist canon Kantaka had been born at the same time as the Buddha, along with 499 other horses. Kantaka was the color of a polished conch shell and possessed speed and strength. on the night of Siddhartha’s departure from the palace the horse’s footsteps and neighing were muffled by four guardian deities, so their departure did not awaken anyone.

After traveling all night for a distance of 30 leagues and passing through three kingdoms the Buddha, his horse Kantaka, and his groom Channa stopped on the banks of the river Anoma. Kantaka jumped over the river. At that point the Buddha left them. After leaving his master’s sight Kantaka could not bear the pain of parting and fell down dead. He was then reborn in Tusita heaven as Kantaka, a god.

In Buddhist imagery the horse is often a symbol of the senses. Hence Prince Siddhartha’s giving up of his horse may be a symbol of his turn away from sensuality.


Karma is "deed" or "action," and the accumulated results of action. Karma is a widespread concept used to explain events. In classical Indian writings one’s karma is the result of actions in the past—rich or poor, healthy or diseased, born well or born low, all people were said to be in their current situation as a result of the seeds planted by previous actions. Naturally these actions included those taken in previous lives.

The Questions of King Milinda, an early Buddhist text, contains extensive discussion of karma. The sage Nagasena explains to the king that not all suffering and evil can be attributed to the function of karma. Suffering results from the fact of being in samsara, not from karma alone. Karma is here seen as "retributive justice," which must be repaid. An enlightened being, a Buddha, will have worked off all his karmic load.

The Buddha stated that karma causes results in this life, the next lifetime, and all successive births. Humans are reborn into samsara because of the thirst (tanha) for existence. Inanimate things appear mechanically and disintegrate eventually, in a mechanical process. And, generally, karma is increased through intentional action by people. Finally, there is karma on a cosmic level, which affects large units of people, whole nations, planets, and whatever lies beyond.

In Buddhist doctrine karma relates to volitions (cetana), both wholesome and unwholesome, that shape individual destinies and cause rebirth. The volitions in turn are manifested in bodily actions, speech, and mind. unwholesome karma (akusala) are caused by the three bad roots (mula) of greed, hatred, and delusion. Wholesome karma (kusala) are caused by unselfishness; hatelessness, or metta; and undeludeness, or knowledge. Karmic results (vipaka) are countered through counteractive karma that becomes weak and fails to effect a result.

Karma functions in four ways: first, as regenerative karma, which functions at rebirth and throughout life; second, as supportive karma, which assists already manifested karma; third, as counteractive karma, which suppresses karmic results; and, fourth, as destructive karma, which destroys a weaker karma.

Karma Kagyu

Karma Kagyu is one of the eight lineages within the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Karma lineage of the Kagyu school was founded by Dusum Khyenpa (1110-93), who is identified as the first KARMAPA, or figurehead of the Karma Kagyu school. He was born into a family of commoners in Khams in eastern Tibet and at age 18 began to travel in search of enlightenment. He befriended Phagmo Drupa (1118-70), and together they studied with Gyamarpa. He then studied with the Kadampa master Pa-tsap Lotsawa both exoteric (everyday) and esoteric (hidden and mystic) teachings of Kadampa. At age 30 he reached Daklha Gampo and began studying with Gampopa, who subjected him to a rigorous course of study in the fundamentals of Buddhism, followed by rigorous meditation practice. He founded Tsurpu monastery in central Tibet in 1185, as well as several monasteries in Kham.

Prior to his passing, Dusum Khyenpa is reported to have made a prediction regarding his rebirth. unlike most of the others of this time, the Karma Kagyu became one of the first Tibetan schools to transmit authority from generation to generation by reincarnation, as opposed to transmission within a family, from father to son or uncle to nephew, as was the case in the Sakya and most of the other Kagyu lineages. He thus gave rise to the institution of the karmapa, the figurehead of the Karma Kagyu school. Because of the prestige of this lineage, the Karma Kagyu has become the best-known Kagyu lineage. The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpe Dorje (192481), was an active teacher in exile, particularly in the united States. In recent years the school has been divided by a controversy over his succession, resulting in the enthronement of two candidates for the position of the Seventeenth Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje (1985- ), who is the most widely accepted candidate, and Trinley Thaye Dorje (1983- ), who is the candidate advanced by Shamar Rinpoche.


The karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu school. The first karmapa was Dusum Khyenpa (1110-93). All subsequent karmapas have been recognized as reincarnations of the first. He was recognized as the tulku, or incarnation, in 1987.


Karuna, or compassion, is the essential quality of a bodhisattva. Karuna is also one of the four Brahma Viharas, or "sublime states." Karuna indicates the qualities of the heart—love and respect for all living beings. Mahakaruna (great compassion) is the last of the 18 virtues of a Buddha. It became a high-priority ideal with the rise of Mahayana ideology from the first century c.e. With PRAJNA, "wisdom," the individual cultivated the widest possible perspective on the suffering of others. Although not a separate section of the Eightfold Path, nor one of the paramitas, or perfections, so strongly emphasized in Mahayana practice, the concept of karuna is present throughout both these schemes and is an essential quality in Buddhist cultivation.

Kasuga Taisha

This Shinto shrine located near Nara was for much of its history combined with the nearby Buddhist Kofuku-ji temple. The deity in the area, Kasuga Daimyojin (Great Deity of Kasuga), was the ancestral deity of the powerful Fujiwara clan. The shrine was officially established in 768. By the end of the Heian period (794-1185) Kasuga Taisha was merged with Kofuku-ji to reflect the official policy of fusion of Shinto and Buddhism. The two centers of worship were not separated until the Meiji period (1868-1912). Because of its association with the powerful Fujiwaras and its closeness to the original home of the gods, Kasuga Taisha is one of the most important Shinto shrines.

Kasyapa (first century c.e.)

monk said to have transmitted Buddhism to China

Kasyapa was a Buddhist monk who is said to have been the first to transmit Buddhist teachings to China. According to the story, around 67 c.e., the Chinese emperor Ming had a dream of the Buddha. He subsequently sent two envoys to India to locate some Buddhist scriptures. As the envoys made their way to India, in what is now Afghanistan, they encountered two monks, Kasyapa-matanga and Zhu Fa Lan (also known as Gobharana or Dhar-maratna). The monks were on their way to China. The envoys reversed their steps and led Kasyapa and his companion back to the emperor’s court at Luoyang, Henan Province. (Some modern scholars have cast severe doubt on this story.)

Kasyapa introduced Buddhist sutras and, while in the environment of the court, edited a selection of the Buddha’s sayings that has survived to the present as a popular introduction to Buddhism, The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha. The text was edited in the style of the Analects of Confucius.

Kasyapa-matanga and Zhu Fa Lan also presented the emperor with a picture of Sakyamuni Buddha seated on a white horse. The emperor saw to the building of the first Buddhist temple in China and named it the Baimasi (or White Horse) Temple after the horse.

Two other individuals known as Kasyapa— Mahakasyapa and Kasyapa of Uruvela—were contemporaries of the historical Buddha.

Kasyapa of Uruvela early follower of the Buddha

Kasyapa, a fire-worshipping ascetic, became an early follower of the Buddha. uruvela Kasyapa and his two brothers took 500 of their matted-haired followers into the sangha. This Kasyapa was a well-known ascetic in his day, and it took an example of the Buddha’s use of magical powers to persuade him to join. In the account the Buddha battled two smoke-breathing nagas (serpents), read the thoughts of uruvela Kasyapa, and performed many other miracles—a total of 3,500— before Kasyapa and his followers agreed to follow him. After all the followers of the three brothers had been ordained, the Buddha taught them the fire sermon on Mt. Gaya. (This person shares the name with Kasyapa the Great and Kasyapa of the first century c.e.)

Kasyapa the Great

(Mahakasyapa) foremost among the Buddha’s followers

Kasyapa is an important figure in early Buddhism. Two additional Kasyapa figures—Kasyapa of the first century c.e. and Kasyapa of Uruvela—pale in significance to this Kasyapa, who was the Buddha’s official successor. Through his saintliness, his possession of great merit, and his quick enlightenment, he was seen as worthy of being the Buddha’s successor. Kasyapa is a paradigmatic Buddhist saint; in other words, stories were created around his image and using his spirit to guide subsequent schools. Mahakasyapa was a widely popular saint in northern and southern India in the pre-Islamic period of Buddhist influence. He is most famous as a forest renunciant and meditator.

Mahakasyapa was born into a wealthy family but abandoned the wealthy lifestyle and wandered for a year before he met the Buddha. Both immediately recognized each other as master and disciple. The Buddha then began a detailed instruction in the techniques of meditation, including mindful-ness. After eight days of practice, Kasyapa attained enlightenment as an ARHAT on the ninth day. The Buddha continued to give Kasyapa preeminence among his followers; in one example they exchanged robes, a mark of high honor.

Kasyapa was enlightened and so possessed such magical abilities as flight. He was also known as a strict disciplinarian.

Upon the Buddha’s PARINIRVANA (death), the community of monks could not light the funeral pyre until Kasyapa arrived. He immediately assumed leadership of the sangha. He realized they had a mission to recall and pass on the teachings of the Buddha, and so he proposed and convened the first Buddhist council.

In one Chinese version of the Asokarajavadana (the story of King Asoka) after the completion of the council Kasyapa transmits his lineage to Ananda. He then travels to Mt. Kukkutapada, where he dies while in meditation. Thereafter his presence is associated with that mountain, and King Asoka visits the mountain to address him.


(robe offering) ceremony

This ceremony is held in Thailand and other countries where a majority practices Theravada Buddhism, within one month after the Vassa rains retreat. During this ceremony robes and other offerings are given to monks. Since the monks were traditionally not allowed to travel during the Vassa period, kathina is an opportunity for lay supporters to check on the welfare of monks and make offerings to them before they resume their wanderings. This practice reflects the high status accorded the sangha in Thai and Theravada cultures, as well as the dependence of the sangha on the laity.

Today in the formal kathina ceremony a lay representative offers fabric robes to two chosen bhiksus (monks) who represent the sangha. The two bhiksus then pass the offering to the full sangha. The sangha together chants sadhu, ("It is well"), confirming agreement. The ceremony is finalized later that day when the robes are completed and presented to the honored bhiksus.


(Ajnata Kaundindya; in Pali, Kondanna) first Buddhist monk

Kaundinya was one of the five ascetics who first wandered with the Buddha prior to his enlightenment. He achieved enlightenment in a flash of insight when listening to the Buddha expound the FouR TRuTHS. He was thereafter held up as a symbol of the possibility of "sudden" enlightenment.

Kaundinya was the prototypical loyal follower of the Buddha, his right-hand person. In many religions it is this person who receives the leader’s mantle and shepherds the fragile new group into its postleader stage. But in the Buddhist tradition this did not happen. Instead the mantle of leadership went to Kasyapa, the most eminent of the Buddha’s followers, and Kaundinya, the loyalist, was left out. In some collections of the lives of the greatest 33 ARHATS, Mahakasyapa is listed first, and Kuandinya last.

Kaundinya played a part in the Buddha’s birth as well as later, as a companion. on the fifth day after the prince Siddhartha was born, his father, King Suddodhana, summoned 108 Brahmans (wise men) to the palace to prophesy the young prince’s future. Kaundinya was the youngest of the group of eight whose comments are recorded. Alone of the eight Kaundinya prophesied that the child would without doubt become a Buddha and fully comprehend the nature of reality. It was Kaundinya who also informed the king that his son would renounce the world after seeing the four signs: an aged person, a sick person, a dead person, and an ascetic.


Kegon is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term Hua Yan, or "Flower Ornament," a reference to the Avatamsaka Sutra. The Hua Yan school, which flourished in the medieval period of Chinese Buddhism, around the Tang dynasty (618-907), was introduced to Japan by the Chinese monk Shen Xiang around 740, during the Nara period (710-784) of Japanese history. It was vigorously promoted through the lectures of Ryo-ben (689-773), a disciple of the Korean Hua Yan monk Shinjo (d. 742). Emperor Shomu promoted this Buddhist school because its teachings of the central role of the Vairocana Buddha meshed with his own desire to strengthen central political authority. He authorized a temple to be built at Nara, Todai-ji. Inside this temple he added, in 749, a vast statue of the Buddha Vairocana. The Kegon school was of interest to the social elite and not the common people, however, and after the Nara period it lost influence. In the Heian period it was almost completely overshadowed by the Tendai school.

Keizan Jokin

(1268-1325) innovative Soto Zen leader

Keizan Jokin was a second-generation Soto Zen leader who championed a lay-oriented form of the faith. He emerged as a young man as a student of Tettu Gikai, the third abbot of Eihei-ji, the main Soto center. However, he left Eihei-ji to study with several Rinzai Zen teachers who were still operating in a Tendai context. While still dedicated to the Soto emphasis on ZAZEN, sitting meditation, he did begin to see the possibilities of reconciling Zen with some of the practices of other schools.

He eventually moved to Noto Province, a peninsula on the northern shore of Japan’s main island, Honshu. Here he had great success at building the Soto movement. However, in winning the people, he departed from the practice at Eihei-ji in that he absorbed elements of the popular faith of the region, especially devotion to Kannon (Guan Yin). He also emphasized the role of the lay people as opposed to the monks. From Soto-Ji, the temple Keizan founded, the movement spread from Noto to different parts of the country.

Under his leadership, his faction soon became the largest segment of the Soto movement, and Soto-ji rivaled Eihei-ji in importance as a leadership training center.

Keizan left behind two important disciples, Gasan Joseki (1275-1365), who succeeded him as abbot of Soto-ji, and Meiho Sotetsu (1277-1350), who became the abbot of Daijo-ji, another important Soto temple. The success of Keizan’s faction over the next two centuries would allow it to take over Eihei-ji and eventually reunify the Soto movement, which had split into several factions after the founder Dogen’s death.

Kenchen Thrangu

(1933- ) Karma Kagyu leader traditionally in charge of Thrangu monastery

The Thrangu monastery was established around 1500 in Chinghai, now a province of China. The head of the monastery is known as the Thrangu Rinpoche. The first Thrangu Rinpoche was Sherap Gyaltsen, who was appointed by Chodrak Gyatso, the Seventh Karmapa.

The current Thrangu Rinpoche, Kenchen Thrangu, was born in 1933 in Kham, Tibet. He was recognized as the Ninth Kenchen Thrangu when he was four. He received full ordination when he was 23. In 1959, when he was 27, he left Chinghai, via Nepal, with approximately 70 followers.

In Rumtek, Sikkim, he was made abbot of Rumtek Monastery and the Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies. He is currently abbot of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. He has established monasteries, nunneries, and research centers throughout the world.

Khantipalo, Phra

(Lawrence Mills)

(1932- ) British-born Theravada teacher and founder of Bodhi Citta Buddhist Centre in Australia Khantipalo was born near London and took his preliminary vows in London. He later lived in India, Thailand, Australia, and Sri Lanka. He established Wat Buddharangsee in Sydney and, in 1978 with Ayya Khema, the Wat Buddha Dhamma forest retreat at Wisemans Ferry, north of Sydney. He also founded the Bodhi Citta Buddhist Centre in Cairns, Australia.

Khantipalo eventually left the life of a monk and married. He continues to live in Cairns and is active in the Bodhi Citta Buddhist Centre.

Khyentse Rinpoche

The term Khyentse Rinpoche refers to a lineage of reincarnating masters in the Nyingma school of Buddhism, all of whom originate in the figure of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-92). He was a renowned master in the nonsectarian Rime Movement that flourished in eastern Tibet during the 19th century. He studied with teachers from all of the major Tibetan Buddhist traditions and was distinguished discoverer of hidden teachings.

His successor was Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (1894-1959). He was a prominent lama in eastern Tibet who instructed many other lamas, particularly in the Nyingma and Kagyu schools,most notably Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He has been succeeded by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche (1961- ), an important Nyingma lama who trained under Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and currently oversees Dzongsar Monastery in eastern Tibet as well as branch monasteries established in India and Bhutan. He has also established Buddhist Centers in North America, Australia, and East Asia. He is thus an influential contemporary Nyingma teacher.

There is also a branch lineage deriving from Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. The great Nyingma master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-91) was recognized by the illustrious Mipham Rinpoche (1846-1912) as an incarnation of Jamyang Khyen-tse Wangpo. He undertook a religious life at age 11, studying initially at Shechen monastery in eastern Tibet and later with Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. He was not a celibate monk, but a married lama. He was married to Khandro Lama, with whom he had two daughters. After the Chinese invasion of eastern Tibet, he and his family fled first to central Tibet and then to Bhutan, where he was well received as a teacher. He founded Shechen Tennyi Dargye Ling Monastery in Boudhnath, Kathmandu, in 1980; the current abbot of this monastery is his grandson, Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche (1966- ). He became one of the best known Nyingma lamas, with numerous distinguished students, such as Trulshik Rinpoche (1923- ).

He passed away in Bhutan in 1991, and his cremation and other observances, held in Bhutan and Nepal in 1991 and 1992, were attended by thousands of students and prominent lamas from around the world. His successor is Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, who was born in Nepal in 1993 and discovered as Dilgo Khyentse’s successor by Trulshik Rinpoche.

Kito Buddhism

Kito is a Japanese term referring to the popular practice of asking Buddhist deities and bodhisat-tvas to intercede in personal matters. Seeking such intercession usually involves the performance of particular magical-ritual acts. Such practices have always been and continue to be a part of popular religious practice in Japan (and China) in Buddhism as well as other religions. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, Buddhism was both elevated as the state religion and reorganized as a department of the government. Kito Buddhism was discouraged as an attempt was made to regularize religious practice. As priests assumed a number of functions administering temples and responding to government regulations, the personal religion of those who attended the temples suffered.

The formalized life of the temples led many individuals to turn toward a variety of unofficial priests and religious functionaries who offered cures from disease, glimpses of the future, and the alleviation of immediate painful situations. This more informal life was carried on outside the temple structures throughout the Tokugawa (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods, in spite of periodic attempts by the government to suppress it and has experienced a comeback in the years since World War II in the atmosphere of religious freedom.

Kiyozawa Manshi

(1863-1903) Japanese Buddhist reformer

Kiyozawa Manshi, a Jodo Shinshu priest in the Higashi Hongwanji, emerged at the end of the 19th century as a major voice for the reform of Buddhism and its realistic encounter with Western thought. A graduate in philosophy of the Tokyo Imperial University, he had studied Western philosophy and studied with Western teachers. In his younger years, he became an educator, holding various positions with the Higashi Hongwanji that led to his becoming president of Shinshu university (now otani university), and taught history of philosophy.

At the time of his emergence, Japanese Buddhism had suffered a double blow, both being displaced from its formerly favored position by the Meiji government and having to deal with the growth of Protestant Christianity, which had been introduced in the 1850s. He rejected both identification with the heightened nationalism of the government and the harsh polemic against Christianity. Rather, he called upon Buddhism to reform internally with a new emphasis on religious experience and upon his own organization to rededicate itself to the teachings of its founder, Shinran (1173-1262). From his position at the university, he called upon the Jodo Shinshu to respond to Western intellectual currents without becoming subordinate to them. He motivated his students to develop contemporary interpretations of Shinran.

Kiyozawa’s career took off in the mid-1890s and he obtained a wide audience for his calls for reform but in 1903 died at 40 years old. His approach would have far-reaching results, however, as its influenced several generations of Japanese Buddhist scholars and religious leaders. His thought provided the foundation for the spread of Japanese Buddhism in the West through the 20th century.


In Buddhist thought the klesas refer to defilements or passions. The klesas are those properties of mind that create dullness and lead to unwholesome actions. These are eliminated in the path to arhathood, which by definition means the elimination of klesas. The Bodhicaryavatara, an eighth-century work by Santideva (685-763), lists three types of klesa: craving (rgag), hatred (dvesa), and delusion (moha). The Visuddhimagga, a standard work on Buddhist practice dating from the fifth century c.e., lists 10 klesas: desire, hate, delusion, pride, false views, doubt, rigidity, excitability, shamelessness, and lack of conscience.

Koan (gong’an)

The koan is a Buddhist literary form. Literally a "public case" or file, the koan is an important tool in Zen/Chan training. Koans are usually short literary puzzles based on incidents from Buddhist history. These incidents generally involve "crazy Chan" practices popular in the Tang dynasty (618-960) in China—such actions as a master’s hitting students, yelling into their ears, or speaking in riddles. The "solution" to the koan riddle is never based on rational thinking, however. The student is encouraged to develop "out of the box" insight in order to solve the paradoxes inherent in the puzzle. The idea is to stimulate the student into "sudden" enlightenment through focus on the paradoxes.

The koan was not originally a separate literary form. Instead the short scenes were embedded in longer commentary works, the yu lu (discourse records) of masters, in particular the "transmission of the lamp" style histories. The first of these longer works, Jingde chuandeng lu, was written in 1004 c.e. Koans were also found in biographies of famous Buddhist masters. It was only later that koans were extracted from such larger works and established as a separate literary form, koan collections.

Koans were not, however, simply extracts or summaries. A koan as a "case" reflects roots not in Buddhist practice but in legal practice in Tang dynasty China (618-907 c.e.). In medieval China the gong’an referred to the table (an) of the judge (gong), or, by extension, a written brief placed on the judge’s table. As a case it was meant to illustrate a point, whether it be of civil law or Dharma.

In the Buddhist context the conversations of famous masters were deemed particularly worthy of recording and study. The key sections of conversations were commented on and used as meditative devices to increase the understanding of the disciple. Some koans have only one commentary. Some have commentaries on the original commentary. Still others have three or more levels of commentary.

The purpose of the koan was to aid in understanding of Buddhist principles. Not only did they record famous examples about legendary figures, they also expressed deep insights from the Buddhist perspective. In later practice in Japanese Zen monasteries, masters used koans to assist monks in gaining enlightenment, often in conjunction with physical punishment or nonconventional behavior. If a practitioner attains a complete understanding of the koan’s case, including the paradox usually contained inside, he or she may suddenly attain complete understanding, or SATORI. This enlightenment is reflected in the practitioner’s ability to explain the koan.

The koans are found in such collections as the Gateless Barrier (Chinese Wumen Guan,Japanese Mumonkan) and the Blue Cliff Collection (Chinese Biyan Lu, Japanese Hekiganroku); the first contains 48 "cases," and the latter 63. These koans, originally compiled in China during the Song dynasty (960-1268), are used most commonly in the Rinzai tradition in Japanese Zen. The use of koans is sometimes criticized as being simply wordplay, and there are collections of answers intended to help students pass koan tests. For Chinese Buddhists, of course, the koan literature simply makes up part of the vast body of Buddhist literature.

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