The only really important koans boil down to "What is this?". This is actually the same question as "What were you before your grandparents were born?" You should be able to figure out where these two questions meet.
A koan that does not aid in resolving these questions, or aspects of what becomes known, is not a real koan.
Joshu was speaking from the answer, or shouting from it, when the monk's question cornered him into the false view.
Zen masters like the fact that Joshu screamed. It makes it look like the old man was great and grand, and the monk was a fool.
Personally, I see this as a terrible distortion -- an abuse -- like many aspects of the traditional Zen form. Many aspects of the form extend the idea of "master" over "student". This includes ceremony, elaborate costumes, a rich Zen mythology, an impressive spectacle of formal order in the zendo, the "master's" aloofness from "normal" work, etc. etc.
The list just goes on and on, and, oddly, people criticize sanghas, for excess devotion, when the "masters" screw up. But it is the traditional masters that insist on such ridiculous form, just for sitting still together, and it is the corrupt masters who require such unhealthy devotion from their students.
Anyway, Joshu is in no way dismissing the monk's question, nor is he demonstrating any sort of superiority, nor is he expressing frustration with the monk, nor is he "blasting away" the question into "nothingness".
He is doing none of these things.
In fact, this question, for all we know, may have been a test. And, if so, it is a good test, because it scrambles things in a way that makes it impossible to answer.
So, Joshu was forced to shout.
What are you? How are you here? How are you seeing out your eyes?
Seeing this actually isn't so important, but in Zen, it is talked about as though it is everything.
How best to address the question?
The truth is, the question is best presented unadorned. Like any other investigative endeavor, like scientific inquiry, any belief system or devotional notions only diminish it, or steer one away.
In the traditional practices, if you look at the different ways that "insight" is characterized, things just don't match up. Commitment to a traditional form is not part of the equation. It won't help anything. Obedience and devotion to a particular man or woman is not part of the equation. "Advancing" in a number of "stages" of "enlightenment", or considering things this way, is not part of the equation. The unquestioning manner in which one goes through one's monastic rituals is not part of the equation.
Belief in any of these things -- even seemingly innocent trust in them -- are things that actually diminish the question, taking power away from it. All of these things make it seem like there is something "else", besides "you" that will assist in the answer.
They are all things that remove the ideas of independence and self-sufficiency from the investigation. They make "Zen" or "Buddhism" or "Advancing" into important words.
A real group meditation "practice", then, where everyone is truly addressing the question while sitting beside one who no longer has no use for it anymore, would appear as "less" impressive, important, or ceremonial. There would be nothing added to this, save some worldly regulations to make sure everyone is on the same page, operationally.
It can't even be "Buddhist". Even this is a smokescreen. Why make smokescreens? There is no "belief" in a question, and there is no "faith", aside from that in yourself. What you will see isn't "Buddhist". It isn't "Zen" insight. It isn't "Christian".
It isn't "nothing" either.
You can't describe things these ways.
So why describe the approach this way?
The only people who would do this are the ones who have never seen. Because there is no reason to burden people with weight that only has to be dropped, if they are to see.
The best group setting would simply be a schedule, and a cooperative, non-hierarchical format that the group has agreed to. If it is seen by the participants as anything else, anything "more", then things have gone off course.
In fact, much of what is considered "traditional" does not even allow for the question. A long time ago, perhaps the practice did, when people were just meeting up to sit together, and chatting about it. But as soon as "Zen" becomes a "thing", or "Buddhism" becomes a "thing", people behave in a manner, and reward a manner, that actually diminishes the question.
This is just a function of the rarity of the answer, especially among the leaders of form.
All personal labels deny the question. "I am a Buddhist, I am a monk" means you have not accepted the question of what you are. You have, instead, accepted an appearance, and you have called the appearance the answer. Moreover, you have added additional layers on top. You have added things to "Man" or "Woman", making an idea heavier, and thus making the answer more remote.
As Lin Chi said, you have added a head to the one you already have.
If you are interested in the question, you can't even think this way. How do you see out of your particular eyes? What puts you there? What is the root of consciousness?
All experience, thought, and memory depend on this.
So it is worth an investigation.
Your whole life is certainly worth a look.
"I am a student" denies the question.
If you see things this way, you are not looking toward where the answer comes from.
"I am a master" denies the question. It is even worse than saying "I am a student".
It sounds like I am being nit-picky, but I'm not. People think "everyone knows the labels don't mean anything. The masters know that, they aren't idiots".
But nobody is calling them idiots, or bad people. They are just interested in doing things that are unrelated to the question -- or the answer, in fact. Much of their life, and much of their activity, and much of their speech, relates, in fact, to the nonsense labels -- monk/layman, etc...
This is just what happens, after awhile. Things drift away.
Once in awhile someone comes along and changes things, for a bit, but things drift back, because it is not so common that someone shows up with the answer to what we are. A man removes all the labels from his life, finds the answer, and wishes to help others do the same. He doesn't bother with wasteful things.
After he dies, people start picking up labels, applying them here and there, and talking about them as if they are meaningful. Then, in more time, they start making great ceremonies for the labels. They make great spectacles about the very things that have no importance, because they themselves have not found the answer. They need the spectacle. They have to make things look important. They actually have to, because they don't have what is important.
Maybe there is a traditional master somewhere that has truly seen, but I listen to them talk all the time, and they give themselves away. They always do. Maybe they believe they have seen -- maybe they have thought out an idea about things being connected, and so on. But then they will always give themselves away.
If you ask them "what is free will?" they will talk about Buddhist beliefs, for example.
If you ask them "how about a question not from the books?" they will give you a speech about the tried and true koan curriculum.
They won't come up with something that you have not heard before, or will not hear again.
They don't know.
If anyone is reading this, there is a point to this blog -- don't assume anything. Don't assume what I am saying is true.
The only way you will know, is if you see for yourself. If you don't know, nobody can teach you.
You have to find out.
There is no purpose to "following" anything, or anyone. It is not sensible. In fact, it is better to go to different places, all the time, like Lin Chi did. They all say they know, but they give themselves away.
Because someone says "I know" doesn't make it so.
They know how people may answer the koans, but this isn't truly seeing.
Those living the answer have trouble speaking, or behaving, the way the masters speak. They can, but it annoys them. It is boring to speak about belief, and tradition, and divisions, and adornments to the self, and other things that are not real. It is a waste of time.
Long ago, it was believed that the sun rotated around the earth.
That is an appearance.
Everybody thought this.
Galileo figured out that it was the other way around, and he spent his life in jail for what he said.
What was the first step in his figuring it out?
He accepted the question. He allowed himself to doubt the appearance, and approached things rationally, from there.
People think "This traditional master has great insight" but it is a nearly impossible thing. It is like saying "This Geocentrist is a great Heliocentrist"
It just doesn't work. It is impossible. It is one way, or the other.
Today, nobody would talk about Geocentrism. Why would they? It is boring. It is a waste of time.