I've been looking around online for an answer to this question, but have come up empty handed. My understanding of The Blue Cliff Record is that it's a collection of famous cases compiled from the history of Zen. But what I'm wondering is how The Mumonkan differs from it? (I haven't read this one yet).

Is there any overlap in the cases? And what was the purpose of having two different collections of Koans? Is it an entirely new collection? If so, what is the difference in the history of their respective collections?

2 Answers 2


Yeah, there's a lot of overlap across many of the collections. Often, I feel that the language of the Mumonkan is more direct. I actually prefer working with that collection for that reason. That said, my own Rinzai lineage uses both the Mumonkan and Blue Rock (specifically Sekida's dual volume translation) along with Entangling Vines (which has some real weird sh*t in it).

As far as the history goes, all it really boils down to is what koans a given lineage preferred working with. Everyone has their favorites. These tended to get standardized into a curriculum of sorts that got passed down over the years. Eventually, you end up with the collections we have today.

Here's a bit of zen silliness for your afternoon. You asked what the purpose of having multiple versions of the same koan would be. First off, there are several different koans that have similar answers. Proceeding from the top of the pole and Nansen's cat, for example, are very similar in many respects. Some koans and versions of koans just a hit student harder than another might. Perhaps more interestingly, a Rinzai teacher might push back and ask what is the purpose of having more than one koan in the first place! Full liberation can be found in just a single koan. They all have layers with some being nearly inexhaustible. My personal favorite, which I'm pretty sure is bottomless, would be three pounds of flax.


I checked the table of contents. There seems to be no overlap of cases. The purpose seems to be to build wisdom. I haven’t read those books of koan but they seem cryptic for example it says- before enlightenment mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers, during enlightenment mountains are not mountains , rivers are not rivers, and after enlightenment mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers.

Another one says -

A monk asked Chao-chou, “Has the dog Buddha nature or not?” Chao-chou said, “Mu.”

Without being cryptic I can say that anyone who looks upon with the eye of Dhamma has Buddha nature. Eye of Dhamma says all conditioned phenomena which has a beginning must have an end.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .