The Kanzeon Koan and Medicine
Rebecca Doverspike, Staff Chaplain, St. Elizabeth's Medical Center
For this presentation, I will look at various translations of a Zen Buddhist koan (a kind of puzzle, often paradoxical, that invites not intellectual response but spontaneous wisdom) about Kanzeon (bodhisattva of compassion) to investigate what this koan has to offer chaplaincy practice in a medical field. There are several translations of this koan in the Zen Buddhist tradition, some from The Blue Cliff Record collection, and others from the The Book of Serenity collection. In this paper, I look into the nuanced variations of diction to move further into the ever-present questions within chaplaincy: what is compassion? How does one embody/enact compassion? Are there times we receive compassion that can inform our ability to provide compassion? This paper will blend nonfiction of my own chaplaincy experience with research into this ancient koan in an attempt to grapple with chaplaincy’s place, often in liminal spaces and transitions, in the medical setting of healing. In Zen, often the dharma (the teachings about reality as-it-is) is referred to as “medicine,” and so I want to investigate if and how this koan can offer medicine to chaplain practitioners as well as to patients, families, and staff.