Kong-an practise (Jap. Koan) is one unique teaching tool that the Rinzai tradition of Zen uses. Kong-an practice is an ancient form of question and answer. The actual word means public record. So these are the public records of past Zen Masters. The answers are based in the reality that is beyond time and space, likes and dislikes. Kong-an practice is also known as "looking into words," or using words to cut off all thinking. In a private interview your teacher will ask you a question that cannot be answered by rational thought. To use such a kong-an as a teaching tool you must perceive what it is pointing at. It is like a finger pointing at the moon. You don't examine the finger, the point is, do you see the moon or not? Because the teacher has already worked with the Kong-an, a special kind of relationship is able to develop in which the Kong-an is the bridge, whilst the result of the practitioner's practice is that which crosses over the bridge.
Form and ritual play a vital role in Zen practice. They help us to deepen our spirit and to extend its vigor to our daily lives. Applying our practice of mindfulness to ritual and form is an opening for the experience of forgetting the self as the words or the action become one with you, and there is nothing else. Wearing our robes in the Dharma room, eating a meal in traditional temple style during a retreat or bowing to the sangha at the end of a meditation session can all become powerful tools for awakening when viewed in this light.