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The Japanese word dokusan means "going alone to a respected one." This is the name in Japanese Zen for the private interview between a student and the teacher.

A Zen teacher, sometimes called "Zen master," is one who has been confirmed to be a master teacher by another master teacher. Dokusan is a means for giving his or her students individualized instruction and assessing the students' understanding.

Dokusan is an opportunity for a student to discuss his Zen practice with the teacher. The student may also ask questions or present his understanding of the dharma. As a rule, however, students are discouraged from going into personal issues such as relationships or jobs unless it relates very specifically to practice.

Students are discouraged from talking about their dokusan experiences with other students. This is partly because instructions given by a teacher in dokusan are meant only for that student and may not apply to other students.

Further, when we share experiences with others, even just in re-telling, we have a tendency to "edit" the experience in our minds and sometimes to be less than completely honest. The privacy of the interview creates a space where all social pretenses can be dropped.

In the Rinzai school, in dokusan the student is assigned koans and also presents his understanding of the koan. Some -- not all -- Soto lineages have discontinued dokusan, however.

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