Mondo (literally 'questions and answers') is basically Zen dialogue, which has always been an important element of traditional Zen practice and which is still presented in classical Zen texts in the form of short dialogues between master and disciple. Although many spiritual schools use discussion methods in their practice, Mondo method of discourse is unique to Zen.
Over time, Mondo has evolved in different directions, but already from the earliest beginnings, most Zen dialogues have recognized the power of paradox as a method of breaking through duality becoming so a forerunner of Koans, which are still used in Rinzai Zen today.
Zen dialogues are performed in different ways. Some will use a form that seems illogical and meaningless in order to forcibly break the matrix of conceptual construction built by intellectual thinking, while other will use a form that is paradoxical only at first glance but is intuitively understood also by people who have never practiced or heard of Zen.
Disciple: How," does one get into harmony with Tao?"
Zen master Chao-chu: "If you try to get into harmony with it, you will get away from it."
Mondo can also offer dialogues that seem confusing, although they are actually direct, revealing the truth with radical simplicity. Such Zen dialogues do not try to confirm or deny anything, but instead provide a picture of reality as it really is when it is stripped of beautification, thus revealing opposites and breaking the dualistic perception of good and evil, cold and warm, Heaven and Hell.
Monk: "How do we escape the heat when summer comes and the cold when winter is here?"
Zen master Tung-shan: "Why don't you go to the place where there is no summer, no winter?"
Monk: "Where is such a place?"
Tung-shan: "When the cold season comes, one is thoroughly chilled; when the hot summer is here, one swelters."
Although Mondo has been held as part of Zen practice so far, its true expression has been greatly lost due to the tendency of modern culture to give absolute weight only to the intellect (as an inherent faculty of every human being). That is why it is much harder to penetrate conceptual mind of the average today's person than it was in the old days. The mental structures of modern man have been developed to such an extent that the original method of Zen dialogue is today rarely used and instead, Mondo has been turned into more or less common Q&A session.
In the course of time, not only the Questions have lost their original purpose and are more often aimed at feeding the Ego than deepening the understanding of the essence of Life, but also Zen Answers became a rarity because only a person who “speaks Zen” can truly use it. Since in today’s Zen dojos and temples a large part of practitioners are lay people who are interested in Zen practice only sporadically and mainly as a way to " deal with personal crises and stress”, the original Mondo method is difficult to apply and the power of Zen dialogue is therefore weakened.
However, even a weakened Mondo has enough influence on the human mind and is a useful tool that can still be applied today at different levels and to different degrees. Yet, when Zen dialogue carries a weakened charge, the communication bridge that Zen language uses to transmit a transformative spark must be open on the recipient's side, which is usually not the case in a culture that is blurred by conditioning. With this, the Zen dialogue, which is weakened due to the strengthening of the collective Ego, must return to its original value, through Mondo, that has a stronger Zen expression and greater perseverance, so that the mental barrier of the recipient can be broken in the way water patiently drills a stone, drop by drop, when it cannot break it in one go.
Boldly said, anyone can enter the non-dualistic Realm, but only a limited number of people can pass quickly and directly, through the Main Gate, while everyone else has to go a long way that leads through the Side Gate. However, Mondo can take on both, the role of the Main and Side Gate, where it is up to the teacher to choose which Gate to guard, and it is up to the practitioner to choose which Gate to knock on.