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Thread: The Meaning of Mu

  1. #1

    The Meaning of Mu

    I have been trying to grasp the meaning of Mu for a couple of weeks now.

    Asking whether a dog has Buddha nature hasn't really helped! :?

    I'm reading Robert Aitken's 'The Mind of Clover' and he does rather assume that when he writes
    'Let Mu breathe Mu' the reader will know what that means. He makes a lot of reference to Mu.

    I've read quite a lot about Mu now - but I can't find a way in.

    I think I understand that one is meant to learn through the process of letting go of conceptual thought when
    approaching Mu - but I just feel more and more confused.

    Is this why the Rinzai tradition say don't even bother without a rinzai teacher?

    Would appreciate some help on this - tried doing a search on Treeleaf for Mu but nothing came up.
    I'm sure there will be some previous posts on the site somewhere. :?:

    Gassho

    Willow

  2. #2

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Quote Originally Posted by willow
    I have been trying to grasp the meaning of Mu for a couple of weeks now.

    Asking whether a dog has Buddha nature hasn't really helped! :?

    I'm reading Robert Aitken's 'The Mind of Clover' and he does rather assume that when he writes
    'Let Mu breathe Mu' the reader will know what that means. He makes a lot of reference to Mu.

    I've read quite a lot about Mu now - but I can't find a way in.

    I think I understand that one is meant to learn through the process of letting go of conceptual thought when
    approaching Mu - but I just feel more and more confused.

    Is this why the Rinzai tradition say don't even bother without a rinzai teacher?

    Would appreciate some help on this - tried doing a search on Treeleaf for Mu but nothing came up.
    I'm sure there will be some previous posts on the site somewhere. :?:

    Gassho

    Willow

    Hi willow,

    It is a koan. if you try to find answers outside it is impossible. self and only you can answer it, does a dog have buddha nature?
    in the end it is just a words


    Who is asking what?

    all good for your searching

    Gassho

  3. #3

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Willow,

    There is a similar thread with a nearly identical subject already, here:

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewto...st=0&sk=t&sd=a

    You may find various responses within...

    _/_ Nate

  4. #4

    The Meaning of Mu

    EDIT: Far too slow!

  5. #5

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Thanks for the link - I thought this would have come up before

    I've ordered the James Ford book 'Essential Writings on Zen's most important Koan'. I kinda know it's going to have
    a rinzai aprroach - but I'm curious - because I don't seem able to grasp MU by dancing with it. This probably tells me something
    I need to learn ops:

    Anyway this is my dance with the Koan and I'm afraid it's still a dance of words

    Does a dog have Buddha nature?

    Black dog rolls in the snow
    yellow eyes - two drops of sunlight
    perceives something of some-thing,
    an answer?
    the dog's bark may echo yours
    or not,
    the tail chasing the tail?

    time for bed...... will not be taking the damn dog into my sleep which is recomended by the Rinzai tradition :wink:

    Gassho

    Willow

  6. #6

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Dear willow,

    Why do you want to "hold" the answer? buddishm isnt intellectual, it is live life to the fullest.


    Gassho

  7. #7

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Dear Willow.

    As stated already, Koans are not something to be figured out in the head. There not things to be figured out at all. You mentioned your dance with MU, that will not help because it still shows two. there is the You that is dancing. Let Mu dance on its own, dance as mu dancing mu, zazen sitting zazen, the breath breathing the breath, then it will start to become clear.

    As soon as you think you have to figure out the koan you are ten thousand miles from the mark. All the koan is doing is pointing back to this very moment. There is no need to figure out this very moment, it takes care of its self. Just completely merge with this moment, and be present to it with full body and mind.
    Then Joshu's answer will become as clear as night and day.

    See where the koan is pointing to, and go there.

    A monk asked Joshu, "Has the dog the Buddha nature?"
    Joshu replied, "Mu"
    Sorry for speaking on a topic I don't know much about.

  8. #8

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Quote Originally Posted by Jarkko
    Why do you want to "hold" the answer? buddishm isnt intellectual, it is live life to the fullest.
    Love your definition of Buddhism.. I believe Willow knows that it shouldn't be an intellectual exercise thus her "still a dance of words".. but as you all have tried to indicate, "dancing with a koan" is dancing with delusion and problem solving, as we are the koan. So we dance only with ourselves.. IMHO.. and let me tell you, I dance with myself all the time.. and I'm a lousy dancer.. other than the robot - I can do a killer robot.

    [youtube] [/youtube]

    Do robot dancers have Buddha nature?

    _/_ Nate

  9. #9

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    You Dancing MU - MU Just Dancing!

    From the other thread ...

    A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: `Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?'
    Joshu answered: `Mu.' (No, or "does not)


    In another version of the Koan I like, Joshu one time tells one monk "yes", but then one time "mu" ... to the very same question.

    Now, this can be taken in a number of ways. One is "Hey, fella, don't get caught up in philosophical non-questions like that, like 'how many angels fit on the head of a pin' The other (which really is not all so different) is that "MU" represents "Emptiness" ... and in the beautiful dance of Emptiness, such questions become non-issues. Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not? JUST DANCE!

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3981&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a
    That leads to one hot number ... The Dance of Emptiness, Sunyata Salsa

    These days, I like to try to explain the Buddhist concept of "Sunyata" (Emptiness) using the image of a .... 'Dance' ... 'Dancing' ... 'Dancers and Dancing' ...

    A universe of dancers (including you and me, all beings) are danced up in this dance that the whole universe is dancing ... each dancer seemingly standing apart on her own two feet ... yet each dancer simultaneously seen as just the dance-dancing-the-dance. It is important to envision this "dance of all things" as leaving nothing out, and so all encompassing that we cannot even speak ... from each dancer's perspective ... of "before" the dance or "after" (such that each dancer is always dancing, right from the moment of her seeming birth to death. There is no dancer who is not dancing from the moment of becoming a dancer ... there is not "off stage" and taking a break ... not so long as we live and breathe anyway ... and no dancer apart from the dance or who is not now dancing.). There is nothing but the dance and the motion, the separation lost in a lively, enlivening, living blur ...
    viewtopic.php?p=41841#p41841

    Gassho, J

  10. #10

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    thanks for feedback - but a long way from this being clear

    Adrian - if you're reading this thread I empathise with your comments from the previous thread - if grasping MU - or working with koans - is totally removed from words/intellect -why the trillions of words that have been/are still being
    written about Zen?

    Because I don't 'feel' MU - I can only use my intellect at the moment. I'm not sure that the intellect is always an enemy - isn't the unhooking from it
    the process we learn from?

    I feel I learn more from a sharing of the struggle with the process (staying in touch with Buddha nature, MU - etc is hard)

    Apart from Nate - who understood that I understand this is not primarily an intellectual process - I feel a little disheartened by the feedback in this thread.

    I have never felt this on Treeleaf before and I'm wondering if perhaps there is something about Koans that is best worked through one to one between a teacher
    and student. :?

    This is probably my defences - so I need to step back - figure out why I feel a bit upset.

    Gassho

    Willow

  11. #11
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Koans don't have answers! Koans are one way up the mountain. I recall feeling somewhat the way you and Adrian do right now. You can travel the path several ways; you can ride on a donkey, you can drive a BMW but, I prefer climbing the stairs one at a time, moment by moment. Somehow I don't dance as fast as I used to but,, better! :lol:

  12. #12

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Quote Originally Posted by willow
    perhaps there is something about Koans that is best worked through one to one between a teacher and student. :?
    Yes, I think you may be right! At least if you approach it from a Rinzai koan introspection perspective.
    Years ago I tried doing koans without a teacher and I didn't find it helpful for my practice. But it may be different for different people of course. Soto and Rinzai may lead to the same pointless point in the end, but with through very different approaches. I think it may be hard to take some Rinzai and mix it into your Soto practice, without a Rinzai teacher.
    I was stuck with Mu for years, so I know where you're coming from. Only after sitting regularly for a while, I feel that it and many other koans are finally starting to make sense. There is usually one understanding of every koan that is the main point, according to the Rinzai folks. But for you, there may be different understandings and ways of interpretations. I wouldn't carry it with you like a red hot iron ball in your throat. It's painful and you have no teacher to guide you when your despair. I take this koan out and play with it once in a while. Personally, I don't like the word emptiness at all because empty means something completely different in ordinary English than the buddhist meaning of the word. Mu may be helpful in that it means absolutely nothing to us westerners!

    And you should be thankful for your intellect in my opinion!

    Taka care,
    Pontus

  13. #13

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    It's frustrating when "I" can't understand something. A teacher told me to drop the "I".

  14. #14

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Quote Originally Posted by Jarkko
    ... buddishm isnt intellectual, it is live life to the fullest.
    Quote Originally Posted by Seiryu
    Koans are not something to be figured out in the head. There not things to be figured out at all.
    Quote Originally Posted by willow

    I have never felt this on Treeleaf before and I'm wondering if perhaps there is something about Koans that is best worked through one to one between a teacher
    and student. :?
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with understanding a Koan intellectually ... so long as one does not stop there.

    Most of the Koans do have some "point" being made arising out of Zen and Buddhist perspectives/non-perspectives and philosophy (for example, a lot of the Koans are about Emptiness or the Relative/Absolute or the nature of a Buddha) ... and it is baloney for one to say that one must ignore, or not "think about" that aspect of the Koan and that it is not helpful to understand it on an intellectual level. BULL & BALONEY! Few if any legitimate teachers of Zen assert such an extreme opinion (at least if you read them closely), although many people bandy such assertions about.

    Such assertions come from (1) people who ignore the fact that most monks of old were very highly trained and familiar with the central questions and perspectives of Zen Buddhist philosophy and teachings, and so were able to "pick up" the implied message in the Koans ... for example Dogen, Matsu, Ta Hui, Hakuin and about everyone else were very much highly educated and immersed in Buddhist culture, history and teachings and thus knew the back story on the Koans and what the discussion was about "between the lines", (2) certain radicals who, although a minority, misused the Koans by emphasizing some extreme view of "A Way Beyond Words And Letters" that overlooked the fact that all the great teachers first understood the letters in order to go beyond them! :shock: , (3) the modern foolish types who think that, because the Koans are written in a way that is hard to understand to modern readers 1000 years and several cultures removed from their writing, that they are not supposed to be understandable! Don't believe the propaganda!

    As we shall encounter when we delve into the Book of Serenity, such is not the case. Often the Koans can be understood by the intellect ... although the message is often shocking, MIND BLOWING, an attack on our ordinary suppositions about who we are and how the world is!

    HOWEVER, the point is that one must not stop with an intellectual understanding, but go beyond and live it! Do not just get trapped in your head, armchair philosophizing and spinning mental wheels!

    Simply, it is like the difference between understanding the rules of baseball (important in playing baseball) ... and actually taking the field and playing baseball. It is the difference between understanding music and how to play a guitar (important in playing a guitar) ... and actually playing a guitar with all one's heart. It is like the gap between an intellectual understanding of romance and sexual reproduction (a bit of knowledge is helpful even here ) ... and making love.


    Got the point? Give the Koans some time ... don't be too worried that they are too hard to understand the first few times, or that they don't ring your bell right away. Like playing baseball, guitar ... or making love ... one does tend to get better at it with time! 8)

    Gassho, J

  15. #15

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Thank you for your teaching Jundo.

    To Willow: My experience with koans has been both frustrating and rewarding. I've left interviews not knowing how I could possibly answer then had an answer just come to later, seemingly out of nowhere. For me, I think it is best worked on with a qualified teacher. Maybe the next book club will be a good start for you.

  16. #16

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Hi there - yes - thanks to all. I needed to hear that working with a koan can sometimes bring up frustration, and basically not to worry - give it time.
    I'm looking forward to the book club. Strangely - reading through some of the other koans hasn't affected me like this one particular Koan (so maybe it is the Koan for me! )

    Relating to the words of Thich Nhat Hahn - my 'habit energy' has been very jangled by asking 'does a dog have buddha nature'. :shock:

    In Zen Keys, Hahn tells the story of Wei Shan asking Hsiang Yan 'What was your face before your parents were born?'
    Hsiang Yan can't cope with not coming up with an answer and stomps off to a remote area and burns all his books, etc

    I find this story very touching because I can really relate - last night I felt like a child in a strop - but I'm Ok now ops:

    Thankyou for your teaching Jundo - and Pontus for your kindness -

    Gassho

    Willow

  17. #17

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Quote Originally Posted by SonofRage
    To Willow: My experience with koans has been both frustrating and rewarding. I've left interviews not knowing how I could possibly answer then had an answer just come to later, seemingly out of nowhere. For me, I think it is best worked on with a qualified teacher. Maybe the next book club will be a good start for you.
    We don't generally roll that way with the Koans in Soto Zen, one does not have an answer that need come up the next day in or out of an interview room. The answers, like the many facets of a spinning jewel, come up in our changing lives ... many answers and non-answers (sometimes no answer, sometimes in between and both again). They come and go ... and there is certainly no "curriculum" of Koans that need be passed like social studies in the 3rd grade. There is no teacher who need approve your understanding in some mysterious way in a room ... and if the Koan has vibrancy one will find it so in one's own life.

    Here is the simple "FREE AT HOME 'SELF' TEST" : If you do not understand, you life-world-mind will be a confused mess of greed, anger and delusion ... but if there is Understanding, there is Clarity (even amid and right through-and-through a world filled with greed, anger and delusion). Simple as that!

    Frankly, I feel that a lot of what passes for "Koan study" and passing Koans is the blind leading the blind through a forest of "Zen Gobbledygook" amid scattered wondrous revelations (some parallels to undergoing Freudian psychoanalysis in that way). However, to each their own, and some may find it their dance.

    If one wishes to engage in formal Koan study of such type, it is best to seek a Japanese Rinzai or Kwan Um teacher, or one of the Soto-Rinzai hybrid teachers in the White Plum, Diamond Sangha or the like. That is not how we dance with the Koans ... and the Koans dance us (and the dancing dances dancing) ... around here.

    Taigu, you in accord on this one?

    Gassho, Jundo

  18. #18
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Yep. We are not doing any formal koan study here, and you should knock on other teachers doors if you wish to follow this path. We are just about to look at koans in a Soto style way, but the intimitate work with a koan in the Rinzai tradition requires a particular form of interaction between teacher and student and a stong guidance.

    Gassho


    taigu

  19. #19

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Chugai wrote

    http://i.imgur.com/ARHvs.jpg


    ....... naked , homeless and a wee bit cold

    Gassho

    Willow

  20. #20
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Now, that sounds a lot more like where i came in :roll:

  21. #21

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    So, Willow, what do you want from Mu? And who is the "you" doing this wanting?

  22. #22

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Hi Chris - to be honest I wasn't at the stage of wanting anything specific from MU - I was/am simply at the stage of asking questions
    and hoping to develop my understanding a little.

    Today - I feel a lot more relaxed about the whole process. What came up for me was illuminating - this urge to perfect
    my understanding too rapidly - but the lesson I've learnt from this is to ease off.

    Not to be at all 'cold' in my response - but I am trying to be more sparing with words just now.
    To answer who I think the 'you' is that is wanting, asking would lead me into too many words.

    Sure you understand

    Gassho

    Willow

  23. #23

    The Meaning of Mu

    Just to weigh up all the Rinzai influence in this thread, here's a down to earth Soto explanation of this koan by Nishijima Roshi, translated by Brad Warner:
    http://homepage.mac.com/doubtboy/joshusdog.html
    (It doesn't help you understand Mu, the no of no no, Sunyata, buddha nature, but it removes some of the smoke screens, just like Jundo's post earlier in this thread.)

    At one time a monk asked Master Joshu, “Does a dog have Buddha Nature or not?” Master Joshu answered, “No.”

    In the chapter of Shobogenzo titled Bussho or “Buddha Nature” Master Dogen talks about the meaning of this word “no” as it relates to a conversation between the fifth and sixth patriarchs. He says, “This ‘no’ is not the ‘no’ of ‘have’ or ‘have not.’ It is the no of no no.”

    The no of no no is a way of expression that we do not often hear. The no of no no means that even no is denied.

    In other words, this is not the kind of no which we conceive in our brains as the conclusion to the question of whether something exists or not. The meaning of no as it is used here does not require any kind of thinking at all.

    In regards to this koan there is no shortage of explanations that this “no” represents the no of no in other words the absolute no, or that it represents the absolute void, or that it’s something that cannot possibly be understood, or other similar nonsense which even those who spout it don’t seem to understand.

    But by slandering the Buddha’s truth with such nonsense, people who put out these kinds of explanations are really just floundering in the darkness, not knowing what is what and tasting the miseries of Hell.

    In the chapter of Shobogenzo titled “Sutra of Mountains and Water” Master Dogen says that any koan has a superb theoretical meaning. The purpose of the koan stories is to make difficult points of Buddhist philosophy clear by using a concrete example. The tendency among many Chinese monks to view the koans as some kind of riddle whose original meaning was impenetrable was something Master Dogen scoffed at.

    A dog which exists before your eyes is most certainly a dog. There is nothing extra added to that dog. And there is nothing lacking in the dog either, nothing apart from itself that it needs in order to be what it is — a dog. A dog is a dog. Joshu understood that to theorize about whether a dog has Buddha nature or not is just adding something extra. When dealing with any koan it is necessary to read it in this way on the basis of Buddhist philosophy.

    I am an old monk of over 70 years who has spent the past fifty or more years studying Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Therefore I am an amateur when it comes to the koans included in Mumonkan and I have some misgivings. But on the basis of the Buddhist philosophy which I have absorbed through long years of studying Shobogenzo, there is no room for doubt about the meaning of this koan.

  24. #24

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Willow, hopefully Jundo & Taigu's latest posts shed some more light on how koans are dealt with here. You should also know that there are some folks here who are also involved with other sanghas outside Treeleaf and may be engaging in the rinzai-style koan study. So confusion comes easily here

    Don't hesitate to contact the teachers here directly by Private Message or you can even setup a time to chat via Skype if you want direct clarification on issues.

  25. #25

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Willow, your response was not cold at all! Can't say I understand, though. :wink:

  26. #26

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Matt thankyou.

    I did find Jundo and Taigu's posts very helpful.

    In my initial response, when I mentioned 'the tail chasing the tail' - I'm aware that 'chasing my own tail' is what I'd be doing
    if I focus too much on the whole subject of Koans just now. I don't feel it's helping my practice and as Koan
    study isn't essential to shikantanza I need to re-orientate.

    Gassho

    Willow

  27. #27

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    At one time I thought it would be fun to have funny zen tee shirts
    One I had in mind was 'what part of mu do you not understand?'

    I still get a chuckle from that one

  28. #28

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    At one time I thought it would be fun to have funny zen tee shirts
    One I had in mind was 'what part of mu do you not understand?'

    I still get a chuckle from that one
    :lol: :lol: :lol:

  29. #29

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    I think you'll like these T-shirts!
    You should ask them to print yours!
    http://www.delightenment.com/

  30. #30

    Re: The Meaning of Mu

    Hello Pontus,

    What fun! Loved the link. Thank you.

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