Month: March 2016

Mu: A Koan Meditation



The passages in this series of blogs are not examples of genuine satori or even especially clever answers to the koans.  They are merely records of my first serious attempts at incorporating this form of meditation into my daily routine. What I have gleaned from it thus far are examples of the useful but ultimately shallow insights aspirants may dwell on for too long. The path to enlightenment is narrow, the road of delusion is wide and covers its slender brother on both sides.

Eventually one realizes a tremendous capacity for discernment must be developed in order to avoid falling deeper into the throes of self-deception.  Although I have read books on Buddhism, I intentionally avoided read any commentary on the koans I selected lest they interfere with my experiment. I see now this was an unnecessary precaution. The rational mind recedes while it is playing with these timeless picture puzzles. It is merely a distraction. The first koan I chose has a special place in Zen, it also appears to be the source of more scholarly debate than any other. It is as cryptic as it is memorable:

One day Joshu was asked, “does a dog have the Buddha-nature?

The master replied “Mu!” (No/Nothing/It does not matter)

I did not use the story itself, but a question that arose from it: what is Mu?

My answer: Mu is the absence of distance.

How did I arrive upon it? That morning I woke up to a song. A chorus was playing, an acoustic guitar was strumming, and a rudimentary bass beat tagged alone.  Although this has happened before, this was the first time I kept the recording in my mind long enough to rise, turn on the computer, and begin writing the verses. I attribute this clarity of mind to reading a third of The Three Pillars of Zen the day before. Before clearing my thoughts I thought of a few musical acts that I would never see and the many things I could never hope to do in a single lifetime, the many meetings that will never be had, the deplorable ignorance all sentiment beings must toil under, the many opportunities that will be forgone out of time constraints or ignorance of their very existence, and, of course, the undeniable insignificance of every action.

The lion’s share of human angst seems to come from feeling separated from a time or place.  One can happily sit still because there is no need to grasp. Everything is within reach. Everything has its own significance, or lack thereof.