This week, we turned our practice toward the PZI short course koan curriculum and let the streams commingle as we will for the next 6 weeks. And we played a game. Business as usual. The first koan was Mu, or the koan which is commonly known as Mu. The koan No, or Mu, is part of the Gateless Gate collection of koans-in Mandarin, Wúménguān, in Japanese, Mumonkan. It is a collection of 48 Zen Koans compiled in the early 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k'ai (1183–1260) (Japanese: Mumon Ekai). We will just call him Wumen. Its friendly, and easy to say. Wumen's preface indicates that the volume was published in 1228. Each koan is accompanied by a commentary and verse by Wumen. Along with the Blue Cliff Record and the oral tradition of Hakuin, The Gateless Gate is a central work much used in Rinzai schools of practice, of which PZI belongs and therefore WiG is a part.
The way I first heard Mu was this:
A monk asked Zhaozhou, a Chinese Zen master (known as Jōshū in Japanese), "Has a dog Buddha nature or not?" Zhaozhou answered, "Wú" (in Japanese, Mu), in English, "No".
I think this is the way the recently departed Robert Aiken translated the koan and it was how it was spoken to me by James Ford Roshi. PZI, however, uses the entire koan, told as a story, translated by John Tarrant and Joan Sutherland thusly:
A monk asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
“Yes,” replied Zhaozhou,
“Then why did it jump into that bag of fur?”
“It knew what it was doing and that’s why it dogged.”
Another time a monk asked Zhaozhou, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
“All beings have buddha nature. Why doesn’t a dog have it?”
“Because it’s beginning to awaken in the world of ignorance.”
We sat with the koan for 25 minutes, a smaller group than usual thanks to the World Series which was taking place about 3 miles from where we sat. Frankly, you could see into the Stadium from the meditation hall, so why miss practice? But I digress.
We sat, and Mu, or No, was spoken into the room.
At the 25 minute mark, the game part, really just one thing we could do to notice our relationships with Mu, was spoken. Sitters were asked "to notice what they notice, and in response 'no'. To any question, "no", to any observation, 'no', to any naming or judgment 'no'. Emotions 'no', stories, 'no'. No, no, no, no ,no."
Then we each gave our thoughts. It was community night, so we did so while sharing a cherry pie and some home made chocolate chip cookies.
Honestly, I had C, and she was squirming, so I don't recall everyone's comments as well as usual. I recall that A and B didn't really grapple with it, and that C noticed that she felt like a child, denying everything, feeling a power in that denial. D and F noticed a similar experience of words and labels becoming less sticky and things just being things. A process of negating everything and truly not knowing, thus allowing things to be left as they were. E noticed that his usual analytic process was somewhat checked and that he had a freedom around his awareness.
At the conclusion, I read the commentary John presented us, and Chris Wilson gave some comments on the koan. Next week we work with the same koan, and we will see what comes up then.
After practice, we all headed to Rocket Fish where we had sushi and wine and talked about the Giants.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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