Teaching on MU - part 1

Corona still lingers. People are becoming vaccinated and that is why some restrictions are being lifted, some freedom is being returned to us. That is why we can meet again in person, and everybody here feels how important this is. The laws are still difficult yet now the season to meet again has finally returned. Thus, to have a sesshin now, for everyone to purify their mind, to bring their vow to realization, everyone feels the importance of this alive in themselves. That is why the Roshi would like to give a teisho on the first koan of the Mumonkan: “Returning to the source.”

The first case, Joshu’s Mu “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”, many have worked with this case as a koan. Yet even those who have not have heard about this koan. It is the first koan a Zen monk needs to face. Zazen is about realizing who we are; about that which is alive right here and now. We have many problems and worries, receiving much pressure from the outside. But putting all that aside, what is it that we are ourselves? Sitting zazen settling this mind we return to the source. That is the part about which the Sixth Patriarch said: “The mind is the name of Zen; and sitting is the body of Zen.” We have all types of ideas, yet they are only expressions of this true being. That of form and that of no form is what we need to eventually experience. We all have different bodies, different colors of skin, of the eyes. What is it that goes beyond these differences? And [what is] that which is equal to us all? That is what is most important. Even parents and children living together, of the same family, they shared some kind of mind, [some] state of mind. They understand each other deeply. Yet even among the family members there are differences though their base is the same.

That which is equal, we need to trust in it. We need to experience this for ourselves first or else, we want to trust one another, but if we do not know ourselves, our own mind, we always start to doubt the other. That is why we need to return once to this true being and return to that pure place where we share the same space with everyone. Letting go of thoughts, if we are tranquil within returning to that which connects us all, then this experience without thoughts is pure and expansive. This is the wisdom of the Buddha. This huge mind and wisdom is what can be felt now. This is how it should be. While we have different thoughts, that which is equal, which is equal to us all, is what is really important. The sutras and the wisdom – the teachings of the ancients – are only pointing at it. We hear them mentally. We try to understand them but then we again divide and do not perceive what they are pointing at. Letting go of all mental ideas and only receiving the words – straight by your own mind, not trying to understand them. It is the Roshi’s greatest wish that we may taste – that we may actually feel – what these words are about. That is the reason why we practice zazen together: So that we can realize that which is equal to all of us.

This koan is basic to Zen monk’s training. Why is that? We are separate, different bodies. We have different thoughts. That is our human expression. Yet if this expression has lost the base it turns into ego and doubts arise. However, if the same (common?) life energy has been experienced then no doubts can arise. That is the experience of where our mind is equal, where we have experienced the source. If we lose sight of that source, we get confused and end up in ego ideas.

While we are separate beings, we need to experience the root. In Zen it is said that there are 1,700 koans and they all settle in the same place. There are unending numbers of koans, but this koan of Joshu’s Mu “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” is basic to all of them – that is where all the koans return to. You could say that all eight billion people on this planet are like the eyes of Kannon Bodhisattva. They all have different expressions and functionings but they are all part of Kannon. That gathered mind of wisdom is called in Japanese hosshin . That mind where all returns to needs to be experienced first and that is what this first koan is making us realize.

That mind of humanity which brings forth wisdom, hosshin, that base, that root, is what needs to be experienced first. And after that different koans follow. You have the koans kikan, which are about functioning, about expression. Then the koans gonsen, which are about words. We use words differently in different cultures and without being able to use words well, we cannot live in harmony in a group. While we think that we understand, we are still not completely realized and for that there are the next step of koans nan tonange , where you take all away. The person who believes that they have understood something, you take all of them away so that they realize that they have not seen that which truly matters. And after that you come to the last stage which is called kojo matsu gono rokan, which is about polishing your mind to a high state of quality. Zen is based on all these different aspects. These different steps are important in developing our mind.

All 57 people gathered here have different expressions of wisdom. But returning to the source, we see that we are all equal and that is what truly matters. Knowing this we are putting our differences aside for this sesshin to look only at that base which is equal. That is awakening and that is what this koan of Joshu is all about. This [version of the] koan appearing in the Mumonkan is only half of the original koan which has been taken from the Kattoshu collection. There it says that two monks, maybe it was the same monk, went to Joshu to ask: “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” And being asked, Joshu said, “Yes, a dog has Buddha nature. But because of the five desires – that is, the desires we experience by using our five sense organs – they bring forth ego and ego in expression creates karma.” And that is where human beings get stuck: If they believe that they are this Buddha nature but have not gone to the source of it. Looking at it clearly: Who said that what we perceive through our senses is what we think it is? Who said that this is a flower or a bird or a mountain? Who put those names and ideas onto the things? It was someone in the past. It is not our life energy right now. And from there problems arise because different cultures will name things differently and then we need to know the historical background to not misunderstand one another: Why were these things named in a certain way? And that is why Joshu said that: Because of the five desires, that is why we are blocking our own Buddha nature, the experience of it. But then the monk came to Joshu again and said, “But the Buddha said that all beings have Buddha nature, so why do you say that they don't?” And Joshu says here that the problem lies within our own mind. First of all, we need to let go of all of this naming and judging and looking outside and return to that who really experiences all. After having cut off all experiences in the outside, then all eight billion people on this planet will return to an experience which is equal and upon that we can then base our experience of life coming forth from this experience of equality, and then give life to that in our different expressions.

This koan has these two sides to it and they need to be seen. It is not just this aspect where Joshu says a dog does not have Buddha nature, but it also has Buddha nature if we can let go of these confusing ideas of ego perceptions which we add on to everything. The person who has let go of ego, letting go of ego then gives us the possibility to express this huge life energy in whatever we encounter. And for that we leave that experience of equality and enter again duality: We knowingly enter duality so that we can give life to that experience of equality. It must be seen clearly here that we cannot stay stuck only on equality, but these two aspects make it whole. Going first to equality and cutting away all dualistic ideas and then from there again returning to differentiation and then this equality truly becomes alive. And this is how we can experience Buddha nature for ourselves – not in a mental idea.

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