Mu. Or Mu

October 8, 2015

Koans have fascinated me the way the light over my back door has drawn the attention of the community of moths that populates my back yard. We approach. What is this glowing light? We beat our wings. Exhausted? Enlightened? Spider food?

Many years ago my son-in-law, then a college student, brought a book of koans to our house. I took a glance inside. My age and its attendant wisdom, my Ph.D. and the finely tuned problem-solving ability I had cultivated, were useless. The koans made no sense whatsoever. He told me that they weren’t supposed to make sense. … time passed …

For totally unrelated reasons I began meditating with local zen groups. Just sitting. No koans. Until my wife gave me one of the best presents I’ve ever received, John Tarrant’s amazing, “Bring Me the Rhinoceros”. It was like dusk had fallen and there was this crazy glowing thing over by the back door. I wanted to fly towards it, but wasn’t just sitting enough? Wasn’t I revealing a most un-zen-like craving for enlightenment? Still, the light was on, … I beat my wings …

From time to time over the years I would turn my attention towards a koan: Mu. What is this? Ordinary mind is the way. Sometimes my attention lasted only a few minutes, evaporating before the final bell. Sometimes my attention held until I took my questions into the interview room with my teacher-guide-friend, Larry. His answers sometimes stood me back up (“don’t go down that road, stay with the body”), sometimes they spun me around (“some folks spend years with that”). I didn’t have years. The light was glowing now. Maybe just sitting was for the best after all. Who wants to be spider food? … time passed …

Finally, last week I decided to cross the line. “How We Work with Koans and How They Work on Us” (Lion’s Roar, 21 July 2015) had arrived in my inbox and I read it through. Then I went back to John Tarrant and his Zenosaurus Course in Koans to read “13 No—The Zenosaurus Course in Koans.” After that I was ready to take the fateful step. Sunday I sat down in the interview room with Larry. “I would like to work on a koan. Is that ok? Will you help me?” “Oh, sure.”

Deep bow of gratitude.

[Mu began last Sunday. How silly to say that. It has no beginning, no end. And yet, and yet.]


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