What is Mu? The hook is baited. Some of us gulp it down with one bite; some of us nibble at it, not quite trusting. Will it work? Some of us will explain it away. We’re too smart for this. Or we try to ignore something that cannot be ignored. We reach for an itch that somehow we can’t quite scratch, and we can’t forget. But in order for this work, the hook has to set in. How we work with it is our business, but we need to recognize the barrier. We need to recognize it as an entry point and as a passage. We need to acknowledge the gatekeeper. Will you be let in, or will you be turned you back?
Crossing borders has always been an experience of both excitement and dread for me. To begin with, a border check point is a strange reality, a line drawn in space with a hole in it. In my childhood, when we were leaving Poland illegally, we were carrying contraband. In order to smuggle out some valuables, my mother had sewn dollar bills and jewelry into our clothing. As the train approached the border between Czechoslovakia and Austria, slowing down at a check point swarming with military personal, I thought to myself, “Am I going to be revealed?” We ask ourselves the same question as we work on Mu: Am I going to be revealed? Who am I being revealed to? The tradition of Mu says, Stop! Who are you? You can’t pass unless you really know.
Despite the fact that buddha nature is all-pervasive, it is also true that some will see that fact, some won’t; some will pass, some won’t. We can talk about clarity and about our insights, but Mu is a deliberate test that requires deliberate engagement, deliberate release of anything that we’re holding onto. It requires deliberate recognition of the truth, not just a bit of spontaneous insight, some bit of grace, that with time can isolate us in some degree of self-importance, or frustrate us in our attempts to recreate it.
During one of the early sesshins that Daido Roshi led in New Zealand, he did private interviews with a couple of the Maori elders, spiritual leaders of a community who were participating in the meditation intensive. These were people who dedicated their lives to their indigenous, systematic way of encountering the nature of reality and the nature of mind. They were life-long practitioners of their dharma. When Daidoshi tested them with the koan Mu and various other koans, dialogues and stories from a very different culture and time, they had no problem responding. The gate was wide open. Mu was working. The nature of the mind was revealed and communicated.
So what are we seeing when we see Mu? Strangely, everyone sees exactly the same thing. Strangely, everyone sees something utterly different and unique. You and I are the same thing; you are not me and I am not you. You pass through this barrier; this passage is how you live your life. Mu becomes a way of simply articulating a basic truth.