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Easy methods to Break By Mu

Kaimon Zenkaku Roshi’s MU (early nineteenth Century abbot of Myoshinji)

The theme right here is the Cáodòng/Sōtō grasp Tiāntóng Rújìng’s (1163-1229, 天童如淨; Japanese, Tendō Nyojō) directions for breakthrough with the mu kōan – and my interpretation of such. I’ll first current my translation of Rújìng’s temporary, penetrating, and exact instructing, after which provide a line-by-line commentary. By sharing some context (like what’s an “iron broom”?), I hope so as to add some depth to the mu area.

However my prayer is that this would possibly encourage some readers to take up the mu kōan with a certified Zen trainer (and one with very excessive requirements). 

By the way, that is one other in my ongoing sequence on Zen ancestors earlier than and after Dōgen that demonstrates that Zen is One Faculty. On this submit, I proceed to give attention to Rújìng, Dōgen’s trainer. Though Rújìng was within the Cáodòng/Sōtō lineage, and opposite to the story that’s perpetuated in most Sōtō circles at this time, Rújìng woke up with kōan and taught kōan introspection. There may be totally no hint of silent illumination in his work. 

For these of you who’re already engaged on the mu kōan with a certified Zen trainer, my additional prayer is that this would possibly contribute to you breaking mu open. And, in fact, for those who discover something right here to be at odds with directions your certified Zen trainer has supplied to you, then comply with their directions.

And to these of you who’ve already damaged by way of, how do you do?

Rújìng on learn how to break by way of the mu barrier 

“When the divided thoughts flies away, how will you cope with it? Zhàozhōu little canine buddhanature mu. This single phrase mu – an iron broom. The place you sweep, confusion swirls round, swirling round confusion the place you sweep. Extra turning, sweeping, turning. Within the place you can’t sweep, do your utmost to brush. Day and evening, spine straight, constantly with out stopping. Daring and highly effective, don’t let up. Immediately, sweeping breaks open the nice empty sky. Ten thousand distinctions, a thousand variations exhausted – utterly opening.”

Line-by-line feedback

“When the divided thoughts flies away, how will you cope with it?”

Misplaced within the motion of time and thoughts, separating self and different, trapped within the swirl of conditioned ideas, we let our lives run down the drain. Tick tock, tick tock…. What is going to you do? 

“Zhàozhōu little canine buddhanature ‘mu.’”

These few phrases have led to extra awakening experiences than some other. So in case you are fascinated with such a factor, grow to be such an individual. Rújìng speaks right here in an abbreviated method for many who are contained in the gate of Zen observe. I’ve offered it in English as shut as I can to the way it seems within the authentic (趙州狗子佛性無), i.e., with none articles, conjunctions, or elaborations. 

Here’s a fuller model of the kōan, nonetheless temporary, however it unpacks Rújìng’s shorthand:

“A monk requested Zhàozhōu, ‘Even slightly canine has the Buddha Nature, no?’ Zhōu stated, ‘No’ (Japanese, ‘mu’).”

The monk isn’t one other particular person. It’s you might be asking about you – one or two? And what’s mu?

“This single phrase mu, an iron broom.”

From this little canine of a sentence, there are a number of vital context factors. To start with, Rújìng’s “this single phrase mu” (只箇無字) sounds quite a bit like a key phrase (話頭, huàtóu, Japanese, watō) expressed in numerous characters. The key phrase methodology is mostly attributed to the Línjì/Rinzai trainer Dàhuì Zōnggǎo, so I see this as clearly affirming the One Zen Faculty method of Rújìng. (1)

Second, it’s price briefly noting the etymology for the mu character (無). The traditional bone kind represented an individual dancing, at first holding cattails, after which later the cattails have been changed with hearth. 

Lastly, what’s the “iron broom”? Rújìng could also be utilizing it right here in two methods. First, “iron” is used as a metaphor for that which is indestructible and unified. Iron was the metal of the, nicely, Iron Age. “Taking part in the iron flute” is the same metaphor.

Second, Rújìng may also have the “iron broom” in thoughts, an historical Chinese language martial artwork method that includes sweeping the again leg round and slicing the legs out from beneath your opponent. (2) Though neither Rújìng nor I filmed this maneuver, this would possibly provide the thought:

Each the iron broom and the mud wind up horizontal, a minimum of for a second. It is a key observe level – be the iron mu broom in dynamic exercise whereas sitting, standing, strolling, and mendacity down, sweeping out the legs from all seemingly separate phenomena. These complementary pictures – mu as dancing with hearth and sweeping like an iron broom – level on to the unified, embodied observe of mu that burns up and sweeps away separation.

“The place you sweep, confusion swirls round, swirling round confusion the place you sweep.”

In case you take up the mu kōan correctly, it should disrupt the move of linear time and the divided thoughts. That’s the purpose. 

Rújìng makes use of the dynamic exercise of sweeping to focus on the way it occurs that when a scholar first goals at changing into one with mu. Inevitably, the mud of the world, the various bits of confusion and separation, grow to be vividly salient.

You is perhaps inclined to simply sit passively and let the mud settle, lingering in limp laxity and/or withering away in karmic goo. Such a technique can be like dozing away within the passenger seat of a automotive driving south on Interstate 35, seeing the indicators for Des Moines, Kansas Metropolis, after which even San Antonio, and all of the whereas trusting that the automotive is headed north towards Duluth. 

In different phrases, you’re in denial and going a good distance within the unsuitable path.  

Rújìng’s instruction to be the iron broom, unifying bodymind, is to vigorously contact and upend each little bit of mud. So for those who’ve simply been having fun with the experience, get within the driver’s seat, flip the rattling automotive round, and throw your self into being the iron mu broom. 

“Extra turning, sweeping, turning.”

The vital observe pointer right here is to stick with the method of turning, sweeping, turning with all of the mud, confusion, and separation. You merely should grow to be the iron mu broom utterly with out a hair’s breadth of a spot.

“Within the place you can’t sweep, do your utmost to brush.”

It’s behind your again! It’s out of attain! It’s floating within the daylight. 

Enter Leonard Cohen: 

“All busy within the daylight
The flecks did float and dance,
And I used to be tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance.”

“Day and evening, spine straight, constantly with out stopping. Daring and highly effective, don’t let up.”

You heard it. Throw your self into the method and kick the dusty legs out of end-gaming, moaning and groaning about how lengthy that is taking. Kiss all of it with the indestructible iron mu broom. 

However, hey, how lengthy will it take?

It actually will depend on you (i.e., the ability and focus of your intention, talent in absorption and inquiry, and software on and off the cushion), your relationship along with your certified Zen trainer, and mysterious karmic affinity. Though I’ve heard it stated that breaking by way of mu usually takes three years, “usually” has no mounted bounds. “Three years” too has no mounted bounds. 

Your life-style – residing as a householder, or as a monastic, or in solo retreat – will certainly influence your alternative to seamlessly sweep because the iron broom. For the overwhelming majority of scholars who take up the mu koan at this time, house owners, it’s positively doable to interrupt by way of. Diligent observe in each day life is significant, in fact, in addition to doing as many days of sesshin and solo retreat because the circumstances of your householder life permit. Even a bit extra. 

Nonetheless, whilst you’re speculating, reflecting, and misplaced in thought, you miss the chance to be the iron mu broom. And unification with mu is simply the preliminary step to the vivid breaking open that this permits.

“Immediately, sweeping breaks open the nice empty sky.”


“Ten thousand distinctions, a thousand variations exhausted – utterly opening.”

After the sweeping breaks open, the self and issues of the world are lived as one household – “utterly opening.” What I’ve translated right here “utterly” (通) in a dharma context suggests “…the utterly free and unhindered useful potential of a buddha or a bodhisattva.” (3)

“Utterly opening,” then is Rújìng’s lofty historical customary for passing by way of the mu barrier of the ancestors. He’s not speaking about slightly glimmer of an perception or an intimation right here.  

In conclusion,

Might there be many (however even a couple of would possibly do),
on this technology, who observe diligently sufficient

to interrupt by way of mu
so as to tremendously profit residing beings
and cross the luminous buddhadharma
to the subsequent technology.

(1) See The Most Revered and Most Reviled Zen Grasp Ever for extra on Dàhuì.

(2) From e mail and conversations with Walter Bera Sensei, primarily based on his e mail and conversations with Mike Johnson.

(3) Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, Charles Muller, http://www.buddhism-dict.web/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?q=%E9percent80percent9A

Dōshō Port started training Zen in 1977 and now co-teaches along with his spouse, Tetsugan Zummach Sensei, with the Vine of Obstacles: On-line Assist for Zen Coaching, an internet-based Zen group. Dōshō obtained dharma transmission from Dainin Katagiri Rōshi and inka shōmei from James Myōun Ford Rōshi within the Harada-Yasutani lineage. Dōshō’s translation and commentary on The File of Empty Corridor: One Hundred Traditional Koans, is now out there (Shambhala). He’s additionally the creator of Preserve Me In Your Coronary heart a Whereas: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri. Click on right here to help the instructing observe of Dōshō Rōshi at Patreon.


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