Joshu (778-897) is one of the greatest Chinese Zen masters. He had his first experience of kensho, or realization, when he was seventeen years old. His description of this experience was "Suddenly I was ruined and homeless." That is to say, he was thrown into a great emptiness. This emptiness has a special meaning in Zen. It can be a matured emptiness only when one has acquired the four wisdoms: the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom, Universal Nature Wisdom, Marvelous Observing Wisdom and Perfecting of Action Wisdom. Joshu put the finishing touches to his enlightenment when he mastered "Ordinary mind is the Way," the story of wich is told in Case 19 of
Mumonkan, the gateless gate
Translated by Katsuki Sekida
Published by Weatherhill, Inc.


Joshu's MU

A monk asked Joshu, "Has a dog the Buddha Nature?" Joshu answered, "Mu."

Mumon's Comment:
In order to master Zen, you must pass the barrier of the patriarchs. To attain this subtle realization, you must completely cut off the way of thinking, then you will be like a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds.
Now, I want to ask you, what is the barrier of the patriarchs? Why, is it this single word "Mu." that is the front gate to Zen. Therefore it is called the "Mumonkan of Zen."
If you pass through it, you will not only see Joshu face to face, but you will also go hand in hand with the successive patriarchs, entangling your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears. Isn't that a delightful prospect? Wouldn't you like to pass this barrier?
Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu." Carry it continously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not". It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try. All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream. Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.
It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan'u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi.
Now, I want to ask you again, "How will you carry it out?"
Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this "Mu."
If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!

Now you fellow boatbuilders out there,
What is "Mu" ?

If you have or don't have an answer, contacting your local Zen master is always a good idea!

Or go to the

White Plum Sangha website
to find one.

My Teacher is Zenmaster Tenkei Coppens Roshi and I practise at the Zen River Center in The Netherlands.

Leo Jitsuzan/True Mountain