haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2007, vol 3 no 2

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Ken Arnold

Mu

My Zen Master in Boston, who is also a Unitarian minister, accepts me as his student. I give him a Gerbera. He bows. And we begin koan study with the one that grounds all the others. It is the gateless gate, the puzzle already assembled that we cannot see.

A monk asked Joshu, "Does the dog have Buddha nature or not?"

Joshu answered, "Mu."

I walk along Commonwealth Avenue every morning on my way to work looking at the dogs and the trees, trying to see what is really there. Looking for the answer to the question: What is mu? In the Public Garden, through which I pass each day, there have been nine willow trees around the lake. Today there are eight.

Eight willows stand
where once there were nine
the garden undiminished

My first sesshin—extended period of zazen and interviews—is in New Hampshire. I leave my office early because of an approaching snowstorm, which arrives soon after I am out of Boston. The snow falls quickly and all traffic slows. The two-hour trip takes four. Everyone is late. We sit with it, the silence accumulating with the snow.

Morning sun melts snow
from the Buddha's face
bowing trees flower with light

Ice-covered branches
crack in winter sun
snow crashes from the roof

Patch of light on the zendo floor
cut radishes
chop parsley

I race to the interview with my teacher, having seen so clearly the light on the floor, the chopped vegetables, the crashing snow: I know mu. My excitement pours out. My teacher smiles and nods. "Yes, good." And then he asks, "How tall is mu?" And my mind goes blank. I have no idea what he's talking about.