What is “Mu”?

Shared by Ann.

Mu is a koan associated with Rinzai zen. In one story associated with this koan, a monk asks a teacher whether a dog has buddha nature, and the response is “Mu!” – (No). Later, the monks ask the teacher the same question and get the opposite answer – “Yes”! (Note: this article references a book focused on Mu.)

Mu is the concept of pure or profound awareness. One of Ann’s teachers recommended that she practice saying mu. She originally ventured into the woods but found the experience awkward, feeling like a lion cub that needed to learn to roar. She later followed her husband’s suggestion and used Levi’s stadium as her practice space – projecting Mu into the venue at times when the rest of the crowd was roaring with support of the 49ers.

Ann has a practice of ending her days by saying Mu. Doing so allows you to express your intent to strive for awareness. In the same way that her teacher encourages her, she encourages us to find opportunities to practice.

wa kei sei jaku 和敬清寂

This sign used to hang outside of our gate to the zendo. “Wa, Kei, Sei, Jaku,” famous Sado (tea ceremony ) word describing four essential elements of Sado.

和(Wa) Harmony

敬(Kei) Respect

清(Sei) Purity

寂(Jaku) Tranquility

So why this word for tea ceremony relates to zen?

It is believed that Eisai, who established the Rinzai Zen, brought green tea seeds from China and promoted tea culture in Japan. As a result, at many zen temples, sarei (茶礼) is offered, after morning zazen, after meals during the break, and before going to sleep.

We can apply these principles to our zen practice

When we enter our zendo, we can

-Open up our minds (Wa),

-Respect each other, and be compassionate (Kei)

-Clean up surroundings. Also, we can purify our minds by leaving  any biases (Sei)

-Keep ourselves calm (Jaku), which we try to archive through zazen meditation.

We can apply this to our daily life.

New Year Eve 2021

Dear Students of Hakone Zendo,
There is an interesting tension in me as I write to you on this last day of 2021.  One part wants to say something wise and positive, while the other part does not want this email to be just another pat comment with well wishes and Happy New Year!’s that tend to be everywhere on this day.
So, instead, I will ask that you participate in an email request/assignment which will take all of 5 minutes at the most….but on 2 separate days…..today and tomorrow.
Go outside, or to a quiet place where you can notice something in our natural world, and just breathe and BE for a few minutes.  Notice the beauty and goodness of this time,and as you breathe in allow yourself to feel your own beauty and goodness.  There is no one like you.  There is only THIS.…the world, the breath, and yourself in this moment. 
Do this on the last day of 2021 and the first day of 2022 please.  (And maybe start now so that you don’t forget today).  And repeat again tomorrow, January 1, 2022.
You are cared for.

Ann Kugyo

Why we were told not to step on the edge of tatami mat

So you were told not to step on the edge of tatami mat at our zendo and wondering why. Rev Ito told me that because the edge was more expensive to repair. I researched a bit more to find out the reasons why people were told not to step on the edge of the tatami mat.

  • Wear and tear: Tatami mat is delicate and especially the edge (tatami-fuchi) can easily get damaged.
  • Respect & honor: In Japan, there is an unspoken rule about where people should seat. For example, in our zendo, where rev Ito used to sit is considered as “seat of honor” or “top seat”. Usually these seats are offered to elders & guests to honor. The seat closest to the door/entrance is considered the “bottom seat”. Old days, the edge of tatami was used to determine top seat/section and stepping on the line was disrespectful.
  • Family crest: Some tatami mat has a family crest on the edge and it was disrespectful to step on the family crest.
  • Ninja assassination: Ninja used to hide under the house(crawl space)/below tatami to assassinate and they can determine where people were by looking at the light coming through the gap between tatami.  We don’t have ninja(s) hiding in our zendo so no worries.

Now we know.

Mind is like a pond

I participated in Rinzai’s online zazen-kai with my son, which priest Yokoyama led from Tokoji in Shizuoka, Japan.

His story resonated with us, so I shared it during our zazen-kai at Hakone Gardens.

He told us a famous story.

One day, a young man asked a monk, ” I can’t sleep well as I am worried and anxious. Would you please help to get rid of them? “

Monk replied. ” Sure, let me help you. Can you bring it out and show me “anxiety” and “doubt”?

Young man, “I can’t. How can I show you?”

Monk, ” Right, those things don’t exist. You are creating them in your mind.”

Mind is like a pond. If you stir, water becomes muddy. However, when the water is quiet and still, you can see things clearly.

Zazen helps to keep our mind quiet and still.