Orientation: This talk is the first of six from our April 2013 sesshin. Click here for the full playlist from this sesshin.
A monk asked Joshu: ‘Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?’
Joshu answered: ‘Mu’.
Hearing and sound depend on each other and heal each other each, each disappears into the other in the very act of listening. That is what is so lovely and useful and skilful about the practice of listening, that is the offer it makes. Our eyes far more powerfully go out and grasp and name and discriminate and discern things. Sound reaches us, when we are lucky, before thought can arise, and then we become just another movement of this golden wind, golden wind.
So Mu is the practice of not identifying phenomena, not measuring, comparing, judging, not finding mine, yours, this, that, all those other illusions and phantoms. Listening is a word that can gradually become the whole of practice. Listening in the eyes: we call it seeing, really seeing, without that movement of the mind to grasp and take hold. In the skin it’s called touch. Just-sitting is full of touch: your weight on your cushion, your confirming weight, the way the earth calls you to it, you can call it gravity, but it’s a constant call, a confirming call, that you are here, you belong, you are welcome.
The weight of the hands in each other, resting: bones, tendons, energy. The energy in your hands, feel into that, that’s the touch that is the deep listening of the skin. And in the heart listening is called loving, recognition, that kind of recognition that arises before thought. You’ll be sensing more and more of this as Sesshin deepens, the ways that things reach you and light up recognition which has no content, no neediness. When it reaches you in that state of nothing needed now it is loving. In the belly, in the Hara, listening is called knowing it’s an even quieter form of recognition. It truly needs nothing.
So all of these forms of listening, in a way, you could say they are identical at the root but different on the surface just like us. What we are doing when we practice with Mu, and the deep listening that Mu asks of us, is turning our hearing faculty towards the source of hearing, towards the one who hears, and turning towards it as a question, not a knowing. Mu is great because it makes us dumb, not so quick to know everything. Slowly it just shaves those knowings off us. None of them stick to Mu. So they are no use if you are focusing on Mu, if you are focusing on the open state that has nothing put upon it.
Whether you call it Mu or call it just-sitting doesn’t matter. Knowings drop off like leaves of a tree in autumn…