the Wanderling

A monk once asked master Chao-chou, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Chao-chou said, "Mu"

At first the answer to the query posed by the monk seems obvious. A central tenet of Buddhist thought is the belief that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature, so to that extent that a dog is sentient, a dog has Buddha-nature. That this answer is so obvious suggest that this is not the response the monk is looking for: The question is not to be interpreted literally and responded to conceptually. In fact, rather than a straightforward question the utterance by the monk to Chao Chou constitutes a Koan



The word Koan or Ko-an comes from the Chinese term kung-an, literally "public notice," or "public announcement." There are reported to be some 1,700 Koans in all. There are two major collections of Koans, the first being the Pi-yen lu, that is, the "Blue Cliff Records," consisting of 100 Koans selected and commented on by YŘan-wu, in 1125. The second being the Wumenkuan, also known as the Mumonkan, a collection of 48 Koans compiled in 1228 by the Chinese priest Hui-k'ai, also known as Wu-men. Both collections derived their Koans from the same orignal source, the much earlier Cheng-te ch'uan-teng lu texts.

Basically a Koan is a paradoxical utterance used in Zen as a center of concentration in meditation. The paradoxical nature of Koans is essential to their function: The attempt to break down conceptual thought. Koans are constructed so that they do not succumb to conceptual analysis and thereby require a more direct response from the meditator. Interpreted in this way, the question is an appeal to Chao Chou to draw on his own insight into reality. This restricts the possible responses open to Chao Chou. An affirmative answer to the question would fail and Chao Chou could be accused of reliance on traditional teaching, rather than personal understanding. As such, it would fail to meet the challenge a Koan represent. Nevertheless, Chao Chou cannot answer "no" since this would be to deny scripture. This places Chao Chou in a perplexing situation. Both the ordinary conceptual responses are inappropriate: He cannot answer either yes or no. It is this inability to provide a satisfactory conceptual response that constitutes the paradoxical nature of the present Koan. Koans set up paradox situations like this in an attempt to provoke a non-conceptual response from meditators.

When we practice Koans, we often only deal with what is immediately provided by the translator. We rarely investigate other sources and dig below the surface. And there is always a lot more to a Koan, or any barrier for that matter, than first meets the eye.

Often, central parts of the ancient Koans were extracted from other sources. The masters who created Koan collections used source materials that were familiar to the people who were studying these Koans. They were presented within a known cultural and historical matrix. The teachers assumed that listeners had a grounding in basic principles of Buddhism and local folklore. For us, ten centuries later, the challenge is to uncover the full spectrum of the Koan, its breadth and depth. (source)

Chao Chou's response is to answer neither yes-nor-no: To answer Mu. Mu is not as unusual as it first seems. There are many everyday questions that we would not want to answer either yes or no to. Consider the question: "Have you stopped beating your dog yet?" Now it is notoriously easy to invent a situation in which either a positive or a negatively answer to this question is misleading. Either answer will mislead if I ask the question of a devoted animal lover, someone who would never mistreat any animal. If I was to demand a yes or no answer from an such a person they would be in a situation equally perplexing as Chao Chou's: any response they make will be misleading. A positive answer has the implication that the mis-treatment once took place and has now ceased. Whereas a negative reply implies that this non-existent mistreatment is still continuing.

The difficulty with answering this question for a pet lover is that the question itself set up a misleading picture of things. The question implies the existence of something that has never taken place and any response only seems to place one more firmly within that view of things. The correct response is to question the question: To ask for an alternative way of picture things. This is also implicit in the notion Mu. To answer a question with Mu (to say neither yes-nor-no) is to deny the validity of the question itself. The reason the answer is neither yes-nor-no is because the question sets up misleading categories, similar to Avyaakata in the sutras, that which do not apply to the situation being examined. Mu is a call for the question to be unasked. A call to look beyond the limiting conceptualisation implicit in the question. In fact, Mu is more extreme than this: It is a call to move beyond the limiting perspective of conceptualisation itself and to a directly contact with ultimate reality via pre-reflective awareness.

The above has been extrapolated from a paper that no longer calls up by Mitch Parsell, Ph.D, with minor editing by the Wanderling for our purposes here.


If the speaker brings no personal, egotistic delusions into their expression, the occasion speaks for itself, the total situation alone determines what is said or done. Thus, in the case of the Zen master, what-is-said is simply what-is. In the case of the deluded person, however, the "what-is" includes his excess conceptual baggage with its affective components, the deluded ideas about the nature of "self," "thing," "time," and so on that constitute the person's own particular distortion of what actually is. (source)

Cause and effect, just like birth and death, lose their significance at the Enlightened level because at the level of basic nature there is no one to receive the effect of Karma, whether it is good or bad. Therefore, at the extreme, when one is Enlightened, the law of Karma is not applicable. All that the Enlightened one does, says, or thinks is through free will, a manifestation of basic nature, and not the effect of past Karma.

In the book THE HUMAN BUDDHA: Enlightenment for the New Millennium (2000) by Aziz Kristof, now known as Anandi, speaking of his very early days along the path of Enlightenment, Anandi writes of Koans:

"In that period I solved the main set of Koans. I needed to solve them because I was uncertain about their importance in the Awakening process. Not being able to solve them - I might have doubted the authority of my state. I was quite sad seeing those poor fellows trying to solve these abstract Koans instead of directly Awakening their consciousness. I had a few arguments with the leading Zen master, in fact I had arguments with all the Zen masters. This man was anyway a good man, but quite identified with 'the school.' This school of Zen seemed to mould everyone into the same shape, as if they were making clones. Everybody seemed to speak the some language, ask the same questions and give the same answers. The most interesting thing was that none of those masters were actually interested in the inner state. No one ever asked: 'Aziz, what is your state?' Such a basic question! Instead, they asked: what did master Chao Chou mean saying Mu? Who really cares? It is wonderful to study the sayings of Old Sages, but what they were pointing to is much more important. In awakening to Who I Am one holds the essence of all possible Koans, from the past, present and future."

Once upon a time in a land far away lived a poor uneducated, mentally challenged man who tended a herd of cows for his master. He happened upon a meditation teacher and was very taken with his calm, loving, gentle and happy nature. He decided he wanted to know that experience first hand. And so he went to the teacher and begged him to teach him a way to achieve the inner peace that radiated so obviously from the teacher. The teacher accepted him as his student but quickly found that the man couldn’t understand any of the philosophical points he was making and as a matter of fact couldn’t even remember the mantra "OM" when he tried to teach it to him. The teacher lovingly said, "My oh my, you don’t seem to know anything at all, can’t be taught, and can’t remember anything. You are devoted and sincere in your desire to gain happiness though, so I will try to help you. My son, what do you know?" The man said, "Oh great teacher, the only thing I know is cows. All my life I’ve spent caring for cows, making sure they graze, are milked, and are kept clean. Yes, for me, everything is cows." "Well, that’s alright," said the teacher, "then you know what sound the cows make." "Oh yes," said the man, "they say moo." "Very well then," said the teacher, "for you, moo will be your mantra. All you have to do is say moo continually and you will reach freedom from suffering and know real bliss." So the man chanted moo, moo, moo when he took the cows out to graze and he chanted moo, moo, moo when he milked them, and he chanted moo, moo, moo when he cleaned them. He chanted moo all the time and very soon merged with that vibration, which is Om backward, and reached the highest heights of joyous understanding and lived happily ever after. (source)

Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.






Case 63, Blue Cliff Record







(please click)


The word shaman, used internationally, has its origin in manch˙-tangu and has reached the ethnologic vocabulary through Russian. The word originated from saman (xaman), derived from the verb scha-, "to know", so shaman means someone who knows, is wise, a sage. Further ethnologic investigations shows that the true origin for the word Shaman can be tracked from the Sanskrit initially, then through Chinese-Buddhist mediation to the manch˙-tangu, indicating a much deeper but now overlooked connection between early Buddhism and Shamanism generally. In Pali it is schamana, in Sanskrit sramana translated to something like "buddhist monk, ascetic". The intermediate Chinese term is scha-men. (source)

The Case Against "Shamans" In the
North American Indigenous Cultures