Thursday, June 24, 2010


To realize zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriarch.  Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked.  If you do not pass the barrier of the patriarchs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost.  You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriarch?  This one word, Mu, is it.

This is the barrier of zen.  If you pass through it, you will see Joshu [Chinese zen master] face to face.  Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriarchs.  Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through every pore of your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night.  Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing.  It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence.  If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out.

Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears.  As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one.  It is like a dumb man who has had a dream.  He knows about it but he cannot tell it.

When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth.  He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword.  If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriarch offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in his way of birth and death.  He can enter any world as if it were his own playground.  I will tell you how to do this with this koan:

Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation.  When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation, your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.

- from "zen Flesh, zen Bones - a Collection of zen and pre-zen writings", 1957, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki


  1. Oh Beth - what???

    I can hardly comprehend this...

    I think I have lost my own Buddha-nature....

  2. :-) ... dunno, Brian, but it spoke to me when I read it!

    especially that part about the road of thinking always tripping you up!

    thanks for hanging in with me. I'd say that losing your Buddha-nature is probably a good sign and you're on your way to enlightenment. :-)

  3. it took 30 years but i had a mini-satori re: the dog/buddha thing - but i can't describe it

    some local female zenners in Omaha complained to the roshi about the constant references to "patriarchs" (patriarchal is now a dirty word, yes?)

  4. dog spelled backwards is . . .June 29, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    Who cares if a dog has a Buddha-nature? The more important question, especially from a Catholic framework, is addressed here:

    Or discussed here:

  5. Cool!!!

    I'm not going anywhere my dog can't go, either! "Travelers would be well advised to bring along the family dog!"

    (Haven't watched a twilight zone in a good while. What a great TV series!)

  6. Speaking of Rodney, I rented a DVD from the library that had 3 pre-Zone Serling scripts that was very good:

    and this stuff was live! You would think that T.V. would have improved from this time, not sunk into mediocrity.

    Serling's experience in WW2 turned him into a commited pacifist.

  7. When I watched that episode of Twilight zone, I had that same reaction of how TV had sunk into mediocrity or worse. I'd like to know more about Rod Sterling.

  8. Rod shows Dirwood how to discharge a firearm:

  9. Hello Beth !

    I hope you are having a nice summer. Here in New Jersey is extremely hot - topped 100*F yesterday.

    I found this interesting site - thought you and your readers would like to read it.

    Best regards,

  10. Thanks, Brian. That looks like an interesting article, and I've bookmarked it. I like the Image Magazine a lot, and have a few issues at home.

    I'm in Pittsburgh for the rest of the summer and it's hot here too! Supposed to cool down on Friday, though.

  11. Buddha nature?
    I was a practicing Buddhist for many years and after reading an article from the Dalai Lama about making peace with “your own spiritual traditions before looking for the Buddha” I returned to Christianity to make such peace.
    In the end it was not my “Buddha “ nature that mattered. Christ’s nature found me.
    I think sometimes we become too muddled in the search and worry too much about finding “our nature.” The fact is that it is only dying to the self and our fears of the self (i.e. Losing the Buddha/Christ nature) that we find it.
    “Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you want to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

    Why would one seek the Buddha nature when Christ is living in one's own yard? The only answer is that we are so angry and disappointed at the politics of the church that we forget that in the Mahayana and Hinayana traditions there are just as much politics. We think we will find some thing purer there when in fact if we stop playing at the edges and go deeply into it we will see that Buddhist institutions are as corrupt as any thing that we hate about the church. Also, we think that by going to the feet of the Buddha we can side step the essential reality that Christ speaks to us about - that there is a God. Too many of us want God but we want Him on our terms and not His so we look in vessels that deny His very existence hoping for our salvation to come from and not from self denial.

    Christ teaches us how to deny the self, not become absorbed in the self, and thus find our true nature.

    Pick one tradition, then go to the heart of it. Then see. Few people can ride two horses at once.

    I would add that Buddhism has nothing to offer us that Christ has not already given us.

    Merton was a brilliant man, learned how to find Christ first and then moved to look at the other traditions. He went deeply into Christ then came back. He did not try to ride two horses at once.

    This is a good web site but a bit too fascinated with “the Buddhism” of Merton.

    Below are some doctrinal links that speak to Christianity and Buddhism you might find helpful.

  12. Some wise thoughts, anonymous. Thank you for your contribution.

  13. You are welcome. And I am only anonymous because I could not remember my log in to google. My name is William and I am on my way to becoming a priest in Chirst.

    I like your website, especially when you post things about Merton that are hard to find.

  14. Zen koans are expressions of what Zennists call kensho - seeing into one's original nature, which essentially means experiencing the non-dual nature of reality. The koan Mu makes sense only when one experiences this.

    Mu is usually the first koan given to a Zen practitioner. The point is not whether the dog has buddha nature or not. The point is to be one with Mu during Zen meditation. Once a person reaches the point when he becomes totally and completely one with Mu (usually after many years of Zen meditation) kensho happens, and one is able to understand this koan experientially.

    But the experience cannot be put to words; it is ineffable. That's why the koan says: "It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but he cannot tell it."

  15. By the way, I love your blog, Beth. Just discovered your blog today, when I was looking for a picture of Merton's hermitage.

    I've been a Merton fan since the 70's. I first read his books when I was in my teens. He was and still is a great influence in my life, and I credit him for introducing me to monasticism, contemplative prayer, and Zen.

    I was so inspired by him that I stayed in a Trappist monastery for a few months, to discern whether or not I had a vocation to the monastic life, in the mid 80's (when I was in my late 20's). Unfortunately, I had to leave the monastery because of health reasons.

    Merton also influenced me to study Zen. I did this initially by reading books about Zen. But later I had the good fortune of studying and meditating with good Zen teachers. Zen meditation, I could say, has deepened my understanding of Christianity (although there was a time that I really struggled with my Christian faith, especially after I attended a one week Zen retreat and had a deep Zen experience while meditating on the koan Mu).

    Right now, though, I'm no longer affiliated with any formal Zen group. My chronic illness prevents me from getting out of the house, and from attending Zen retreats, which could really be physically tough. But, in addition to my Christian practice (Praying the Liturgy of the Hours, Practicing Lectio Divina,etc.), I still regularly practice Zen meditation on my own.

    Expect me to be a frequent visitor of your blog. More power to you, and God bless!

  16. Thanks so much for commenting, Matt.

    It is so weird to see your comment this morning, because last night, during the night, I was thinking about "MU" -- it was just in my consciousness somewhere and I was thinking that I need to look back into it some more - or meditate on the Koan.

    SOunds like we're kind of on the same wave length. Thanks again for commenting.

  17. You're welcome, Beth.

    By the way, it's not really that weird - as Master Oogway says in the delightful movie,Kung Fu Panda: "Nothing happens by accident." :-)



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