From ‘Being Met by the Reality Called Mu’, by Joan Halifax


“All of Buddhist practice is about realizing fundamentally one thing. We use different means to actualize this one thing. That fundamental thing is to be completely present and open to things as they are, unfabricated reality, this one most precious thing. Our practice invites us to rest in a natural state of mind not being charged by concepts which can  obscure our experience, nor directed by mental formations taking us away from this moment. When we are fully with unfabricated reality, our practice, our very life is completely absorbed by the immensity of the immediate.

Because most of us are  conditioned to react to the world around us, to fall into our habitual patterns of thought or emotion, we often find it difficult to just sit, to be in this experience of awareness free of the need to choose, an awareness that is without an object. Often our mental habits carry us back, again and again, to the same territories of reactivity and objectification, thus giving strength to the continuation of our suffering.  In practicing with a koan, we use something that is of us and not quite of us to absorb ourselves completely into or be absorbed completely by things as they are. What a strange and wonderful  strategy.

Thus, this practice can lead us to the experience of choiceless awareness, moment to moment awareness, an awareness that feels all beings and things as not separate from us. Often enough our practice is not so strong and attention falters. We can use a stronger upaya, a more magnetizing skillful means wherein we actually come to the experience of what it is to be completely in this immediacy, to be completely present. This is when the practice with a koan can seize reality, like a mysterious magnet that grabs our world with the force of its drawing power. This present moment, like a koan, is a small door that opens onto all of life as it is, an intimate portal that includes the infinite. It is a gateway that  allows us not to fall into habitual mental patterns but to move into the experience of the Ultimate, of profound nonduality. This is why we practice with a koan.


It takes a lot of humility to allow ourselves to do koan practice. It also takes a spirit that is hungry for submission […] Koan practice is not about ideas or understanding anything. It is not about mimicking the ancestors gestures or aping their understanding. It is about being the ancestors and buddhas, being mu, katz, and the cries of geese; and as well being that small irritating tail of the buffalo which can’t quite get through the window.


Sadly, sometimes we think we have to solve life, and we hear inside ourselves the phrase:  My life is a koan. After some years with my first teacher, I came to realize that the point is not to solve the problem but to be informed by the spirit of the question. If one is looking for a solution, an outcome: the right relationship, practice, teacher – a perfect world – disappointment will surely follow. That’s not what life is about. That’s not what this  practice is about. This practice is not about being in an ideal or idea; it cannot be about trying to get anything or anywhere. Maybe through the friction of the koan, the habit skins begin to drop off, or maybe the habit skins are the very richness that gives life to life.  Which ever, a koan can show us what we are wearing and what is underneath. That is why  the first koan in the Mumonkan is so demanding and precious. There is No solution.”

(full text – original at Upaya Zen Centre)

From ‘Being Met by the Reality Called Mu’, by Joan Halifax

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