Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mumonkan, Koan 33: Baso's "No Mind, No Buddha"

A monk asked Baso, "What is the Buddha?" Base answered, "No mind, no Buddha."

The first thing that must be noted about this koan is that it's almost identical to Koan 30: Baso's "This Very Mind is the Buddha". So much so, that any attempt by me to extract a separate meaning from this koan versus that one felt forced at first.

The repetition made me think of Bodhidharma's Bloodstream Sermon. (Note: I read the translation of this sermon by Red Pine in his book The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma). In this sermon, Bodhidharma spends a lot of time saying "buddha is mind" and "you mind is your nature" and "your nature is buddha" in a bunch of different ways. His repeating this over and over made me think of why Zen is not transmitted verbally. He can preach the same simple message all day and all night, but if we don't understand it then it doesn't matter how many times we're told.

In any case, his point matches the message of koan 30. However, Bodhidharma also makes a related point in the Bloodstream Sermon that outside our mind or nature, there is no buddha to be found. This would seem to be the point of koan 33. So I suppose there is a difference in between the two koans. Buddha is mind or nature, and then there is nothing outside of your mind/nature to find. Kind of says the same thing, but from two separate vantage points.

Perhaps Mumon felt this point was important enough to dedicate two similar koans to it...or that the two sides of the point need to be understood to really 'get' it.

[PS: After arriving at my solution, I read Mumon's comment about this koan: "If you understand this, you have finished studying Zen." So that's pretty good evidence that he felt this koan and koan 30 speak to something essential in Zen.]

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