Friday, February 24, 2006

MU-I: Free of What?

In the opening sentence of Shobogenzo Master Dogen DID NOT WRITE that when buddhas verify, in their own experience, the supreme awakening of bodhi, then there is present in them in-depth knowledge of the sciences of psychology and physiology.

Master Dogen wrote that when buddhas verify, in their own experience, the supreme awakening of bodhi, then there is present in them a subtle method which is of the highest order and free of *******.

Free of ******* is two Chinese characters: MU-I.

In a compound, the first character, MU, means "without" or "free of." On its own it means "nothing." The original Chinese pictograph is of paper above flames.

So the big question is this: when Gautama Buddha sat under the bodhi tree, there was present in him a subtle method which was free of what?

In endeavoring to learn the backward step, I come back to this question often. And at different times I come up with different answers. Twelve years ago, when Shobogenzo Book One was published, the translation of MU-I that I selected was "without intention." I now regard that as a woeful translation. But I still like "without intention to achieve."

Another translation that I like is "free of doing."

But my intention in this post is not to put forward a definitive translation of MU-I. Rather, I invite you to leave a comment saying the translation that would be most meaningful to you now.
To help you, the English translation of the second character in the compound, I , is given in the dictionary as "be of use; do; try; turn into" (Nelson character dictionary) and "do; be; become" (Spahn/Hadamitzky character dictionary).

As a compound, MU-I is given in the Kenkyusha New Japanese-English dictionary as "idleness; inactivity; inaction."

As further background, Master Dogen exhorts us in Fukan-zazengi to "revere a person who is through with study and MU-I."

In his translation of Shobogenzo into modern Japanese, Gudo explains MU-I as saku-i no nai koto; shizen na koto, "without artificiality; natural." In his original translation of Shobogenzo into English, Gudo went with "natural."

Finally, in Buddhist sutras translated from Sanskrit, MU-I represents the Sanskrit word asamskrta, which is given in the Monier-Williams as "not prepared, not consecrated; unadorned; unpolished, rude (as speech)."

Please, don't be shy: go beyond right and wrong and have a go. Probably there is no right answer anyway. The great thing is to ask ourselves the question.

And if you find this kind of exercise useful, let me know and I will do the same thing with other key terms in Shobogenzo. I have often thought that the ideal thing would be for each person to be able to translate the key terms in Master Dogen's teaching for themselves, not to rely on the dirty filter of other people's understanding.

39 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

My Dear Mike,

I could be way off base, but perhaps Mu-I also could mean "free of preconceptions" or, more importantly, "open to possibilities"?

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Yes!! No bullshit.

Nice one, Michael.

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

Free of attachment, maybe?

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

Dear Mike,

I was going to make the same suggestion as Michael, but I also see "carefree".

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Welcome and thank you, PF. Thank you, Pierre.

Your suggestions bring to mind the words of Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow who wrote that "our wrong inner patterns are the doing that has to be stopped."

Preconceptions, yes. Attachments, yes. Cares, yes.

When one stops to investigate it, there is no shortage of crap waiting to be cleared away, and most of it is deeper in us than we wish to dig.

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Blow me down with a feather. I have been worrying about the translation of MU-I for about 20 years. And now that I content myself with asking the question out loud, in public, without any intention to hit the target, I suddenly find that I have got the answer:

MU-I simply means free.

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, FW.

You are always...

... free of noise

Friday, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Michael Tait said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Ordinary bloke said...

Floating Weed, you really are pissed tonight.
So am I.
I visited a friend in Bed 20 Acute Care Cardiac Ward.
Two heart attacks.
I wanted to tell him really wise stuff about how to live a healthy balanced life but I decided not to interfere.
He knows the score.
He knows what to do.
Before sitting zazen I know what to do.
I put my zafu on the zabuton.
I put my kesa on.
I gassho.
I sit down.
I fold my legs in lotus.
I arrange my kesa.
I sway from side to side.
I gassho.
Gassho is direction up.
Bands on my kesa are direction up.
I try to sit without an idea of gain, without the intention to achieve.
I try, and find it impossible to stop trying because I actually want to achieve something.
I try to sit upright. I try.
When I realise that I am trying I remind myself not to try, not to interfere.
The kesa directs me up.
I try not to interfere.
I try not to interfere.
I try not to interfere, but I do interfere.
Master Dogen might have said something different but I try not to iterfere.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger MikeDoe said...

FW:
Please drink more often. This is the best post I have ever seen from you and the first where I do not sense anything other than a sincere heart seeing clearling.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Floating Weed.
Thank you, Ordinary Bloke.
Thank you for expressing to us the real meaning of being without insincerity, of having no intention to achieve, of not interfering.

Mikedoe; when Gautama held up a twirling flower and Mahakasyapa's face broke into a smile, I wonder if there was someone like you in the audience giving Gautama's twirling marks out of ten.

When you sit, you make effort to be without what? That is the question. If you haven't even heard the question yet, then please shut the hell up and listen.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

Dear floating weed,

I have just been through that very shit. Marriage breaking up, beloved one going. Having to face an army of demons, drinking like a fish.

I can only speak for myself but here it is:

Floating weed, you cannot do anything for your friend. Listening, being there. That's all. When people are dying, all we can do is listen, shut up and be. The best for your friend is to do nothing, to work his arse out letting despair and tears sweat from his body-mind. To be a wreck. Fully, wholeheartedly. Nothing else. No hope, promises, not even the word "love". Let him, allow him, exort him gently to fully enter that gate of pain for that gate is the gate of NOW.

But again, I don't know. It worked for me even if it is the hardest way. It was like walking on a sea of fire.

Love

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Without affectation,
No airs and graces,
Wearing his birthday kesa,
Here my best friend, wrongness,
Sits in the raw.
Not becoming anything.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger sonni said...

"It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow
The blackbird sat
In the cedar limbs"

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

What is the real meaning of MU-I?

Mikedoe does not even hear the question. You and I, Pierre, we have been asking ourselves the question for a long time. But however beautifully we express it as nothing, we then go right ahead and turn it into something, don't we?

I call it "being free of noise," and then in my very desire to be free of noise, I create noise.

I call it "being without intention to achieve" and see that translation as my own personal achievement.

I call it "being free of preconceptions" and turn it into a preconception.

I call it "being open to possibilities" and close my mind around that.

I call it "free of attachment," attaching to that expression.

I call it "being carefree," and care whether others like my interpretation or not.

I conclude that it simply means "free" but in my reaching that conclusion freedom is already lost.

And so on and so on, endlessly.

Understanding that MU-I means being without affectation, I want to go ahead and be deliberately rude--always wishing to turn something which is inherently nothing into SOMETHING. Something around which I can get my dirty paws.

THIS is the wrongness which is my true best friend, the best friend whom I so often fail to recognize as such. My best friend is always more intimately connected with me than I realize.

You and I, Pierre, in our utter stupidity, cannot stop ourselves from trying to tell others what it is, what really works. When all we truly know is what it was not, what didn't work.

Something worked for you already? I don't believe you. Maybe it is just the anesthetic still in your system speaking.

Who am I to proudly present my verse about having no airs and graces--as if I have finally realized SOMETHING important? Who am I trying to kid? It is back to the gutter for you and I, my friend, where we truly belong.

And just in that moment of us slinking back to the gutter, with our tails between our legs, a young French monk approaches you and asks, in all sincerity, "Excuse me, Master, how do you say MU-I in French."

Come on you useless bag of shit. NOW SAY SOMETHING. SAY SOMETHING AT ONCE!

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, sonni.

Yes, thank God for nature -- a teacher who cannot deceive even a fool like me.

How to be natural, with no added ingredients? That is the question.

We await Pierre's answer.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Chris said...

What can we do?

What can we NOT do?

Silly questions!

A friend is dying- we die with them
in that moment
we die, too.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

I don't know.

IT sits.

I shut up.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger sonni said...

I wish to be as 'free as a bird!'........
perhaps If I catch one I can take It home and keep it in a cage where I can always enjoy it.... Better yet I could stuff it and mount it and it will be mine forever......yet why do I still have this feeling.......

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Chris.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Pierre, and forgive me.

What hinders me, at a very deep level, is the pretense of knowing. This tendency is so deep and insidious in me that I don't see it in myself. But I see the pretentious tendency mirrored in you, where it enrages me.

You and I are pretentious fools. We are never on the level of the great Zen Masters of the modern age, like Gudo with his physiological explanation of The Real Contents of Enlightenment, and Brad Warner with his compassionate exhortations that people should fix their Zazen posture.

I prostrate to you who truly does not know.

And if you're response to the young French monk in my story is "Je sais pas!" I would like to intervene on your behalf and teach the young monk "Regard! Il n'a pas pretexte de savoir! Seulement ca, c'est MU-I!"

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, sonni.

May all living beings truly be as free as a bird.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Pierre Turlur said...

Thank you Mike for reminding the old fool his deep tendency to turn nothing into something.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Pierre. Which "old fool" are you referring to? The English one or the French one? Or, after all, is there only one old fool?

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

FM Alexander said, "People who have no fish to fry, they see it all right."

Perhaps this points to the most profound meaning of MU-I; having no fish to fry, having no agenda.

For those of us, like Pierre and me, who do have their fish to fry, the great thing may be to see it. Insofar as we are able to see our own folly, we are not totally at its mercy. Something else is allowed to operate too. IT sits.

That IT sits is nothing for us to congratulate ourselves about. If we were not so bloody pretentious we would not have been in the way in the first place.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger cowgoesmu said...

IT seems to me to be a great joy an ever expanding smile which i could become part of if i didnt keep getting in the way.It both does and doesnt care about me it is true compassion, sometimes revealed but not for anything it has nothing to do....this is probably balls but i dont care.

Best wishes mike cross and all the brummies

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger MikeDoe said...

.

Saturday, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, cgm.

In mechanical terms, we can't continue expanding forever; at some point, the cycle has to turn to breathing out, or else we would burst.

But FM Alexander found a sense in which the back can keep widening into an ever-expanding smile, even during the out-breath.

So, no, I don't think what you wrote is balls.

Being 6 ft and no longer punching above my weight, I often have the sense, when I am working with less experienced Alexander teachers, that they feel they will need to make that extra little bit of effort to get a big lump like me out of the chair. That is because they are not free of various old conceptions about mechanics, weight, gravity, balance, et cetera, et cetera.

But I know a small Jewish lady in her 70s who has gone far beyond all those useless old conceptions. She just sees me as a living direction, and whips me out of the chair without any bother at all, as if I were blown thisteldown.

I must confess that I feel very happy as I write this. Because this is not my view or opinion. In this comment, I am just telling you the truth. I am just bearing witness.

Sunday, February 26, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Mikedoe.

Sometimes a full stop can be the hardest thing to write. Don't I know it? But there can be very great wisdom operating through that ring finger of the right hand which transmits the decision to press down that key..... .








.

Sunday, February 26, 2006  
Blogger Ryan Trusell said...

"then there is present in them a subtle method which is of the highest order and without _______"

Just like that.

Monday, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, bubbha, and welcome.

Yes, nice try. In other words, the subtle method is FREE. It is just FREE. Don't worry about free of what. Just free.

Yes, I agree with you. But then the original is in the style of "without something." So philosophically it is a nice try, but as a translation it is a copout.

Can I wish to be awake, WITHOUT TRYING TO BE an Awakened One?

Can I wish to be free, WITHOUT TRYING TO GET MY DIRTY PAWS ON freedom?

Can I intend to allow all things to continue being released in the right direction, WITHOUT INTENDING TO ACHIEVE Rightness?

As long as I am mindful of these questions, the answer is No, No, and thrice No.

Maybe in chinks between these questions, in the flash of a sparrow's beard, something might be possible. But the sparrow flies away and into the sparrowless gap, my stupid questions return.

Can I wish for __________ without _________?

Nice try, bubbha, but I invite you to try again, in your own words, filling in the gaps.

Monday, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Can I wish to be whole, without trying to be holy?

Can I wish urgently to save all living beings, without haste?

Monday, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Ryan Trusell said...

If you want words I think
"beyond entropy" does the
trick for me. Thanks for being engaging.

Monday, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, bubbha.
"Beyond entropy" sounds interesting. But I don't know what it means. Can you explain?

Monday, February 27, 2006  
Blogger Ryan Trusell said...

Entropy (or rather the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which entropy describes and measures)is one of the governing dynamics of our physical world. It is both the reason we are able to live and also the reason we will eventually die. For a more complete extrapolation may I refer you to Frank Lambert's excellent article:
www.entropysimple.com/content.htm
It's a pleasure to read and easy for non-science types to comprehend.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

Thank you, bubbha, I have begun reading Frank Lambert's article and will take further time to print it out and ponder it. My first impressions are that it
(a) is extremely appealling to my way of trying to make sense of things, because it starts off by showing up common MISconceptions,
(b)has some extremely interesting thoughts in it, viz:
"All spontaneous happenings in the material world (those that continue without outside help, except perhaps for an initial start) are examples of the second law because they involve energy dispersing."

In the background to your comment, there seems to be the idea that the subtle method must involve spontaneity.
At the same time, your use of the word "beyond" suggests the denial of this idea.
Philosophically, this strikes me as being a very nice try.
As a literal translation it doesn't work. "Beyond" is represented by other negative prefixes such as FU- and HI- (as in FUSHIRYO and HISHIRYO; not thinking and different from thinking). MU expresses absence.

"Free of non-spontaneous doing," however, is a translation of MU-I that I think would be worthy of much further and deeper consideration.

Thank you again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006  
Blogger Mike Cross said...

ALL SPONTANEOUS HAPPENINGSā€¦ ARE EXAMPLES OF THE 2ND LAW BECAUSE THEY INVOLVE ENERGY DISPERSING.

It is a very provocative statement. Thank you again for drawing my attention to it.

So, what we call the self is a temporary blockage of dispersing energy?

Then my argument is that the manner in which we use that temporarily blocked energy can be directed consciously by one who is awake, a buddha.

How? I don't know how. How? is the question.

According to Master Dogen's testimony, the method is subtle, it is of the highest order, and it is free of...
doing?
trying?
becoming?
preconceptions?
attachment?
care?
idea of gain?
interference?
noise?
contrivance?
intention to achieve?
Expressed without a negative, it involves freedom itself, spontaneity.

Exactly so in the method of FM Alexander also. FMA argued and demonstrated that the manner in which we use 'the self' can, through 'conscious direction' (aka 'thinking'), be raised to 'the plane of conscious control.'

This ascent cannot be realized by doing something unconsciously. Hence, as I understand them, Master Dogen's instructions to Just Wake Up; and to Think the Concrete State of Not Thinking.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006  

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