‘A woman asked Nan-chuan, ‘Is there any Dharma that has not been preached to the people?’ Nan-chuan said, ‘There is.’ The woman said, ’What is the Dharma that has not been preached?’ Nan-chuan replied, ’This is not mind, this is not Buddha, this is not thing.’

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 27


In the koan world, we seem to come out a fair amount. We produce things: rhinoceros fans, foxes, fingers and beards. We do that because it is natural, and easy and right. In doing so, we are expressing our freedom to be ourselves and all other things. For some reason, it is a very joyful thing to do.

Not so often, however, do we not come out. Or rather, come out with not.

Yes, we have the famous koan ‘No!’, in response to the monk’s question whether a dog has Buddha nature or not. But there are not a lot of ‘This is not a thing’ type stories, like the one above.

Some time ago, I was in a retreat where to gain meaningful results the leader decided we would scream ‘Mu!’ at the top of our lungs for the last three days of a week-long event. It actually was easy for to scream ‘Mu!’ (‘no’ or ‘not’ in Japanese) because it was a foreign word to us. It was outside ourselves; like a rock in a hard-labor quarry we kept hammering at it to show some meager results.

If we had screamed the English word ‘No!’, perhaps by the third day, rather than being utterly hoarse, we would have been laughing and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

The beauty about No is that it is not negative, or nothing, or empty at all. It is full, and full. Lush and lush. Within its world, there are lots of rhino fans, fingers and foxes. Isn’t that fun? Come do some No with us on Monday night at the Camp!