Maui is a good place to work on my Wu Project. “Wu” is a Chinese term that means no, nothing, nada, negation, not. That pretty much describes me on the beach: a lump of nothingness that is content to do…nothing.
Except, what I almost always do. Think about the nothing that I’m doing. I mean, even when I’m just lying on my mat, staring blankly at the ocean, stuff is going on inside my head. I’m aware. I’m perceiving. And, I’m judging.
A cell phone rings a few feet away. I think, “Good god! Cell phones should be banned from the beach. Why does she have to talk to her friend now?”
A woman on a beach towel lights up a cigarette. I think, “She’s got children! Doesn’t she know how bad second-hand smoke is for them? Her doctor should give her a lecture.”
An overweight couple saunters by. “America, the land of obesity! They’re killing themselves with calories. Is it so tough to exercise and give up desserts? Come on, people.”
So, yeah, I’m doing nothing outwardly, but inwardly a whole lot of chatter is going on. That’s why I’ve been working on my Wu more assiduously today. “Wu,” after all, can be a mantra as well as a term.
Heck, anything can be a mantra. Om. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Juicy fruit. Banana. Whatever.
I’ve used several mantras over the almost forty years I’ve been meditating. I’ve found that the choice of sounds doesn’t matter, so I’ve become a believer in shorter is better. The anonymous author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” advised a one syllable mantra (though, as a medieval Christian, he didn’t use that term).
He favored “God.” To me, “Wu” is synonymous. It connotes mystery, via negativa, the nothingness from which somethingness emanates. But again, whatever. The only thing that matters, in my experience, is shutting down the mental chatter with a mantric smother. Then I feel much more in touch with what’s simply there, as contrasted with my complex commentary about what I’m perceiving as there.
Just a cell phone ringing. A woman talking to her friend.
Just a woman smoking a cigarette. Enjoying a vacation with her husband and children.
Just two people walking down the beach. Who happen to be hefty.
Wu, Wu, Wu. When I negate my thoughts, judgments, criticisms, and comments about what I’m perceiving on Napili Bay, what’s left is much closer to what is really there. As the Buddhists say, suchness. What is.
Last night Laurel and I walked into one of the Lahaina art galleries on Front Street. I overheard one of the staff explaining a painting to another couple. He was showing them how the artist had drawn faces that aren’t apparent until you realize that they are part of the ethereal sky, not the earthy landscape.
You know, the figure and ground sort of thing. I stared and stared at the painting, unable to see what the guy was talking about, until flash!, there the faces were. I was looking for them in the outline of a mountain, while that outline actually demarcated the faces in the sky.
This was a lot like my Wu work on the beach today. I found that when I was my normal thinking/judging/critical self, my perceptions were focused on me. Whatever I saw, it all came back to me.
People weren’t just people. They were objects of my praise, neutrality, or scorn. Waves weren’t just waves. They were objects that (at the moment) were too small for boogie boarding and, hence, useless to me.
But when the mantra was working, a sudden shift would occur. I’d simply observe while listening to “Wu, Wu, Wu,” rather than my thoughts. Things just were, rather than things that instead should have been this or that, because I’d prefer them so.
For me, spirituality has come down to changing how I relate to the world. I want to perceive reality as clearly as possible, not through the glass of my own prejudices, darkly. I don’t know how this happens, but I like what D.T. Suzuki says about “Wu” (in Japanese, “Mu”). In Zen practice “Mu” or “Wu” is used as a koan. “Has a dog the Buddha nature?” “Mu.”
Go figure it out, says the Zen master. Except you can’t think it out. Thinking won’t lead to a Zen-acceptable answer. Suzuki says that Mu literally means “no,” but when used as a koan the meaning doesn’t matter. It is just a meaningless sound from which meaning may eventually erupt.
This monotonous repetition of the sound “Mu!” will go on until the mind is thoroughly saturated with it and no room is left for any other thought. The one who thus utters the sound, audibly or inaudibly, is now completely identified with the sound. It is no more an individual person who repeats the “Mu!”; it is the “Mu!” itself repeating itself.
When he moves it is not he as a person conscious of himself but the “Mu!” The “Mu!” stands or sits or walks, eats or drinks, speaks or remains silent. The individual vanishes from the field of consciousness, which is now thoroughly occupied with the “Mu!”
Indeed, the whole universe is nothing but the “Mu!” “Heaven above, earth below, I alone am the most honored one!” The “Mu!” is this “I.” We now can say that the “Mu!” and the “I” and the Cosmic Unconscious—the three are one and the one is three.
When this state of uniformity or identity prevails, the consciousness is in a unique situation, which I call “consciously unconscious” or “unconsciously conscious.”
No concepts there. No dogmas there. No theologies there. All that is there is what is there. Sign me up for that religion-less religion.