What's in Our Dharma Name?

I received the Dharma name "Mu Shin" from Soen Roshi and Taisan, one of the monks he sent to America – now Eido Roshi. I was less than pleased with it because, when translated literally in English, it means "no mind" – which is nothing to get excited about. At a Sangha party soon after I was given the name, we all were asked to state our new Dharma names and what they meant in English. I kind of let it be known that I wasn't happy with it because it literally meant "no mind" and I felt it was kind of calling me 'stupid.'

The Sangha was very supportive; even Soen himself gave me words of encouragement, perhaps fearing a self-esteem issue in a young man, 22 years of age. Afterwards, one of the Sangha showed me the book "The Zen Doctrine of No Mind: The Significance of the Sutra of Hui-Neng" by the famous D. T. Suzuki and Christmas Humphreys.

Actually, I did finally understand that it was a great Dharma name and was very pleased with it, but I regretted that it wasn't going to be an easy name to explain such as, for example, "ancient pine tree." As with many Dharma names, it can be taken on more than one level. First, my given name is Frank. Evidently, there is a Japanese word for "frank" which is "mushin." Second, if one studies Zen Buddhism intellectually, one finds the concept "Mushin" to be a shortened form of "Mushin No Shin". This is a truly wonderful concept that is itself not a little daunting to live up to. Third, one of the first and most famous koans is "Joshu's Mu.'' Basically the koan goes: "A monk asked Master Joshu 'Does a dog have Buddha nature – the ability to become a Buddha?' The master replied 'Mu.'" Understanding this koan is understanding one's self and the true nature of reality.

Briefly, the term "Mushin", the shortened form of "Mushin No Shin", is a Japanese Zen Buddhist expression that literally translates as "mind of no mind" which is generally taken to mean a mind not preoccupied by thoughts or emotions and is alert and open to everything. But there is much more to the concept.

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