In The Story of Mu, author James Cordova proposes the classic starter koan Mu for your kids’ contemplation.
With moving text and stunning illustrations (from frequent Lion’s Roar contributor Mark T. Morse), The Story of Mu gives pause to parent and child alike. In the book, a father tells his daughter about a character named Mu. The above excerpt follows Mu’s story from creation to the birth of human life.
The character of Mu is based on a classic koan:
One day, a student went to
see the great teacher Chao-chou
and asked, “Does a dog (like me)
have Buddha nature or not?
And Chao-chou said, “Mu.”
As Melissa Myozen Blacker, Cordova’s teacher, explains in her article, “Koans: One with the Question,” mu is translated from Japanese as “no.” Chao-chou’s response is unexpected because Buddhism teaches that everything has Buddha nature. The contradiction inspires an opportunity to wonder. In our forum on koans, Bodhin Kjolhede says that mu is a word for true nature, “just as desk and lamp and stick are all words for our true nature.” One is meant to experience mu, and thereby experience one’s own limitless true nature.
For Morse, that profound and timeless teaching — which he describes as “fantastical… yet everyday” — offered wild and endless opportunities. “As the artist, all of creation was literally available to me as my reference materials,” he writes. “[It] was a joy to play with visually.”
The Story of Mu is a great book for inviting children to investigate their inherent nature, replete with artwork you could frame on the wall. The book, from Wisdom Publications, is out in May. For more on the subject, visit our Zen and Koans sections — particularly “How to Practice Koans.” And don’t miss our other Buddhist wisdom for kids, like “How to Practice Metta with Children,” “‘Charlotte’ models mindful breathing for kids” — another beautiful storybook excerpt — and Buddhadharma editor Tynette Deveaux’s “6 great Buddhist books for kids.”