The Zen of Sailor Moon: Why "No" Exercise Is Good Exercise
A Short Introduction....
In your wanderings through the Taoist information highway, you've probably come across
some writings on Zen, and considering that Zen is a deeply interesting teaching,
and highly respected, I thought it would be appropriate to add some writings on Zen
to this home page.
First, an incredibly short background on Zen Buddhism. Buddhism, as you know, is based
on the teachings of Siddhartha Guatama. Siddhartha left the security of his father's
palace to seek wisdom. he spent time as an ascetic, where it is said he lived on
only a grain of rice a day. Finally he sat down beneath a tree and resolved not to leave
until he had found enlightenment. After a long long time of meditating, he did, and
began to spread his teachings.
Buddhism spread throughout India, and also into Japan and China, where it met up with
Taoism. When the mysticism of Taoism met with the teachings of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism concentrates on the mind, and on discovering your true self. On the outside,
it often seems paradoxical and strange, completely different from the straight forwardness
of Indian Buddhism. however, the teachings remain essentially the same, and many people regard Zen as an important method to attaining enlightenment.
(there I so much more to Zen Buddhism that I have left out it's almost laughable.
please, don't hesitate to look up both on the internet. you'll be sure to find very
So let's jump right in, shall we?
Study of Zen starts with the study of the Ko-An (sometimes
written as kong-an). the Ko-An is a riddle that, when you finally figure it out,
will lead the way to enlightenment. Sort of a spiritual rubik's cube.
(Ami Mizuno, large rimmed glasses and all, pokes her head up from a large pile of
books with titles like "Understanding Astrophysics: the Complete neutrality of Universal
Chaos And The Mathematical Theorems Therein.")
Ami: Riddles? I'm great at riddles! Can I help?
Oh, Ami..I didn't even see you there. Uhm, well, actually....
(Ami gets up and comes over to the table, sandwich in hand..)
Ami: I've always been real good at riddles. try me.
Well, Ami, it's not exactly a riddle, it's a Ko-An...well, I was going to introduce
it anyway. here it is:
The Student Asked the Master:
"Does A Dog Have Buddha Nature?"
The Master replied:
What do you think, Ami-chan?
Ami: (Pause.) That's all?
Ami: Oh, well I suppose it's trying to say that only humans have spirituality, because
we're smarter than just normal animals, right?
Well, another Zen master once said "All things big and small have Buddha-Nature."
Both this master and the one in the Ko-An were very prominent, enlightened individuals,
and both are considered to speak the truth. So which one is correct?
Ami: (pause) Well, they can't BOTH be right.
yes they can. that's the point of Ko-Ans.
Ami: (pause). I need to go think about this for awhile....
(Ami leaves with a furrowed brow.)
Poor Ami. She thinks way too hard....
...and that's exactly why she'll never answer the Ko-An. She's too smart for her own
Zen Buddhists believe that the ego, the concept of "I", bogs a person down and doesn't
let them see the world as it really is. Ami, for example, is caught up in words,
in abstract intellectual concepts. but are any of these the real world? As long as
she approaches the Ko-An from an "I", from a logical and intellectual angle, she'll never
find the answer. And that's the essence of Zen; casting off the self.
So although true enlightenment can't be passed through words (it can't really be described.
it's like alot of jokes; you just have to be there), we can hint at it. And that's
what Ko-Ans do.
So let's examine the Ko-An, line by line, and try to figure out what it really means....take,
(Ami sticks her head in the door for a moment)
Ami: I got it! The master in the Ko-An is right, because they're trying to say that
Ko-Ans are always right!
Nope, Ami. Sorry.
Ami: Darn! I was sure I got it.....
(Ami retreats back into the other room to think)
Anyway. Take the first two lines of the Ko-An:
The student asks the master:
"Does a Dog have Buddha-Nature?"
First off, things in Ko-Ans are almost always symbolic. In this Ko-An, the student
could be anyone; it's not a definite person, but a symbol of people seeking enlightenment.
But what about the dog line? Well, "Buddha-Nature" is enlightenment, or the peace
the Buddha possessed. "Dog", however is not so easily figured out. A dog, in Buddhism,
is another term for someone completely unconcerned with their own enlightenment.
they don't care about nothing but eating and sleeping, and they engage in all sorts of
unhealthy activities that Buddhists stay away from.
But although this may seem to make the masters reply of "No" make sense, this isn't
the point of the Ko-An.
(Ami sticks her head back in)
Ami: The dog is bad people! And bad people don't have Buddha nature! that's it, isn't
Uhmmm...no, Ami. Sorry.
(Ami retreats looking puzzled.)
As I was saying, that isn't the point of the Ko-An. As we've already said, ALL THINGS
have Buddha-Nature. that even includes the "dogs" of the world.
The point of the Ko-An rests in the master's "No." In reality, he is not replying
to the question at all; he's pointing out a way to enlightenment.
the practice of No is a well known Zen exercise, and is performed like this: every
minute of every day, observe the working of your own mind. When your mind begins
to wander or stray, or you lose your focus, shout loudly in your mind "NO!" and bring
yourself back on track.
That's it. Sounds simple, doesn't it? but in actuality, it's a whole lot of work.
We don't realize it, but our minds are incredibly unfocused. they wander all about,
not paying true attention to any one thing, not even really what we're doing. ow
many people haven't slept with their eyes open in a boring class, or day dreamed at work?
however, Zen says that if you practice the "NO" exercise you can gain control of your
mind and it's wanderings. you'll experience a new sort of perception, a superior
form of concentration that you can call to use at any time. it will help you succeed
in everything you do, but the more important part is that it develops supreme discipline,
the first step to knowing true freedom. And that is the point of the Ko-An.
I'm sure that sound all well and good, but a lot of you are probably;y wondering
if such a thing is really possible, or if it really has any useful application. Luckily
for us, however, I already have an example ready. ^_^
Take a our friend, Usagi. As most of you know, Usagi isn't what we would call the
most....focused person on the planet earth. She east too much, talks too much, is
a cry baby, can't study, sleeps too late, and indulges in everything frivolous while
ignoring everything important. She's practically the epitome of the "dog" complex.
And yet, she still manages to save the world time and again, and come through for
her friends when they need her most. how is that possible?
Usagi has her own version of the "No" exercise; she chants to make her powers appear.
That "The Moon Will Punish You!" speech may seem a little strange, but it focuses
Usagi just as if she were doing the "No" exercise. When it is completed, and Usagi
is at her most "Zen": alert, ready, and focused, she can tap a well spring of incredible
power that she can use to accomplish all her goals and overcome all her obstacles.
It's the same with everyday life. if we could only concentrate, and focus, and clear
our minds of all the extra garbage floating around in there, we too would have an
incredibly array of powers to use. Admittedly, you wouldn't be able to blow up your
friends by pointing a pencil at them, and substituting the sailor moon speech for "no"
would most likely not produce the effects you were looking for, the concept is the
same, and the practice is limitless.
Try it. for a week, and if you cant do it, for a day. call no to mind every so often,
or when your mind is wandering. remember, you can't approach Zen like Ami, with your
intellect; approach with your instincts. as a Cambridge Zen master is fond of saying, the key to Zen is "just do it".
Take me Back To The Lessons Index!