Mu in Prison
A Japanese businessman saw a cast-iron chance to make a quick profit. He took the capital from a trust fund, meaning to return it almost at once. It happened that a spot-check by auditors revealed what he had done. Though the venture was successful and the money was repaid, it was a serious offense for which he got a sentence of three years’ imprisonment. He was sent to a small prison in the north.
He had done a little Zen training some years before, mainly as a means to strengthen his character. During the hardships of prison, he again took up the Mu koan, which he had been given at that time by the teacher.
In an article which he wrote for a magazine, he described how the bad food, cold, and a brutal jailer made him think of suicide, but through the concentration on the Mu he began to feel a sort of metal in himself. After a time he found it recurring to his mind at odd moments during the day. He noticed a patch of small trees and scrub on the snowy mountain slope opposite the prison, which began to look like the compact twelve strokes of the Chinese character for Mu. Sometimes he felt a sensation of inner space, a coolness in the midst of his sufferings.
The day of his release came. He had no fear of disgrace; it was generally recognized that there had been no risk to the money, and though he had broken the law, he had had no intention to swindle, and in fact no one had lost anything. He had just been unlucky.
It happened that he was offered an unexpected lift to his hometown and arrived a couple of hours before the family was expecting him. He did not go straight home, because he thought they might be still making preparations for the welcome party which his wife had told him about in her last letter. Instead he walked to a little hill overlooking the house from a distance. It was spring, and when he saw his old home, with the tree in the garden coming into bloom, he burst into tears.
Suddenly he felt in himself the full rush of the great life which interpenetrates the universe. “Why,” he cried out, “all is well as it is, as it is. This is the Buddha nature, nothing to be changed, nothing to be changed at all.” He felt enlightened.
He had thought of going back to his Zen teacher again, but realized that he did not need any further training now.
Then the thought came to him, “No, I do need it. This apparent enlightenment is based on being back in my hometown, and free. It is no true enlightenment. That little breath of the Mu which I felt in imprisonment—that was genuine, but not this.
“I shall go back to the teacher and train from that.”