Case number 29 of the Mumonkan (The Gateless Barrier) says:
“Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: “The flag is moving.” The other said: “The wind is moving.”
The sixth patriarch happened to be passing by. He told them: “Not the wind, not the flag, mind is moving”.
The Mumonkan is a collection of Zen Koans used in the Rinzai Zen School as a way to understand the essence of Zen. Often times called “riddles”, these koans can be perceived as incoherent or nonsensical. This is, in fact, the case as long as we try to understand them with a conceptual mind. The purpose is not to solve the cases, but to break down the barriers of conceptualism– to realize that the answers lie within the cardinal truth that originally, not a single thing exists.
The above Koan particularly deals with the concept of dualism. There are two objects; the flag and the wind. The two monks argued because they saw the flag and the wind as two separate things. The sixth patriarch, Huineng, had to correct them and pointed that it is neither the flag nor the wind moving, but the mind.
What is this mind that moves?
I like this particular Koan because it relates to Shodo practice. To truly brush calligraphy that comes from the heart, to fully express our true selves in each stroke, we have to become one with the brush. When brushing calligraphy, it is not the brush that moves, and it is not your hand that moves– it is mind that moves.
What is the mind that moves Huineng refers to? If it is not your hand, nor the brush moving, what is this mind moving when you brush calligraphy?
The character for mind is 心 (SHIN) and it not only means mind but also heart. However, it is not referring to two different things. Heart is not the organ that pumps out blood. Mind is not the brain that process information. Heart is our feelings; mind is our thoughts. Where do feelings and thoughts come from? The mind is not a thing. It cannot be grasped, controlled, or manipulated. SHIN is your consciousness– your awareness of your place in the cosmos; the source of feelings and thoughts.
Is this a matter of perception? You may think it is your hand moving, someone else may think it is the brush moving. Who is right and who is wrong? Anyone can perceive things differently, and because both the hand and the brush move, we can conclude that both perceptions are correct. Huineng understood this. He needed to correct the monks because while they were both “correct” they were also “incorrect”. The mind that moves resolves the dualistic problem of separating the hand from the brush.
Zen meditation is a powerful vehicle to fix our dualistic view of the world. We see life and death; old and new; easy and hard; you and me; flag and wind; hand and brush. If we understand that all things come from the same source, that we all belong to the same place, we can truly harmonize with all things. Shodo practice is just as powerful as Zen meditation for this purpose. If you approach the paper with your hand separated from the brush, the results will be stale, lifeless and not the true reflection of who you are in that very moment when you are about to touch the paper with the brush.