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MU, Nothingness, the Void.....

***** Location: Japan, worldwide
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


To explain MU, that is quite a task. Here we are only concerned with the translation in Haiku. It all started with this photo and haiku by Gabi Greve:

花心 深く見れば 無 となり

looking deep
into the flower heart -
all is MU


Some friends have translated this haiku to other languages.


смотрю в самую
сердцевину цветка, а там...

Ethel Yanova

ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo


guardo in fondo
al cuore di un fiore
tutto è nulla

another version :

in immersione
dentro il cuore del fiore
io vedo il Tutto


ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo


al corazón de la flor
todo es "nada"


ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo

Hungarian and Romanian

melyen benezve
a virag sziveben
semmi az egesz

chiar in inima florii
totul este MU

or for those unfamiliar with Eastern philosophies:

chiar in inima florii
totul e neant


Read more about Cristian's arguments on the translation

Cristi has pointed out that the concept of MU might not be known to all and should be rendered into maybe
"neant" in Romania.

In the Spanish version, it comes with quotation marks, which is a good device to show it is not the normal meaning of the word

When I changed my version to

looking deep
into the flower heart -
all things become "nothingness"

I realized, that was not IT at all !!

Next version was

looking deep
into the flower heart -
I see it ALL

Ha, now .. nothing .. had turend to ALL.
My western logic tells me

ALL can encompass Nothingness
Nothingness can not encompass ALL

My Zen logic (if there is any) tells me different, but then, we are back to the Koan of MU

A monk once asked master Chao-chou,
"Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Chao-chou said, "Mu".

Check it out here.

Well, if you google with MU and KOAN, you get your fill of this discussion.

Here, I want to think about the translation in this haiku only.

I would rather leave it as MU (like the first version), hoping that most haijin had heared of this concept and make a footnote, with some kind of explanation (which I do not have at the moment .. hahaha) ..


It seems, some of you do not even know how to pronouce this word correctly !
Do you know how a German cow says? MUUUUUUUU !
not mju like in musical
more like YOU without the Y.

And for the Western Mind, trained in Freud and Jung, locig and science, it is even harder to let go of all concepts and just experience the HERE and NOW.

Try reading a cookbook, you will not be able to fill your stomach.
Try to understand MU, you will not be able to experience it.

MU is also not related to atheism, as some Europeans might think.
Atheism, by Sam Harris


A Way of Life called MU



Essential Haiku and Its Subject Matter By Nagata Kôi
Margaret Mitsutani

I. The Essential Spirit

The word “essential” here refers to the philosophical “essence of existence;” in terms of Eastern religion, it is “the Eastern concept of mu (nothingness).” Those who seek an academic understanding of this concept will find the works of Nishida Kitarô and Suzuki Daisetsu helpful, in addition to books such as Kuki Shûzô’s Man and Existence, Shimomura Toratarô’s The Philosophy of Nishida Kitarô, and Hismatsu Shinichi’s The Eastern Concept of Mu.

Those with an interest in philosophy and religion will already be familiar with it. Nevertheless, it is a metaphysical concept, and with my poor smattering of knowledge, I can hardly claim to understand it completely myself.

A flower is beautiful, but what is it that makes it a flower? I am undoubtedly I, but what is it that makes me so? When we ask questions like this, the answer brings us to an encounter with “the eastern concept of mu.” This is not nonexistence as opposed to existence, but the absolute mu that transcends the opposition of existence and non-existence.

That, I believe, is the “essence of existence.” But why, then, do I feel the need to pursue it, and to believe in it? .....

This religious spirit that seeks to “live well” inevitably leads us to the realm of “the Eastern concept of mu.” This realm is both absolute and limitless, an utterly free world without hindrance or reward. .....

Therefore, the world of Eastern mu is not merely a world of abstract concepts, but a world that can be grasped by directly confronting existence itself. .....

This “world of god” is nothing other than “the world of Eastern mu.” .....

To seek for the essence of existence: this is not a new philosophical trend, nor is there anything old-fashioned about it. We find it in the doctrines of the Kongô-Hannya Sutra, in Chuang-tzu’s conception of chaos, in Goethe’s conversations about the essence of phenomena: all of these speak to us of the workings of the essential spirit. .....

Haiku, this briefest of our poetic forms, is fundamentally connected to the spirit of Zen. I don’t believe there is any room for doubt about this. Rooted in everyday life, it is both blunt and sharp, as well as satiric, humorous, suggestive, and symbolic: all of these are Zen-like characteristics. As long as we make sure that these characteristics form the basis of our haiku, they will always be new, both limitless and unchanging. ...

The above are just some quotes.
Please read the full article at "Modern Haiku, 2002"


MU (無) (In Japanese/Korean) or WU in Chinese,
is a word which has been translated variously as "not", "nothing", "without", "nothingness", "non existent", and "non being". In modern Chinese, Japanese and Korean it is commonly used in combination words as a prefix to indicate the absence of something.
Mushin (無心; (English translation "without mind") is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat.They also practice this mental state during everyday activities. The term is shortened from mushin no shin (無心の心), a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the state of "no-mindness". When we realize our own nothingness then we realize the power of our true being.

- Shared by Steve Weiss -
Joys of Japan, 2012


Matsuo Basho and MU

The practice of Zen shaped Basho's thinking and established some life principles. R. H. Blyth, a well-known British theoretician of haiku poetry, linked loneliness, a strong theme of Basho's poetry, with the notion of mu in Zen, a state of absolute spiritual poverty, in which not possessing a thing, one can possess everything.

. Matsuo Basho and the concept of EMPTINESS .


In a previous volume, "The Still Point", Roseliep celebrated the awful suspension between life and death with haiku of mu, haiku of nothingness—moving us to no handhold, no foothold. Haiku of mu are everywhere in "Rabbit" .....

........................................................... Read more about
Rabbit in the Moon—Raymond Roseliep’s Last Book

By Donna Bauerly


Mu is a Japanese and Chinese word regarding an absence of/in the negative. When one desires an answer, but your question makes false assumptions, the answer can only be Mu.
A radical change of perspective is required before the Mu can be overcome.


Mu Haiku

Worldwide use


Shunyata, Śūnyatā, (Sanskrit) or Suññatā (Pāli)
translated as "Emptiness" or "Voidness", for an aspect of the Buddhist metaphysical critique as well as Buddhist epistemology and phenomenology. Śūnyatā signifies that everything one encounters in life is empty of soul, permanence, and self-nature. Everything is inter-related, never self-sufficient or independent; nothing has independent reality. Yet śūnyatā never connotes nihilism, which Buddhist doctrine considers to be a delusion, just as it considers materialism to be a delusion.

The Heart Sutra (one of the Mahayana Perfection of Wisdom Sutras) declares that the skandhas, which constitute our mental and physical existence, are empty in their nature or essence, i.e., empty of any such nature or essence. But it also declares that this emptiness is the same as form (which connotes fullness)--i.e., that this is an emptiness which is at the same time not different from the kind of reality which we normally subscribe to events;
it is not a nihilistic emptiness that undermines our world, but a "positive" emptiness which defines it.

Read more in the WIKIPEDIA

Things found on the way

Koan and Haiku 公案と俳句
By Gabi Greve




Daruma and "Katsu"


MU Haiku Writer Comparisons

The Differences Between Culture, Language, and Geography in Haiku:
A comparison of College students’haiku and haiku by Carlos Fleitas
Essay by Mahrya Fulfer

MU here stands for : Millikin University
Read this Essay here.

...............................................One more LINK from MU University

Eric Amann, a Canadian haiku writer, wrote and published an essay on the topic entitled The Wordless Poem. His essay examines the connection between the Zen philosophy and haiku poetry.

Raymond Roseliep became interested in haiku in 1960 and has a rather large collection of eleven haiku publications. In his book The Still Point, dedicated to Nobuo Hirasawa, Roseliep addresses the "mu" in haiku, which means nothing or empty.

Zen in Haiku Versus a Christian Perspective


"a blind man
is usually the first
to see the moon"
- Hua-ching

the Moon
a smile

Read more of MU's Poetry


contemplating MU -
the cold wind feels
..... C.O.L.D.

Gabi Greve, 2000

cold wind, kanpuu 寒風, a kigo for winter.
Cold at Eihei-Ji, a Zen Temple, by Gabi Greve

... ... ...

the great MU
takes shape NOW ...

Gabi Greve, September 2006


Motionless wooden floor
In and out the only song
Sengai blows on in.

Gerard Menzel


in a happy MU-d

at the risk
of repating MU-self

* http://sd1new.net/GardenPages/carnation.ht



The core of a thing
without a frame or being
is not nihil.

flowing water
flying bird and air
nothing remains, yet. . .

Aju Mukhopadhyay, India, August 2006


the sky is mu
the spring-light is mu
the bird-song is mu

© Narayanan Raghunathan, Wonderhaikuworlds India  


© Haiga by Emile Molhuysen, Delft, 2006

Related words

***** KATSU ! and Daruma

***** The Circle, Ensoo and Daruma

***** Meditation

***** Silence

***** Mandala

***** ZEN and Haiku ... well, well, well

***** SHASEI, sketching haiku from nature AS IT IS !


Back to : Translating Haiku with Gabi Greve

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Anonymous said...

anantham avyayam
shoonyam maha buddha
mandalam paranthu

eternal undefinable
the great void mandala of
the Buddhas ~ yet, luminous

Anonymous said...

Dear Gabi san,

Thank you very much for the MU link. It was a great pleasure to read and learn.
I think that you are a very generous person. You are doing a wonderful work for the haiku's world.
A pal told me that these virtual friendships are a big lie, a drug, we remain still alone. He mistakes. Our spirit are friends, our souls.
Being physically together is not important. Too often, being together means being alone!

Best thoughts,


Gabi Greve said...


winter morning -
a few dewdrops on
my last rose

 with a photo !!!


Stunning haiku, as usual, Gabi.
I think that the key word is : (last). It is the pivot of this perfect haiku.
I admire the simplicity in which you convey great ideas.


Dear Rita and all,
thanks for commenting on my last rose.

I have to say this: I do not do anything, I just let nature speak to me. It was really a winter morning, a few drops and only one last rose, so I do not make up any story about it, I just tell you what I see, or rather , what kind of present nature has ready for me this morning. When I opened the door this was the first thing to catch my eye ... so with my mental camera I took this verbal snapshot ...without thinking or pondering or embellishing.

I do not really consider this POETRY, as embellishing reality with what we feel about things and using big words to do so.

Haiku is different.
It is not me talking, it is nature talking through me.
You have to be all empty (what we call MU here in Japan), before nature will speak to you with her true voice ! You have to be all attentive to what nature is presenting you at each moment.

But now I start philosophizing, should not do... smile ...


me and you
wrapped up by cherry blossoms-
all is MU

a black cloud-
wrapping the crows from view-
MU of MU

Dec.17, 2006


Anonymous said...

Dear Gabi,
I followed the link and read about MU. i have a feeling that its not emptiness but: VANITY.
I was reminded by a verse from the old testment :
vanity of vanities, all is vanity.(ecclesiastes 1:2).

Its just an idea, I don't know if it's true. I am curious to read more about this interesting subject.Thank you for providing new material for contemplation every new day.

Learning how to empty your self, to let nature talk to you..ia an art, dearest Gabi. One needs time to learn to be neutral and listen to the nature and let her write the poem.


Anonymous said...

Dear Rita san and gabi san


it is universe in our mind.

talking with nature

hearing the whisper

you will feel somiting from nature

My master Mayuzumi told me that

You have to take an exquisite sense for making Haiku


Anonymous said...

Dear etsuko, thank you for the explanation.
I am still trying to grasp the meaning of : MU.
I thought it means: vanity.
Now I have a different understanding of the word.
I like this ambiguity which drives me to look for the truth and thus: learn.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Gabi,
you have said it so well about what is haiku.


Anonymous said...


MU stands for what? me and you?

aaa, the nu spelling of toys R english !
tx to u 2!



Gabi Greve said...

Dear Rita san

My thinking of MU
MI is a part of space in own mind

There are many thinking for all of human life about money, foods,
quarring ,business, family ....There are a lot of many human thinking.

it will be full to the capacity someday with own human matter.
sometimes we need to make an empty space in our mind.

no thinking of human matter.

just I dream the infinite universe in the deep space.
It will be MU

so... we can talk to nature and listen to the sound

flowers, trees, wind, sunlight, moonlight, animals ... they will talk
with me .. I beleive it.


Gabi Greve said...

a tiny dragonfly,
on a dragon's mouth-
all is MU


MU <>
a short word with
a long meaning

The discussion goes on ... HERE !


Gabi Greve said...

Why would you write a haiku about something that you can not even pronounce?


in german, the cow says MUUUUUUUU
in english, I guess, it says MOOOOOOOO

choose between
an english cow
a german cow


Don Bumbo Zambumba Zebulon said...

the cow says MU
for It, and not I
has four stomachs
to stomach you.

Gabi Greve said...

Thanks for the smile !

Here in Japan, the cow says

MOOO with the sound of O like in "morning"




Cow Lady said...

Mooooo and muuuuu and mohhhhhhh to MU.