The ‘Mu-Bird’ is a logo of my design. It shows a Japanese character and a bird striking out of a circular frame. I had the design carved into stone by Henry Li of Blue Heron Arts Co. in Los Angeles, California; I use it when signing certificates issued with limited edition prints.

Based on traditional Chinese ‘Chops,’ or Seals, the carved stone is used with red paste to make an impression on paper. These have been used for hundreds of years to mark official documents or artwork in place of a signature.

The Japanese character Mu (無) found in the design means ‘no,’ ‘non’, or ‘not.’

In Zen tradition, Mu exemplifies non-conceptual awareness. Mu is meant to upset intellectual comprehension by inviting the practitioner to acknowledge the limitations of conceptual understanding. It aims to uncover intuitive knowledge beyond what language and rationality propose.

Intuitive knowledge and creativity flow within the same source: coming from a place beyond the intellect, Here is a quote from D.T. Suzuki that resonates with this:

“The artist’s world is one of free creation, and this can only come from intuitions directly and immediately rising from the isness of things, unhampered by senses and intellect. He creates forms and sounds out of formlessness and soundlessness. To this extent, the artist’s world coincides with that of Zen.”

We are preoccupied with knowing. In life, we practice its perfection, quantifying as many aspects of experience as possible to produce a well-rounded conventional understanding of things. Art, however, is beyond this, and we sometimes miss the point of what it represents. Art is an experience that supersedes the conventional; it is not supposed to appeal to the intellect primarily.

We all enjoy art in our lives, whether it is a song we like, a painting, a photograph, a poem, etc. These touch us more deeply than conventional experience can. For this reason, aesthetic appreciation is a conduit to delve into the depths of our being well beyond the surface of intellectual reasoning. And so, I have symbolized this idea of a ‘breakthrough’ as a bird striking out of a frame.

In Eastern spiritual traditions, ‘fundamental reality’ is the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events. It is called Brahman in Hinduism, Dharmakaya in Buddhism, The Tao in Taoism, and Mu (無) in Zen.

Mu is the undercurrent of Zen, yet it cannot be known. The intellect cannot penetrate Mu to understand it. Here lies the paradox: How to learn beyond knowledge? And yet the teacher pushes each monk for an answer: What is Mu? What is ultimate reality? If you say something, you’re wrong. If you say nothing, you’re insolent.

The Monks are driven mercilessly for an answer and punished when they fail. Over time, the monk’s mind may come to a crossroads at which the teacher looks to provoke a breakthrough, in essence, a non-conceptual response—a response not from the intellect but from somewhere else inside. And if expressed genuinely enough, the monk will be awakened and finally ‘know’ mu directly.