The Gateless Gate.

Mumon. The Gateless Gate. Transcribed by Nyogen Senzakai and Paul Reps.

1. Joshu’s Dog

A monk had asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?”

Joshu answered: “Mu” [Mu is a negative symbol in Chinese, meaning ‘No thing’ or ‘Nay’.]

Mumon’s comment: To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriarchs. Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriarchs or if your thinking road is not blocked; whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost. You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriarch? This one word, Mu, is it.

This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand and hand with the whole line of patriarchs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?

If you want to pass the barrier, you must work through every bone of your body, though every pore of your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out.

Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows it but cannot tell it.

When he enters this condition his ego shell is crushed and he can shake heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriarch offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in his way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground. I will tell you how to do this with this koan:

Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?

This is the most serious question of all,

If you say yes or no,

You lose your own Buddha-nature.


7. Joshu washes the bowl.

A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu said: “have you eaten your rice porridge?”

The monk replied: “I have eaten.”

Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

Mumon’s comment: Joshu is the man who opens his mouth and shows his heart. I doubt if this monk really saw Joshu’s heart. I hope he did not mistake the bell for the pitcher.

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.

A dunce once searched for a fire with a lighted latern.

Had he known what fire was,

He could have cooked his rice much sooner.


19. Everyday life is the path.

Joshu asked Nansen: “What is the path?”

Nansen said: “Everyday life is the path.”

Joshu asked: “Can it be studied?”

Nansen said: “If you try to study, you will be far from it.”

Joshu asked: “If I do not study, how can I know it is the path?”

Nansen said: “The path does not belong to the perception world, neither does it belong to the non-perception world. Cognition is a delusion and non-cognition is senseless . If you want to reach the true path beyond doubt, place yourself in the same freedom as sky. You name it neither good nor not-good.”

At these words Joshu was enlightened.

Mumon’s comment: Nansen could melt Joshu’s frozen doubts at once when Joshu asked his questions. I doubt though if Joshu reached the point Nansen did. He needed thirty more years of study.

In spring, hundreds of flowers, in autumn, a harvest moon;

In summer, a refreshing breeze, in winter, snow will accompany you.

If useless things do not hang in your mind,

Any season is a good season for you.


38. An oak tree in the garden.

A monk asked Joshu why Bodhidharma came to China.

Joshu said: “An oak tree in the garden.”

Mumon’s comment: If one sees Joshu’s answer clearly, there is no Shakyamuni Buddha before him and no future Buddha after him.
Words cannot describe everything.

The heart’s message cannot be delivered in words.

If one receives word literally, he will be lost.

If one tries to explain with words, he will not attain enlightenment in this life.


40. Tipping over a water vase.

Hyakujo wished to send a monk to open a new monastery. He told his pupils tat whoever answered a question most ably would be appointed. Placing a water vase on the ground, he asked: “Who can say what this is without calling its name?”

The chief monk said: “no one can call it a wooden shoe.”

Isan, the cooking monk, tipped over the vase with his foot and went out.

Hyakujo smiled and said: “The chief monk loses.” And Isan become master of the new monastery.

Mumon’s comment: Isan was brave enough, but he could not escape Hyakujo’s trick. Afterall, he gave up a light job and took a heavy one. Why, can’t you see, he took off his comfortable hat and placed himself in iron stocks.

Giving up cooking utensils,

Defeating the chatterbox,

Though his teacher sets a barrier for him

His feet will tip over everything, even the Buddha.


49. Amban’s Addition.

Amban, a layman Zen student, said: “Mumon has just published forty-eight koans and called the book Gateless Gate. He criticizes the old patriarchs’ words and actions. I think he is very mischievous. He is like an old doughnut seller trying to catch a passerby to force doughnuts down his mouth. The customer can neither swallow nor spit out the doughnuts, and this causes suffering. Mumon has annoyed everyone enough, so I think I shall add one more as a bargain. I wonder if he himself can eat this bargain. If he can, and digest it well, it will be fine, but if not, we will have to put it back in the frying pan with his forty-eight also and cook them again. Mumon, you eat first, before someone else does:

“Buddha, according to a sutra, once said: ‘Stop, stop. Do not speak. The ultimate truth is not even to think.'”

Amban’s comment: Where did that so-called teaching come from? How is it that one could not even think it? Suppose someone spoke about it then what became of it? Buddha himself was a great chatterbox and in the sutra spoke contrarily. Because of this, persons like Mumon appear afterwards in China and make useless doughnuts, annoying people. What shall we do after all? I will show you.

Then Amban put his palms together, folded his hands, and said: “Stop, stop. Do not speak. The ultimate truth is nit even to think. And now I will make a little circle on the sutra with my finger and add that five thousand other sutras and Vimalakirti’s gateless gate all are here!

If anyone tells you fire is light,

Pay no attention.

When two thieves meet they need no introduction:

They recognize each other without question.


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