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Reservations   Contents    

1. Joshu's "Mu"
2. Hyakujo's Fox
5. Kyogen's "Man up in a Tree"
6. The Buddha Holds Out a Flower
7. Joshu's "Wash Your Bowl"
8. Keichu the Wheelmaker
9. Daitsu Chisho Buddha
10. Seizei Is Utterly Destitude
11. Joshu Sees the Hermits
12. Zuigan Calls His Master
13. Tokusan Holds His Bowls
15. Tozan's Sixty Blows
16. When the Bell Sounds
17. Chu the National Teacher Gives Three Calls
18. Tozan's "Masagin"
19. Nansen's "Ordinary Mind Is the Way"
20. The Man of Great Strength
21. Unmon's "Kanshiketsu"
22. Kashyapa's "Knock Down the Flagpole"
23. Think Neither Good Nor Evil
24. Fuketsu's Speech and Silence
25. Kyozan's Dream
26. Two Monks Roll Up the Blinds
27. Nansen's "Not Mind, Not Buddha, Not Things"
28. Ryutan Blows Out the Candle
29. The Sixth Patriarch's "Your Mind Moves"
30. Baso's "This Very Mind Is the Buddha"
31. Joshu Investigates an Old Woman
32. A Non-Buddhist Philosopher Questions the Buddha
33. Baso's "No Mind, No Buddha"
34. Nansen's "Reason Is Not the Way"
35. Seijo's Soul Separated
36. When You Meet a Man of the Way
37. Joshu's Oak Tree
38. A Buffalo Passes the Window
39. A Mistake in Speaking
40. Tipping Over a Water Bottle
42. The Girl Comes out of Samadhi
43. Shuzan's Staff
44. Basho's Staff
45. Hoen's "Who Is He?"
46. Proceed On from the Top of the Pole
47. Tosotsu's Three Barriers
48 Kempo's One Road
Mumon's Postscript, a Little Abridged

In 1228 the Chinese Wumen Huikai - also known as Wu-men Hui-k'ai - and Mumon Ekai in Japanese - compiled and commented on a collection of 48 koans, The Gateless Barrier (Japanese: Mumonkan). Wu-men's teachings closely followed those of Dahui Zonggao (Ta-hui Tsung-kao; Daei Soko) (1089–1163).

In Zen, koans are used to evoke "Great Doubt". Wu-men emphasized the process of intense doubt:

Penetrating Zen . . . it's just a matter of rousing the mass of doubt throughout your body, day and night, never letting up. After a long time it becomes pure and ripe, and inside and outside become one; then you become one with space . . . Brethren, you should continue to work like this. (In Yamada 2004, 583)

Garma Chang cites a Zen master: "[Y]ou should penetrate into the 'sensation of doubt'. . . . Zen is to teach you to take up [the thing] right at this very moment without using any words at all (etc.)." (Chang 1970 75-79 passim.)

Hua Tou, huatou, is a form of Buddhist meditation in the teachings of Chan Buddhism, Korean Seon and Rinzai Zen. The Hua Tou method was invented by the Chinese Zen master Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163), writes Morten Schlütter (2008). Dahui Zonggao was a member of the Linji school (A Chinese Zen school that was named Rinsai Zen in Japan). A Hua Tou can be a short phrase that is used as a subject of meditation to focus the mind. Hua Tou are based on koans, but are shorter phrases than koans. (WP, "Hua Tou"; "Linji"

Morten Schlütter explains more:

Dahui's name is inextricably connected to what has come to be known as kanhua Chan, literally "Chan of observing the key phrase," although Dahui himself did not give it a name. This approach to Chan practice involves focusing intensely on the crucial phrase, or "punch line" (the huatou), of a gongan [koan]. Kanhua practice has therefore often been referred to as "gongan (or koan) introspection" by Western writers. As discussed in chapter 1, gongan are highly enigmatic and frequently startling or even shocking . . . [However,] Chan literature includes a wide range of different genres and styles of writing . . . Dahui taught that focusing single-mindedly on a huatou in meditation and in the performance of daily tasks would eventually lead to the breakthrough of enlightenment. (Schlütter 2008:107)

Doubt may serve good, and doubting may be transcended, which is what koans are about, basically. Koans may evoke doubts for years on end, but ◦Transcendental Meditation, TM, helps transcending, and does it better than the Zen that is investigated, if we can trust researchers and don't want to ◦doubt quite solid findings, that is . . . It can be good to be informed about the ranking of various tested methods, for Buddha is into that reaching Nibbana depends on good methods done with the needed skills. [Bhumija Sutta]

Dr David Orme-Johnson writes that a meta-anlysis of so-called showed ◦increased self-actualisation by TM. It was compared to Zen and "other Relaxation techniques", among others for (1) being present with less anxiety; (2) being inner-directed - both as judged by a quite common test. In short, Transcendental Meditation could work about three times better than Zen for an unspecified number of months or years. Orme-Johnson:

Practice of the Transcendental Meditation program increased both these aspects of self-actualization three times more than other meditation and relaxation techniques . . . TM produces greater mind-body relaxation than other techniques.

There are other TM findings here: [◦DLF TM results]

A choice takes shape: To learn to transcend quite directly by TM, or doubt on and on in the good hope of getting there at last, and perhaps making less good use of precious time on methods or ways that are less effective than the best is. This said, when the best method is out of reach, the next best or third best methods matter too.


"To have ideas about Buddha and the Dharma is to be imprisoned," cautions the author of this work. Add "somehow" to that. And if such ideas help you up to a point, to "less imprisonment" or more freedom than earlier, they are helpers - up to a point. In deep meditation there is good enough reason to discard a lot of ideas well, for the sake of transcending good ideas and awaken to something greater.

The practice Mumon advocates, starts by being yourself and bring more of it to the surface, and in so doing getting better and better able to experience and appreciate your life too. Maybe. It is far and wide up to each one.

There may be no real need to move anywhere else, but people tend to look for a Great Thing far away and very often avoid quite ordinary things . . . not realizing that the Mystery can be within a common life too, and that the Dearest One seems to be yourself too, as Buddha suggests,

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person will not be found: You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection. [Buddha, attributed]

There is this helpful Zen counsel: "Bring to rest the thoughts of the naturally roving mind and you will not differ from the ancestral Buddha," Roshi Fushin suggests.

Regardless of the impression that Japanese Zen tales tend to give, you do not have to be relentless to practice Zen.


THE AUTHOR is the Chinese Ch'an (Zen) master Wu-men Hui-hai (in Japanese: Mumon Ekai), (1183-1260), a contemporary of the Japanese Zen roshi Eihei Dogen (1200-53).

THE TEXT of the Gateless Gate was written down not according to any scheme, but to make a collection of forty-eight cases. It is called The Gateless Gate or The Gateless Barrier ("Wu-wen kuan" in Chinese and "Mumonkan" in Japanese). Some of the cases are presented below. The comments and verses of Wu-men (Mumon) are battered for the sake of easy reading.

SETTING THE SCENE: In the summer of AD 1228 Wu-men Hui-hai (alias Mumon Ekai) was in the Ryusho Temple and as head monk worked with the monks, using the cases of the ancient masters as brickbats to batter the gate and lead them on according to their respective capacities.


The Gateless Gate (Japanese: Mumonkan) is a collection of 48 Chan (Zen) koans compiled in the early 1200s by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k'ai (1183-1260) (Japanese: Mumon Ekai). Each koan is accompanied by a commentary and verse by Wumen (Mumon).

The Gateless Gate is a central work for the Rinzai School of Zen. The student is challenged to transcend the koan instead of not reading it and thus save time (!)

The full title of the work is Chan Zong Wumen Guan ("The Zen Sect's Gateless Barrier or Gateless Checkpoint". The two Chinese characters translated mean something like "The Gateless Passage, The Gateless Barrier or The Gateless Checkpoint", and seems linked to the idea that the Gate is Buddhist practice.

There is a warning at the end of the text, an appendix called something like "Zen Caveats". If you sense that "First screw up their minds, next try to remedy them" is a bit twisted, you may be right. Do what you can.


Zen Stories

1 Joshu's "Mu"

A monk asked Joshu, "Has a dog the Buddha Nature?" Joshu answered, "Mu."

From Mumon's Comment

Summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu" [Many a cow does it thoroughly, and see where such practice gets it! TK]. Carry it continuously day and night. If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!

That is how far Mumon goes. But there is more from the Chinese text:

A monk asked Zhaozhou (Joshu), "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Zhaozhou replied, "Wu."

Translators often render Zhaozhou's answer as mu from Japanese retellings. Normally, wu and mu mean no, not, without, or nonexistence.

Mahayana Buddhist doctrine, codified in the Nirvana Sutra, holds that all sentient beings, including animals, possess the capacity for enlightenment.

A related koan in the Book of Serenity reinforces the teaching that Zhaozhou's response does not refer to affirmation or negation:

One time a monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Zhaozhou answered, "No."

Another time, a monk asked Zhaozhou, "Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?"

Zhaozhou answered, "Yes."

Conclude for yourself.

2 Hyakujo's Fox

When Hyakujo Osho delivered a certain series of sermons, an old man always followed the monks to the main hall and listened to him. When the monks left the hall, the old man would also leave. One day, however, he remained behind, and Hyakujo asked him, "Who are you, standing here before me?"

The old man replied, "I am not a human being. In the old days of Kashyapa Buddha, I was a head monk, living here on this mountain. One day a student asked me, 'Does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?' I answered, 'No, he does not.'

Since then I have been doomed to undergo five hundred rebirths as a fox. I beg you now to give the turning word to release me from my life as a fox. Tell me, does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?"

Hyakujo answered, "He does not ignore causation."

No sooner had the old man heard these words than he was enlightened. Making his bows, he said, "I am emancipated from my life as a fox. I shall remain on this mountain. I have a favour to ask of you: would you please bury my body as that of a dead monk."

Hyakujo had the director of the monks strike with the gavel and inform everyone that after the midday meal there would be a funeral service for a dead monk. The monks wondered at this, saying, "Everyone is in good health; nobody is in the sick ward. What does this mean?"

After the meal Hyakujo led the monks to the foot of a rock on the far side of the mountain and with his staff poked out the dead body of a fox and performed the ceremony of cremation.

That evening he ascended the rostrum and told the monks the whole story. obaku thereupon asked him, "The old man gave the wrong answer and was doomed to be a fox for five hundred rebirths. Now, suppose he had given the right answer, what would have happened then?"

Hyakujo said, "You come here to me, and I will tell you."

Obaku went up to Hyakujo and boxed his ears. Hyakujo clapped his hands with a laugh and exclaimed, "I was thinking that the barbarian had a red beard, but now I see before me the red-bearded barbarian himself."

4 The Western Barbarian with No Beard

From Mumon's Verse

Don't discuss your dream before a fool.

5 Kyogen's "Man up in a Tree"

Kyogen Osho said, "It is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch with his mouth; his hands grasp no bough, his feet rest on no limb. Someone appears under the tree and asks him, 'What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?'

If he does not answer, he fails to respond to the question. If he does answer, he will lose his life. What would you do in such a situation?"

6 The Buddha Holds Out a Flower

When Shakyamuni Buddha was at Mount Vulture Peak, he held out a flower to his listeners. Everyone was silent. Only Mahakashyapa broke into a broad smile. The Buddha said,

"I have the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate, independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine. This I have entrusted to Mahakashyapa."

7 Joshu's "Wash Your Bowl"

A monk said to Joshu, "I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me."

"Have you eaten your rice porridge?" asked Joshu.

"Yes, I have," replied the monk.

"Then you had better wash your bowl," said Joshu.

With this the monk gained insight.

MENTION. This koan is beloved of students, but it relates to monastic practices in a cultural context. Zhaozhou may hint at something else when he is asking whether the monk has eaten: he could have be asking whether the monk was able to remain in samadhi. The monk affirms.

Anyway, this koan is to be understood without any reference to cultural context. Zhaozhou was asking the monk if he had finished eating, because after a meal, it was common routine among monks to wash the dishes. Most students may take the koan to signify that what is central, is to be greatly aware in the moment.

8 Keichu the Wheelmaker

Gettan Osho said, "Keichu, the first wheelmaker, made a cart whose wheels had a hundred spokes. Now, suppose you took a cart and removed both the wheels and the axle. What would you have?"

From Mumon's Verse

When the spiritual wheels turn, they travel in all directions, above and below, north, south, east, and west.

9 Daitsu Chisho Buddha

A monk asked Koyo Seijo, "Daitsu Chisho Buddha sat in zazen for ten kalpas and could not attain Buddhahood. He did not become a Buddha. How could this be?"

Seijo said, "Your question is quite self-explanatory."
      The monk asked, "He meditated so long; why could he not attain Buddhahood?"

Seijo said, "Because he did not become a Buddha."

10 Seizei Is Utterly Destitude

Seizei said to Sozan, "Seizei is utterly destitude. Will you give him support?"

Sozan called out, "Seizei!"

Seizei responded, "Yes, sir!"

Sozan said, "You have finished three cups of the finest wine in China, and still you say you have not yet moistened your lips!"

11 Joshu Sees the Hermits

Joshu went to a hermit's cottage and asked, "Is the master in? Is the master in?"

The hermit raised his fist.

Joshu said, "The water is too shallow to anchor here," and he went away.

Coming to another hermit's cottage, he asked again, "Is the master in? Is the master in?"

This hermit, too, raised his fist.

Joshu said, "Free to give, free to take, free to kill, free to save," and he made a deep bow.

From Mumon's Comment

Both raised their fists; why was the one accepted and the other rejected? Tell me, what is the difficulty here?

12 Zuigan Calls His Master

Zuigan Gen Osho called to himself every day, "Master!" and answered, "Yes, sir!"

Then he would say, "Be wide awake!" and answer, "Yes, sir!"

"Henceforward, never be deceived by others!" "No, I won't!"

13 Tokusan Holds His Bowls

One day Tokusan went down toward the dining room, holding his bowls. Seppo met him and asked, "Where are you off to with your bowls? The bell has not rung, and the drum has not sounded."

Tokusan turned and went back to his room.

Seppo mentioned this to Ganto, who remarked, "Tokusan is renowned, but he does not know the last word."

Tokusan heard about this remark and sent his attendant to fetch Ganto. "You do not approve of me?" he asked. Ganto whispered his meaning.

Tokusan said nothing at the time, but the next day he ascended the rostrum, and behold! he was very different from usual!

Ganto, going toward the front of the hall, clapped his hands and laughed loudly, saying, "Congratulations! Our old man has got hold of the last word! From now on, nobody in this whole country can outdo him!"

From Mumon's Comment

Ganto (and) Tokusan are like puppets on the shelf!

15 Tozan's Sixty Blows

Tozan came to study with Unmon. Unmon asked, "Where are you from?"
      "From Sato," Tozan replied.

"Where were you during the summer?"

"Well, I was at the monastery of Hozu, south of the lake."
      "When did you leave there," Unmon asked.

"On August 25" was Tozan's reply.

"I spare you sixty blows," Unmon said.

The next day Tozan came to Unmon and said, "Yesterday you said you spared me sixty blows. I beg to ask you, where was I at fault?"

"Oh, you rice bag!" shouted Unmon. "What makes you wander about, now west of the river, now south of the lake?"

Tozan thereupon came to a mighty enlightenment experience.

From Mumon's Comment

Should Tozan have been given sixty blows or not? If you say yes, you admit that all the universe should be beaten.

16 When the Bell Sounds

Unmon said, "The world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?"

From Mumon's Verse

With realization, things make one family. With realization, things are separated in a thousand ways.

17 Chu the National Teacher Gives Three Calls

The National Teacher called his attendant three times, and three times the attendant responded. The National Teacher said, "I long feared that I was betraying you, but really it was you who were betraying me."

From Mumon's Comment

When the country is flourishing, talent is prized. When the home is wealthy, the children are proud.

18 Tozan's "Masagin"

A monk asked Tozan, "What is Buddha?"

Tozan replied, "Three pounds of flax!"

From Mumon's Verse

Those who argue about right and wrong are those enslaved by right and wrong.

19 Nansen's "Ordinary Mind Is the Way"

Joshu asked Nansen, "What is the Way?"

"Ordinary mind is the Way," Nansen replied.

"Shall I try to seek after it?" Joshu asked.

"If you try for it, you will become separated from it," responded Nansen.
      "How can I know the Way unless I try for it?" persisted Joshu.

Nansen said, "The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. The true Way is as vast and boundless as outer space." [Abbreviated]<

From Mumon's Verse

If useless things do not clutter your mind, you have the best days of your life.

20 The Man of Great Strength

Shogen Osho asked, "Why is it that a man of great strength does not lift his legs?" And he also said, "It is not the tongue he speaks with."

From Mumon's Comment

No one can appreciate him (Shogen)! And even if someone could appreciate him, let him come to me, and I'll beat him severely.

21 Unmon's Dry Shit-Stick

A monk asked Unmon, "What is Buddha?"

Unmon replied, "A dry shit-stick!"

From Mumon's Comment

Unmon hurriedly took up a shit-stick (shikets) to support the Way. The decline of Buddhism was thus foreshadowed.

22 Kashyapa's "Knock Down the Flagpole"

Ananda asked Kashyapa, "The World-honored One gave you the golden robe; did he give you anything else?"

"Ananda!" cried Kashyapa.

"Yes, sir!" answered Ananda.

"Knock down the flagpole at the gate," said Kashyapa.

From Mumon's Verse

Many have knit their brows over this.

23 Think Neither Good Nor Evil

The Sixth Patriarch [Hui-Neng] was pursued by the monk Myo as far as Taiyu Mountain. The patriarch, seeing Myo coming, laid the robe and bowl on a rock and said, "This robe represents the faith; it should not be fought over. If you want to take it away, take it now."

Myo tried to move it, but it was as heavy as a mountain and would not budge. Faltering and trembling, he cried out, "I came for the Dharma, not for the robe. I beg you, please give me your instruction."

The patriarch said, "At this very moment, what is the original self of the monk Myo?"

Myo was directly illuminated at this, and his whole body was covered with sweat. He wept and bowed, saying, "Besides the secret words and the secret meaning you have just now revealed to me, is there anything else, deeper still?"

The patriarch said, "What I have told you is no secret at all. When you look into your own true self, whatever is deeper is found right there."

Myo said, "I could not realize my true self. But now I know it is like a man drinking water and knowing whether it is cold or warm. You are now my teacher."
      The patriarch said, "If you say so.Be mindful to treasure and hold fast to what you have attained." (Abbreviated]

From Mumon's Comment

The Sixth Patriarch displayed a grandmotherly kindness.

From Mumon's Verse

Your true self; when the world is destroyed, is not destroyed.

24 Fuketsu's Speech and Silence

A monk asked Fuke, "Both speech and silence are faulty in being ri [inward action of mind] or bi [outward action of mind]. How can we escape these faults?"

Fuke said, "I always remember the spring in Konan, where the partridges sing; how fragrant the countless flowers!"

From Mumon's Comment

If you can really grasp the problem, you can readily find the way out.

25 Kyozan's Dream

In a dream Kyozan Osho went to Maitreya's place and was led in to sit in the third seat. A senior monk struck with a gavel and said, "Today the one in the third seat will speak."

Kyozan rose and, striking with the gavel, said, "The truth of Mahayana is beyond the four propositions. Hear the truth!" [Slightly abbreviated]

26 Two Monks Roll Up the Blinds

When the monks assembled before the midday meal to listen to his lecture, the great Hogen of Seiryo pointed at the bamboo blinds. Two monks simultaneously went and rolled them up. Hogen said, "One gain, one loss."

From Mumon's Comment

I warn you strongly against discussing gain and loss.

27 Nansen's "Not Mind, Not Buddha, Not Things"

A monk asked Nansen, "Is there any Dharma that has not been preached to the people?"

Nansen answered, "There is."

"What is the truth that has not been taught?" asked the monk.
      Nansen said, "It is not mind; it is not Buddha; it is not things."

From Mumon's Verse

Talking too much spoils your virtue.

28 Ryutan Blows Out the Candle

Tokusan asked Ryutan about Zen far into the night. At last Ryutan said, "The night is late. Why don't you retire?"

Tokusan made his bows and lifted the blinds to withdraw, but he was met by darkness. Turning back to Ryutan, he said, "It is dark outside."

Ryutan lit a paper candle and handed it to him. Tokusan was about to take it when Ryutan blew it out. At this, all of a sudden, Tokusan went through a deep experience and made bows. Ryutan said, "What sort of realization do you have?"

"From now on," said Tokusan, "I will not doubt the words of an old osho who is renowned everywhere under the sun."

The next day Ryutan ascended the rostrum and said, "I see a fellow among you. His fangs are like the sword tree. His mouth is like a blood bowl. Strike him with a stick, and he won't turn his head to look at you. Someday or other, he will climb the highest of the peaks and establish our Way there."

Tokusan brought his notes on the Diamond Sutra to the front of the hall, pointed to them with a torch, and said, "Even though you have exhausted the abtruse doctrines, it is like placing a hair in a vast space. Even though you have learned all the secrets of the world, it is like a drop of water dripped on the great ocean."
      And he burned all his notes. Then, making bows, he took his leave of his teacher.

From Mumon's Comment

When (Tokusan) reached the road to Reishu, he asked an old woman to let him have lunch to "refresh the mind."

"What sort of literature do you carry in your pack?" the old woman asked.

"Commentaries on the Diamond Sutra," replied Tokusan.

The old woman said, "I hear it is said in that sutra, 'The past mind cannot be held, the present mind cannot be held, the future mind cannot be held.' Now, I would like to ask you, what mind are you going to have refreshed?"

As for Ryutan, he seemed to have lost all sense of shame in his compassion toward his son.

A little cool reflection tells us it was all a farce.

From Mumon's Verse

Hearing the name cannot surpass seeing the face.

29 Hui-Neng's "Your Minds Move"

The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks started an argument. One said the flag moved, the other said the wind moved; they argued back and forth but could not reach a conclusion.

The Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng said, "It is not the wind that moves, it is not the flag that moves; it is your minds that move."

30 Baso's "This Very Mind Is the Buddha"

Daibai asked Baso, "What is the Buddha?"

Baso answered, "This very mind is the Buddha."

From Mumon's Comment

If you directly grasp Baso's meaning, you wear the Buddha's clothes, eat the Buddha's food, speak the Buddha's words, do the Buddha's deeds—that is, you are a Buddha himself.

If a man of understanding hears anyone say, "This very mind is the Buddha," he will cover his ears and rush away.

From Mumon's Verse

With loot in your pocket, you declare yourself innocent.

31 Joshu Investigates an Old Woman

A monk asked an old woman, "What is the way to Taisan?"

The old woman said, "Go straight on." And when the monk had proceeded a few steps, she said, "A good, respectable monk, but he too goes that way."

Afterward someone told Joshu about this. Joshu said, "Wait a bit, I will go and investigate the old woman for you."

The next day he went and asked the same question, and the old woman gave the same answer. On returning, Joshu said to his disciples, "I have investigated the old woman of Taisan for you."

From Mumon's Comment

Tell me, what did Joshu see in the old woman?

32 A Non-Buddhist Philosopher Questions the Buddha

A non-Buddhist philosopher said to the Buddha, "I do not ask for words; I do not ask for non-words."

The Buddha just sat there.

The philosopher said admiringly, "The World-honored One, with his great mercy, has blown away the clouds of my illusion and enabled me to enter the Way."
      And after making bows, he took his leave. Then Ananda asked the Buddha, "What did he realize, to admire you so much?"

The World-honored One replied, "A fine horse runs even at the shadow of the whip."

From Mumon's Comment

Ananda was the Buddha's disciple, but his understanding was not equal to that of the non-Buddhist. And what difference is there between the Buddha's disciple and the non-Buddhist?

33 Baso's "No Mind, No Buddha"

A monk asked Baso, "What is the Buddha?"

Baso answered, "No mind, no Buddha."

From Mumon's Comment

If you understand this, you have finished studying Zen.

From Mumon's Verse

Don't offer a poem unless you meet a poet.

34 Nansen's "Reason Is Not the Way"

Nansen said, "Mind is not the Buddha, reason is not the Way."

From Mumon's Comment

Nansen let slip the family secrets. Yet there are very few who are grateful for his kindness.

From Mumon's Verse

He opens his heart and expounds the whole secret.

35 Seijo's Soul Separated

Goso said to his monks, "Seijo's soul separated from her being. Which was the real Seijo?"

From Mumon's Verse

Valleys and mountains are separate from each other. Are they one or are they two?

36 When You Meet a Man of the Way

Goso said, "When you meet a man of the Way on the path, do not meet him with words or in silence. Tell me, how will you meet him?"

From Mumon's Comment

Be watchful in every way.

From Mumon's Verse

Meet him with neither words nor silence.
A punch on the jaw:
Understand, if you can directly understand.

37 Joshu's Oak Tree

A monk asked Joshu, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming to China?"

Joshu said, "The oak tree in the garden."

From Mumon's Comment

If you understand Joshu's answer intimately, there is no Shakya before you, no Maitreya to come.

On top of Mumon's Verse

Swayed or blocked by wordy phrases, one is bewildered.

38 A Buffalo Passes the Window

Goso said, "A buffalo passes by the window. His head, horns, and four legs all go past. But why can't the tail pass too?"

From Mumon's Comment

Return to this tail and reflect upon it, and [maybe] you will realize something.

From Mumon's Verse

This tiny little tail, what a strange thing it is!

39 A Mistake in Speaking

A monk said to Unmon, "The brilliance of the Buddha silently illuminates the whole universe . . ." But before the could finish the verse, Unmon said, "Aren't those the words of Choetsu the Genius?"

"Yes, they are," answered the monk.

"You have slipped up in your speaking," Unmon said.

Afterward, Shishin Zenji brought up the matter and said, "Tell me, at what point did the monk err in his speaking?"

From Mumon's Comment

If you are not yet clear about it, you are far from saving yourself.

From Mumon's Verse

The greedy will be caught.

40 Tipping Over a Water Bottle

When Isan Osho was with Hyakujo, he was head cook of the monastery. Hyakujo wanted to choose a master for Mount Tai-i, so he called together all the monks and told them that anyone who could answer his question in an outstanding manner would be chosen. Then he took a water bottle and stood it on the floor, and said, "You may not call this a water bottle. What do you call it?"

The head monk said, "It cannot be called a stump."

Hyakujo asked Isan his opinion. Isan tipped over the water bottle with his feet and went out. Hyakujo laughed and said, "The head monk loses."

And Isan was named as the founder of the new monastery.

41 Bodhidharma's Mind-Pacifying

From Mumon's Comment

The broken-toothed old Hindu was raising waves where there was no wind. In his last years he induced enlightenment in his disciple.

From Mumon's Verse

The clamor of the monasteries is all because of [Bodhidharma].

42 The Girl Comes out of Samadhi

Once, in the old days, in the time of the World-honored One, Manjusri went to the assembly of the Buddhas and found that everyone had departed to his original dwelling place. Only a girl remained, sitting in samadhi close to the Buddha's throne. Manjusri asked Shakyamuni Buddha, "Why can the girl get near the Buddha's throne, while I cannot?"

Shakyamuni Buddha said, "Bring her out of her samadhi and ask her yourself."

Manjusri walked around the girl three times, snapped his fingers once, took her to the Brahma heaven, and exerted all his miraculous powers to bring her out of her meditation, but in vain.

The World-honored One said, "Even a hundred thousand Manjusris cannot make her wake up. But down below, past twelve hundred million lands as innumerable as the sands of Ganges, there is a Bodhisattva Momyo. He will be able to rouse her from her samadhi."

Instantly the Bodhisattva Momyo emerged from the earth and made a bow to the World-honored One, who gave him his imperial order. The Bodhisattva went over to the girl and snapped his fingers once. At this she came out of her samadhi.

43 Shuzan's Staff

Shuzan Osho held up his staff before his disciples and said, "You monks! If you call this a staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a staff, you ignore the fact. Tell me, you monks, what will you call it?"

44 Basho's Staff

Basho Osho said to his disciples, "If you have a staff, I will give you a staff. If you have no staff, I will take it from you."

From Mumon's Comment

It helps me wade across a river when the bridge is down.

45 Hoen's "Who Is He?"

Hoen of Tozan said, "Even Shakya and Maitreya are servants of another. I want to ask you, who is he?"

From Mumon's Comment

If you can really see this "another", it is like encountering your own father at a crossroads. Should you ask whether you recognize him or not?

From Mumon's Verse

Don't discuss another's faults, and don't explore another's affairs.

46 Proceed On from the Top of the Pole

Sekiso Osho asked, "How can you proceed on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole?"

Another eminent teacher of old said, "You, who sit on the top of a hundred-foot pole, although you have entered the Way you are not yet genuine. Proceed on from the top of the pole, and you will show your whole body in the ten directions."

From Mumon's Comment

How will you go on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole? Eh?"

47 Tosotsu's Three Barriers

Tosotsu Etsu Osho set up three barriers for his disciples:
      1. You leave no stone unturned to explore profundity, simply to see into your true nature.

Now, I want to ask you, just at this moment, where is your true nature?
      2. If you realize your true nature, you are free from life and death.
      Tell me, when your eyesight deserts you at the last moment, how can you be free from life and death?

3. When you set yourself free from life and death, you should know your ultimate destination. So when the four elements separate, where will you go?

From Mumon's Verse

See through this moment's thought, [and] see through the man who sees through this moment.

48 Kempo's One Road

A monk asked Kempo Osho, "It is written, 'Bhagavats in the ten directions. One straight road to Nirvana.' I still wonder where the road can be."
      Kempo lifted his staff, drew a line, and said, "Here it is."
      Later the monks asked the same question to Unmon, who held up his fan and said, "This fan jumps up to the thirty-third heaven and hits the nose of the deity Sakra Devanam Indra. When you strike the carp of the eastern sea, the rain comes down in torrents."

From Mumon's Comment

Two riders start from opposite ends of the course and meet in the middle; neither of these two knows [all] the road.

From Mumon's Verse

There is still a transcendent secret.

Mumon's Postscript a Little Abridged

Nothing superfluous has been added.

Your direct realization is demanded.

If you are a man of realization, you will at once grasp the point at the slightest mention of it. [Compare "A word to the wise will suffice."]

There are no stairs for you to ascend.

If you have passed the Gateless Gate, you can make a fool of Mumon. If not, you are betraying yourself.

It is difficult to attain the wisdom of differentiation. When you have realized this wisdom, peace and order will reign over your land.


The Gateless Gate by Mumon, The gateless barrier, Zen stories tales, koans, Zen Buddhist literature, Literature  

Blyth, Reginald H. 1966. Zen and Zen Classics: Mumonkan. Vol. 4. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press.

Chang, Garma Chang Chen-chi. The Practice of Zen. Perennial ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1970. ⍽▢⍽ This excellent book contains teachings of men of Zen and includes examples of how they reached enlightement. Professor Chang places the practice in the context of Mahayana Buddhism.

Yamada, Koun, tr, comm. 2004. The Gateless Gate: The Classic Book of Zen Koans. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.

Reps, Paul, comp. 1971. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Middlesex: Penguin Books.

Mumon. 1934. The Gateless Gate: A Collection of Zen Koans. trs. Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps. Los Angeles, CA: John Murray.

Schlütter, Morten. How Zen became Zen. The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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