The Gateless Gate
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The Gateless Gate

The Classic Book of Zen Koans

Koun Yamada

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The Gateless Gate

The Classic Book of Zen Koans

Koun Yamada

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About This Book

In The Gateless Gate, one of modern Zen Buddhism's uniquely influential masters offers classic commentaries on the Mumonkan, one of Zen's greatest collections of teaching stories. This translation was compiled with the Western reader in mind, and includes Koan Yamada's clear and penetrating comments on each case. Yamada played a seminal role in bringing Zen Buddhism to the West from Japan, going on to be the head of the Sanbo Kyodan Zen Community. The Gateless Gate would be invaluable if only for the translation and commentary alone, yet it's loaded with extra material and is a fantastic resource to keep close by:

  • An in-depth Introduction to the History of Zen Practice
  • Lineage charts
  • Japanese-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-Japanese conversion charts for personal names, place names, and names of writings
  • Plus front- and back-matter from ancient and modern figures: Mumon, Shuan, Kubota Ji'un, Taizan Maezumi, Hugo Enomiya-Lasalle, and Yamada Roshi's son, Masamichi Yamada.


A wonderful inspiration for the koan practitioner, and for those with a general interest in Zen Buddhism.

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Information

Year
2005
ISBN
9780861719716
1
Jōshū’s Dog

THE CASE

A monk asked Jōshū in all earnestness, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?”
Joshu said, “Mu!”

MUMON’S COMMENTARY

For the practice of Zen, you must pass the barrier set up by the ancient patriarchs of Zen. To attain to marvelous enlightenment, you must completely extinguish all thoughts of the ordinary mind. If you have not passed the barrier and have not extinguished all thoughts, you are a phantom haunting the weeds and trees. Now, just tell me, what is the barrier set up by the patriarchs? Merely this Mu — the one barrier of our sect. So it has come to be called “The Gateless Barrier of the Zen Sect.”
Those who have passed the barrier are able not only to see Joshu face to face but also to walk hand in hand with the whole descending line of patriarchs and be eyebrow to eyebrow with them. You will see with the same eye that they see with, hear with the same ear that they hear with. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful joy? Isn’t there anyone who wants to pass this barrier? Then concentrate your whole self into this Mu, making your whole body with its 360 bones and joints and 84,000 pores into a solid lump of doubt. Day and night, without ceasing, keep digging into it, but don’t take it as “nothingness” or as “being” or “non-being.” It must be like a red-hot iron ball which you have gulped down and which you try to vomit up but cannot. You must extinguish all delusive thoughts and beliefs which you have cherished up to the present. After a certain period of such efforts, Mu will come to fruition, and inside and out will become one naturally. You will then be like a dumb man who has had a dream. You will know yourself and for yourself only.
Then all of a sudden, Mu will break open. It will astonish the heavens and shake the earth. It will be just as if you had snatched the great sword of General Kan: If you meet a Buddha, you will kill him. If you meet a patriarch, you will kill him. Though you may stand on the brink of life and death, you will enjoy the great freedom. In the six realms and the four modes of birth, you will live in the samadhi of innocent play.
Now, how should you concentrate on Mu? Exhaust every ounce of energy you have in doing it. And if you do not give up on the way, you will be enlightened the way a candle in front of the altar is lighted by one touch of fire.

THE VERSE

Dog-Buddha nature!
The perfect manifestation, the absolute command.
A little “has” or “has not,”
And body is lost! Life is lost!

TEISHŌ ON THE CASE

Jōshū Jūshin was one of the greatest and most famous Zen masters in ancient China. Actually, Jōshū is the name of the place where his monastery was located. He was born in 778 A.D., in the reign of Emperor Daisō of the T’ang dynasty, and died in 897 at the age of 120. When only eighteen years of age, he attained a great kensho and for the next forty years continued to practice Zen under the eminent master Nansen (famous for killing a cat; see Case 14). Nansen died when Jōshū was about sixty years old. Jōshū then started traveling around the country, searching for good Zen masters in order to deepen his Zen experience through Dharma combats with them. When he was about eighty years of age, he settled down for the first time in a small monastery, where he stayed for about forty years, devoting this remaining period of his life to instructing Zen practitioners.
Jōshū’s Zen had a unique characteristic that came to be called “lips-and-mouth Zen.” When instructing his disciples, he did not beat them with a stick as Tokusan did nor did he shout “kwatz!” as other Zen masters such as Rinzai used to do. He would give his instructions in such a low voice that it was sometimes almost a whisper. His words, though simple and quietly spoken, had power like the sharpest of swords to cut through his disciples’ delusions. It is said that as he spoke, a sparkling light came from his lips and mouth.
Dōgen Zenji, who criticized other Zen masters severely, paid the highest respect to Jōshū, calling him “Jōshū, an old Buddha!”
The story is as you read it: Once a monk asked Jōshū, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” Jōshū answered, “Mu!” The Chinese character means “nothing,” or “nonbeing,” or “to have nothing.” Therefore, if we take this answer literally, it means, “No, a dog does not have Buddha nature.”
But that is not right. Why not? Because Shakyamuni Buddha declared that all living beings have Buddha nature. According to the sutras, when Shakyamuni Buddha attained his great enlightenment, he was astonished by the magnificence of the essential universe and, quite beside himself, exclaimed, “All living beings have Buddha nature! But owing to their delusions, they cannot recognize this.”
The monk in the story could not believe these words. To him Buddha nature was the most venerable, most highly developed personality, and a Buddha was one who had achieved this perfect personality. How then could a dog have Buddha nature? How could a dog be as perfect as Buddha? He could not believe that such a thing was possible, so he asked Jōshū sincerely, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” And Jōshū answered, “Mu!”
Jōshū, great as he was, could not deny Shakyamuni’s affirmation. Therefore his answer does not mean that a dog lacks Buddha nature.
Then what does Mu mean?
This is the point of the koan. If you try to find any special meaning in Mu, you miss Jōshū and you’ll never meet him. You’ll never be able to pass through the barrier of Mu. So what should be done? That is the question! Zen practitioners must try to find the answer by themselves and present it to the roshi. In almost all Japanese zendo, the explanation of Mu will stop at this point. However, I’ll tell you this: Mu has no meaning whatsoever. If you want to solve the problem of Mu, you must become one with it! You must forget yourself in working on it. Your consciousness must be completely absorbed in your practice of Mu.

ON MUMON’S COMMENTARY

Mumon teaches us very forcefully but very kindly how to practice Mu. He himself attained great enlightenment after practicing Mu heart and soul for six years. This commentary is his teishō on the koan Mu and is a vivid account of his own experience. Read it many times and you will learn the true way to practice Mu.
Mumon says, “For the practice of Zen, you must pass the barrier set up by the patriarchs of Zen.”
The barriers set up by Zen patriarchs are called koans. Among them, the koan Mu is exemplary. It may, indeed, be one of the best, for it is very simple and leaves almost no room for concepts to enter. That is the most desirable requisite for a koan.
Mumon continues: “To attain to marvelous enlightenment, you must completely extinguish all thoughts of the ordinary mind. If you have not passed the barrier and have not extinguished all thoughts, you are a phantom haunting the weeds and trees.”
“A phantom haunting the weeds and trees” means a person who has no firmly established view of life and the world. In China, as well as in Japan, phantoms or ghosts are thought to have no legs. They are unable to stand by themselves and are always floating about among the undergrowth or among trees such as willows.
Since the time of Jōshū, innumerable Zen students, in both China and Japan, have come to enlightenment by practicing Mu. In Japanese, practicing Mu is called tantei or nentei, which means, “solely taking hold of.” Do it totally to the very end. And what is the end? It is, of course, nothing other than enlightenment itself. You must persevere until you attain it. Concentrate your whole energy on Mu. By “energy” I do not mean physical energy but the spiritual energy necessary to keep from letting go of Mu. While you are practicing the nentei of Mu you must be constantly and clearly conscious of Mu. Identify yourself with it. Become truly one with Mu. Melt yourself into Mu. To do this, you must forget everything, even yourself, in Mu.
Referring to this stage, Mumon says, “Concentrate your whole self into this Mu, making your whole body with its 360 bones and joints and 84,000 pores into a solid lump of doubt.” In old Chinese physiology, the human body was thought to have 360 bones and 84,000 pores, but in the present day the numbers are simply taken to mean the whole human body. Being absorbed in Mu, you should extinguish the awareness of “I”. All concepts and dualistic ideas, such as subject and object, you and I, inside and out, good and bad, the Buddha and living beings — all these must completely disappear from your consciousness. When absorption in Mu has become pure and complete, your body and soul will become like one solid iron ball of Mu. Referring to this state, Mumon says, “It [Mu] must be like a red-hot iron ball which you have gulped down and which you try to vomit up but cannot.”
When this happens, don’t stop! Don’t be concerned! Press on! Then suddenly the ball of Mu will break open and your true self will spring forth instantly, in a flash!
Mumon says, “It will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.”
You will feel as though the whole universe has totally collapsed. Strange as it may seem, this experience has the power to free you from the agonies of the world. It emancipates you from anxiety over all worldly suffering. You feel as though the heavy burdens you have been carrying in mind and body have suddenly fallen away. It is a great surprise. The joy and happiness at that time are beyond all words, and there are no philosophies or theories attached to it. This is the enlightenment, the satori of Zen. Once you have attained this experience, you will become perfectly free.
Mumon says, “It will be just as if you had snatched the great sword of General Kan: If you meet a Buddha, you will kill him. If you meet a patriarch, you will kill him. Though you may stand on the brink of life and death, you will enjoy the great freedom. In the six realms and the four modes of birth, you will live in the samadhi of innocent play.”
General Kan was a celebrated warrior under Emperor Ryūhō, founder of the Han dynasty. He brandished a great sword, cutting down numerous enemies. He is still worshipped as a deity of war in China. The wonderfully free state of mind of someone who attains deep realization through practicing Mu is here compared to the mind of one who deprives General Kan of his sword.
It is hardly necessary to add that when Mumon says, “If you meet a Buddha, you will kill him. If you meet a patriarch, you will kill him,” he is not talking about killing Buddhas and patriarchs bodily. His words refer to eradicating all concepts about Buddhas and patriarchs.
The six realms mentioned by Mumon are the six different stages of existence according to ancient Buddhist philosophy. These are: hell, the world of hungry ghosts, the world of beasts, the world of fighting spirits, the world of human beings, and the world of gods and devas. As for the four modes of birth, it was once thought in Indian physiology that the modes of birth of all living beings could be classified into four types: viviparous, oviparous, from moisture, and metamorphic. So the phrase “In the six realms and four modes of birth” means all the circumstances of one’s life, whatever they may be.

ON THE VERSE

DogBuddha nature!
The perfect manifestation, the absolute command.
A little “has” or “has not,”
And body is lost! Life is lost!
 
“Dog — Buddha nature!” The main case is condensed into one phrase. It is nothing other than Mu. Dog, Buddha nature, and Mu are totally one. It is the perfect manifestation, the absolute command. By this, our true self is perfectly manifested with absolute authority to cut off all delusions. If you think that Jōshū’s answer means the dog does not have Buddha nature, you are quite wrong. For when Jōshū answered “Mu!” he was far removed from the world of dualistic concepts. Therefore the verse says, “A little ‘has’ or ‘has not’, and body is lost! Life is lost!” If you have the slightest thought about the dog having or not having Buddha nature, your essential life will be killed by that thought. Now, just show me: Dog — Buddha nature!
2
Hyakujō and the Fox

THE CASE

Whenever Master Hyakujō delivered a sermon, an old man was always there listening with the monks. When they left, he left too. One day, however, he remained behind. The master asked him, “What man are you, standing in front of me?” The old man replied, “Indeed, I am not a man. In the past, in the time of Kashyapa Buddha,1 I lived on this mountain (as a Zen priest). On one occasion a monk asked me, ‘Does a perfectly enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?’ I answered, ‘He does not.’ Because of this answer, I fell into the state of a fox for 500 lives. Now, I beg you, Master, please say a turning word2 on my behalf and release me from the body of a fox.” Then he asked, “Does a perfectly enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect or not?” The master answered, “The law of cause and effect cannot be obscured.” Upon hearing this, the old man immediately be...

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