By Daniel Scharpenburg
大道無門 The Great Way is gateless,
千差有路 Approached in a thousand ways.
透得此關 Once past this checkpoint
乾坤獨歩 You stride through the universe.
This is a quote from the introduction to The Gateless Gate.
The Gateless Gate was written (or put together) in China in the 13th century by a monk named Mumon Ekai. The stories in the Gateless Gate are often a central teaching in Zen training even today. It’s a collection of 48 koans with commentaries.
When I first read this quote, I liked it. I had no idea what it meant, but I liked it. It sounds poetic as hell, doesn’t it? The whole text, The Gateless Gate is poetic and profound like this.
So, for years I didn’t really think much about what this text meant. I just thought it was a really cool quote to think about—but I’m going to analyze it for you, now. Keep in mind this has been analyzed by countless people, many of them much more knowledgeable than me. Here we go.
The Great Way Is Gateless
There is nothing stopping you. Enlightenment is right here. We think there are barriers to our practice or that we have something to gain, but the truth is that the door to Enlightenment is already open. The gate is gateless. The only thing preventing us from attaining Enlightenment here and now is our own delusion.
Approached In A Thousand Ways
There are many different ways of engaging the mystic’s journey. That is neither good nor bad. Regardless of how you come upon it, the gateless gate is there for anyone to pass through.
Once Past This Checkpoint
There are several ways this can be taken. I think the checkpoint is when you’ve made a decision to take refuge and become a Buddhist. Some have argued that the checkpoint is when you pick up The Gateless Gate for the first time. Others have argued that the checkpoint is when you have your first Kensho, or Enlightenment experience. These interpretations are as good as mine.
You Stride Through The Universe
We have the power to dwell in Enlightenment, now. Striding through the universe is living as the mystics—engaging life while trying to overcome our delusions. Striding through the universe is living in the world as it really is, putting down our preconceived notions and just living in reality.
- Katsuki, Sekida (translator). Two Zen Classics: The Gateless Gate and the Blue Cliff Records. (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2005).
Editor: Dana Gornall
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