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The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism, by Mumonkan

The Gateless Gate


The Gateless Gate or The Gateless Barrier (Chin. Wu-wen kuan; Jap. Mumonkan)

The author is Chinese Ch'an master Wu-men Hui-hai (無門慧開 Mumon Ekai, 1183-1260).


English Translation

By late Zen master Katsuki Sekida (Two Zen Classics 26-137)


The Chinese and Japanese texts in this web site are taken from the book titled Mumonkan, published in Japan by Iwanami Bunkõ.


Chinese Characters

Unfortunately a few Chinese characters were not given in this site. Luckily these characters are less than 1% of the text. Where there was a definition about these ideograms, they are entered them using Chinese system (Big 5). There are also ideograms that appear as mere black boxes, without any explanations. These are replaced with dummy characters (empty square boxes).



The Gateless Gate 無門關

Wu-wen kuan (Mumonkan)



Mumon's Preface



Buddhism makes mind its foundation and no-gate its gate.


Now, how do you pass through this no-gate?


It is said that things coming in through the gate can never be your own treasures. What is gained from external circumstances will perish in the end.


However, such a saying is already raising waves when there is no wind. It is cutting unblemished skin.

何況滯言句覓解會。 掉棒打月、隔靴爬痒、有甚交渉。

As for those who try to understand through other people's words, they are striking at the moon with a stick; scratching a shoe, whereas it is the foot that itches. What concern have they with the truth?



In the summer of the first year of Jõtei, Ekai was in Ryûshõ 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 text was written down not according to any scheme, but just to make a collection of forty-eight cases.


It is called Mumonkan, "The Gateless Gate."



A man of determination will unflinchingly push his way straight forward, regardless of all dangers.


Then even the eight-armed Nata cannot hinder him.


Even the four sevens of the West and the two threes of the East would beg for their lives.


If one has no determination, then it will be like catching a glimpse of a horse galloping past the window: in the twinkling of an eye it will be gone.


Verse 頌曰

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.


The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism

The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism Case 1 Jõshû's "Mu"                        一 趙州狗子



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


Mumon's Comment


In order to master Zen, you must pass the barrier of the patriarchs. To attain this subtle realization, you must completely cut off the way of thinking.


If you do not pass the barrier, and do not cut off the way of thinking, then you will be like a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds.


Now, I want to ask you, what is the barrier of the patriarchs?


Why, it is this single word "Mu." That is the front gate to Zen.


Therefore it is called the "Mumonkan of Zen."


If you pass through it, you will not only see Jõshû face to face, but you will also go hand in hand with the successive patriarchs, entangling your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears.


Isn't that a delightful prospect?


Wouldn't you like to pass this barrier?



Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu."


Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not."


It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try.

蕩盡從 前惡知惡覚、久久純熟自然内外打成—片、如唖子得夢、只許自知。

All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.

驀然打發、驚天 動地。

Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.



It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan'u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi.



Now, I want to ask you again, "How will you carry it out?"


Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this "Mu."


If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!


Mumon's Verse 頌曰

狗子佛性      The dog, the Buddha Nature,

全提正令      The pronouncement, perfect and final.

纔渉有無      Before you say it has or has not,

喪身失命      You are a dead man on the spot.


The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism

The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism Case 2 Hyakujõ's Fox                     二 百丈野狐



When Hyakujõ Oshõ 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 Hyakujõ 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?"


Hyakujõ 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.

敢告和尚。 乞、依亡僧事例。

I have a favor to ask of you: would you please bury my body as that of a dead monk."



Hyakujõ 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 Hyakujõ 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.


Õbaku 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?"


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


Õbaku went up to Hyakujõ and boxed his ears.

師拍手笑云、將謂、胡鬚赤。 更有赤鬚胡。

Hyakujõ 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."


Mumon's Comment


Not falling under causation: how could this make the monk a fox?


Not ignoring causation: how could this make the old man emancipated?


If you come to understand this, you will realize how old Hyakujõ would have enjoyed five hundred rebirths as a fox.


Mumon's Verse 頌曰

不落不昧      Not falling, not ignoring:

兩采一賽      Two faces of one die.

不昧不落      Not ignoring, not falling:

千錯萬錯      A thousand errors, a million mistakes.


The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism

The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism Case 3 Gutei Raises a Finger                    三 倶胝堅指



Whenever Gutei Oshõ was asked about Zen, he simply raised his finger.


Once a visitor asked Gutei's boy attendant, "What does your master teach?"


The boy too raised his finger.


Hearing of this, Gutei cut off the boy's finger with a knife.


The boy, screaming with pain, began to run away.

胝復召之。 童子廻首。 胝却 堅起指。

Gutei called to him, and when he turned around, Gutei raised his finger.


The boy suddenly became enlightened.



When Gutei was about to pass away, he said to his assembled monks, "I obtained one-finger Zen from Tenryû and used it all my life but still did not exhaust it."


When he had finished saying this, he entered into eternal Nirvana.


Mumon's Comment


The enlightenment of Gutei and of the boy does not depend on the finger.


If you understand this, Tenryû, Gutei, the boy, and you yourself are all run through with one skewer.


Mumon's Verse 頌曰

倶胝鈍置老天龍    Gutei made a fool of old Tenryû,

利刃單提勘小童    Emancipating the boy with a single slice,

巨靈擡手無多子    Just as Kyorei cleaved Mount Kasan

分破華山千万重    To let the Yellow River run through.


The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism

The Gateless Gate of Zen Buddhism Case 4 The Western Barbarian with No Beard                          四 胡子無髭



Wakuan said, "Why has the Western Barbarian no beard?"


Mumon's Comment


Study should be real study, enlightenment should be real enlightenment.


You should once meet this barbarian directly to be really intimate with him.


But saying you are really intimate with him already divides you into two.


Mumon's Verse 頌曰

癡人面前      Don't discuss your dream

不可説夢      Before a fool.

胡子髭無      Barbarian with no beard

惺惺添      Obscures the clarity.


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