Compiled and commented upon by
Mumon Ekai, 1228
Refreshed & Reworded & Reedited by Vin Al Ken
(translations consulted: Katsuki Sekida, Nyogen Senzaki & Paul Reps, Koun Yamada, Zenkai Shibayama & Sumiko Kudo, Eiichi Shimomisse)
Zen’s foundation is the work of the Buddha. The way is through the mind, out beyond the gateless gate. That which comes in through the gate, cannot be eternal for that which is formed by causation, by causation will pass away.
Such remarks raise the waves in a windless sea or gash unblemished skin. Words and reason are limited and their use is as foolish as trying to hit the moon with a stick or itching your shoe. Reality transcends conception.
In the summer of the first year of Jotei (1228), I, Ekai, was head monk at Ryusho. To instruct the monks, I used the koans of the masters as bludgeons to knock on the gate, in accordance with their abilities. I noted down 48 koans which now form an unordered collection, which I will call theMumonkan, “The Gateless Gate”.
If anyone advances resolutely in his practice of Zen, not even the demon-king Nata can stop him. The patriarchs of India and China would beg for their lives at his coming. If he falters, he will be like a man who watches a horse gallop past a narrow window. In the blink of an eye, it has come and gone.
The great Way is gateless
There are a thousand roads
Once the barrier is cleared
Stroll through all heaven and earth
CASE 1 - JOSHU’S “MU”
A monk asked Joshu, “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?”
Joshu replied, “MU.”
To practice Zen, you must pass the barrier of the patriarchs.
To attain the enlightenment of satori, the rational mind must be stilled. If it is not, you will be as ghost lost amongst the trees.
What is the barrier? Only this “MU.”
This empty barrier is thus called the gateless gate of Zen. If you pass through it you shall know Joshu face to face & walk hand in hand with the Masters, seeing as they do. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Would you pass through this gate? Then concentrate your bones, blood, and body upon the question: What is MU? It is not the everyday Japanese meaning of no, negation, no-thing, nonbeing, nothing. It must be sought as if you have gulped a hot iron ball you can neither swallow or spit out.
Your illusions and delusions will evaporate, subjectivity and objectivity will unite & you will be as a dumb man who has had a dream that cannot be told.
Then MU will be annihilated, the barrier is passed & you will astonish heaven and shake the earth. You will hold a great sword & if even Buddha or patriarchs are obstacles in your path, you will kill them.
On the brink of life & death you will enjoy perfect freedom in the playground of the world.
How to know MU? Persist in working to concentrate all upon it, until your candle is set aflame by a spark.
Has a dog Buddha-nature?
True Law aught manifest all
A simple “yes” or “no” and
Your body and life shall fall
CASE 2 - HYAKUJO’S FOX
When Hyakujo lectured on Zen, an old man sat with the monks to listen & when they left, so did he. However, one day, he remained behind & Hyakujo asked, “Who are you?”
The old man replied, “I am not a human being. In the past, long ago in the time of the Kasho Buddha, I was abbot of this monastery. Once a monk asked me, ‘Is an enlightened man subject to karma, the law of causation?’ I answered, ‘No, he is not subject to the law of causation.’ Since then, I have been doomed to be a fox for five hundred lives. I beg you, free me with the words of your understanding. Tell me, is an enlightened man subject to causation or not?”
Hyakujo answered, “The enlightened man is one with the law of causation.”
The old man was enlightened at these words. Bowing deeply, he said, “I am a fox no longer. I have a favor to ask you: would you please bury my fox body as you would a monk?”
The next day, Hyakujo had the director of the monastery inform the monks there would be a funeral for a monk. The monks wondered, “No one was sick. What does this mean?”
Hyakujo led the monks around the mountain, and with his staff poked out the fox’s corpse and performed the cremation ceremony. That evening he told the monks the story.
Obaku then asked Hyakujo, “The old man gave the wrong answer and was doomed to be a fox for five hundred rebirths. Suppose he had answered correctly, what would have happened then?”
Hyakujo said, “Come here and I will tell you.” Obaku then went up to Hyakujo and slapped his teacher.
Hyakujo clapped his hands & laughing exclaimed, “I was thinking the barbarian had a red beard & here before me I see the red bearded barbarian himself.”
“Not subject to causation,” Why was the monk turned into a fox?
“One with causation” Why was the old man released?
If you have the eye to see through this, you will know the former abbot enjoyed his five hundred happy lives as a fox.
Object to being subject
Two side of one coin
Subjected to the object?
A thousand errors, a million mistakes
CASE 3 - GUTEI'S FINGER
When asked a question about Zen, Gutei would simply raise one finger.
Once a visitor asked a boy attendant, “What does your Master teach?” The boy raised his finger in imitation of Gutei.
When Gutei heard of this he seized the boy and cut off his finger. As the boy ran away crying, Gutei called to him. When the boy turned, Gutei raised his finger. In that instant, the boy was enlightened.
When Gutei was about to die, he told the assembled monks, “I received my one finger Zen from my master Tenryu, used it all my life, and could never exhaust it.” After saying this, Gutei passed away.
The enlightenment of Gutei and the boy is not in the finger. If you understand, Tenryu, Gutei, the boy & you are all on one skewer.
Gutei surpassed Tenryu
One cut emancipates the boy
As great Kyorei raised up his hand
Splitting Mount Kasan to let the Yellow River through
Case 4 - A Bearded Barbarian
Wakuan saw a picture of the bearded Bodhidharma and said “Why doesn’t he have a beard?”
If you want to study Zen, practice it. Realization (kensho) must be real realization. You must have the face of Bodhidharma to see him. But if you say you met him, you are still apart.
Do not discuss a dream
Before a idiot
Why hasn’t Bodhidharma a beard?
What a meaningless question!
CASE 5 - KYOGEN’S MAN IN A TREE
Kyogen said, “It is like a man hanging in a tree from his teeth over a cliff. His hands grasp no branch, his legs rest on no bough, and he is asked, “Why did Bodhidharma come to China from the West?”
If the man in the tree does not answer, he fails to respond. If he answers, he falls and loses his life.
What shall he do?
In such a situation, fine words do nothing. The sutras cannot be recited. If you can give the right answer, you will die & be reborn. If you cannot answer, wait long ages to ask Maitreya, the Buddha of the future.
Kyogen is thoughtless
Spreading that poison
Stopping up monk’s mouths
So fresh eyes must sprout
CASE 6 - SAKYAMUNI'S FLOWER
When Buddha was at Mount Vulture, he held out a flower to the congregation. All were silent. Only Maha-Kashapa broke into a smile.
The Buddha said, “I have the True Dharma Eye, the Nirvana Mind & the Formless Form, which are beyond scriptures and doctrines. I now transmit this to Maha-Kashapa.”
Golden-faced Gautama plays a trick, selling dog meat as mutton, thinking this is wonderful. What if all had smiled? How could he have passed on the teaching? What if Maha-Kashapa had not smiled? How could he have passed on the teaching? If he says understanding can be handed over, he is a swindler & if he says it cannot be given over, why does he approve of Maha-Kashapa?
As the flower twirls
The secret is shown
At least one monk knows
CASE 7 - JOSHU'S "WASH YOUR BOWL"
A monk said to Joshu, “I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu said, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
“Yes I have,” the monk replied.
Joshu said, “Then wash your bowl.”
At this the monk was enlightened.
When Joshu opens his mouth, he shows his heart. If the monk had not understood, he might mistake a gong for a wok.
Something so clear
Can be hard to see
Searching for fire by candle-light
Your rice is getting cold
CASE 8 - KEICHU'S WHEEL
Gettan said, “Keichu, the great wheelmaker, made a marvelous cart whose wheels had a hundred spokes. If he took apart the pieces, what would he have?
If you can instantly answer this, your eye will be a shooting star & your mind flashing lightening.
When the wheel spins
No one can arrest it
It turns above, it turns below
South, north, east, west.
CASE 9 - DAITSU CHISO BUDDHA
A monk asked Seijo, “Daitsu Chiso Buddha meditated for ten kalpas & could not acquire Buddhahood. How can this be?
Seijo replied, “What a question.”
The monk again inquired, “Since the Buddha meditated so long, why could he not attain Buddhahood.”
Seijo answered, “Nothing to become.”
I allow him his realization but not understanding. An ignorant man’s realization makes him a sage & a sage’s understanding makes him a man.
Realizing the mind is better than the body
A freed mind and body have no worry
If body and mind are both free
Past worldly desires, perfect liberty
CASE 10 - SENZAI THE POOR
Senzai said to Sozan, “I am alone & poor. I beg you to make me rich.”
Sozan called out, “Venerable Senzai!”
Senzai responded, “Yes, Master!”
Sozan said, “You have drunk three cups of the finest wine & still you say your lips have not been wet?”
Senzai’s bluff was called. What did he mean? Sozan sees through him and outplays his scheme. But really now, when did Venerable Senzai drink the wine?
Poor as Hantan
Brave as Kou
Have you so little
You dare rival those with it all
CASE 11 - JOSHU’S HERMITS
Joshu went to a hermit in meditation & asked, “Are you here? Are you here?”
The hermit raised his fist.
Joshu said, “A ship cannot anchor in shallow water,” and he went away.
Joshu came to another hermit’s retreat & asked, “Are you here? Are you here?”
This hermit raised his fist.
Joshu said “Free to give, to take, to kill, to save,” and he bowed to the hermit.
Both raised their fists. Why was one rejected & the other accepted? What’s the difference?
If you understand, you’ll know Joshu’s tongue has no bone to set it & is free to lash or lick as it will. But know, the hermits could see through Joshu as well.
If you say the two hermits were unequal, you do not see.
If you say the two hermits were the same, you do not see.
His eye a meteor
His spirit as lightening
A sword that kills
A sword that saves
CASE 12 - ZUIGAN’S “MASTER”
Every day Zuigan would call out to himself, “Master!” and would answer, “Yes, Sir!”
“Awake! Awake!” he told himself & he answered, “Yes, Sir!”
“Do not be deluded, not now, not ever!,” he said & answered “Yes, Sir!”
Old Zuigan sells himself and buys his self. He stages a theater & plays in all the masks. Wearing masks, he calls & answers. A master mask & a mask that says he will never be deceived. If a mask sticks to you, you’ll lose your true face. If you play like Zuigan, you’ll be as a fox.
Some on Zen’s path cannot see their I
And look for it in dusty mirrors
Their reflections are the seed of life and death
Fools take it for the truth
CASE 13 - TOKUSAN’S BOWL
One day, Tokusan came into the dining Hall holding his bowl.
Seppo met him, saying, “Where are you going? The dinner bell has not been rung nor the drum beaten.”
Tokusan walked away.
Seppo recounted this to Ganto, who said, “Great as Tokusan is, he didn’t even have the last word.”
Tokusan heard of this and had an acolyte call for Ganto, whom Tokusan asked, “Do you not approve of me?” In response, Ganto whispered his intention.
The next day, Tokusan ascended to the rostrum & gave a remarkable sermon to the monks. Ganto, clapping & laughing went to the front of the hall & declared, “Greatness! Our old master has gotten hold of the last word. Now none can surpass him.”
As for the last word of Zen, neither Ganto nor Tokusan have even heard it in a dream. They are just acting like dummies.
The first word realized
You have grasped the last
The first and last
Are one and not the same
CASE 14 - NANSEN’S CAT
Nansen saw the monks of the eastern & western halls quarreling over a cat. He seized the cat & said, “If any of you can say a word of Zen, it will be spared. Otherwise, I will kill the cat.”
No one answered, so Nansen cut the cat in two.
That evening, Joshu returned & was told by Nansen what happened.
Joshu took off his sandals, placed them on his head, and walked away.
Nansen said, “If you had been there, the cat would have been saved.”
Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If you can answer this, you will understand Nansen’s action. If not, take heed.
Had Joshu been present
Something else would happen
The sword is taken
Nansen begs for life
CASE 15 - TOZAN’S 60 BLOWS
Tozan came to study with Ummon & Ummon asked, “Where are you from?”
“From Sato,” Tozan replied.
Ummon asked, “Where were you for the summer?”
“A temple at Hozu, south of the lake,” Tozan replied.
Ummon asked, “When did you leave?”
“On the 25th of August,” Tozan replied.
Ummon said, “You deserve sixty blows with my stick, but I will forgive you today.”
The next day Tozan bowed to Ummon, saying “Yesterday you spared me sixty blows. I beg you, please tell me my fault.”
“You bag of rice,” shouted Ummon, “you just wander there, wander here.”
At Ummon’s words, Tozan had a realization.
If Ummon had fed Tozan more good Zen food & Tozan had digested it, perhaps Ummon’s school would not have become emaciated.
All night Tozan twisted in turmoil wondering what was his wrong. At dawn, Ummon hit him with the light. Although Tozan realized, he wasn’t so bright.
Now, let me ask, does Tozan deserve his blows? If yes, then everyone deserves a few knocks. If not, Ummon lies. If you can answer, you’ll eat the Zen food.
Loin cubs are roughly taught
A whack and thump makes them jump
Ummon’s first arrow glanced Tozan’s rump
The second deeply pierced the knot
CASE 16 – WHEN THE BELL SOUNDS
Ummon said, “The world is vast & wide. Why do you don your robe at the sound of the bell?”
In studying Zen, one lets go of clinging to form & attachment to echoes. Enlightenment may come through a sight or sound, as a matter of course, but those who master Zen ride color & conduct what they hear, free & clear, in wonder, at one.
Tell me, does sound reach the ear or do the ears reach for sound. Beyond the eye & ear, just what can you say? If you listen with the ear, you will not perceive it. When you hear with your eye, then you will know.
With understanding, all is one.
Without understanding, nothing is the same.
Without understanding, all is one.
With understanding, nothing is the same.
CASE 17 - ECHU’S THREE CALLS
The National Teacher, Echu, called to his attendant student, “Oshin,” & Oshin answered, “Yes.”
Again, Echu called to his attendant student, “Oshin,” & Oshin answered, “Yes.”
Repeating once more, Echo called to his attendant student, “Oshin,” & Oshin answered, “Yes.”
Echu said, “I thought I disregarding you, but really you were disregarding me.”
Echu called Oshin thrice. His tongue was heavy as Oshin’s answer was light. Old and lonely Echu tried to push the cow’s head to the grass. Oshin would have none of it, for delicacies are not desired by he who is sated. Tell me, where did they disregard one another?
When the nation prospers, talent is prized,
When the home is wealthy, children are proud.
He carries an iron yoke with no hole for the head
Trouble is passed on to those that follow
To support the gate and uphold the house
Climb a mountain of swords on the soles of your feet
CASE 18 - TOZAN’S THREE POUNDS OF FLAX
A monk asked Tozan, “What is Buddha?”
Tozan said, “Three pounds of flax.”
Tozan’s Zen is that of a clam. Open the shell & the insides are revealed. What do you see there?
“Three pounds of flax!” spouts out
His words contact, the mind is closer
Those engrossed in right and wrong
Are immersed in right and wrong
CASE 19 – NANSEN’S EVERYDAY MIND
Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?”
Nansen answered, “The everyday mind.”
Joshu asked, “Can it be studied?”
Nansen answered, “If you chase it, it slips away.”
Joshu asked, “How can I find the Way unless I know what to look for?”
Nansen answered, “The Way is not knowledge nor non-knowledge. Knowledgse is delusion. Non-knowledge has no discrimination. When you are the Way you will have no doubt as you are free in the vast space of void. How can it be “right” and “wrong”?
At these words, Joshu was awakened.
Joshu’s question dissolved Nansen’s answer. Even though Joshu had a realization, it must have taken thirty years to congeal.
Spring flowers, autumn moon
Summer breeze, winter snow
Clear out the mind’s clutter
All life’s seasons are fine
CASE 20 - SHOGEN’S STRENGTH
Shogen said, “Why does a strong man not lift up his legs?” He also said, “It is not his tongue that speaks.”
Shogen his guts but who can appreciate? Even if you do, come to me, so that I may strike you. To find pure gold, look for it through flame.
Lifting his leg spills the great Waters
Sinking his head gazing from highest Heaven
His body fills the universe.
Finish this verse!
CASE 21 - UMMON’S “KANSHITETSU!”
A monk asked Ummon, “What is Buddha?”
Ummon replied, “Dried shit on a stick!”
Ummon is too poor to cook, too fast for drafts. He tried to prop up his school on a shit-stick. The decline of Buddhism is clear.
A spark from flint
You blink your eye
It’s done and gone
CASE 22 - KASHAPA’S FLAGPOLE
Ananda asked Kashapa, “The World-Honored One handed unto you his golden robe. What else did he pass on to you?”
Kashapa answered, “Ananda!”
Ananda responded, “Yes!”
Kashapa said, “Knock down my preaching flag at the gate.”
If you say the word, you will see the meeting at Mount Vulture continues. If not, eons of meditation will not let you hear it.
Question and answer, which is close and closer
Many have looked to distinguish this
Elder brother calls, young brother replies, it’s the family secret
This spring is a singular season
CASE 23 - ENO’S GOOD & EVIL
Eno, a layman who was made the sixth patriarch, was pursued by the monk Myo. At a pass on Mount Daiyu, Eno laid the holy robe & bowl of transmission of a rock. To the approaching Myo he said, “The robe represents the faith. It cannot be fought over. Take it, if you will.”
Myo reached for the robe but it was of such immense weight he could not move it. Shaken & trembling, he cried out, “I came for the Dharma, not a robe! I beg you, teach me!”
Eno said, “Do not think ‘good,’ do not think ‘evil.’ Now, what is your real self?”
Myo was illuminated & broke out in a sweat. He wept & bowed, saying, “Beyond these secret words is there a secret deeper still?”
Eno said, “I have told you nothing secret. See your true face, it is all there.”
Myo said, “I was a monk under Obai, your predecessor, for years, but could not realize. Now, receiving your instruction, I have drunk water & experienced hot & cold. I call you my teacher.”
Eno said, “If you like, but let both of us call Obai our teacher. Mind the treasure you have gained & keep it.”
The sixth patriarch in an emergency was as kind as a grandmother. It is as if he peeled fruit, pitted it, placed it in your mouth, only asking you to swallow it down.
You cannot declare or depict it
You cannot display it, do not try to eat it raw
Your true self is not hidden
The world’s destruction does not touch it
CASE 24 - FUKETSU’S SPEECH & SILENCE
A monk asked Fuketsu, “Both speech & silence are faulty, either only in or out. What to do?
“I dearly remember spring in Konan,
Where the partridge sings among perfumed blossoms”
Fuketsu’s lightning mind flashed & he thunders out, alas, regrettably an old Chinese poem. Never mind Fuketsu. To say it, throw out your pretty polished phrases & just say it.
He used an antique
Before his words, it’s shown
If you just recite
What’s shown? What’s known?
CASE 25 - KYOZAN’S DREAM
In a dream, Kyozan went to the abode of the future Buddha Maitreya and was led to sit in the third seat. It was announced, “Today the one in the third seat shall preach.”
Kyozan rose & striking the gavel said, “The truth of Mahayana is beyond all words & doctrine. Hark & Listen!”
Did Kyozan preach or not? If he opens his mouth, he is lost. If he seals his mouth, he is lost. Whether it’s open or sealed, Kyozan is 108,000 miles away from the truth.
In broad daylight and blue sky
In a dream he speaks of dreams
A monster making monstrosities
So everyone is deceived
CASE 26 - TWO MONKS ROLL UP THE BLINDS
Hogen went into the hall to speak to the assembled monks. He pointed to bamboo blinds that were lowered. Two monks arose & rolled them up.
Observing them, Hogen said, “One gain, one loss.”
Who gained, who lost? If you’ve the eye, see where Master Hogen failed. You are warned against determining “gain” & “loss.”
Roll up the blinds, the great sky opens
That vast space cannot hold Zen
Let it come down, the sky cleared away
Mind the wind, close drafty cracks.
CASE 27 - NANSEN’S NOT MIND, NOT BUDDHA
A monk asked Nansen, “Is there any teaching that has not been preached?”
Nansen answered, “Yes, there is.”
The monk asked what truth had not been taught & Nansen told him, “It is not mind, not Buddha, not things.”
Nansen gave away his coin & so went beyond sense.
Silence is clear
Mountain then sea
There are no words
CASE 28 - RYUTAN’S CANDLE
Tokusan went to Ryutan, to challenge his teachings, but ended up asking to be taught. After conversing late into the night, Ryutan said, “It is getting late. You should now sleep.”
After bowing, Tokusan looked out the door and said, “It is very dark outside.”
Ryutan lit a candle and offered it to Tokusan. As Tokusan took the candle, Ryutan blew it out. Tokusan was then illuminated.
Ryutan asked , “What do you realize?”
Tokusan replied, “I will never again doubt the words of the great master.”
The next day, Ryutan ascended the rostrum and declared to the assembly, “Monks, among you is one whose fangs are swords and mouth is a blood bowl. Strike him and he’ll not even look at you. Someday he will climb the highest peak and there establish our way.”
Tokusan brought out his commentaries on the sutras and placed them before the hall, saying, “Know all the complex doctrines and they are but a hair in vast space. Learn all the world’s secrets and they are only a drop of water in the ocean.” He then burned his papers, bowed, and took his leave.
Tokusan at home was zealous about his right faith in the fundamental Buddhist scripture. He went south to refute Zen’s transmissions without the written word.
When he reached the road to Reishu he asked an old woman to let him have a snack that he might, “Refresh his mind.”
She asked him, “What are all the books in your cart?”
Tokusan told her, “Notes and commentaries upon the Diamond Sutra.”
The old woman said, “It is said in that sutra that ‘past mind cannot be fixed, present mind cannot be fixed, future mind cannot be fixed.’ Now I’d like to ask you which mind you are refreshing?”
Tokusan was struck dumb. He asked her, “Is there a Zen master near?” and was told of Rutan who lived about five ri distant.
Once Tokusan arrived at Ryutan’s he was overcome. His former words did not fit the latter. Ryutan seems to have been too nice in pitying Tokusan. He finds a bit of live coal in the other and instead of fanning it slowly, he pours muddy water all over, annihilating all at once. Cooler deliberation shows it all a farce.
A hundred hearings do not compare to the sight
After seeing you’ll prefer a thousand hearings
Even though he saved his nose
Alas, he’s lost his eyes
CASE 29 - ENO’S FLAG
Two monks saw a temple flag in the wind.
One said, “The flag is moving.”
The other said, “The wind is moving.”
Eno, happened to then pass by and he told them, “Not wind, nor flag, but mind is moving.”
The sixth patriarch said, “Not wind, nor flag, but mind is moving.” Which mind does what? Understand the monks were given gold while trading iron. Eno’s compassion made him give it away shamelessly.
Wind, flag and mind all move
All as parts share in blame
The open mouth spills it forth
Trips up and caught on words
CASE 30 - BASO’S VERY MIND
Daibai asked Baso, “What is Buddha?”
Baso said, “This very mind.”
Hear Baso & you will wear Buddha’s clothes, eat Buddha’s food, speak Buddha’s words, do Buddha’s deeds & be Buddha.
Alas, Daibai misled some to take the balance’s mark for its weight. Say the word “Buddha” and rinse out your mouth for three days. One of understanding, hearing “Mind is Buddha,” should cover his ears and run away.
Blue sky in bright sun
No more need to speak
Asking, “What is Buddha?”
Begging for what you hold
CASE 31 - JOSHU INVESTIGATES AN OLD WOMAN
A traveling monk, walking down the road, asked an old woman, “Which way to Taizan?”
The old woman told him, “The way lies before you” When the monk had continued a few steps, she said, “He too goes.”
Joshu was told about this & said, “I will go investigate this old woman.”
He went to her, asking the same question, receiving the same answer. He returned and told his disciples, “I have seen the old woman for you.”
The old woman sits & plans her campaign, not knowing when a bandit joins the fray. Old Joshu is a spy, but doesn’t seem a general. The old woman & Joshu each have their faults. Now I ask, what did Joshu see in the old woman?
The question is the same
The answer is the same
There’s sand in the rice
Thorns are in the mud
CASE 32 - A PAGAN ASKS BUDDHA
A pagan asked Buddha, who was sitting in meditation, “Without words, without silence, what truth can you tell me?” Buddha did nothing.
The pagan bowed, saying, “You have dispersed the clouds of illusion, awakening me.”
Ananda asked Buddha what the pagan had attained and was told, “A fine horse starts at even the shadow of the whip.”
Ananda is Buddha’s disciple, yet the pagan better understands. Say now what separates the pagan and Buddha’s disciple.
Walking on a sword’s edge
Running over crests of ice
Without steps or climbing
Of what you hold let go
CASE 33 - BASO’S NO MIND, NO BUDDHA
A monk asked Baso, “What is Buddha?”
Baso answered, “There is no mind, no Buddha.”
Understand, that is all there is to study.
If you meet a swordsman, give him your sword
Without a poet, don’t offer a poem
When you are speaking, do not say it all
Do not tell of the piece that you must keep
CASE 34 – NANSEN’S “REASON IS NOT THE WAY”
Nansen said, “Mind is not Buddha. Reason is not the Way.”
It must be said that Nansen has grown old and shameless. He opens his mouth & out spills secret scandals. Too few are grateful for this kindness.
The sky clears, sun does shine
When rain falls, the earth blooms
From his heart, how he preached
Far too few can hear it
CASE 35 - SEIJO’S SELF
Goso asked a monk, “Seijo’s body & mind became separated far apart; which one is the real self?”
If you awaken to this koan, you then know that passing from shell to shell is like a traveler sheltering in inns. If you are still asleep, do please stop flailing wildly. When earth, water, fire & air disintegrate, you’ll be a crab dropping in boiling water, thrashing about with 7 or 8 arms & legs. When that happens, don’t say you weren’t warned!
The moon waxes and wanes, staying the same
Valleys and mountains, invert and revert
All are blessed! All is blessed!
Is this one? Is this two?
CASE 36 - GOSO’S GREETING
Goso said, “When you meet a man of the Way on the path, do not greet him with mere words or silence. Tell me, how will you greet him?”
If you can answer, well then congratulations. If you cannot, then mind yourself daily.
When meeting a man of the way
Do not give him words or silence
Knock his block off, that’s what he wants
Understand this, right now, right here
CASE 37 - JOSHU’S OAK TREE IN THE GARDEN
A monk asked Joshu, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West?”
Joshu said, “The oak tree in the garden.”
Understand Joshu’s answer & there is no Sakyamuni in the past, no Maitreya in the future.
Words are not the world
Language is not like thought
Stuck in speech, one is lost
Held to labels, deluded
CASE 38 - GOSO’S BULL
Goso said, “A bull goes out his pen’s gate. The head, the horns & four legs pass through. Why doesn’t the tail too?”
If you see through this koan & can then say the word that turns it, you can repay the four obligations & help the three realms. If you still cannot, return to the tail so that you may grasp it for the first time.
If it passes through, it will fall in an abyss
If it turns back, it will be destroyed
This tiny little tail
How marvelous it is
CASE 39 - UMMON’S ERRING IN WORDS
A monk said to Ummon, “The radiance of the Buddha serenely illuminates the universe . . .” until Ummon interrupted, saying, “Aren’t those words by Chosetsu Shusai?”
The monk replied, “Yes, they are.”
Ummon said, “You are ensnared in the words.”
Later, Master Shishin regarding the matter inquired, “Tell me, where did he err?”
If you see what Ummon demanded & how the monk slipped up, you could teach men & devas. If it’s not clear, you cannot even save yourself.
Fishhook on a line, dropped in the stream
Greedy for bait, the fish is caught
If your mouth but opens slightly
Your life is snared and lost
CASE 40 – KICKING THE WATER JAR
When Isan studied under Hyakujo, he worked as the cook. When Hyakujo wanted to found a new monestary, he needed to choose the abbot. He told all the monks that he would choose the one who best demonstrated his ability.
Hyakujo brought out a water jar and set it on the floor, saying “You may not call this a water jar. What then do you call it?”
The head monk said, “It cannot be called a wooden sandal.”
When Hyakujo turn to Isan, Isan kicked the jar and walked away.
Laughing, Hyakujo said, “Isan has defeated the head monk,” and so Isan was chosen to found the Mount Tai-I Monestary.
Isan displayed great courage but could not escape Hyakujo’s trap. He must have wanted a heavier burden instead of a light job. Why? Look and see Isan taking off the cook’s headband to wear an iron yoke.
Trash the bamboo pots and ladles
A kick to end the contest
Hyakujo’s barrier cannot withstand it
Countless Buddhas formed from his steps
CASE 41 – BODHIDHARMA’S REIN
Bodhidharma sat staring at a wall. His disciple, the second patriarch, stood out long in the falling snow. After severing his arm, he said, “Your student would pacify his mind. Please calm it.”
Bodhidharma said, “Bring your mind to me that I might tame it.”
His disciple said, “I searched for my mind & cannot catch it.”
“Now your mind is reined,” said Bodhidharma.
That old coot coolie came ten thousand li to China over the ocean, raising waves on placid seas. He obtained but one disciple & he cut off his arm as a gesture! Now that’s a fool!
Bodhidharma from India
Came spreading his trouble
The monasteries din
Is because of you
CASE 42 – A GIRL COMES OUT OF MEDITATION
Long ago, Manjusri went to where all the Buddhas had assembled, and found that all had departed from whence they came. Only a girl remained, in samadhi, sitting next to Buddha’s seat. Manjusri asked, “How can that woman be so close to Buddha when I cannot?”
Sakyamuni Buddha said, “Ask her yourself.”
Manjursi walked around her thrice, snapped his fingers, took her to Brahma heaven, using all his powers to bring her out of samadhi, all in vain.
The World-Honored One said, “Even 100,000 Manjusris cannot stir her state. Down below, past twelve hundred million lands, innumerable as the sands of the Ganges, there is the Bodhisattva Momyo. He can rouse the girl.”
Instantly the Bodhisattva Momyo emerged from the earth, bowed & paid homage to the Buddha, who then gave him his command. Momyo went to the woman and snapped his fingers once. Then the girl came out of meditation.
Old Sakyamuni put on a peasant play but people of no depth cannot see. I ask you, how could Manjusri, the wise teacher of 7 Buddhas, fail, when Momyo, a novice Bodhisattva, could succeed? Should you gain and live your understanding, you’ll know the dragon Nagya’s samadhi surging through all life’s cursory activities & events.
One could wake her, one could not
Both free in liberation
God-mask here & devil-mask there
Even failure is a grand performance
CASE 43 - SHUZAN’S STAFF
Shuzan held up his staff before the assembled monks, saying “If you say this is a staff, you oppose its reality. If you say this is not a staff, you negate the fact. I ask you, what is this?”
If you say this is a staff, you oppose its reality. If you say this is not a staff, you negate the fact. Neither words nor silence are of avail. What to do?
Holding up the staff
He gives life, takes life
Opposing or negating
Buddha & the Patriarchs beg for their lives
CASE 44 - BASHO’S STAFF
Basho said to his disciples, “If you’ve a staff, I’ll give you one. If you’ve no staff, I’ll take it then.”
A staff helps me cross the river with no bridge. It leads me back to the village on a moonless night. If you call this a stick, you’ll go to hell straight as an arrow.
The deep and the shallow
Are plumbed by what the hand holds
Supporting heaven and sustaining earth
The staff is the Zen essence
CASE 45 - WHO IS HE?
Hoen said, “Sakyamuni & Maitreya are but his servants. Who is he?”
If you see him clearly it will be like meeting your own father at the crossroads. Won’t you recognize him?
Don’t draw another’s bow
Don’t ride another’s horse
Don’t discuss another’s faults
Don’t measure another’s deeds
CASE 46 - OUT ON TOP OF THE POLE
Sekiso said, “On top of a hundred foot pole, how will you take a further step?”
Another eminent master said, “Even to one on top of the pole in realization, it is not yet real. He must step off the pole’s summit & into the 100,000 worlds.”
If you can step off the pole & still come back, what is above or beneath you? But even so, tell me, just how do you step out? Sah!
The third eye gone dark
Clinging to known scales
Giving up body and life
The blind lead the blind
CASE 47 - TOSOTSU'S THREE BARRIERS
Master Tosutsu made three tests for monks:
- To find your true nature you search through marshes and under stones. Just where is your true nature?
- Seeing your true nature will free your self from life & death. But when the light falls & your eyes close how will you see through life & death?
- If you free your self from life & death, you know your aim. When the elements dissolve, where will you go?
If you can turn the three keys in these locks, you own where you stand & live Zen. If you cannot, stop scarfing your meals & chew your food well that it may nourish you.
This instant contains eternity
All time is in the now
If you grasp this present
Who is the you seeing thru
CASE 48 - KEMPO’S ROAD
A monk asked Kempo, “The sutras say; ‘Buddhas fill the ten directions & there is one straight road to Nirvana.’ Where is this road?”
Kempo lifted his staff & drew a line, saying, “Here it is.”
Later, a monk asked Ummon about this. Ummon held up his fan & said, “This fan reaches to the 33rd heaven & hits the high deva Indra right on the nose. Smack the great carp of the eastern sea & the black storm clouds rain.”
One goes to the bottom of the sea & lifts up clouds of dust; the other on the mountain’s summit raises white waves to wash the sky. One holding fast, one letting go, each stretches out his hand & supports the teaching. They are like two racers headed toward collision. None can tell it all. See them & the road they cannot map.
Before taking a step, you’re already there
Before the tongue moves, it is all said
Even if they have planned ahead
The road’s end lies beyond conception
The sayings & doings of Buddha & the Patriarchs have been recorded & judged like criminals confessing. Passing sentences have shown my brain, taken off its lid & exposed my eyeballs. You should all get “it” for yourself, instead of looking for “it” in others.
One in satori would understand these 48 koans, having heard one. There is no gate. There are no steps. Square your shoulders, pass the barrier, you need no permission.
Mark what Gensho said, “No gate is the Way of liberation. No mind is the mind of Tao,” & Hakuin’s, “Know clearly the Way. It is this. How can you pass it?”
These explanations are like milk mixed with clay. Just pass the Gateless Gate & make a fool of Mumon. If you cannot, you make a traitor of yourself. It is easier to know the Nirvana mind’s unity, then the difficult wisdom of differentiation. When you realize this wisdom, peace will reign.
The first year of Jotei (1228)
Five days before the end of summer session
Respectfully written by Monk Mumon Ekai,
8th descendant of Yogi
MUMON’S ZEN ADMONITIONS
Obedience to rules and precepts is a ropeless snare. Giving license to desires is the way of heretics & demons. Escape into silence is false Zen. Ignoring the karma of causation is to fall in a pit. Constant wakefulness of the absolute is to wear a yoke and chains. Think good & evil to dwell in heaven & hell. Dogmatic fidelity to Buddha and Dharma is imprisonment inside two iron mountains. Concentrating upon concentration’s breaks wastes energy. Just sitting forever meditating is dead. Proceeding is against the truth. Retreating is against principle. Neither advancing nor withdrawing is like being a breathing corpse. Tell me, what will you do? Work with great persistence to awaken in this life! Stop wallowing in sorrow.