image

All the Gates Are Open

Dharma Discourse by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Sensei
Blue Cliff Record, Case 9
Chao-chou's Four Gates

Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Sensei is the abbot and director of operations of Zen Mountain Monastery. He received dharma transmission from Daido Roshi in 2009.

Featured in Mountain Record 29.3, Spring 2011


The Pointer

When the bright mirror is on its stand, beauty and ugliness are distinguished by themselves. With a sharp sword in his hand, one can kill or bring life to fit the occasion. A foreigner goes and a native comes; a foreigner comes and a native goes. In the midst of death he finds life; in the midst of life he finds death. But tell me, when you get to this point, then what? if you don’t have the eye to penetrate barriers, if you don’t have any place to turn yourself around in, at this point obviously you won’t know what to do. Tell me, what is the eye that penetrates barriers, what is a place to turn around in? To test, I cite this; Look!

Case

A monk asked Chao-chou, ‘What is Chao-chou?”

Chao-chou replied, “East gate, west gate, south gate, north gate.”

Poem

In their words they show their ability in direct confrontation:,
The Adamantine Eye is completely devoid of dust.
East, West, South, North—the gates face each other;
An endless series of hammer blows can’t smash them open.



In attempting to appreciate the nature of “the gates” featured in this koan, it is worth noting right from the beginning that Master Yuan-wu, the commentator on The Blue Cliff Record, insistently repeats that these gates are open. In his footnotes, he reiterates three times that it is pointless to try to force them open given that they do not obstruct us.

The encounter between Chao-chou and the monk is a useful starting point to investigate the essence of the teacher-student relationship and the mind-to-mind transmission that runs like a live wire through the Zen tradition. It provides a ripe opportunity to look with some care at what it means for two minds to meet, while acknowledging and revealing the fundamental purity that informs any and every situation. What does it mean to meet exactly as we are? What stops us from being that open? What hinders us from revealing our true nature?