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Gateless Barrier, The: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan

Product no.: 1-57062-726-6
For more than seven centuries the Mumonkan has been used in Zen monasteries to train monks and to encourage the religious development of lay Buddhists.

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Publisher's Synopsis
The title alludes to the barrier to one's inner mind or the barrier to enlightenment. There is no gate to this barrier. For some, a gateless barrier cannot be traversed. For others, a gateless barrier is no barrier at all.

The fundamental koan collection in the literature of Zen was gathered together by Wu-men (Mumon), a 13th century master of the Lin-chi (Rinzai) school. It is composed of forty-eight koans, or cases, each accompanied by a brief comment and poem by Wu-men.

"Shibayama's study of the Mumonkan appeared at the outset of my teaching career more than twenty-five years ago. I do not exaggerate in saying that it changed my life. This new edition will change lives in a new generation, I am sure."      ~Robert Aitken


Mumonkan Case 6

Once, in ancient times, when the World-Honored One was at Mount Grdhrakata, he twirled a flower before his assembled disciples. All were silent. Only Mahakasyapa broke into a smile. The World-Honored One said, "I have the eye treasury of right Dharma, the subtle mind of Nirvana, the true form of no-form, and the flawless gate of the teaching. It is not established upon words and phrases. It is a special transmission outside tradition. I now entrust this to Mahakasyapa."

Wu-men's Comment

Gold-faced Gautama insolently degrades noble people to commoners. He sells dog flesh under the sign of mutton and thinks it is quite commendable. Suppose that all the monks had smiled - how would the eye treasury have been transmitted? Or suppose that Mahakasyapa had not smiled? how could he have been entrusted with it? If you say that the eye treasury can be transmitted, that would be as if the gold-faced old fellow were swindling people in a loud voice at the town gate. If you say the eye treasury cannot be transmitted, then why did the Buddha say that he entrusted it to Mahakasyapa?

Wu-men's Verse

Twirling a flower, The snake shows its tail. Mahakasyapa breaks into a smile, And people and devas are confounded.


Born in 1894 and ordained a Zen monk in 1908, Zenkei Shibayama was Zen Master of the important Nanzenji Zen Monastery in Kyoto for twenty-five years. He was a professor at Hanazono and Otani universities, the author of a number of works in Japanese, and the chief abbot of the Nanzenji Organization of some five hundred Rinzai Zen temples in Japan.

Author Wu-men
Translator Shibayama, Zenkei
Cotranslator Kudo, Sumiko
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 361 pp.
Publisher Shambhala Publications 2000
Browse these categories as well: Bodhidharma and Chinese Ch'an, Hakuin Ekaku and the Rinzai School, Koans, Poems and Sutras, Noteworthy Releases 2000

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