Passing the Barrier of Zen: Mumon Ekai Explains How to Use 氣 To Attain Satori


[Once upon a time in China -- more precisely, in the autumn of 1228 -- Master Mumon Ekai compiles a book of Zen "public cases" or koans to help the monks under his direction attain satori. He places Joshu's "Mu" at the head of this collection, calling it "the front gate to Zen." He then goes on to describe precisely how to arouse and use  氣, a Chinese word meaning "energy," "spirit," "vitality," &c. in order to "pass the Zen barrier" so that you can "stride through the universe." Short of arousing the energy and vitality of your whole body and pouring it into motionless contemplation of the koan given to you by your Master, you cannot hope to cut off thinking and attain satori, and if you do not cut off thinking and attain satori you will become "a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds." Hear it now! Put it into practice immediately! Your own realization is paramount. Nobody else can experience this satori and attain decisive liberation for you!]

祖關不透心路不絶、盡是依草附木精靈。

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.

且道、如何是祖師關。

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

只者一箇無字、乃宗門一關也。

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

遂目之曰禪宗無門關。

Therefore it is called the "Mumonkan of Zen."

透得過者、非但親見趙州、便可與歴代祖師把手共行、眉毛厮結同一眼見、同一耳聞。

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.

豈不慶快。

Isn't that a delightful prospect?

莫有要透關底麼。

Wouldn't you like to pass this barrier?

將三百六十骨節、八萬四千毫竅、通身起箇疑團參箇無字。

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."

晝夜提撕、莫作虚無會、莫作有無會。

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

如呑了箇熱鐵丸相似、吐又吐不出。

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.

如奪得關將軍大刀入手、逢佛殺佛、逢祖殺祖、於生死岸頭得大自在、向六道四生中遊戲三昧。

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.

且作麼生提撕。

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

盡平生氣力擧箇無字。

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

若不間斷、好似法燭一點便著。

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

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