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!]


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!

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