The Gatekeeper of Reality

Dharma Talk by Konrad Ryushin Marchaj Sensei
Gateless Gate, Case 1
Zhaozhou’s “Mu”

Featured in Mountain Record 28.1, Fall 2009


The Main Case

A monk once asked Master Zhaozhou, “Has a dog the buddha nature or not?”

Zhaozhou said, “Mu!”

Wumen’s Commentary

In studying Zen, one must pass the barriers set up by the ancient Zen Masters. For the attainment of incomparable satori, one has to cast away his discriminating mind. Those who have not passed the barrier and haven’t cast away the discriminating mind are all phantoms haunting trees and plants.

Now, tell me, what is the barrier of the Zen Masters? Just this “Mu”—it is the barrier of Zen. It is thus called “the gateless barrier of Zen.” Those who have passed the barrier will not only see Zhaozhou clearly, but will go hand in hand with all the Masters of the past, see them face to face. You will see with the same eye that they see with and hear with the same ear. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? Don’t you want to pass the barrier? Then concentrate yourself into this “Mu,” with your 360 bones and 84,000 pores, making your whole body one great inquiry. Day and night work intently at it. Do not attempt nihilistic or dualistic interpretations. It is like having bolted a red hot iron ball. You try to vomit it but cannot.

Cast away your illusory discriminating knowledge and consciousness accumulated up to now, and keep on working harder. After a while, when your efforts come to fruition, all the oppositions (such as in and out) will naturally be identified. You will then be like a dumb person who has had a wonderful dream: he only knows it personally, within himself. Suddenly you break through the barrier; you will astonish heaven and shake the earth.

It is as if you have snatched the great sword of General Kan. You kill the Buddha if you meet him; you kill the ancient Masters if you meet them. On the brink of life and death you are utterly free, and in the six realms and the four modes of life you live, with great joy, a genuine life in complete freedom.

Now, how should one strive? With might and main work at this “Mu,” and be “Mu.” If you do not stop or waver in your striving, then behold, when the dharma candle is lighted, darkness is at once enlightened.

Wumen’s Poem

The dog! The buddha nature!
   The Truth is manifested in full.
A moment of yes-and-no:
   Lost are your body and soul.


In our lineage, a student who is taking up koan study in his or her zazen, begins with this case. In many instances, throughout the history of Zen, this has been the first koan offered to practitioners as a means of finding their way to freedom. This is a freedom on the edge of life and death, unencumbered by any conditions.