Q: What is more useless than a gate to a butterfly?
A: An entire book of “gates”!
“The Gateless Gate” (Like “The Blue Cliff Record” before it”) is a collection of Zen (Zen is what happened when Buddhism met Taoism in China) Koans, or conundrums, like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”, that stood as “gates” to insight/enlightenment which disciples had to “open” in order to pass inspection by their master and be declared to be enlightened and worthy of all the respect such a state of being deserved.
Q: What is more useless than a gate to enlightenment?
A: An entire book of gates!
And so, the above symbol of the Gateless Gate is presented both as absurdity (You can walk right through the opening, or walk around it, or tunnel under it, or jump over it) and as an absolute impenetrable, unmovable, barrier to logic, reason, intellect, explanation, interpretation, translation, exegesis, understanding, and comprehension.
In this, the Gateless Gate is like an optical illusion which you see or don’t see and you can only keep looking until you see what isn’t there, and then it is, and then it isn’t… See?
The Gateless Gate is an eternal and everlasting symbol of the times, our times, all times, every time, and certainly for the times that are at hand, here and now, for all of us worldwide, standing as it does as a reminder of what is needed in every moment in each situation as it arises all our life long:
The right kind of emptiness. The right kind of stillness. The right kind of silence. And the willingness to wait for the mud to settle and the water to clear in order to see what we look at and know what we know–not by thinking about it, but by simply realizing what is so, and has always been so, and what is called for in response to what is so and to what is happening and what needs to be done about it in the time that is at hand, here and now, right here, right now.
The kind of knowing that knows is not intellectual. It is spiritual in the best sense of the term. Spiritual is “of the spirit.” It is “of the other world,” the inner world, the world of insight, intuition, imagination, realization, resonance, perspective, perception…
It is “body knowing.” What we know when we know it “in our bones,” or when we have a “gut feeling,” or when know it “in our heart,” as when we love something or someone.
It is the kind of knowing Sheldon Knopp was speaking of when he said, “Some things can be experienced, but not understood. And some things can be understood, but not explained.”
It is the kind of knowing Shel Silverstein was speaking of when he said, “Some kind of help is the kind of help that help is all about–and some kind of help is the kind of help we all could do without.”
We have to know some things that no one can tell us. And we do know those things.
That is what the Gateless Gate reminds us, and calls us to return to the right kind of emptiness, stillness and silence, in order to see what we are looking at and to know what we know, and what is being called for, and do what needs to be done about it in each situation as it arises, all our life long.
The Gateless Gate of Zen is one way of getting past "the noise of the dust of the world" in order to access our innate (or original) nature and find there what we need to do what needs to be done in each situation as it arises all our life long. Taoists refer to this process as "Turning The Light Around." It comes down to the same thing: Consciously laying aside intellectual, rational, logical, moral, ethical, common, ordinary, traditional approaches to doing what is right in a situation, and opening ourselves to the spiritual world of inner reality-- instinct, intuition, resonance, realization, spontaneity, impulse, awareness, "the inner light," "the inner guide," inclination, inner urge, inner drive, etc. in trusting ourselves to what is called for without knowing what we are doing. We all have gifts, how we access them and rely on them in piloting our boat on its path through the sea tells the tale that is ours to tell.
The Gateless Gate is the gateway to enlightenment and mystery within mystery. Enlightenment is the realization of mystery at the heart of life and being, and on every level of life and being. Enlightenment is knowing that understanding is beyond our grasp, and being comfortably at one with the mystery and the conundrum of living with contradictions that cannot be resolved to our satisfaction. There is a region of Wyoming and another of Colorado that hold a strong attraction to the wealthy and well-heeled. Their willingness to pay any price to live there has raised prices to the point where the people who trim the lawns and prepare the food, and serve the tables, and keep the houses, etc. cannot afford to live there. "Poverty with a view," they call it, on their way out of town to lives they can afford to live in other parts of the country. Leaving the wealthy and well-heeled with being able to afford to live in beautiful surroundings with no supporting staff to tend their needs. This is not, as they say, "a third-world problem." But. Even the third-world has problems like this in a different context. We want things that interfere with other things we want, and "Why can't we have it ALL???" Entering through the Gateless Gate enables/requires us to be at peace with the way of things that present themselves like this: "This is the way things are, and this is what you can do about it, and this is the way things are." One thing rules out another. If we can make our peace with that, we have it made. Acquiescence and accommodation, Kid. Acquiescence and accommodation.
The Gateless Gate is to be found in every landscape, in all situations. It only takes remembering this is so for it to be so, standing before us to turn the light around, bringing perspective and perception to bear on this here and now, transporting us, shifting us, from the rational, physical world of logic and reason, morality and ethics-- transcending the world of give and take, conquer and humiliate-- and opening us to the spiritual world of seeing and hearing, perceiving and realizing, knowing and doing, being and becoming aligned with the flow of life through all situations and circumstances, where we exhibit/express our innate and original nature in doing what needs to be done where it needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done, because it needs to be done, no matter what, in each situation as it arises, all our life long. This is the universal covenant of life with itself and its lived environment. And when we break the covenant, it all falls apart until we realign ourselves with the flow of life, and take up our role in the process of seeing and doing, apprehending and responding to the need of the moment, with the gifts we bring to the moment, for the well-being of life as a whole. The Gate supplies us with the mental shift that is needed to turn the light around and re-orient ourselves from seizing, forcing, striving, achieving... to seeing, hearing, knowing, doing, being... at one with ourselves and each other and all sentient beings in balance and harmony with all. The Gate is real and we are Gate-keepers, honoring the Gate and keeping it open to the flow of life and being between the worlds of physical reality and spiritual reality-- each supporting the other for the good of the whole, from generation to generation, world without end. It is the way. And it is time for us to be about it.
The Gateless Gate is what we step through in engaging our other side, our spirit side, our spiritual self, our psyche-self, in being who Carl Jung was describing when he said, "A hermit is a primitive person (An original person, a natural person, "as one thus come"-- the Buddha-Christ we are all capable of being, and called to be by consciously, deliberately, intentionally "turning the light around," and stepping through the gateless gate) "A hermit is a primitive person who trusts his/her unconscious." When we step through the Gateless Gate, we become who we are, who we also are, in being intuitive, instinctive, imaginative, spontaneous, innocent-as-in-childlike, just so, open to knowing what we know, knowing what's what, knowing what is called for in each situation as it arises, and rising to the occasion on every occasion, by doing what needs to be done in the right way at the right time and letting that be that without "letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing." We live in times that call for us to use the Gateless Gate in turning the light around and responding to the moment in the strength of our eternally present Psyche-self in doing what is needed because it is needed no matter what, time after time. The more we do that, the better we get at it, and the times need us to be really good at it all of the time.
The Gateless Gate stands before us in each moment, inviting us to step through and flip our perspective in order to see what we look at, hear what the situation is calling for, know what needs to be done and do it with our original nature and the virtues that arrived tucked inside of us at birth. This is the Sisyphean task of life waiting for us in all the days of our life. It is job security, and we get plenty or practice in sizing things up, being right about what is happening and what needs to be done in response, doing it and stepping into the next situation that flows automatically from this one. The trick is mastering the Gateless Gate, turning the light around, and switching from a logical/rational/intellectual approach in knowing what to do when and how, to an intuitive/instinctive/imaginative/metaphorical/mythological approach to living in the moment aligned with the Tao and living to balance Yin and Yang through all of the days of our life. With so much on the line, you might expect that we would be better prepared to meet what faces us and know how to use the tools at our disposal. But. Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda are not to be found, and we are on our own in finding our way to enlisting in the service of the Force and meeting the day as the day needs to be met every day. The way opens before us as we start walking. Watch for what catches your eye, and look closer. Think twice about dismissing, discounting, disregarding, ignoring what greets you along the way. Help is always there for those who know how to avail themselves of it. Savvy?
We make it all up as we go. All of it. It means just what we say it means. Reality isn't what it's cracked up to be. Illusion is more to the point. We say what is so and not so. And we change our mind all the time. Or never. However it seems to fit. We say money matters most of all. And everything revolves around money. So, where does boredom come from? We live in the pursuit of money and if we slow down for a second, or, godforbid, stop, we are bored, just like that. We are bored because we are making it all up and nothing matters more than money. And what is money good for? Paying the bills. And what are the bills worth paying? We have no idea. We are just making it up here, and we do not know what really matters. Everything is BOORRRIINNNGGG!!! After a while. Billionaires are the most bored, and boring, people in the world. They buy governments just to toy around with. They are just manipulating peoples' lives. For the hell of it. Because they can. They don't care. They are bored. Because they don't care. What's worth caring about? They don't know. We don't know. All we can think of to buy with money are distractions. Diversions. To take our mind off being bored. We don't know what would make life worth living. What we would love to spend all of our time doing. What would we love to spend all of our time doing? What would we live to do? Why don't we know? Why aren't we doing it? We would die to know. We die not knowing. Why? Because we cannot make up something worth dying for. Something worth living for. We can only imagine the boring stuff. The real stuff is painful. Like dying. We don't have anything to do with that. Silence. How much silence can you take? Being still. How still can you be for how long? Empty. We live our life trying not to be empty. Nothing is more real than silence, stillness and emptiness. We can't stand any of that. Yet, they are the doorway, or better, the Gateless Gate. To enlightenment. Realization. Recognition. Awareness. Knowing what's what, and what is called for, and what needs us to do it, in each situation as it arises. And we don't make any of that up. It is just there. Waiting. Calling our name. Asking us to die to ourselves that we might live to ourselves. And be who we are. Serving our original nature and the virtues that are ours to share with the world. What are we going to do?
Ogi Overman said, "None of the alcoholics I've ever known-- and he knows a lot-- ever wanted anything more than smooth and easy." And being drunk or high, or drunk and high, were the only things that came close. Growing up is taking it as it comes. One day at a time. And doing what needs to be done with it. This is the work of maturation, how well we handle getting up and doing what needs to be done again in every situation that arises, for as long as there are situations. Getting that down, so that there isn't even a pause or a hesitation between seeing/hearing/knowing what needs to be done and doing it is the Way seekers seek. The Way is smoothly, easily, going about the tasks that need to be done, day in and day out-- because they need to be done, and not because of what we will get when we do it. We get to do it again is what we get, in the next situation that comes along, and one situation always follows another! Waking up is waking up to that. Being enlightened is realizing that. Becoming a sage is doing that. It isn't what we know and can explain that sets us apart on the path, but knowing what needs to be done and doing it. That is what we are about here, seeking to know what needs to be done and doing it. But everyone thinks it is about seeing the link-- making the connections-- that causes everything to fall into place, and life becomes smooth and easy like that (snaps fingers). It's only about the smoothness with which we easily get up and do what needs to be done. Making the mental shift regarding the meaning of "smooth and easy," turns the light around and steps through the Gateless Gate into Beulah Land in the midst of life here and now. And that is enlightenment. Smooth and easy.
Living out of our original nature, serving and sharing the virtues that come with us from the womb, is Buddha-hood, is Christ-centered, is being who we are. Babies come out of the delivery room being who they are, and spend the rest of their lives trying to not be who they are in order to get what they want. Ask any guru worthy of the title and they will tell you that leaving what we want at the door is the price we pay to be who we are. The way back to Eden is guarded by an angel with a flaming sword. To get back in, we have to die. Dying in this sense is metaphorical, just like dying with Christ on the cross is metaphorical, and the death/resurrection motif around Jesus is also metaphorical. We "die" to having our way in order to be "resurrected" in being who we are. All good religion is grounded on metaphor. All bad religion is grounded on facts. And so, we have to be saved from those who would save us in order to be restored to ourselves, living out of our original nature and serving/sharing the virtues that come with us from the womb. The path to doing that is the path to life, is the Way of Life, is all there is. Turn the light around! Enter through the Gateless Gate! Transform your perspective! Transcend the way you think is the way, and take up the way that is the Way. By being who you are at the expense of what you want.
Two realizations form the ground of the Gateless Gate and Turning The Light Around: 1) We are fine right now, just as we are. 2) We will be fine no matter what, just as we are. "Just as we are" consists entirely of our original nature and the virtues that came with us from the womb. Our original nature, replete with its virtues are all we need to find what we need to be who we are in whatever landscape-- in whatever conditions and circumstances-- we find ourselves in in every here and now that comes along. We do not need more than we have in our original nature and its virtues. This is a foundational realization. It is all of the enlightenment we need. We are fine just as we are. But. There is a catch. We have to be just as we are for it to take effect. For us to be fine just as we are, we have to be just as we are. At one with, in sync with, aligned with, in accord with, our original nature and its virtues. If we are ever going to be anything, let it be that. Aligned with our original nature and its virtues, we are in full accord with the Tao, the Source of the source of heaven and earth and all there is and ever will be-- which is to say, "The way things are and the way things need to be." The work of being aligned with our original nature and its virtues is the work of managing our contradictions, in the service of balance and harmony, conducted in the emptiness, stillness and silence, waiting for the clarity that comes when the mud settles and the water clears, and the Way opens before us inviting us to step into the adventure of being alive. Just as we are.
Qi is understood by the old Taoists to be the vital life force enabling, sustaining, maintaining all sentient beings, all living things. When we use up our Qi it is all over, good-bye. Our place is to use our Qi in the service of the right things. This is where the Tao comes into play. To be in accord with the Tao, we do the right things in the right place at the right time in the right way. Tomato plants and cats-- and all sentient beings other than human beings-- are in accord with the Tao and use their allotment of Qi wisely. Humans interfere with Tao and Qi by having ideas of how things ought to be that are not how things ought to be. How things ought to be is all things doing the right things in the right place at the right time in the right way. Forget how we want things to be. How do things need to be? That is the question we must know how to answer if we are to make the best use of our Qi and live in accord with the Tao of life and being. How do we know? We know through the quality of our relationship with the right kind of emptiness, stillness and silence, while maintaining the balance and harmony among the contradictions/dichotomies/polarities at work in our life, in the service of our original nature and its virtues. The Way (Tao ) is a natural extension/expression of our original nature and its virtues being exhibited in the right place, at the right time, in the right way. Spontaneously, naturally, sincerely-- without agenda, opinion or motive beyond seeing what needs to be done and doing it for nothing more than the intrinsic joy of doing it and the satisfaction of having done it. And we do it by not striving/trying/endeavoring to do it. Which is wu-wei, meaning achieving without trying to achieve-- as a by-product of Qi and Tao at work in our life. To live in right relationship with Qi, Tao and wu-wei, we have to turn the light around, enter through the Gateless Gate, shift our perspective, flip our typical way of thinking and doing, and open ourselves to the world of what needs to be done here and now in each situation as it arises through all the days of our life. It is as simple as it is out of the question.
The British blessing, "Mind how you go," is a regular reminder, "It matters how you live!" We need reminding. We don't dismiss, disregard, disrespect, discount anything any faster than how we live. If we lived like it mattered how we live, we would enter through the Gateless Gate, Turn The Light Around, and take up the disciplines essential to the establishment and maintenance of a lifestyle that sustains us in the flow of the Tao-- of the Way, of the Path that is not discernible as a path-- routinely, absentmindedly, automatically, naturally, spontaneously in each situation as it arises. Spiritual practices are called "spiritual disciplines," because they require us to mind how we go. And need I say at this point in our relationship, yours and mine, me with you, that "spiritual" has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with theology/doctrine/dogma/ dharma-as-rules-of-the-masters. There are no black footprints to follow on the path-that-cannot-be- discerned-as-a-path! All we have to go on are our original nature and the virtues essential to it that came packed inside us from the womb. And it takes the disciplines of life-in-the-spirit-that-is- ours-from-birth to connect us with the path that is our path back to the truth of who we are. Your disciplines are unique to you. You cannot use mine to your advantage. You are stuck with having to discover, uncover, recover your own. And you cannot mind how you go without doing that! It matters how you live! Savvy?
Bodhisattva's are very savvy people who meet all of the requirements for enlightenment and the trip to the farther shore, but delay their advent to Nirvana in order to remain earthbound for the sake of those who would be lost without them. Which in to say, they understand the meaning of the Gateless Gate and Turning The Light Around, and understand Nirvana, Beulah Land, Heaven, The Elysian Fields, Paradise, etc. to be right here, right now, for everyone with eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand. This is Realized Eschatology brought about by flipping the script and seeing the optical illusion for what it is, walking two paths at the same time and living with a foot in each world-- so that all of us become Bodhisattva's like that (snaps fingers) with the realization of what's what and how things are, and what that means for us here and now. It means knowing what needs to be done and doing it when it needs to be done, where it needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, in each situation as it arises, all our life long-- for the joy of doing it and the satisfaction of having done it, moment by moment, day by day. That is all there is to it. Bodhisattva-hood rides on this realization and embodiment along. Welcome to the club, all of those with eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart that understands!
The Gateless Gate is, to my way of reckoning, an implied “Eye of the Needle,” which is the transition point between the world as it is and the world as it needs to be, waiting for us to step through and be amazed, constantly, as the everlasting steady state of being.
Nothing can happen to us that we can't make better or worse by the way we respond to it. The power of perspective is the super power of super powers, transforming the world and what it means to us simply by the way we choose to look at it. Something happens and we say/do something in response. The space between the happening and the saying/doing is the fulcrum, the pivot point, between present and future. It is "the still point of the turning world" (T.S. Eliot). And we stand there, levering the present into some future using the power of perspective to decipher, interpret, exegete, elucidate, explain, translate and mobilize a rejoinder in the space of no time at all. This is the force of hermeneutics at work in the world. And, it is the magic of the Gateless Gate and of Turning The Light Around. It is the imaginative shift that puts us in accord with the Tao and aligns us with the possibilities inherent in this moment right now to see what's what and what needs to be done about it in adjusting karma for the good of the whole. What we say about what's what makes all the difference. Saying shapes doing and leads the way in creating the life we live from this point on. What we say depends on how we see. How we see depends upon how we look, and what we look for-- and how unbiased and nonpartisan we are in appraising the occurrences concurrent with each situation as it arises. How free are we to see what we look at? What do we bring to the moment that interferes with our ability to be present with what is present with us there? How clouded is our mind? How disturbed are the waters of our mind? How often do we apprehend "the world" and what is happening there with a mind that is rested and calm, still and quiet, clear and receptive like a clean mirror that "sees" everything that comes before it? How clearly do we see what we look at? How do the noise, clutter, complexity, confusion, drama and turmoil of our Umwelten interfere with our ability to see accurately what is happening and what needs to be done about it? How do we "cleanse the doorways of perception" (Aldous Huxley) in order to transcend the moment and see it for what it is? And do there what is called for?
The Gateless Gate is everywhere, waiting for those with eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart that understands to flip the script, turn the light around, know what they know, return to their original nature, express the virtues that are theirs from the start in doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, where it needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, for the joy of doing it and the satisfaction of having done it, as a boon and a blessing upon the time and place of their living in each situation as it arises all their life long. That is all there is to it. And it has always been there, waiting. And it always will be.
The Gateless Gate is an implied Eye of the Neetle, letting people in, and keeping people out, of Beulah Land, the Promised Land, Heaven, Nirvana, the Elysian Fields, the Farther Shore, the Happy Hunting Grounds and all the other idyllic destinations of lore. And, it is everywhere we are, right here, right now, in every moment. "The kingdom of heaven is spread out over the earth," said Jesus, "and no one sees it." Because we are looking for the wrong thing. That is what the Gateless Gate stands for, exhibits, expresses! In order to see what is before us we have to change our mind about what we are looking for. We have to stop thinking and start perceiving, sensing, feeling, intuiting, trusting our instincts and our unconscious in leading us to know what we know and follow what we know to be so through the Gateless Gate into the wonder of being here now, with nothing to do but to enjoy the radiance and reflect it in all that we do. It sounds crazy until you stop thinking about it, and laugh.
The message of the Gateless Gate is "Turn The Light Around!" It is all that anyone who knows what they are talking about ever says. It is all that can be said. All that needs to be said. To say more is to distract people from the business of turning the light around. Instructions, directions, commands, explanations, exhortations, threats, promises, doctrines, dogma, theology... All the talk, talk, talk, comes down to "Turn the light around!" What that means is, "Change your mind about what is important! And keep changing it until you get it right!" That's all Jesus had to say. And the Buddha. Sin is being wrong about what is important. And delusion. Enlightenment and salvation are being right about what is important. Knowing what matters in each situation as it arises-- seeing what needs to be done and doing it-- is all it comes down to ever. We are one slight perspective shift away from seeing/hearing/knowing/doing/being. Having the transforming, life-altering, insight is stepping through the Gateless Gate. Turning the light around. And living in light of what is truly important throughout the time left for living. If you think it is about something else, you are wrong. Turn the light around!
Sunflowers have become The Gateless Gate as we have become engaged in the transformation from flower to symbol of hope and relentless determination in the service of the Light. "Turning the Light Around" is another term for "The Gateless Gate" in the Taoist tradition. It is the process whereby one thing becomes another by the way our perspective shifts in the work of transcendence and transformation. We experience something similar in the presence of optical illusions, where one thing becomes another before our eyes. The old Buddhist designation of reality as "Illusion," is a perfect example of one thing, not only becoming, but also being, quite another. This is caught up in another reference to enlightenment with the phrase, "The way to the Way is also the Way," meaning that everything is a doorway, a threshold, a Gateless Gate, instantly transporting us from here and now to the wonders of the Farther Shore, Sweet Beulah Land, Nirvana, the Elysian Fields, the Promised Land and all the other designations available on the other side of "the doors of perception." All it takes is seeing in order to see. We will never see a sunflower the same way we have seen sunflowers now that we have finally, at last, seen a sunflower for what else it also is! The Gateless Gate!
My friend Bill Hamilton came upon his friend Alan Stacell throwing stretched canvases of his artwork into the bed of his pickup. Bill asked him what he was doing. Alan said he was taking the canvases to the dump in order to make room in his art shed to store more. Bill confessed to not understanding throwing art way to make a place for more art. Alan said, "I paint like a dog wags its tail!" When we make making money from what we do the point and purpose of what we do, we lose sight of the importance of doing what we do for the sake of doing it the way it needs to be done for experience and joy of doing it-- and the satisfaction of having done it-- alone. When we do what we do for the sole purpose of doing it, and doing it well, getting it right, doing it the way it needs to be done, here and now, we are transformed by it, become better at it, and transcend the popular understanding of motivation, purpose, and reasons why we do anything-- pass through The Gateless Gate, and live to be who we are, doing what we do, "like a dog wags its tail."
The old Taoists (And Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell, and others) would say, "Get out of your thinking brain and into your instinctive/intuitive brain! You are never going to think your way into living in accord with the Tao!" They wouldn't mean that we can live separated from our thinking brain. They would mean we have to live in sync with both brains to have a chance in this world. Getting out of our thinking brain is a stark reminder of the work that is ours to do in seeking to harmonize yin and yang by getting our two brains--the rational, logical, analytical, thinking brain, and the metaphorical, symbolic, mythological, sensing, feeling, instinctive/intuitive brain-- to come together in collaboration with all of the tasks of life, particularly in finding and living the life that is ours to live, incorporating the virtues/gifts/daemon/abilities/genius/etc. that came with us from the womb within the context and circumstances of our life in the world, as tightly structured and resistant to non-sense as this world is. In order to do it, we are going to have to take up the practice of emptiness (the right kind), stillness and silence-- sitting quietly on a regular basis, waiting for the mud to settle and the water to clear, to see and hear what might arise unbidden "out of nowhere" to inspire our action in the field of action and opening paths we never would have Thought to take. We have put it off long enough! Our other brain wants very much to commune with us now!
It comes down to perspective. It is all about perspective. It is perspective all the way down. How we look at what we see determines everything that follows. We cannot change what we are doing until we change how we see-- how we look at, how we think about-- what we see when we look. This is what The Gateless Gate is doing in our life. It is saying, "You aren't going to find what you are looking for until you change how you are looking!" Or, as someone said not long ago, "Get out of your thinking brain! And get into your perceiving/intuiting/sensing/instinctive brain!" Until we change our perspective, the world is going to look like it always does. And we are going to act like we always have. Nothing is going to change until how we see what we look at changes.
What we all are seeking is how to deal successfully with what comes our way-- with what our life has brought us, is bringing us-- with our life as it is here and now. We are all looking for how to live with what we have to live with, day in and day out, all our life long. Denial and entertainment can only take us so far. Everything dries up and blows away after a while. What can spark us eternally? What can keep the fire going day after day, forever? Boredom is our bane. We have to do it again. Sisyphus has nothing on us! We have to get up and start pushing some boulder again today every day. Every. Damn. Day. The things we hate are the things we hate and they are always there. Laughing at us. All of our diversions and distractions become part of the things we hate, and we hate the things we used to use to escape from the things we hate. Sex, drugs and alcohol don't do it for us anymore! Then what??? WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE??? All the little lambs wake up sooner or later as night begins to fall, baahhhing for mama. Well. It is never too late to find what we are looking for. The Gateless Gate is everywhere, waiting for us to walk through by shifting our perspective, changing our mind, and seeing, finally, what's what and what needs to be done about it, with it, with the virtues/gifts/genius/daemon that are ours to serve at last, and share, in the time left for living.
The Wasteland is the polar opposite of Beulah Land. We live in one or the other, or at the still point between the two. "The still point of the turning world" (TS Eliot) is the vantage point, the viewpoint, the fulcrum, the place of seeing-- of seeing our seeing, and laughing at the absurdity of ever thinking we see. "Is it this way or that way?" Or neither? Or both? Or more? The answer is "It all depends," and "Wait and see," because "it" is transforming, shifting, changing, metamorphosisizing as we watch. If we both, we all, look at the same thing and see what we look at, we will see something different-- because of who is doing the looking/seeing. What we "see" is an abstraction, a projection, an elaboration, an extension, of "what is there." We add to/subtract from what we look at, and it "means" something different to everyone who looks, seeing, thinking they see. The important thing-- the only thing that matters-- is what we do about it, because of it, in response to it. How we live around it, because of it. What becomes of us and our life in relationship with it. What we see is meaningless, no matter what we say about it, until/unless it impacts our life in some way, for better or for worse. What do we do about it? Seeing what's what is doing what needs to be done about it. What is called for? What is it asking for? What does it require of us? Demand of us? How do we respond? We look and see the Wasteland. We look and see Beulah Land. We look and see how our seeing impacts/transforms/determines/defines our living, our being, and take matters into our own hands at the still point of the turning world in living toward our understanding of, our vision of, what is necessary here and now. Our perception of what we look at, of what we see, transforms us and the world around us, and shifts as our seeing shifts in looking at an optical illusion. External reality is an optical illusion. So is internal reality. It is all "in process," in motion, becoming something else as we watch. We have the power of perception, which is the power of seeing our seeing and deciding what to do about it. What we do because of what we see identifies us, defines us, brings us forth, and we become what is important to us by clarifying what is important by the way we respond to life events-- by the way we respond to how we see, interpret, understand, explain, exegete life events. How we live in the world is a reflection of the way we view the world. And we determine that by the way we see our seeing and choose what to do about it. And how easily we laugh at the very idea of knowing what we are doing!
What we all are seeking is how to deal successfully with what comes our way-- with what our life has brought us-- with our life as it is here and now. We are all looking for how to live with what we have to live with, day in and day out, all our life long. Denial and entertainment can only take us so far. Everything dries up and blows away after a while. What can spark us eternally? What can keep the fire going day after day, forever? Boredom is our bane. We have to do it again. Sisyphus has nothing on us! We have to get up and start pushing some boulder again today every day. Every. Damn. Day. The things we hate are the things we hate and they are always there. Laughing at us. All of our diversions and distractions become part of the things we hate, and we hate the things we used to use to escape from the things we hate. Sex, drugs and alcohol don't do it for us anymore! Then what??? Oh, SHIT!!! WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE??? All the little lambs wake up sooner or later as night begins to fall, baahhhing for mama. Well. It is never too late to find what we are looking for. The Gateless Gate is everywhere, waiting for us to walk through by shifting our perspective, changing our mind, and seeing, finally, what's what and what needs to be done about it, with it, with the virtues/gifts/genius/daemon that are ours to serve at last, and share, in the time left for living.
Alex Carrel said that we are the sculptor and we are the stone. That being the case, what do we need preachers for? Or gurus? Or mentors? When do we call in Obi-wan Kenobi? Or tell Yoda a thing or two? When does anyone in that group ever quit asking questions? Or examining themselves? If you said, "Never!", you're making my point for me and I can go sit by the fire, and look out the window. (We see everything, looking out the window) Point is, we are our own critic. Our own guide. The pilot of our own boat on its path through the sea. Who guides the birds on their path through the sky? The birds find their own way to where they are going! If a bird can do it, we can, too! If we keep the two commandments of the Way: Ask all the questions that beg to be asked! Say all the things that cry out to be said! That is all there is to it! No one ever lived in accord with the Tao without doing those two things every step along the Way. That is all the advice and guidance anyone needs for the Journey, and everybody discovers it for themselves right out of the gate (That's the Gateless Gate I'm speaking of-- and they discover that, too).
We have to devote ourselves to a practice that brings us forth if we want to see. I no sooner say that than you begin to think, "What would that be?" Stop it. You will never think of it. If we want to see, we have to move beyond the boundaries of thinking. Look around. Everything you see is the result of thinking. THIS is what thinking can do. THIS is all thinking can do. The best thinking realizes thinking isn't the way, and stops thinking. When we stop thinking, we open ourselves to that which is beyond thinking. The world beyond thinking is the world we call "The Unconscious," because we are not conscious of it. It is the world the ancient peoples called "The Invisible World," because they could not see it using their eyes. But, they could see it using the eyes of their heart. The Invisible World is the foundation, the ground, the source of the Visible World. We are to live in this world of visible, concrete, normal, apparent reality, as extensions, expressions, evidence of that world of invisible, intangible, immaterial, unapparent reality. The good ideas come from nowhere. The bad ideas come from the rejection of the good ideas. From having a better idea. Our story is the story of the Garden of Eden. The Story of the Better Idea. It has never worked out so well, but that doesn't stop us, or even slow us down. We know what it takes. We know where True Value is found. It is always More Of What Has Never Been Enough! And no one can talk us out of it! So, here we are. Having to devote ourselves to a practice that will bring us forth in order that we might see. And we can't think it up. We have to empty ourselves of all fear/desire (even the desire to be empty)/ anger/hatred/jealously/duty-dharma/etc., and wait in the stillness and the silence to see what arises/emerges/appears out of nowhere to call us, inspire us, compel us to take up the practice that brings us forth. "Darkness within darkness-- the gateway to mystery" (Lao Tzu). That's the Gateless Gate he's talking about.
The key to balance and harmony is living in accord with our original nature, serving and sharing the virtues/gifts/genius/daemon that are ours from birth in doing what needs to be done, when, where, and how it needs to be done, in each situation as it arises, all our life long. This is also called "doing what we love," and "following our bliss," even when we aren't in the mood and there is nothing in it for us beyond the joy of doing it and the satisfaction of having done it. This "flips the switch," "turns the light around," transforms our perspective and is equivalent to passing through the Gateless Gate of the Tao/Zen tradition (Zen is what happened when Buddhism met Taoism, and is far more Taoist than Buddhist)-- by changing our motivation/guidance/direction from knowing and finding and serving what we want, to being and doing who we are. And that changes everything. This is religion without theology, and truth without doctrine-- and we have to go no further in validating its validity than the right kind of emptiness (The right kind being empty of everything, all fear/desire/anxiety/duty, like the space between breaths when all you are aware of is breathing), stillness and silence. It is the foundation of enlightenment (Which is merely knowing what's what and what needs to be done about it, in response to it, moment by moment) and the boat to the Father Shore, and the key to being here, now. And I'm glad to be able to point the way to the Way, which is also the Way. It only takes seeing to see that it is so. See?
We get to our original nature by being clear about what is "me" and what is "not me," what is our "primary mask," and what is our "antithetical mask," what is authentic about us and what is affectation. What is "just us," and what is "the me we wish we were"? Our authentic self is awash in our original nature, and reeks of the virtues that are ours from birth, exhibiting "the face that was ours before our grandparents were born." Our authentic self waits for us to relax ourselves into all that "we always have been, and what we will be." Why the resistance? Why even any hesitation? Relaxing is being natural. And in itself alone, adds years of congeniality and cordiality to our life. Why wouldn't we go for that the rest of the way? It is the truest thing there is about us. Why would we run from that? The Gateless Gate reminds us that we are only a slight perspective shift away!
Seeing happens in its own time, in its own way, if we stay out of the way and allow things to unfold according to their own accord-- just waiting, just watching, for the mud to settle and the water to clear. Too much noise and complexity in our life keeps that from happening until we learn the secret of dropping into emptiness, stillness and silence amid the clashing rocks and heaving waves, becoming the still point of the turning world by remembering the Gateless Gate is nothing more than a slight shift in perspective. And just like that, we ""turn the light around, "a door opens where there was no door," and "a new day has begun."
It takes a "We" to make an "I." We think "It takes two "I's" to make a "We." As though any two "I's" will do. It it isn't the right two "I's," it will never make a "We." And it will never make an "I" either, no matter how many babies it produces. In order for two "I's" to be right for a "We," each "I" has to be mutually accommodating. And if one "I" can't manage that, the other "I" has to accommodate its failure to be accommodated, and still make being with it a really good place to be. In order for one "I" to be able to do the work of two "I's," it has to be that wheel turning out of its own center that Nietzsche talked about being the goal/essence of maturity. To do that, that "I" must be incredibly gifted from the start in seeing what is needed on all levels and doing what is called for in each situation as it arises. That's an Old Soul from birth for you, and there aren't many of them around. There aren't many of the right kind of "We's" around, either. Mostly, we are a collection of "Wannabe-I's" drifting lost and alone through the Wasteland, packing together in a collective "Wannabe-We," seeking what they need to be a Self, snarly and pissy, woebegone and depressed, because they don't have the right combination of possibilities for it to happen. Nails the culture pretty well, I must say. What to do about it is what matters most. How does an "I" successfully self-emerge? Without an adequate "We" to give it birth? By learning and applying the trick of "Adequate We-ness." "Adequate We-ness" is a communal affair where "Insufficient-I's" come together with "Sufficient-I's" to form a community devoted to providing an environment conducive to the self-development of its members. We grow each other up by being a safe place for each other to be while we consciously experience/explore the agony of self-emergence. AA can be this kind of place. Some religious organizations can do it. Maybe a bridge club or a poker group can manage it. We are looking for the right kind of family substitute-- the right kind of artificial "We"-- to create, sustain, maintain and direct the development of the right kind of "I." And, whether natural or artificial, the right kind of "We" that is capable of producing the right kind of "I" has to make the Gateless Gate the essential feature of what it has to offer.
The life of your dreams is a simple matter of adjusting your dreams. Or, to put it another way, of changing your mind about what's important. Nothing is more important than being right about what's important-- and living in its service. We all think we know what's important. How many of us are right about it? Growing up is about changing our mind about what's important-- to the point of being right about it. Maturity is being right about what's important, and doing what that implies, requires. It's a function of time spent in the right way. Enlightenment is the outcome of time spent in the right way, so that we see (at last) what is important and do it. This is also known as salvation, changing our mind about what matters most, and being right about it, and paying fealty to it all our life long. This kind of change of mind is the function of the Gateless Gate in our life. Everybody lives to have what they want. How do they know what to want? How many of us want what we ought to want? How many of us care about what we ought to want? There are things we ought to do that have nothing to do with what the culture/society/duty say we ought to do. We ought to do what our life wants us to do whether we want to or not. This is the battle of the oughts. We ought to do what is ours to do-- what needs us to do it-- whether or not anyone agrees that it ought to be done. We live to know what is important, to know what needs to be done, to know what ought to be done, and to do it, even if society calls us a heretic and burns us at the stake.
Everything depends on our making the connection-- that Carl Jung called the Mysterium Coniunctionis-- between "this" and "that." For example, there is "the task," and there is our enthusiasm for "the task." What is the connection? Upon what does our enthusiasm for the task, any task, depend? Everything depends upon that! Everything depends upon our enthusiasm for the task, no matter what task it might be. If it needs to be done, that should be all that is necessary to evoke our enthusiasm for doing it. But we know it doesn't work that way? Why not??? Upon what does our enthusiasm for the task depend? We think we have to care about the task, as though the task elicits our response to the task. If it is a task we deem to be worthy of us, if we are drawn to it as a moth to the flame, well fine, of course, we will do it, gladly, exactly as it needs to be done. We do not do lovingly any task that does not inspire love within us for it. We wait for a task we can feel like doing with all our heart. But. Why hold anything back? Why not love everything just as it is? "Do not judge," said Jesus. "Live as though you love your neighbor as yourself, whether you do or not," said Jesus. "Live so lovingly with your neighbor that your neighbor can't tell if your love her/him or not! Live so lovingly with your neighbor that YOU can't tell whether you love him/her or not!!!" said Jesus. Get it? The mystery in the Mysterium Coniunctionis, is how we disappear in acting as though there is no contradiction involved in doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, where it needs to be done, how it needs to be done, because it needs to be done. We disappear in doing the deed that needs us to do it. This is what we were born for. This is who we are. What do we mean by holding anything back? Whose side are we on? Get it? We step through the Gateless Gate, and disappear.
The only difference between a bad day and a good day is a shift in perspective. Flipping perspectives is the role of the Gateless Gate. The essential act of turning the light around is the back-and-forth, "edge-of-the-coin" optical illusion transition from rational/logical/left-brain seeing to metaphorical/symbolic/instinctive/intuitive/right-brain seeing. If you can master that vantage point, you will be straddling the Gateless Gate, looking right and left, or left and right, and seeing different worlds "without leaving home." That puts you "at the still point of the turning world" (T.S. Eliot), at the fulcrum between worlds, able to shift one world into the other just by changing the way you think about what you are seeing. Nothing is only what it appears to be. Everything can appear to be something else just by the way we look at it. Practice it on your parents, and on your children, on everyone you meet. Become proficient in seeing everything "from all sides." And don't let anyone get by with one-way-only-seeing-- particularly yourself!
The Gateless Gate is the fulcrum, the swing point between worlds, brought about by a slight shift in perspective, which is the gift of enlightenment, "turning the light around" and enabling us to see "this world" of rational, logical, intellectual, factual, concrete understanding of how things are, and "the other world" of metaphorical, symbolic, instinctive, intuitive, wholistic, non-linear, seeing-knowing ways of understanding how things are-- always including a "felt sense" of what to do about it, that logic and reason can't grasp at all, or, grasping, dismiss it instantly as "woo-hoo-woo-hoo," and have nothing further to do with it. I've included my symbol of the Gateless Gate in 62 images, with two more to go. The number 64 is wholeness itself, is complete, is good, and is a doorway, or a gateway, into infinity, reflecting as it does the implied presence of the Gateless Gate in every landscape, in every photography, in every moment of every situation as it arises through-out time. 64 is 8 squared. 8 is the symbol of infinity. Infinity squared is beyond thinking/experiencing, and is way more than is necessary (One would think) for getting the transitional/perspective shift that takes us from this world into that world and opens us to the wonder of the mystery of Just Seeing, Just Knowing and, therefore, Just Doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, where it needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, because it needs to be done, and that's that. That. Is. All. There. Is. And 64 hints of Gatelessness is all we need to get it, if we are ever going to get it, because it is already here, now along with the Father Shore, and there is nothing to do to see it, beyond the shift in perspective that allows it. Like the optical illusion it is.
The only thing standing between us and everlasting joy and satisfaction is a slight shift in perspective. Perspective is a superpower. The Elder Wand. It transforms everything. Nothing is so bad that it can't be made better by changing the way we look at it. Our relationship with ourselves, our life, one another and the world at large can be renewed, reshaped, reformed simply by changing our perspective about all these areas. We don't have to see things as we do. We don't have to think about things as we do. We do not have to threat things as we do. We can change our mind about everything. And change everything in so doing. We hold the power of the gods. How we use it tells the tale.
"The path that can be discerned as a path is not a reliable path." This is Martin Palmer's interpretation of the Lao Tzu's "The Tao that can be explained is not the eternal Tao." No maps. No words. No linear, sequential, step-by-step way to the Way. Teachers and masters are useless, except for being able to say "Teachers and masters are useless." And, "Don't listen to me! Listen to YOU!" And, "In listening to YOU, listen past all the noise to the core/center/source of you. "Empty yourself of all that interferes with knowing yourself, hearing yourself, listening to yourself, which means emptying yourself of everything-- even the desire to be empty. "Be the emptiness between breaths!" With that much instruction, we have all it takes to be on the way to the Way, which is, itself, the Way. "The Way to what?" To seeing, hearing, understanding, knowing, doing, being. "Understanding" means understanding there is nothing to understand, nothing that can be explained, defined, spelled-out, made clear... We are living out of our experience of what is here/now. Not out of our heads. The world is run out of heads. Everybody lives out of their heads. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Wanting, wanting, wanting. Striving, striving, striving... This situation that we all are now in is the result of that. That is the Wasteland. We are looking for the Gateless Gate that is the exit from the Wasteland to "the Land of Gentle Breezes/ Where the Peaceful Waters Flow" (Anne Murray, "Snowbird"). The Gateless Gate is the transition place, the fulcrum, the pivot point, between not-seeing and seeing, not-knowing and knowing, striving-but-not-doing and wu-wei. Between the Wasteland and Home. At Home, we live out of a spontaneous response to our experience of here/now, where there is very little thinking/planning/scheming/ conniving/striving in the service of advantage/gain/merit/payoff/wealth/ privilege/status and only living/seeing/doing in balance and harmony between "the great flow of circumstances" and "The Way of being in accord with the Tao," which is seeing/knowing our experience of here/now and responding to it in ways that are appropriate to the occasion, in each situation as it arises. Doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. And letting that be that. Spontaneously, in tune with the moment. Situation by situation. Period. This is the perspective that is the Elder Wand which transcends and transforms the world one situation at a time. And is the alternative to life as we know it. Waiting for us to take up the search for the Holy Grail from the Wasteland to Home by the way we respond to here/now, one after another. The Mystery of Yin-Yang, of Living/Being/Seeing/Doing by not doing anything special at all. Just ordinarily going about business as usual in a very unusual way.
There is the Great Flow of Circumstances, with "one damn thing after another," and there is the Flow of Life and Being, in, around and through the circumstantial congestion of the times. How to move from one to the other is a matter of turning the light around, flipping the switch, looking again, and seeing what we look at, finally, at last, and doing what needs to be done about it. The Gateless Gate is the swing point between the worlds flowing through this world of time and place, the place of transition/transformation where the "doors of perception are cleared" (William Blake) and we know what's what: "This is the way things are, and this is what can/needs to be/must be done about it, and that's the way things are." The future of time and place depends upon what happens then. Once we see, what do we do? Upon the answer to that one teeters all things great and small. To know and not do, that's big. But, there is hope for the world in the next moment of each situation as it arises, where the same scenario plays out again, and again, through all eternity. What dies now has the possibility of being resurrected then, and all is never lost, merely delayed, sometimes through all those eternal cycles the Buddhists like to talk about, and sometimes not. It all depends on here/now, all the way down, and how well we sync up with the right flow and do what needs us to do it. In each situation as it arises. If you know what you know, you know what I mean.
We step out of the Flow of Circumstances into the Flow of Life and Being, and vice versa. "Going with the flow" raises the question of which flow we are going with. And how alive we are to the life we are asked to live in doing what needs to be done when, where and how it needs to be done, no matter what, throughout the time left for living. How do we take ourselves out of the Flow of Circumstances and place ourselves in the Flow of Life and Being? The right kind of emptiness, stillness and silence are the Gateless Gate of perception shifting us, transitioning us, between worlds. How empty, still and quiet can we be? For how long? That is the sluice gate between flows.
Everybody wants a better life, only a few are willing to do what it takes to have one. And, that's the story of the species. Lethargy keeps us where we are on every level. Maybe we feel guilty about it and we stay where we are. What would it take for us to get up and do what needs to be done? If only Powder Milk Biscuits would do it! It will take something other than that. It will take stepping through the Gateless Gate and Turning The Light Around! That is to say, changing our mind about what is important, and shifting our perspective enough to allow for a different point of view. It has never been any more difficult than that. What's it going to take to change our mind about what is important? Changing the metaphors directing how we think and live. What are the metaphors directing how we think and live? We don't even know what they are! They are so embedded in the way we think and live that we have no idea of how we are being bound and controlled. We know what we think is important, but we don't know what is actually so, or what truly needs to be so. How do we get to the bottom of it? How do we get to the bottom of who we are? How do we get to the bottom of what is directing our life, requiring us to think the way we think, see the way we see, feel the way we feel, and do the things we do? Who says we ought to do it the way we do it? Who are we trying to please? What are our dreams saying about these things? What is our body saying? What are our symptoms saying? How many ways do we attempt to show ourselves daily who we are and what we are doing, only for us to dismiss the obvious and continue doing what we have always done the way we always have done it? What excuses do we make that allow us to go on doing what we have always done the way we always have done it? Whose side are we on?
“The Gateless Gate” (Like “The Blue Cliff Record” before it”) is a collection of Zen (Zen is what happened when Buddhism met Taoism in China) Koans, or conundrums, like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”, that stood as “gates” to insight/enlightenment which disciples had to “open” in order to pass inspection by their master and be declared to be enlightened and worthy of all the respect such a state of being deserved. A “gateless gate” is, itself, a conundrum that makes no sense in a logical, rational, intellectual kind of way, but which “opens the way” to realization, enlightenment and awakening in a metaphorical, symbolic, intuitive, instinctive kind of way. The Way we are looking for is this kind of way. It is like this: A joke that has to be explained will not evoke laughter the way a joke that we “get” does. The Way that has to be explained in order to be known cannot be known. We do not chose our path. Our path chooses us. Our place is to say “YES!” to that which calls our name–and to know it is calling our name when it does. We do that by passing through the Gateless Gate–by experiencing the shift in perspective that transforms the world and makes all things new, and changes our life forever. And we wait for that to happen on its own, hoping that we will “get it” when it when the gate opens of its own accord and invites us to step through.
The Unfinished Circle and The Gateless Gate are my two favorite symbols/metaphors at this time and place of my life. They are two aspects of the same thing. I am unfinished and I am whole-- and all it takes is a shift in perspective to see that it is so. The Unfinished Circle is my unfinished/whole state, and The Gateless Gate is the requisite shift in perspective, that completes the incomplete circle, and brings me wholly into the here/now of my living. And here/now like that I can do what needs to be done about anything that comes along. Rising to every occasion. Offering what I have to give from the storehouse of my original nature and the spring of living water in the form of the virtues that are mine from birth. I am well-equipped to meet each moment in every situation as it arises all my life long. So are you! The Unfinished Circle, and The Gateless Gate declare it to be so! As they have through all the ages from the beginning to right now!
Everything is a matter of perspective. Perspective is all there is. How we see things IS how things are, or may as well be for all the difference not being would make. Happiness is perspective. Sorrow is perspective. Depression is perspective. Hopelessness is perspective. Cheerfulness is perspective. Etc. forever. Learning the trick of flipping perspective is absorbing the lesson of the Unfinished Circle and the Gateless Gate, and stepping into our life and each situation as it arises as those who are balanced and in harmony with all that is and how things are, ready to do business as business needs to be done. Nothing can stop those who know the trick of flipping perspective and are immune to the impact of whatever happens.
We can deal with anything living out of our original nature and the virtues that are ours from birth in conjunction with the right kind of emptiness, stillness and silence. Emptiness, stillness and silence are the matrix within which we develop our relationship with our nature and our virtues, and out of which we rise up to meet the world-- in each situation as it arises. Sizing up the situation and doing what needs to be done there, when, where and how it needs to be done, moment-by-moment, and are carried by the flow moving through one situation after another into the adventures of our life. This is life within the Tao, "Darkness within darkness, the gateway to mystery." And to life and being. Enter through the gateless gate, and walk upon the pathless path. It is the way.
The Wasteland is where people are unclear about what is important, and do not know what needs to be done, or where, when and how it needs to be done-- and don't care about knowing/doing these things. In The Wasteland, one thing is as good as another, one time is the same as another, and it does not matter how we live, as long as we are happy and doing what we want to do. In The Wasteland, we are happy to do what we are told to do if it pays well and enables us to do what we want to do with the rest of our life. In The Wasteland, everything is about money, and people will do whatever it takes to have all the money they want, and do whatever they want to do with it. The polar opposite of The Wasteland is Eden where people live to be who they are and do what needs to be done-- what needs them to do it-- when, where and how it needs to be done, whether they want to or not. The Return to Eden is what the rest of our life is to be about. It is a simple matter of knowing what is important and doing what needs to be done, when, where and how it needs to be done, in each situation as it arises throughout the time left for living. We are never more than a slight perspective shift away from The Wasteland to Eden. The trip from one to the other is only a matter of turning the light around and entering through the gateless gate "to the land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow" (Anne Murry, "Snowbird").