Entering the Gate

Apr. 23, 2010 - Posted by in: Blog - 8 Comments

My three-part workshop on the koans of Nyogen Senzaki, one of the first Zen teachers in America, begins at 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 27.  The first two parts (April 27, May 4) will include lecture and discussion.  The third part (May 18) will be a Dharma Dialogue — or “Dharma Combat”– open to all.  Together we’ll learn something of the life and times of this great American Zen pioneer and study some of the koans he handed down to us.

The text we’ll be using is the The Iron Flute, Senzaki’s translation and commentary on a famous 18th Century koan collection, available from Amazon.  This is a rich collection and would make an excellent addition to anyone’s Zen library.  Copies of the koan text will be distributed at each of the workshops. 

If you’d like to get a headstart on the koan that we’ll look at on Tuesday, it’s Case 1 of The Iron Flute, and runs as follows:

Manjushri Enters the Gate

One day Manjushri stood outside the gate when Buddha called to him.  “Manjushri, Manjushri, why do you not enter?”

“I do not see a thing outside the gate.  Why should I enter?”  Manjushri answered.



  1. 8 Responses to “Entering the Gate”

  2. Looking forward to it!

    By A. Jesse Jiryu Davis on Apr 23, 2010

  3. Outside, water is falling thickly from the sky. If I listen carefully, this water sometimes sounds like fire; at other times it sounds like millions of snakes. Stragglers melt under its influence.

    I am filled with water, and know where it came from, where it goes. So there’s no entering here, nor is there an exit. With one foot warm and the other cold, I trundle off to bed accompanied by the screeching of a ghost…


    By Bokushu on Apr 26, 2010

  4. I was so impressed with the story of Nyogen Senzaki’s life. How luck he was to have so many bad things happen to him. It makes me think of a Taoist story, which most of you have heard often. The version below is from my book \Living Positively in a World with HIV/AIDS\…

    - – - – - -

    \How Do You Know What’s Good News?\

    There is a Taoist story about a poor man who lived alone with his son in an abandoned shack outside of a small village. Their only possession was a very old workhorse. One day, the workhorse ran away. Hearing of this, all the poor man’s friends felt sorry for him: \That is so terrible for you,\ they said. The poor man simply answered, \How do you know?\

    The next day the old workhorse returned, bringing with it a dozen young wild horses. Everyone in the town came by to see the poor man’s miracle. \That is so wonderful for you,\ they all said. The poor man again answered, \How do you know?\

    The day after that, the son tried to put one of these wild horses to work in the field. Being unused to wearing a harness, the horse kicked, and the son was badly injured. Again everyone said, \That is so terrible for you\. Again the poor man simply answered, \How do you know?\

    On the third day, a great army came through the village and forced all able-bodied young men to join them and fight in a great war from which few would ever return. The poor man’s son was still too bruised to go.

    By the next week, the son completely recovered, and, with a dozen young, strong workhorses, the man and his son became the richest family in town. What makes something \terrible\ or \wonderful\? Sometimes life’s biggest heartbreaks crack open the shell we can build around our heart. After we go through all the pain — which isn’t easy — we can be either more open, more loving, and more loved, or we can build up even more scar tissue and become more numb.

    Since we never know how things will turn out in the end until the end, we might as well act as if they are going to turn out best in the long run, even if we don’t understand how or why. Then, if they do, we didn’t waste any time or energy being unhappy about life’s opportunities that are camouflaged as problems. If they don’t, well at least we didn’t make things that much worse by piling our worries and fears on top of an already bad situation.

    (from Living Positively in a World with HIV/AIDS by Mark de Solla Price, 1995, pages 43/44)

    By Mark de Solla Price on Apr 28, 2010

  5. This evening I encountered a splendid koan in the basement of my apartment building. As I was putting laundry into a washing machine, I heard a dull thud. Looking at the floor, I saw a large water bug that had apparently fallen from the wall above. The bug had landed on its back and was struggling to right itself and escape. For quite some time it tried vainly to turn over, until finally it grabbed a doormat and hauled itself over to rest upright, but at an angle.

    Clearly, this bug was in a bad way. As I watched it struggle frantically, then rest, I contemplated killing it. The insect was completely at my mercy, and for a time the notion of destroying it was extremely tempting. But I resisted this reflex response to a repellent stimulus, and became absorbed in merely watching the creature’s movements.

    After resting a short while, the water bug began to crawl slowly toward me. Though it showed no malevolent intent, I stamped violently in its path so that it would alter course. However, the bug took no notice of me or the vibrations I was sending into the cement floor. The insect was hard pressed to push itself along, its hindmost legs dragging uselessly behind. Around that point it occurred to me that killing the creature would be an act of mercy and, far from being interspecies retribution, death would be deliverance in this case.

    But the notion of killing out of compassion paled as quickly as the allure of squashing a disgusting bit of vermin. I was left with only one alternative: just watch and let things happen as they might. It was quite telling that this, the simplest course of action, was the hardest for me to arrive at. Thus the insect over which I had the dominion of life and death was a most compelling teacher.

    And so the water bug continued slowly crawling about the intensely grey laundry room floor while I calmly loaded my clothes into the washing machine. At some point it occurred to me that I should stay in the laundry room and stand vigil over the creature until it finally died or disappeared, but that idea too faded into the mists. Instead, I gradually refocused on my clothing and, when the proper buttons on the machine had been pressed and it began to churn, I walked to the elevator without a further thought about the drama that had so transfixed me moments earlier.

    When I returned later to put my laundry into the dryer, the bug had disappeared. Perhaps it was hiding under the washing machines, or perhaps it had been eaten by a mouse. In memory of this most instructive creature, I offer this video compilation:


    By Bokushu on May 4, 2010

  6. From the book of Elevator Koans

    Nyogen Senzaki brought his laundry to the Laundromat but did not have the money to pick it up.
    Navah asked Ryotan: why did he bother bringing in his laundry if he could not pay to have his clean clothes returned to him?

    Ryotan answered: he kept his ticket.

    Navah’s Commentary #1:

    Ryotan was explaining that a responsible Zen teacher always saves his Laundromat tickets,even though you can usually get your clothes back without them.

    Commentary #2:
    Sometimes your laundry ticket is a ticket to something else.

    Commentary #3:
    Ryotan was transmitted the secret knowledge that not everything that says: “ dry clean only” is destroyed in a washing machine. Unless it is washed in the bitter quinine waters of Zen Creek.

    Commentary #4:
    Just do your own laundry.

    By Navah on May 5, 2010

  7. and one more that came to me this morning and dedicated to you Sensei. Thank you for last night’s workshop! How wonderful it is to just be “in your own house”.

    Commentary #5:

    Ryotan’s comment alluded to the fact that Senzaki thought about calling a student meeting to discuss why they never paid their dues on time and therefor could never pick up his laundry. However, after reading the other blog, he decided against it. Senzaki did keep his ticket, and muttered- “hey, you never know”.

    By Navah on May 5, 2010

  8. the sun did not shine
    it was too wet to play
    so we sat in the little hut
    all that cold, cold wet day

    I sat there with Ryo
    we sat there we two
    and I said: ” How I wish I had something to do!”…

    so all we could do
    was to
    and I did not like it
    Not one little bit

    and then something went BUMP!
    How that bump made us jump!

    We looked
    Then we saw him step on the mat!
    We looked
    and we saw him
    The Strange Cat- Monk in a Hat
    and he said to us-
    Why do you sit there like that!

    SKIP some text

    But Navah’s super-ego Fish said: No! No!
    Make that monk go away
    tell that strange guy
    that we don’t want to play!
    he should not be here
    he should not be about
    he should not be here
    when Nanchuan’s is out!

    Now now, have no fear
    have no fear
    my tricks are not bad
    said the strange monk

    Why we can have
    Lots of good fun if you wish
    with a game I call
    up-up-up with a fish Navah (or fill in your name here ______)

    Put me down said the Navah
    This is no fun at all!
    Put me down! said the Navah
    “I do NOT wish to fall!”

    Thing One
    and Thing Two
    run through the house
    the fish falls with cake, umbrella, a rake, books
    toy ship, milk on a dish

    and then as Naunchuan approaches the house-
    the order is seemingly restored to the little hut-
    but has it?

    oh, how I miss my strange monk cat. i miss him even now.

    then Naunchuan came in
    and he said to us two
    did you have any fun
    tell me
    what did you do?

    Senzaki asks:

    Should we tell them about it?now what SHOULD we do
    well…what would you do
    if the monk visited you?
    does Zen take the cat from the hat
    the fish from the bowl
    the boredom from a rainy day

    and what do you do
    when you fall?


    That is what the monk cat said
    and he fell on his head!
    he came down with a bump
    from up there on the ball
    and yes, all of us at the koan workshop-
    We saw all the things fall!

    Thank you Ryotan
    for sharing the koan of your life.
    was a wonderful journey
    into a strange land.

    By NS on May 19, 2010

  9. karma chameleon
    we come and go
    we come and go

    By Hotaru on Oct 4, 2010

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