“The Great Way is gateless,
Approached in a thousand ways.
Once past this checkpoint
You stride through the universe.”
This is the opening of the famous Zen text “The Gateless Gate”.
It sounds like weird hippie nonsense. A lot of old Zen sayings like this are a little hard to unpack because sometimes they seem so weird.
I think it’s worth a second look.
The Great Way is the path we’re on. The path inspired by the Buddha, the cultivating of awareness and compassion. Find your true nature and help others, that sums up the path.
When we say it’s gateless, we’re saying there’s nothing stopping you. It’s right there, like an open door. Your true nature is always with you. It’s never not present. The door is open. Spiritual teachers can point you to the door, but they don’t open it for you. It’s already open. The gate is gateless. We could say teachers are just selling water by the river.
“If you can’t find enlightenment here and now, where else do you expect to find it?” -Dogen
Your true nature is free and awake, you just have to notice that the gate is open.
It’s approached in a thousand ways because we all come to the path bringing different things with us. My difficulty on the path might be giving into temptation all the time or making excuses to not meditate. Yours might be a tendency to give into anger, or to compare yourself to others too much. We’re all a little different and we come to the path for different reasons, so it’s approached in a thousand ways.
But we’re all on the same path.
And once we enter the gate, freedom is on the other side. The freedom to put down our emotional baggage and our insecurities and our fixations. When we can put those down and truly see ourselves as we are, we can stride through the universe.
What do we need to do? We need to set our intention. We need to decide we want to go through the gateless gate. That’s the beginning.