Today’s Koan: “Manjushri Enters the Gate” – The Iron Flute, Case 1
One day as Manjushri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjushri, Manjushri, why do you not enter?”
Manjushri relied, “I do not see myself outside. Why enter?”
Some background: In Buddhist mythology, Manjushri is the bodhisattva representing wisdom. A “bodhisattva” (“Bodhi” from the Sanskrit means an enlightened or awakened understanding and “sattva” means a being or spirit) can be roughly translated as a person who is focused on reaching the goal of enlightenment or whose very essence is enlightenment.
This koan describes how the Buddha was testing Manjushri’s understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. But what was he testing? Remember, a koan is a problem that can’t be solved by the intellect or our typical classifications or conceptualizations. The Buddha was not testing Manjushri’s ability to enter a gate, nor the fact that there was a gate to perceived by the senses.
Before digging deeper into Manjushri’s answer, let’s pause and consider what Manjushri represents. He represents wisdom. Wisdom is very different than intellect. I’m sure your life experiences have clearly demonstrated the difference between intellect and wisdom, as you observe your own thinking and the thinking of others. Like the old story goes about a child-turned-adult remarking how much smarter her parents seemed to have gotten.
Manjushri, representing wisdom, answers without even mentioning a gate. This is clearly not an answer of intellect alone, but one of wisdom. It would seem that he must have made the Buddha happy with that answer. He answered from wisdom, from seeing without duality: He did not discriminate between inside the gate and outside the gate.
Rev. Gyomay Kubose’s comment expresses that wisdom this way:
Manjushri replied, in effect, that there is no gate in the world of Truth. Truth is everywhere; he was not outside it. But still, [we feel] that there is a gate. But it is a gateless gate and hard to enter, even though it stand wide open all the time! The gateless gates are numerous—as many as there are people. Each must enter through his own gate.
That is how Rev. Gyomay Kubose helped us work with this koan, but each person must bring his own wisdom to it. How can you use this koan in everyday life? How can you use this koan to break free from thinking ruts, hardened concepts, and judgments?
You can begin by asking yourself where do you see gates? Is it a promotion or other title you’d like to be considered for, but not sure you’d be seen as perfect? Is it another industry or job entirely? Or is it the other way around? Do you see yourself as inside the gate and who outside have you not invited in? And why?
Ask yourself where have you discriminated between inside and outside? What represents “the inside” to you? Money? Position? Security? Being Liked?
What represents the outside? Have you thought to step inside or outside to see what it looks like? Have you really imagined in full detail how it would be to be “on the other side”? Is it where you would like to be? Is it that much different than the ‘side’ you are on now?
And even if you aren’t discriminating between inside and outside a gate, why haven’t you entered? If you sense a gate between what you want and what you don’t have, why haven’t you made steps to enter?
Is there a gate between you and someone else? Why do you think that gate is permanent? Maybe it doesn’t exist at all. Maybe you could just walk through the gate that was wide open all the time and say “Hi.”
When I work with this koan, I end up asking myself, if Manjushri didn’t see himself on outside, then why didn’t he enter?
And that leads me to ask myself where it is I haven’t entered my life fully. Where is it I’m not allowing myself to truly enter into or connect to person in my life or a part of me? Where am I content to be a half-hearted participant in a cause or activity I believe in or where am I just going through the motions of doing something—instead of being fully-engaged—jumping up off the bleachers at the risk of possible failure, embarrassment, or the fear of being seen as different.
Maybe the best practice using this koan is to ask yourself every day, “Where is the gate?” or just “Where?” And also ask “Why should I enter?”
And another is “Where have I put a gate of separation between myself and another; between ‘my group’ and ‘the other?’
Every time you pause to ask yourself to think again, you come one step closer to true wisdom. You come to the place where you don’t see yourself, or anyone else, as outside or inside.
About these blog posts
A mix of older posts I wrote for the blog, Suchness: It's All Good - Buddhist Ramblings, LinkedIn articles, and Career Coaching blog posts.