Tag Archives: Empty Gate

Narrator – points to the snow


The first snow fell early in autumn; the days were still not very short. In that dark morning the crackling of snow under my shoes sounded muted in the Prästgatan wherein the Golden House of hopes and dreams was situated on the island Gamla Stan in Stockholm.

Prästgatan in Juni[1]

The white snow and cold absorbed all colours; the Moon and the starry sky merged with the snow and the full colours of last summer were gone. In the course of the morning the snow was smeared by everyday life. That evening a vague glow appeared in the light of lanterns.

Prästgatan in December[2]

My beloved came home that night from a visit to his sick mother in America. His return was the beginning of a big change in our lives. He wanted to live closer to his mother, because due to her illness she only had less than a years to live. During his stay in America my beloved visited various Buddhist communities; he had decided to enter a convent near the house of his parents. The contact with his father was still stiff by their mutual incomprehension about his evasion of military service during the Viet Nam war. Unbeknownst to my beloved, I wrote a letter to his father in which I made a comparison between the general pardon of president Carter in 1977 for evasion of military service during the Viet Nam war and the parable of the lost son [3] in the New Testament: Your son was lost and he is found [4] by the general pardon. After the next visit to his parents my beloved returned joyfully; his father had welcomed him with open arms.

That winter my beloved toiled on a Buddhist question in which a teacher points to the snow and asks: “Is there any that can go beyond this colour?”. Another teacher said: “At this point I had have pushed it over for him”.  A third teacher said: “He only knows how to push down, he does not know how to help up”. [5]

This question is about passing the Empty Gate and the state of enlightenment. Snow, cold and white in which the Moon merges are metaphors for enlightenment. The first teacher asked for any beyond this colour where this colour stands for the road after passing the Empty Gate or after enlightenment. The other teacher immediately removes the illusion of enlightenment and a road after passing the Empty Gate by amongst others to refer to the colourless colour and to the Bodhisattva ideal from Mahâyâna Buddhism in which a human who is on the verge of enlightenment – or even a living Buddha –forgoes out of compassion until everything and everyone is able to enter enlightenment or the state of a Buddha. My beloved could comprehend the statements of the first two teachers, but that winter he toiled on the third statement.

Just as many people I struggled with the short days in northern countries. Our last common Christmas and New Year’s evening we celebrated exuberantly with many friends and acquaintances. Fortunately, in January and February the days got longer.

That winter my beloved sold the country house in the Stockholm archipelago and the Golden House in the old town of Stockholm. For a short time we moved to a rented wooden house on the island of Södermalm where we had a beautiful view on the inner city of Stockholm. Here we lived our last two months together. My beloved studied and I played percussion in several jazz ensembles.

Asogatan_213_Stockholm[6]

At the beginning of the spring my beloved asked me what the meaning of “māyā” is in Sanskrit. I told him that in the distant antiquity “māyā” had the meaning of “art and wisdom” and later the meaning of “illusion”, “compassion, sympathy” and “one of the 24 small Buddhist sins” [7] were added. The name of the mother of Siddhartha Gautama was Māyādevī wherein “devī ” as feminine form of “deva” [8] means among others “feminine goddess”. I also said that my father has taught me that “māyā” takes shape in the form of the general or cosmic consciousness and thus is directly connected with the all-encompassing Īśa, and in addition in the form of the individual or human consciousness and thus often has the meaning of illusion [9]. Both forms stem from and are included in the one reality.

After this explanation my beloved beamed. By the warmth of the sun glow the blossom buttons opened again. With the blossoms of spring my beloved moved to America permanently.

Bloesem Stockholm[10]

That summer, his mother past quietly. Four years later I received a sad message that my beloved had died from the mysterious disease that plagued our friends and acquaintances. In our correspondence he has never mentioned it. And always when the blossom …

In the society where I from, community means everything – you are who you know [11]. In Stockholm I was the friend of my beloved at best. Now I no longer really knew anybody, I was a nobody in Stockholm. At the end of the spring I terminated the rent of our beautiful wooden house and I moved to Copenhagen.


[1] Photo of the Prästgatan on the island Gamla Stan in the beginning of June. Source image: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pr%C3%A4stgatan

[2] Photo of the Prästgatan on the Island Gamla Stan in the beginning of December. Source image: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pr%C3%A4stgatan

[3] See the Gospel of Luke 15: 11-32 in the New Testament

[4] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Prodigal_Son

[5] See also: http://zazen.rutgers.edu/talks/yangshanpointstosnow.html

[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_during_the_Age_of_Liberty

[7] Source: elektronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[8] The word Deva whereof Deus in Latin, Zeus in Greec and Dieu in French arose, is Sanskrit connected with the verb root “Div” meaning amongst others “to shinestralen, to play, to increase”.

[9] See also: Nikhilananda, Swami, The Upanishads – A new Translation, Volume I. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 2003, p. 57, 58

[10] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kungstr%C3%A4dg%C3%A5rden

[11] See also: Reybrouck, David van, Congo – Een geschiedenis. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 2012, p. 58

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Narrator – back to the civilised world


From the empty gate to the North Cape we travelled in the eternal light. No night, no darkness, no visions of murdered villagers who wanted to escape from the nightly fire in the forest, no vigils for the breath of the deceased, only the constant day where the sun did not set. This peaceful world without nightly phantoms was new to me. Finally I could sleep quietly.

My beloved was in euphoria about passing the Empty Gate – his here and now was boundlessly connected with the universe. At the North Cape he did not need any sleep; he rested peacefully sitting on the ground while I slept.

Noordkaap[1]

The outward journey to the empty gate in the north was straightforward. The return to the civilised world included many detours along the winding coast of the fjords in Norway. From the North Cape my lover studied the endlessly intertwined worlds described in the Avatamsaka Sūtra [2].

My beloved was deeply moved by the abundance of descriptions of these intertwined worlds. Dumbfounded he read that there had existed many Buddhas in the past and in the future unmentionable Buddhas would follow according to this sūtra. Until that moment my lover with his American Protestant Christian background knew but one god. After he had studied Buddhism, that one god was replaced by Buddha.

The road to the empty gate led to a unity including the comprehensive Buddhist universe, but now this sūtra proclaimed the existence of infinitely intertwined universes in which many, many Buddhas were involved. His dismay was complete, just as complete as my amazement about the eternal days and about the infinitely intertwining separation of mountain landscape and sea along the coasts of the Norwegian fjords.

Geirangerfjord[3]

During our return along the Norwegian coast, the nights with my dark phantoms came back almost unnoticed. I kept the vigil while my beloved slept. In the northern ports and places I was an attraction – not many people arrived with a blue-dark complexion. Fortunately we were in transit; my mask of an idol evaporated on leaving the place.

After a few weeks of study in the Avatamsaka Sūtra, my lover was used to the intertwining of the universes, but he also read that the universes are mirrored in each other and thereby affect each other. He could understand this intellectually when he looked at the water and the air in the fjords, but these thoughts were inconsistent with his cultural background. His euphoria and happiness after passing the empty gate was shocked upon reading this sūtra.

Sonnefjord_Norway2[3a]

The descriptions of Indra’s Net [4] brought some clarification in the confusion that had arisen after studying the abundance of intertwined worlds, but he experienced this model as artificial. The euphoria and liberation of the Northern Cape changed in care and doubt about an infinite winding road that my lover could never finish during his life. A parable of my father – about an endless life with many rebirths in which living beings in many manifestations (from microbe to enlightened people and gods via individual universes) followed the road to a blissful existence – gave no rest. My beloved uttered gloomy comments upon the description of the 32 abodes “from hells, titans, hungry ghosts, animals, people, gods in 22 categories to five spheres of infinite space, consciousness and emptiness” [5] in the long discourses of Buddha.

From the Sognefjord we decided to travel to Oslo via a direct route along stave churches. First we visited the stave church in Kaupanger and then the oldest stave church in Urnes with a crucifix whereof part of the original paint came from Afghanistan according to the guide. The dark night was inside the Church with glimmer from above – outside there was the excess of the summer light.

Stave_church_Urnes,_panorama[6]

My beloved and I made a day trip on the plateau of Hardangervidda [7]. To the North the clouds and the landscape appeared to go on endlessly. My lover compared the repeating clouds with the intertwined universes from the Avatamsaka Sūtra. He wondered how we can achieve the enlightenment of all the intertwined universes. I indicated that the clouds and the worlds can take care for themselves; the wind is the same everywhere – ultimately there are no two kinds of wind [8]. After my remark my beloved started to beam again; his concerns and confusion were gone. My nightly phantoms remained.

800px-Hardangerviddaflora[9]

The joy of my beloved remained in my life until the following spring he returned to his parents ‘ house.


[1] Source image: http://nn.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordkapp

[2] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatamsaka_Sutra. De full name of this sūtra is: “ Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra ( महावैपुल्यबुद्धावतंसकसूत्र)” or “The extensive marvellously decorated garland of flower-buds sūtra”, wherein “Avatamsaka” means amongst others “marvellously shining garland” and “sūtra” stands for “transference of the good”.

[3] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Geirangerfjord.jpg

[3a] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sognefjord

[4] See also: Origo, Jan van, Who are you – a survey into our existence, part 1. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2012, p. 65 – 67

[5] The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 1995 p. 38-39

[6] Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stabkirche_Urnes

[7] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardangervidda

[8] See: Cleary, Thomas, Book of Serenity – One Hundred Zen Dialogues. Bosten: Shambhala, 1998 p. 110.

[9] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardangervidda

Narrator – gate in the north 2


Life with my beloved in Stockholm – who had evaded his military service in the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam and still stayed in Europe although he might return to the United States after the general pardon of president Carter in 1977 [1] – was as familiar as in Amsterdam and at the same time it was different in all respects.

In addition to the golden house in the old town, he also had a beautiful country house in the Stockholm archipelago. In the weekends and during holidays we stayed in this wooden house on a small island. We enjoyed the beautiful skies and during night we slept outside if the weather permitted. I was amazed about the long days.

[2]

Several friends of my lover played in jazz ensembles. Through them I learned to appreciate the music of the giants in jazz; my favourites were the Miles Davis Quintet [3] and John Coltrane [4] with his quartet; I learned his records of “Joy”, and “A Love Surpreme” – composed during the struggle for equal rights in America wherein John Coltrane wanted to create a spiritual unity with this music in order to influence a social change [5] – by heart.

[6]

During several practice sessions with a jazz ensemble I played on percussion; the members were so impressed that I could join playing at the Stockholm Jazz Festival [7] that summer. Afterwards I regularly performed with varying musicians in Stockholm and later in Copenhagen.

My beloved practised and studied Buddhism and meditation in Stockholm in order to give meaning to his life. Under his influence, I slowly engaged in the Buddhist and Taoist side of Oriental wisdom.  He could use some help with comprehending the source texts written in Sanskrit. Together we followed this way of living in Stockholm: he studied the content and I supported at the form.

Friday and Saturday before the last week in June, I celebrated Midsummer in Scandinavia for the first time. In Stockholm the night lasted only a few hours and that Saturday and Sunday the entire public life was closed. We stayed at friends for participating in this traditional celebration.

A few days after midsummer my lover and I began our holiday trip to the North Cape in the Goddess. By an almost deserted landscape of Northern Sweden – where your neighbour is your best friend, because there is no one else in the vicinity – we drove in eternal light.

[8]

Just before the border with Norway we saw Lapporten. My beloved named it the Empty Gate [9]. He asked me what “empty” is in Sanskrit. Hereupon I replied “śūnya” [10] that is akin to the English word “shunt” [11] where a low parallel resistor causes a parallel circuit within an electric circuit. He began  to chant a part of the Heart Sutra:

The Heart Sutra can be listened at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0jcx9fnoWc

A free rendering in English:

Form is equal to emptiness as emptiness is equal to form;

Form itself is empty and emptiness is form;

So also feeling, knowledge, formation and consciousness.

Thus Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.

They are not made, nor destroyed, nor defiled and they are not pure;

And they neither increase nor diminish.

There is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;

no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;

no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;

I said that the Empty Gate may give access to the Nirvana [12]. He replied that the Empty Gate was also empty of Nirvana and he shone [13] as a god. My beloved remained perfectly shining well beyond the North Cape.

[14]


[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War

[2] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_archipelago

[3] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Davis_Quintet

[4] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Coltrane

[5] Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[6] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Supreme

[7] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_Jazz_Festival

[8] Source image: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalovardo

[9] The Mumonkan – in English often translated in Gateless Gate – is a collection of 48 Zen Koans compiled by the Zen monk Mumon in the 13th century after Christ.

The character 無 () has a fairly straightforward meaning: no, not, or without. However, within Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, the term 無 () is often a synonym for 空 (sunyata). This implies that the 無 () rather than negating the gate (as in “gateless”) is specifying it, and hence refers to the “Gate of Emptiness”. This is consistent with the Chinese Buddhist notion that the “Gate of Emptiness” 空門 is basically a synonym for Buddhism, or Buddhist practice. 門 (mén) is a very common character meaning door or gate. However, in the Buddhist sense, the term is often used to refer to a particular “aspect” or “method” of the Dharma teachings. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gateless_Gate

There are four well known versions in English:

Aitken, Robert, The Gateless Barrier, The Wu-men Kuan (Mumonkan). New York: North Point Press, 2000

Sekida, Katsuki, Two Zen Classics – Mumonkan & Hekiganroku. New York:Weatherhill, 1977

Shibayama, Zenkei, The Gateless Barrier, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan. Boston: Shambhala, 1974

Yamada Kôun Roshi, Gateless Gate (Mumonkan). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1990

[10] “Empty, void” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[11] According to Shorter Oxford English Dictionary a natural or artificial blood vessel to divert the blood stream.

[12] “Land without forest” according to: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta

[13] The word Deva whereof Deus in Latin, Zeus in Greec and Dieu in French arose, is Sanskrit connected with the verb root “Div” meaning amongst others “to shine, to play, to increase”.

[14] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapland_(Zweeds_landschap)