Visitation-Land Dog Nature | An Excerpt from No-Gate Gateway
A monk asked Master Visitation-Land: “A dog too has Buddha-nature, no?”
“Absence,” Land replied.
To penetrate the depths of Ch’an, you must pass through the gateway of our ancestral patriarchs. And to fathom the mysteries of enlightenment, you must cut off the mind-road completely. If you don’t pass through the ancestral gateway, if you don’t cut off the mind-road, you live a ghost’s life, clinging to weeds and trees.
What is this gateway of our ancestral patriarchs? It’s the simplest of things, a single word: Absence. Absence is the sole gateway of our empty-gate household. And so, it’s called the “no-gate gateway” into our Ch’an household.
Pass all the way through it, and you meet Master Visitation-Land eye to eye! Visitation-Land, and the whole lineage of ancestral patriarchs too! You wander hand in hand with them, eyebrows tangled with theirs, looking with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears. How is that not great good fortune and wild joy? Don’t you, too, long to pass through this gateway?
To penetrate the depths of this single word, Absence, summon all three-hundred-sixty bones and joints, all eighty-four thousand sacred apertures of your intelligence, summon your whole being into a single mass of doubt. Devote yourself day and night. Absence: don’t think it’s emptiness, and don’t think it’s Presence.
You’ll feel like you’ve swallowed a red-hot iron ball: retching and retching at something that won’t vomit out. But let all the delusions of a lifetime go, all the understanding and insight; and slowly, little by little, nurture the simplicity of occurrence appearing of itself.
Soon, inner and outer are a single tissue. A single tissue, and you’re like a mute in the midst of dream: all that understanding for yourself alone. Then suddenly, the whole thing breaks wide open, and all heaven and earth shudder in astonishment.
It’s as if you’ve snatched General Gateway’s vast sword away, as if you carry it wherever you go. If you meet Buddha, you kill Buddha. If you meet ancestral patriarchs, you kill ancestral patriarchs.
Out there walking the cliff-edge between life and death, you’re perfectly self-possessed, vast and wide open in such wild freedom. Through all four transformations in the six forms of existence, you wander the playfulness of samadhi’s three-shadowed earth.
Can you do it: devote a life, delve with all your lifelong ch’i-strength into this single word, Absence? Don’t give up, and it will soon seem so easy: a mere spark setting the whole dharma-candle afire!
A dog, Buddha-nature—the whole
kit-and-caboodle revealed in a flash.
Think about Presence and Absence,
and you’re long lost without a clue.
This has been excerpted from No-Gate Gateway: The Original Wu-Men Kuan.
David Hinton, through his many translations of classical Chinese poetry, has earned wide acclaim for creating compelling contemporary poems that convey the actual texture and density of the originals. See more about him here.