The Great Way has no gate;
There are a thousand different paths;
Once you pass through the barrier;
You walk the universe alone.
~ Wumen’s preface, The Gateless Barrier
Gates. They are a wonderful metaphor: a barrier used to close an opening in a wall, fence, or hedge. Sometimes we call koans gates: they are invitations to enter into a world that is at once changed and yet utterly the same before passing through.
Last week I put up a 15-foot gate on a farm with my brother Dan. Made of salvaged mill-sawed redwood. It was three days of hard work in the 100-dgree weather: sanding, sawing, drilling, bolting, and finally using a large forklift to stand it up – its many hundreds of pounds of weight. It is a beautiful gate; my brother has a touch for design in wood.
Wumen, in the above poem, says the Great Way has no gate. And the gate I put up last week was wholly a barrier of my own construction. Before the gate, there was no inside and outside. Before the gate, there was no barrier at all. Before the gate, there was nothing to pass. I made that distinction. Before the Great Way, there was not even a word.