Koan 6

What is a gateless gate?


“The Gateless Gate” is a 13th century compilation of 48 koans. The koans are meant to guide the way to awakening and enlightenment. The Gate is what separates us from enlightenment.

The title itself is a koan, a nonsensical paradox; for how can a gate be gateless?

A gate implies a separation. The Gateless Gate separates who we think we are (the self) and enlightenment (that we are one with the everything). However, the Gate is an illusion, as the Gate is gateless. That is, but for our self, we are enlightened.

The Gate is a creation of our self, the perception that we are separate from all that is not our self. Separation creates duality, the antithesis of enlightenment.

Enlightenment dispels the illusory Gate (the self) which in turn dispels duality. Then, what remains is our oneness with the everything.


The book explains its title: “The Great Way has no gate. A thousand roads enter it. When one passes through this gateless gate, he freely walks between heaven and earth.”

“The Great Way” is the way to liberation (awakening and enlightenment) from the prison of our seemingly individual mind which is where the self resides. The mind creates descriptions, generalizations and stories that frame our experiences of the now, precluding us from experiencing the now as it is. The frame is the Gate. Liberation dispenses with the Gate as we realize the Gate is an illusion of our mind’s creation. The illusion is the conceptual duality of yin and yang, the mundane and the divine, the self and the other, subject and object, good and bad. Enlightenment is the realization that conceptual dualities are an illusion, as all things are interdependent and interconnected. That is, all things are but one thing.

“A thousand roads enter it” suggests there are numerous approaches or paths that can potentially lead to enlightenment. That is, individuals have unique dispositions which may resonate more or less with different teachings, practices or roles in life.

“When one passes through this gateless gate, he freely walks between heaven and earth” means that upon liberation one can move freely between dualistic concepts and directly experience the interconnectedness and oneness of all things, wherein all distinctions between things dissolve.

The Great Way leads us to enlightenment, the realization that we are the everything. It is characterized by wisdom and compassion. As the everything, we can view the universe from infinite perspectives which is the essence of wisdom. Moreover, we treat every thing as we treat ourselves (compassion), for we are the everything.