Sunday, January 3, 2010

Enter the Gates

In the study of the Way, or Tao, you pass through many gates on the path to liberation. Today, I want to discuss three Gates of Liberation that are important for you as a Karate-ka to understand and meditate upon.

As most of you are aware, the -do of Karate-do indicates that you are on a path of awakening and liberation from suffering and the root of suffering. Inside the dojo you are following a path of freedom and learning how to accord with the flow of life, or Tao.

As you walk upon this path, the first gate you walk through is understanding the true meaning of Kara in Karate. This is the 'empty' of Empty Hand. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Kara or emptiness, does not mean there is nothing there. Kara relates back to emptiness of a separate existence from everything else. You have no separate self that lives and dies. You are composed of non-You elements.

For instance, I am Shinzen, but I am also the oatmeal and coffee I had for breakfast. I am a father only because I have children and a Sensei only because I have students. I, Shinzen, am composed of non-Shinzen elements. (I encourage you to read any of Thich Nhat Hanh's work on Interbeing).

To understand that you are not you, but also many elements connected to everything else, you can see that you are 'empty' of an individual 'you' and that 'you' can only exist because everything else exists. You can only be you because of the whole universe existing at the same time. With this understanding, or passing through this gate, you can see that 'you' were never born and can never die.

The second gate is the Gate of Seeing. This is the gate of seeing that the menu is not the food and the map is not the territory. So often you can get caught up in labels, concepts and notions about the world and all it entails. As a younger Karate-ka I was often criticized by the Karate traditionalist because I went outside the labels of what 'true' karate was and supposed to be.

I saw how a Kata, like Naihanchi, could be performed on the ground, rather than standing. I could see how other martial arts, like Aikido, Jujitsu, Kung Fu, exist within the Kata. I could only do this because I had caught early on, the meaning of emptiness or kara or kara-te, and could see how non-karate elements also comprise karate. I could also see how brushing my teeth is Karate, mopping the floor is Karate and laughing my ass off at Monty Python is Karate. Everything I do is real Karate.

The Third Gate to pass through is realizing there is nothing to get! This is my laughing gate. Having this insight caused me to laugh at myself till my ribs ached. There is nothing to get or to gain....there is no real hidden or dark secrets that are going to make you are already infinite and there is no problem. So many of us, especially me, often searched for the next best martial art, hoping to find that ultimate way of self-defense...and to build my ego, the false sense of existence. Passing throught the first two gates helped free me from this agonizing search...and helped me pass through this third one, waking up to the fact that all I need is right here and now. No place to go and nothing to get! Everything is perfect and complete just now as it is. I can now use and be free from what 'things' are called, even myself. Heck, no need for New Year's Resolutions.

Three Gates...I could go and on but this is a good starting point for discussion and fun. (Actually, my wife is telling me to get started on my post holiday honey-do list)

Hands palm to palm,


  1. Monty Python has a lot to answer for!!

    Hi Shinzen, I recognize the three gates and, yes, I have passed through them, not within Karate but within Jnana Yoga.

    It is lovely to read through your description of these three gates, especially gate three; I too found myself laughing at the truth, the reality that there is nothing to get, nothing to do, or be, other than simply being and doing as one has to do in the moment. It is an amazing realization, don't you think?

    I don't know with certainty, but since my realization of gate three, I have felt that the laughing Buddha represents this point in the self-realization process . . . it's just a possibility, perhaps you can enlighten me on this subject?

    I loved reading this post and hope to read of more 'gates' in the near future ;-)

  2. Thanks Doug...the laughing Buddha could represent this gate easily...but I think there can be a lot of 'aha' experiences that can make us howl, roll and a 'lunatic laughing out loud' (LLOL!)

    Thanks for the kind words...I enjoy your writings as well.

  3. Jorge: Again, thank you. I enjoy your ability to put your heart onto has a genuine human rawness that is awakening!