The Gateless Gate is a personal pictorial reflection on the compilation of Zen cases referred to as the Mumonkan or Gateless Gate. In 2010, a series of events instigated this idea of completing a drawing for each of the Mumonkan’s 48 stories. It was a process that led me through everything from pen and ink, to paper mache figures and Daruma decorated wooden totem poles. With those initial experiments and drawings completed, it is my intention to revisit each one as a weekly post on this website, offering another opportunity to consider their meaning and continue what has evolved into a meaningful ongoing education in art making.
The Gateless Gate was complied in early 13th century China by Mumon Ekai and the stories remain a central theme to Zen training to this present day. For the purposes of my own efforts, I am making use of the translation and commentary by R.H. Blyth, from his book Zen and Zen Classics, Volume Four, Mumonkan. Although there are several other english translations available in print and online.
The stories of the Mumonkan are largely a mystery to me, especially in regards to the role they play in meditative inquiry. My drawings are for the most part literal caricatures of the stories with further assistance provided from a range of commentaries. Although enlightenment alludes me, the drawing process has provided a wonderful sense of familiarity to the stories as I have been able to put faces to these Zen exploits. The Mumonkan is a book filled with the joy and agony of many wayward and enlightened characters. I have found them to be a wonderful collection of entanglements that has only grown richer through the time spent envisioning them on paper. Of all it’s stories, the example of Zuigan in case 12 provided a playful potential for my own creative efforts. For if it is possible to call upon your own master, might it be possible to draw your own?
Case 12: Zuigan’s Calling the Master
Every day Zuigan used to call to him self, “True self!” and would answer “Yes?” “Awake! Awake!” he would cry, and “Yes! Yes!” he would answer. “From now onwards, do not be despised by others, do not let them make a fool of you!” “No, I will not!”
The master, Zuigan, himself sells and himself buys. He has a lot of puppets of gods and devils that he plays with. For what reason? Look and see! A calling one, an answering one, one that says “Wake up!” and one that will not be looked down on. But you must not stick to these appearances for that is your former mistake. And imitating others (e.g. Zuigan) is only the mental disguise of a fox.
I’d look forward to any conversation regarding these stories, art making, and of things lost or found in the visual translation. You’ll find me on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ or Email.
Mark T. Morse