Walter Bitner

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The Gateless Gate (often translated as The Gateless Barrier) is a collection of teaching stories that date from the early days of Zen Buddhism. Although many of these stories (known as kōans) present picturesque snapshots drawn from Chinese monastic life, each has a more important purpose: a kōan is a practical exercise designed to help the meditator free the mind. Kōans are conundrums, enigmas, absurdities, paradoxes. They are not riddles for which one seeks the answer, they are impossible hypothetical situations by which the meditator, grappling with them, seeks to enter a new state of being.

The Gateless Gate forms the central curriculum of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, and beats at the heart of the Zen literature for all Zen schools. Countless monks have pondered these kōans for nearly eight hundred years in their quests for enlightenment, and some of these stories have even become familiar tropes of contemporary pop culture since Zen was introduced to the West by a handful of missionaries in the twentieth century. I dedicated seventeen years of my life to Zen practice from 1999-2016, and during the early years of my training spent innumerable hours with the kōans in this book, both on and off the cushion.

Around a decade ago I gradually lost interest in Zen literature and Buddhist scriptures, although my meditation practice continued to sustain me through the difficulties of midlife. But eventually this too became a profound disappointment, and disillusioned, I weaned myself away from meditation practice in stages, first leaving Zen to continue sitting with a secular group for over a year, and finally abandoning practice altogether in 2018. I did not sit after that for nearly two years.

In the early months of 2020, the Covid-19 global pandemic arrived, and suffering in quarantine with the rest of humanity, my meditation practice returned. Although I had abandoned my practice, it had not abandoned me. Eventually it led me back to The Gateless Gate, and when I finally arrived, I found that this time it was behind me: I had passed through.

I Am Not A Human Being is my attempt to retrace my steps, to finally integrate my Zen practice into the whole of my life, and to discover what lies beyond the barrier.


Hokyo Jisetsu Walter Bitner
May 22, 2020
Richmond, Virginia, USA







A Commentary on The Gateless Gate

©℗2020 Hokyo Jisetsu Walter Bitner
Illustrations ©2020 Carol-Margaret Bitner
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