Wumen Huikai

Wumen Huikai
School Chán
Lineage Linji
Nationality Chinese
Born 1183
Died 1260
Senior posting
Title Chán master
Predecessor Yuelin

Wumen Huikai (simplified Chinese: 无门慧开; traditional Chinese: 無門慧開; pinyin: Wúmén Huìkāi; Wade-Giles: Wu-men Hui-k'ai; Japanese: Mumon Ekai) (1183–1260) is a Song period Chán (Japanese: Zen) master most famous as the compiler of and commentator on the 48-koan collection The Gateless Gate (Japanese: Mumonkan).[1] Wumen was at that time the head monk of Longxiang (Wade-Giles: Lung-hsiang; Japanese: Ryusho) monastery.

Wumen was born in Hangzhou and his first master was Gong Heshang. However, it was Zen master Yuelin Shiguan (月林師觀; Japanese: Gatsurin Shikan) (1143–1217) who gave Wumen the koan "Zhaozhou’s dog", with which Wu-men struggled for six years before he finally attained realization. After his understanding had been confirmed by Yuelin, Wumen wrote his enlightenment poem:

A thunderclap under the clear blue sky
All beings on earth open their eyes;
Everything under heaven bows together;
Mount Sumeru leaps up and dances. (Aitken, p4)

He received Dharma transmission in the Linji line (Japanese: Rinzai) of Zen from his master, Yuelin.

In many respects, Wumen was the classical eccentric Chan master. He wandered for many years from temple to temple, wore old and dirty robes, grew his hair and beard long and worked in the temple fields. He was nicknamed "Huikai the Lay Monk". (Aitken, p4) At age 64, he founded Gokoku-ninno temple near West Lake where he hoped to retire quietly, but visitors constantly came looking for instruction.[2]

His teachings, as revealed in his comments in The Gateless Gate, closely followed the teachings of Dahui Zonggao (大慧宗杲; Wade-Giles: Ta-hui Tsung-kao; Japanese: Daei Sōkō) (1089–1163). The importance of "Great Doubt" was one of his central teaching devices. Wumen said, "...[understanding Zen is] just a matter of rousing the mass of doubt throughout your body, day and night, and never letting up." (Yamada p xlii) In his comment on Case 1, Zhaozhou's dog, he called mu (無) "a red-hot iron ball which you have gulped down and which you try to vomit up, but cannot". (Yamada, p 14) Wumen believed in blocking all avenues of escape for the student, hence the "gateless barrier". Whatever activity the student proposed, Wumen rejected: "If you follow regulations, keeping the rules, you tie yourself without rope but if you act any which way without inhibition you're a heretical demon. ... Clear alertness is wearing chains and stocks. Thinking good and bad is hell and heaven. ... Neither progressing nor retreating, you're a dead man with breath. So tell me, ultimately how do you practice?" (Yamada, p xliii)


  1. Aitken, Robert: The Gateless Barrier: The Wu-men Kuan (Mumonkan. North Point Press, 1990, ISBN 0-86547-442-7)
  2. Yamada, Koun (1979) Gateless Gate: newly translated with commentary by zen master Koun Yamada; Center Publications ISBN 0-916820-08-4 p6,n2

Further reading

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