Guardians of The Gate

First, the mouth of one is closed, and of the other open.  They are thus a pair of opposites.  Good and evil are a pair of opposites; so, also, male and female – as Adam and Eve realized when, having eaten of the fruit of the tree, they saw that they were naked.  The exile followed this discovery of duality, opposition, separation: it was then that they become separated from God.  Approaching the imposing gate of the Buddhist temple at Nara, we too are separated, being not yet within, but outside, the garden.  Its two giant guardians are threatening; if they were not of wood, but alive, we should indeed be terrified on beholding them.  We should become aware of another pair of opposites, our own fear of death and desire for life: fear and desire.  But these, in the Buddhist legend of Guatama’s achievement of enlightenment, were exactly the two chief temptations that he overcome while sitting on the “immovable Spot” beneath the axial tree, at the “still point of the turning world.”  The god whose name is “Lust (Kama) and Death (Mara)” approached and, to unsettle him, displayed, in his character as the Lord of Lust, his three voluptuous daughters.  Had Guatama, sitting there, had any thought of “I,” he would have thought “They,” and there would have been a response; but there was none; the temptation failed.  Transforming himself, therefore, into his character as the Lord of Death, the Antagonist hurled an army of ogres against the one there sitting; but again there was no identification with ego; no sense of fear was evoked, and the temptation failed. 

   Likewise in ourselves, if our attachment to ego has not been conquered, so that the fear of death and a desire for continued life are still the governing principles of our experience and action, we are unfit psychologically to pass through the guarded gate to the Immovable Spot, where the Buddha sits.  Physically we may go through the gate and walk along the broad path into the temple, there to stand taking pictures, or in prayer; but we shall not by that physical act have made the passage psychologically.  TMD 203/4

For the Bodhi-tree is not geographically situated – as Eden was once thought to be – but is within us, and to be found there; and what is keeping us away from it is attachment to our separate lives as egos – to ahamkara, as the Indians say, “the making of the sound, I.”

In other words: it is our own attachment to our temporal lives that is keeping us out of the garden.  Could we get rid of this, we should walk in truth through what has been called, in a Japanese Zen Buddhist work, “The Gateless Gate,” Mu-mon, since nothing is there, no cherub at either hand, only our own misidentification of ourselves with our mortal part.  TMD 204

(Is) it not evident that Jesus, crucified on the Tree of Eternal Life, the Holy Rood – that second tree of Eden, the way to which was guarded by Yahweh’s cherubim and flaming sword – must have passed through the guarded gate to the Tree and thus opened the gate to ourselves?  Indeed, is that not precisely the sense of the term “New Testament”?  Fearless of death, and clinging neither to life nor (as we have read in Paul to the Philippians) to the form of God, he emptied himself altogether of both temporal and eternal categories, whether of experience, or thought, or of feeling.  TMD 205

   In Genesis 3:22-24, we read that when Yahweh drove Adam and Eve from the garden so that they should not “take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever … at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which tuned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”  That sword of flame is the counterpart of the lion’s face of Gafurius’s monster, while the guarding cherubim correspond to the heads at either side.  An essential feature of temple arts generally, whether of Antiquity or the Orient, is such a threshold feature: two guardians (either in human or in animal form) with a portal between to some sacred precinct. 

   For example, at Nara (Japan), before the Todaiji Temple with its immense bronze image of “The Great Sun Buddha,” Mahavairochana (weight, 452 tons; height, 3 feet, 6 inches; date A.D. 749), there is a large, detached south gate where two imposing giants (26 feet, 6 inches high) stand guard with threatening weapons.  The mouth of one is open; that of the other, closed.  Fear of death and desire for life would be the immediate sentiments that such an actual pair would excite in any visitor – which are the sentiments to be left behind by anyone passing through, not simply physically as a tourist but for an experience within the sanctuary of release from the pressure of the consciousness of mortality.  They correspond to the wolf and leopard of Dante’s vision, attending the lion of his pride.  So that from this point of view, what is excluding man from the knowledge of his immortality is not the wrath of some external god, but the maladjustment of his own mind.  Within the sacred precinct of the Buddhist temple, therefore, seated on a fully opened lotus before the wish-fulfilling “Tree of ‘Awakening’” (bodhi), the Great Sun Buddha, with his right hand raised in abhaya-mudra, the “fear not posture,” and his left extended in the “boon-bestowing posture” varada-mudra, gives freely to all who approach, the gift of his light.