‘You sit at the top of a hundred foot pole.

Although you have entered the Way, it is not yet genuine.

Take a step from the top of the pole,

And you realize the World of the Ten Directions with your body.’

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 46

These lines are the second part of the hundred-foot pole koan. Though they repeat the challenge of stepping from of a high place, they have a slightly different quality than does the simple ‘step from the top of a hundred-foot pole’. Traditionally, these lines refer to the moment after realization, the actualization of practice. Awakening is understanding that vast emptiness pervades the whole universe, existing right here and now, as the dedication goes. But you can’t eat emptiness for breakfast. You must then step into your life, and in so doing realize the ‘World of the Ten Directions’ with your whole body.


Teachers at times say that enlightenment is not all that hard. What is difficult in practice is actualizing that understanding in your life. Of course, the need to ‘actualize’ assumes that there are two things: an un-improved self and an improved self. Something to fix and something to cultivate. Realizing that there is nothing to fix –nothing whatsoever–for some reason brings to us a great healing and compassion, both for ourselves and for the world around us. It gives rise to the Bodhisattva path, and that is itself actualization.

Today I was getting on BART. The doors opened, and a toothless old street lady put a small box of clothes in the doorway and disappeared back into the car. Past threats from conductors rattled about my head: ‘Do not block the doorway or this train will be taken out of service!’ The door was just about to shut, its owner was inside, so I took my foot and began to nudge the box back inside as I entered. Just then the street lady reappeared, gave the box a boot out onto the platform and followed. ‘What the f**k, you’re kicking my box in the wrong direction!’, the old lady shouted. ‘Thanks for the help bro!’ The doors shut and everyone on the train looked at me. I started to laugh loudly, greatly appreciating my friend’s stepping off the hundred-foot pole. The Bodhisattva path is not always that complicated.