QUESTION: What is mondo?
SHORT ANSWER: Mondo is a ritual of formal question and answer between teacher and enquirer.
LONG ANSWER: Mondo is a word from old Japanese. Mon means "gate". Do means "way" or "path". Do in old Japanese is the same as Tao in Chinese. Mon refers to the doubt or question in the mind of the disciple. Do refers to the path that opens up from that doubt. The master is the gatekeeper. This is the "gateless gate". Although it is a gateless gate and, in principle, the person could walk straight through without the help of a gatekeeper, in practice we help one another. The gatekeeper has already been through the gate a few times and so may be able to assist with a perspective on the matter. Because of this experience, however, it may also be the case that the gatekeeper learns most, hearing all the traveller's tales of those who pass through the gate.
On the one hand, the doubt or question is a symptom of delusion. On the other hand, there is no passing through without encounter with the doubt. This is why there is the saying "great doubt, great enlightenment".
In practical terms, mondo is a procedure that we use in retreats and courses. It is an encounter between the student and the teacher in which the student has the possibility of putting his or her personal special question and getting a response.
Preparation for mondo is also valuable. Refining the question is important. Sometimes in a therapy group we ask, “If you were going to work today, what would you work upon?” Everybody in the group considers what is his or her primary or cutting edge issue right now. Perhaps only one or two people actually do any therapeutic work that day, but the sheer act of focusing upon the question, “what is my question?” is useful.
In a certain way, mondo is the enactment of the Dharma and it does not ultimately matter whether one is the disciple or the master, each is playing their part in the opening and closing of the gateless gate, which is no different from the windbell blowing in the wind and emitting the voice of Buddha. Whether the wind blows from the West or the East, the North or the South makes no difference.
Often when we read the great texts Buddha is asked a question and in many cases the first response he gives is lavish praise for the asking of the question, “Oh well done, Ananda! Because you have asked this question it will be for the benefit of innumerable sentient beings for many ages to come…” etc. There is no one who asks and none who answers, but yet the show must go on. Hence Buddhas appear in the world and the clay mountain turns to gold.