Cloud Gate

Made it official: I am now a Buddhist. Not just philosophically, but with a teacher, and a lineage, and a dharma name, and everything.

John Cloud Gate Stoner. I asked for an English dharma name, just because I like the idea of participating in the larger encounter of Buddhism with the West, and I thought it would be appropriately symbolic. As Buddhism has moved from India, to China, to Japan, and other places, it has changed those cultures, and in turn been changed.

That’s what makes being a Buddhist now so exciting: the substance of that process is working itself out in this moment in the West. We are seeing new ideas emerge, spiritual innovations like Big Mind, the integral stuff, and so forth.

That’s not the whole reason I did it, but it’s one reason. Mostly I just wanted to put myself on a path of spiritual mastery in a committed way.

When I got home from the ceremony, one of my neighbors said he would have to start calling me ‘Bean.’ Cloud Gate is also the official name of ‘The Bean,‘ the sculpture in Millennium Park here in Chicago. We had a good laugh.

When he gave me the name, my teacher did not have that in mind. In the ceremony, called jukai, he spoke at length on the significance of the name. My memory is not clear, but here’s how I’d say it:

In Zen, clouds are symbolic of reality, or manifestation. They are boundaryless: it’s hard to say where they begin and end. They arise as a result of unseen processes. And they lack solidity; there is nothing to cling to in a cloud. So the world is.

Gates are also symbolic of awakening, or a choice to awaken. In the bodhisattva vow, we say ‘Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to open them.’ So at every moment we are faced with the choice to open the gate or not, and in taking the Bodhisattva Vow I am committed to opening it at every moment.

So a cloud gate would be a gate of formless form, leading continually into awakening. Well, that’s about the best I can do with it now. Perhaps Joshin will post to the comments.



  1. Heartfelt congratulations Cloud Gate. I’m profoundly happy for you. May your path to emptiness always take you where you are needed most.

    When I first read you name, I went to the Bean as well. Such is life.

    For the uninitiated among us, how about a post or two on what it means to be an actual Buddhist and not simply a sympathizer.

    I’ve linked your blog to the one I started a couple of weeks ago since there are obvious areas of overlap in some of our themes.


  2. Christmas-time, 2007

    Dear John,

    It’s a sunny day here in Florida, typical early December. Mike and I think often of enduring Illinois snow and cold. Beautiful though it is, these days we wonder how we ever managed. But Life insists on taking us all to new places, doesn’t it? Anyway, even from this remote outpost, as I finished my decorating last night, I thought of you. You’ve experienced a lot of deep and soulful caring during your decision-making and your surgeries, a tsunami of encouragement from unexpected places. And so, this greeting comes.

    I make myself not be sad about it, but we don’t put up a Christmas tree, in spite of the fact that we have a gorgeous six-foot tall one and a lush three-foot tall one, both waiting in the wings for their next appearance. We haven’t put them up for a number of years, and simply remember the spell they cast on us in the “old days.” But our cat would definitely have ideas other than gazing in wonderment. And so, to avoid that stress, we’ve adapted. I haven’t seriously considered selling the trees, though that would be sensible. Somehow, it feels as if the time to do so hasn’t come yet. Instead, I fill a lighted curio cabinet and the ample bookshelf in our dining room with sparkly treasures and tree lights. From the dining room table chandelier, with a red ribbon, this year I hung a crystal angel ornament that Aunt Margie gave us long ago. Many a night she sat with us at that same dining room table, and beat us mercilessly at rummy and Scrabble. It was wonderful.

    Last year we bought a pair of segways – another adaptation brought about by a loss. We’ll probably never be finished grieving for our motorcycle days. The Harley brought us together in the first place, kept us together over more than twenty years, and took us out in the world. Our last bike was jet black, and chrome on every possible surface. It had custom pin striping and a fierce eagle under a rainbow on the front fairing. Out on the road, people would give us the thumbs up signal, roll down their windows at stop lights and shower compliments on us. Waving at other bikers was the outward sign of belonging to a cult of adventurers. It was glorious.

    Mike is only 53, but now that he’s endured several spinal surgeries, he’s run out of options. His last surgeon was the head of Neurology at Morton Plant Mease, the hospital here that’s akin to Mayo or the best that Chicago has to offer. Everything that could be done is past history. His bones are sort of collapsing on each other, and squeezing his spinal cord. Scoliosis is twisting him, stenosis is choking the tunnel inside the vertebrae, and degenerative disc disease is unstoppable, adding to the crazy tilt. The repair jobs have put a lot of titanium hardware in place, but the relentless damage is another kind of tsunami. The segways are perfect for now, because the gyroscope/computer system holds him up effortlessly. He’s as close to pain-free as he can get when he’s standing vs. sitting, so the segway is an amazing set of wheels for him. Two segways mean that we can “go” together. My joy is in seeing the smile on his kisser, his hair flying in the wind, his sense of freedom restored, moving with ease. You know the feeling better than a lot of people, as you speed around on your own bike. As we’re out and about, people give us the thumbs up signal, roll down their windows at stop lights, and say, “Those are cool!” We smile and wave.

    We ride to the river that passes through a gorgeous park full of ancient oaks with Spanish moss, or to the Wildlife Area with its nature-filled bike trail and forested pavilions. We pack our picnic treats into a backpack, our traveling Scrabble game into the segway zippered pocket, and our spirit of adventure lives on, in spite of his terrible 24/7 pain. That’s the toughest part for now. At some future point, when Mike’s spinal cord goes numb, Life will be a different picture, but somehow, we’ll figure out a new way to get along.

    Ah, losses, adaptations and survival in the best spirit possible. Now you know why I thought of you as this New Year approaches. That’s exactly how you’re living. It’s your spirit of meeting incredible challenges that I relate to. I admire your intelligent outlook and willingness to try the next thing – you are a spark plug, a conduit for living Life, for those who know and love you. And now you have a set of new wiring! I’m writing to wish you the Highest Energy to seek out the new paths, John Cloud Gate, and to encourage myself to do the same.

    After all, we’re Stoners, aren’t we? That counts for a lot.

    Very Best Wishes and Loads of Luck,
    Barb & Mike Vasiljevich

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