Today someone asked me if it was possible to reach enlightenment through contemplating emptiness. My answer was no, contemplating emptiness cannot lead you to enlightenment. In fact, no-method can lead you to enlightenment. By using a practice method, you can settle the mind and be at ease without afflictions. Any method can settle the mind in the present moment, but with Silent Illumination, you can be relieved of even the present moment.
Just take this attitude: don’t worry about the past or the future, and let go of the present too. Just stay in awareness. Chan is called the “gateless gate” because it has no door to enlightenment. The methods fool you into thinking, “Aha, there”s a door. Let’s find the key.” People will look for the key, the right method that will get them enlightened. They search for the door to enlightenment, and not finding it, they may give up.
In fact, there is no door. But according to each person’s practice and karmic disposition or virtuous roots, suddenly he or she may gain entry and become enlightened. In the process of searching, you finally walk through the gateless gate. You will suddenly recognize that your nostrils point downward. In other words, you will learn that the possibility of enlightenment was there all along.
Sheng Yen in The Buddha Is Still Teaching: Contemporary Buddhist Wisdom, pages 166–167