Benzaiten of Enoshima – Koan 26
Doi Yorimune came up to Mizugaoka and visited Mugaku (Bukko), a general of the Zen sect, and asked about the worship of Benzaiten (goddess of prosperity) of Enoshima Island. He recalled how on the fifth day of the fourth month of the second year of Yowa (1182), the Minamoto general Yoritomo had been strolling on the beach at Namigoe on the way to Enoshima, and there had met the holy man Bungaku who was a devotee of Benzaiten. He said he would pray for the general’s success in arms, and arrangements were made for sacrificial ceremonies, and the erection of a stone torii. This was, he added, really with the motive of exorcizing the curse pronounced by Fujiwara Hidehara (on the Minamotos). He concluded: ‘I have brought a picture of the blessing being conferred by Benzaiten.’
The teacher said: ‘The devotee of Benzaiten prayed to Benzaiten for the military glory of the Minamoto general, and to avert the curse of the other general of those days – is that a male divinity or a female?’
Doi said: ‘Whether Benzaiten is a god or a goddess, I do not know. I only know that the form in the picture here is a goddess.’
The teacher said: ‘So you go by the form. I suppose you would think that a woman warrior dressed in man’s clothes would be a man?’
Doi said: ‘Well then, is Benzaiten a male dressed as a female?’
The teacher replied: ‘Do you worship Benzaiten as a god or do you worship Benzaiten as a goddess?’
Doi said: ‘The reason I worship is nothing to do with whether it is a god or a goddess. I just pray for my welfare.’
The teacher at once caught hold of Doi and rubbed his face, first against the grain of the beard, and then with the grain. Doi did not understand what he meant. The teacher said:
‘This fellow! He has never believed in Benzaiten at all. Why does he come here wanting to get approval from me?’
(1) Is Benzaiten a god or a goddess? Say!
(2) What did Bukko mean by rubbing Doi’s face with the grain and against the grain? Say!
This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen when Issan, the 7th master at Enkakuji, gave it to Suko, a mountain hermit.