Bukko Zenji (Zen master Buddha-light) was a posthumous title conferred, by the Japanese Emperor, on a Chinese monk whose name was Tsu yuen, pronounced by the Japanese Sogen. He has also the names Mugaku, Shigen and some others. In this book he is called simply Bukko. He was born in 1226, and as a child was always fond of temples and Buddhism. One day when he had accompanied his father to a temple and was playing in the garden, he heard a monk chanting the verse from a famous Taoist classic called Saikondan:
The shadow of the bamboo sweeps the steps,
But the dust does not stir;
The moon’s disc bores into the lake
But the water shows no scar.
This verse seized on his mind, and he finally made up his mind to renounce the world. When his father died next year, he became a monk, at the age of thirteen. The next year he climbed the Kinzan mountain and put himself under the Zen master Mujun. As it happened there were Japanese monks there at the same time. When he was seventeen, this teacher set him his first koan, ‘no Buddha-nature in the dog’. He determined to resolve this in one year, but he could not come to an understanding of it, nor in a second year either. It was the same until the sixth year, when he was twenty-two. He could now sit in profound meditation for long periods without fatigue; finally he reached a state where in the sky and on the earth there was only this one character Mu (‘no’) everywhere, and even in his dreams it was the same. Then a senior monk told him to drop the Mu, but he could not separate himself from it. After a good time, he was sitting in meditation when the Mu disappeared, and his body-consciousness along with it. There was only an immensity of space, rid of mental cogitations; he says it was like a bird escaped from a cage. The body and mind were paralysed and his fellow monks thought he was dead, but a senior monk told them that this was a samadhi state in which the breath stops for a time. If the body were kept warm and covered, and looked after, it would revive of itself. After a day and night empirical consciousness returned. One night after this, he was sitting on the bed in deep meditation, when the head monk hit the board with a mallet in one of the usual temple signals. As Bukko heard it, the blow struck through to the ‘original face’ and it appeared to him. When he closed his eyes there was a vast expanse of space, and when he opened them he saw everything in this vastness. He could not contain his joy and jumped from the bed to run out under the moon. He looked at the sky and cried, ‘How great the universal dharma-body! From the very beginning vast as it is now!’ He presented a poem of realization to the teacher Mujun:
One hammer-blow smashed the spirit-cave,
And out rushed the Titan unabashed!
Ears as deaf and mouth as dumb,
Yet one careless touch and a meteor shoots away.
Mujun did not confirm this as good but neither did he dismiss it as wrong. He simply set him another koan, the enlightenment verse of Kyogen. (Kyogen attained enlightenment after many years of Zen, when a stroke of his broom dislodged a stone which struck against a tree. The first line of the verse is: One stroke and I forgot all I knew.) The next year Mujun died; after some time Bukko found a new teacher and came under his hammer. One day he was drawing water from the well and as the pulley turned freely there was in him an uprush of realization. The Kyogen verse and the Mu koan were as clear as the palm of his hand. He was then thirty-six. He refused some attractive offers and retired to a hermitage near his native village, where he took a few pupils and also looked after his old widowed mother in her last years. He was there seven years. After she died he went to the Zen centre on Tendo mountain, and there met an envoy from Tokimune, who invited him to Japan, where he arrived in 1280.
From the above summary it appears that Bukko attained his final realization through only two koans. The first one he continued for six years, during which time he became an expert in samadhi trance meditation. His experience of an immensity of space like a vast empty sky is a well-known one in Zen, and is counted one of the most favourable indications. It is referred to again and again in Zen biographies. In his case it was experienced first when body and mind were lost sight of; later it appeared whenever he closed his eyes, and even when they were opened he had this awareness of limitless space containing everything. (This last experience is so common in Zen accounts of realization that it was made the subject of a paper at the International Congress of Psychology in Tokyo, 1972; variations of the satori space experience were discussed, of course only in neurophysiological terms as a postulated change in the body image.) It is to be noted that the teacher neither disapproved nor approved of this expressly, but set the second koan.
When the Mongols were extending their conquests over China, a group of them broke into the Noninji temple where Bukko was living. He sat down in the meditation posture as the soldiers came up to him with drawn swords, and recited a poem:
In heaven and earth, no crack to hide;
Joy to know the man is void and the things too are void.
Splendid the great Mongolian longsword,
Its lightning flash cuts the spring breeze.
The Mongols were impressed with his courage and left him alone.
When he was in Japan, Bukko fell ill and the doctors recommended the mogusa cautery, if he could stand it. In this treatment, little pinches of the herb are placed on the body, often in a line on either side of the spine, and are set alight. Before the operation, a busy-body inquired, ‘Is this cautery to be applied to the individual body or to the universal dharma-body? If it is to the individual body, well, a Zen master knows that he is the universal body, so he will not be affected by it; and if it is to be applied to the universal body, why, the universal body is not ill.’
Bukko replied in a verse:
Fire, and the whole body ablaze!
Every mote in the air and every grain of earth aflame.
The old monk endures it for no other purpose than this:
That the spiritual illness of all living beings be healed.
Bukko was in Japan only six years, and he never learned Japanese well. What he said was taken down phonetically, if no interpreter was present, and translated later. Imai Fukuzan, who examined and analysed many of the old records at Enkakuji and Kenchoji before they were largely destroyed by the great earthquake in 1924, said that many of these notes still remained. It is clear that the scribe often did not understand them at all – one which was preserved along with the others long remained a riddle, but in the end turned out to be,‘Come in, come in! I have something to say to you.’
Bukko was the inspirer of the regent Tokimune, who was his devoted pupil $ after Tokimune’s forces had repelled the second Mongol invasion Bukko had the desire to return to China to die there, but put it off at the entreaty of Tokimune.
Bukko had a Chinese sense of humour, which may sometimes have been a puzzle to his pupils. In the koan about seeing a dragon (see Koan 84) Bukko quoted the traditional figure of twenty-one days for the meditation retreat. He must have seen his hearers, from a people not naturally patient, making their mental calculations – something contrary to the spirit of Zen. So he concluded, ‘If you can’t see it on the twenty-first day, practise for twenty-one weeks. And if you still do not see it, then press your practice on for twenty-one years, all hours of the day and night, never forgetting your vow, and when the last day comes you will surely meet a dragon.’
Another example of humour, containing deep spiritual instruction, was a short ‘sermon for the librarian’. He said that in China a monk used to sit in meditation in the library but never read any of the books. The librarian asked why he did not use them, and the monk said, ‘I cannot read the characters.’
‘You can ask me to read them for you,’ said the librarian.
The monk stood up with his hands clasped across his breast in the formal Zen standing posture, and said,
‘What character is this?’
The librarian had no reply.