Samurai Zen

The Warrior Koans unites 100 of the rare riddles representing the core spiritual discipline of Japan’s ancient samurai tradition. Dating from the thirteenth-century records of Japan’s Kamakura temples, and traditionally guarded with a reverent secrecy, they reflect the earliest manifestation of pure Zen in Japan as created by Zen Masters for their warrior pupils. Unlike the classical Chinese koan riddles, the Japanese koans used incidents from everyday life – a broken teacup, a water-jar, a cloth – to bring the warrior pupils of the samurai to the Zen realization. As key preparatory tests, they were direct attempts to waken the sleeping wisdom in each man, found in the region of conscious meditation that is without thought. Their aim was to enable a widening of consciousness beyond the illusions of the limited self, and a joyful inspiration in life – a state that has been compared to being free under a …

Read moreSamurai Zen

Zen in riddling form

This is an almost unknown but very important text recording Zen incidents from the first stages of Zen in Japan. It survived in tiny editions. It would appear that Dr D.T. Susuki did not know it directly though he refers vaguely to a collection of koans given to warriors by the first immigrant Zen teachers from China. It contains some important material in their lives as is now recognized in the official history of the founder of Kenchoji temple in 1253. Below are given a few extracts from this recently published history. EXTRACTS FROM THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY OF DAIKAKU (1988) Kenchoji, founded 1253, is one of the oldest purely Zen temples in Japan. In 1988 this large and wealthy temple produced a handsome, massively researched 700-page biography of its first Master, the Chinese monk known in Japan by his honorific title Daikaku. After the materials on China the first text …

Read moreZen in riddling form

Shonan-katto-roku

The collection of 100 odd koans here presented in translation was put together in 1545, under the name Shonan-katto-roku, from records in the Kamakura temples dating back to the foundation of Kenchoji in 1253 when pure Zen first came to Japan. For a long time the teachers at Kamakura were mainly Chinese masters, who came in a stream for over a century. As a result, this Zen was conducted between masters and pupils not fluent in each other’s language. On the political and religious background, there are explanations in my book Zen and the Ways, in which I translated about one quarter of these koans. In that book I gave some account of the then Rinzai system of koan riddles, and the modifications that were introduced when this line of Zen came to Japan. The text in its present form was reconstituted from fragmentary records in Kenchoji and other temples …

Read moreShonan-katto-roku

Women in the Warrior Koans

Ten of the hundred stories centre round women mostly of the Warrior class who were noted for their virtue and strength of character. A special feature of Zen has been the absence of prejudice against women; anyone who could practise the discipline was of equal status with everyone else. While there are stories such as the sermon of the nun Shido (No. 87) and the Paper Sword (No. 69), a special point is the creativity which appears in this brief record of the poems in No. 41. In Zen as it developed in China the original living incidents recorded in the Transmissions of the Light were revived and set as koan riddles to later generations. The scene was set mostly against a monastery background, and the main characters would have been familiar. But it meant that creativity of the original was now replaced by a revival which had to be …

Read moreWomen in the Warrior Koans

Imai Fukuzan’s Introduction to Shonan-katto-roku

The origin of warrior Zen in Kamakura, and in the whole of the eastern part of Japan, goes back to the training of warrior pupils by Eisai (Senko Kokushi). But it was the training of warriors and priests by two great Chinese masters, Daikaku and Bukko, which became the Zen style of the Kamakura temples. There were three streams in Kamakura Zen: scriptural Zen; on-the-instant (shikin) Zen; Zen adapted to the pupil (ki-en Zen). Scriptural Zen derives from Eisai, founder of Jufukuji in Kamakura in 1215, and of Kenninji in Kyoto. But at that time it was rare to find in Kamakura any samurai who had literary attainments, so that the classical koans from Chinese records of patriarchs could hardly be given to them. The teacher therefore selected passages from various sutras for the warriors, and for monks also. These specially devised scriptural Zen koans used by Eisai at Kamakura …

Read moreImai Fukuzan’s Introduction to Shonan-katto-roku

Extracts from Imai Fukuzan’s Introduction to Warrior Zen

EXTRACTS FROM IMAI FUKUZAN’S INTRODUCTION TO WARRIOR ZEN According to the Nyudosanzenki (Records of Lay Zen) — the postscript of the first volume of the manuscript of Zenko and the introduction to volume eight of the Kencho manuscripts — the Zen training of warriors at Kamakura fell into two stages. Up to the end of the Muromachi period (1573), incidents from the training of the early warrior disciples were set as koans to beginners, and only afterwards were the classical koans concerning Buddhas and patriarchs used extensively. The incidents from the Zen training of warriors were the kind recorded in the Shonankattoroku. But after the end of the Muromachi era, it became common among teachers to present warriors with nothing but classical koans from the very beginning, and those who used the incidents from warrior training as koans gradually became very few. So that the three hundred odd koans of …

Read moreExtracts from Imai Fukuzan’s Introduction to Warrior Zen

The mirror of Enkakuji – Koan 1

No. 1. The mirror of Enkakuji Regent Tokiyori founded the great temple of Kenchoji for the teaching of Buddhism, but the temple soon could not accommodate all the many warriors who became students (nyudo) in order to enter the Buddhist path and give all their free time to it. So in the first year of Koan (1278) Tokimune, Tokiyori’s son, decided to build another great temple, and invited priest Rankei (afterwards Daikaku) to choose the Brahma-ground, as the site for a temple is called. Teacher and regent walked together round the nearby hills, and found the ruins of a Shingon temple (of the mantra sect) where Minamoto Yoshiyori had once set up a pagoda of Perfect Realization. They decided on this as the place to plant the banner of the Law. First the teacher performed a purification, and made three strokes with a mattock; then the regent made three strokes, …

Read moreThe mirror of Enkakuji – Koan 1

Hachiman asks to hear the dharma – Koan 2

No. 2. Hachiman asks to hear the dharma When Daikaku was living at Kenchoji temple, the old pines by the lake — which is in the form of a heart — began to bend of themselves. The monks wondered, and asked the teacher about it. The teacher said: ‘The god Hachiman comes; he treads on the pines as he comes to ask me about the dharma. And so the pines are bowed.’ (Imai’s note: This has to be understood in a Zen sense.) TESTS What did Daikaku really mean by saying that the god trod on the pines and so they became bowed? Right now the god Hachiman is treading on this old back as he comes to ask about the dharma, and so my back is bowed. O monks of the congregation, do you know how to hear the dharma in your spiritual experience? This incident became a koan …

Read moreHachiman asks to hear the dharma – Koan 2

Saving Sajiwara’s Soul – Koan 3

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the sixth year of Kencho (1255), the rite of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts was being performed at the Karataka mountain gate of Kenchoji temple. When the sutra reading had been completed, however, priest Rankei (Master Daikaku) suddenly pointed to the main gate and shouted: ‘A knight has come through the gate. It is Kajiwara Kagetoki, of many treacheries. Bring him to salvation quickly!’ The monks all stared hard at the gate, but could see no knight there. Only the head monk shouted, ‘Clear to see!’ He left the line and went back to the Zen hall. Then the teacher berated the others, saying: ‘Look at the crowds of you, supposed to be saving myriad spirits in the three worlds, and yet you cannot save one knight – blind clods! The rite must be performed again at the main gate, and the …

Read moreSaving Sajiwara’s Soul – Koan 3

Daikaku’s one-word Sutra – Koan 4

At the beginning of the Kencho era (1249), ‘Old Buddha’ Daikaku was invited from Kyoto by the shogun Tokiyori to spread Zen in the East of Japan. Some priests and laymen of other sects were not at all pleased at this, and out of jealousy spread it around that the teacher was a spy sent to Japan by the Mongols; gradually more and more people began to believe it. At the time the Mongols were in fact sending emissaries to Japan, and the shogun’s government, misled by the campaign of rumours, transferred the teacher to Koshu. He was not the least disturbed, but gladly followed the karma which led him away. Some officials there who were firm believers in repetition of the formula of the Lotus, or in recitation of the name of Amida, one day came to him and said: ‘The Heart Sutra which is read in the Zen …

Read moreDaikaku’s one-word Sutra – Koan 4

Bukko’s No-Word Sutra – Koan 5

Ryo-A, a priest of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine, came to Magaku (National teacher Bukko, who succeeded Daikaku) and told him the story of Daikaku’s one-word sutra. He said: ‘I do not ask about the six or seven syllables recited by other sects, but what is the one word of Zen?’ The teacher said: ‘Our school does not set up any word; its dharma is a special transmission outside scriptures, a truth transmitted from heart to heart. If you can penetrate through to that, your whole life will be a dharani (Buddhist mantra), and your death will be a dharani. What would you be wanting with a word or half a word? The old master Daikaku went deep into the forest and put one word down there, and now the whole Zen world is tearing itself to pieces on the thorns, trying to find it. If the reverend Ryo-A before me …

Read moreBukko’s No-Word Sutra – Koan 5

Daikaku’s One-Robe Zen – Koan 6

A priest from the headquarters of the regent Yasutoki visited Kenchoji and remarked to Daikaku: ‘Eisai and Gyoyu began the propagation of Zen here in Kamakura, but the two greatest teachers of the way of the patriarchs have been Dogen (of the Soto sect) and Bennen (later National Teacher Shoichi). Both of them came to Kamakura at the invitation of regent Tokiyori to teach Zen, but both left before a year was out. So there are not many among the warriors here who have much understanding of Zen. In fact some are so ignorant about it that they think the character for Zen – written as they think by combining the characters for “garment” and “single” – means just that. They believe that Zen monks of India in the mountains practised special austerities, and even in winter wore only one cotton robe, and that the name of the sect arose …

Read moreDaikaku’s One-Robe Zen – Koan 6

Bukko’s Loin-Cloth Zen – Variant on Koan 6.

On the staff of Yasutsura Genbansuke, a minister of Hojo Yasutoki, was one Morikatsu who was a nyudo student of Zen. Once when he came to Enkakuji he met one of Bukko’s attendants named Isshin, and said to him: ‘That stupid crowd at Kamakura don’t know how to write the name of our sect with the proper character, but get it mixed up with the character for “loin-cloth”. They’re an odd lot.’ The attendant was distressed that people should thus casually degrade the word Zen, and mentioned the matter to the teacher, who laughed and said: ‘Loin-cloth is indeed the great concern of our Zen gate, and those Kamakura soldiers must not be condemned for lack of learning. What gives the life to men is the power of the front gate (of men and women), and when they die, it ends with the (excretion at the) back gate. Is not …

Read moreBukko’s Loin-Cloth Zen – Variant on Koan 6.

The Bucket without a Bottom – Koan 7

(Imai’s note: The nun Mujaku, whose lay name was Chiyono, was a woman of Akita who married and had one daughter. In 1276 when she was thirty-four her husband died, and she could not get over the grief. She became a nun, and trained under Bukko. The story is that on the evening of a fifteenth day of August, when she was filling her lacquer flower-bucket where the valley stream comes down, the bottom fell out; seeing the water spilling she had a flash of insight, and made a poem on it to present to the teacher. Later he set her a classical koan, Three Pivot-phrases of Oryu, and examined her minutely on it, and she was able to meet the questions. Again she continued interviews with him for a long time, and in the end he ‘passed over the robe and bowl’, namely authorized her as a successor to …

Read moreThe Bucket without a Bottom – Koan 7

Jizo Stands Up – Koan 8

When Hojo Soun attacked Odawara Castle and was occupying Kanto, the eastern part of Japan, the soldiers of the areas round Kamakura forced their way onto the lands of the temples; as their number gradually increased, Kenchoji was in dire straits. On a winter day in the first year of Tenmon (1532), the teacher Yakkoku, the 169th master at Kenchoji, disregarding his own illness got up and gave an address from the high seat. Glaring at the congregation, of all ranks, he said: ‘Men of great virtue, I ask you this – make the seated Jizo image in this hall stand up!’ Out of this occasion came one of the koans at Kenchoji. The samurai Mamiya Munekatsu, who had a position as a temple official, confined himself in the great hall where the image was – a wooden Jizo seated on the lotus altar – for twenty-one days, vowing to …

Read moreJizo Stands Up – Koan 8

Jizo coming out of the Hall – Koan 9

When Nitta Yoshisada’s soldiers were burning the country-side in 1331, they attacked the Kamakura temples with fire, and Kenchoji was set alight. It is said that the monk in charge of the main hall put the great image of Jizo on his back and carried it to safety. The Jizo was sixteen foot in height and breadth, and weighed over 800 pounds. The doors of the Buddha-hall made an opening of only eight foot. How did the monk carry the Jizo out through that opening?  TESTS (1) Surely all of you are men of mighty strength? Now try and see! Carry on your back an 800-pound Jizo. (2) How do you carry out a sixteen-foot image through an eight-foot opening? Say! This began to be used as a koan at the interviews of Master Ichigen, the 115th teacher at Kenchoji. T.P.L  

The Well of Youth – Koan 10

Since the Minamoto shogun set up his capital at Kamakura, seventeen times there has been a drought so long that the wells ceased to give water. At those times the country folk came to Kenchoji to draw water from the two wells called Golden Bright and Youth, to allay their thirst. The water of the well of Youth was traditionally reputed to have the special virtue of prolonging life, and invigorating the aged. The warrior pupil Ota Kunikiyo brought this up at the end of an interview with Master Seisetsu, the 22nd teacher at Kenchoji. The teacher said: ‘Leave for a moment the question whether the well of Youth water can prolong life. Length of life is the number of years between a man’s birth and his death, but it is not predetermined. So how will Your Honour know whether in a particular case the life has been made longer, …

Read moreThe Well of Youth – Koan 10

Putting out the fire in Hell Valley – Koan 11

In the third month of the tenth year of Koan (1287) Master Bukkaku built the Eshunan sub-temple in the place called Hell Valley. It had been the execution ground when the Minamoto shogun Yoritomo founded his government, and the people had a deep dread of the place, as haunted by lost spirits of the executed. After the sub-temple had been built there, the presence of the lost spirits manifested as an appearance of blue flame coming from under the floor of the kitchen. The teacher was therefore asked to hold a memorial service for them. That evening he bent double and crept under the floor, pissed on the herd of demons who were visible in the flame, and came out. The magic flame was put out, and never appeared again, and the local people called this the Pissing Memorial Service of Eshunan.  TESTS (1) The blue flame at Eshunan was …

Read morePutting out the fire in Hell Valley – Koan 11

Rankei’s Shari Pearls – Koan 12

On the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month of the first year of Koan (1276) Master Rankei (Daikaku) passed away, and at the cremation at Kenchoji there were clusters of shari pearls among the ashes. Even the leaves of the trees nearby which had been wreathed in the smoke put forth shari pearls. The ancient tradition says that according to the power of samadhi of the life that has been lived, shari pearls will be many or less, and what happened demonstrated the depth of the samadhi power of Master Rankei. The Zen pupil Ota related this to Master Jikusen, the 29th master at Kenchoji, and asked: ‘Will there be many shari pearls when you yourself pass away?’ The teacher replied: ‘Why wait for death for this old priest’s shari pearls? The trees were putting them forth before I was born.’  TESTS (1) What do shari pearls come from? If …

Read moreRankei’s Shari Pearls – Koan 12

The Deer at the Sermon – Koan 13

In the fifth year of Koan (1282) when Tokimune built the great temple of Enkakuji and National Teacher Bukko was installed as the founder, the white deer used to assemble in a herd and come to hear the dharma, eyes glistening with tears. At the time there was in Kamakura a hunter who reared fierce hounds which would rush barking through the mountains in pursuit of the prey. At these times the deer herd was fortunately safe from the teeth of the hounds, assembled as they were in the garden of the sermon hall. It was a blessed omen indeed, and so the temple came to be called the temple of the Blessed Deer; and it is also said that the grass of the place where they grazed came to be called Enkakuji grass.  TESTS (1) Deer have never been known to understand human speech, so how was it that …

Read moreThe Deer at the Sermon – Koan 13

The Snake round the Ginko Tree – Koan 14

In the fourth month of the third year of Kencho (1249), Priest Rankei (Zen master Daikaku) was at Jorakuji temple in Kamakura. One of his students, Ronen, braving the dangers of the night came a long way for an interview, and arrived early in the morning. As he came in the gate, he saw round a ginko tree a white snake, coiled seven and a half times. As Ronen stared fixedly at it, the scaled form vanished like a dream. When he came to the hall, he told the master’s attendant monk about it. The monk said: ‘Benzaiten (the goddess of prosperity) of Enoshima Island reveres the Master, and watches over this temple. What you saw will have been some divine form of hers.’ Ronen said: ‘Can even a long snake get the dharma from the Master?’ The attendant said: ‘A long one is a long dharma-body; a short one …

Read moreThe Snake round the Ginko Tree – Koan 14

The Dragon Crest – Koan 15

During a break in the gardening, some of the gardener monks were talking under the pines in the garden behind the abbot’s quarters, and it was recalled how in the old days Hojo Tokimasa (1138–1215; regent 1203–5) as a young man went into retreat at a temple on Enoshima Island, praying for lasting success in his campaigns. On the last night of the twenty-one days’ retreat, a beautiful princess in a green robe appeared and prophesied, ‘Your line will have the supremacy; the tide of glory is rising to your gate.’ She changed into a twenty-foot snake and entered the sea, leaving three fish-like scales on the shore, which Tokimasa took and made into a luminous banner. And so it is said that the great temples of Kenchoji, Enkakuji and others have three fish-scales in their temple crests. Then the monks were arguing about the dragon carved on the pillar …

Read moreThe Dragon Crest – Koan 15

The Great Buddha of Haste – Koan16

Michimasa, a warrior Zen student of Suwa, made a pilgrimage to the Great Buddha of Hase (Kamakura), and on the way back paid a visit to Enkakuji, where he had an interview with priest Daikyu (died 1289). He talked about the circumstances of the construction of the Great Buddha, and showed the paper charm which he had got from the temple there. The teacher asked what was the weight of the Great Buddha. Michimasa said: ‘The Great Buddha has become worn away because these days it is exposed to wind and rain (after the destruction by storm of the wooden temple in which it was originally housed – Tr.). So its weight now cannot be what it was when the Buddha was newly made and installed in the hall. Today one cannot know just what its weight would be.’ The teacher said: ‘I am not asking about a Great Buddha …

Read moreThe Great Buddha of Haste – Koan16

Numbering the Waves on Yui Beach – Koan 17

Minamoto Munatsune, in the spring of the first year of Shogen (1259) when he was seventy-five years of age, came to Kenchoji to become a shaven-headed monk, with the name of Gido. The great teacher Rankei (namely Daikaku) had a formal interview with him, and taking him to be good spiritual material, set him the riddle of how many waves there are on Yui beach. Gido poured out his heart’s blood on this for two years, and finally breaking through the confusion he made answer in a Chinese poem: In the ocean of the holy dharmaThere is neither movement nor stillness.The essence of the wave is like a mirror;When something comes, the reflection appears.When there is nothing in the mind,Wind and waves are both forgotten.  He made a verse in Japanese about his time of practice: Two years of wandering on Yui beach.There was no need to number off the …

Read moreNumbering the Waves on Yui Beach – Koan 17

Tokimune’s Thing below the Navel – Koan 18

(When Tokimune received the news that the Mongol armada was poised to attack Japan, he went in full armour to see Bukkoo his teacher, and said: ‘The great thing has come,’ to which the teacher replied: ‘Can you somehow avoid it?’ Tokimune calmly stamped his feet, shook his whole body and gave a tremendous shout of Katzu! The teacher said: ‘A real lion cub, a real lion roar. Dash straight forward and don’t look round!’ After the defeat of the Mongols, Tokimune built the great monastery of Enkakuji, and installed in it the representation of Jizo-of-a-thousand-forms. Bukko became the first teacher there. Tokimune organized a great religious service for the souls of the dead of both sides. Soon afterwards he died at the age of thirty-three. In the funeral oration Bukko said that he had been a Bodhisattva – ‘for nearly twenty years he ruled without showing joy or anger; …

Read moreTokimune’s Thing below the Navel – Koan 18

The Gate by which all the Buddhas come into the World – Koan 19

Originally Enkakuji was a place forbidden to women, with the exception that unmarried women of a samurai family who were training at Zen were allowed to come and go through the gate. After 1334 a rule was made that unless a woman had attained to ‘seeing the nature’ she was not allowed to go to the Great Light Hall. In time it became the custom that the keeper of the gate, when a woman applied to go through, would present a test question. According to one tradition from that time (recorded in the commentary to Sorinzakki – Imai), five tests were in use at the gate of Enkakuji: TESTS (1) The gate has many thresholds: even Buddhas and patriarchs cannot get through. If you would enter, give the pass-word. (2) The strong iron door is hardly to be opened. Let one of mighty power tear it off its hinges. (3) …

Read moreThe Gate by which all the Buddhas come into the World – Koan 19

The Rite of the Treasury of Space – Koan 20

The officer Nagayasu, who had a position at Jufukuji temple, remarked to Bukko’s attendant Eibin: ‘When the founder, National Teacher Bukko, came to Kamakura and began to teach at Jufukuji, he was so ridiculously short that many of the warriors despised him. At that time they greatly respected men of commanding physique, and had a corresponding contempt for a poor one. They say that the teacher regretted this, and undertook to perform the Esoteric rite called Treasury of Space, for one hundred days. When he first came into the hall to begin, his height was marked by a notch on the pillar in front of the hall, and when the period of a hundred days was up, his height was again measured. He was four inches taller. ‘Now in your case too, I can see that as you are very short, some of the warriors are bound to despise you. …

Read moreThe Rite of the Treasury of Space – Koan 20

How Priest Isshin saved the Ghost – Koan 21

In the summer of the third year of Enkei (1310), the ghost of Hojo Munekata appeared and cursed the regent Morotoki (his descendant, under whom the Hojo regime was crumbling). Morotoki was aghast at the apparition, and had the goma rite performed at the Hachiman Shrine and by high priests in the Esoteric sect, but without finding any relief for his fears. On the ninth day of the eleventh month of the same year, he was sitting alone in an arbour, when looking up at the garden before him, he saw the angry ghost of Munekata. He felt a sword thrust through him, vomited blood and fell senseless. The Confucian scholar Yasumaro being consulted told him: ‘There were such cases in the T’ang Dynasty in China. King Hsuan of Chou, again, had his minister Tu Po executed; afterwards the ghost appeared and the king felt as if an arrow had …

Read moreHow Priest Isshin saved the Ghost – Koan 21

Stopping the fighting across the River – Koan 22

In the first year of Tê Yu (1275) priest Mugaku (Bukko) had planted the banner of the dharma at Chênju temple in the province of T’ai Chou when the Mongols invaded China and overran the province. The teacher accordingly withdrew to Nêngjên temple in Wên Chou, but next year they came plundering into that province too. When one party of Mongol soldiers attacked Nêngjên temple, everyone fled except the teacher, who sat quietly in the main hall. (The official) Ch’ên Kuo-hsiang often visited the master as a pupil. The teacher, pointing to the Mongol camp across the Wen river, said, ‘There is a rope across the river into the camp. Do you make trial of it.’ (Do you stop the fighting – Imai.) Hsiang said: ‘How can I make trial of it?’ The teacher suddenly grabbed hold of Hsiang and slapped his face. Hsiang instantly had a realization, and made …

Read moreStopping the fighting across the River – Koan 22

The Verse facing Death – Koan 23

In the eighth month of the second year of Tê Yu priest Mugaku (Zen master Bukko) when facing death by the sword of a Mongol soldier spoke the verse: 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 long sword,Its lightning flash cuts the spring breeze  TESTS (1) Which line contains the essence of all four lines? (2) Men and things are right before us now; how can one make them out to be void? (3) What does the phrase about the lightning flash mean? This koan began to be used in the interviews of Sei Seccho, the 16th master at Enkakuji. T.P.L

The Cave of the Man in Mount Fuji – Koan 24

(Imai’s note: In the Record of Nine Generations of the Hojo Rulers, the first part, the following story occurs: On the third day of the sixth month of the third year of Kennin (1203 A.D.) the Shogun Yoriie went hunting on the foot-slopes of Mount Fuji, in the country of Suruga. There is a big cave on the lower slope of the mountain which the local people call the Cave of Man. He thought he would like to find out where it led, and called Nitta Shiro Tadatsune; giving him a most precious sword, he told him to go into the cave and explore it to the end. Tadatsune bowed, received the sword and withdrew. At the head of a party of six, he went into the cave. The next day, the fourth, at the hour of the snake (10 a.m.) Shiro Tadatsune came back out of the cave, his …

Read moreThe Cave of the Man in Mount Fuji – Koan 24

The Nembutsu Robe – Koan 25

The Shogun Yoriie detested the followers of the Nembutsu (recitation of the name of Amida Buddha in the formula Namu-A-mi-da-butsu), and in May 1213 he issued a decree forbidding the recitation. He ordered Yashiro Hiki to investigate travellers, and if he found any priest of the Nembutsu persuasion, to take his robe and burn it. To carry out this order, Yashiro inspected travellers at the side of Mandokoro bridge, and if he found any priest of Nembutsu, he stripped off his robe and burnt it. If he discovered he was breaking the decree banning Nembutsu, he arrested him and threw him into prison. At this time there was in Ise a Nembutsu follower called Shonenbo (the Name-reciting priest), and he came to Kamakura and performed the recitation there. Yashiro arrested him and went to burn his robe. Shonenbo said, ‘This robe is the banner of the Three Treasures, it is …

Read moreThe Nembutsu Robe – Koan 25

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 …

Read moreBenzaiten of Enoshima – Koan 26

The God Hachiman – Koan 27

After paying a visit to worship at the shrine of Hachiman at Tsurugaoka, Oba Kagemitsu (a descendant of the Oba Kageyoshi who had been in charge of the construction of the Hachiman shrine) called at Enkakuji and had an interview with National Teacher Bukko. The teacher asked: ‘Which way does Hachiman face?’ Kagemitsu said: ‘He faces the Great Teacher directly.’ The teacher covered his face with his fan and said: ‘How is it now?’ (Imai’s note: When the teacher is dead) Kagemitsu hesitated. The teacher snapped the fan shut and hit him on the forehead with it. Kagemitsu had a realization, made a salutation and left. TEST How could that blow by Bukko, Teacher of the Nation, be the occasion of a realization? This incident was first given as a koan in Kamakura Zen by priest Nei-issan, 7th master at Enkakuji, to the Ajari (Tendai priest) Hayashi Kobo Ryotatsu. T.P.L …

Read moreThe God Hachiman – Koan 27

The rite of the Wind God at Kamakura – Koan 28

In the second year of Kangi (1229) there were portents of evil in the East of Japan. On the sixth day of the seventh month there was a frost at Kamakura, and at Kanago district in Musashi province, flakes of snow fell. The diviners searched the records, to find that in the 39th year of the reign of the Emperor Kogen (reigned 214–158 BC) snow had fallen in June, and there had been a great snowfall in June of the 34th year of the Empress Suiko (592–628), and another in the same month of the eighth year of the era called Engi (the middle part of the reign) of Emperor Daigo (897–930). At these times there had been a bad year, the people in distress and fighting breaking out between local gangs. The diviners gave grave warnings that the omens portended calamities of a similar nature, with starvation and insurrection. …

Read moreThe rite of the Wind God at Kamakura – Koan 28

The One-Word charm of Enkakuji – Koan 29

An official who was administrator for Okura in the Kamakura district said to the great teacher Mugaku (afterwards Bukko, Teacher of the Nation): ‘In the twelfth month of the fourth year of Jijo (1180), the Minamoto general Raicho planned to build a new palace in Okura; Oba Kageyoshi who was in charge realized that he could not construct a whole new palace in time. So my ancestor, the prefect here, had one very large mansion from within this area which is now the temple compound of Enkakuji, transported to Okura to make up the great palace. This edifice was said to have been built originally in Shoryaku times (990), and in those ancient days Abe Yasuaki brushed a protective charm for the preservation of the house. It was nailed to the ridgepole, since when over the centuries it has had no upsets of fortune, and this miraculous protection is spoken …

Read moreThe One-Word charm of Enkakuji – Koan 29

Mirror Zen – Koans 30

(Imai’s Introduction: At the beginning of the Jokyu era (1219), fifty days before the fighting broke out, the Nun Shogun (Hojo Masako) had a dream of a great mirror floating in the waves off Yui beach, and a voice coming from it: ‘I am the voice of the great shrine, and what is to happen in the world is seen in me. There is a war imminent, and the army must be mobilized. If Yasutoki polishes me, he will be victorious and bring about a great peace.’ On hearing this dream, Yasutoki sent Hatanojiro Tomosada as an emissary to the great shrine at Yui beach, to pray for the peace of the land. When the Jokyu rebellion had been put down, Yasutoki had a mirror made with a circumference of six foot, following the description of the spirit mirror given by the Nun Shogun of her vision, and it was …

Read moreMirror Zen – Koans 30

The very first Jizo – Koan 31

Sakawa Koresada, a direct retainer of the Uesugi family, entered the main hall at Kenchoji and prayed to the Jizo-of-a-Thousand-Forms there. Then he asked the attendant monk in charge of the hall: ‘Of these thousand forms of Jizo, which is the very first Jizo?’ The attendant said, ‘In the breast of the retainer before me are a thousand thoughts and ten thousand imaginings; which of these is the very first one?’ The samurai was silent. The attendant said again, ‘Of the thousand forms of Jizo, the very first Jizo is the Buddha-lord who is always using those thousand forms.’ The warrior said, ‘Who is this Buddha-lord?’ The attendant suddenly caught him and twisted his nose. The samurai immediately had a realization. TESTS (1) Which is the very first Jizo out of the thousand-formed Jizo? (2) Which is the very first out of the thousand thoughts and ten thousand imaginings? (3) …

Read moreThe very first Jizo – Koan 31

The Nyo-I Sickle of Enkakuji – Koan 32

Ujihira, a steward of the Hojo Regent, one day visited Enkakuji and told Bukko about the name Kamakura, which means literally Sickle-store (kama = sickle; kura = store): In ancient times, there was born at Hitachi a man named Kamatari, and when he was young he went to the capital and served at the palace, where he assisted with great devotion in the great affairs of state. The Emperor Tenchi in the eighth year of his reign (669 AD) gave him the new name of Fujiwara, and his house prospered exceedingly. He undertook a pilgrimage to the shrine of Kashima in Hitachi, and on the way back stopped at the village of Yui in Musashi province, where he had a wonderful dream. As a token he buried a sickle (kama) at Matsugaoka of O-kura, and thereafter the place was called Kama-kura. The teacher said: ‘That sickle – where is it …

Read moreThe Nyo-I Sickle of Enkakuji – Koan 32

The Cat-Monster – Koan 33

No. 33. THE CAT-MONSTER When Odawara Castle fell to the attackers in the Meio period (the end of the fifteenth century), Akiko, who had been a maid in the service of Mori Fujiyori, the lord of the castle, escaped with a cat which had been her pet for years. She took refuge in the villa of the painter Takuma at Kinokubo by the Nameri River. She lived there some years, and then the cat became a wild supernatural monster which terrorized the people, finally even preying on infants in the village. The local officials joined with the people in attempts to catch it, but with its strange powers of appearing and disappearing, the swordsmen and archers could find nothing to attack, and men and women went in dread day and night. Then in December of the second year of Eisho (1505), priest Yakkoku went up on to the dais at …

Read moreThe Cat-Monster – Koan 33

The destruction of the Toad at Kaizoji – Koan 34

During the regency, in the twenty-third year of O-ei (1316), Uesugi Ahonokami Norizane retired, on the fifth day of the eighth month, to Shirai Castle in his domain in Kamakura, to mourn for Ashikaga Mochiuji (for whose life, though an enemy, he had pleaded). At the same time Uesugi retainers, apprehending danger to themselves in the troubled times, left Kamakura and dispersed in many places in Izu and other regions, with a good number of them also renouncing home to become students at the temples of Kamakura. Now Suwako, one of Uesugi’s favourite concubines, had fallen in love with Iwai Hanzo Kaneshige (an official at Kaizoji temple). Because of this affair, she did not wish to go to Shirai Castle with her lord. She suddenly appeared at Kaizoji, and in an agony of frustration, stabbed herself. Kaneshige, fearful that the whole circumstance would come to light, buried her at night …

Read moreThe destruction of the Toad at Kaizoji – Koan 34

The Kannon at Haste – Koan 35

Miura Nobuto, naval commander at Hase, had practised Zen for a long time. He happened to mention to the teacher Hakudo, when he met him on the occasion of a ceremony of confession and absolution at Hokokuji temple, that the Kannon at Hase was a great figure over ten feet high. The teacher said, ‘What is the difference in weight between Your Honour and Kannon?’ The commander said, ‘The weight is the same.’ The teacher: ‘Your Honour is just over five feet tall. How can your weight be the same as Kannon over ten feet?’ The commander: ‘The weighing was done before I was born.’ The teacher: ‘I’m not asking about before you were born. What is it now?’ The commander: ‘By the power of meditation on Kannon, the weight comes out the same.’ TESTS (1) How can the weights be compared before birth? (2) What really is this saying …

Read moreThe Kannon at Haste – Koan 35

Yakushi of a thousand forms – Koan 36

On the eighth day of the eleventh month of the first year of Katei (1235) General Yoritsune was in great pain from an infected wound. All shrines and temples were to offer prayers for him, and the Buddhist image-maker Yasusada was ordered to make, in a single night, a Yakushi of a thousand forms, each one to be 1 ft 6 ins (Yakushi is the bodhisattva of healing). And the astrologer Chikamoto was to perform a ceremony 36,000 times in the same time. It is said that in the event, the general recovered in less than a day. I don’t ask you about the 36,000 ceremonies, but how could the thousand images of Yakushi be made in a single night? TEST Those in the line of the patriarchs are said to have the ability to use a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. Now use them to make the Yakushi …

Read moreYakushi of a thousand forms – Koan 36

The Snake at Itozaki – Koan 37

(Imai’s note: In the third volume of the Chronicles of Nine Generations of the Hojo Rulers is the following story: On the first day of the sixth month of the third year of Kennin (1203 AD) General Yoriie was stopping at a hunting lodge in a remote part of Izu. In the mountains at a place called Itozaki there is a great cave. Lord Yoriie felt that there was something strange within it, and Wada Heitaro ordered a warrior named Tanenaga to investigate the interior. Tanenaga took a pine-torch and went into the cave. He was there from the hour of the snake (10 a.m.) till the hour of the bird (6 a.m.), when he came out and reported. Within the cave he had gone along several leagues. The darkness was indescribable. Holding high the pinetorch he went far in; in places there was a little stream flowing. On each …

Read moreThe Snake at Itozaki – Koan 37

Bukko’s Age – Koan 38

Priest Mugaku (later called Bukko Kokushi) was fifty-six when he came to Kamakura and founded Enkakuji. With his white hair and old face, he looked like one who had passed the seventieth year. The saint Jonen heard it said that the old priest was only in his fifties, and hesitantly asked him how old he was. The teacher replied, ‘The same as Amida.’ The saint said, ‘Why, how old is Amida?’ The teacher said, ‘Amida is the same age as the saint before me. If the saint knows the origin of the true life of himself, he will realize the Buddha’s age, and will know how many years is this old monk.’  TESTS (1) Setting aside the teacher’s age, setting aside the Buddha’s age, at this instant what is the origin of your own true life? (2) Amida Buddha is called the Tathagata of eternal ages. How about you? (3) …

Read moreBukko’s Age – Koan 38

The Birth of the Buddha – Koan 39

Ishida Yamato-no-kami entered upon the Way at Enkakuji, where he had the Zen interviews with Ikka, who was the 124th teacher there. One day he asked the teacher, ‘In the scriptures which I have been reading since I began here, there are various different teachings about the day of the Buddha’s birth. Which day of which month is the right one?’ The teacher said, ‘Don’t talk about different teachings. When you see the nature to be Buddha, that is the birth of the World-honoured One.’ TESTS (1) If you say, See the nature to be Buddha, immediately a snake with two heads appears. Are the nature and the Buddha the same or different? If the same, why does it have to tell you to see the nature to be Buddha? If there is a difference, say wherein it is, that seeing the nature is something separate from being Buddha. (2) …

Read moreThe Birth of the Buddha – Koan 39

‘The World-Honoured One has been born!’ – Koan 40

Uesugi Masayoshi entered training at Meigetsuin, and the teacher set him the koan of the birth of the Buddha. A little after one year, Masayoshi had a realization during the Rohatsu training week, and shouted, ‘The World-honoured Buddha is born!’ Then he took a few steps forward and cried loudly, ‘In heaven above and earth below I alone am the honoured one!’ The teacher said, ‘Tradition tells: that the World-honoured One was twelve monthsin the womb,that he was born from the right side of his mother,that he took seven steps and then uttered his greatcry.  How did you come out? Say, say! If you cannot say, it is no Buddha that has been born but a fox-spirit making a false appearance.’ Masayoshi said:‘I entered my home and conformed to it,I followed the karma and conformed to it,I trod on the head of Vairochana.’The teacher: ‘What is this treading?’Masayoshi: ‘The holiest …

Read more‘The World-Honoured One has been born!’ – Koan 40

The flower hall on Buddha’s birthday – Koan 41

No. 41. The flower hall on Buddha’s birthday The nun Mydan of Tokeiji practised Zen in interviews with Tanei, the 74th teacher at Enkakuji, who set her as koans the poems composed by Yodo (5th abbess of Tokeiji and a former princess) and her attendants. These poems were on the theme of gathering and arranging the flowers on the birthday of the Buddha. The poem of Yodo is: Decorate the heart of the beholder, For the Buddha of the flower hall Is nowhere else. TESTS By what do you recognize the heart of the beholder? Say how you would decorate the flower hall. If it is to worship a Buddha who is nowhere else than in the heart, then what do you want with a flower hall? Say! The poem of Ika, a former court lady is: Throw away into the street the years of the past. What is born …

Read moreThe flower hall on Buddha’s birthday – Koan 41

Sermon – Koan 42

No. 42. Sermon The head monk at Hokokuji temple was deaf and could not hear the preaching of the Dharma. He asked to take charge of the sutras as librarian, and for more than ten years he perused them. But he found that the accounts of the Buddha’s life in the various sutras did not agree, and he asked Abbot Hakudo, the fifth master of the temple, which was right. The Abbot said, ‘What is in the sutras is as a finger pointing to the moon or a net to catch fish. What is a Zen man doing muddying his mind with sutra-phrases and inferences about various teachings and wanting to know which is right and which is wrong? The head monk’s practice is itself the Buddha’s practice; when the head monk left home that was itself the Buddha’s leaving home. When the head monk attained the Way, that was …

Read moreSermon – Koan 42

The source of heaven – Koan 43

No. 43. The source of heaven In the first year of Sho-an (1299) Priest Ka-o built at Kenchoji the Tengen (Source of Heaven) retreat. On the day of the ridgepole raising, the Lord of Tango, Koremasa, came to see it, and he said, ‘I hear that the retreat has been named Source of Heaven. But is there any source from which comes heaven itself?’ ‘There is, there is,’ said the priest; ‘does Your Grace wish to see it?’ The nobleman said, ‘Then I ask you to show me.’ The priest caught hold of him, and picking up a block of wood, hit him on the crown of the head with it twice. The nobleman had a realization from the blow, and said, ‘By your grace this old knight could go beyond the thirty- three heavens and reach their source.’ TESTS Where is the way to the source of heaven? What …

Read moreThe source of heaven – Koan 43

Wielding the spear with hands empty – Koan 44

No. 44. Wielding the spear with hands empty (Imai’s note: Nanjo Masatomo, a master of the spear, was at Kenchoji to worship, and afterwards spoke with priest Gid about using a spear on horseback. Gid said, ‘Your Honour is indeed well versed in the art of the spear. But until you have known the state of wielding the spear with hands empty, you will not penetrate to the ultimate secret of the art.’ Nanjo said, ‘What do you mean?’ The teacher said, ‘No spear in the hands, no hands on the spear.’ The spear master did not understand. The teacher said further, ‘If you don’t understand, your art of the spear is a little affair of the hands alone.’) In December of 1256 Fukuzumi Hideomi, a government official, was given the koan ‘wielding the spear with hands empty’. He wrestled furiously with this without being able to attain the state, …

Read moreWielding the spear with hands empty – Koan 44

The Kenchoji library – Koan 45

No. 45. The Kenchoji library In the 15th year of Eisho (1519) the Lord of Odawara, Hojo Nagashi, was enlarging the famous Nirayama library at Izu. Desirous of enlarging the stock of books also, he had requests made to the Five Mountains and Ten Sects (i.e. the Zen temples) of Eastern Japan. Accordingly in the October of that year an emissary, Tomita Jurokoresada, came with instructions to ask the number of rare manuscripts at Kenchoji. The abbot Unei, the 174th holder of the office, told him, ‘This temple has a store of 100,000 scrolls; if you examine them, you will be able to know absolutely everything about the affairs of gods, Buddhas, and men.’ . The emissary was amazed. Then he happily reported to the librarians at Nirayama. At the time it was known that the Kenchoji library was the poorest of the libraries at Kamakura (because many MSS had …

Read moreThe Kenchoji library – Koan 45

Sameness – Koan 46

No. 46. Sameness In the first year of Shunyu (1241) of the Southern Sung Dynasty, priest Rankei (afterwards Zen Master Daikaku) came to a desire to carry Zen to the east; and in March, with five attendants (Gio, Ryosen, Ryuko, Taimon, Kotsugo) he set sail to the east for Hizen (present-day Nagasaki). But when they were passing the coast off Shantung they encountered a typhoon which sank their boat. They managed to transfer to the ship (Hachiman) which was making the same voyage, and in the 4th year of Kangen (1247), on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, they arrived at Hakata in Kyushu. (On the first boat) going east to Hizen, when the boat was being driven along by a raging wind and spun round its length by the furious waves, the passengers were terrified, and many had an aspect like death. Rankei was saying again and again …

Read moreSameness – Koan 46

The badger-headed Kannon – Koan 47

No. 47. The badger-headed Kannon At Enkakuji there was an old badger which lived for many years under the Kannon Hall of the temple complex near the lotus lake by the outer gate. It was an expert in the badger’s traditional art of bewitching passers-by, and the local people called the area in front of the main gate of Enkakuji ‘Badger’s Way’. In the first year of Oei (1394), Hojo Ujitsune (of Odawara Castle) had completed the building of a splendid temple at the foot of Mt Hakone, and he earnestly requested Priest Iten (Abbot of Daitokuji) to come from Kyoto to consecrate it. At the same time he invited all the dignitaries and Zen followers of the Kamakura Zen temples, great and small, to add to the solemnity of the occasion. He hoped that the magnificence of the temple would redound to the greater prestige and power of the …

Read moreThe badger-headed Kannon – Koan 47

The basic truth of Buddhism – Koan 48

No. 48. The basic truth of Buddhism A knight of Ofuna and a student of Zen, Kono Sadakuni, who was avoided by people because of his hasty temper, once came to Master Setsuo, the 25th master at Kenchoji temple, and shouted at the top of his voice: ‘What is the basic truth of Buddhism?’ The teacher told his attendant to light the stove, and said, ‘Come nearer, come nearer.’ The knight again asked, ‘The basic truth of Buddhism – what is it?’ The teacher beckoned to the attendant to serve him with tea and cakes. He asked again: ‘The basic truth of Buddhism — what is it?’ The teacher told the attendant to serve him rice. Then the knight said, ‘I thank you indeed for your so courteous hospitality. But unfortunately I have still not been told what is the basic truth of Buddhism.’ The Master said: ‘The basic truth …

Read moreThe basic truth of Buddhism – Koan 48

The divine snake of the Benten shrine – Koan 49

No. 49. The divine snake of the Benten shrine In the first year of Shoan (1299), on the occasion of the festival of the guardian divinity of the Kenchoji precinct, the Zen student Ota Yorikatsu paid a visit to Kenchoji and made an offering at the shrine of Benten (or Benzaiten, goddess of prosperity, also the guardian divinity). He conceived a desire to see the divine snake, which was the traditional form taken by the guardian spirit, and asked the senior priest Daishun where it was to be seen. The priest said: ‘Kenchoji has never never concealed the divine snake form of Benzaiten; it is displayed clearly before the eyes of all. I only ask you to try opening that true eye which can see the form of the divine snake coiled round this humble priest, which protects the temple, and has never never left us. This old priest is …

Read moreThe divine snake of the Benten shrine – Koan 49

Reading one’s own mind – Koan 50

No. 50. Reading one’s own mind A mountain hermit, Jokai of Suwa in Shinano Province, made a visit to Zenkoji and had an interview with priest Koho. He said: ‘I have been living on Mount Mitake in Shinano for twenty years practising the arts of the mountain hermits, and now I can easily boil sand and turn it into rice.’ The teacher said: ‘And I have been living here in this temple for twenty years practising the way of the alchemists of India, and now I can easily take up iron and turn it into gold.’ The hermit picked up one of the iron rods used as tongs in the stove and handed it to the teacher, saying, ‘Let us see you turn this to gold.’ The teacher at once took the hermit’s hand and pulled it on to the iron pot on the stove, saying, ‘Instead of my taking …

Read moreReading one’s own mind – Koan 50

The dharma-interview of Nun Mujaku – Koan 51

No. 51. The dharma-interview of Nun Mujaku In the Shoshusan traditions it is said that the nun Mujaku, before she had been ordained, used to visit the teacher Daiye (1089-1168) on Kinzan mountain, and would stop over in the priest’s quarters. (Daiye had seven women disciples, and Mujaku was the most beautiful — Imai.) The head monk Manan always objected strongly. Daiye said to him: ‘She is a woman but she has great virtue in her.’ Manan still did not approve. Daiye then insisted that he should interview her, and he reluctantly told her that he would come to see her. When Manan came, Mujaku said: ‘Will you make it a dharma-interview, or a worldly interview?’ Manan replied: ‘A dharma-interview.’ Mujaku said: ‘Then let your attendants depart.’ She went in first, and then called to him to enter her room alone. When he came past the curtain he found Mujaku …

Read moreThe dharma-interview of Nun Mujaku – Koan 51

The night interview of Nun Myotei – Koan 52

No. 52. The night interview of Nun Myotei (Imai’s note: Myotei was a widow and a woman well known for her strength of character. She trained for some years under Kimon, the 150th Master of Enkakuji; on a chance visit to the temple she had had an experience while listening to a sermon by him on the Diamond Sutra. In the year 1568 she took part in the Rohatsu training week.) (This is the most severe training week of the year; it is at the beginning of December, when according to tradition the Buddha meditated six days and nights, then looked at the morning star and attained full realization. There is almost continuous meditation broken only by interviews with the teacher, sutra chanting, meals and tea; this goes on for a week, with very little or no sleep according to the temple. On the morning after the last night’s meditation …

Read moreThe night interview of Nun Myotei – Koan 52

The Buddha-heart relics – Koan 53

No. ’53. The Buddha-heart relics In the first year of Daiei (1521), Lord Hojo Ujitsuna built a great temple (the Sounji at Odawara) at the foot of Mount Hakone, with the idea of wresting religious supremacy from the great temples of the Kanto area (which includes Kamakura). At the time it was widely known that there was a Buddha tooth relic at Enkakuji. Lord Ujitsuna thought he would like to get this and install it in a pagoda built for the purpose, so he sent Fujita Koresada as an envoy to Enkakuji, with the request that the Buddha tooth relic be transferred. Priest Ekiho interviewed him, and told him: ‘The Buddha tooth relic is an old treasure of the temple, and I should never dare to move it. But I do have the relic ashes of the Buddha-heart, and if Your Excellency should desire, I can pass them over.’ The …

Read moreThe Buddha-heart relics – Koan 53

The Zen Goma rite – Koan 54

No. 54. The Zen Goma rite When Zen master Eisai was at Kamakura, he performed the Goma rite for a safe delivery of a child to the wife of Wada Shogen, and it had a marvellous effect. Accordingly, the latter’s grandson, a student of Zen, came on the eighth day of the second month of the first year of Kakei (1387) to Kenchoji, made a reverence to Kyorin, the 163rd teacher there, and begged him to perform a similar Goma rite for a safe delivery to Fusahime, his own wife who had been in travail three days and nights of pain. The teacher said: ‘Zen master Eisai was one who came to our Zen originally from the Esoteric schools of Tendai and Shingon, so he was expert in the Goma rite of those sects. But I myself from youth have practised only in Zen training halls, so I never learnt …

Read moreThe Zen Goma rite – Koan 54

The one-word. Heart Sutra – Koan 55

No. 55. The one-word. Heart Sutra When Zen Master Daikaku was at the Temple of Great Compassion in Szechuan, having renounced home and become a Buddhist novice, he determined that at the three daily periods of sutra reading before the images of Buddhas and patriarchs, he would read none of the various sutras prescribed in the Zen regulations except for the Heart Sutra, and he said openly: ‘The 84,000 scrolls of the Buddha dharma are simply the one scroll of the Heart Sutra, and that one scroll of 262 words comes down to one word. Reading of many sutras is like doubting the Buddha.’ The novice bravely followed his own convictions, and calmly read the sutra of the single scroll. TESTS The Heart Sutra of 262 words: what word do these all come down to? When the student replies, ‘The Heart Sutra of 262 words (comes down to )’ he …

Read moreThe one-word. Heart Sutra – Koan 55

Isshin’s rain-making – Koan 56

No. 56. Isshin’s rain-making In the seventh year of Koan (1284) there was a great drought. In every region the rice-fields and farmlands dried up and there was no sign of anything growing. The Vice-regent (Hojo Sadatoki) anticipated that such a bad year might cause disturbances in some areas, and he asked the great Zen master Mugaku (Bukko) to pray for rain according to the traditional ceremony (once) used by Zen master Eisai. He gave orders in the capital that in front of the stone torii of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine at Kamakura an altar twelve foot square should be erected of pure sand, and arrangements made for the ceremony with its accessories of rice-wine and so on. Bukko’s attendant disciple Isshin (the editor of the Records of Bukko) did not at all welcome this performance of a rite of the Shingon mantra school, as Eisai, though professing Zen, had …

Read moreIsshin’s rain-making – Koan 56

Bukko’s death poem – Koan 57

No. 57. Bukko’s death poem On the first day of the ninth month of the ninth year of Koan (1286) Bukko, Teacher of the Nation (Kokushi), developed symptoms of illness which he realized he would not survive. He wrote a note to the Government officials and old friends to tell them that he would take his departure on the third day of that month. Just at dawn on the third day he wrote a poem for them: Buddhas and ordinary men are equally illusions. If you go looking for the true form, it is a speck of dust in the eye. The burnt bones of this old monk embrace heaven and earth; Do not scatter the cold ashes to mountain and sky. That night at the third watch he changed his robe and, sitting in the meditation posture, took up a brush and wrote: Coming, and no more going on: …

Read moreBukko’s death poem – Koan 57

The charm – Koan 58

No. 58. The charm In the Jowa era (1345-9) the Kamakura region was in great terror from raids of brigands in the aftermath of the civil war. At the request of the country people, some of the temples began to produce amulets, charms against robbers, for distribution to their followers. But the Zen temples, which have never recommended such things, refused to follow the lead of the other temples, and did not give out any amulets. At the time, the Jizo at Saida was talked of far and wide for its spiritual power in warding off danger, and many people came to the temple to pray before it. So Yuiheita Tomochika, a country samurai of Koshigoe, and a follower of Zen, during a visit to the Buddha hall had an audience with priest Kakkai, to make a request. He explained the general fear of robbers, and begged again and again …

Read moreThe charm – Koan 58

Ashikaga Takauji’s ]izo-Son – Koan 59

No. 59. Ashikaga Takauji’s ]izo-Son (Translator’s note: This story depends on a sort of play on a Chinese character of twelve strokes, which means ‘honoured’ or ‘revered’. It is the first element of the name Taka-uji, the general who founded the Ashikaga shogunate, after a spectacular betrayal of trust of a kind not uncommon in Japanese mediaeval history. The same character is added to the name ofjizd, bodhisattva of protection, in which case it is read ‘Son’, and not ‘Taka’. It is similarly added to the word for ‘protective charm’ (mamori). In order to retain the effect of the story, I am rendering the Ashikaga general’s name as Ashikaga-Son, to keep the assonance with Jizo-Son.) At Jomyoji temple in Kamakura, there was a picture of Jizo-son by the brush of Ashikaga-Son himself. General Ashikaga Mochiuji (of the same family, later governor of the Eastern Provinces) wanted to have this as …

Read moreAshikaga Takauji’s ]izo-Son – Koan 59

The gravestone with no name – Koan 60

No. 60. The gravestone with no name The gravestone of the priest who founded Hokokuji, by his final instructions, records no name. There is just a great stone on top of the grave to mark the place. Thereafter many of the chief priests of Hokokuji followed this precedent of the founder, and there are many graves without any name on them. Uesugi Shigemitsu, a student of Zen, once came to Hokokuji and paid his respects to Hakudo, the 5th master there. He said: ‘At this temple there are gravestones with no name. It will mean that future generations will hardly be able to tell whose graves they are.’ The priest said: ‘After they are dead, what would the line of priests of this temple want with names? Have you not heard that it is said: “The four great rivers enter the ocean and lose their name”?’ The nobleman said: ‘But …

Read moreThe gravestone with no name – Koan 60

The judgment of Yama – Koan 61

No. 61. The judgment of Yama The shrine of Yama (judge of the dead) on Mt Mikoshi at Yui in Kamakura was transferred by Lord Ashikaga Takauji to Arai, where it was installed with a consecration ceremony. On that occasion Nobuchika, a student of Zen, entered the shrine and asked the priest in charge: ‘King Yama, we are told, is in hell where he passes judgment on the sinners from this world. But what Buddha is it who passes judgment on the sin of King Yama?’ The priest had no words. TESTS (1) Bring a word for the priest. (2) What sin would there be in Yama? Say! This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen in the interviews of priest Soden, namely Zen master Chikaku of Enkakuji.

Really before the eyes – Koan 62

No. 62. Really before the eyes Realizing he was about to die, Priest Nanshu, on the twenty- first day of the first month of the first year of Kagen (1303) made his death poem in the verse: T’ang (China) and Japan, Sixty-three years; If you want to know it, See what is before your eyes. TEST What does this Before Your Eyes really mean? This death poem became a koan at the interviews of Donpu, the 45th Master at Enkakuji. (Imai’s note: Nanshu s real name was Kokai, and his posthumous name was Zen Master Shinno; he was the successor to Gottan and founded the subtemple Zounan at Jochiji. When he was there he used to handle Zen inquirers without giving any classical koan at all, and he would test the warrior pupils with the words: If you want to know it, See what is before your eyes. This appears …

Read moreReally before the eyes – Koan 62

So – Koan 63

No. 63. So In the first year of Tokuji (1306), on the eighteenth day of the fifth month, Priest Musho, aware of impending death, shouted a Katzu! and cried: All the Buddhas come so, All the Buddhas go so; How all the Buddhas come and go Now I teach: So. TEST What does so mean? (Imai’s note: His posthumous name was Hokai. He went to Sung China, where he received the dharma from Master Sekkai, and on returning founded a subtemple at Jdchiji. When he was at Jochiji he patiently received Zen inquirers, but if they asked directly about Zen he used to reply with the one word: So, and resolutely refused to engage in wordy Zen. His death poem presents the word So and this collection of Kamakura koans heads this one with the title So.)

The picture of beauty – Koan 64

No. 64. The picture of beauty In 1299 when Fukada Sadatomo came to Kenchoji for a ceremony, he met the teacher in a room where there happened to be a picture of the contemporary Sung dynasty beauty Rei Shojo. He asked Master Saikan, ‘Who is that?’ The teacher replied, ‘It is said it happens to be Rei Shojo.’ Sadatomo looked at the picture admiringly and remarked, ‘That picture is powerfully painted and yet of the utmost delicacy. Is that woman now in the Sung country (China)?’ The teacher said, ‘What do you mean, in the Sung? Now, here, in Japan.’ The noble said, ‘And where is that?’ The master said loudly, ‘Lord Sadatomo!’ The noble looked up. ‘And where is that?’ said the teacher. Sadatomo grasped the point and bowed. TEST What did Lord Sadatomo grasp? This became a koan at Kenchoji from the time of Doan, the 105th master …

Read moreThe picture of beauty – Koan 64

How the sutra of the Resolution of the Brahma-king’s Doubt was put into the canon – Koan 65

No. 65. How the sutra of the Resolution of the Brahma-king’s Doubt was put into the canon Atsushige, a warrior who was a student of the Shingon (mantra) sect, came to Joraku temple and asked priest Jikusen about the koans made from scriptures in the so-called nyorai Zen or Buddha Zen. The teacher said: ‘They are of many kinds. One of them is this: When the Buddha had just been born, he said, “Above heaven or under heaven, I alone am the world-honoured one.” Then when he completed the path, he declared: “Wonderful! All beings have innately the nature of the wisdom of the Buddha.” ‘Then, before his entry into Nirvana, there was an incident when he held up a flower in his fingers, and there was a smile (from Mahakasyapa alone of the spectators). In this last case, the meaning of Zen was being presented without any involvement with …

Read moreHow the sutra of the Resolution of the Brahma-king’s Doubt was put into the canon – Koan 65

The mark of the Brahma-voice – Koan 66

No. 66. The mark of the Brahma-voice Unjobo, maker of Buddha images who was always regarded as second only to the famous master Unkei, worked at Kamakura where his pieces were much esteemed. Accordingly Priest Rinso, namely Zen Master Kakusho of Jufukuji, ordered Unjobo to make a Buddha image for a memorial service for those who had fallen in the war of Genko (1331). He carved a wooden image modelled on the main Buddha of Jufukuji. Full of pride in his skill, he remarked as he presented it, that the image faithfully embodied all thirty-two of the traditional marks of the Buddha. The teacher said: ‘Of the thirty-two marks, the twenty- eighth is the Brahma-voice, deep and far-reaching. Does this carving of yours show that?’ Unjobo pondered silently for a long time, but could find no answer. He confined himself in the Buddha hall of Jufukuji for twenty-one days, praying …

Read moreThe mark of the Brahma-voice – Koan 66

The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha – Koan 67

No. 67. The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha Kenyu, a teacher of the Ritsu (Vinaya) sect, once visited Jufukuji, and when he met Jakuan, namely Zen Master Koko, he asked: ‘I have heard that in your Zen there is a saying: The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha. What does it mean?’ The teacher said: ‘Let the Ajari (teacher) find the right two phrases in the Heart Sutra, and he will grasp the meaning.’ TESTS What are the two phrases in the Heart Sutra? When you have these phrases, how do you grasp the meaning of The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha? Say! This became a koan at the interviews of priest Chuei, the 110th master at Enkakuji.

The Great Katzu! of Master Toden – Koan 68

No. 68. The Great Katzu! of Master Toden Yoriyasu was a swaggering and aggressive samurai. (Imai’s note: In the Nirayama manuscript of Bukedoshinshu and in some other accounts the name is given as Yorihara.) In the spring of 1341 he was transferred from Kofu to Kamakura, where he visited Master Toden, the 45th teacher at Kenchoji, to ask about Zen. The teacher said, ‘It is to manifest directly the Great Action in the hundred concerns of life. When it is loyalty as a samurai, it is the loyalty of Zen. “Loyalty” is written with the Chinese character made up of “centre” and “heart”, so it means the lord in the centre of the man. There must be no wrong passions. But when this old priest looks at the samurai today, there are some whose heart centre leans towards name and money, and others where it is towards wine and lust, …

Read moreThe Great Katzu! of Master Toden – Koan 68

The Great Katzu! of Master Toden – Koan Variation No. 68.

Variation No. 68. The Great Katzu! of Master Toden The Tokeiji nunnery at Kamakura was known as the Divorce Temple, because if a woman of the samurai class who was unhappy in marriage entered there and stayed three years, the marriage link was dissolved, by an Imperial rescript given by Emperor Gofukakusa at the request of the Hojo regent Sadatoki. Later a period of one year’s residence was made sufficient, by a ruling of the Ashikaga Government for the temple regulations. In the third year of Enbun (1358), Ashikaga Motouji sent a man to decoy Nitta Yoshioki to Yakuchiwatashi in Musashi, and kill him there. Motouji’s wife Akijo, herself born into the Nitta clan, was overwhelmed with grief at the treacherous murder of Yoshioki, and requested to be allowed to become a nun to pray for his soul. But this was not acceded to. Apprehending that there might now be …

Read moreThe Great Katzu! of Master Toden – Koan Variation No. 68.

The paper sword – Koan 69

No. 69. The paper sword In 1331 when Nitta Yoshisada was fighting against Hojo Sadatoki, a chief retainer of the Hojo family, named Sakurada Sadakuni, was slain. His wife Sawa wished to pray for the dead man; she cut off her hair and entered Tokeiji as the nun Shotaku. For many years she devoted herself to Zen under Daisen, the 17th master at Enkakuji, and in the end she became the 3rd teacher of Tokeiji. In the Rohatsu training week of December 1338 she was returning from her evening interview with the teacher at Enkakuji, when on the way a man armed with a sword saw her and was attracted by her beauty. He threatened her with the sword and came to rape her. The nun took out a piece of paper and rolled it up, then thrust it like a sword at the man’s eyes. He became unable to …

Read moreThe paper sword – Koan 69

Heaven and earth broken up – Koan 70

No. 70. Heaven and earth broken up Tadamasa, a senior retainer of Hojo Takatoki the Regent, had the Buddhist name Anzan (quiet mountain). He was a keen Zen follower and for twenty-three years came and went to the meditation hall for laymen at Kenchoji. When the fighting broke out everywhere in 1331, he was wounded in one engagement, but in spite of the pain galloped to Kenchoji to see Sozan, the 27th teacher there. A tea ceremony was going on at Kenchoji, and the teacher seeing the man in armour come in, quickly put a teacup in front of him and said, ‘How is this?’ The warrior at once crushed it under his foot and said, ‘Heaven and earth broken up altogether.’ The teacher said, ‘When heaven and earth are broken up, how is it with you?’ Anzan stood with his hands crossed over his breast. The teacher hit him, …

Read moreHeaven and earth broken up – Koan 70

Victory in the midst of a hundred enemies – Koan 71

No. 71. Victory in the midst of a hundred enemies To priest Yozan, the 28th teacher at Enkakuji, came for an interview a samurai named Ryozan, who practised Zen. The teacher said: ‘You are going into the bath-tub, stark naked without a stitch on. Now a hundred enemies in armour, with bows and swords, appear all around you. How will you meet them? Will you crawl before them and beg for mercy? Will you show your warrior birth by dying in combat against them? or does a man of the Way get some special holy grace?’ Ryozan said, ‘Let me win without surrendering and without fighting.’ TEST Caught in the midst of the hundred enemies, how will you manage to win without surrendering and without fighting? (Imai’s note: This first became a koan at the interviews of Toryo, founder of the To-un-an temple at Enkakuji. Later in Tokugawa times, Suzuki …

Read moreVictory in the midst of a hundred enemies – Koan 71

Teaching Buddhism – Koan 72

No. 72. Teaching Buddhism One day Nobuchika came to Jufukuji at Kamakura to have an interview with Butchi Enno, known as Kengai. Nobuchika said: ‘Tenryu teaches . Buddhism by a single finger. But this old warrior on the battlefield, even if he lost both his arms, can teach Buddhism by one leg’, and saying this, he lifted up his right leg. The teacher seized it and pushed it away, saying: ‘And when you have no leg, what will you use to teach Buddhism with?’ The warrior lifted his eyebrows and blinked his eyes. The teacher said: ‘And when you lose your eyes, what then?’ Nobuchika made to open his mouth, but the teacher seized him and covered his mouth, saying, ‘When you lose your mouth, then what?’ The old warrior could not make a reply. TEST Preach Buddhism for this warrior. This incident became a theme in the interviews of …

Read moreTeaching Buddhism – Koan 72

Pasting the charm on the heart – Koan 73

No. 73. Pasting the charm on the heart The hall of Yakushi (the Buddha of healing) at Shoganan temple at the pagoda of Hokokuji in Kamakura became widely renowned for its spiritual virtue against plague. After the fighting in the Genko era (1331), there was a succession of epidemics, and Yamanouchi Sadahira asked at the temple for a paper charm against sickness, adding: ‘I have heard that the charm has to be pasted up on the gate pillar of one’s house. But my own house has been completely burnt during the fighting, and now I have nowhere to live; I am camping under the trees in the valley, and have no gate pillar. So how and where can I stick this up?’ Daikyo, the priest of Shoganan, said: ‘Stick it on your heart.’ TEST The heart has no form: how can a charm be stuck on to it? This came …

Read morePasting the charm on the heart – Koan 73

Painting the nature – Koan 74

No. 74. Painting the nature Ekichu, the 7th master of Jufukuji, was famous as a painter. One day Nobumitsu came to see him and asked whether he could paint the fragrance described in the famous line ‘After walking through flowers, the horse’s hoof is fragrant.’ The teacher drew a horse’s hoof and a butterfly fluttering round it (attracted by the fragrance). Then Nobumitsu quoted the line ‘Spring breeze over the river bank’ and asked for a picture of the breeze. The teacher drew a branch of willow waving. Nobumitsu cited the famous Zen phrase, ‘A finger direct to the human heart, See the nature to be Buddha.’ He asked for a picture of the heart. The teacher picked up the brush and flicked a spot of ink onto Nobumitsu’s face. The warrior was surprised and annoyed, and the teacher rapidly sketched the angry face. Then Nobumitsu asked for a picture …

Read morePainting the nature – Koan 74

Not going, not coming – Koan 75

No. 75. Not going, not coming One night of the Rohatsu training week, in the third year of Jowa (1347) at Kenchoji, a senior priest Doshu went to a cave for a night-sitting meditation, and came back at the third watch (about midnight). The monk who was guarding the door of the meditation hall scolded him, saying: ‘Where have you been all this time?’ He replied in a sutra verse: Not going, not coming, the primal deep — Neither in nor out nor in the middle. The monk on guard said: ‘This sutra-copier has got both his eyes; I suppose I ought to let him come in again.’ (Imai’s note: It was known that Doshu had once copied out the 25th chapter of the Lotus sutra in his own blood.) TESTS What does Not going, not coming, really mean? If it is not inside nor outside nor in the middle, …

Read moreNot going, not coming – Koan 75

The way of the teacup – Koan 76

No. 76. The way of the teacup In the spring of the first year of Ryakuo (1338), the Imperial tutor Lord Tadanori came from Kyoto to Kamakura to teach the Confucian doctrines to the warriors of the Government there. By the Jowa era (1345) there were over 360 who were studying under him, among them the Jomyoji temple librarian Tachibana, who showed great talent for study. Zen master Tentaku, the 41st master at Enkakuji, admonished him, saying: ‘You have talent for scholarship but no bent for Zen. Perhaps you will not be able to pursue the holy Path. The Confucian scholars say that the Way has its basis in heaven, but cannot speak of the Way before heaven and earth were separated out. If you want to know the true source of the Way, you must sit in meditation on the mat in the meditation hall till the perspiration runs …

Read moreThe way of the teacup – Koan 76

The scriptures of one hand – Koan 77

No. 77. The scriptures of one hand When Enkakuji temple was destroyed by fire in the seventh year of Oan (1374), the sutra repository and the library were both completely consumed, and the Buddhist and Confucian texts which Bukko the founder had brought from China were reduced to ashes. Priests of the Hachiman shrine came to Enkakuji, concerned about the tragic loss of these T’ang and Sung dynasty texts. Fumon, the 33rd master at Enkakuji, said to them: ‘None of the texts have been burnt.’ ‘Then where are they?’ asked a priest doubtfully. The teacher drew a circle, and said, ‘They are in here.’ The priests did not understand, and one of them said: ‘Would you show us the T’ang edition of the Maha-vairocana sutra?’ The Master held up one hand. The priests did not know what to make of it. Another of them asked: ‘Will you show us the …

Read moreThe scriptures of one hand – Koan 77

Daibai’s shari-pearls – Koan 78

No. 78. Daibai’s shari-pearls Sakuma Suketake of Okura (in the Kamakura region), a student of Zen, was known in the world as Demon Sakuma. For many years he was in active service in the army, but finally his left hand and right leg were disabled by wounds so that he could no longer take part in warfare. He entered the monks’ training hall at Enkakuji and practised hard at Zen for over ten years, being given the name Lay brother Daibai. In the winter of the first year of Oei (1394) there was a great snowfall during the Rohatsu week, and following the precedent of Tanka’s Buddha-burning (see No. 94 – Tr.), he found in the Jizo hall outside the mountain gate a Buddha-image whose wood was rotting away, and was setting light to it against the freezing cold when the lay brother in charge of the Hounkaku hall at …

Read moreDaibai’s shari-pearls – Koan 78

The lotus strainer – Koan 79

No. 79. The lotus strainer Yasunaga, a government official and a student of Zen, came to the Dragon Flower of the Golden Peak (the Shinsaiin hall in Jochiji temple) to pay his respects to priest Musho there. He told him: ‘These days the followers of Nichiren are saying that in the present degenerate Latter Days, the water of the dharma in the Buddha ocean has become polluted. It is so contaminated that the impurity must be strained off before it is drunk. The only pure water is what has been purified by being strained through the Lotus sutra, and this is the dharma taught by Nichiren. Is what they are saying right?’ The priest said: ‘Strain off the lotus.’ TESTS How would you strain off the lotus? When you have strained and drunk, say how you find it: cold or hot? This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at …

Read moreThe lotus strainer – Koan 79

The copy – Koan 80

No. 80. The copy The head monk of Daitetsudo training temple came to Gyokuzan, the 21st master at Kenchoji, and saluted him. He then asked whether he might copy out the sermons on the Rinzairoku which had been given by Daikaku, the founder of Kenchoji. The teacher sat silent for a good time, and then said: ‘Have you copied it?’ ‘Why,’ said the head monk, ‘I have not yet had the loan of it.’ The teacher replied: ‘Rinzai’s Zen is communicated from heart to heart — what should you want with writing? If you feel you want to have something in writing, take Mount Ashigara as the brush and Yui shore as the inkstone, and make your copy.’ The head monk gave a Katzu! shout and said: ‘I have made my copy.’ TESTS How can the writing of the founder be copied by a shout? Try a Katzu! yourself and …

Read moreThe copy – Koan 80

The gate-keeper’s question – Koan 81

No. 81. The gate-keeper’s question In the fighting of the Genko era (from 1331), there were 2,600 warriors of the Nitta forces encamped at Kobukuro (near Kenchoji), brave men resolved to die in battle. Endo Takahiro, a student of Zen, had the most impressive reputation among them all. One day of strong winds and driving rain, he thought of transferring their camp to Kenchoji, and went to tell the temple. As he was going to enter the gate, the gatekeeper, the priest Shogai Zenkan, stopped him and asked: ‘What is your business?’ He said: ‘What I have to say is for the chief priest.’ The gate-keeper said: ‘First explain to the gate-keeper what your business is.’ (There were many violent men among the warriors during the war, and the temple rule was that an inquirer must first be examined by the gate-keeper before he could see the chief priest — …

Read moreThe gate-keeper’s question – Koan 81

The Buddha’s birthday – Koan 82

No. 82. The Buddha’s birthday For the ceremony of the Buddha’s birthday, there was a little pavilion near Tokeiji which had belonged to the Hojo family from ancient times. (The nun temple at Tokeiji was and is famous for the beautiful flowers by the lake, especially azaleas, which can be viewed from the slope above the temple. — Tr.) These flowers were in full splendour on the Birthday of April 8 each year, and many of those who came to the Kamakura temples to worship on that day used to come to admire the flowers at Tokeiji. On that April day in the tenth year of Koan (1287), the nun teacher Shido, foundress of Tokeiji, addressed the nuns assembled for the ceremony, standing below the pavilion. She asked them: ‘The Buddha who is born this day, where does he come from?’ Her attendant Runkai stepped out, and pointed with one …

Read moreThe Buddha’s birthday – Koan 82

Tengai’s heart-binding – Koan 83

No. 83. Tengai’s heart-binding In the fighting in the Ganko era (1331—4), the Nitta forces set fire to Kamakura, and (sparks) from the burning streets carried the fire to fishing villages and mountain hamlets, so that their people were fleeing in all directions before the blaze, crying out with fear. The priests of the Kamakura temples guided and distributed them among the temples, and used the produce of the temple lands to feed the destitute. At the same time there were many relatives of the refugees imprisoned in the caves (used as prisons) who were choking in the smoke and on the verge of dying of suffocation, at which their families were in great distress. Then Hakuun (namely Butcho, 26th master of Kenchoji), Tengai (namely Shinkaku, 19th master at Enkakuji), Reiko of Jufukuji, and Tengan of Inayama and others organized the laymen and priests, and battered down the gates of …

Read moreTengai’s heart-binding – Koan 83

The Lanka sutra of one word – Koan 84

No. 84. The Lanka sutra of one word Kataoka Moritada had studied spells for a long time under a teacher of the Esoteric Shingon sect. Happening to stay overnight in one of the guest rooms at Kenchoji temple, he asked priest Kinkei: ‘In the Lanka sutra spells which are recited by the Zen sect followers, there are many names of the terrible gods invoked by the followers of the outer ways in the heaven of the west (India). What good is it to recite that sort of spell?’ ‘Don’t you know what is said in the sutra itself?’ replied the teacher. ‘It says that water drunk by the snake becomes poison, but the water drunk by a cow becomes milk. In the same way, the terrible gods of India, when they come into the heart of a Zen man, become protective divinities for the dharma; so when he recites them, …

Read moreThe Lanka sutra of one word – Koan 84

One law, a thousand words – Koan 85

No. 85. One law, a thousand words Hosoi Naotaka, the superintendent of the temple lands, came to the teaching hall at Kenchoji and asked the teacher Horin after the sermon: ‘If someone doesn’t understand the meaning of the sutras, but still recites them, does he have merit or not?’ The teacher said: ‘It’s like a man who takes medicine. Even if he doesn’t know the principles of a good medicine, still if he takes it, it will do him good. And it’s like that with a poison: if he doesn’t know that this particular thing is in essence a poison, when he takes it he’ll die. Or again, it’s like travelling in a ship. Even though one may not know the principles of the construction of a ship, still, if he boards it he will arrive at his destination. Reading the sutras is like that. Though one may not know …

Read moreOne law, a thousand words – Koan 85

Ku-an’s three questions – Koan 86

No. 86. Ku-an’s three questions Yuki Sukemochi was one of the most arrogant feudal lords, feared by others for his strong self-will. In the first month of the twentieth year of Oei (1413) he came to the Shunkeido (the guest temple at Kenchoji), paid his respects to Priest Kuan (the preacher at the Gyoku-un hall, and a son of the great Uesugi family, which dominated this part of Japan for centuries), and asked about the importance of learning in the Way. The priest said: ‘First get rid of self-will. If one is infected with worms in the intestines, he may take in nourishment but it simply increases the worms, and often he loses his life. With human nature itself, it is the same. If there is the worm of selfwill in one’s breast, though he may take in learning to give nourishment to his heart, it simply increases the self-will …

Read moreKu-an’s three questions – Koan 86

The sermon of Nun Shido – Koan 87

No. 87. The sermon of Nun Shido At the Rohatsu training week of 1304 at Enkakuji, Master Tokei (‘Peach-tree Valley’ — the fourth teacher of Enkakuji) gave his formal approval (inka) as a teacher to the nun Shido, the founder of Tokeiji. The head monk did not approve of the inka being granted, and asked a question to test her: ‘In our line, one who receives the inka gives a discourse on the Rinzairoku classic. Can the nun teacher really brandish the staff of the Dharma in the Dharma-seat?’ She faced him, drew out the ten-inch knife carried by all women of the warrior class, and held it up: ‘Certainly a Zen teacher of the line of the patriarch should go up on the high seat and speak on the book. But I am a woman of the warrior line and I should declare our teaching when really face to …

Read moreThe sermon of Nun Shido – Koan 87

The Knight patriarch coming from the west – Koan 88

No. 88. The Knight patriarch coming from the west Yamana Morofuyu was a brave warrior of the Ashikagas, who was transferred from being a naval captain to the cavalry. For some time after that he trained in Zen at Enkakuji. One year he came to the Rohatsu training week in December, but would not sit in the special meditation hall reserved for the warriors. Instead he was riding his horse all day in the mountains. Master Daikyo, the 43rd teacher at Enkakuji, warned him against this, saying, ‘On horseback your heart will easily be distracted. During the Rohatsu, sit in the hall.’ He said: ‘Monks are men of Zen sitting, and should certainly do their meditation in the special Buddha place. But I am a knight and should practise my meditation on horseback.’ The teacher said, ‘Your Honour was formerly a sea captain, and now become a knight. The patriarch’s …

Read moreThe Knight patriarch coming from the west – Koan 88

Sadatsune receives the precepts – Koan 89

No. 89. Sadatsune receives the precepts In the fourth month of the tenth year of Oei (1403), the Ajari (high priest) Shincho of the Ritsu sect set up an ordination platform for a public ceremony, the classical Buddhist rite of Administering the Precepts. Doi Sadatsune went to see it, and asked the Ajari: ‘Are the precepts administered to the body, or are they administered to the mind?’ The Ajari said: ‘They are administered to both body and mind together.’ Sadatsune said: ‘If it is the body to which they are administered, what happens when the four great elements become separated (at death)? And if it is the heart, that is something which when we try to find it, we cannot get hold of it. How can they be administered to something which has no form?’ The Ajari replied: ‘Unless one has faith that he is receiving them, they cannot be …

Read moreSadatsune receives the precepts – Koan 89

The Great Katzu! of Ryuho – Koan 90

No. 90. The Great Katzu! of Ryuho In the seventh month of the first year of Kowa (1381), which was thirty-three years after the death of Hatayama Michichika (who had been in charge of military affairs for the whole Kanto area), a memorial service was held for him. The people assembled at Hokizan (the Zen temple Chojuji), and among them Hatayama Sukemichi came in a palanquin. He saluted priest Ryuho, the 13 th master there, and asked him about memorial services. The teacher told him: ‘A memorial service after forty-nine days is laid down in the sutras. The services after a hundred days, one year, and three years, derive from traditions in China. The thirteenth year and thirty-third year services were inaugurated when the son of Councillor Nobunishi first had these ceremonies performed out of filial devotion for his father. Memorial services after fifty years and a hundred years and …

Read moreThe Great Katzu! of Ryuho – Koan 90

Daiye’s verse on ‘not’ – Koan 91

No. 91. Daiye’s verse on ‘not’ (Translator’s note: The Japanese read a Chinese text by adding inflections to the ideograms, which are without them, and by changing the order of reading the words in order to make up a Japanese sentence. To assist the reader, they developed a system of ‘pointing’, to indicate the necessary alterations. An example from English would be the terminations put after figures of dates: 2nd means that the digit is in this case to be read not as ‘two’ but as ‘second’. Some Japanese scholars specialized in putting the ‘points’ into Chinese texts, which were sometimes printed with them to assist Japanese readers. In the present case, the ‘poem’ consists of the Chinese character for ‘not’ repeated twenty times, in four lines of five characters each. As an example, they might be ‘pointed’: not-Not; Not ‘not-Not’; not ‘Not not-Not’, and so on. The koan, on …

Read moreDaiye’s verse on ‘not’ – Koan 91

Meditation of the energy-sea – Koan 92

No. 92. Meditation of the energy-sea A retired landowner named Sadashige of Awafune (the present-day Ofuna) trained at Kenchoji under Nanzan, the 20th master. Once he was away for a time and when he returned the teacher said, ‘You have been ill, Sir, and for some time you have not come to the Zen sitting here. Have you now been able to purify and calm your kikai (energy-sea)?’ Sadashige said, ‘Following your holy instruction I have meditated on the kikai and been able to attain purity and calm.’ The teacher said, ‘Bring out what you have understood of the meditation and say something on it.’ This my kikai tanden, breast, belly, [down to the] soles of the feet, [is] altogether my original face. TEST What nostrils would there be on that face? This my kikai tanden [is] altogether this my true home. TEST What news would there be from the …

Read moreMeditation of the energy-sea – Koan 92