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. 94Tr.), 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 the mountain gate shouted at him to stop.

Daibai said: ‘What is wrong with burning a wooden Buddha whose ashes will have no shari-pearls?’

The other was a huge man of great strength, and he pushed Daibai towards the fire saying: ‘ Your ashes certainly will have no shari-pearls, so let us burn you.’

Daibai shouted in a fury: ‘How would you know whether my ashes have pearls or not? If you want to know about my ashes, I will show you!’ and he jumped into the now blazing fire, gave a great Katzu! shout and died standing. His body was consumed, and when the fire had died out, there were eight shari-pearls shining there.


  1. The test says: Have your ashes shari-pearls? Say how many, and bring the proof.

  2. Putting aside for the moment dying in the fire, die standing here and now on the tatami mats, and bring the proof!

(Imai’s note: In much later times there were cases where a live charcoal was put into the pupil’s hand at the interview, and to pass this koan he had to remain calm, to make the demonstration ofDaibai’s dying standing in the fire. But this kind of thing is a degeneration of Zen. It cannot compare with the traditional Zen, where the pupil standing before the teacher gave one Katzu! and passed into samadhi. The koan cannot be passed without a keen Zen spirit and practice of some years.)

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