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 from this.’

Daikaku listened to all this and laughed

Daikaku listened to all this and laughed:

‘The people of Kamakura are right to say that Zen means wearing a single garment. They well understand what the sect stands for. An ordinary man is clad in layers of the three poisons and five desires, and though by repetition of the Buddha-name and reading the scriptures he tries again and again to strip them off, he cannot get out of his layers of passions. Fundamentally Zen means having no layers of clothes but just one piece. Repeating the Buddha-name – it is becoming just one piece with the Buddha; reading the scriptures – it is “apart from the Law, no I, and without I no Law”, so that I and the Law are one piece.’

This is called bringing everything to one. The warriors of Kamakura, when they say Zen means the sect of a single robe, have grasped its deepest essence.

‘Without those layers of clothes, you should cultivate the field of the elixir (tanden) in the Zen way. Here and now let Your Reverence strip off the 80,000 robes of the dharma treasury of scripture. How is it, the bare purity under the one robe?’

The priest bowed in reverence and left.


(1) Try stripping off the layers of clothes which you have been sewing for beginningless ages.

(2) After the 80,000 robes of the dharma treasury of scripture have been stripped off, what is the single garment that remains? Speak!

(3) One cannot go naked in the street; show your single robe.

(4) Leave for a moment becoming one piece with the Buddha, and try here and now becoming one with the teacher.

This began to be used as a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Kosen, the 38th master at Kenchoji.



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