Interview in the Poisonous Wolf Cave

Interview in the Poisonous Wolf Cave

In the interview room with Master Gyodo it was quiet, but there was a feeling of severity and something terrifying.

One winter I caught cold, and a rheumatic knee condition which I had from childhood flared up, so that I could not bend my left knee at all. If I had to squat down, I stuck out my left leg straight in front, and went down on the bent right knee. I had to use a stick when going from home to the interviews at the temple. But when I came before the teacher to make my prostration, the knee could suddenly bend. It was quite extraordinary. When I left to make my way back home, on the other hand, the knee again could not bend.

Another thing that happened to me was a persistent fit of hiccups, which lasted about a week. There was a popular idea that to go on hiccupping for more than a certain number of days would result in death, and I did all the things that are supposed to cure hiccups, but all was in vain. Yet during the interview with the Master, and for some time afterward, the hiccups used to cease. And then they would come back again. This seems perhaps a small matter, but I can never forget it.

At an interview, the Master and I would sit on the ground, face to face, with only perhaps five or six inches between our knees. Although we were so close, sometimes he spoke in such a low voice I could not make out what he was saying. But when I would be walking quietly back along the corridor to the room where the other monks were waiting to strike the bell in their turn to have an interview, his voice seemed as it were to get stronger and stronger in me so that I could easily understand what had been said to me. This too is one of my special memories of the interviews in the Poisonous Wolf Cave.

I was in the special category of what is called tsuzan, so that I could often ask for naizan, which means an interview outside the normal fixed times. To someone in a situation like myself, Master Gyodo would cheerfully give interviews.

At the end of the year in which I had “seen the nature,” I asked for one of these interviews, though it was New Year’s Eve. Although the next day was the great festival day of New Year, I turned up as usual in the evening and asked for the interview. But the Master’s attendant refused me, just saying: “New Year… ” Only then did I think: “Why, yes, it’s New Year…”, but then the thought came too: “Did not the ancients warn us that change is upon us: time does not wait on man”?  Perhaps I was at that time really steeped in Zen, as the saying goes.

There are some other things I shall always remember about him. Once he caught a cold which led to a high fever. His throat was painful, and his voice terribly hoarse. We were very worried, but he wrapped several lengths of cloth around his throat, and gave the sermons at the sesshin in a sort of strangled voice. After the session was over, I presented myself to pay my respects and asked after him; he just said: “Oh, today I brushed some Chinese calligraphy, so it’s all right again.”

When he was in good health, his voice was vibrant and very clear. In fact when I first took to going to hear him, it was not so much the content of the address as the attraction of his voice that drew me. At the public ceremonies, he would pass in front of us listeners to make the three bows before the Buddha, and his posture as he passed, and his tread as he went up to the shrine to light a stick of incense, had for me a sort of indescribable magic about them.

Usually he used to walk around the temple complex before dawn each morning, but apart from that, he did not leave his private quarters much, so that even in the grounds he was not often to be met. I was once standing in front of the laymen’s hall when he came out from his own quarters walking toward the temple gate. I bowed my head and the Roshi brought his palms together in the traditional salutation, pursuing his way without the slightest check. I had the feeling of the Zen saying: “Walk like the wind.” At that time he was, I suppose, about sixty-seven or sixty-eight.

Another typical incident was this: I was to see him about something, and presented myself at the back door of his quarters, before the sliding door of his attendant’s room. I announced myself, and heard the Roshi’s own voice: “What do you want?” When I slid open the door, I saw him bent right down, having his head shaved by the attendant monk. In that very awkward position, and accosted unexpectedly, his voice still seemed to come from the depths of his being, and I got an idea of what must have been the thousand temperings and polishings of his training over the long years.



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