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 done. (Imai’s note: It is said that the rite which Zen Master Eisai performed when he prayed for rain at Kamakura in June 1201 was a ceremony of the Shingon sect with which Eisai had once been connected.)

Bukko said to him: ‘When you go to a village, follow the village ways. What is wrong with that?’

The attendant, when he saw that the Master was going to do it, hastened away first, and when he got to the altar jumped up on it and said:

Today instead of the Master let this novice make the prayer for rain. The Zen way of rain-making is an unusual one. Do Your Honours please look,’ and he briskly tucked up his robe, spread his legs wide, stuck out the ‘one-eyed dragon’ and made water on the altar.

At this Sasaki Sukemori, the official in charge of the ceremony, was aghast and angry. He arrested the disciple and was taking him under escort to the Kita-mandokoro police headquarters, when on the way suddenly a great downpour fell, bathing the road. Sasaki realized that there had been a divine meaning in Isshin’s action of making water, formally thanked him with warmth and set him free.


  1. Where is the rain-god? Say!

  1. What virtue was there in Isshin’s action? Say!

  2. If there is virtue in making water on an altar, then this instant try making water on this Buddha-altar to test the virtue. Make the proof of it!

  3. The teacher lifts his nyo-i stick and says, ‘This thing, and Isshin’s one-eyed dragon – are they really in the end the same or different? Say!’

  4. If you really understand, try manifesting great action immediately: make proof of it!

(Imai’s note: Many koji (laymen) taking this test have tried imitating the action of making water, and received a slap on the face from the teacher for it. Don’t imitate them!)

This became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Koan, the 14th teacher at Enkakuji.

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