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 make the Jizo stand up. He was reciting continuously the mantra of Jizo: OM! KA-KA-KA! BISANMAYE SOWAKA! (This approximates the Sanskrit which glorifies Ksitigarbha as the smiling one; Ka-ka-ka! represents a great laugh – Tr.) On the last night of the vow he was running round the hall like a madman, shouting ‘Holy Jizo, stand up!’

At two o’clock in the morning the monk who was making the rounds struck the regulation single blow on the sounding-board which hangs in front of the hall. Munekatsu suddenly had a realization, and cried:

‘Holy Jizo – it’s not that he stands up, and it’s not that he sits down. He has a life which is neither standing nor sitting.’


(1) See how you can get the sitting Jizo to stand up.

(2) See how you can get the standing Jizo to sit down.

(3) What is the life of Jizo apart from standing or sitting? Say!

This became one of the Kamakura koans at the interviews of Ryoko when he was the 172nd master at Kenchoji.



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