Ku-an’s three questions – Koan 86

No. 86. Ku-an’s three questions

Yuki Sukemochi was one of the most arrogant feudal lords, feared by others for his strong self-will. In the first month of the twentieth year of Oei (1413) he came to the Shunkeido (the guest temple at Kenchoji), paid his respects to Priest Kuan (the preacher at the Gyoku-un hall, and a son of the great Uesugi family, which dominated this part of Japan for centuries), and asked about the importance of learning in the Way.

The priest said: ‘First get rid of self-will. If one is infected with worms in the intestines, he may take in nourishment but it simply increases the worms, and often he loses his life. With human nature itself, it is the same. If there is the worm of selfwill in one’s breast, though he may take in learning to give nourishment to his heart, it simply increases the self-will and is of no use in the Way. The Way of the superior man is, rather than seeking acclaim for intellectual knowledge, to strive to increase his virtue.’

The warrior said, ‘But without self-will, one could not raise one’s own standing nor bring success to the family.’

The teacher said: ‘You have still not released yourself from self-will. Getting rid of self-will means clearing away the

arrogance from the heart. In ancient times and later on, there have been those who made themselves and their families illustrious as sages and saints, so that their names still remain after a hundred generations. How did they hold pride in their hearts? But if Your Honour believes that self-will is so important, I will put three questions to you, and do you reply to them:

This self — where was it before it put out its head into the world? Right now in the body, where is this self?

When the body perishes, where does this self go to?’

The warrior could think of no reply, and took his leave.


Bring a word for Sukemochi.

This became a koan in Kamakura Zen in the interviews of Geso, the 125th master at Kenchoji.

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