Numbering the Waves on Yui Beach – Koan 17

Minamoto Munatsune, in the spring of the first year of Shogen (1259) when he was seventy-five years of age, came to Kenchoji to become a shaven-headed monk, with the name of Gido. The great teacher Rankei (namely Daikaku) had a formal interview with him, and taking him to be good spiritual material, set him the riddle of how many waves there are on Yui beach.

Gido poured out his heart’s blood on this for two years, and finally breaking through the confusion he made answer in a Chinese poem:

In the ocean of the holy dharma
There is neither movement nor stillness.
The essence of the wave is like a mirror;
When something comes, the reflection appears.
When there is nothing in the mind,
Wind and waves are both forgotten.

 He made a verse in Japanese about his time of practice:

Two years of wandering on Yui beach.
There was no need to number off the waves.


(1) Count the waves on Yui beach.

(2) What has Gido’s verse about the ocean of the holy dharma got to do with how many waves there are? Say!

(3) What does Gido’s Japanese verse mean?

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews given by Ikka, the 145th master at Kenchoji.

(Imai’s Note: There are some at the present time who take this kooan of the number of waves at Yui beach as the same thing as the number of hairs on the head which is given in Hakuin’s line. But they derive from different traditions. The koan ‘How many hairs are there on your head?’ which is used as a test (sassho) comes from a phrase of Gyozan, whereas the question about the number of waves at Yui, when used in Kamakura Zen as relating to some words of Oryu, is naturally not to be understood in the same way. Its ultimate meaning is to be found when the eye is opened under the stick of the master.)



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