Priest Horin, mediaeval Master of Kenchoji temple was asked by one of the Kenchoji gardeners who worked on the lands there, “Is there any virtue in the recitation, or listening to the recitation, of the sutras if you don’t understand the real meaning?” The priest said: “If someone takes a medicine, even though he may not know its virtues, still when he takes it there will be a good effect. And in the case of a poisonous drug, then though he may not know from the taste that it is harmful if he takes it that drug may kill him. Again it is like taking passage on a ship. You may not know anything of the rigging and fittings of the ship but still if you board it, it will take you to a far destination. And so, recitation of the sutras is like that. Their spiritual meaning may not be understood but when the recitation is heard with faith, reverence and obedience, there is endless good. Today the autumn harvest is ripening in our Kenchoji fields and you gardeners are busy with much to do. In your situation as farmers it’s not necessary for you to come to the Buddha hall everyday for the service.”
The gardener said: “Well if it’s not necessary to know the meaning of the sutras why does Your Reverence hold these daily services and give your discourses year after year?”
The teacher replied “The maladies of the people are of various kinds so that they get confused about the Way. My monks have to go out among them, and I am providing so to say remedies for doctors or navigation charts for the ship’s captains but really it is just one dharma that is being taught in a thousand words and ten thousand phrases.”
So the gardener said: “Then let me come up and listen to the sermons to get hold of this one dharma.”
The teacher said: “As to this one dharma, the four classes – samurai, farmers, artisans and traders – are all fully endowed with it. And you too, everyday working in the fields as you do with spade and plough, you are using that one dharma all the time and if you still don’t get it, look down, shine the light of your attention down to where you feet have been standing for twenty years”.
This interview became the subject of koans at Kenchoji and they were presented in four forms:
(1) What is the one dharma before your father and mother were born? Say!
(2) You right now, what dharma are you using? Say!
(3) When you, at the 30th day of the month (namely, facing death), cannot move your hands or feet or mouth, and somebody comes and asks you to explain the one dharma, how will you make you sermons then? Say!
(4) When, due to some karma, you are in prison and in great suffering, and fellow prisoners ask you to teach something, how then do you preach your sermon to give them salvation? Say!
© 2000 Trevor Leggett