Painting the nature – Koan 74

No. 74. Painting the nature

Ekichu, the 7th master of Jufukuji, was famous as a painter. One day Nobumitsu came to see him and asked whether he could paint the fragrance described in the famous line ‘After walking through flowers, the horse’s hoof is fragrant.’ The teacher drew a horse’s hoof and a butterfly fluttering round it (attracted by the fragrance).

Then Nobumitsu quoted the line ‘Spring breeze over the river bank’ and asked for a picture of the breeze. The teacher drew a branch of willow waving.

Nobumitsu cited the famous Zen phrase, ‘A finger direct to the human heart, See the nature to be Buddha.’ He asked for a picture of the heart. The teacher picked up the brush and flicked a spot of ink onto Nobumitsu’s face. The warrior was surprised and annoyed, and the teacher rapidly sketched the angry face.

Then Nobumitsu asked for a picture of the ‘nature’ as in the phrase ‘see the nature’. The teacher broke the brush and said, ‘That’s the picture.’

Nobumitsu did not understand and the teacher remarked, ‘If you haven’t got that seeing eye, you can’t see it.’ Nobumitsu said, ‘Take another brush and paint the picture of the nature.’

The teacher replied: ‘Show me your nature and I will paint it.’

Nobumitsu had no words.


  1. How would you show the nature?

  2. Come, see your nature and bring the proof of it.

  3. Say something for Nobumitsu.

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Mitsudo of Hokokuji.

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