Part Three Kamakura Koans Introduction

The collection of Japanese ‘on-the-instant’ koans, called Shonan- kattoroku, is almost unknown even to specialists. It is a record of Zen interviews given to lay pupils, from the very beginning of Zen in Japan in the thirteenth century up to the sixteenth century. The text has survived only by a series of unusual circumstances, set out briefly in a previous section and given in detail in two of the appendices to this book. There is a brief reference to it in Hayashi’s History of the Japanese Zen Sects (1938), where two of the stories are quoted, with Imai Fukuzan’s booklet as the source. In a collection of Zen stories published in 1951, the head of Kenninji temple included one story, amending the old-fashioned Japanese in places, and including the sassho test which Imai had put to the story. So Imai must have been the source here also. In the note to No. 92 I have mentioned that Hakuin adopted it almost word for word in two of his works, but whether he took it from a copy of the Kamakura record, or from some common source, would be for historians to determine. (I should like to thank Professor Takeji Tamamura for giving me the benefit of his vast experience in the field of Zen records.)

A number of the Kamakura koans refer to the Heart Sutra, so I have included a translation of it at the beginning, together with the ‘test’. Where one of the stories depends on some background knowledge, I have inserted a note – for instance, No. 18 requires a knowledge of the interviews between Bukko and Tokimune. A few of Imai’s notes are also included for interest.

The Zen shout rendered here as ‘Katzu!’ actually sounds like ‘Ka . . .!’ – the vowel is prolonged and then broken off short by a final jerk of the abdominal muscles. There is a relation to the shout given by fencers, archers and others, but that is generally Ei! or Yaaa! It too is made with a contraction of the abdominal muscles, and one of its purposes is to centre attention on the point below the navel, which helps the body to act as a unity. The Zen shout is not the same thing, and it has various purposes. One of them is to give the mind of the disciple a shake; another is simply an expression of the Hood of life, like a lion’s roar.


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