Reading one’s own mind – Koan 50

No. 50. Reading one’s own mind

A mountain hermit, Jokai of Suwa in Shinano Province, made a visit to Zenkoji and had an interview with priest Koho. He said: ‘I have been living on Mount Mitake in Shinano for twenty years practising the arts of the mountain hermits, and now I can easily boil sand and turn it into rice.’

The teacher said: ‘And I have been living here in this temple for twenty years practising the way of the alchemists of India, and now I can easily take up iron and turn it into gold.’

The hermit picked up one of the iron rods used as tongs in

the stove and handed it to the teacher, saying, ‘Let us see you turn this to gold.’

The teacher at once took the hermit’s hand and pulled it on to the iron pot on the stove, saying, ‘Instead of my taking the iron and turning it to gold, let us boil you and turn you to rice. Your narrow obstinacy is harder than iron, and if we don’t do that first, I won’t be able to turn it to gold.’

The hermit was impressed and went out, but came back the next day to say, ‘I have noticed in looking over your Buddhist sutras that there are six supernormal powers in Buddhism (flying, thought-reading etc.). Can you yourself exercise these powers?’

It happened that a pheasant in the garden gave a cry, and the teacher pointed at it and said, ‘Even this golden pheasant is exercising them — every time he flies.’

The hermit said: ‘I don’t mean that sort of power. Do you for instance have the power to read the mind of others?’

The teacher said: ‘You should first find out about reading your own mind. If you can’t read your own mind, how will you ever be able to read the mind of others?’

The hermit said: ‘What is this reading one’s own mind?’ The teacher said: ‘An eight-sided grindstone whirling in empty space.’


  1. What is the method of taking iron and turning it to gold?

  2. Is reading one’s own mind and reading the mind of others the same thing or different?

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Kohan Shushin of the Obai subtemple at Enkakuji.

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