Sadatsune receives the precepts – Koan 89

No. 89. Sadatsune receives the precepts

In the fourth month of the tenth year of Oei (1403), the Ajari (high priest) Shincho of the Ritsu sect set up an ordination platform for a public ceremony, the classical Buddhist rite of Administering the Precepts. Doi Sadatsune went to see it, and asked the Ajari: ‘Are the precepts administered to the body, or are they administered to the mind?’

The Ajari said: ‘They are administered to both body and mind together.’

Sadatsune said: ‘If it is the body to which they are administered, what happens when the four great elements become separated (at death)? And if it is the heart, that is something which when we try to find it, we cannot get hold of it. How can they be administered to something which has no form?’

The Ajari replied: ‘Unless one has faith that he is receiving them, they cannot be administered.’

Sadatsune said: ‘When we try to find the heart, we cannot get hold of it; how can you say the precepts are administered? Don’t you see what is said in the Heart Sutra, No eye, nor ear, nose, tongue, body nor mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch, nor object of mind. Then how can precepts ever be administered?’

The Ajari had no answer.

Sadatsune went to Ganmyo, in charge of the bell pagoda at Kenchoji, told him what had happened and put the point to him. He said:

The essence of the precepts which we teach in our school is that heart, Buddha, and living beings are all three without distinction between them; as all men are endowed with the essence, we do not speak of administering or receiving it. The application of the precepts is to perform the great dharma while in the world, and finally to practise it as a monk, and this is man’s path. The form of the precepts is perfect performance of the classical ceremony. If there is a man in whom the application of them appears clearly, he is revered by the world. Thus the precepts pervade both absolute and provisional truth, and become a way of opening up realization in place of ignorance; they are the dharma which brings peace to the country and happiness to its people.’

Sadatsune said: ‘I am not asking about the rights and wrongs of the precepts, but only the truth about the administering and receiving.’

The monk brought this to Hogai (47th master of Kenchoji), who invited Sadatsune to an interview, and said to him: ‘Why should we need many words about administering and receiving the precepts of dharma?’

He stared at him with a penetrating glance, and called in a loud voice:


Yes?’ answered the warrior.

The teacher said: ‘The precepts have been administered.’ At these words, Sadatsune had a realization and said, ‘Today the precepts have been completely received.’


  1. The heart of man is vast, without shape or form: how then are the precepts to be administered to it?

  2. How was it that Sadatsune received the precepts from what Priest Hogai said?

This became a Kamakura koan at the interviews of Chuzan, the 56th master at Kenchoji.

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