Sermon – Koan 42

No. 42. Sermon

The head monk at Hokokuji temple was deaf and could not hear the preaching of the Dharma. He asked to take charge of the sutras as librarian, and for more than ten years he perused them. But he found that the accounts of the Buddha’s life in the various sutras did not agree, and he asked Abbot Hakudo, the fifth master of the temple, which was right. The Abbot said, ‘What is in the sutras is as a finger pointing to the moon or a net to catch fish. What is a Zen man doing muddying his mind with sutra-phrases and inferences about various teachings and wanting to know which is right and which is wrong? The head monk’s practice is itself the Buddha’s practice; when the head monk left home that was itself the Buddha’s leaving home. When the head monk attained the Way, that was itself the Buddha’s attaining the Way. When the head monk enters Nirvana, that is the Buddha entering Nirvana. The head monk has already left home and is far advanced in the Way, but has not yet entered Nirvana; he is today in the stage of the forty-nine years of preaching. Now, for the sake of men and heaven and the ten thousand beings, let him try giving a sermon. Attention all!’

The koan: Say what sermon it is that the great ones of the Sangha give as their sermon for men and heaven!


  1. You are giving your sermon in the high heaven-world, and now you rise to the world of no form. To that which has no colour or form, what is your sermon? Say!

  2. In heaven when you are told to face the Brahma-king, how do you make your sermon? Say!

  3. You rise to the skies and come to the heaven of Maitreya and enter the palace of Maitreya — how will be your sermon? Say!

  4. You go to the heaven on Meru, and you are invited to take the Dharma-seat of Jizo. How will you make your sermon? Say!

  5. You enter the dragon palace in the ocean. For the eight Dragon Kings, how will be your sermon? Say!

  6. A man comes and asks you to give a sermon to a baby less than a month old. How do you make the sermon? Say!

  7. There is a deaf old man of over a hundred. You are asked to give a sermon, but he cannot hear anything of the teaching because of his deafness. To this deaf man, how do you make the sermon? Say!

  8. There is a furious brigand, who as yet has no belief in the Three Treasures of Buddhism, and in the middle of the night he comes to your room, waves a naked sword over your head and demands money. If you have nothing to give him, your life will be cut off by his sword. For this man what will your sermon be? Say!

  9. A foreign enemy invades our country, killing and plundering. When this man comes and you are asked to give him the Sermon For The Brigand, you do not know his foreign language. At this moment what will you do to make your sermon? Say!

  10. You are face to face with death, your life is running out, you can hardly breathe and cannot open your mouth. Then a man asks you for a sermon on entering Nirvana. By what means do you make your sermon? Say!

  11. You enter hell. When you preach a sermon for Emma-O the judge of the dead, how will you teach then? Say!

  12. The beings in hell are night and day screaming in pain and have no time to hear the teaching. To those on the sword-mountain, to those in the blood-lake, how will you give a sermon? Say!

  13. You are born in the paradise of the Pure Land. With what sermon will you glorify the holy teachings of Amida? Say!

  14. When you are asked to give the sermons of the Buddha’s forty-nine years preaching in one word, how will your sermon be? Say!

(Imai’s note: the main koan began to be used as such in

Kamakura Zen with the 13th master of Hokokuji temple. When

he put his disciples under the hammer with his koan, he always

made them go through all the fifteen questions, and in the

Bukedoshin records they are called the Fifteen Gates of Hokokuji.

A doctor attached to the Bakufu government put up a notice at the great gate of Hokokuji which said:

Though you pass the five gates of Hokokuji, there are fifteen gates still to pass in the Master’s interview room.

The Sorin-zakki miscellaneous records state that when young monks came to Hokokuji seeking lodging for a night, they were first presented with these fourteen questions, and if they could meet one of them properly, they were allowed to stay.)

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