The badger-headed Kannon – Koan 47
No. 47. The badger-headed Kannon
At Enkakuji there was an old badger which lived for many years under the Kannon Hall of the temple complex near the lotus lake by the outer gate. It was an expert in the badger’s traditional art of bewitching passers-by, and the local people called the area in front of the main gate of Enkakuji ‘Badger’s Way’.
In the first year of Oei (1394), Hojo Ujitsune (of Odawara Castle) had completed the building of a splendid temple at the foot of Mt Hakone, and he earnestly requested Priest Iten (Abbot of Daitokuji) to come from Kyoto to consecrate it. At the same time he invited all the dignitaries and Zen followers of the Kamakura Zen temples, great and small, to add to the solemnity of the occasion. He hoped that the magnificence of the temple would redound to the greater prestige and power of the lord of Odawara.
In March of that year, his emissary Tawara Yoshichika went round with the invitations, and having delivered theirs to Enkakuji, took his leave about four o’clock in the
afternoon to go on to Kenchoji. But on the way, his party of eight warriors was enchanted by the badger, so that though in broad daylight, it seemed to them as if they were in darkness; they became completely confused and unable to advance or make any progress. They noticed the light of a farmhouse and made towards it, but there was no answer from within. They shouted and beat on the door several times, whereupon the door pillars suddenly collapsed and some of them were injured. When the envoy awoke from the spell he saw with amazement that the sun was only beginning to set behind the hills in the west, and realized that evening had not yet come. In front of them on the river bank was only a single horse stall. He realized that this was what they had seen as a farmhouse: when they hammered on the door, they had punched the horse’s rump, and the injuries to some of them had been not from collapse of the front pillars, but from kicks of the horse’s hooves.
The envoy was furious, and ordered the local prefect to have the badger hunted down, and a party of swordsmen and archers was accordingly dispatched to Enkakuji. But in the daytime they could not find any traces of it, and when they searched at night, they fell under its spell, and were unable to catch and kill it. The officials finally in despair at their fruitless efforts ordered Enkakuji to track down the old badger.
On the first day of the fourth month of the first year of Oei, Abbot Ekiho of Enkakuji dressed himself as a layman (for the badger avoided priests) and came out of the gate. The cherry tree on the right side of the lotus lake suddenly came into flower, and under it was a beautiful girl, who filled a bowl with wine and offered it to him. The master shook his whole body and gave a tremendous Katzu! shout, on which there was a great earthquake, and the old badger fell dead.
The next morning this was reported to the prefectural office. The priests of Hachiman, fearing that the town people might be haunted by the vengeful spirit of the badger, made a
Kannon with a badger’s head, and installed it on the Badger’s Way, next to the Horse-headed Kannon, and it was called by the local people Badger Bodhisattva.
The nun Myojun of Tokeiji convent-temple made a poem in praise of the Badger Bodhisattva:
Should we refuse to call the Bodhisattva, ‘Badger’?
It is Kannon who by magic changes men into Buddhas.
Right now I have become an old badger: do you try a Katzu! to save me.
Right now try changing those men who have become badgers into Buddhas.
When the badger head is put on Kannon, does the badger become Kannon or Kannon become the badger? Say!
This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen in the interviews of Keisho the 153rd master at Enkakuji.