The Deer at the Sermon – Koan 13
In the fifth year of Koan (1282) when Tokimune built the great temple of Enkakuji and National Teacher Bukko was installed as the founder, the white deer used to assemble in a herd and come to hear the dharma, eyes glistening with tears. At the time there was in Kamakura a hunter who reared fierce hounds which would rush barking through the mountains in pursuit of the prey.
At these times the deer herd was fortunately safe from the teeth of the hounds, assembled as they were in the garden of the sermon hall. It was a blessed omen indeed, and so the temple came to be called the temple of the Blessed Deer; and it is also said that the grass of the place where they grazed came to be called Enkakuji grass.
(1) Deer have never been known to understand human speech, so how was it that they wept when they listened to the sermon?
(2) Today you great warriors in the congregation here, all becoming spiritual heroes, have found the great Enkakuji hall right where you stand. Leaving aside the deer for a moment, try giving a sermon to the hounds! Do you demonstrate the proof of what the old teacher was proclaiming.
This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Seisetsu (a Chinese master who died in 1339 in Japan, and whose line became one of the subsects in Japanese Rinzai Zen).