The divine snake of the Benten shrine – Koan 49

No. 49. The divine snake of the Benten shrine

In the first year of Shoan (1299), on the occasion of the festival of the guardian divinity of the Kenchoji precinct, the Zen student Ota Yorikatsu paid a visit to Kenchoji and made an offering at the shrine of Benten (or Benzaiten, goddess of prosperity, also the guardian divinity). He conceived a desire to see the divine snake, which was the traditional form taken by the guardian spirit, and asked the senior priest Daishun where it was to be seen.

The priest said: ‘Kenchoji has never never concealed the divine snake form of Benzaiten; it is displayed clearly before the eyes of all. I only ask you to try opening that true eye which can see the form of the divine snake coiled round this humble priest, which protects the temple, and has never never left us. This old priest is day and night holding that snake to himself, and receiving from it blessings without end.’


  1. Do you feel that divine snake right now coiled round your body and protecting the temple? Say!

  2. When you hold to yourself the divine snake of Benzaiten, what is the blessing you are receiving right now? Say!

This incident was first given as a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Sekishitsu, the 43rd master of Kenchoji.

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