The Dragon Crest – Koan 15

During a break in the gardening, some of the gardener monks were talking under the pines in the garden behind the abbot’s quarters, and it was recalled how in the old days Hojo Tokimasa (1138–1215; regent 1203–5) as a young man went into retreat at a temple on Enoshima Island, praying for lasting success in his campaigns. On the last night of the twenty-one days’ retreat, a beautiful princess in a green robe appeared and prophesied, ‘Your line will have the supremacy; the tide of glory is rising to your gate.’ She changed into a twenty-foot snake and entered the sea, leaving three fish-like scales on the shore, which Tokimasa took and made into a luminous banner. And so it is said that the great temples of Kenchoji, Enkakuji and others have three fish-scales in their temple crests. Then the monks were arguing about the dragon carved on the pillar of one of the Enkakuji halls, and how it did not have the dragon scales in triangles like the temple crest, and some said that therefore Benzaiten (goddess of prosperity) could not have been a real dragon, and so the talk went round and round.

Master Bukko overheard this, and came out and said: ‘Leave the question of the three scales for a moment, but have any of you in fact seen a dragon?’

The head gardener said: ‘No, I have never yet met one to see it.’

The teacher said: ‘Then if you have never seen a dragon, how can you argue about how its scales ought to be? You are just like those of other sects who criticize the Buddha-heart sect without ever having had a glimpse of the Buddha heart. If you want to know how the scales ought to be, go to Enoshima for a retreat and pray to the dragon and see one. And you don’t need to travel elsewhere or make any long journey. The real Benzaiten is on the crown of everyone’s head. Make a meditation retreat here in the Enkakuji meditation hall for twenty-one days. If you are wholly one-pointed you will be able to see a dragon on the last day. If you can’t see it on the twenty-first day, practise for twenty-one weeks. And if you still cannot see it, then press on your practice for twenty-one years, all hours of the day and night, never forgetting your resolution, and when the last day comes you will surely meet and see a dragon.’


(1) Using the divine powers of the Way, manifest the snake body and the woman form.

(2) How is it when you meet the dragon?

(3) Show the scales before my eyes.

This first became a koan at the interviews of master Daisetsu, the 40th master of Enkakuji.

(Imai’s note: Originally, a monk wishing to enter Enkakuji had to sit in meditation continuously for twenty-one days in accordance with this tradition, but after 1575 it was reduced to seven days.)



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