The Gate by which all the Buddhas come into the World – Koan 19

Originally Enkakuji was a place forbidden to women, with the exception that unmarried women of a samurai family who were training at Zen were allowed to come and go through the gate. After 1334 a rule was made that unless a woman had attained to ‘seeing the nature’ she was not allowed to go to the Great Light Hall. In time it became the custom that the keeper of the gate, when a woman applied to go through, would present a test question. According to one tradition from that time (recorded in the commentary to Sorinzakki – Imai), five tests were in use at the gate of Enkakuji:


(1) The gate has many thresholds: even Buddhas and patriarchs cannot get through.

If you would enter, give the pass-word.

(2) The strong iron door is hardly to be opened.

Let one of mighty power tear it off its hinges.

(3) Vast outstretched in all directions – no door, no gate.

How will you recognize the gate?

(4) 84,000 gates open at the same time.

He who has the eye, let him see.

(5) What is it? this gate by which

All the Buddhas come into the world.

A pupil of Ninpo, the nun teacher at Tokeiji, was Yoshihime (daughter of General Kanazawa Sada), who was ugly and also exceptionally strong. Her nickname was ‘devil-girl’. She wished to have Zen interviews with Old Buddha Seisetsu, and went across to Enkakuji up to the gate. But the gate-keeper monk barred her way with a shout:

‘What is it, the gate through which the Buddhas come into the world?’

Yoshihime got hold of his head and forced it between her legs, saying: ‘Look, look!’

The monk said: ‘In the middle, there is a fragrance of wind and dew.’

Yoshihime said: ‘This monk! He’s not fit to keep the gate; he ought to be looking after the garden.’

The gate-keeper ran into the temple and reported this to the Master’s attendant, who said, ‘Let us go down and test this, and see if we can give a twist in there.’

At the gate, he tested her with the question: ‘What is it, the gate through which the Buddhas come into the world?’

Yoshihime again got hold of the head and held it between her legs, saying: ‘Look, look!’

The attendant said: ‘The Buddhas of the three worlds come giving light.’

Yoshihime said: ‘This monk is one with the eye; he saw the 84,000 gates thrown open all together.’


(1) Say a pass-word for Yoshihime to enter the gate.

(2) Sweep aside the iron door that bars you.

(3) Vast outstretched in all directions: how is that state?

(4) How do you see the 84,000 gates? Say!

(5) What is it, the gate through which the Buddhas come into the world?

(6) What is this ‘fragrance of wind and dew’?

(7) I do not ask you about the Buddhas of the three worlds giving light, but how do you give light right now?

(Imai’s note: Those who do not know Kamakura Zen may give a derisive smile at the gate-keeper’s reply: ‘In the middle there is a fragrance of wind and dew’, and for them I add a few words. The two legs represent the opposites of being and non-being, form and emptiness, ultimate and provisional truth, and so on. The fragrance of wind and dew is the experience of the Middle Way apart from these opposites. Nevertheless the gate-keeper’s response was a very pedestrian one from the Zen point of view, and Yoshihime did not assent to it.)

These tests were given at the interviews of the old master Gyokkei, the 131st teacher at Enkakuji.


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