The gate-keeper’s question – Koan 81

No. 81. The gate-keeper’s question

In the fighting of the Genko era (from 1331), there were 2,600 warriors of the Nitta forces encamped at Kobukuro (near Kenchoji), brave men resolved to die in battle. Endo Takahiro, a student of Zen, had the most impressive reputation among them all. One day of strong winds and driving rain, he thought of transferring their camp to Kenchoji, and went to tell the temple. As he was going to enter the gate, the gatekeeper, the priest Shogai Zenkan, stopped him and asked: ‘What is your business?’

He said: ‘What I have to say is for the chief priest.’

The gate-keeper said: ‘First explain to the gate-keeper what your business is.’ (There were many violent men among the warriors during the war, and the temple rule was that an inquirer must first be examined by the gate-keeper before he could see the chief priest — Imai.)

Endo, angered, drew his sword and threatened him with it, saying,

I wanted to ask the chief priest about the Buddhism of the naked sword. Can you say something for him?’

Zenkan gave a Katzu! shout, and wrested the sword from him. Saying, ‘The Diamond Treasure Sword belongs in the square inch (of the heart)’, he put it away in his long sleeve.

The warrior said: ‘When it comes out of the square inch, how is it then?’

The gate-keeper spread all his fingers and danced. Endo was at a loss. The gate-keeper joined his palms in reverent salutation, then again spread out his fingers in front of Endo’s face, and danced.

This time he had a realization, made a salutation in gratitude, and went back. Seeing him returning to their camp, Kawada Kakeyoshi asked him, ‘What about our moving camp to Kenchoji?’

Endo said: ‘We are warriors resolved to die, and even if thunderbolts fall from the sky, we shall not run away. Are we going to become such cowards that we run away to the priests’ place from a bit of wind and rain?’

Thus Kenchoji, was spared becoming a war base.


  1. What was the real meaning of what the gate-keeper did?

  2. What did that heroic warrior realize, that he bowed in gratitude?

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