The mark of the Brahma-voice – Koan 66

No. 66. The mark of the Brahma-voice

Unjobo, maker of Buddha images who was always regarded as second only to the famous master Unkei, worked at Kamakura where his pieces were much esteemed. Accordingly Priest Rinso, namely Zen Master Kakusho of Jufukuji, ordered Unjobo to make a Buddha image for a memorial service for those who had fallen in the war of Genko (1331). He carved a wooden image modelled on the main Buddha of Jufukuji. Full of pride in his skill, he remarked as he presented it, that the image faithfully embodied all thirty-two of the traditional marks of the Buddha.

The teacher said: ‘Of the thirty-two marks, the twenty- eighth is the Brahma-voice, deep and far-reaching. Does this carving of yours show that?’

Unjobo pondered silently for a long time, but could find no answer.

He confined himself in the Buddha hall of Jufukuji for twenty-one days, praying for light on the Brahma-voice mark of a Buddha. On the last day of the vow he had a realization, went to the teacher’s interview room and said:

(What Unjobo said has to be supplied by the pupil)


  1. From among the thirty-two marks, how is the Brahma- voice mark to be made by the sculptor? — Say!

  2. What did Unjobo say to the teacher? Speak!

This became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Katsugan, the 126th master at Kenchoji.

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