The mirror of Enkakuji – Koan 1

No. 1. The mirror of Enkakuji

Regent Tokiyori founded the great temple of Kenchoji for the teaching of Buddhism, but the temple soon could not accommodate all the many warriors who became students (nyudo) in order to enter the Buddhist path and give all their free time to it. So in the first year of Koan (1278) Tokimune, Tokiyori’s son, decided to build another great temple, and invited priest Rankei (afterwards Daikaku) to choose the Brahma-ground, as the site for a temple is called. Teacher and regent walked together round the nearby hills, and found the ruins of a Shingon temple (of the mantra sect) where Minamoto Yoshiyori had once set up a pagoda of Perfect Realization. They decided on this as the place to plant the banner of the Law.

First the teacher performed a purification, and made three strokes with a mattock; then the regent made three strokes, and planted a stalk of grass to mark the spirit of faith.

In the winter of the same year, when Tokimune was having the area prepared for the foundations, a buried stone coffer was found. In it was a perfect circular mirror; engraved on the back were the words EN KAKU — Perfect Realization. So the temple was called Enkakuji.

Taira Masatsuna, a nyudo student of Zen, at an interview with Mugaku (later Bukko), told him this story of how the temple came to be called Enkakuji. The teacher said:

Leave for a moment that perfect mirror buried underground:

No. 2 Regent Hojo Tokiyori


the perfect mirror at this instant in your hands, what is it? Try and bring it out of its stone coffer. If you don’t get this, the spiritual pagoda of Perfect Realization will not be built.’


  1. When the stone coffer is broken open, what is that perfect mirror like? (Imai’s note: It is said that this question means, When man dies, what happens to his spirit?)

  2. Beneath the feet of the man of the Way, as he walks, is the Brahma-ground for the temple. At this instant, try building the pagoda of Perfect Realization.

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Butsuju, the 21st teacher at Enkakuji.

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