The one-word. Heart Sutra – Koan 55

No. 55. The one-word. Heart Sutra

When Zen Master Daikaku was at the Temple of Great Compassion in Szechuan, having renounced home and become a Buddhist novice, he determined that at the three daily periods of sutra reading before the images of Buddhas and patriarchs, he would read none of the various sutras prescribed in the Zen regulations except for the Heart Sutra, and he said openly:

The 84,000 scrolls of the Buddha dharma are simply the one scroll of the Heart Sutra, and that one scroll of 262 words comes down to one word. Reading of many sutras is like doubting the Buddha.’

The novice bravely followed his own convictions, and calmly read the sutra of the single scroll.


  1. The Heart Sutra of 262 words: what word do these all come down to?

  2. When the student replies, ‘The Heart Sutra of 262 words

(comes down to )’ he is asked: ‘You said heart; the

heart is being born and dying at each thought, and it possesses delusion or realization, and is not unborn, undying, undefiled or impure. Say now, what is it?’ (Imai’s note:)

  1. Then on the point of the Heart Sutra of one word, ‘Buddha’ is not it, ‘dharma’ is not it, ‘vision’ is not it, ‘emptiness’ is not it, ‘dharanl-spelP is not it, ‘sutra’ is not it. When the student has penetrated to the one word, his insight is in the traditional schools brought under the hammer of eighteen tests.

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen when National Teacher Daio, the 13th master at Kenchoji, began to use the Heart Sutra in tests when training Toyama, feudal lord of Tango, and from the time of Kao, 52nd master at Kenchoji, it began to be used generally in Zen interviews.

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