The way of the teacup – Koan 76

No. 76. The way of the teacup

In the spring of the first year of Ryakuo (1338), the Imperial tutor Lord Tadanori came from Kyoto to Kamakura to teach the Confucian doctrines to the warriors of the Government there. By the Jowa era (1345) there were over 360 who were studying under him, among them the Jomyoji temple librarian Tachibana, who showed great talent for study. Zen master Tentaku, the 41st master at Enkakuji, admonished him, saying: ‘You have talent for scholarship but no bent for Zen. Perhaps you will not be able to pursue the holy Path. The Confucian scholars say that the Way has its basis in heaven, but cannot speak of the Way before heaven and earth were separated out. If you want to know the true source of the Way, you must sit in meditation on the mat in the meditation hall till the perspiration runs from your whole body.’

The librarian reported this to Lord Tadanori, who was

angry and went to Enkakuji to see the teacher. He asked him about the Way, to which the Master replied:

Confucius says that if one hears the Way in the morning, one can die in the evening content. This is the Way which is the basis of the whole universe. How does your Honour explain it?’

The nobleman opened his mouth to take the floor, when the teacher waved his hand and said: ‘The source of the Way is before the three powers (heaven, earth and man) exist: how can Your Honour explain it by mouth and tongue?’

The Imperial tutor retorted: ‘Then how would a priest point out the Way?’

The master at once put a cup of fresh tea before him, and said:

Do you understand?’

The nobleman was at a loss, and the teacher said: ‘My Lord, you have not yet the talent for knowing the Way.’


How is the Way in a cup of tea? Say!

This became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Shunoku, the 54th master at Enkakuji.

(Imai’s note: This koan resembles Joshu’s ‘Have a cup of tea’, but the meaning is not the same. One has to penetrate into the real meaning of serving tea.)

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