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Tokimune’s Thing below the Navel – Koan 18

(When Tokimune received the news that the Mongol armada was poised to attack Japan, he went in full armour to see Bukkoo his teacher, and said: ‘The great thing has come,’ to which the teacher replied: ‘Can you somehow avoid it?’ Tokimune calmly stamped his feet, shook his whole body and gave a tremendous shout of Katzu! The teacher said: ‘A real lion cub, a real lion roar. Dash straight forward and don’t look round!’ After the defeat of the Mongols, Tokimune built the great monastery of Enkakuji, and installed in it the representation of Jizo-of-a-thousand-forms. Bukko became the first teacher there. Tokimune organized a great religious service for the souls of the dead of both sides. Soon afterwards he died at the age of thirty-three. In the funeral oration Bukko said that he had been a Bodhisattva – ‘for nearly twenty years he ruled without showing joy or anger; when the victory came he showed no elation; he sought for the truth of Zen and found it.’ – Tr.)

At the outbreak of war in the first year of Koan (1278) Tokimune visited Bukko and gave the Katzu! shout of dashing straight forward. Priest Gio said: ‘The general has got something great below his navel, so the shout too is great.’

The Field of the Elixir (tanden, the energy-centre an inch below the navel) of Taoist doctrine was called in the Szechuan dialect Shii-ku-ii-mo, the thing under the navel. Gio was a priest from Szechuan who had come with Daikaku to Kenchoji in Japan, and in praising the greatness of Hojo Tokimune’s tanden energy, he used this Szechuan phrase. (Like many remarks of the Chinese priests, it was transcribed into Chinese characters, and the Japanese, not knowing the colloquial Szechuan phrase, took it in a literal sense – Tr.)

One of the regent’s ministers, Masanori, when he came to know what Gio had said, asked him indignantly:

‘When did Your Reverence see the size of what our lord has below his navel?’

The priest said: ‘Before the general was born, I saw it.’

The courtier did not understand.

The priest said: ‘If you do not understand the greatness of what is below the general’s navel, then see through to before you yourself were born, the greatness of the thing below the navel. How would that thing become greater or less by the honour or contempt of high or low?’

The courtier was still more bewildered.

The priest gave a Katzu! shout and said: ‘Such is the voice of it, of that thing.’

At these words the courtier had an insight and said: ‘This petty official today has been fortunate enough to receive a Katzu! from you. I have known the greatness of that thing below our lord’s navel.’

The priest said: ‘What is its length and breadth, say!’

The courtier said: ‘Its length pierces the three worlds: its breadth pervades all ten directions.’

The priest said: ‘Let the noble officer present a Katzu! of that greatness to show the proof.’

The courtier was not able to open his mouth.


(1) What is the meaning of dashing straight ahead?

(2) Say directly, what is the general’s dashing straight forward.

(3) Leaving the general’s dashing straight forward, what is your dashing straight forward, here and now? Speak!

(4) Leaving your dashing straight forward, what is the dashing straight forward of all the Buddhas and beings of the three worlds?

(5) Leaving the dashing straight forward of the Buddhas and beings, what is the dashing straight forward of heaven and earth and the ten thousand phenomena?

(6) Leaving for the moment the thing below the navel of the Taoists, what is the thing below the navel in our tradition? Say!

(7) Say something about the thing below the navel before father and mother were born.

(8) When the light of life has failed, then say something of that thing below the navel.

(9) Leaving the general’s Katzu! – when you yourself are threatened by an enemy from somewhere, what great deed will you perform? Say!

(10) Give a Katzu! for the courtier to prove it.

This became a koan when Torin, 44th master of Kenchoji, began to use it in interviews.

(Imai’s note: According to the records in Gosan-nyudoshu in Kamakura the samurai there were set this koan and wrestled with it, and even after ‘seeing the nature’ they were never passed through it for at least five or six years. It is said that ‘dash straight forward’ in the first tests was often taken in the meaning of ‘swiftly’ or else ‘sincerely’ and that these were never passed.)



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