Training in the poisonous wolf’s cave
After the experience of profound enlightenment which I had on Horomushiro Island in the Kuriles, I had a secret notion that I should have nothing to fear from any of the classical koans. But when I resumed the interviews with Master Gyodo after my return, I discovered that it was no such simple matter. The very first one I was given, about the ox passing through the window (No. 38 in the Mumonkari) took me quite a number of days to pass through myself. At the same time, thanks to this koan, there was a marked advance in my grasp of enlightenment. Master once said that to hold people up is what a koan is for, and one should appreciate this.
Anyway, it made me humble again, and I assiduously worked at the training in the Poisonous Wolfs Cave interviews. In the end, I was passed through the whole training of the interview room, and one day in May, 1949, was given a traditional hermitage name (shitsugo): Fuko-an, which means “the Hermitage of the Cloth Drum.”
Along with this I was presented with a verse by the Master:
To the Master of the Cloth Drum Hermitage
He has burst open the long night’s dream of sentient being
Across the ocean of No Merit,
His ship of compassion rides proudly
Feeling and thinking at a loss,
Like a fool, like a dullard, in light and dark.
He also remarked to me: “You have got the dharma, so whatever you do, it’s all right.”
The 57th koan of the Hekigan collection is Joshu’s: “You yokel!” And Setcho’s verse on it concludes with the line: “A cloth drum is hanging from the eaves.” One day the Master gave a sermon in the Engakuji hall on this line, and he said that of course a drum which is made by stretching a cloth across won’t make a sound however much you hit it. So it’s something quite useless. In human terms it means a fool, someone quite useless. And (he added) you have to become an absolute fool. “I say fool, but it doesn’t mean just to be in the way as an ordinary fool. You have to be a really big fool.”
In the Hokyo Zammai classic it says “to be able to keep living like a dullard, like a fool, is called the lord of lords”—and when it is said that the cloth drum is like a fool, this will mean that it is a state not easily attained.