Yashenkanna preface by a Cold Starveling, Master of Poverty Temple

Yashenkanna preface by a cold starveling, Master of Poverty Temple

In the year 1757, from a certain bookseller in the capital came to us a letter addressed to the personal attendants of Master Hakuin. After the usual greetings it said: ‘I have heard that among the Master’s papers there is a manuscript called Yasenkanna or some such title. In it is gathered together the lore of training Ki-energy, invigorating the spirit and fortifying the citadel, and in particular the alchemy of the Tan-elixir of the Sennin. To us dabblers in the world without, such news is a rainbow in a drought. We know that occasionally a copy is given privately to a student disciple, but they keep it as a secret treasure and never show it to others. So it is wasted, heavenly nectar locked away in the bookchest. What I now ask is new life to those bent with age, and relief to those that thirst. I have always heard that the Master makes it his delight to benefit the people, and this being of benefit to the people, why should the teacher begrudge it?’

The two tigers took this letter and presented it to the teacher, who smiled a little. But when we opened the bookchest some of the manuscript had been devoured by worms, only the middle part remaining. We completed it from our own private copies, the whole coming to some fifty pages. It has been bound and is ready to be sent to the capital. As senior by a day to the other disciples, the task of writing an introduction has fallen to me, and without more ado I begin it.

The teacher has been living at Shoinji Temple a good forty years. Since he set up there, disciples have been coming. When they had crossed the threshold, the teacher’s stinging words became sweet to them, and his blows were felt as kindness. They never thought of taking their leave; some for ten and some for twenty years, some dying – to become the dust under the branches of the temple pines – they never looked back. They were spiritual heroes and a glory to the world. For miles to the east and west, all the old houses and abandoned dwellings, ancient temples and ruined tombs, became lodging and abode for these pure ascetics.

Distress in the morning and hardship at even, starving by day and freezing at night, for food only raw vegetables and cornmeal; in their ears the master’s blistering shouts and abuse, piercing their bones his furious fist and stick; at what they saw their foreheads furrowed, at what they heard their skins asweat. Angels would have shed tears and demons joined their palms in supplication. At the beginning fair to look on as Sogyoku or Ka-an, skin radiant and glistening with health, soon their form emaciated and face drawn, like the poets Toho or Koto, or like Kutsugen when he faced catastrophe at the Takuhan river. How would any have been held a moment longer, except the most valiant in the quest, who begrudged neither health nor life itself? But often the training became too much and the austerities excessive, so that their lungs were benumbed and their humours dried, with persistent pains and swelling in the abdomen, and chronic illnesses appearing.

Seeing that such sufferings were beyond even heroic endurance, the teacher turned down from the heights and pressed out the milk of mercy by giving them the secret of Naikan or inner contemplation. He said; ‘When true students are pursuing the Way, the heart-fire may rush up to the head; body and mind become exhausted and the five organs lose their harmony. Against this condition not all the needles and cautery and drugs of the master doctors of China avail.  But with me is the secret of the circulation of the Tan-elixir of the Sennin, the immortal mountain sages.

Do you now make trial of it. You will feel the clouds and mists part and the sun appear in splendour.
‘To practise the secret, for a while lay down the meditation practice and drop your Koan. The first thing is, that you must experience deep sleep. And before you shut your eyes to enter that sleep, stretch both legs right out and press them strongly together. Bring your whole vital energy to fill the energy-sea at the navel, the Tanden elixir-field, and the hips and legs and so right down to the soles of the feet. Again and again you must make this imagination:

This the energy-sea, the Tanden, hips and legs down to the soles, all is full of my Original Face.
What nostril would there be on that Face?
This the energy-sea, the Tanden, is full of my true Home.
What letter [needed] from that Home?
This the energy-sea, the Tanden, is full of my Pure Land of consciousness-only.
What outer pomp for that Pure Land?
This the energy-sea, the Tanden, is full of the Amida Buddha of this heart and body.
What dharma would that Amida be preaching?

So repeating again and again, continuously make the mental pictures as described. As the practice begins to take effect, the hips and legs and right down to the soles will spontaneously become filled with Ki-energy. The abdomen below the navel will become rounded like a gourd or the smooth surface of a ball. If you again and again vividly make the visualization in this way, after five or seven or at most twenty-one days from the five organs and six auxiliaries the exhaustion and fatigue and illnesses will be altogether swept away, and health will be restored. And if it be not so, you may cut off his head.’

All the disciples joyfully made salutations and set to practising the method in their own quarters. Everyone remarked a marvellous effect. The result depended on how well they did the practice, but most of them recovered completely. All the time we were telling each other about the miraculous effect of the Naikan.
The teacher said: ‘O disciples, do not take it as enough just to recover from illness. The healthier you are, the more you must apply yourselves to spiritual practice; the more satori you get, the more you must press on. When I first entered on the path, I contracted a grave and refractory illness, whose agony was ten times what any of you have experienced. Desperate as I was, I came to feel that rather than live in such extreme misery it would be better to die quickly and throw off this sack of a body. But by great fortune I came to receive the secret of the Naikan, and recovered completely just as you have done.

‘The Perfect Man [Hakuyu] told me: “This is the divine art of prolonging life possessed by the immortal Sennin. The lesser result is a life of three centuries, and as to the greater, it cannot be calculated.” I myself rejoiced exceedingly when I heard it, and unflaggingly practised for some three years. I felt my mind and body steadily recover and my vitality steadily became vigorous. At this point I pondered again and again within myself: suppose by this practice I can keep alive even eight centuries as did the patriarch Ho, yet it is only a prolonged emptiness, a preserved corpse void of intelligence, like an old fox hibernating in some ancient lair, only to die in the end. For how is it that today, of the company of the immortals Kakko, Tekkai, Choka, Hicho, not one is ever seen? Better to take the four universal vows, to devote myself to the glorious Bodhisattva path and practise the great dharma; am I to lose the body of Truth, which never dies even as space itself, in order to attain the imperishable diamond body of the Sennin?
‘When I came here, I had by me one or two real inquirers, to whom I taught the Naikan and the Zen inquiry together. There was spiritual training and there was spiritual warfare, but in these thirty years new disciples have been coming in ones and twos each year, till today there are nearly two hundred of them. Some among them, exhausted and bowed with the training, had the heart-fire mounting to the head till they went almost mad with it, and I was moved to pass on to them privately the method of Naikan. They were cured then and there, and then with each enlightenment I urged them on more and more.
‘I myself am now past seventy but have no trace of illness. My teeth are all sound, and over the clearness of sight and hearing never more than the slightest passing cloud. At the end of the regular fortnightly preaching of the dharma in the temple I feel no fatigue. I am asked from outside to lecture to groups of three to five hundred, and to expound the Sutras for periods of seven to ten weeks; I speak forcibly and directly, and altogether have given fifty or sixty such courses. Never did I miss a single day. I am well in body and mind, and my energy has gradually come far to surpass what it was at the age of twenty or thirty. Such is my own experience of the Naikan.’

We disciples made reverence with tears in our eyes at the greatness of what we had received from the teacher. We asked for permission to make a permanent record in book form of a summary of the method, that future disciples might be preserved from physical collapse. The teacher nodded, and the draft was at once prepared.
Now what does the book teach? It is this: the essential thing in replenishing the vitality and lengthening life is to invigorate the frame; the essential thing in invigorating the frame is to concentrate the spirit-energy at the Tanden in the energy-sea just below the navel. When the spirit is concentrated, the Ki-energy accumulates; when the Ki accumulates, the true Tan-elixir forms. When the elixir forms, the frame becomes firm; when the frame becomes firm the spirit is whole; when the spirit is whole the life is prolonged. This is the secret of the nine elixir-cycles of the Sennin. It must be understood that the elixir is not something external – the Tan is simply a question of taking the heart-fire downward to fill the Tanden below the navel. If students apply themselves to this essential point without falling away, the Zen illness will be cured and the body will be free from fatigue. Moreover, you will attain your Zen aspiration, and in years to come, entering the Great Questioning, will in the end be clapping your hands and laughing for joy. How so? As the moon rises, the castle shadows disappear.

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