Zen riddles in the Budo tradition

‘The World-Honoured One has been born!’ – Koan 40

Uesugi Masayoshi entered training at Meigetsuin, and the teacher set him the koan of the birth of the Buddha. A little after one year, Masayoshi had a realization during the Rohatsu training week, and shouted, 'The World-honoured Buddha is born!' Then he took a few...

The Birth of the Buddha – Koan 39

Ishida Yamato-no-kami entered upon the Way at Enkakuji, where he had the Zen interviews with Ikka, who was the 124th teacher there. One day he asked the teacher, 'In the scriptures which I have been reading since I began here, there are various different teachings...

Bukko’s Age – Koan 38

Priest Mugaku (later called Bukko Kokushi) was fifty-six when he came to Kamakura and founded Enkakuji. With his white hair and old face, he looked like one who had passed the seventieth year. The saint Jonen heard it said that the old priest was only in his fifties,...

The Snake at Itozaki – Koan 37

(Imai's note: In the third volume of the Chronicles of Nine Generations of the Hojo Rulers is the following story: On the first day of the sixth month of the third year of Kennin (1203 AD) General Yoriie was stopping at a hunting lodge in a remote part of Izu. In the...

Yakushi of a thousand forms – Koan 36

On the eighth day of the eleventh month of the first year of Katei (1235) General Yoritsune was in great pain from an infected wound. All shrines and temples were to offer prayers for him, and the Buddhist image-maker Yasusada was ordered to make, in a single night, a...

The Kannon at Haste – Koan 35

Miura Nobuto, naval commander at Hase, had practised Zen for a long time. He happened to mention to the teacher Hakudo, when he met him on the occasion of a ceremony of confession and absolution at Hokokuji temple, that the Kannon at Hase was a great figure over ten...

The destruction of the Toad at Kaizoji – Koan 34

During the regency, in the twenty-third year of O-ei (1316), Uesugi Ahonokami Norizane retired, on the fifth day of the eighth month, to Shirai Castle in his domain in Kamakura, to mourn for Ashikaga Mochiuji (for whose life, though an enemy, he had pleaded). At the...

The Cat-Monster – Koan 33

No. 33. THE CAT-MONSTER When Odawara Castle fell to the attackers in the Meio period (the end of the fifteenth century), Akiko, who had been a maid in the service of Mori Fujiyori, the lord of the castle, escaped with a cat which had been her pet for years. She took...

The Nyo-I Sickle of Enkakuji – Koan 32

Ujihira, a steward of the Hojo Regent, one day visited Enkakuji and told Bukko about the name Kamakura, which means literally Sickle-store (kama = sickle; kura = store): In ancient times, there was born at Hitachi a man named Kamatari, and when he was young he went to...

The very first Jizo – Koan 31

Sakawa Koresada, a direct retainer of the Uesugi family, entered the main hall at Kenchoji and prayed to the Jizo-of-a-Thousand-Forms there. Then he asked the attendant monk in charge of the hall: 'Of these thousand forms of Jizo, which is the very first Jizo?' The...

Mirror Zen – Koans 30

(Imai's Introduction: At the beginning of the Jokyu era (1219), fifty days before the fighting broke out, the Nun Shogun (Hojo Masako) had a dream of a great mirror floating in the waves off Yui beach, and a voice coming from it: 'I am the voice of the great shrine,...

The One-Word charm of Enkakuji – Koan 29

An official who was administrator for Okura in the Kamakura district said to the great teacher Mugaku (afterwards Bukko, Teacher of the Nation): 'In the twelfth month of the fourth year of Jijo (1180), the Minamoto general Raicho planned to build a new palace in...

The rite of the Wind God at Kamakura – Koan 28

In the second year of Kangi (1229) there were portents of evil in the East of Japan. On the sixth day of the seventh month there was a frost at Kamakura, and at Kanago district in Musashi province, flakes of snow fell. The diviners searched the records, to find that...

The God Hachiman – Koan 27

After paying a visit to worship at the shrine of Hachiman at Tsurugaoka, Oba Kagemitsu (a descendant of the Oba Kageyoshi who had been in charge of the construction of the Hachiman shrine) called at Enkakuji and had an interview with National Teacher Bukko. The...

Benzaiten of Enoshima – Koan 26

Doi Yorimune came up to Mizugaoka and visited Mugaku (Bukko), a general of the Zen sect, and asked about the worship of Benzaiten (goddess of prosperity) of Enoshima Island. He recalled how on the fifth day of the fourth month of the second year of Yowa (1182), the...

The Nembutsu Robe – Koan 25

The Shogun Yoriie detested the followers of the Nembutsu (recitation of the name of Amida Buddha in the formula Namu-A-mi-da-butsu), and in May 1213 he issued a decree forbidding the recitation. He ordered Yashiro Hiki to investigate travellers, and if he found any...

The Cave of the Man in Mount Fuji – Koan 24

(Imai's note: In the Record of Nine Generations of the Hojo Rulers, the first part, the following story occurs: On the third day of the sixth month of the third year of Kennin (1203 A.D.) the Shogun Yoriie went hunting on the foot-slopes of Mount Fuji, in the country...

The Verse facing Death – Koan 23

In the eighth month of the second year of Tê Yu priest Mugaku (Zen master Bukko) when facing death by the sword of a Mongol soldier spoke the verse: In heaven and earth, no crack to hide;Joy to know the man is void and the things too are void.Splendid the great...

Stopping the fighting across the River – Koan 22

In the first year of Tê Yu (1275) priest Mugaku (Bukko) had planted the banner of the dharma at Chênju temple in the province of T'ai Chou when the Mongols invaded China and overran the province. The teacher accordingly withdrew to Nêngjên temple in Wên Chou, but next...

How Priest Isshin saved the Ghost – Koan 21

In the summer of the third year of Enkei (1310), the ghost of Hojo Munekata appeared and cursed the regent Morotoki (his descendant, under whom the Hojo regime was crumbling). Morotoki was aghast at the apparition, and had the goma rite performed at the Hachiman...

The Rite of the Treasury of Space – Koan 20

The officer Nagayasu, who had a position at Jufukuji temple, remarked to Bukko's attendant Eibin: 'When the founder, National Teacher Bukko, came to Kamakura and began to teach at Jufukuji, he was so ridiculously short that many of the warriors despised him. At that...

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,...

Numbering the Waves on Yui Beach – Koan 17

Minamoto Munatsune, in the spring of the first year of Shogen (1259) when he was seventy-five years of age, came to Kenchoji to become a shaven-headed monk, with the name of Gido. The great teacher Rankei (namely Daikaku) had a formal interview with him, and taking...

The Great Buddha of Haste – Koan16

Michimasa, a warrior Zen student of Suwa, made a pilgrimage to the Great Buddha of Hase (Kamakura), and on the way back paid a visit to Enkakuji, where he had an interview with priest Daikyu (died 1289). He talked about the circumstances of the construction of the...

The Dragon Crest – Koan 15

During a break in the gardening, some of the gardener monks were talking under the pines in the garden behind the abbot's quarters, and it was recalled how in the old days Hojo Tokimasa (1138–1215; regent 1203–5) as a young man went into retreat at a temple on...

The Snake round the Ginko Tree – Koan 14

In the fourth month of the third year of Kencho (1249), Priest Rankei (Zen master Daikaku) was at Jorakuji temple in Kamakura. One of his students, Ronen, braving the dangers of the night came a long way for an interview, and arrived early in the morning. As he came...

The Deer at the Sermon – Koan 13

In the fifth year of Koan (1282) when Tokimune built the great temple of Enkakuji and National Teacher Bukko was installed as the founder, the white deer used to assemble in a herd and come to hear the dharma, eyes glistening with tears. At the time there was in...

Rankei’s Shari Pearls – Koan 12

On the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month of the first year of Koan (1276) Master Rankei (Daikaku) passed away, and at the cremation at Kenchoji there were clusters of shari pearls among the ashes. Even the leaves of the trees nearby which had been wreathed in the...

Putting out the fire in Hell Valley – Koan 11

In the third month of the tenth year of Koan (1287) Master Bukkaku built the Eshunan sub-temple in the place called Hell Valley. It had been the execution ground when the Minamoto shogun Yoritomo founded his government, and the people had a deep dread of the place, as...

The Well of Youth – Koan 10

Since the Minamoto shogun set up his capital at Kamakura, seventeen times there has been a drought so long that the wells ceased to give water. At those times the country folk came to Kenchoji to draw water from the two wells called Golden Bright and Youth, to allay...

Jizo coming out of the Hall – Koan 9

When Nitta Yoshisada's soldiers were burning the country-side in 1331, they attacked the Kamakura temples with fire, and Kenchoji was set alight. It is said that the monk in charge of the main hall put the great image of Jizo on his back and carried it to safety. The...

Jizo Stands Up – Koan 8

When Hojo Soun attacked Odawara Castle and was occupying Kanto, the eastern part of Japan, the soldiers of the areas round Kamakura forced their way onto the lands of the temples; as their number gradually increased, Kenchoji was in dire straits. On a winter day in...

The Bucket without a Bottom – Koan 7

(Imai's note: The nun Mujaku, whose lay name was Chiyono, was a woman of Akita who married and had one daughter. In 1276 when she was thirty-four her husband died, and she could not get over the grief. She became a nun, and trained under Bukko. The story is that on...

Bukko’s Loin-Cloth Zen – Variant on Koan 6.

On the staff of Yasutsura Genbansuke, a minister of Hojo Yasutoki, was one Morikatsu who was a nyudo student of Zen. Once when he came to Enkakuji he met one of Bukko's attendants named Isshin, and said to him: 'That stupid crowd at Kamakura don't know how to write...

Daikaku’s One-Robe Zen – Koan 6

A priest from the headquarters of the regent Yasutoki visited Kenchoji and remarked to Daikaku: 'Eisai and Gyoyu began the propagation of Zen here in Kamakura, but the two greatest teachers of the way of the patriarchs have been Dogen (of the Soto sect) and Bennen...

Bukko’s No-Word Sutra – Koan 5

Ryo-A, a priest of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine, came to Magaku (National teacher Bukko, who succeeded Daikaku) and told him the story of Daikaku's one-word sutra. He said: 'I do not ask about the six or seven syllables recited by other sects, but what is the one...

Daikaku’s one-word Sutra – Koan 4

At the beginning of the Kencho era (1249), 'Old Buddha' Daikaku was invited from Kyoto by the shogun Tokiyori to spread Zen in the East of Japan. Some priests and laymen of other sects were not at all pleased at this, and out of jealousy spread it around that the...

Saving Sajiwara’s Soul – Koan 3

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the sixth year of Kencho (1255), the rite of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts was being performed at the Karataka mountain gate of Kenchoji temple. When the sutra reading had been completed, however, priest Rankei (Master Daikaku)...

Imai Fukuzan’s introduction to Shonan-Kattto-Roku

 The origin of warrior Zen in Kamakura, and in the whole of the eastern part of Japan, goes back to the training of warrior pupils by Eisai (Senko Kokushi). But it was the training of warriors and priests by two great Chinese masters, Daikaku and Bukko, which became...

Shonan-katto-roku

The collection of 100 odd koans here presented in translation was put together in 1545, under the name Shonan-katto-roku, from records in the Kamakura temples dating back to the foundation of Kenchoji in 1253 when pure Zen first came to Japan. For a long time the...

Women in the Warrior Koans

Ten of the hundred stories centre round women mostly of the Warrior class who were noted for their virtue and strength of character. A special feature of Zen has been the absence of prejudice against women; anyone who could practise the discipline was of equal status...

Zen in riddling form

This is an almost unknown but very important text recording Zen incidents from the first stages of Zen in Japan. It survived in tiny editions. It would appear that Dr D.T. Susuki did not know it directly though he refers vaguely to a collection of koans given to...

Samurai Zen

The Warrior Koans unites 100 of the rare riddles representing the core spiritual discipline of Japan's ancient samurai tradition. Dating from the thirteenth-century records of Japan's Kamakura temples, and traditionally guarded with a reverent secrecy, they reflect...

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