The Dragon of Myoshinji Temple

All Japanese know of the great painter Kano Tanyu, whose work exists even today at the Myoshinji temple. This is the story of the time when he painted the great dragon on the ceiling of the main hall of the temple. It was his masterpiece and is one of the art treasures of the world. At that time the master at Myoshinji was the celebrated Zen master Gudo, famous as the teacher of the emperor. He had heard that the dragons painted by Tanyu were so realistic that when a ceiling on which one had been painted fell down by chance, some said it had been caused by the movement of the dragon’s tail. When the painting of the dragon at Myoshinji was mooted, Gudo went to the painter’s house and told him: “For this special occasion I particularly want to have the painting of the dragon done from life.” …

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Categories Zen

‘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 steps forward and cried loudly, ‘In heaven above and earth below I alone am the honoured one!’ The teacher said, ‘Tradition tells: that the World-honoured One was twelve monthsin the womb,that he was born from the right side of his mother,that he took seven steps and then uttered his greatcry.  How did you come out? Say, say! If you cannot say, it is no Buddha that has been born but a fox-spirit making a false appearance.’ Masayoshi said:‘I entered my home and conformed to it,I followed the karma and conformed to it,I trod on the head of Vairochana.’The teacher: ‘What is this treading?’Masayoshi: ‘The holiest …

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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 about the day of the Buddha’s birth. Which day of which month is the right one?’ The teacher said, ‘Don’t talk about different teachings. When you see the nature to be Buddha, that is the birth of the World-honoured One.’ TESTS (1) If you say, See the nature to be Buddha, immediately a snake with two heads appears. Are the nature and the Buddha the same or different? If the same, why does it have to tell you to see the nature to be Buddha? If there is a difference, say wherein it is, that seeing the nature is something separate from being Buddha. (2) …

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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, and hesitantly asked him how old he was. The teacher replied, ‘The same as Amida.’ The saint said, ‘Why, how old is Amida?’ The teacher said, ‘Amida is the same age as the saint before me. If the saint knows the origin of the true life of himself, he will realize the Buddha’s age, and will know how many years is this old monk.’  TESTS (1) Setting aside the teacher’s age, setting aside the Buddha’s age, at this instant what is the origin of your own true life? (2) Amida Buddha is called the Tathagata of eternal ages. How about you? (3) …

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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 mountains at a place called Itozaki there is a great cave. Lord Yoriie felt that there was something strange within it, and Wada Heitaro ordered a warrior named Tanenaga to investigate the interior. Tanenaga took a pine-torch and went into the cave. He was there from the hour of the snake (10 a.m.) till the hour of the bird (6 a.m.), when he came out and reported. Within the cave he had gone along several leagues. The darkness was indescribable. Holding high the pinetorch he went far in; in places there was a little stream flowing. On each …

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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 Yakushi of a thousand forms, each one to be 1 ft 6 ins (Yakushi is the bodhisattva of healing). And the astrologer Chikamoto was to perform a ceremony 36,000 times in the same time. It is said that in the event, the general recovered in less than a day. I don’t ask you about the 36,000 ceremonies, but how could the thousand images of Yakushi be made in a single night? TEST Those in the line of the patriarchs are said to have the ability to use a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. Now use them to make the Yakushi …

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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 feet high. The teacher said, ‘What is the difference in weight between Your Honour and Kannon?’ The commander said, ‘The weight is the same.’ The teacher: ‘Your Honour is just over five feet tall. How can your weight be the same as Kannon over ten feet?’ The commander: ‘The weighing was done before I was born.’ The teacher: ‘I’m not asking about before you were born. What is it now?’ The commander: ‘By the power of meditation on Kannon, the weight comes out the same.’ TESTS (1) How can the weights be compared before birth? (2) What really is this saying …

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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 same time Uesugi retainers, apprehending danger to themselves in the troubled times, left Kamakura and dispersed in many places in Izu and other regions, with a good number of them also renouncing home to become students at the temples of Kamakura. Now Suwako, one of Uesugi’s favourite concubines, had fallen in love with Iwai Hanzo Kaneshige (an official at Kaizoji temple). Because of this affair, she did not wish to go to Shirai Castle with her lord. She suddenly appeared at Kaizoji, and in an agony of frustration, stabbed herself. Kaneshige, fearful that the whole circumstance would come to light, buried her at night …

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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 refuge in the villa of the painter Takuma at Kinokubo by the Nameri River. She lived there some years, and then the cat became a wild supernatural monster which terrorized the people, finally even preying on infants in the village. The local officials joined with the people in attempts to catch it, but with its strange powers of appearing and disappearing, the swordsmen and archers could find nothing to attack, and men and women went in dread day and night. Then in December of the second year of Eisho (1505), priest Yakkoku went up on to the dais at …

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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 capital and served at the palace, where he assisted with great devotion in the great affairs of state. The Emperor Tenchi in the eighth year of his reign (669 AD) gave him the new name of Fujiwara, and his house prospered exceedingly. He undertook a pilgrimage to the shrine of Kashima in Hitachi, and on the way back stopped at the village of Yui in Musashi province, where he had a wonderful dream. As a token he buried a sickle (kama) at Matsugaoka of O-kura, and thereafter the place was called Kama-kura. The teacher said: ‘That sickle – where is it …

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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 attendant said, ‘In the breast of the retainer before me are a thousand thoughts and ten thousand imaginings; which of these is the very first one?’ The samurai was silent. The attendant said again, ‘Of the thousand forms of Jizo, the very first Jizo is the Buddha-lord who is always using those thousand forms.’ The warrior said, ‘Who is this Buddha-lord?’ The attendant suddenly caught him and twisted his nose. The samurai immediately had a realization. TESTS (1) Which is the very first Jizo out of the thousand-formed Jizo? (2) Which is the very first out of the thousand thoughts and ten thousand imaginings? (3) …

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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, and what is to happen in the world is seen in me. There is a war imminent, and the army must be mobilized. If Yasutoki polishes me, he will be victorious and bring about a great peace.’ On hearing this dream, Yasutoki sent Hatanojiro Tomosada as an emissary to the great shrine at Yui beach, to pray for the peace of the land. When the Jokyu rebellion had been put down, Yasutoki had a mirror made with a circumference of six foot, following the description of the spirit mirror given by the Nun Shogun of her vision, and it was …

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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 Okura; Oba Kageyoshi who was in charge realized that he could not construct a whole new palace in time. So my ancestor, the prefect here, had one very large mansion from within this area which is now the temple compound of Enkakuji, transported to Okura to make up the great palace. This edifice was said to have been built originally in Shoryaku times (990), and in those ancient days Abe Yasuaki brushed a protective charm for the preservation of the house. It was nailed to the ridgepole, since when over the centuries it has had no upsets of fortune, and this miraculous protection is spoken …

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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 in the 39th year of the reign of the Emperor Kogen (reigned 214–158 BC) snow had fallen in June, and there had been a great snowfall in June of the 34th year of the Empress Suiko (592–628), and another in the same month of the eighth year of the era called Engi (the middle part of the reign) of Emperor Daigo (897–930). At these times there had been a bad year, the people in distress and fighting breaking out between local gangs. The diviners gave grave warnings that the omens portended calamities of a similar nature, with starvation and insurrection. …

Read moreThe rite of the Wind God at Kamakura – Koan 28

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 teacher asked: ‘Which way does Hachiman face?’ Kagemitsu said: ‘He faces the Great Teacher directly.’ The teacher covered his face with his fan and said: ‘How is it now?’ (Imai’s note: When the teacher is dead) Kagemitsu hesitated. The teacher snapped the fan shut and hit him on the forehead with it. Kagemitsu had a realization, made a salutation and left. TEST How could that blow by Bukko, Teacher of the Nation, be the occasion of a realization? This incident was first given as a koan in Kamakura Zen by priest Nei-issan, 7th master at Enkakuji, to the Ajari (Tendai priest) Hayashi Kobo Ryotatsu. T.P.L …

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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 Minamoto general Yoritomo had been strolling on the beach at Namigoe on the way to Enoshima, and there had met the holy man Bungaku who was a devotee of Benzaiten. He said he would pray for the general’s success in arms, and arrangements were made for sacrificial ceremonies, and the erection of a stone torii. This was, he added, really with the motive of exorcizing the curse pronounced by Fujiwara Hidehara (on the Minamotos). He concluded: ‘I have brought a picture of the blessing being conferred by Benzaiten.’ The teacher said: ‘The devotee of Benzaiten prayed to Benzaiten for the military glory …

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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 priest of the Nembutsu persuasion, to take his robe and burn it. To carry out this order, Yashiro inspected travellers at the side of Mandokoro bridge, and if he found any priest of Nembutsu, he stripped off his robe and burnt it. If he discovered he was breaking the decree banning Nembutsu, he arrested him and threw him into prison. At this time there was in Ise a Nembutsu follower called Shonenbo (the Name-reciting priest), and he came to Kamakura and performed the recitation there. Yashiro arrested him and went to burn his robe. Shonenbo said, ‘This robe is the banner of the Three Treasures, it is …

Read moreThe Nembutsu Robe – Koan 25

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 of Suruga. There is a big cave on the lower slope of the mountain which the local people call the Cave of Man. He thought he would like to find out where it led, and called Nitta Shiro Tadatsune; giving him a most precious sword, he told him to go into the cave and explore it to the end. Tadatsune bowed, received the sword and withdrew. At the head of a party of six, he went into the cave. The next day, the fourth, at the hour of the snake (10 a.m.) Shiro Tadatsune came back out of the cave, his …

Read moreThe Cave of the Man in Mount Fuji – Koan 24

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 Mongolian long sword,Its lightning flash cuts the spring breeze  TESTS (1) Which line contains the essence of all four lines? (2) Men and things are right before us now; how can one make them out to be void? (3) What does the phrase about the lightning flash mean? This koan began to be used in the interviews of Sei Seccho, the 16th master at Enkakuji. T.P.L

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 year they came plundering into that province too. When one party of Mongol soldiers attacked Nêngjên temple, everyone fled except the teacher, who sat quietly in the main hall. (The official) Ch’ên Kuo-hsiang often visited the master as a pupil. The teacher, pointing to the Mongol camp across the Wen river, said, ‘There is a rope across the river into the camp. Do you make trial of it.’ (Do you stop the fighting – Imai.) Hsiang said: ‘How can I make trial of it?’ The teacher suddenly grabbed hold of Hsiang and slapped his face. Hsiang instantly had a realization, and made …

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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 Shrine and by high priests in the Esoteric sect, but without finding any relief for his fears. On the ninth day of the eleventh month of the same year, he was sitting alone in an arbour, when looking up at the garden before him, he saw the angry ghost of Munekata. He felt a sword thrust through him, vomited blood and fell senseless. The Confucian scholar Yasumaro being consulted told him: ‘There were such cases in the T’ang Dynasty in China. King Hsuan of Chou, again, had his minister Tu Po executed; afterwards the ghost appeared and the king felt as if an arrow had …

Read moreHow Priest Isshin saved the Ghost – Koan 21

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 time they greatly respected men of commanding physique, and had a corresponding contempt for a poor one. They say that the teacher regretted this, and undertook to perform the Esoteric rite called Treasury of Space, for one hundred days. When he first came into the hall to begin, his height was marked by a notch on the pillar in front of the hall, and when the period of a hundred days was up, his height was again measured. He was four inches taller. ‘Now in your case too, I can see that as you are very short, some of the warriors are bound to despise you. …

Read moreThe Rite of the Treasury of Space – Koan 20

The Gate by which all the Buddhas come into the World – Koan 19

Originally Enkakuji was a place forbidden to women, with the exception that unmarried women of a samurai family who were training at Zen were allowed to come and go through the gate. After 1334 a rule was made that unless a woman had attained to ‘seeing the nature’ she was not allowed to go to the Great Light Hall. In time it became the custom that the keeper of the gate, when a woman applied to go through, would present a test question. According to one tradition from that time (recorded in the commentary to Sorinzakki – Imai), five tests were in use at the gate of Enkakuji: TESTS (1) The gate has many thresholds: even Buddhas and patriarchs cannot get through. If you would enter, give the pass-word. (2) The strong iron door is hardly to be opened. Let one of mighty power tear it off its hinges. (3) …

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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; …

Read moreTokimune’s Thing below the Navel – Koan 18

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 him to be good spiritual material, set him the riddle of how many waves there are on Yui beach. Gido poured out his heart’s blood on this for two years, and finally breaking through the confusion he made answer in a Chinese poem: In the ocean of the holy dharmaThere is neither movement nor stillness.The essence of the wave is like a mirror;When something comes, the reflection appears.When there is nothing in the mind,Wind and waves are both forgotten.  He made a verse in Japanese about his time of practice: Two years of wandering on Yui beach.There was no need to number off the …

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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 Great Buddha, and showed the paper charm which he had got from the temple there. The teacher asked what was the weight of the Great Buddha. Michimasa said: ‘The Great Buddha has become worn away because these days it is exposed to wind and rain (after the destruction by storm of the wooden temple in which it was originally housed – Tr.). So its weight now cannot be what it was when the Buddha was newly made and installed in the hall. Today one cannot know just what its weight would be.’ The teacher said: ‘I am not asking about a Great Buddha …

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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 Enoshima Island, praying for lasting success in his campaigns. On the last night of the twenty-one days’ retreat, a beautiful princess in a green robe appeared and prophesied, ‘Your line will have the supremacy; the tide of glory is rising to your gate.’ She changed into a twenty-foot snake and entered the sea, leaving three fish-like scales on the shore, which Tokimasa took and made into a luminous banner. And so it is said that the great temples of Kenchoji, Enkakuji and others have three fish-scales in their temple crests. Then the monks were arguing about the dragon carved on the pillar …

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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 in the gate, he saw round a ginko tree a white snake, coiled seven and a half times. As Ronen stared fixedly at it, the scaled form vanished like a dream. When he came to the hall, he told the master’s attendant monk about it. The monk said: ‘Benzaiten (the goddess of prosperity) of Enoshima Island reveres the Master, and watches over this temple. What you saw will have been some divine form of hers.’ Ronen said: ‘Can even a long snake get the dharma from the Master?’ The attendant said: ‘A long one is a long dharma-body; a short one …

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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 Kamakura a hunter who reared fierce hounds which would rush barking through the mountains in pursuit of the prey. At these times the deer herd was fortunately safe from the teeth of the hounds, assembled as they were in the garden of the sermon hall. It was a blessed omen indeed, and so the temple came to be called the temple of the Blessed Deer; and it is also said that the grass of the place where they grazed came to be called Enkakuji grass.  TESTS (1) Deer have never been known to understand human speech, so how was it that …

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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 smoke put forth shari pearls. The ancient tradition says that according to the power of samadhi of the life that has been lived, shari pearls will be many or less, and what happened demonstrated the depth of the samadhi power of Master Rankei. The Zen pupil Ota related this to Master Jikusen, the 29th master at Kenchoji, and asked: ‘Will there be many shari pearls when you yourself pass away?’ The teacher replied: ‘Why wait for death for this old priest’s shari pearls? The trees were putting them forth before I was born.’  TESTS (1) What do shari pearls come from? If …

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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 haunted by lost spirits of the executed. After the sub-temple had been built there, the presence of the lost spirits manifested as an appearance of blue flame coming from under the floor of the kitchen. The teacher was therefore asked to hold a memorial service for them. That evening he bent double and crept under the floor, pissed on the herd of demons who were visible in the flame, and came out. The magic flame was put out, and never appeared again, and the local people called this the Pissing Memorial Service of Eshunan.  TESTS (1) The blue flame at Eshunan was …

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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 their thirst. The water of the well of Youth was traditionally reputed to have the special virtue of prolonging life, and invigorating the aged. The warrior pupil Ota Kunikiyo brought this up at the end of an interview with Master Seisetsu, the 22nd teacher at Kenchoji. The teacher said: ‘Leave for a moment the question whether the well of Youth water can prolong life. Length of life is the number of years between a man’s birth and his death, but it is not predetermined. So how will Your Honour know whether in a particular case the life has been made longer, …

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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 was sixteen foot in height and breadth, and weighed over 800 pounds. The doors of the Buddha-hall made an opening of only eight foot. How did the monk carry the Jizo out through that opening?  TESTS (1) Surely all of you are men of mighty strength? Now try and see! Carry on your back an 800-pound Jizo. (2) How do you carry out a sixteen-foot image through an eight-foot opening? Say! This began to be used as a koan at the interviews of Master Ichigen, the 115th teacher at Kenchoji. T.P.L  

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 first year of Tenmon (1532), the teacher Yakkoku, the 169th master at Kenchoji, disregarding his own illness got up and gave an address from the high seat. Glaring at the congregation, of all ranks, he said: ‘Men of great virtue, I ask you this – make the seated Jizo image in this hall stand up!’ Out of this occasion came one of the koans at Kenchoji. The samurai Mamiya Munekatsu, who had a position as a temple official, confined himself in the great hall where the image was – a wooden Jizo seated on the lotus altar – for twenty-one days, vowing to …

Read moreJizo Stands Up – Koan 8

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 the evening of a fifteenth day of August, when she was filling her lacquer flower-bucket where the valley stream comes down, the bottom fell out; seeing the water spilling she had a flash of insight, and made a poem on it to present to the teacher. Later he set her a classical koan, Three Pivot-phrases of Oryu, and examined her minutely on it, and she was able to meet the questions. Again she continued interviews with him for a long time, and in the end he ‘passed over the robe and bowl’, namely authorized her as a successor to …

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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 the name of our sect with the proper character, but get it mixed up with the character for “loin-cloth”. They’re an odd lot.’ The attendant was distressed that people should thus casually degrade the word Zen, and mentioned the matter to the teacher, who laughed and said: ‘Loin-cloth is indeed the great concern of our Zen gate, and those Kamakura soldiers must not be condemned for lack of learning. What gives the life to men is the power of the front gate (of men and women), and when they die, it ends with the (excretion at the) back gate. Is not …

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

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 (later National Teacher Shoichi). Both of them came to Kamakura at the invitation of regent Tokiyori to teach Zen, but both left before a year was out. So there are not many among the warriors here who have much understanding of Zen. In fact some are so ignorant about it that they think the character for Zen – written as they think by combining the characters for “garment” and “single” – means just that. They believe that Zen monks of India in the mountains practised special austerities, and even in winter wore only one cotton robe, and that the name of the sect arose …

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