‘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 One is not in the first sixsteps.’  TESTS (1) What was the World-honoured One doing in the twelve months in the womb? Say! (2) Why was the World-honoured One born from the right side? Say! (3) A baby might take just one or two steps, or it might take eight …

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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) What is that you recognize when you talk about the nature being Buddha? Say! This became a Kamakura koan in the interviews of Gyokkei, the 131st teacher at Enkakuji. T.P.L    

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) Forget for a little the teacher’s age – do you know the age of this old monk before you? This incident began to be used in the interviews given by Butsuju (literally ‘Buddha-age’), the 21st teacher at Enkakuji. T.P.L

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 side were slabs of rock, and the damp underfoot was slippery. Going still further, he came on a great snake lying coiled up. It was about a hundred feet long, with two glittering eyes and layers of scales with moss growing on them. When it saw Tanenaga, it opened its …

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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 of a thousand forms in an instant. Bring the proof of it and show me! This was first given as a koan to the Buddhist image-maker Yasunori by Zen master Daien (the 3rd teacher at Enkakuji). (Note by Imai Fukuzan: This story of the Buddhist image-maker Yasusada and how at …

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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 that with his present body of just over five feet his weight is the same as the ten-foot Kannon? (3) What is this about the power of meditation on Kannon? This began to be used as a koan in the interviews of Koho, the 72nd teacher at Kozenji.  T.P.L  

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 under the Buddha hall of the temple. It was said that afterwards she became changed into a great toad which sucked out life from living things, and this became known as one of the ten ghost stories of Kamakura. Now about this time it was found that the few fawns …

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