Tozan’s Who’s-This? – Koan 93

No. 93. Tozan’s Who’s-This? At the end of the Genko period (1331-4) there was continuous fighting. People were in peril of their lives, and no one’s heart was at rest. The village people began to throng to the temples, where they prayed to be spared from disaster. In various sects there appeared crafty priests, who preyed on the fears of the people by organizing prayer meetings where they sold charms. In these ways they enriched their temples. Many of these clever talkers were active among the people. And some of the Zen laymen began to be caught up in the same ideas, taking to coming into the main hall and praying to be spared, or else to be resigned to whatever might come. In this way they neglected the true Buddha within. At this time master Nanzan (the 20th teacher at Kenchoji), concerned at the loss of the spirit of …

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Tanka’s Buddha-burning – Koan 94

No. 94. Tanka’s Buddha-burning (Translator’s note: Tanka was a Chinese Zen master who died in 824 AD, and was famous for having burnt a wooden Buddha to make a fire on a very cold winter night, there being no other fuel. For this he was severely reprimanded by the superintendent priest of the temple. The latter however found his own eyebrows falling off, a traditional sign of something spiritually wrong. There are many pictures of the Buddha- burning incident, including a most unconventional one by Fugai in Japan.) Norimasa, an artist training in Zen, was visiting the Shogatsuan temple of Kamegayatsu (the pagoda of Jufukuji temple) when he noticed a scroll depicting Tanka burning the Buddha. He asked about the meaning of Tanka’s Buddha-burning. Priest Ryozen, who was in charge of the temple, told him: ‘It is as a means to show how the physical form is destroyed, and with …

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The four Dharma-worlds of a teacup – Koan 95

No. 95. The four Dharma-worlds of a teacup On the first day of the series of discourses on the Kegon sutra, the priest Ryokan (of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine) came, and asked Seizan (Zen master Bukkan, the 39th master at Kenchoji) for an explanation of the four Dharma-worlds (of Ri the principle, Ji the event, Riji-muge where principle and event are interpenetrating, and Jijimuge where events interpenetrate each other). The teacher said: ‘To explain the four Dharma-worlds should not need a lot of chatter.’ He filled a white cup with tea, drank it up, and smashed the cup to pieces right in front of the priest, saying, ‘Have you got it?’ The priest said: ‘Thanks to your here-and-now teaching, I have penetrated right into the realms of Principle and Event.’ TESTS What is the truth of the four Dharma-worlds of the teacup? Say! Show the four Dharma-worlds in yourself. This …

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The diamond realm – Koan 96

No. 96. The diamond realm In the twentieth year of Oei (1313), on the evening of the seventh day of the Rohatsu (December training week), Suketaka Nyudo, a Zen layman training there, crept into the Buddha hall at Kenchoji and stole the delicacies from the altar to make up for the poor food. However, the monk in charge of the hall happened to come back, and caught him. He said to him: ‘According to the Rohatsu rules, this week is the strictest time of the whole year. For you to steal the food from the Buddha hall at a time like this is no small crime. But I will put a question to you, and if you can answer, I will let you off.’ Suketaka replied, ‘Out with it then.’ The monk said, ‘What is it, your taking the food like this?’ The other answered, ‘The universal body (dharma-kaya) eats …

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Meeting after death – Koan 97

No. 97. Meeting after death In the second year of Eitoku (1382), on the 25th day of the 11th month Daigaku, the 46th master at Enkakuji, was lying ill, and knowing it was the eve of his departure (he died the next day) had a message sent to the lay pupils who had been with him a long time. One of them, Masumitsu of Namerikawa, came straight away and stood in attendance at the side of the master’s bed (on the ground). He said: ‘It is only four years till the master reaches the auspicious classical span of eighty-eight years; that should not have been long to wait to leave this world of Samsara. But now having just caught this fever that is going round, there is only a little of the month left to think about it; so I came to see the old master for the crisis.’ He …

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Maudgalyayana’s mother – Koan 98

No. 98. Maudgalyayana’s mother In the eighth month of the first year of Bunna (1352), on the day of the airing of the temple scrolls at Jufukuji, a high official who also trained at Zen came to see them, and was greatly impressed with a Sung dynasty picture of Maud- galyayana’s mother falling into hell. He said to the monk in charge: ‘I have heard in the Zen priests’ sermons the phrase, When a son renounces home, the ancestors for nine generations attain a birth in heaven. So what is happening here? How is it that the mother of Maudgalyayana, one of the Buddha’s ten great disciples, falls into hell?’ The monk said, ‘The meaning of a Zen phrase must not be sought in the words as they stand. When the Zen priests say a son, I myself am the son; and renounces home means that he renounces the whole …

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The iron bar of 10,000 miles – Koan 99

No. 99. The iron bar of 10,000 miles During the campaign of 1331, Wada Tsuneto was an officer at the Kobukuro camp of the Nitta forces, and also a student of Zen. He came on horseback to the Sogon gate of Enkakuji and sought to enter, but the warden at the gate barred his way, saying ‘Do you dismount.’ He refused, whereupon the warden drew his sword and said, in our Zen, there is a saying about racing one’s horse along the edge of a sword. If the gallant officer can race his horse along the edge of my sword, I will agree that he should enter the gate.’ The warrior said: ‘Before I race along it, what is that sword of yours made of?’ The warden said: ‘An iron bar of 10,000 miles.’ TESTS (1) What does it mean, this 10,000 miles? What is this iron bar? How can …

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Freeing the ghost – Koan 100

No. 100. Freeing the ghost In the first year of Einin (1293) Hirotada was taking as a koan the four phrases of the Diamond sutra: If as a form he would see me, Or by sound or word would seek me, This one on the wrong path Cannot see the Buddha. He could not penetrate into it. He was sitting in meditation in the cave called Snowgate, which is one of the three near the Tosotsuryo, the tomb of the founder of Kenchoji. While he was unaware of anything in his samadhi, the ground opened and the timbers and stones of the building collapsed into the fissure, burying him. That night the apparition of Hirotada was seen before the hall of the founder, repeating Cannot see the Buddha, cannot see the Buddha without ceasing- The monk Mori Sokei, who had the position of jishinban, confronted the ghost and shouted one …

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