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 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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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 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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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 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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‘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 flower hall on Buddha’s birthday – Koan 41

No. 41. The flower hall on Buddha’s birthday The nun Mydan of Tokeiji practised Zen in interviews with Tanei, the 74th teacher at Enkakuji, who set her as koans the poems composed by Yodo (5th abbess of Tokeiji and a former princess) and her attendants. These poems were on the theme of gathering and arranging the flowers on the birthday of the Buddha. The poem of Yodo is: Decorate the heart of the beholder, For the Buddha of the flower hall Is nowhere else. TESTS By what do you recognize the heart of the beholder? Say how you would decorate the flower hall. If it is to worship a Buddha who is nowhere else than in the heart, then what do you want with a flower hall? Say! The poem of Ika, a former court lady is: Throw away into the street the years of the past. What is born …

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Sermon – Koan 42

No. 42. Sermon The head monk at Hokokuji temple was deaf and could not hear the preaching of the Dharma. He asked to take charge of the sutras as librarian, and for more than ten years he perused them. But he found that the accounts of the Buddha’s life in the various sutras did not agree, and he asked Abbot Hakudo, the fifth master of the temple, which was right. The Abbot said, ‘What is in the sutras is as a finger pointing to the moon or a net to catch fish. What is a Zen man doing muddying his mind with sutra-phrases and inferences about various teachings and wanting to know which is right and which is wrong? The head monk’s practice is itself the Buddha’s practice; when the head monk left home that was itself the Buddha’s leaving home. When the head monk attained the Way, that was …

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The source of heaven – Koan 43

No. 43. The source of heaven In the first year of Sho-an (1299) Priest Ka-o built at Kenchoji the Tengen (Source of Heaven) retreat. On the day of the ridgepole raising, the Lord of Tango, Koremasa, came to see it, and he said, ‘I hear that the retreat has been named Source of Heaven. But is there any source from which comes heaven itself?’ ‘There is, there is,’ said the priest; ‘does Your Grace wish to see it?’ The nobleman said, ‘Then I ask you to show me.’ The priest caught hold of him, and picking up a block of wood, hit him on the crown of the head with it twice. The nobleman had a realization from the blow, and said, ‘By your grace this old knight could go beyond the thirty- three heavens and reach their source.’ TESTS Where is the way to the source of heaven? What …

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Wielding the spear with hands empty – Koan 44

No. 44. Wielding the spear with hands empty (Imai’s note: Nanjo Masatomo, a master of the spear, was at Kenchoji to worship, and afterwards spoke with priest Gid about using a spear on horseback. Gid said, ‘Your Honour is indeed well versed in the art of the spear. But until you have known the state of wielding the spear with hands empty, you will not penetrate to the ultimate secret of the art.’ Nanjo said, ‘What do you mean?’ The teacher said, ‘No spear in the hands, no hands on the spear.’ The spear master did not understand. The teacher said further, ‘If you don’t understand, your art of the spear is a little affair of the hands alone.’) In December of 1256 Fukuzumi Hideomi, a government official, was given the koan ‘wielding the spear with hands empty’. He wrestled furiously with this without being able to attain the state, …

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The Kenchoji library – Koan 45

No. 45. The Kenchoji library In the 15th year of Eisho (1519) the Lord of Odawara, Hojo Nagashi, was enlarging the famous Nirayama library at Izu. Desirous of enlarging the stock of books also, he had requests made to the Five Mountains and Ten Sects (i.e. the Zen temples) of Eastern Japan. Accordingly in the October of that year an emissary, Tomita Jurokoresada, came with instructions to ask the number of rare manuscripts at Kenchoji. The abbot Unei, the 174th holder of the office, told him, ‘This temple has a store of 100,000 scrolls; if you examine them, you will be able to know absolutely everything about the affairs of gods, Buddhas, and men.’ . The emissary was amazed. Then he happily reported to the librarians at Nirayama. At the time it was known that the Kenchoji library was the poorest of the libraries at Kamakura (because many MSS had …

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Sameness – Koan 46

No. 46. Sameness In the first year of Shunyu (1241) of the Southern Sung Dynasty, priest Rankei (afterwards Zen Master Daikaku) came to a desire to carry Zen to the east; and in March, with five attendants (Gio, Ryosen, Ryuko, Taimon, Kotsugo) he set sail to the east for Hizen (present-day Nagasaki). But when they were passing the coast off Shantung they encountered a typhoon which sank their boat. They managed to transfer to the ship (Hachiman) which was making the same voyage, and in the 4th year of Kangen (1247), on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, they arrived at Hakata in Kyushu. (On the first boat) going east to Hizen, when the boat was being driven along by a raging wind and spun round its length by the furious waves, the passengers were terrified, and many had an aspect like death. Rankei was saying again and again …

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The badger-headed Kannon – Koan 47

No. 47. The badger-headed Kannon At Enkakuji there was an old badger which lived for many years under the Kannon Hall of the temple complex near the lotus lake by the outer gate. It was an expert in the badger’s traditional art of bewitching passers-by, and the local people called the area in front of the main gate of Enkakuji ‘Badger’s Way’. In the first year of Oei (1394), Hojo Ujitsune (of Odawara Castle) had completed the building of a splendid temple at the foot of Mt Hakone, and he earnestly requested Priest Iten (Abbot of Daitokuji) to come from Kyoto to consecrate it. At the same time he invited all the dignitaries and Zen followers of the Kamakura Zen temples, great and small, to add to the solemnity of the occasion. He hoped that the magnificence of the temple would redound to the greater prestige and power of the …

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The basic truth of Buddhism – Koan 48

No. 48. The basic truth of Buddhism A knight of Ofuna and a student of Zen, Kono Sadakuni, who was avoided by people because of his hasty temper, once came to Master Setsuo, the 25th master at Kenchoji temple, and shouted at the top of his voice: ‘What is the basic truth of Buddhism?’ The teacher told his attendant to light the stove, and said, ‘Come nearer, come nearer.’ The knight again asked, ‘The basic truth of Buddhism – what is it?’ The teacher beckoned to the attendant to serve him with tea and cakes. He asked again: ‘The basic truth of Buddhism — what is it?’ The teacher told the attendant to serve him rice. Then the knight said, ‘I thank you indeed for your so courteous hospitality. But unfortunately I have still not been told what is the basic truth of Buddhism.’ The Master said: ‘The basic truth …

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The divine snake of the Benten shrine – Koan 49

No. 49. The divine snake of the Benten shrine In the first year of Shoan (1299), on the occasion of the festival of the guardian divinity of the Kenchoji precinct, the Zen student Ota Yorikatsu paid a visit to Kenchoji and made an offering at the shrine of Benten (or Benzaiten, goddess of prosperity, also the guardian divinity). He conceived a desire to see the divine snake, which was the traditional form taken by the guardian spirit, and asked the senior priest Daishun where it was to be seen. The priest said: ‘Kenchoji has never never concealed the divine snake form of Benzaiten; it is displayed clearly before the eyes of all. I only ask you to try opening that true eye which can see the form of the divine snake coiled round this humble priest, which protects the temple, and has never never left us. This old priest is …

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Reading one’s own mind – Koan 50

No. 50. Reading one’s own mind A mountain hermit, Jokai of Suwa in Shinano Province, made a visit to Zenkoji and had an interview with priest Koho. He said: ‘I have been living on Mount Mitake in Shinano for twenty years practising the arts of the mountain hermits, and now I can easily boil sand and turn it into rice.’ The teacher said: ‘And I have been living here in this temple for twenty years practising the way of the alchemists of India, and now I can easily take up iron and turn it into gold.’ The hermit picked up one of the iron rods used as tongs in the stove and handed it to the teacher, saying, ‘Let us see you turn this to gold.’ The teacher at once took the hermit’s hand and pulled it on to the iron pot on the stove, saying, ‘Instead of my taking …

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The dharma-interview of Nun Mujaku – Koan 51

No. 51. The dharma-interview of Nun Mujaku In the Shoshusan traditions it is said that the nun Mujaku, before she had been ordained, used to visit the teacher Daiye (1089-1168) on Kinzan mountain, and would stop over in the priest’s quarters. (Daiye had seven women disciples, and Mujaku was the most beautiful — Imai.) The head monk Manan always objected strongly. Daiye said to him: ‘She is a woman but she has great virtue in her.’ Manan still did not approve. Daiye then insisted that he should interview her, and he reluctantly told her that he would come to see her. When Manan came, Mujaku said: ‘Will you make it a dharma-interview, or a worldly interview?’ Manan replied: ‘A dharma-interview.’ Mujaku said: ‘Then let your attendants depart.’ She went in first, and then called to him to enter her room alone. When he came past the curtain he found Mujaku …

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The night interview of Nun Myotei – Koan 52

No. 52. The night interview of Nun Myotei (Imai’s note: Myotei was a widow and a woman well known for her strength of character. She trained for some years under Kimon, the 150th Master of Enkakuji; on a chance visit to the temple she had had an experience while listening to a sermon by him on the Diamond Sutra. In the year 1568 she took part in the Rohatsu training week.) (This is the most severe training week of the year; it is at the beginning of December, when according to tradition the Buddha meditated six days and nights, then looked at the morning star and attained full realization. There is almost continuous meditation broken only by interviews with the teacher, sutra chanting, meals and tea; this goes on for a week, with very little or no sleep according to the temple. On the morning after the last night’s meditation …

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The Buddha-heart relics – Koan 53

No. ’53. The Buddha-heart relics In the first year of Daiei (1521), Lord Hojo Ujitsuna built a great temple (the Sounji at Odawara) at the foot of Mount Hakone, with the idea of wresting religious supremacy from the great temples of the Kanto area (which includes Kamakura). At the time it was widely known that there was a Buddha tooth relic at Enkakuji. Lord Ujitsuna thought he would like to get this and install it in a pagoda built for the purpose, so he sent Fujita Koresada as an envoy to Enkakuji, with the request that the Buddha tooth relic be transferred. Priest Ekiho interviewed him, and told him: ‘The Buddha tooth relic is an old treasure of the temple, and I should never dare to move it. But I do have the relic ashes of the Buddha-heart, and if Your Excellency should desire, I can pass them over.’ The …

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The Zen Goma rite – Koan 54

No. 54. The Zen Goma rite When Zen master Eisai was at Kamakura, he performed the Goma rite for a safe delivery of a child to the wife of Wada Shogen, and it had a marvellous effect. Accordingly, the latter’s grandson, a student of Zen, came on the eighth day of the second month of the first year of Kakei (1387) to Kenchoji, made a reverence to Kyorin, the 163rd teacher there, and begged him to perform a similar Goma rite for a safe delivery to Fusahime, his own wife who had been in travail three days and nights of pain. The teacher said: ‘Zen master Eisai was one who came to our Zen originally from the Esoteric schools of Tendai and Shingon, so he was expert in the Goma rite of those sects. But I myself from youth have practised only in Zen training halls, so I never learnt …

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The one-word. Heart Sutra – Koan 55

No. 55. The one-word. Heart Sutra When Zen Master Daikaku was at the Temple of Great Compassion in Szechuan, having renounced home and become a Buddhist novice, he determined that at the three daily periods of sutra reading before the images of Buddhas and patriarchs, he would read none of the various sutras prescribed in the Zen regulations except for the Heart Sutra, and he said openly: ‘The 84,000 scrolls of the Buddha dharma are simply the one scroll of the Heart Sutra, and that one scroll of 262 words comes down to one word. Reading of many sutras is like doubting the Buddha.’ The novice bravely followed his own convictions, and calmly read the sutra of the single scroll. TESTS The Heart Sutra of 262 words: what word do these all come down to? When the student replies, ‘The Heart Sutra of 262 words (comes down to )’ he …

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Isshin’s rain-making – Koan 56

No. 56. Isshin’s rain-making In the seventh year of Koan (1284) there was a great drought. In every region the rice-fields and farmlands dried up and there was no sign of anything growing. The Vice-regent (Hojo Sadatoki) anticipated that such a bad year might cause disturbances in some areas, and he asked the great Zen master Mugaku (Bukko) to pray for rain according to the traditional ceremony (once) used by Zen master Eisai. He gave orders in the capital that in front of the stone torii of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine at Kamakura an altar twelve foot square should be erected of pure sand, and arrangements made for the ceremony with its accessories of rice-wine and so on. Bukko’s attendant disciple Isshin (the editor of the Records of Bukko) did not at all welcome this performance of a rite of the Shingon mantra school, as Eisai, though professing Zen, had …

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Bukko’s death poem – Koan 57

No. 57. Bukko’s death poem On the first day of the ninth month of the ninth year of Koan (1286) Bukko, Teacher of the Nation (Kokushi), developed symptoms of illness which he realized he would not survive. He wrote a note to the Government officials and old friends to tell them that he would take his departure on the third day of that month. Just at dawn on the third day he wrote a poem for them: Buddhas and ordinary men are equally illusions. If you go looking for the true form, it is a speck of dust in the eye. The burnt bones of this old monk embrace heaven and earth; Do not scatter the cold ashes to mountain and sky. That night at the third watch he changed his robe and, sitting in the meditation posture, took up a brush and wrote: Coming, and no more going on: …

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The charm – Koan 58

No. 58. The charm In the Jowa era (1345-9) the Kamakura region was in great terror from raids of brigands in the aftermath of the civil war. At the request of the country people, some of the temples began to produce amulets, charms against robbers, for distribution to their followers. But the Zen temples, which have never recommended such things, refused to follow the lead of the other temples, and did not give out any amulets. At the time, the Jizo at Saida was talked of far and wide for its spiritual power in warding off danger, and many people came to the temple to pray before it. So Yuiheita Tomochika, a country samurai of Koshigoe, and a follower of Zen, during a visit to the Buddha hall had an audience with priest Kakkai, to make a request. He explained the general fear of robbers, and begged again and again …

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Ashikaga Takauji’s ]izo-Son – Koan 59

No. 59. Ashikaga Takauji’s ]izo-Son (Translator’s note: This story depends on a sort of play on a Chinese character of twelve strokes, which means ‘honoured’ or ‘revered’. It is the first element of the name Taka-uji, the general who founded the Ashikaga shogunate, after a spectacular betrayal of trust of a kind not uncommon in Japanese mediaeval history. The same character is added to the name ofjizd, bodhisattva of protection, in which case it is read ‘Son’, and not ‘Taka’. It is similarly added to the word for ‘protective charm’ (mamori). In order to retain the effect of the story, I am rendering the Ashikaga general’s name as Ashikaga-Son, to keep the assonance with Jizo-Son.) At Jomyoji temple in Kamakura, there was a picture of Jizo-son by the brush of Ashikaga-Son himself. General Ashikaga Mochiuji (of the same family, later governor of the Eastern Provinces) wanted to have this as …

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The gravestone with no name – Koan 60

No. 60. The gravestone with no name The gravestone of the priest who founded Hokokuji, by his final instructions, records no name. There is just a great stone on top of the grave to mark the place. Thereafter many of the chief priests of Hokokuji followed this precedent of the founder, and there are many graves without any name on them. Uesugi Shigemitsu, a student of Zen, once came to Hokokuji and paid his respects to Hakudo, the 5th master there. He said: ‘At this temple there are gravestones with no name. It will mean that future generations will hardly be able to tell whose graves they are.’ The priest said: ‘After they are dead, what would the line of priests of this temple want with names? Have you not heard that it is said: “The four great rivers enter the ocean and lose their name”?’ The nobleman said: ‘But …

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The judgment of Yama – Koan 61

No. 61. The judgment of Yama The shrine of Yama (judge of the dead) on Mt Mikoshi at Yui in Kamakura was transferred by Lord Ashikaga Takauji to Arai, where it was installed with a consecration ceremony. On that occasion Nobuchika, a student of Zen, entered the shrine and asked the priest in charge: ‘King Yama, we are told, is in hell where he passes judgment on the sinners from this world. But what Buddha is it who passes judgment on the sin of King Yama?’ The priest had no words. TESTS (1) Bring a word for the priest. (2) What sin would there be in Yama? Say! This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen in the interviews of priest Soden, namely Zen master Chikaku of Enkakuji.

Really before the eyes – Koan 62

No. 62. Really before the eyes Realizing he was about to die, Priest Nanshu, on the twenty- first day of the first month of the first year of Kagen (1303) made his death poem in the verse: T’ang (China) and Japan, Sixty-three years; If you want to know it, See what is before your eyes. TEST What does this Before Your Eyes really mean? This death poem became a koan at the interviews of Donpu, the 45th Master at Enkakuji. (Imai’s note: Nanshu s real name was Kokai, and his posthumous name was Zen Master Shinno; he was the successor to Gottan and founded the subtemple Zounan at Jochiji. When he was there he used to handle Zen inquirers without giving any classical koan at all, and he would test the warrior pupils with the words: If you want to know it, See what is before your eyes. This appears …

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So – Koan 63

No. 63. So In the first year of Tokuji (1306), on the eighteenth day of the fifth month, Priest Musho, aware of impending death, shouted a Katzu! and cried: All the Buddhas come so, All the Buddhas go so; How all the Buddhas come and go Now I teach: So. TEST What does so mean? (Imai’s note: His posthumous name was Hokai. He went to Sung China, where he received the dharma from Master Sekkai, and on returning founded a subtemple at Jdchiji. When he was at Jochiji he patiently received Zen inquirers, but if they asked directly about Zen he used to reply with the one word: So, and resolutely refused to engage in wordy Zen. His death poem presents the word So and this collection of Kamakura koans heads this one with the title So.)

The picture of beauty – Koan 64

No. 64. The picture of beauty In 1299 when Fukada Sadatomo came to Kenchoji for a ceremony, he met the teacher in a room where there happened to be a picture of the contemporary Sung dynasty beauty Rei Shojo. He asked Master Saikan, ‘Who is that?’ The teacher replied, ‘It is said it happens to be Rei Shojo.’ Sadatomo looked at the picture admiringly and remarked, ‘That picture is powerfully painted and yet of the utmost delicacy. Is that woman now in the Sung country (China)?’ The teacher said, ‘What do you mean, in the Sung? Now, here, in Japan.’ The noble said, ‘And where is that?’ The master said loudly, ‘Lord Sadatomo!’ The noble looked up. ‘And where is that?’ said the teacher. Sadatomo grasped the point and bowed. TEST What did Lord Sadatomo grasp? This became a koan at Kenchoji from the time of Doan, the 105th master …

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How the sutra of the Resolution of the Brahma-king’s Doubt was put into the canon – Koan 65

No. 65. How the sutra of the Resolution of the Brahma-king’s Doubt was put into the canon Atsushige, a warrior who was a student of the Shingon (mantra) sect, came to Joraku temple and asked priest Jikusen about the koans made from scriptures in the so-called nyorai Zen or Buddha Zen. The teacher said: ‘They are of many kinds. One of them is this: When the Buddha had just been born, he said, “Above heaven or under heaven, I alone am the world-honoured one.” Then when he completed the path, he declared: “Wonderful! All beings have innately the nature of the wisdom of the Buddha.” ‘Then, before his entry into Nirvana, there was an incident when he held up a flower in his fingers, and there was a smile (from Mahakasyapa alone of the spectators). In this last case, the meaning of Zen was being presented without any involvement with …

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The mark of the Brahma-voice – Koan 66

No. 66. The mark of the Brahma-voice Unjobo, maker of Buddha images who was always regarded as second only to the famous master Unkei, worked at Kamakura where his pieces were much esteemed. Accordingly Priest Rinso, namely Zen Master Kakusho of Jufukuji, ordered Unjobo to make a Buddha image for a memorial service for those who had fallen in the war of Genko (1331). He carved a wooden image modelled on the main Buddha of Jufukuji. Full of pride in his skill, he remarked as he presented it, that the image faithfully embodied all thirty-two of the traditional marks of the Buddha. The teacher said: ‘Of the thirty-two marks, the twenty- eighth is the Brahma-voice, deep and far-reaching. Does this carving of yours show that?’ Unjobo pondered silently for a long time, but could find no answer. He confined himself in the Buddha hall of Jufukuji for twenty-one days, praying …

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The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha – Koan 67

No. 67. The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha Kenyu, a teacher of the Ritsu (Vinaya) sect, once visited Jufukuji, and when he met Jakuan, namely Zen Master Koko, he asked: ‘I have heard that in your Zen there is a saying: The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha. What does it mean?’ The teacher said: ‘Let the Ajari (teacher) find the right two phrases in the Heart Sutra, and he will grasp the meaning.’ TESTS What are the two phrases in the Heart Sutra? When you have these phrases, how do you grasp the meaning of The mind, the Buddha; no mind, no Buddha? Say! This became a koan at the interviews of priest Chuei, the 110th master at Enkakuji.

The Great Katzu! of Master Toden – Koan 68

No. 68. The Great Katzu! of Master Toden Yoriyasu was a swaggering and aggressive samurai. (Imai’s note: In the Nirayama manuscript of Bukedoshinshu and in some other accounts the name is given as Yorihara.) In the spring of 1341 he was transferred from Kofu to Kamakura, where he visited Master Toden, the 45th teacher at Kenchoji, to ask about Zen. The teacher said, ‘It is to manifest directly the Great Action in the hundred concerns of life. When it is loyalty as a samurai, it is the loyalty of Zen. “Loyalty” is written with the Chinese character made up of “centre” and “heart”, so it means the lord in the centre of the man. There must be no wrong passions. But when this old priest looks at the samurai today, there are some whose heart centre leans towards name and money, and others where it is towards wine and lust, …

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The Great Katzu! of Master Toden – Koan Variation No. 68.

Variation No. 68. The Great Katzu! of Master Toden The Tokeiji nunnery at Kamakura was known as the Divorce Temple, because if a woman of the samurai class who was unhappy in marriage entered there and stayed three years, the marriage link was dissolved, by an Imperial rescript given by Emperor Gofukakusa at the request of the Hojo regent Sadatoki. Later a period of one year’s residence was made sufficient, by a ruling of the Ashikaga Government for the temple regulations. In the third year of Enbun (1358), Ashikaga Motouji sent a man to decoy Nitta Yoshioki to Yakuchiwatashi in Musashi, and kill him there. Motouji’s wife Akijo, herself born into the Nitta clan, was overwhelmed with grief at the treacherous murder of Yoshioki, and requested to be allowed to become a nun to pray for his soul. But this was not acceded to. Apprehending that there might now be …

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The paper sword – Koan 69

No. 69. The paper sword In 1331 when Nitta Yoshisada was fighting against Hojo Sadatoki, a chief retainer of the Hojo family, named Sakurada Sadakuni, was slain. His wife Sawa wished to pray for the dead man; she cut off her hair and entered Tokeiji as the nun Shotaku. For many years she devoted herself to Zen under Daisen, the 17th master at Enkakuji, and in the end she became the 3rd teacher of Tokeiji. In the Rohatsu training week of December 1338 she was returning from her evening interview with the teacher at Enkakuji, when on the way a man armed with a sword saw her and was attracted by her beauty. He threatened her with the sword and came to rape her. The nun took out a piece of paper and rolled it up, then thrust it like a sword at the man’s eyes. He became unable to …

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Heaven and earth broken up – Koan 70

No. 70. Heaven and earth broken up Tadamasa, a senior retainer of Hojo Takatoki the Regent, had the Buddhist name Anzan (quiet mountain). He was a keen Zen follower and for twenty-three years came and went to the meditation hall for laymen at Kenchoji. When the fighting broke out everywhere in 1331, he was wounded in one engagement, but in spite of the pain galloped to Kenchoji to see Sozan, the 27th teacher there. A tea ceremony was going on at Kenchoji, and the teacher seeing the man in armour come in, quickly put a teacup in front of him and said, ‘How is this?’ The warrior at once crushed it under his foot and said, ‘Heaven and earth broken up altogether.’ The teacher said, ‘When heaven and earth are broken up, how is it with you?’ Anzan stood with his hands crossed over his breast. The teacher hit him, …

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Victory in the midst of a hundred enemies – Koan 71

No. 71. Victory in the midst of a hundred enemies To priest Yozan, the 28th teacher at Enkakuji, came for an interview a samurai named Ryozan, who practised Zen. The teacher said: ‘You are going into the bath-tub, stark naked without a stitch on. Now a hundred enemies in armour, with bows and swords, appear all around you. How will you meet them? Will you crawl before them and beg for mercy? Will you show your warrior birth by dying in combat against them? or does a man of the Way get some special holy grace?’ Ryozan said, ‘Let me win without surrendering and without fighting.’ TEST Caught in the midst of the hundred enemies, how will you manage to win without surrendering and without fighting? (Imai’s note: This first became a koan at the interviews of Toryo, founder of the To-un-an temple at Enkakuji. Later in Tokugawa times, Suzuki …

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Teaching Buddhism – Koan 72

No. 72. Teaching Buddhism One day Nobuchika came to Jufukuji at Kamakura to have an interview with Butchi Enno, known as Kengai. Nobuchika said: ‘Tenryu teaches . Buddhism by a single finger. But this old warrior on the battlefield, even if he lost both his arms, can teach Buddhism by one leg’, and saying this, he lifted up his right leg. The teacher seized it and pushed it away, saying: ‘And when you have no leg, what will you use to teach Buddhism with?’ The warrior lifted his eyebrows and blinked his eyes. The teacher said: ‘And when you lose your eyes, what then?’ Nobuchika made to open his mouth, but the teacher seized him and covered his mouth, saying, ‘When you lose your mouth, then what?’ The old warrior could not make a reply. TEST Preach Buddhism for this warrior. This incident became a theme in the interviews of …

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