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 teachers at Kamakura were mainly Chinese masters, who came in a stream for over a century. As a result, this Zen was conducted between masters and pupils not fluent in each other’s language. On the political and religious background, there are explanations in my book Zen and the Ways, in which I translated about one quarter of these koans. In that book I gave some account of the then Rinzai system of koan riddles, and the modifications that were introduced when this line of Zen came to Japan. The text in its present form was reconstituted from fragmentary records in Kenchoji and other temples …

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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 with everyone else. While there are stories such as the sermon of the nun Shido (No. 87) and the Paper Sword (No. 69), a special point is the creativity which appears in this brief record of the poems in No. 41. In Zen as it developed in China the original living incidents recorded in the Transmissions of the Light were revived and set as koan riddles to later generations. The scene was set mostly against a monastery background, and the main characters would have been familiar. But it meant that creativity of the original was now replaced by a revival which had to be …

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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 warriors by the first immigrant Zen teachers from China. It contains some important material in their lives as is now recognized in the official history of the founder of Kenchoji temple in 1253. Below are given a few extracts from this recently published history. EXTRACTS FROM THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY OF DAIKAKU (1988) Kenchoji, founded 1253, is one of the oldest purely Zen temples in Japan. In 1988 this large and wealthy temple produced a handsome, massively researched 700-page biography of its first Master, the Chinese monk known in Japan by his honorific title Daikaku. After the materials on China the first text …

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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 the earliest manifestation of pure Zen in Japan as created by Zen Masters for their warrior pupils. Unlike the classical Chinese koan riddles, the Japanese koans used incidents from everyday life – a broken teacup, a water-jar, a cloth – to bring the warrior pupils of the samurai to the Zen realization. As key preparatory tests, they were direct attempts to waken the sleeping wisdom in each man, found in the region of conscious meditation that is without thought. Their aim was to enable a widening of consciousness beyond the illusions of the limited self, and a joyful inspiration in life – a state that has been compared to being free under a …

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