Pasting the charm on the heart – Koan 73

No. 73. Pasting the charm on the heart The hall of Yakushi (the Buddha of healing) at Shoganan temple at the pagoda of Hokokuji in Kamakura became widely renowned for its spiritual virtue against plague. After the fighting in the Genko era (1331), there was a succession of epidemics, and Yamanouchi Sadahira asked at the temple for a paper charm against sickness, adding: ‘I have heard that the charm has to be pasted up on the gate pillar of one’s house. But my own house has been completely burnt during the fighting, and now I have nowhere to live; I am camping under the trees in the valley, and have no gate pillar. So how and where can I stick this up?’ Daikyo, the priest of Shoganan, said: ‘Stick it on your heart.’ TEST The heart has no form: how can a charm be stuck on to it? This came …

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Painting the nature – Koan 74

No. 74. Painting the nature Ekichu, the 7th master of Jufukuji, was famous as a painter. One day Nobumitsu came to see him and asked whether he could paint the fragrance described in the famous line ‘After walking through flowers, the horse’s hoof is fragrant.’ The teacher drew a horse’s hoof and a butterfly fluttering round it (attracted by the fragrance). Then Nobumitsu quoted the line ‘Spring breeze over the river bank’ and asked for a picture of the breeze. The teacher drew a branch of willow waving. Nobumitsu cited the famous Zen phrase, ‘A finger direct to the human heart, See the nature to be Buddha.’ He asked for a picture of the heart. The teacher picked up the brush and flicked a spot of ink onto Nobumitsu’s face. The warrior was surprised and annoyed, and the teacher rapidly sketched the angry face. Then Nobumitsu asked for a picture …

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Not going, not coming – Koan 75

No. 75. Not going, not coming One night of the Rohatsu training week, in the third year of Jowa (1347) at Kenchoji, a senior priest Doshu went to a cave for a night-sitting meditation, and came back at the third watch (about midnight). The monk who was guarding the door of the meditation hall scolded him, saying: ‘Where have you been all this time?’ He replied in a sutra verse: Not going, not coming, the primal deep — Neither in nor out nor in the middle. The monk on guard said: ‘This sutra-copier has got both his eyes; I suppose I ought to let him come in again.’ (Imai’s note: It was known that Doshu had once copied out the 25th chapter of the Lotus sutra in his own blood.) TESTS What does Not going, not coming, really mean? If it is not inside nor outside nor in the middle, …

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The way of the teacup – Koan 76

No. 76. The way of the teacup In the spring of the first year of Ryakuo (1338), the Imperial tutor Lord Tadanori came from Kyoto to Kamakura to teach the Confucian doctrines to the warriors of the Government there. By the Jowa era (1345) there were over 360 who were studying under him, among them the Jomyoji temple librarian Tachibana, who showed great talent for study. Zen master Tentaku, the 41st master at Enkakuji, admonished him, saying: ‘You have talent for scholarship but no bent for Zen. Perhaps you will not be able to pursue the holy Path. The Confucian scholars say that the Way has its basis in heaven, but cannot speak of the Way before heaven and earth were separated out. If you want to know the true source of the Way, you must sit in meditation on the mat in the meditation hall till the perspiration runs …

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The scriptures of one hand – Koan 77

No. 77. The scriptures of one hand When Enkakuji temple was destroyed by fire in the seventh year of Oan (1374), the sutra repository and the library were both completely consumed, and the Buddhist and Confucian texts which Bukko the founder had brought from China were reduced to ashes. Priests of the Hachiman shrine came to Enkakuji, concerned about the tragic loss of these T’ang and Sung dynasty texts. Fumon, the 33rd master at Enkakuji, said to them: ‘None of the texts have been burnt.’ ‘Then where are they?’ asked a priest doubtfully. The teacher drew a circle, and said, ‘They are in here.’ The priests did not understand, and one of them said: ‘Would you show us the T’ang edition of the Maha-vairocana sutra?’ The Master held up one hand. The priests did not know what to make of it. Another of them asked: ‘Will you show us the …

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Daibai’s shari-pearls – Koan 78

No. 78. Daibai’s shari-pearls Sakuma Suketake of Okura (in the Kamakura region), a student of Zen, was known in the world as Demon Sakuma. For many years he was in active service in the army, but finally his left hand and right leg were disabled by wounds so that he could no longer take part in warfare. He entered the monks’ training hall at Enkakuji and practised hard at Zen for over ten years, being given the name Lay brother Daibai. In the winter of the first year of Oei (1394) there was a great snowfall during the Rohatsu week, and following the precedent of Tanka’s Buddha-burning (see No. 94 – Tr.), he found in the Jizo hall outside the mountain gate a Buddha-image whose wood was rotting away, and was setting light to it against the freezing cold when the lay brother in charge of the Hounkaku hall at …

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The lotus strainer – Koan 79

No. 79. The lotus strainer Yasunaga, a government official and a student of Zen, came to the Dragon Flower of the Golden Peak (the Shinsaiin hall in Jochiji temple) to pay his respects to priest Musho there. He told him: ‘These days the followers of Nichiren are saying that in the present degenerate Latter Days, the water of the dharma in the Buddha ocean has become polluted. It is so contaminated that the impurity must be strained off before it is drunk. The only pure water is what has been purified by being strained through the Lotus sutra, and this is the dharma taught by Nichiren. Is what they are saying right?’ The priest said: ‘Strain off the lotus.’ TESTS How would you strain off the lotus? When you have strained and drunk, say how you find it: cold or hot? This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at …

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The copy – Koan 80

No. 80. The copy The head monk of Daitetsudo training temple came to Gyokuzan, the 21st master at Kenchoji, and saluted him. He then asked whether he might copy out the sermons on the Rinzairoku which had been given by Daikaku, the founder of Kenchoji. The teacher sat silent for a good time, and then said: ‘Have you copied it?’ ‘Why,’ said the head monk, ‘I have not yet had the loan of it.’ The teacher replied: ‘Rinzai’s Zen is communicated from heart to heart — what should you want with writing? If you feel you want to have something in writing, take Mount Ashigara as the brush and Yui shore as the inkstone, and make your copy.’ The head monk gave a Katzu! shout and said: ‘I have made my copy.’ TESTS How can the writing of the founder be copied by a shout? Try a Katzu! yourself and …

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The gate-keeper’s question – Koan 81

No. 81. The gate-keeper’s question In the fighting of the Genko era (from 1331), there were 2,600 warriors of the Nitta forces encamped at Kobukuro (near Kenchoji), brave men resolved to die in battle. Endo Takahiro, a student of Zen, had the most impressive reputation among them all. One day of strong winds and driving rain, he thought of transferring their camp to Kenchoji, and went to tell the temple. As he was going to enter the gate, the gatekeeper, the priest Shogai Zenkan, stopped him and asked: ‘What is your business?’ He said: ‘What I have to say is for the chief priest.’ The gate-keeper said: ‘First explain to the gate-keeper what your business is.’ (There were many violent men among the warriors during the war, and the temple rule was that an inquirer must first be examined by the gate-keeper before he could see the chief priest — …

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The Buddha’s birthday – Koan 82

No. 82. The Buddha’s birthday For the ceremony of the Buddha’s birthday, there was a little pavilion near Tokeiji which had belonged to the Hojo family from ancient times. (The nun temple at Tokeiji was and is famous for the beautiful flowers by the lake, especially azaleas, which can be viewed from the slope above the temple. — Tr.) These flowers were in full splendour on the Birthday of April 8 each year, and many of those who came to the Kamakura temples to worship on that day used to come to admire the flowers at Tokeiji. On that April day in the tenth year of Koan (1287), the nun teacher Shido, foundress of Tokeiji, addressed the nuns assembled for the ceremony, standing below the pavilion. She asked them: ‘The Buddha who is born this day, where does he come from?’ Her attendant Runkai stepped out, and pointed with one …

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Tengai’s heart-binding – Koan 83

No. 83. Tengai’s heart-binding In the fighting in the Ganko era (1331—4), the Nitta forces set fire to Kamakura, and (sparks) from the burning streets carried the fire to fishing villages and mountain hamlets, so that their people were fleeing in all directions before the blaze, crying out with fear. The priests of the Kamakura temples guided and distributed them among the temples, and used the produce of the temple lands to feed the destitute. At the same time there were many relatives of the refugees imprisoned in the caves (used as prisons) who were choking in the smoke and on the verge of dying of suffocation, at which their families were in great distress. Then Hakuun (namely Butcho, 26th master of Kenchoji), Tengai (namely Shinkaku, 19th master at Enkakuji), Reiko of Jufukuji, and Tengan of Inayama and others organized the laymen and priests, and battered down the gates of …

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The Lanka sutra of one word – Koan 84

No. 84. The Lanka sutra of one word Kataoka Moritada had studied spells for a long time under a teacher of the Esoteric Shingon sect. Happening to stay overnight in one of the guest rooms at Kenchoji temple, he asked priest Kinkei: ‘In the Lanka sutra spells which are recited by the Zen sect followers, there are many names of the terrible gods invoked by the followers of the outer ways in the heaven of the west (India). What good is it to recite that sort of spell?’ ‘Don’t you know what is said in the sutra itself?’ replied the teacher. ‘It says that water drunk by the snake becomes poison, but the water drunk by a cow becomes milk. In the same way, the terrible gods of India, when they come into the heart of a Zen man, become protective divinities for the dharma; so when he recites them, …

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One law, a thousand words – Koan 85

No. 85. One law, a thousand words Hosoi Naotaka, the superintendent of the temple lands, came to the teaching hall at Kenchoji and asked the teacher Horin after the sermon: ‘If someone doesn’t understand the meaning of the sutras, but still recites them, does he have merit or not?’ The teacher said: ‘It’s like a man who takes medicine. Even if he doesn’t know the principles of a good medicine, still if he takes it, it will do him good. And it’s like that with a poison: if he doesn’t know that this particular thing is in essence a poison, when he takes it he’ll die. Or again, it’s like travelling in a ship. Even though one may not know the principles of the construction of a ship, still, if he boards it he will arrive at his destination. Reading the sutras is like that. Though one may not know …

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Ku-an’s three questions – Koan 86

No. 86. Ku-an’s three questions Yuki Sukemochi was one of the most arrogant feudal lords, feared by others for his strong self-will. In the first month of the twentieth year of Oei (1413) he came to the Shunkeido (the guest temple at Kenchoji), paid his respects to Priest Kuan (the preacher at the Gyoku-un hall, and a son of the great Uesugi family, which dominated this part of Japan for centuries), and asked about the importance of learning in the Way. The priest said: ‘First get rid of self-will. If one is infected with worms in the intestines, he may take in nourishment but it simply increases the worms, and often he loses his life. With human nature itself, it is the same. If there is the worm of selfwill in one’s breast, though he may take in learning to give nourishment to his heart, it simply increases the self-will …

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The sermon of Nun Shido – Koan 87

No. 87. The sermon of Nun Shido At the Rohatsu training week of 1304 at Enkakuji, Master Tokei (‘Peach-tree Valley’ — the fourth teacher of Enkakuji) gave his formal approval (inka) as a teacher to the nun Shido, the founder of Tokeiji. The head monk did not approve of the inka being granted, and asked a question to test her: ‘In our line, one who receives the inka gives a discourse on the Rinzairoku classic. Can the nun teacher really brandish the staff of the Dharma in the Dharma-seat?’ She faced him, drew out the ten-inch knife carried by all women of the warrior class, and held it up: ‘Certainly a Zen teacher of the line of the patriarch should go up on the high seat and speak on the book. But I am a woman of the warrior line and I should declare our teaching when really face to …

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The Knight patriarch coming from the west – Koan 88

No. 88. The Knight patriarch coming from the west Yamana Morofuyu was a brave warrior of the Ashikagas, who was transferred from being a naval captain to the cavalry. For some time after that he trained in Zen at Enkakuji. One year he came to the Rohatsu training week in December, but would not sit in the special meditation hall reserved for the warriors. Instead he was riding his horse all day in the mountains. Master Daikyo, the 43rd teacher at Enkakuji, warned him against this, saying, ‘On horseback your heart will easily be distracted. During the Rohatsu, sit in the hall.’ He said: ‘Monks are men of Zen sitting, and should certainly do their meditation in the special Buddha place. But I am a knight and should practise my meditation on horseback.’ The teacher said, ‘Your Honour was formerly a sea captain, and now become a knight. The patriarch’s …

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Sadatsune receives the precepts – Koan 89

No. 89. Sadatsune receives the precepts In the fourth month of the tenth year of Oei (1403), the Ajari (high priest) Shincho of the Ritsu sect set up an ordination platform for a public ceremony, the classical Buddhist rite of Administering the Precepts. Doi Sadatsune went to see it, and asked the Ajari: ‘Are the precepts administered to the body, or are they administered to the mind?’ The Ajari said: ‘They are administered to both body and mind together.’ Sadatsune said: ‘If it is the body to which they are administered, what happens when the four great elements become separated (at death)? And if it is the heart, that is something which when we try to find it, we cannot get hold of it. How can they be administered to something which has no form?’ The Ajari replied: ‘Unless one has faith that he is receiving them, they cannot be …

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The Great Katzu! of Ryuho – Koan 90

No. 90. The Great Katzu! of Ryuho In the seventh month of the first year of Kowa (1381), which was thirty-three years after the death of Hatayama Michichika (who had been in charge of military affairs for the whole Kanto area), a memorial service was held for him. The people assembled at Hokizan (the Zen temple Chojuji), and among them Hatayama Sukemichi came in a palanquin. He saluted priest Ryuho, the 13 th master there, and asked him about memorial services. The teacher told him: ‘A memorial service after forty-nine days is laid down in the sutras. The services after a hundred days, one year, and three years, derive from traditions in China. The thirteenth year and thirty-third year services were inaugurated when the son of Councillor Nobunishi first had these ceremonies performed out of filial devotion for his father. Memorial services after fifty years and a hundred years and …

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Daiye’s verse on ‘not’ – Koan 91

No. 91. Daiye’s verse on ‘not’ (Translator’s note: The Japanese read a Chinese text by adding inflections to the ideograms, which are without them, and by changing the order of reading the words in order to make up a Japanese sentence. To assist the reader, they developed a system of ‘pointing’, to indicate the necessary alterations. An example from English would be the terminations put after figures of dates: 2nd means that the digit is in this case to be read not as ‘two’ but as ‘second’. Some Japanese scholars specialized in putting the ‘points’ into Chinese texts, which were sometimes printed with them to assist Japanese readers. In the present case, the ‘poem’ consists of the Chinese character for ‘not’ repeated twenty times, in four lines of five characters each. As an example, they might be ‘pointed’: not-Not; Not ‘not-Not’; not ‘Not not-Not’, and so on. The koan, on …

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Meditation of the energy-sea – Koan 92

No. 92. Meditation of the energy-sea A retired landowner named Sadashige of Awafune (the present-day Ofuna) trained at Kenchoji under Nanzan, the 20th master. Once he was away for a time and when he returned the teacher said, ‘You have been ill, Sir, and for some time you have not come to the Zen sitting here. Have you now been able to purify and calm your kikai (energy-sea)?’ Sadashige said, ‘Following your holy instruction I have meditated on the kikai and been able to attain purity and calm.’ The teacher said, ‘Bring out what you have understood of the meditation and say something on it.’ This my kikai tanden, breast, belly, [down to the] soles of the feet, [is] altogether my original face. TEST What nostrils would there be on that face? This my kikai tanden [is] altogether this my true home. TEST What news would there be from the …

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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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