The Well of Youth – Koan 10

Since the Minamoto shogun set up his capital at Kamakura, seventeen times there has been a drought so long that the wells ceased to give water. At those times the country folk came to Kenchoji to draw water from the two wells called Golden Bright and Youth, to allay their thirst. The water of the well of Youth was traditionally reputed to have the special virtue of prolonging life, and invigorating the aged. The warrior pupil Ota Kunikiyo brought this up at the end of an interview with Master Seisetsu, the 22nd teacher at Kenchoji. The teacher said: ‘Leave for a moment the question whether the well of Youth water can prolong life. Length of life is the number of years between a man’s birth and his death, but it is not predetermined. So how will Your Honour know whether in a particular case the life has been made longer, or shortened?’ The nobleman said: ‘I was only mentioning a traditional belief. How should I know what causes the length of life?’ The teacher said: ‘Even if one extended his life span by drinking from the well of Youth, still he will not escape death in the end. But at …

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Jizo coming out of the Hall – Koan 9

When Nitta Yoshisada’s soldiers were burning the country-side in 1331, they attacked the Kamakura temples with fire, and Kenchoji was set alight. It is said that the monk in charge of the main hall put the great image of Jizo on his back and carried it to safety. The Jizo was sixteen foot in height and breadth, and weighed over 800 pounds. The doors of the Buddha-hall made an opening of only eight foot. How did the monk carry the Jizo out through that opening?  TESTS (1) Surely all of you are men of mighty strength? Now try and see! Carry on your back an 800-pound Jizo. (2) How do you carry out a sixteen-foot image through an eight-foot opening? Say! This began to be used as a koan at the interviews of Master Ichigen, the 115th teacher at Kenchoji. T.P.L  

Jizo Stands Up – Koan 8

When Hojo Soun attacked Odawara Castle and was occupying Kanto, the eastern part of Japan, the soldiers of the areas round Kamakura forced their way onto the lands of the temples; as their number gradually increased, Kenchoji was in dire straits. On a winter day in the first year of Tenmon (1532), the teacher Yakkoku, the 169th master at Kenchoji, disregarding his own illness got up and gave an address from the high seat. Glaring at the congregation, of all ranks, he said: ‘Men of great virtue, I ask you this – make the seated Jizo image in this hall stand up!’ Out of this occasion came one of the koans at Kenchoji. The samurai Mamiya Munekatsu, who had a position as a temple official, confined himself in the great hall where the image was – a wooden Jizo seated on the lotus altar – for twenty-one days, vowing to make the Jizo stand up. He was reciting continuously the mantra of Jizo: OM! KA-KA-KA! BISANMAYE SOWAKA! (This approximates the Sanskrit which glorifies Ksitigarbha as the smiling one; Ka-ka-ka! represents a great laugh – Tr.) On the last night of the vow he was running round the hall like a …

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The Bucket without a Bottom – Koan 7

(Imai’s note: The nun Mujaku, whose lay name was Chiyono, was a woman of Akita who married and had one daughter. In 1276 when she was thirty-four her husband died, and she could not get over the grief. She became a nun, and trained under Bukko. The story is that on the evening of a fifteenth day of August, when she was filling her lacquer flower-bucket where the valley stream comes down, the bottom fell out; seeing the water spilling she had a flash of insight, and made a poem on it to present to the teacher. Later he set her a classical koan, Three Pivot-phrases of Oryu, and examined her minutely on it, and she was able to meet the questions. Again she continued interviews with him for a long time, and in the end he ‘passed over the robe and bowl’, namely authorized her as a successor to teach. Uesugi, Nikaido and others had built Keiaiji temple in Kyoto, and asked her to become the first teacher there. It was not unusual in Zen for a teacher to be a woman. After Bukko died, a hermitage called Shomyakuan was built for her at Shirogita to be the temple …

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Bukko’s Loin-Cloth Zen – Variant on Koan 6.

On the staff of Yasutsura Genbansuke, a minister of Hojo Yasutoki, was one Morikatsu who was a nyudo student of Zen. Once when he came to Enkakuji he met one of Bukko’s attendants named Isshin, and said to him: ‘That stupid crowd at Kamakura don’t know how to write the name of our sect with the proper character, but get it mixed up with the character for “loin-cloth”. They’re an odd lot.’ The attendant was distressed that people should thus casually degrade the word Zen, and mentioned the matter to the teacher, who laughed and said: ‘Loin-cloth is indeed the great concern of our Zen gate, and those Kamakura soldiers must not be condemned for lack of learning. What gives the life to men is the power of the front gate (of men and women), and when they die, it ends with the (excretion at the) back gate. Is not this life-and-death the great concern of our Zen gate? And what contains the organs of life and death is the loin-cloth. If you penetrate into that which contains both, you will know where life comes from and where death goes to. Now use the loin-cloth to demonstrate our teaching to …

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Daikaku’s One-Robe Zen – Koan 6

A priest from the headquarters of the regent Yasutoki visited Kenchoji and remarked to Daikaku: ‘Eisai and Gyoyu began the propagation of Zen here in Kamakura, but the two greatest teachers of the way of the patriarchs have been Dogen (of the Soto sect) and Bennen (later National Teacher Shoichi). Both of them came to Kamakura at the invitation of regent Tokiyori to teach Zen, but both left before a year was out. So there are not many among the warriors here who have much understanding of Zen. In fact some are so ignorant about it that they think the character for Zen – written as they think by combining the characters for “garment” and “single” – means just that. They believe that Zen monks of India in the mountains practised special austerities, and even in winter wore only one cotton robe, and that the name of the sect arose from this.’ Daikaku listened to all this and laughed: ‘The people of Kamakura are right to say that Zen means wearing a single garment. They well understand what the sect stands for. An ordinary man is clad in layers of the three poisons and five desires, and though by repetition …

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Bukko’s No-Word Sutra – Koan 5

Ryo-A, a priest of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine, came to Magaku (National teacher Bukko, who succeeded Daikaku) and told him the story of Daikaku’s one-word sutra. He said: ‘I do not ask about the six or seven syllables recited by other sects, but what is the one word of Zen?’ The teacher said: ‘Our school does not set up any word; its dharma is a special transmission outside scriptures, a truth transmitted from heart to heart. If you can penetrate through to that, your whole life will be a dharani (Buddhist mantra), and your death will be a dharani. What would you be wanting with a word or half a word? The old master Daikaku went deep into the forest and put one word down there, and now the whole Zen world is tearing itself to pieces on the thorns, trying to find it. If the reverend Ryo-A before me wishes to grasp that one word, then without opening the mouth, do you recite the sutra of no-word. If you fail in your awareness of the no-word, you will at once lose the one word. Displayed, the one word is set above the thirty-three heavens; buried, it is at the …

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Daikaku’s one-word Sutra – Koan 4

At the beginning of the Kencho era (1249), ‘Old Buddha’ Daikaku was invited from Kyoto by the shogun Tokiyori to spread Zen in the East of Japan. Some priests and laymen of other sects were not at all pleased at this, and out of jealousy spread it around that the teacher was a spy sent to Japan by the Mongols; gradually more and more people began to believe it. At the time the Mongols were in fact sending emissaries to Japan, and the shogun’s government, misled by the campaign of rumours, transferred the teacher to Koshu. He was not the least disturbed, but gladly followed the karma which led him away. Some officials there who were firm believers in repetition of the formula of the Lotus, or in recitation of the name of Amida, one day came to him and said: ‘The Heart Sutra which is read in the Zen tradition is long and difficult to read, whereas Nichiren teaches the formula of the Lotus which has only seven syllables, and Ippen teaches repetition of the name of Amida, which is only six. The Zen Sutra is much longer, and it is difficult to get through it.’ The teacher listened …

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Saving Sajiwara’s Soul – Koan 3

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the sixth year of Kencho (1255), the rite of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts was being performed at the Karataka mountain gate of Kenchoji temple. When the sutra reading had been completed, however, priest Rankei (Master Daikaku) suddenly pointed to the main gate and shouted: ‘A knight has come through the gate. It is Kajiwara Kagetoki, of many treacheries. Bring him to salvation quickly!’ The monks all stared hard at the gate, but could see no knight there. Only the head monk shouted, ‘Clear to see!’ He left the line and went back to the Zen hall. Then the teacher berated the others, saying: ‘Look at the crowds of you, supposed to be saving myriad spirits in the three worlds, and yet you cannot save one knight – blind clods! The rite must be performed again at the main gate, and the Heart Sutra recited in its original Sanskrit.’ So the whole ceremony was transferred from the mountain gate to the main gate, and the Sutra was recited there in Sanskrit. After the recitation was over, the monks hurried to the Zen hall and asked the head monk, ‘How did you see …

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Imai Fukuzan’s introduction to Shonan-Kattto-Roku

 The origin of warrior Zen in Kamakura, and in the whole of the eastern part of Japan, goes back to the training of warrior pupils by Eisai (Senko Kokushi). But it was the training of warriors and priests by two great Chinese masters, Daikaku and Bukko, which became the Zen style of the Kamakura temples. There were three streams in Kamakura Zen: scriptural Zen; on-the-instant (shikin) Zen; Zen adapted to the pupil (ki-en Zen). Scriptural Zen derives from Eisai, founder of Jufukuji in Kamakura in 1215, and of Kenninji in Kyoto. But at that time it was rare to find in Kamakura any samurai who had literary attainments, so that the classical koans from Chinese records of patriarchs could hardly be given to them. The teacher therefore selected passages from various sutras for the warriors, and for monks also. These specially devised scriptural Zen koans used by Eisai at Kamakura numbered only eighteen, and so the commentary to the Sorinzakki calls Jufukuji ‘temple of the eighteen diamond koans’. However, after Eisai, his successors in Kamakura of the Oryu line (to which he belonged – the founder died in China in 1069 and the line was dying out there when it …

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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 in Kamakura by Imai Fukuzan, a great scholar of Zen in the early part of the twentieth century. He was joint author, with Nakagawa Shuan, of a standard reference book of Zen phrases, Zengo-jii. Imai was himself a veteran Zen practitioner, as had been his father before him, and he …

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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 whipped up into a sense of crisis. Spontaneous comments on these revived koans themselves became stereotyped. When Zen went to the Warriors of Kamakura the classical Chinese koans could not be used: there was no familiar monastic background and few warriors knew much of the Chinese history. So in a …

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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 for his activity in Japan is the Shonan-katto-roku, which I have translated as The Warrior Koans. The official Kenchoji historian, Priest Takagi Sokan, on pages 18–21 introduces it as follows: The second source for Daikaku is the 55th Koan, Daikaku’s One Word Sutra, in the Shonan-katto-roku collection of 100 warrior …

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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 blue sky after imprisonment. Hokusai: The war-god Marishi (from India) using bow, spear, sword and fan with his various arms without confusion, while balancing on the back of his ‘vehicle’, a wild boar. This is to illustrate ki filling the whole body and each single function without being concentrated to …

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