How Priest Isshin saved the Ghost – Koan 212 min read

In the summer of the third year of Enkei (1310), the ghost of Hojo Munekata appeared and cursed the regent Morotoki (his descendant, under whom the Hojo regime was crumbling). Morotoki was aghast at the apparition, and had the goma rite performed at the Hachiman Shrine and by high priests in the Esoteric sect, but without finding any relief for his fears. On the ninth day of the eleventh month of the same year, he was sitting alone in an arbour, when looking up at the garden before him, he saw the angry ghost of Munekata. He felt a sword thrust through him, vomited blood and fell senseless.

The Confucian scholar Yasumaro being consulted told him: ‘There were such cases in the T’ang Dynasty in China. King Hsuan of Chou, again, had his minister Tu Po executed; afterwards the ghost appeared and the king felt as if an arrow had been shot into his breast. The king died. Then Yao Chang of the Later Shin Dynasty, who had attacked Fu Chien of the Early Shin and taken over his territory, was threatened by the vengeful spirit of Fu Chien which appeared before him in broad daylight. Yao Chang felt himself being run through; he vomited blood and died.

‘In view of such cases, this appearance of the departed spirit should not be lightly regarded.’

The nobleman was still more frightened, and ordered auspicious ceremonies to be conducted in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, combined with prayers for Morotoki himself, but without avail. He soon died.

The government was reluctant to reveal the circumstances of the death, and simply announced that he had died suddenly. But remarkably, at dusk on the day of death, the regent was seen coming in at the Great Gate of Enkakuji. The priest in charge of the gate, seeing the splendidly attired figure approaching, felt surprised and ran to report to his superior priest Kiko. At this time no one in the temples knew of the death of the regent, and no one therefore had any reason to be suspicious.

But priest Isshin, going to the gate to welcome regent Morotoki with due ceremony, understood that this was a ghost, and cried in his Szechuan Chinese: ‘O ku nii ra’ (hau ko ju lai – Welcome, please enter). At these words the ghost disappeared, and was never heard of again.

 TESTS

(1) The ghost of regent Morotoki is right here before you now. Try saving him: show the proof of it.

(2) The phrase O-ku-nii-ra is used when inviting someone to come to a place. Where was the invitation to? Say!

This koan, according to Soringakki, was given at the interviews of Tentaku, the 31st master of Enkakuji.

T.P.L