From this time I kept up the meditation with the utmost intensity. Almost every day I went to Kamakura, passing the nights alternately at home and at Engakuji.
One day after our interview, my teacher Gyodo Roshi said to me: “You come here so often to see me. But are your children well cared for? Even the best medicine should be taken in moderation.”
I replied, “But Master, shouldn’t iron be struck while it’s hot?”
At this, the Roshi looked as though he had swallowed something down, but did not say a word.
Now the newspapers were piling up on my big desk sometimes for weeks together, unread. Though I was in the business world, I begrudged the time for reading them and devoted it to meditation instead. My income did not allow for much margin, and on the trips to Engakuji I used to take some packets of food with me to eat on the way, with a bottle of plain water in the bag as well. As it was now late autumn and then winter, the meal was always cold. Still, I was finding it very tasty and the thought came to me how, when the mind is completely one-pointed, even plain boiled rice and cold water become delicious.
There is a Zen saying: “The heart magnanimous, like an emperor,” and I found that my inner state was of itself becoming somehow wide and full, and the greatness of the Zen path was borne in on me more and more. I resolved that I would do everything I could to preserve this great traditional path of the East.
About this time I was reading almost no Zen books except the Record of Rinzai, and Master Hakuin’s Teakettle classic. In this latter I came across a verse quoted from the great Chinese layman of the Tang dynasty called Master Fu:
Empty-handed, holding a plow:
Walking, riding a water buffalo:
When the man crosses the bridge,
The bridge flows and the water does not.
Hakuin said that if one could see right through into this verse, he would see his own true nature.
One morning in November that year, when on the way from Engakuji to work at my company I was walking on the platform of Tokyo station, suddenly the realization of “Walking, riding a water-buffalo” came to me. It was like a flash: “This is it!” While writing at the office, the realization of “Empty-handed, holding a plow” came too. Then in the bus on the way home, I penetrated the last phrases of Master Fu’s verse. This was a case of coming to the realization of a Zen koan before having it set formally by the master.
Still, it was some time before my master would sanction my attempts at the koan which he had actually set me. In his interview room (which was called the Poisonous Wolf Cave), he used to urge me to go deeper into it, saying: “Now is the time when you must store up the energy to last you through your entire spiritual career.” Looking back, I am grateful indeed for the unyielding firmness of the Master’s training.
One day toward the end of November, I was in the interview room presenting my understanding of the koan: “Why is it called Mount Sumeru?” As the teacher spoke, a cry burst from me with the realization throughout my whole being that my true nature was no nature, that the limited and relative self is in fact unlimited and absolute. It was a realization of infinite self in direct experience. It was knowing nothingness to the limit of negation. At that moment of that day, in the Poisonous Wolf Cave, I felt I had been reborn.
From that time onward, when koans were set, I often found solutions to them bubbling up spontaneously within me, to pass me through.
In January of the next year, the teacher gave me the lay name So-mei (The Bright One), and the full Buddhist name Daiki-in So-an So-mei (The Dark-bright Pair in the Hall of Great Power). I later discovered that these two names refer to the Dark-bright Pair in the verse by I’Ts’un at the end of Case 51 of The Blue Cliff Record.
One morning I was going up the slope in the grounds of Engakuji to have an interview with Master Gyodo. It was about dawn. I happened to meet him by the little lake called Myoko (Delicate Scent), which is just below the rise on which the Master’s interview room stood.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I was hoping to have an interview about my koan,” I replied.
“Then I’ll hear your answer here,” he told me.
So standing on my side of the lake in the faint light, I submitted my solution.
After the interview, he said: “Let us walk together.”
Walking behind him, I followed him down the gradual slope toward the temple gate. As soon as we reached the road in front of the temple, he returned by another way.
This was before the time for the regular interviews for the monks living in the monastery, and so early that as yet none of the rays of the sun streaked the sky. The Master wore a pair of wooden clogs, on high supports, and went briskly and calmly along the rugged stony road despite the dark. Seeing him going so fast in the awkward footgear, along a road where even a young man in broad daylight would have to walk with care, I had an inkling of the spiritual energy that had come to my teacher through Zen. He was then about sixty-four.