Gudo was the Master at the Myoshinji Zen temple in Kyoto. He was famous as the teacher of the 17th century many-talented Emperor Gomizu-no-o, who was also a devout Buddhist. Gudo occasionally had cause to visit Yedo, the capital, about 300 miles from Kyoto along the great Nakasendo highway. Gudo sometimes walked the whole way incognito as a humble travelling monk with nothing but his staff and his bundle of things. On a long journey the custom was for the monk to ask for lodging for the night in some village, and it was an act of Buddhist merit to give it.
On one occasion Gudo made such a request at an unpretentious house, and the wife and grandmother welcomed him in, saying that the husband would be back soon from the shop. He noticed a certain anxiety in them, however, and in conversation learned that the husband had become hopelessly addicted to sake (rice wine). ” It’s ruining our little business, because he’s in such a bad temper all the time. Our two young cousins could easily take it over and run it for us, but he won’t let them touch it”. He’ll be back soon and I hope everything will be all right for this evening.”
Zen Master Gudo gave the wife a silver coin and told her to get a bottle of top quality sake. Then he sat in meditation posture near the little Buddha shrine.
The husband returned and shouted furiously for a drink. Then he noticed the monk who explained the position and said “I do not drink myself but please allow me to present you with a little offering.” Then he passed across the sake bottle. The husband’s face lit up as he realised what good sake this was, and he began gulping it down. He quickly became drunk and soon fell asleep snoring loudly.
The Zen Master sat on and on in his samadhi. In the middle of the night the husband woke up and went to wash his face. Coming back he found himself wondering how this monk could have the strength to have sat there unmoving for so long. He realised this was no ordinary Buddhist priest, and said to him “Who are you?”.
“My name is Gudo and I am from Myoshinji temple, on my way to Yedo”.
The husband was awe struck. ” Zen Master Gudo, the teacher of our emperor,” he stammered “please excuse my behaviour, please give me some help in changing my life”. Master Gudo made clear to him the evils of his drinking habit and the husband swore that he would never drink again. But he asked for more Buddhist teaching and the instruction in fact went on until dawn when Gudo prepared to continue on his way. The husband insisted that he would carry the little bag for the teacher and go with him a few miles but instead of turning back he went with the teacher just a little more and then, in spite of the teachers protestations, just a little more again until finally they arrived at Yedo.
Now he asked the teacher to take him as a disciple with a view to his later becoming a monk. “What about your family?” asked the teacher.
“Oh, there are two young cousins who would love to run the business, and they’ll do it very well. They’ll all be better off without me”.
So the message was sent and the new disciple began to tread the Buddha path. He was given as his first koan: “from the very beginning, not a single thing”, and he was said to have passed it in 3 years. He was once asked about the incident when he first met Gudo and supposed to have replied: “When I came in that night I was not in a condition to hear about Buddhism, even suppose he had told me straight away that he was Gudo, teacher of the Emperor, I wouldn’t have believed him. I was only in a condition to accept sake so he gave me sake. But when I woke up with a headache and I saw that figure, calm and unmoving, in front of me, and marvelled how he had the strength to do it. I had come to a state where I saw the other side of sake and could appreciate the other side of this unassuming monk. My Samsara failed me and I caught a glimpse of his Nirvana. In every stone there is a spark hidden they say, but it needs a blow with some metal to produce it”.
This disciple himself became a luminary in the Zen sky, the great Shido Bunan.
© 1999 Trevor Leggett