The basic truth of Buddhism – Koan 48

No. 48. The basic truth of Buddhism

A knight of Ofuna and a student of Zen, Kono Sadakuni, who was avoided by people because of his hasty temper, once came to Master Setsuo, the 25th master at Kenchoji temple, and shouted at the top of his voice:

What is the basic truth of Buddhism?’ The teacher told his attendant to light the stove, and said, ‘Come nearer, come nearer.’

The knight again asked, ‘The basic truth of Buddhism – what is it?’

The teacher beckoned to the attendant to serve him with tea and cakes.

He asked again: ‘The basic truth of Buddhism — what is it?’ The teacher told the attendant to serve him rice.

Then the knight said, ‘I thank you indeed for your so courteous hospitality. But unfortunately I have still not been told what is the basic truth of Buddhism.’

The Master said: ‘The basic truth of Buddhism is nothing other than this. When freezing, to make warm; when parched, to drink; when famished, to eat; when exhausted, to sleep. This is all out in the open before you, with not a speck of anything doubtful. It is the basic truth of spiritual impulse and action, and if the knight has the seeing eye, he will find it underlying everything I do, walking or standing or sitting or lying down.’

The knight thanked him and left. Outside, he said to the attendant: ‘When I asked the teacher just now about the basic truth of Buddhism, he showed it with fire in the stove, with tea and cakes, and finally with boiled rice. But suppose I met him on the road, and asked him about the basic truth of Buddhism, what would he show it with then?’

The attendant said, ‘Leaving the teacher for the moment, / should wave my hands and move my feet to show the basic truth of Buddhism.’

The knight said, ‘Even if I have a seeing eye, suppose you cannot make use of either hand or foot or mouth or nose when I ask what is the basic truth of Buddhism, what will you show it with then?’

The attendant was silent.

TEST

Bring a word for the attendant.

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Isei, the 156th master at Kenchoji.

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