The Buddha’s birthday – Koan 82

No. 82. The Buddha’s birthday

For the ceremony of the Buddha’s birthday, there was a little pavilion near Tokeiji which had belonged to the Hojo family from ancient times. (The nun temple at Tokeiji was and is famous for the beautiful flowers by the lake, especially azaleas, which can be viewed from the slope above the temple. — Tr.) These flowers were in full splendour on the Birthday of April 8 each year, and many of those who came to the Kamakura temples to worship on that day used to come to admire the flowers at Tokeiji. On that April day in the tenth year of Koan (1287), the nun teacher Shido, foundress of Tokeiji, addressed the nuns assembled for the ceremony, standing below the pavilion. She asked them:

The Buddha who is born this day, where does he come from?’

Her attendant Runkai stepped out, and pointed with one hand to heaven and with the other to the earth.

Then the teacher asked again:

And when that Buddha who has been born has not yet left this world, where is he then?’

Runkai again pointed with one hand to heaven and with the other to earth.

TEST

When the questions came, about Sakyamuni Buddha before he was born, and again after he was born, Runkai (who became the second teacher at Tokeiji) pointed at heaven and pointed at earth in the same way each time. Do the two answers, pointing to heaven and pointing to earth in regard to the Buddha before birth, and pointing to heaven and pointing to earth in regard to the Buddha after his birth, have the same meaning, or do they have different meanings? Say how it is!

This became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Ryodo, the 7th teacher at Tokeiji.

(Imai’s note: An account of Ryodo, who after many vicissitudes found a teacher in Master Daiei and underwent a long training with him, finally grasped the essence of his teaching and became the 7th teacher at Tokeiji, is given in the section on the nuns of Eastern Japan, in the commentary to the Sorinzakki, volume 7.)

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