The gravestone with no name – Koan 60

No. 60. The gravestone with no name

The gravestone of the priest who founded Hokokuji, by his final instructions, records no name. There is just a great stone on top of the grave to mark the place. Thereafter many of the chief priests of Hokokuji followed this precedent of the founder, and there are many graves without any name on them.

Uesugi Shigemitsu, a student of Zen, once came to Hokokuji and paid his respects to Hakudo, the 5th master there. He said:

At this temple there are gravestones with no name. It will mean that future generations will hardly be able to tell whose graves they are.’

The priest said: ‘After they are dead, what would the line of priests of this temple want with names? Have you not heard that it is said: “The four great rivers enter the ocean and lose their name”?’

The nobleman said: ‘But with the years, the ground may change, and if they do not know the graves, their successors in the dharma will find it impossible to perform the usual worship at the graves of their predecessors.’

The Master said: ‘The spiritual gravestones of the line of priests of this temple are in the very depths of the heart of their successors in the dharma. If there is not in Your Honour’s own heart the spiritual gravestone of your illustrious ancestor, then worship before even a towering five-storied pagoda will be meaningless.’

The noble said: ‘Your Reverence is the chief priest of this temple of which my illustrious ancester laid the foundation. Is then the spiritual gravestone of my ancestor in Your Reverence’s heart?’

Before he could finish, the priest seized him and threw him down under the pinetree among the graves, and said: ‘Look, look! Here is the spiritual gravestone, here it is!’ The noble grasped a meaning behind the words and said:

From the very depths of the gravestone without a name come the founder of the temple and the layer of the foundation, holding hands, clear before us!’

TESTS

  1. Hakudo said: ‘The spiritual gravestones of the line of priests of this temple are in the very depths of the heart of their successors in the dharma.’ Now say: the line of gravestones in the depths of the heart, how do you perform the rite before them, how do you worship them?

  2. How do the founder of the temple and the layer of the foundation join hands and come before you together? Say!

This incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Mitsudo, master of Hokokuji temple.

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