The Great Katzu! of Master Toden – Koan Variation No. 68.

Variation No. 68. The Great Katzu! of Master Toden

The Tokeiji nunnery at Kamakura was known as the Divorce Temple, because if a woman of the samurai class who was unhappy in marriage entered there and stayed three years, the marriage link was dissolved, by an Imperial rescript given by Emperor Gofukakusa at the request of the Hojo regent Sadatoki. Later a period of one year’s residence was made sufficient, by a ruling of the Ashikaga Government for the temple regulations.

In the third year of Enbun (1358), Ashikaga Motouji sent a man to decoy Nitta Yoshioki to Yakuchiwatashi in Musashi, and kill him there. Motouji’s wife Akijo, herself born into the Nitta clan, was overwhelmed with grief at the treacherous murder of Yoshioki, and requested to be allowed to become a nun to pray for his soul. But this was not acceded to.

Apprehending that there might now be some danger to herself also, she made a hurried escape from the palace and hid herself in Tokeiji. When she had been there a year, Kanemitsu, a minister of the Governor, came to know of it, and arrived determined to take her away by force. The nun Eko, who had the position of shitsuji at Tokeiji, at once sent across to Enkakuji to ask the Abbot to come. This was Torin, the 32nd master there, and when he came he greeted

Kanemitsu, and explained the regulations for the temple under which it would be forbidden to arrest Akijo, who would have right of sanctuary. Kanemitsu became angry and drew his sword to threaten the Abbot with it. The latter remonstrated with him against the use of violence but he refused to listen.

Torin on the instant gave a great Katsu! shout, and Kanemitsu fell unconscious. After a little, the Abbot shouted again and Kanemitsu revived. The teacher then said: ‘The rule that after three years here, the marriage bond is severed was laid down in an Imperial rescript of the Emperor Gofukakusa, and the regulation that even one year would be sufficient was an ordinance of General Ashikaga Takauji. These decrees have never been broken, and for a minister of the Governor here to violate the sanctuary would be no light offence.’ As he continued speaking, Kanemitsu found himself unable to reply; he fell into a convulsion and died.


Right now before you is a ruffian with drawn sword threatening your life. Try whether you can kill and revive him with a Katsu! Show the proof.

This became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Chintei, the 47th master at Enkakuji.

(Imai’s note: Those two koans involving a Katzu! to kill and revive were very difficult to pass. There are other koans in the Shonankattdroku where a Katzu! if used to strike down, but there are only three where this is to be followed by a second Katzu! to bring back to consciousness. In the commentary to the Sorinzakki, No. 68 and its variant are called The Great Barrier of The Two Td’s (i.e. Toden and Torin).

At the time when Kamakura Zen flourished, there had to be a teacher who could demonstrate in actual practice in this way in order to handle the warrior students of

Zen. To pass this koan the pupil had to apply the striking and reviving Katzu! shouts to some bird or dog and so on outside the interview room. These days when Zen is enfeebled, there is not one in a hundred who could do so. It is said that Yamaoka Tesshu took these tests under the hammer of Master Geno of Chotokuji, and later perfected them under Master Ryutaku. Katsu Kaishu, again, took them at Kotokuji under Master Kisatei, and is reported to have had a hard time with them. But since the Meiji Restoration we hardly hear of any who have done so, which bespeaks weakness of samadhi power and an enfeeblement of Zen.)

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