The night interview of Nun Myotei – Koan 52

No. 52. The night interview of Nun Myotei

(Imai’s note: Myotei was a widow and a woman well known for her strength of character. She trained for some years under Kimon, the 150th Master of Enkakuji; on a chance visit to the temple she had had an experience while listening to a sermon by him on the Diamond Sutra. In the year 1568 she took part in the Rohatsu training week.) (This is the most severe training week of the year; it is at the beginning of December, when according to tradition the Buddha meditated six days and nights, then looked at the morning star and attained full realization. There is almost continuous meditation broken only by interviews with the teacher, sutra chanting, meals and tea; this goes on for a week, with very little or no sleep according to the temple. On the morning after the last night’s meditation and interviews the participants look together at the morning star. — Tr.)

Before one of the night interviews she took off her robes and came in without anything on at all. She lay down before the teacher, who picked up his iron nyo-i (ceremonial stick) and thrust it out towards her thighs, saying, ‘What trick is this?’

The nun said, ‘I present the gate by which all the Buddhas of the three realms come into the world.’

The teacher said, ‘Unless the Buddhas of the three realms go in, they cannot come out. Let the gate be entered here and now’ and he sat astride the nun.

She demanded, ‘He who should enter, what Buddha is that?’

The teacher said, ‘What is to be from the beginning has no “should” about it.’

The nun said, ‘He who does not give his name is a barbarian brigand, who is not allowed to enter.’

The teacher said, ‘Maitreya Buddha, who has to be born to save the people after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha, enters the gate.’

The nun made as if to speak and the teacher quickly covered her mouth. He pressed the iron stick between her thighs saying, ‘Maitreya Buddha enters the gate. Give birth this instant!’

The nun hesitated and the teacher said, ‘This is no true womb; how could this give birth to Maitreya?’

The nun went out and at the interview the next morning the teacher said, ‘Have you given birth to Maitreya?’

The nun cried with great force, ‘He was born quietly last night.’ She caught hold of the teacher and put her hands round the top of his head saying, ‘I invite the Buddha to take the top of this head as the Lion Throne. Let him graciously preach a sermon from it.’

The teacher said, ‘The way is one alone, not two, not three.’

The nun said, ‘In their abilities, the beings differ in ten thousand ways. How should you stick to one way?’

The teacher said, ‘One general at the head of ten thousand men enters the capital.’

TESTS

  1. What is the real meaning of Myotei’s coming naked for the night interview?

  2. The nun hesitated about giving birth to Maitreya. Say something for her.

  3. What does the one general and the ten thousand soldiers mean? What is it directly? Now say!

This became a koan in Kamakura Zen, and after the time of the nun Ryodo, the 7th teacher at Tokeiji, was given to nuns in the whole eastern part of Japan. (If this is so, there must be a scribal error in the date at the beginningTr.)

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