The Zen Goma rite – Koan 54

No. 54. The Zen Goma rite

When Zen master Eisai was at Kamakura, he performed the Goma rite for a safe delivery of a child to the wife of Wada Shogen, and it had a marvellous effect. Accordingly, the latter’s grandson, a student of Zen, came on the eighth day of the second month of the first year of Kakei (1387) to Kenchoji, made a reverence to Kyorin, the 163rd teacher there, and begged him to perform a similar Goma rite for a safe delivery to Fusahime, his own wife who had been in travail three days and nights of pain.

The teacher said: ‘Zen master Eisai was one who came to our Zen originally from the Esoteric schools of Tendai and Shingon, so he was expert in the Goma rite of those sects. But I myself from youth have practised only in Zen training halls, so I never learnt the Shingon ceremonies, and I do not know the Goma rite. Still, in Zen we do have our own way of doing Goma, and if Your Honour thinks that the Zen Goma would be appropriate, I will perform it.’

Wada said: ‘My prayer is only that my wife should have a safe delivery, and I have no idea of choosing between the Goma of Zen and the Goma of the Esoteric sect.’

The teacher then called his attendant and told him to light

the stove; he inhaled the smoke, chanting: ‘Easy birth, easy birth, very easy birth’, and thus performed the rite. It is said that at that very instant Fusahime gave birth to a boy child, and the contemporaries speak of it as a miracle by the priest.

TESTS

  1. Say what Goma really is.

  2. Leaving Fusahime’s safe delivery for the moment, is the Zen Goma and the Esoteric Goma the same or different? Say!

  3. If ‘the same’ is not right, and ‘different’ is not right, then come out and declare what is right.

  4. Suppose someone comes here now and asks you to pray for a safe delivery, what will you do? Say!

(Imai’s note: In the Kogetsu school, when Kamakura Zen koans were given to pupils, they used different means. When the layman Kidd took this koan with teacher Shunno (the master at Nanzenji temple) the teacher laid himself down and rubbed his chest and belly as if in labour pains, crying ‘Oh what a difficult birth, a difficult birth, such a difficult birth! Get me an easy birth quickly!’ and at that time any who hesitated had to taste a blow from his stick.

This koan seems simple enough but it is one that is passed only with great pains and should not be taken to be easy.)

The incident became a koan in Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Rinchu, the 171st master at Kenchoji.

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