Gateless Gate )
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Nan-in, a Japanese master during
the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to
inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his
visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the
overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No
more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said,
"you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you
Zen unless you first empty your cup?" ^
Gudo was the emperor's teacher of
his time. Nevertheless, he used to travel alone as a wandering
mendicant. Once when he was on his was to Edo, the cultural and
political center of the shogunate, he approached a little village named
Takenaka. It was evening and a heavy rain was falling. Gudo was
thoroughly wet. His straw sandals were in pieces. At a farmhouse near
the village he noticed four or five pairs of sandals in the window and
decided to buy some dry ones.
The woman who offered him the
sandals, seeing how wet he was, invited him in to remain for the night
at her home. Gudo accepted, thanking her. He entered and recited a sutra
before the family shrine. He then was introduced to the woman's mother,
and to her children. Observing that the entire family was depressed,
Gudo asked what was wrong.
"My husband is a gambler and a
drunkard," the housewife told him. "When he happens to win he drinks and
becomes abusive. When he loses he borrows money from others. Sometimes
when he becomes thoroughly drunk he does not come home at all. What can
I will help him," said Gudo.
"Here is some money. Get me a gallon of fine wine and something good to
eat. Then you may retire. I will meditate before the shrine."
When the man of the house
returned about midnight, quite drunk, he bellowed: "Hey, wife, I am
home. Have you something for me to eat?"
"I have something for you," said
Gudo. "I happened to get caught in the rain and your wife kindly asked
me to remain here for the night. In return I have bought some wine and
fish, so you might as well have them."
The man was delighted. He drank
the wine at once and laid himself down on the floor. Gudo sat in
meditation beside him.
In the morning when the husband
awoke he had forgotten about the previous night. "Who are you? Where do
you come from?" he asked Gudo, who still was meditating.
"I am Gudo of Kyoto and I am
going on to Edo," replied the Zen master.
The man was utterly ashamed. He
apologized profusely to the teacher of his emperor.
Gudo smiled. "Everything in this
life is impermanent," he explained. "Life is very brief. If you keep on
gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything
else, and you will cause your family to suffer too."
The perception of the husband
awoke as if from a dream. "You are right," he declared. "How can I ever
repay you for this wonderful teaching! Let me see you off and carry your
things a little way."
"If you wish," assented Gudo.
The two started out. After they
had gone three miles Gudo told him to return. "Just another five miles,"
he begged Gudo. They continued on.
"You may return now," suggested
"After another ten miles," the
"Return now," said Gudo, when the
ten miles had been passed.
"I am going to follow you all the
rest of my life," declared the man.
Modern Zen teachers in Japan
spring from the lineage of a famous master who was the successor of
Gudo. His name was Mu-nan, the man who never turned back. ^
The Zen master Hakuin was praised
by his neighbors as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose
parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any
warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents very angry.
She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last
In great anger the parents went
to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.
After the child was born it was
brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did
not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained
milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.
A year later the girl-mother
could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - that the real
father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
The mother and father of the girl
at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length,
and to get the child back again.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding
the child, all he said was: "Is that so?" ^
The master Bankei's talks were
attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects.
He never quoted sutras nor indulged in scholastic dissertations.
Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of
His large audiences angered a
priest of the Nichiren sect because the adherents had left to hear about
Zen. The self-centered Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to
debate with Bankei.
"Hey, Zen teacher!" he called
out. "Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a
man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?"
"Come up beside me and I will
show you," said Bankei.
Proudly the priest pushed his way
through the crowd to the teacher.
Bankei smiled. "Come over to my
The priest obeyed.
"No," said Bankei, "we may talk
better if you are on the right side. Step over here."
The priest proudly stepped over
to the right
"You see," observed Bankei, "you
are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down
and listen." ^
Twenty monks and one nun, who was
named Eshun, were practicing meditation with a certain Zen master.
Eshun was very pretty even though
her head was shaved and her dress plain. Several monks secretly fell in
love with her. One of them wrote her a love letter, insisting upon a
Eshun did not reply. The
following day the master gave a lecture to the group, and when it was
over, Eshun arose. Addressing the one who had written her, she said: "If
you really love me so much, come and embrace me now." ^
There was an old woman in China
who had supported a monk for over twenty years. She had built a little
hut for him and fed him while he was meditating. Finally she wondered
just what progress he had made in all this time.
To find out, she obtained the
help of a girl rich in desire. "Go and embrace him," she told her, "and
then ask him suddenly: 'What now?'"
The girl called upon the monk and
without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about
"An old tree grows on a cold rock
in winter," replied the monk somewhat poetically. "Nowhere is there any
The girl returned and related
what he had said.
"To think I fed that fellow for
twenty years!" exclaimed the old woman in anger. "He showed no
consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition.
He need not have responded to passion, but at least he could have
evidenced some compassion;"
She at once went to the hut of
the monk and burned it down. ^
Tanzan wrote sixty postal cards on the last day
of his life, and asked an attendant to mail them. Then he passed away.
The cards read:
I am departing from this world.
27, 1892 ^
In the early days of the Meiji
era there lived a well-known wrestler called O-nami, Great Waves.
O-nami was immensly strong and
knew the art of wresting. In his private bouts he defeated even his
teacher, but in public was so bashful that his own pupils threw him.
O-nami felt he should go to a Zen
master for help. Hakuju, a wandering teacher, was stopping in a little
temple nearby, so O-nami went to see him and told him of his great
"Great Waves is your name," the
teacher advised, "so stay in this temple tonight. Imagine that you are
those billows. You are no longer a wrestler who is afraid. You are those
huge waves sweeping everything before them, swallowing all in their
path. Do this and you will be the greatest wrestler in the land."
The teacher retired. O-nami sat
in meditation trying to imagine himself as waves. He thought of many
different things. Then gradualy he turned more and more to the feeling
of waves. As the night advanced the waves became larger and larger. They
swept away the flowers in their vases. Even the Buddha in the shrine was
inundated. Before dawn the temple was nothing but the ebb and flow of an
In the morning the teacher found
O-nami meditating, a faint smile on his face. He patted the wrestler's
shoulder. "Now nothing can disturb you," he said. "You are those waves.
You will sweep everything before you."
The same day O-nami entered the
wrestling contests and won. After that, no one in Japan was able to
defeat him. ^
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the
simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One
evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it
Ryokan returned and caught him.
"You may have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and
you shoud not return emptyhanded. Please take my clothes as a gift."
The thief was bewildered. He took
the clothes and slunk away.
Ryokan sat naked, watching the
moon. "Poor fellow, " he mused, "I wish I could give him this beautiful
The Zen master Hoshin lived in
China many years. Then he returned to the northeastern part of Japan,
where he taught his disciples. When he was getting very old, he told
them a story he had heard in China. This is the story:
One year on the twenty-fifth of
December, Tokufu, who was very old, said to his disciples: "I am not
going to be alive next year so you fellows should treat me well this
The pupils thought he was joking,
but since he was a great-hearted teacher each of them in turn treated
him to a feast on succeeding days of the departing year.
On the eve of the new year,
Tokufu concluded: "You have been good to me. I shall leave you tomorrow
afternoon when the snow has stopped."
The disciples laughed, thinking
he was aging and talking nonsense since the night was clear and without
snow. But at midnight snow began to fall, and the next day they did not
find their teacher about. They went to the meditation hall. There he had
Hoshin, who related this story,
told his disciples: "It is not necessary for a Zen master to predict his
passing, but if he really wishes to do so, he can."
"Can you?" someone asked.
"Yes," answered Hoshin. "I will
show you what I can do seven days from now."
None of the disciples believed
him, and most of them had even forgotten the conversation when Hoshin
next called them together.
"Seven days ago," he remarked, "I
said I was going to leave you. It is customary to write a farewell poem,
but I am neither poet nor calligrapher. Let one of you inscribe my last
His followers thought he was
joking, but one of them started to write.
"Are you ready?" Hoshin asked.
"Yes, sir," replied the writer.
Then Hoshin dictated:
I came from
And return to
What is this?
The poem was one line short of
the customary four, so the disciple said: "Master, we are one line
Hoshin, with the roar of a
conquoring lion, shouted "Kaa!" and was gone. ^
The exquisite Shunkai whose other
name was Suzu was compelled to marry against her wishes when she was
quite young. Later, after this marriage had ended, she attended the
university, where she studied philosophy.
To see Shunkai was to fall in
love with her. Moreover, wherever she went, she herself fell in love
with others. Love was with her at the university, and afterwards, when
philosophy did not satisfy her and she visited a temple to learn about
Zen, the Zen students fell in love with her. Shunkai's whole life was
saturated with love.
At last in Kyoto she became a
real student of Zen. Her brothers in the sub-temple of Kennin praised
her sincerity. One of them proved to be a congenial spirit and assisted
her in the mastery of Zen.
The abbot of Kennin, Mokurai,
Silent Thunder, was severe. He kept the precepts himself and expected
his priests to do so. In modern Japan whatever zeal these priests have
lost of Buddhism they seem to have gained for their wives. Mokurai used
to take a broom and chase the women away when he found them in any of
his temples, but the more wives he swept out, the more seemed to come
In this particular temple the
wife of the head priest became jealous of Shunkai's earnestness and
beauty. Hearing the students praise her serious Zen made this wife
squirm and itch. Finally she spread a rumor about Shunkai and the young
man who was her friend. As a consequence he was expelled and Shunkai was
removed from the temple.
"I may have made the mistake of
love," thought Shunkai, "but the priest's wife shall not remain in the
temple either if my friend is to be treated so unjustly."
Shunkai the same night with a can
of kerosene set fire to the five-hundred-year-old temple and burned it
to the ground. In the morning she found herself in the hands of the
A young lawyer became interested
in her and endeavored to make her sentence lighter. "Do not help me,"
she told him. "I might decide to do something else which would only
imprison me again."
At last a sentence of seven years
was completed, and Shunkai was released from the prison, where the
sixty-year-old warden had become enamored of her.
But now everyone looked upon her
as a "jailbird." No one would associate with her. Even the Zen people,
who are supposed to believe in enlightenment in this life and with this
body, shunned her. Zen, Shunkai found, was one thing and the followers
of Zen quite another. Her relatives would have nothing to do with her.
She grew sick, poor, and weak.
She met a Shinshu priest who
taught her the name of the Buddha of Love, and in this Shunkai found
some solace and peace of mind. She passed away when she was still
exquisitely beautiful and hardly thirty years old.
She wrote her own story in a
futile endeavor to support herself and some of it she told to a woman
writer. So it reached the Japanese people. Those who rejected Shunkai,
those who slandered and hated her, now read of her live with tears of
Anyone walking about Chinatowns
in America will observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack.
Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha.
This Hotei lived in the T'ang
dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many
disciples around him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into
which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would
give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a
kindergarten of the streets.
Whenever he met a Zen devotee he
would extend his hand and say: "Give me one penny."
Once as he was about to play-work
another Zen master happened along and inquired: "What is the
significance of Zen?"
Hotei immediately plopped his
sack down on the ground in silent answer.
"Then," asked the other, "what is
the actualization of Zen?"
At once the Happy Chinaman swung
the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way. ^
In Tokyo in the Meiji era there
lived two prominent teachers of opposite characteristics. One, Unsho, an
instructor in Shingon, kept Buddha's precepts scrupulously. He never
drank intoxicants, nor did he eat after eleven o'clock in the morning.
The other teacher, Tanzan, a professor of philosophy at the Imperial
University, never observed the precepts. When he felt like eating, he
ate, and when he felt like sleeping in the daytime, he slept.
One day Unsho visited Tanzan, who
was drinking wine at the time, not even a drop of which is supposed to
touch the tongue of a Buddhist.
"Hello, brother," Tanzan greeted
him. "Won't you have a drink?"
"I never drink!" exclaimed Unsho
"One who does not drink is not
even human," said Tanzan.
"Do you mean to call me inhuman
just because I do not indulge in intoxicating liquids!" exclaimed Unsho
in anger. "Then if I am not human, what am I?"
"A Buddha," answered Tanzan.
Tanzan and Ekido were once
travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a
lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at
once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until
that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could
restrain himself. "We monks don't do near females," he told Tanzan,
"especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do
"I left the girl there," said
Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?" ^
Shoun became a teacher of Soto
Zen. When he was still a student his father passed away, leaving him to
care for his old mother.
Whenever Shoun went to a
meditation hall he always took his mother with him. Since she
accompanied him, when he visited monasteries he could not live with the
monks. So he would build a little house and care for her there. He would
copy sutras, Buddhist verses, and in this manner receive a few coins for
When Shoun bought fish for his
mother, the people would scoff at him, for a monk is not supposed to eat
fish. But Shoun did not mind. His mother, however, was hurt to see the
others laugh at her son. Finally she told Shoun: "I think I will become
a nun. I can be a vegaterian too." She did, and they studied together.
Shoun was fond of music and was a
master of the harp, which his mother also played. On full-moon nights
they used to play together.
One night a young lady passed by
their house and heard music. Deeply touched, she invited Shoun to visit
her the next evening and play. He accepted the invitation. A few days
later he met the young lady on the street and thanked her for her
hospitality. Others laughed at him. He had visited the house of a woman
of the streets.
One day Shoun left for a distant
temple to deliver a lecture. A few months afterwards he returned home to
find his mother dead. Friends had not known where to reach him, so the
funeral was then in progress.
Shoun walked up and hit the
coffin with his staff. "Mother, your son has returned," he said.
"I am glad to see you have
returned, son," he answered for his mother.
"Yes, I am glad too," Shoun
responded. Then he announced to the people about him: "The funeral
ceremony is over. You may bury the body."
When Shoun was old he knew his
end was approaching. He asked his disciples to gather around him in the
morning, telling them he was going to pass on at noon. Burning incense
before the picture of his mother and his old teacher, he wrote a poem:
For fifty-six years I lived as
best I could,
Making my way in this world.
Now the rain has ended,
the clouds are clearing,
The blue sky has a full moon.
His disciples gathered about him,
reciting a sutra, and Shoun passed on during the invocation.
A university student while
visiting Gasan asked him: "Have you even read the Christian Bible?"
"No, read it to me," said Gasan.
The student opened the Bible and
read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider
the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they
spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not
arrayed like one of these...Take therefore no thought for the morrow,
for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
Gasan said: "Whoever uttered
those words I consider and enlightened man."
The student continued reading:
"Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it
shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he
that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, is shall be opened."
Gasan remarked: "That is
excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood." ^
A young physician in Tokyo named
Kusuda met a college friend who had been studying Zen. The young doctor
asked him what Zen was.
"I cannot tell you what it is,"
the friend replied, "but one thing is certain. If you understand Zen,
you will not be afraid to die."
"That's fine," said Kusuda. "I
will try it. Where can I find a teacher?"
"Go to the master Nan-in," the
friend told him.
So Kusuda went to call on Nan-in.
He carried a dagger nine and a half inches long to determine whether or
not the teacher was afraid to die.
When Nan-in saw Kusuda he
exclaimed: "Hello, friend. How are you? We haven't seen each other for a
This perplexed Kusuda, who
replied: "We have never met before."
"That's right," answered Nan-in.
"I mistook you for another physician who is receiving instruction here."
With such a beginning, Kusuda
lost his chance to test the master, so reluctantly he asked if he might
receive Zen instruction.
Nan-in said: "Zen is not a
difficult task. If you are a physician, treat you patients with
kindness. That is Zen."
Kusuda visited Nan-in three
times. Each time Nan-in told him the same thing. "A physician should not
waste time around here. Go home and take care of you patients."
It was not yet clear to Kusuda
how such teaching could remove the fear of death. So on his fourth visit
he complained: "My friend told me when one learns Zen one loses the fear
of death. Each time I come here all you tell me is to take care of my
patients. I know that much. If that is your so-called Zen, I am not
going to visit you any more."
Nan-in smiled and patted the
doctor. "I have been too strict with you. Let me give you a koan." He
presented Kusuda with Joshu's Mu to work over, which is the first mind
enlightening problem in the book called The Gateless Gate.
Kusuda pondered this problem of
Mu (No-Thing) for two years. At length he thought he had reached
certainty of mind. But his teacher commented: "You are not in yet."
Kusuda continued in concentration
for another year and a half. His mind became placid. Problems dissolved.
No-Thing became the truth. He served his patients well and, without even
knowing it, he was free from concern over life and death.
Then when he visited Nan-in, his
old teacher just smiled. ^
Buddha told a parable in a sutra:
A man traveling across a field
encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a
precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself
down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the
man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat
him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one
black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a
luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he
plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted! ^
When one goes to Obaku temple in
Kyoto he sees carved over the gate the words "The First Principle". The
letters are unusually large, and those who appreciate calligraphy always
admire them as being a mastepiece. They were drawn by Kosen two hundred
When the master drew them he did
so on paper, from which the workmen made the large carving in wood. As
Kosen sketched the letters a bold pupil was with him who had made
several gallons of ink for the calligraphy and who never failed to
criticise his master's work.
"That is not good," he told Kosen
after his first effort.
"How is this one?"
Worse than before," pronounced the pupil.
Kosen patiently wrote one sheet after another until
eighty-four First Principles had accumulated, still without the approval
of the puil.
Then when the young man stepped outside for a few moments,
Kosen thought: "Now this is my chance to escape his keen eye," and he
wrote hurriedly, with a mind free from distraction: "The First
"A masterpiece," pronounced the pupil. ^
Jiun, a Shogun master, was a
well-known Sanskrit scholar of the Tokugawa era. When he was young he
used to deliver lectures to his brother students.
His mother heard about this and
wrote him a letter.:
"Son, I do not think you became a
devotee of the Buddha because you desired to turn into a walking
dictionary for others. There is no end to information and commentation,
glory and honor. I wish you would stop this lecture business. Shut
yourself up in a little temple in a remote part of the mountain. Devote
your time to meditation and in this way attain true realization."
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Update : 01-12-2002