Gateless Gate )
81 - 101
Gasan was sitting at the bedside
of Tekisui three days before his teacher's passing. Tekisui had already
chosen him as his successor.
A temple recently had burned and
Gasan was busy rebuilding the structure. Tekisui asked him: "What are
you going to do when you get the temple rebuilt?"
"When your sickness is over we
want you to speak there," said Gasan.
"Suppose I do not live until
"Then we will get someone else,"
"Suppose you cannot find anyone?"
Gasan answered loudly: "Don't ask
such foolish questions. Just go to sleep." ^
Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young
student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon
Desiring to show his attainment,
he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not
exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no
realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and
nothing to be received."
Dokuon, who was smoking quietly,
said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This
made the youth quite angry.
"If nothing exists," inquired
Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?" ^
Hyakujo, the Chinese Zen master,
used to labor with his pupils even at the age of eighty, trimming the
gardens, cleaning the grounds, and pruning the trees.
The pupils felt sorry to see the
old teacher working so hard, but they knew he would not listen to their
advice to stop, so they hid away his tools.
That day the master did not eat.
The next day he did not eat, nor the next. "He may be angry because we
have hidden his tools," the pupils surmised. "We had better put them
The day they did, the teacher
worked and ate the same as before. In the evening he instructed them:
"No work, no food." ^
A long time ago in China there
were two friends, one who played the harp skilfully and one who listen
When the one played or sang about
a mountain, the other would say: "I can see the mountain before us."
When the one played about water,
the listener would exclaim: "Here is the running stream!"
But the listener fell sick and
died. The first friend cut the strings of his harp and never played
again. Since that time the cutting of harp strings has always been a
sign of intimate friendship. ^
Ikkyu, the Zen master, was very
clever even as a boy. His teacher had a precious teacup, a rare antique.
Ikkyu happened to break this cup and was greatly perplexed. Hearing the
footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces of the cup behind him. When
the master appeared, Ikkyu asked: "Why do people have to die?"
"This is natural," explained the
older man. "Everything has to die and has just so long to live."
Ikkyu, producing the shattered
cup, added: "It was time for your cup to die." ^
Zen masters give personal
guidance in a secluded room. No one enters while teacher and pupil are
Mokurai, the Zen master of Kennin
temple in Kyoto, used to enjoy talking with merchants and newspapermen
as well as with his pupils. A certain tubmaker was almost illiterate. He
would ask foolish questions of Mokurai, have tea, and then go away.
One day while the tubmaker was
there Mokurai wished to give personal guidance to a disciple, so he
asked the tubmaker to wait in another room.
"I understand you are a living
Buddha," the man protested. "Even the stone Buddhas in the temple never
refuse the numerous persons who come together before them. Why then
should I be excluded?"
Mokurai had to go outside to see
his disciple. ^
A Zen master named Gettan lived
in the latter part of the Tokugawa era. He used to say: "There are three
kinds of disciples: those who impart Zen to others, those who maintain
the temples and shrines, and then there are the rice bags and the
Gasan expressed the same idea.
When he was studying under Tekisui, his teacher was very severe.
Sometimes he even beat him. Other pupils would not stand this kind of
teaching and quit. Gasan remained, saying: "A poor disciple utilizes a
teacher's influence. A fair disciple admires a teacher's kindness. A
good disciple grows strong under a teacher's discipline." ^
A well-known Japanese poet was
asked how to compose a Chinese poem.
"The usual Chinese poem is four
lines," he explains. "The first line contains the initial phase; the
second line, the continuation of that phase; the third line turns from
this subject and begins a new one; and the fourth line brings the first
three lines together. A popular Japanese song illustrates this:
Two daughters of a silk merchant
live in Kyoto.
The elder is twenty, the
A soldier may kill with his
But these girls slay men with their
Zen teachers train their young
pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protégé.
One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other
on the way.
"Where are you going?" asked the
"I am going wherever my feet go,"
the other responded.
This reply puzzled the first
child who went to his teacher for help. "Tomorrow morning," the teacher
told him, "when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question.
He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: 'Suppose you
have no feet, then where are you going?' That will fix him."
The children met again the
"Where are you going?" asked the
"I am going wherever the wind
blows," answered the other.
This again nonplussed the
youngster, who took his defeat to his teacher.
"Ask him where he is going if
there is no wind," suggested the teacher.
The next day the children met a
"Where are you going?" asked the
"I am going to the market to buy
vegetables," the other replied. ^
Tangen had studied with Sengai
since childhood. When he was twenty he wanted to leave his teacher and
visit others for comparative study, but Sengai would not permit this.
Every time Tangen suggested it, Sengai would give him a rap on the head.
Finally Tangen asked an elder
brother to coax permission from Sengai. This the brother did and then
reported to Tangen: "It is arranged. I have fixed it for you start your
pilgrimage at once."
Tangen went to Sengai to thank
him for his permission. The master answered by giving him another rap.
When Tangen related this to his
elder brother the other said: "What is the matter? Sengai has no
business giving permission and then changing his mind. I will tell him
so." And off he went to see the teacher.
"I did not cancel my permission,"
said Sengai. "I just wished to give him one last smack over the head,
for when he returns he will be enlightened and I will not be able to
reprimand him again." ^
Taste of Banzo's Sword
Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a
famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son's work was too
mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him.
So Matajuro went to Mount Futara
and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the
father's judgment. "You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?"
asked Banzo. "You cannot fulfill the requirements."
"But if I work hard, how many
years will it take to become a master?" persisted the youth.
"The rest of your life," replied
"I cannot wait that long,"
explained Matajuro. "I am willing to pass through any hardship if only
you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it
"Oh, maybe ten years," Banzo
"My father is getting old, and
soon I must take care of him," continued Matajuro. "If I work far more
intensively, how long would it take me?"
"Oh, maybe thirty years," said
"Why is that?" asked Matajuro.
"First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to
master this art in the shortest time!"
"Well," said Banzo, "in that case
you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry
as you are to get results seldom learns quickly."
"Very well," declared the youth,
understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, "I
Matajuro was told never to speak
of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed
the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all
without a word of swordmanship.
Three years passed. Still
Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even
begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.
But one day Banzo crept up behind
him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.
The following day, when Matajuro
was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.
After that, day and night,
Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment
passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo's
He learned so rapidly he brought
smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman
in the land. ^
Hakuin used to tell his pupils
about an old woman who had a teashop, praising her understanding of Zen.
The pupils refused to believe what he told them and would go to the
teashop to find out for themselves.
Whenever the woman saw them
coming she could tell at once whether they had come for tea or to look
into her grasp of Zen. In the former case, she would serve them
graciously. In the latter, she would beckon the pupils to come behind
her screen. The instant they obeyed, she would strike them with a
Nine out of ten of them could not
escape her beating. ^
Encho was a famous storyteller.
His tales of love stirred the hearts of his listeners. When he narrated
a story of war, it was as if the listeners themselves were in the field
One day Encho met Yamaoka Tesshu,
a layman who had almost embraced masterhood of Zen. "I understand," said
Yamaoka, "you ar the best storyteller in out land and that you make
people cry or laugh at will. Tell me my favorite story of the Peach Boy.
When I was a little tot I used to sleep beside my mother, and she often
related this legend. In the middle of the story I would fall asleep.
Tell it to me just as my mother did."
Encho dared not attempt this. He
requested time to study. Several months later he went to Yamaoka and
said: "Please give me the opportunity to tell you the story."
"Some other day," answered
Encho was keenly disappointed. He
studied further and tried again. Yamaoka rejected him many times. When
Encho would start to talk Yamaoka would stop him, saying: "You are not
yet like my mother."
It took Encho five years to be
able to tell Yamaoka the legend as his mother had told it to him.
In this way, Yamaoka imparted Zen
to Encho. ^
Many pupils were studying
meditation under the Zen master Sengai. One of them used to arise at
night, climb over the temple wall, and go to town on a pleasure jaunt.
Sengai, inspecting the dormitory
quarters, found this pupil missing one night and also discovered the
high stool he had used to scale the wall. Sengai removed the stool and
stood there in its place.
When the wanderer returned, not
knowing that Sengai was the stool, he put his feet on the master's head
and jumped down into the grounds. Discovering what he had done, he was
Sengai said: "It is very chilly
in the early morning. Do be careful not to catch cold yourself."
The pupil never went out at night
Bassui wrote the following letter
to one of his disciples who was about to die:
"The essence of your mind is not
born, so it will never die. It is not an existance, which is perishable.
It is not an emptiness, which is a mere void. It has neither color nor
form. It enjoys no pleasures and suffers no pains.
"I know you are very ill. Like a
good Zen student, you are facing that sickness squarely. You may not
know exactly who is suffering, but question yourself: What is the
essence of this mind? Think only of this. You will need no more. Covet
nothing. Your end which is endless is as a snowflake dissolving in the
pure air." ^
A Zen master named Gisan asked a
young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.
The student brought the water
and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was
"You dunce!" the master scolded
him. "Why didn't you give the rest of the water to the plants? What
right have you to waste even one drop of water in this temple?"
The young student attained Zen in
that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of
In early times in Japan,
bamboo-and-paper lanterns were used with candles inside. A blind man,
visiting a friend one night, was offered a lantern to carry home with
"I do not need a lantern," he
said. "Darkness or light is all the same to me."
"I know you do not need a lantern
to find your way," his friend replied, "but if you don't have one,
someone else may run into you. So you must take it."
The blind man started off with
the lantern and before he had walked very far someone ran squarely into
him. "Look out where you are going!" he exclaimed to the stranger.
"Can't you see this lantern?"
"Your candle has burned out,
brother," replied the stranger. ^
Kitano Gempo, abbot of Eihei
temple, was ninely-two years old when he passed away in the year 1933.
He endeavored his whole life not to be attached to anything. As a
wandering mendicant when he was twenty he happened to meet a traveler
who smoked tobacco. As they walked together down a mountain road, they
stopped under a tree to rest. The traveler offered Kitano a smoke, which
he accepted, as he was very hungry at the time.
"How pleasant this smoking is,"
he commented. The other gave him an extra pipe and tobacco and they
Kitano felt: "Such pleasant
things may disturb meditation. Before this goes too far, I will stop
now." So he threw the smoking outfit away.
When he was twenty-three years
old he studied I-King, the profoundest doctrine of the universe. It was
winter at the time and he needed some heavy clothes. He wrote his
teacher, who lived a hundred miles away, telling him of his need, and
gave the letter to a traveler to deliver. Almost the whole winter passed
and neither answer nor clothes arrived. So Kitano resorted to the
prescience of I-King, which also teaches the art of divination, to
determine whether or not his letter had miscarried. He found that this
had been the case. A letter afterwards from his teacher made no mention
"If I perform such accurate
determinative work with I-King, I may neglect my meditation," felt
Kitano. So he gave up this marvelous teaching and never resorted to its
When he was twenty-eight he
studied Chinese calligraphy and poetry. He grew so skillful in these
arts that his teacher praised him. Kitano mused: "If I don't stop now,
I'll be a poet, not a Zen teacher." So he never wrote another poem.
Tosui was the Zen master who left
the formalism of temples to live under a bridge with beggars. When he
was getting very old, a friend helped him to earn his living without
begging. He showed Tosui how to collect rice and manufacture vinegar
from it, and Tosui did this until he passed away.
While Tosui was making vinegar,
one of the beggars gave him a picture of the Buddha. Tosui hung it on
the wall of his hut and put a sign beside it. The sign read:
Mr. Amida Buddha: This little
room is quite narrow. I can let you remain as a transient. But don't
think I am asking you to be reborn in your paradise. ^
Shoichi was a one-eyed teacher of
Zen, sparkling with enlightenment. He taught his disciples in Tofuku
Day and night the whole temple
stood in silence. There was no sound at all.
Even the reciting of sutras was
abolished by the teacher. His pupils had nothing to do but meditate.
When the master passed away, an
old neighbor heard the ringing of bells and the recitation of sutras.
Then she knew Shoichi had gone. ^
Buddha said: "I consider the
positions of kings and rulers as that of dust motes. I observe treasures
of gold and gems as so many bricks and pebbles. I look upon the finest
silken robes as tattered rags. I see myriad worlds of the universe as
small seeds of fruit, and the greatest lake in India as a drop of oil on
my foot. I perceive the teachings of the world to be the illusion of
magicians. I discern the highest conception of emancipation as a golden
brocade in a dream, and view the holy path of the illuminated ones as
flowers appearing in one's eyes. I see meditation as a pillar of a
mountain, Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime. I look upon the judgment of
right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and
fall of beliefs as but traces left by the four seasons." ^
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Update : 01-12-2002