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 years ago.
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.
is not good," he told Kosen after his first effort.
"How is this one?"
"Poor. Worse than before," pronounced the pupil.
patiently wrote one sheet after another until eighty-four First Principles had
accumulated, still without the approval of the pupil.
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 Principle."
"A masterpiece," pronounced the
The Stone MindHogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the
One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might
make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.
While they were building
the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and
joined them and said: "There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or
outside your mind?"
One of the monks replied: "From the Buddhist
viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the
stone is inside my mind."
"Your head must feel very heavy,"
observed Hogen, "if you are carrying around a stone like that in your
When Bankei held his
meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came.
During one of these
gatherings a pupil was caught stealing.
The theft was reported with the
request that the culprit be expelled.
Bankei ignored the case.
Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, it was again disregarded.
This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the
dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.
When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him.
"You are wise brothers," he told them.
"You know what is right
and what is not right.
You may go somewhere else to study if you wish,
but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong.
teach him if I do not?
I am going to keep him here even if all the rest
of you leave."
A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who
The desire to steal had vanished.
A Parable Buddha
told a parable in sutra:
A man traveling across a field encountered a
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.
the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by
little started gnawing the vine.
The man saw a luscious strawberry near
the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the
How sweet it tasted!
Teaching the Ultimate
In the past,
bamboo-and-paper lanterns were used with candles inside.
man, visiting a friend one night, was offered a lantern to carry home.
"I do not need a lantern," he said. "Darkness or light is all the same
"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
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
His tales of love stirred the
hearts of his listeners.
narrated a story of war, it
was as if the listeners themselves
were on the field of battle.
One day Encho met Yamaoka Tesshu, a
layman who had almost embraced masterhood in Zen.
"I understand," said
Yamaoka, "you are the best storyteller in
our land and that you make people cry or laugh at will.
Tell me my
favorite story of the Peach Boy.
When I was little and slept beside my
mother, she often related this legend.
In the middle of the story I
would fall asleep.
Tell it to me just as my mother did."
dared not attempt to do this.
He requested time to study.
Several months later he went to Yamaoka and said:
me the opportunity to tell
you the story."
"Some other day," answered Yamaoka.
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
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