Sleeping in the Daytime

Soyen Shaku, the Zen master passed on at the age of sixty-one. He left a great body of teachings, the fulfilment of his lifetime’s work, a richer legacy than most other Zen master have left. His students had the habit of sleeping in the daytime in the sultry summer days. He overlooked this behavior in others, but he himself never let a minute be wasted.

Soyen was already a student of Tendai philosophic meditations at the early age of twelve. One summer day the climate was so stifling that the young Soyen stretched out and fell into a slumber while his teacher was away.

After three hours asleep, he awoke suddenly as he heard the teacher return, it was too late however, the sleepy boy was sprawled out across the doorway.

“Pardon me, I do beg your pardon,” the teacher softly whispered, treading cautiously over the boy as if he were a distinguished guest. From then on, Soyen Shaku was never one for sleeping in the daytime.

Gisho’s Work

When she was just ten years old, Gisho ordained as a nun. She trained in Zen the same as all the novice monks. When she turned sixteen, she went from one Zen teacher to another, studying under each one in turn.

With Unzan she stayed three years, with Gukei it was six years, however she was still not able to clear her mind. Finally, she studied under the Zen master Inzan.

Master Inzan showed no difference on account of Gisho’s sex. He would scold her like a burst of thunder. He would whack her to rouse her inner nature.

Gisho studied Zen with master Inzan for thirteen years in all before she found what she had been searching for.

To honor her, the Zen master wrote this poem:

This nun studied thirteen years under my guidance.
In the evening she considered the deepest koans,
In the morning she was wrapped in other koans.
The Chinese nun Tetsuma surpassed all before her,
And since Mujaku none has been so genuine as this Gisho!
Yet there are many more gates for her to pass through.
She should receive still more blows from my iron fist.

When Gisho had been enlightened she traveled to Banshu province, and started a Zen temple of her own. She eventually passed away one year in August, at that time there were two hundred nuns under her tutelage.

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Publishing the Sutras

He started by traveling around getting donations for the project. Some wealthy donors gave him pieces of gold, but for the most part he got only small change. He gave thanks to every donor with the same gratitude. When ten years had passed, Tetsugen had got enough cash to start on the printing.

It so happened that just at that time, there was a great flood of the River Uji, followed by famine. Tetsugen used the money he had collected for printing the sutras and used it to prevent the population from starving. Then he started over on his task of collecting donations.

After several years, there was a outbreak of plague across the country. He once again used the funds he had collected for the relief of others.

Now for the third time, he commenced his work, and eventually after two decades he lived to see his vision completed. The wooden print blocks which made the first ever edition of the sutras are on display in Kyoto at the Obaku monastery.

Japanese children learn that Tetsugen made editions of the sutras and that the first two invisible editions, exceed even the third.

Flower Shower

There was a disciple of Buddha named Subhuti. He realized that nothing can exist without subjective and objective relations. He had an understanding of the potency of emptiness.

One day, as Subhuti sat under a tree in a rarefied mood of emptiness, flowers started to fall around him.

“We praise you for your sermon on emptiness,” whispered the gods to Subhuti.

“But I did not speak of emptiness,” replied the disciple.

“You spoke not of emptiness, we heard not emptiness,” said the gods. “That is true emptiness.” Blossoms showered down on Subhuti like rain.

Every-minute Zen

Students of Zen study under a master for at least two years before they consider the zen-waterpresumption to become a teacher themselves.

Nan’in received a visit from Tenno, who had just taken up the position of teacher after completing his apprenticeship. That day was a rainy one, so Tanno had on his wooden clogs and took an umbrella with him. Upon their meeting, Nan’in said, “You placed your wooden clogs in the lobby, I presume. What I would like to know is, did you put your umbrella on the left or right side of your clogs?”

Tenno was befuddled and could not give an answer instantly. He understood that he did not live his Zen every minute. He chose to become Nan’in’s student and continued to study for another six years to achieve this every-minute Zen.

A Smile in His Lifetime

Mokugen was a teacher, his students knew him as one who never smiled – until his last day in this world. When Mokugen’s time had come to pass on he told his followers, “You studied with me for over a decade. Show me what you have learned of Zen. Whoever can express it most clearly will receive my bowl and robe and become my successor.”
The students all watched their teacher’s stern face, but none of them answered.

Encho was a student who had studied under Mokugen for a long time. In response to Mokugen’s instruction, he moved closer to the bed and pushed a cup of medicine forward a few inches.

“Is that as much as you understand?” Mokugen’s asked, his face more stern than ever.

Encho reached out again and moved the cup back.

Now a wonderful smile broke out on Mokugen’s face. “You scamp,” he said. “You studied with me for over ten years and never saw my whole body. Accept my bowl and robe, they are yours now.”

Mokusen’s Hand

There was a teacher named Mokusen Hiki, who stayed at a temple in Tamba province. One of the followers complained about his wife’s stinginess to the teacher.
Mokusen went to visit this stingy wife and put his clenched fist in front of her face.

“What is the meaning of this?” the woman asked in shock.

“Just imagine my fist was permanently like that. How would you describe it?” Mokusen asked.

“Deformed” was the wife’s reply.

Then he showed his open hand flat before her face. “What if it were like this always. How would you call it then?”

“Also deformed,” replied the woman.

“You understand much, you are a good wife.” Mokusen said, then left.

Since that visit, the wife worked together with her husband to dispense as well as save.

Inch Time Foot Gem

Takuan was a Zen teacher, who one day received a visit from a noble lord seeking his advice. The noble explained that found his days to be dragging on exceedingly long, as he sat stiffly in his formal chair attending to the affairs of office.
Takuan wrote eight characters in Chinese calligraphy on a scroll:

Not twice this day
Inch time foot gem.
This day will not come again.
Each minute is worth a priceless gem.

Everything is Best

While making his way through the market, Banzan overheard a butcher and one of his customers having this conversation.


“I’ll take the best joint of meat you’ve got,” the customer said.


“In my stall, everything is best,” was the butcher’s reply, “There is no meat here which is not the best.”


Banzan, upon hearing those words, was enlightened.