Rinzai 206 (The Karma of Rinzai’s Enlightenment)

When Rinzai was a new monk in Obaku’s community, his behaviour was simple and direct. The head monk recommended him, saying, “He is a new monk, yet he differs from all the others.” The head monk then asked him, “How long have you been here?” Rinzai replied, “For three years.” The head monk asked, “Have you been for an interview yet?” Rinzai said, “Never. I do not know what to ask.” The head monk said, “Why do you not go and ask the reverend head of the monastery what the essence of Buddhism is?” Rinzai accordingly did as bid, but even before he had finished speaking, Obaku hit him. Rinzai withdrew. When the head monk asked him how the interview had gone, he said, “Even before I had finished speaking, the master hit me. I do not understand.” The head monk said, “Simply go and ask again.” Rinzai did so and Obaku hit him again. It happened again in this way a third time, with Rinzai questioning and then being hit. Rinzai went to the head monk and said, “You had the kindness to send me to question the master. Three times I asked, and three times I was beaten. I am afraid that I am obstructed by my previous karma, and do not understand his deep intention. So, for the time being, I am resigning and am leaving.” The head monk said, “If you are going, you have to take leave of the master.” Rinzai bowed his acceptance and left. The head monk went at once to the master Obaku and said, “That young monk who came and questioned you is really suited for the Dharma. When he comes to take leave of you, find a way for him to continue. Planting for times to come, he will grow into a big tree that will give shade to all men.” When Rinzai came to take leave, Obaku said to him, “You must not go anywhere else but to Daigu who lives near the shoals of Goan. He will explain to you.”


Every time Rinzai asked Obaku the essence of Buddhism, Obaku responded by hitting him without using saying any words, which means that he showed the essence of Buddhism to him by means of hitting him. Given that Obaku led him directly to the essence of Buddhism without any verbal explanation, he seems to have been aware of Rinzai’s latent capacity. When Obaku found that his expedient didn’t work then, he told Rinzai to go to see Daigu, since Obaku was sure that Daigu was capable of helping Rinzai. Sending Rinzai to Daigu was another expedient used by Obaku. Here, the head monk deserves credit for having arranged an interview between Obaku and Rinzai and for having encouraged Rinzai to have the interview.

©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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