Simplified to its essence

All the holy ones have turned within and sought the self, and by this went beyond all doubt. To turn within means all the 24 hours and in every situation, to pierce one by one through the layers covering the self, deeper and deeper, to a place that cannot be described. It is when thinking comes to an end and making distinctions ceases, when all opinions and ideas disappear of themselves without having to be driven forth, when without being sought the true action and the true impulse appear of themselves. It is when one can know the truth of the heart.
— Daikaku


Who is Daikaku? All I know is that he was a 13th Century Japanese Buddhist. But here’s a story (from Old-Earth-Is-Dying)…

The Case (Daikaku’s One-Word Sutra)

At the beginning of the Kencho era (1249), ‘Old Buddha’ Daikaku was invited from Kyoto by the shogun Tokiyori to spread Zen in the East of Japan. Some priests and laymen of other sects were not at all pleased at this, and out of jealousy spread it around that the teacher was a spy sent to Japan by the Mongols; gradually more and more people began to believe it. At the time the Mongols were in fact sending emissaries to Japan, and the shogun’s government, misled by the campaign of rumors, transferred the teacher to Koshu. He was not the least disturbed, but gladly followed the karma which led him away.

Some officials there who were firm believers in repetition of the formula of the Lotus, or in recitation of the name of Amida, one day came to him and said: “The Heart Sutra, which is read in the Zen tradition is long and difficult to read, whereas Nichiren teaches the formula of the Lotus which has only seven syllables, and Ippen teaches repetition of the name of Amida, which is only six. The Zen Sutra is much longer, and it is difficult to get through it.”

The teacher listened to all this and said: “What would a follower of Zen want with a long text? If you want to recite the Zen sutra, do it with one word. It is the six- and seven-word ones which are too long.”


Instead of too much commentary, I want to provide another koan that is in dialog with the former. The interplay between the two is respectfully antagonistic. It is also very complex.

The Case (Bukko’s No-Word Sutra)

Ryo, a priest of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine, came to Magaku (national teacher Bukko, who succeeded Daikaku) and told him the story of Daikaku’s one-word sutra. He said: “I do not ask about the six or seven syllables recited by other sects, but what is the one word of Zen?”

The teacher said: Our school does not set up any word; its dharma is a special transmission outside scriptures, a truth transmitted from heart to heart. If you can penetrate through to that, your whole life will be a dharanı (a Buddhist mantra), and your death will be a dharanı, as well. What would you be wanting with a word or half a word? The old master Daikaku went deep into the forest and put one word down there, and now the whole Zen world is tearing itself to pieces on the thorns, trying to find it. If the reverend Ryo before me wishes to grasp that one word, then without opening the mouth, do you recite the sutra of no-word? If you fail in your awareness of the no-word, you will at once lose the one word. Displayed, the one word is set above the thirty-three heavens; buried, it is at the bottom of the eighth great hell. Yet in all four directions and above and below, where could it ever be hidden? At this instant before Your Reverence! Is there a word, or is there not?”

The golden needle did not penetrate the embroidered cloth of the priest’s mind, and he silently took his leave.


This is not an example to be cited in support of the thesis of Zen’s distaste for language.


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