Eisai, Daio and Daito

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Following in Eisai's footsteps

Although we will pick up the Rinzai Zen trail with Hakuin in Lesson 32, we will briefly note some who followed in Easai's footsteps.


It would be a century before Master Daio would teach a Rinzai Zen not encompassing older sects such as Tendai. Daio's verse "On Zen" is still recited today by Rinzai practitioners:

There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it;
It has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air;
It is not Mind, nor Buddha;
Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.


After Daito's enlightenment, Daio urged him to study and cultivate his spirituality for twenty years. This period of isolation inspired the legend that Daito lived with beggars under a bridge in Kyoto until the retired Emperor Hanazono discovered him. It is said the emperor tried to draw him out knowing his love of melons.

The emperor gave melons to the beggars one by one, carefully watching each face as he did so. Noticing one with unusually brilliant eyes, the emperor: "Take this without using your hands."

Daito:, "Give it to me without using your hands."

Daito was later challenged by Emperor Hanazomo:

The emperor: "Is it not unthinkable that the Buddha Dharma should come face to face with the emperor of the state?"

Master Daito: "Is it not unthinkable that the emperor of the state should come face to face with the Buddha Dharma?"

There is no real existence outside of this "moment-to-moment freshening of the mind," Daito insisted, and kensho was paramount, as we hear in his last exhortation to his monks:

Some of you may preside over large and flourishing temples with Buddha-shrines and rolls of scripture gorgeously decorated with gold and silver. You may recite the sutras, practice meditation, and even lead your daily lives in strict accordance with the precepts. But if you carry on these activities without having the eye of kensho, every Joe of you belong to the tribe of evil spirits. On the other hand, if you pass your days living in a solitary hut in the wilderness, wear a tattered robe, and eat only boiled roots, you are the man who meets me face to face every day and requires my kindness.

Daito was a celebrated calligrapher and poet. Here Daito offers a vision of existence after the Dharma eye is opened and "eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind" have dropped away:

If your eyes see and your ears hear,
Not a doubt you'll cherish.
How naturally the rain drips from the eaves!

I've broken through Cloud Barrier—
the living way is north south east and west.,
Evenings I rest, mornings I play.
no other no self.
With each step a pure breeze rises.,

Daito's last poem:

Buddhas and Fathers cut to pieces
The sword is ever kept sharpened!
Where the wheel turns,
The void gnashes its teeth.