Table Speech

“Ikkyu-san and His Disciples”

September 3, 2008

Mr. Sosho Yamada,
Abbot of Shinjuan, Daitoku-ji Temple, Kyoto

Ikkyu Sojun or Ikkyu-san was a monk of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, one of the Japanese Zen sects that started during the middle of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). Rinzaishu is one of the Japanese Zen sects that was established when Zen came to Japan to open the hand of so called “Satori” (spiritual awakening), through “Zazen” (seated meditation).
The word “Zen” has become famous worldwide. However, when asked “What is Zen?” there are no concrete answers. There are precious scriptures and sutras, but ascetic training relies on the personal competence of the monk. If there are 100 Zen monks, then there are 100 types of Zen.

Ikkyu-san was born January 1, 1394 (the 1st year of the Oei era) with the dawn of the morning sun at a small hermitage in Sagano, Kyoto. His father was Emperor Go-Komatsu and his mother was Lady Iyo (Iyo no Tubone) of the Fujiwara family. Since he was the first successor to the throne, there was a danger to his life. Therefore, at the age of 6, Ikkyu-san became a monk at Ankoku-ji Temple in Yamashiro no Kuni in Mibu, Kyoto, and was given the name “Shuken”.
When he turned12 years old, Ikkyu-san studied at Tenryu-ji Temple in Arashiyama and when he was 15 years old, he studied Chinese poetry at Kenninn-ji Temple in Gion, Kyoto. Subsequently at Myoshin-ji Temple (built by Zen master Kanzan Egen of Daitoku-ji Temple) in Hanazono in Kyoto he was given the name, “Sojun”. The year when he was named is unknown but it was probably when he was around 17 – 18 years old.
When Ikkyu approached the age of 20, his master and the chief monk, Keno Soi said to him, “You have already practised enough ascetic training, but I have not been given a seal of approval from my master, so I cannot give you one”. Since that time, he never in his life had a seal of approval.
When Ikkyu-san reached the age of 21, Keno Soi passed away, and Ikkyu-san thought, “If I am a person who is worthy to live, then I will not die. Let me prove this”. He attempted to commit suicide by diving from a bridge in Otsu (Seta no Karahashi). Fortunately, he was saved by a follower who was concerned about his strange behavior and had been watching him.
At 22 years old, Ikkyu-san entered training at Zuisho hermitage (now the Zuisho-ji Temple) in Ukimido in Katata, Otsu City. Everyday he spent in Zazen and at night he meditated on a ship floating on the lakeside. When he was 25, his master monk Kao gave him the nickname, “Ikkyu”, which also meant his exclusive reading room. Ikkyu-san spent more time in training and when he was 27, one night while meditating on his boat as usual, he heard the sound of a crow early in the morning and was enlightened.

Ikkyu-san’s “Satori” is a world only he himself could understand. However, this leads to the world of his masters, dating back to Kanzan Daito-kokushi of Daitoku-ji Temple, and his master Daio-kokushi and further to Kido, a Zen monk in China; then to the Bodhidharma, the Rinzai Zen monk and ultimately to Buddha.
Reading the writings left by Ikkyu-san, it can be interpreted that, with the age of 27 as the border, he had transformed to an “Ikkyu”, who is full of joy with every moment and the world glows about him.
Ikkyu-san, when he reached the ripe age of 88, wrote “Kyo-unshu” a collection of Chinese poetry. In the collection, many erotic expressions can be found. Ikkyu-san did not hide his passions. His straightforwardness and purity may have been the secret of gathering friends, acquaintances, young and old alike. I think he was truly a person who possessed the spirit of “Zen”, who realized the spirit of the Buddha and Dharma. Ikkyu-san’s way of life was “not to deceive”. Such single-mindedness gathered the hearts of many people, and he continues to be talked about even today. In Zen, being caught up with “warning” from breaking religious precepts is referred to as “spiritual darkness”.

At times there are people who boast, “I only eat Shojin (vegetable) dishes”. But if small fish has been mixed into the mixed rice served at a Budhist memorial service, one should just eat it. Taking the trouble of removing the small fish is an insult.
If you are caught up, either way you fall. It’s the same. You should not get caught up. It has nothing to do with right or left, but the middle way. If you can recite the middle way, you will be caught up with that way…
In other words, “The Spirit that is not caught up with anything and the spirit that sticks at nothing is the spirit of Zen”. That is the end of my speech.