… we never know what blessings can arrive in disguise.
Yamada Koun tells the story of Hosshin Zenji, who began grew up in feudal Japan to be a humble, illiterate servant called Heijiro, around the time of Dogen. After mistreatment at the hand of his young master, Heijiro left the castle where he worked for a Zen monastery, and eventually made his way to a monastery in China. The master there gave him a koan to meditate with, writing it down for him as a single calligraphic character on a piece of paper.
Heijiro was still illiterate and didn’t dare to let on that he couldn’t read. He took the koan to heart anyway as his primary practice. Over several years of fervent meditation, one day the character disappeared from the paper and he came to a profound awakening. He realized “the world of not one single thing,” as Yamada Koun puts it.
In time he became an eminent monk, and finally a “national teacher,” with the name Hosshin Roshi, back in his native Japan. He settled at a temple in his original hometown.
Soon the lord of the local castle heard about the eminent new master at the temple, and invited him to visit. Hosshin (formerly Heijiro) asked his old employer if he recognized him. The man had no idea. Hosshin reminded him, and told him his whole story.
The lord of the castle was repentant, and begged to become Hosshin’s Zen student. Hosshin acquiesced to the request, and thanked his old lord for the way he had treated him. Had he not been so harsh, he might never have left the castle and pursued his practice.
The point of the story? Two…
First, we never know what blessings can arrive in disguise.
Second, young Heijiro had one tremendous advantage in his training: he never actually knew what his koan meant.