A Walk in the Hills

One day when the novice Hofuku and the monk Chokei were walking in the hills, the novice pointed to a hilltop saying, "Surely that is the top of Mount Myoho!" Chokei replied, "True enough, but what a pity you need mention it." Later Hofuku related this conversation to a fellow monk, Kyosei. Kyosei commented, "If it were not for the likes of Chokei, there would be rattle-brains everywhere." Setho commented on all of this: "Today, walking in the hills with these fellows, what do they really understand? A hundred years from now I don't say there will be none who understand, but those who do will be few and far between."

Hofuku, Chokei and Kyosei were all disciples of Seppo. In this koan Hofuku is a novice and the youngest. Chokei is a few years older and more advanced in understanding, and Kyosei is far advanced in Zen. Mount Myoho is symbolic of the supreme realisation of the absolute and appears in the Avatamsaka Sutra. The young novice is very childish and is showing off, true to human nature, his attainment before his brother disciple, Chokei. Chokei, in elder-brother fashion, puts Hofuku in his place. Later Hofuku appeals to Kyosei, expecting a more sympathetic response. But Kyosei only comments that it was, indeed, fortunate to have a good companion like Chokei who speaks the truth.

Although the top of Mount Myoho is the symbol of supreme enlightenment, Hofuku must have studied the Avatamsaka Sutra superficially because he understood it to mean supreme enjoyment of enlightenment. While walking with Chokei, he exclaimed "That is the top of Mount Myoho!" just as someone who, after a hard day's work, might exclaim from a warm bath, "Oh! this is heaven." To understand Zen and enlightenment merely on the surface is indeed a great pity.


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