Daiten's Age

Kantaisu, a Confucian scholar in exile, visited Daiten, whose monastery was situated nearby. He asked Daiten, "How old are you?" In reply Daiten held out his meditation beads and asked, "Do you understand?" "No," said Kantaisu. Daiten then added, "There are 108 beads in the daytime; at night there are 108." Kantaisu was unnerved because he could not understand the old Buddhist monk. When he returned to his home, his wife noticed his mood and inquired why he was so upset. The scholar then told his wife what had happened. "Why not go back to the monastery and ask the monk what he meant?" his wife suggested.

Early the next morning the Confucian scholar went back to the monastery, where he met the chief monk at the gate. "Why are you here so early?" the chief monk asked. "I want to see your Master," Kantaisu replied. "What is your business with him?" the chief monk asked. So Kantaisu repeated the story. "Why not ask me?" the chief monk suggested. So Kantaisu asked, "What does 108 beads in the daytime, at night 108 beads mean?" In answer the chief monk clicked his teeth three times.

Eventually, Kantaisu was able to see Daiten, and he asked him the same question. In answer Daiten clicked his teeth three times. "I have it!" said the Confucian. "All Buddhism is alike." "You don't say!" said Daiten. "Yes," said Kantaisu, "a while ago I met the chief monk and asked him the same question, and he gave me the same answer you did." Daiten called the chief monk to him and said, "I understand you showed this scholar Buddhism a while ago. Is that so?" "That's true," answered the chief monk. Daiten struck the chief monk and expelled him from the monastery on the spot.

Kantaisu was a Confucian scholar who had been exiled for opposing certain Buddhist rites connected with the death of the emperor. He was exiled to Choshu where Daiten had his monastery. Kantaisu went to Daiten to find out about Buddhism. The question of "age" is just a pretext. For Daiten's first answer answer, the Master held out a full strand of meditation beads. (The Buddhist meditation beads, symbols of oneness, come in various lengths, but a full strand always has 108 beads.) In essence he was saying, "My age is beyond number and hints; my age is eternal, just as the truth is beyond number and ageless." But the learned Kantaisu did not understand and was quite upset.

The following morning when he met the chief monk at the temple gate and the chief monk clicked his teeth three times, Kantaisu was in further confusion. But when the head of the monastery, Daiten, answered the same question by clicking his teeth three times, Kantaisu thought he finally understood: all Buddhism is the same.

Like Kantaisu, we usually attach to the words or actions and fail to see beyond them. If the actions are the same, we conclude that the meaning is the same also. The three clicks of the chief monk and Daiten are entirely different. When the chief monk was struck and expelled by the Master, then he really understood life. Kantaisu had opposed Buddhism and was exiled. Because of this very exile he had an opportunity to meet true Buddhism. The truth is the same day or night, as are the 108 beads. The essence of truth is the same, only the forms and appearances change.


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