Joshu's Dwelling Place

One day Joshu visited Unko who said, "Why don't you settle down in your old age?" Joshu asked, "Where is the place for me?" "The ruins of an old temple are here on the mountain," Unko suggested. "Then why don't you live there yourself," Joshu said. Unko did not answer. Later, Joshu visited Shuyu who also asked him, "Why don't you settle down in your old age?" "Where is the place for me," questioned Joshu as before. "Don't you know the place for your old age?" Shuyu countered. Joshu then commented, "I have practised horseback riding for thirty years, but today I fell from a donkey."

Joshu started to study Zen at the age of sixty-one. When he was eighty years old, he became the Master of the Kannon Temple at Joshu. He lived to be one hundred twenty years old and was known for his energetic travelling and visiting of monasteries and Masters to challenge their Zen wisdom. He left more koans than any other Master. When Unko suggested that Joshu settle down and stop travelling, Joshu already knew his own true home for he was always there. So his, "Where is the place for me?" is very ironic.

As for Unko's suggestion that Joshu settle down in the old ruins, Joshu tells Unko to live there himself. For Joshu there is no retirement in Zen. Zen Masters are always at ease, free to do whatever they want, so there is no need for retirement.

When Joshu visited Shuyu, he was asked the same question and gave the same answer. But Shuyu took the ironic answer at face value and said, in effect, "Shame on you. At your ageyou should know your home is right under your feet." To this Joshu replied that he was used to dealing with horses but not with donkeys. Rinzai is known for his "khats," Tokusan for his stick, and Joshu for his well-seasoned words.


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