Ten-foot Square

Isan had a poem on the wall of his room that read:

Ten cubic feet
Too steep to climb,
Who scales these walls
Becomes a lord.

Referring to the poem, Unppo said, "Isan is a born Zen Master." A monk asked Unppo, "What poem are you going to write for your room?" Unppo replied:

The ten square feet of Suigan
Never had a door,
And any monk who enters it
Sees Suigan appear!

The monk made a gesture of homage and stood up. Unppo said, "Well, did you see Master Suigan or not?" For a moment the monk hesitated, and Unppo hit him across the mouth with a mosquito brush.

A Zen Master's room is called hojo, which means "ten-foot square." The dimensions are not necessarily ten square feet, but the tradition arose with Vimalakirti, the most outstanding lay Buddhist during the lifetime of the Gautama Buddha. As the story goes, Vimalakirti lived in a ten-foot square room. His wisdom was so supreme that even the buddha's monk-disciples respected it. And Vimalakirti's ten-foot room could accommodate countless numbers, for it was the Dharma Room.

In this koan Isan's hojo is hard to enter. Anyone who gains entry is like a supreme ruler, for the essence of all things will be known. Suigan's hojo is just the opposite. There is no door; it is easy to get in. But what does one see there? To be in the hojo is not the same as being in the Master's room, The Dharma Room. Reality is hard to enter, as the monk found out.


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