The Cobra

One day Seppo told his monks, "There is a cobra in the South Mountain near this temple. You should all have a good look at it." Chokei said, "The men in this temple today are half dead with fright at the mere thought!" One monk pointed to Gensha, indicating that Gensha ought to go. Gensha declined, saying, "Let Brother Chokei be the first to go. But even if he does, I won't go." "Why not, Your Reverence?" asked the monk. "Because," Gensha answered, "one can die without climbing all over the South Mountain." Suddenly Unmon startled them all by hurling his staff down violently at Seppo's feet.

Zen temples often were located in mountains, and the temple ground was mountainous terrain. In order to reach a Zen temple in the first place, one had to climb a mountain. Seppo said there was a cobra near the temple, and he urged his monks to go and look at it. One might be bitten; it might cost one's life. Or, one who was wise, or enlightened, might look at the cobra without harm.

In order to climb the summit of Zen, a student must meet more than one cobra on the way. In order to reach Satori, one must pass through hard disciplines and encounter many challenges. When one seeks truth, one must it with life. Enlightenment cannot be attained by mere intellect. An illiterate can awaken as well as an intellectual. But, most likely, intellectuals will be bitten by the cobra before they are born into the world of life. Unmon transcended them all.


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