The Iron Boat

When Gensha was studying Zen under Master Seppo, a brother monk named Ko said, "If you can attain something of Zen, I will make an iron boat and sail the high seas." Many years later Gensha became a Zen Master, with Ko studying under him as an attendant monk. One day Gensha said, "Have you built your iron boat?" Ko remained silent.

Gensha started learning Zen at thirty years of age under Master Seppo. The young brother monk, Ko, made his remark about the iron boat during the Tan dynasty (eighth and ninth centuries) when people in China never dreamed of the metal ships we have today. Although Ko started the study of Zen at an earlier age than Gensha and studied and disciplined hard for many years, he was still far from realisation. Many years later when Gensha, as Master, asked Ko about the iron boat, Gensha was not being sarcastic, insinuating, or exacting revenge upon Ko. It was the kindest word that master Gensha could give Ko to awaken him. Zen is attained neither by years of practice and discipline nor by study and accumulation of knowledge.


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