Unko Sends Some Hakama

Unko, the Master of a large monastery, sent some Hakama [loose, warm trousers] to a Taoist monk living alone in a hut near the temple. He had heard that the monk sat long hours in meditation with no covering for his legs. The monk refused the gift, saying, "I was born with my own trousers." Unko sent a message to him, asking, "What did you wear before you were born?" The Taoist could not answer. Later, this monk died, and after his cremation, sarira were found in the ashes. These were brought to Unko, who said, "Even though he had left eighty-four bushels of sarira, they would not be worth the one answer he failed to give me."

The poor monk had no trousers to protect his legs from cold. But still, he would not accept Unko's gift. He was quite an independent man, maybe even enlightened. Of course, we are all born with our own clothing. That is, everyone has Buddha-nature and needs no external help. But Unko sent a message to test his understanding. What about before you were born? The man could not answer, after all. It is easy to talk about Buddha-nature, enlightenment, and Zen after reading books and hearing lectures. There are enough imitators, followers, bluffers, and those who do not know that they do not know. 

According to the story, after the monk died and was cremated, sarira were found in the ashes. Sarira are white, beautifully shaped bones, which, according to an old Chinese legend, are found in the remains of those who have Buddha-nature. But Unko was unimpressed. To him, eighty-four bushels of sarira were not comparable to real enlightenment, for only realisation of the ultimate truth will bring real serenity, happiness, and freedom in life.


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