Yoshizen's Blog

Ikkyu story (2)

Ikkyu Sojun (一休宗純) was the most famous Zen monk in Japanese history,

especially with his hundreds of quick witty stories to deal with the situations or gave an

answer though, as so many books has been written much later, we don’t know which story

was true and which one was a fanciful invention.

—– I read this story in a cartoon comics when I was a child, so that it could be a nice

invention of comic writer, still, this story had such a drastic twist of rhetoric

therefore showing quite Zen like jump of wit, this one could be a real story,

if not, it might be written by another accomplished Zen monk.


The Abbot of the temple where Ikkyu was staying, had a secret pleasure to lick a honey

kept in a jar.   When young novice asked him what is it, the Abbot told him that it is a

medicine of wisdom though, as it is so potent, only a learned elderly person can take.

Otherwise, it is deadly poisonous to a young brain. But novices, Ikkyu and others did know,

it was a lie and what in the jar was a honey.


One day, when Abbot was out for a day, Ikkyu gave his drastic answer.

He took an old ceramic vase, which the Abbot was most treasured, and smashed it to the floor.

Then took the honey jar, and started licking honey with other novices.

Soon, the honey was emptied.

When Abbot came back in the evening, he found all the novices were in the crying state.

When he asked what has happened, Ikkyu replied that while cleaning the room,

they accidentally drop the vase and it was completely smashed.   As the vase

has such irreplaceable value, there was no way else to repay but with own life.

“So that, in order to commit suicide, all of us took that poison in your jar.

But, even after swallowed all the poison, we still couldn’t die and this is why

we are so ashamed and feel dreadful. ~ ~ ~ cry cry cry !”

—– Abbot had no word to return.


😀 😀 this was the revolution. Face to face, asking the truth what is in the jar —– is

a democratic approach of dialogue   (provided if the Abbot treats them as equal and tell the

truth) though the Abbot was just a tyrant = there couldn’t be any fair negotiation => only

insurgence is the remedy = revolution, hence some casualties were unavoidable.

The ceramic vase could be worth million though, Ikkyu didn’t gave even a hint of hesitation.

= He just smashed it.   On the end, his revel exposed the fraud in the temple =

Abbot lost his credibility and the priceless ceramic vase —– even honey too 😀

But, what Ikkyu and the novices got — not much, just a taste of honey and a good laugh.

—– most of Ikkyu stories are for good laugh, not much else.

(Anyhow, they were aimed to the children )


Still, real Ikkyu was a serious Zen monk.

As one of his Short-Poem (Kyoka 狂歌) for New-year said ;

門松は,冥土の旅の一里塚 (Kado-matsu wa, Meido no Tabi no Ichiri-zuka) 

馬,かごも無し,宿も無し(Uma, Kago mo nashi, Yado mo nashi)

New-year’s (Ever green) Pine branch is a mile-stone to the Nether world.

No Horse or Palanquin (for the journey), even no inn (to stay for a night).

= there is no celebratory mood at all.      Ha ha ha 😀

That was quite Ikkyu-san.   (He had no illusion to the life, neither to New-year,

though in reality unlike any other meek monk, he had very active eventful life,

all because of his completely liberated mind and the eyes. 

No illusion mean no emotional blockage neither  = This is the Zen )



5 Responses

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  1. Lemony (Gr)Egghead said, on January 20, 2013 at 03:01

    Was Ikkyu brave to smash the jar or was his action rash and impulsive? Or does it even matter, if the result would be the same either way? I like this story… I like the symbolic breaking of jars in any context. 🙂

    • yoshizen said, on January 20, 2013 at 09:35

      Thank you Lemony for your thought.
      Of cause, there could be a logical approach ; Poison => Death –> (Analogical expansion) => Suicide —
      What could be a cause to commit Suicide? => Why not to commit Capital Crime? => Destroy very precious,
      but Burnt down temple cause loss of own roof –> Break old Vase has no harm to himself ! Good choice.

      But, I don’t think Ikkyu spent hours to come to this conclusion —– instant, hence [Quick wit] yet it was not rash
      but a good calculation not to give any point of argument, since Ikkyu himself defining “It’s a crime punishable
      in death, and the Abbot did said [it is a deadly Poison] = Abbot had no excuse = He had to stick his word. 😀

      There was an argument between the sects of Buddhists, whether the Enlightenment comes instant or
      it is a gradual process. Rinzai sect which Ikkyu belonged think it comes instant. Hence quick wit.

  2. Derick A. Leonard said, on January 20, 2013 at 23:22

    Torei Enji, one of Hakuin’s Dharma heirs, speaks of stages of practice—although some of them can occur simultaneously: Beginning practice, Advanced Practice—refining and deepening your understanding through koan work once you’ve had a kensho—and the Long Maturation, where you work to bring everything you think, say, or do, into line with what you understand through deepening practice and awakening. In other words, that Long Maturation is about becoming enlightened functioning.

    • yoshizen said, on January 23, 2013 at 23:41

      This is what a book might say.
      So the question is, have you tested it and What YOU found ? ? ?

  3. […] been adapted by the Zen talk, or even by the children’s comic book “Ikkyu-san”. […]

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