11. The Story of Shunkai

Shunkai, a woman of exceptional beauty, was forced into an unwanted marriage at a young age. However, after the dissolution of this marriage, she pursued higher education at the university, where she delved into the study of philosophy.

To encounter Shunkai was to be captivated by her allure, for wherever she went, she too fell in love with others. Love seemed to be intertwined in every facet of her life, whether it was during her university days or her subsequent exploration of Zen at a temple. The Zen students themselves were enamored by her presence. Love was the essence that permeated Shunkai's existence.

Finally, in the city of Kyoto, she became a dedicated student of Zen. Her commitment and sincerity were highly regarded by her fellow practitioners in the sub-temple of Kennin. One of the monks recognized a kindred spirit in her and assisted her in the mastery of Zen.

Mokurai, known as Silent Thunder, the abbot of Kennin, was a strict disciplinarian who adhered strictly to the precepts of Buddhism. Although the priests seemed to have lost their zeal for the teachings of Buddhism, they appeared to have acquired an affinity for having wives. Whenever Mokurai discovered women in any of his temples, he would chase them away with a broom. However, the more wives he swept out, the more seemed to return.

In this particular temple, the wife of the head priest became consumed with jealousy over Shunkai's earnestness and beauty. The admiration and praise Shunkai received for her devoted Zen practice ignited feelings of discomfort and envy within the wife. Eventually, she spread a false rumor about Shunkai's relationship with a young man who was her friend. As a consequence, he was expelled from the temple, and Shunkai herself was cast out as well.

"I may have made a mistake driven by love," contemplated Shunkai, "but the priest's wife shall not be allowed to remain in the temple if my friend is treated so unjustly."

That night, Shunkai set fire to the five-hundred-year-old temple, reducing it to ashes. In the morning, she found herself in the custody of the police.

A young lawyer took an interest in her case and endeavored to secure a lighter sentence for her. However, Shunkai refused his assistance, fearing that she might be tempted to commit another act that would once again imprison her.

After serving a sentence of seven years, Shunkai was released from prison. However, society now regarded her as a "jailbird," and she faced rejection and isolation from those around her. Even the followers of Zen, who professed to believe in enlightenment in this very life and body, turned their backs on her. Her own relatives refused to acknowledge her existence. As a result, she grew ill, impoverished, and weak.

It was during this time that Shunkai encountered a Shinshu priest who taught her the name of the Buddha of Love. In this spiritual refuge, Shunkai found solace and inner peace. She passed away at the tender age of thirty, still possessing exquisite beauty.

Before her demise, Shunkai documented her own story in an attempt to support herself. Portions of her narrative were shared with a female writer, which eventually reached the hearts of the Japanese people. Those who had rejected, slandered, and harbored hatred towards Shunkai now read about her life with tears of remorse.

12. The Happy Chinaman

The laughing Buddha of today was known in China in the olden days as The Happy Chinaman.

In the vibrant era of the T'ang dynasty, there lived a man named Hotei. Unlike other Zen masters of the time, Hotei had no desire to proclaim himself as such or gather a following of disciples. Instead, he roamed the streets with a large sack, brimming with sweet gifts such as candy, fruit, and doughnuts. Children were naturally drawn to him, and he would delightfully distribute these treats to the playful young souls, bringing joy to their lives. In a way, he had established his own street kindergarten.

Whenever Hotei encountered a Zen devotee, he would stretch out his hand and say, "Give me one penny." This seemingly odd request puzzled those who encountered him. Even if someone implored him to return to a temple and impart his wisdom to others, his response would remain the same: "Give me one penny."

One day, as Hotei engaged in his playful and giving activities, another Zen master happened upon him. Intrigued, the master decided to approach Hotei and inquire about the significance of Zen.

Without uttering a single word, Hotei promptly placed his sack down on the ground. The Zen master, though perplexed, recognized the silent gesture as a response.

Seeking further understanding, the Zen master pressed on, asking, "Then, what is the actualization of Zen?"

In response, the Happy Chinaman effortlessly swung his sack over his shoulder, as if carrying a heavy burden, and resumed his journey through the streets.

In this simple yet profound story, Hotei embodies the essence of Zen through his actions. He finds joy in bringing happiness to children and requests a humble penny from those who seek his wisdom. By placing his sack on the ground, he communicates the significance of Zen as a direct experience that transcends words and concepts. And when asked about the actualization of Zen, he demonstrates that it is not a static concept to be grasped intellectually but a continuous, dynamic process—a path to be walked with a light heart and a willingness to carry the burdens of life. Hotei's playful and carefree demeanor serves as a reminder that the essence of Zen lies not in complicated theories but in the simple, yet profound, acts of kindness, compassion, and embracing the present moment.