10. The Last Poem of Ho-Shin

     The Zen master, Ho-Shin1, lived in China many years. Then he returned to north-eastern part of Japan where he taught his disciples. When he was getting very old, he told them a story he had heard in China. This is the story: 

    One year on the twenty-fifth of December, Toku-Fu2, who was very old, said to his disciples, "I am not going to be alive next year so you fellows should treat me well this year." 

    The pupils thought he was joking, but since he was a great-hearted teacher each in turn treated him to a feast on succeeding days of the departing year.

    On the eve of the new year, Toku-Fu concluded, "You have been good to me. I shall leave you to-morrow afternoon when the snow has stopped." 

    The disciples laughed, thinking he was aging and talking nonsense since the night was clear and without snow. But at midnight snow began to fall, and the next day they did not find their teacher about. They went to the meditation hall. There he passed on.

    Ho-Shin, who related this story, told his disciples, "It is not necessary for a Zen master to predict his passing, but if he really wishes to do so, he can." 

    "Can you?" someone-asked. 

    "Yes," answered Ho-Shin. "I will show you what I can do seven days from now." 

    None of the disciples believe him, and most of them had even forgotten and conversation when Ho-Shin called them together. 

    "Seven days ago," he remarked, "I said I was going to leave you. It is customary to write a farewell poem, but I am neither poet nor calligrapher. Let one of you inscribe my last words." 

    His followers thought he was joking, but one of them started to write. 

    "Are you ready?" Ho-Shin asked. 

    "Yes, sir," replied the writer. 

    Then Ho-Shin dictated,

I came from brilliancy
And return to brilliancy
What is this?

    The poem was one line short of the customary four, so the disciple said, "Master, we are one line short." 

    Ho-Shin, with the roar of a conquering lion, sho, "Kaa!" and was gone.


1. Ho-Shin

    Commentary on the Last Poem of Ho-Shin 


2. Toku-Fu

Old Zen Master