Shoun and His Mother
Shoun became a teacher of Soto Zen. When he was still a
student his father passed away, leaving him to care for his old mother.
Whenever Shoun went to a meditation hall he always took his
with him. Since she accompanied him, when he visited monasteries he
could not live with the monks. So he would build a little house and
care for her there. He would copy sutras, Buddhist verses, and in this
manner receive a few coins for food.
When Shoun bought fish for his mother, the people would scoff
him, for a monk is not supposed to eat fish. But Shoun did not mind.
His mother, however, was hurt to see the others laugh at her son.
Finally she told Shoun: “I think I will become a nun. I can be a
vegaterian too.” She did, and they studied together.
Shoun was fond of music and was a master of the harp, which
mother also played. On full-moon nights they used to play together.
One night a young lady passed by their house and heard music.
touched, she invited Shoun to visit her the next evening and play. He
accepted the invitation. A few days later he met the young lady on the
street and thanked her for her hospitality. Others laughed at him. He
had visited the house of a woman of the streets.
One day Shoun left for a distant temple to deliver a lecture.
months afterwards he returned home to find his mother dead. Friends had
not known where to reach him, so the funeral was then in progress.
Shoun walked up and hit the coffin with his staff. “Mother,
your son has returned,” he said.
“I am glad to see you have returned, son,” he answered for his
“Yes, I am glad too,” Shoun responded. Then he announced to
people about him: “The funeral ceremony is over. You may bury the
When Shoun was old he knew his end was approaching. He asked
disciples to gather around him in the morning, telling them he was
going to pass on at noon. Burning incense before the picture of his
mother and his old teacher, he wrote a poem:
For fifty-six years I lived as best I could,
Making my way in this world.
Now the rain has ended, the clouds are clearing,
The blue sky has a full moon.
His disciples gathered about him, reciting a sutra,
and Shoun passed on during the invocation.
This story can be found in a book entitled Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a translation of a 13th century work entitled Collection of Stone and Sand.
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