101 Zen Stories: The Last Poem of Hoshin

New Year was only six days away and Tokufu was in the fall of his life. The Zen master addressing his pupils announced,

‘I am not going to be alive next year so you fellows should treat me well for the time left.’

Despite not taking the old master seriously, the reverential pupils abided and took good care of his.

The day had arrived. Tokufu, conversing with the pupils for the last time, declared: ‘You have been good and obedient pupils of mine. I shall leave you tomorrow afternoon when the snow has stopped.’

The already-skeptical disciples were amused because the sky was clear and there were no signs, whatsoever, of a snowfall. But the prognostication proved to be correct, at midnight, as snow began to fall. As the snowfall stopped, the worried disciples left in the search of their master as he was not where he, ordinarily, used to be. They entered the meditation hall and there lied the mortal body of the old monk who had kept his words and had departed.

Concluded the old Zen monk Hoshin, who was narrating this folklore, he had heard in China, to his pupils. He further interpreted:
‘It is not necessary for a Zen master to predict his passing, but he can if he really wishes to do so.’

‘Can you?’ one of his scholars asked.

‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘I will show you what I can do seven days from now.’

Scholars had not taken these words seriously and by the determined time had even forgotten the conversation. The day had arrived. And the master summoned the scholars.

‘A week ago,’ he retrospected, ‘I promised to leave you today. Although I am neither a poet nor a calligrapher, writing a farewell poem is a custom that I, too, am bound to follow. So I want one of you to help me in inscribing my last words.’

The disciples were still not convinced and presumed it a joke. Even so one of them followed the dictate.

‘Are you ready?’ Hoshin asked.

‘Yes, sir.’ replied the writer.

Hoshin dictated:

I came from brilliancy.

And return to brilliancy.

What is this?

‘Master, we are one line short.’ injected the disciple after a brief pause as the poem was supposed to be, as per the custom, of four lines.

With the roar of a conquering lion, Hoshin uttered ‘Kaa !’ and was gone.

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