ZEN 8: The Parable of Enyadatta


Reference: Lectures on Zen

These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 8— The Parable of Enyadatta

In the last half of this lecture I will take up the tale of Enyadatta, which comes from the Ryogon sutra. This is an exceptionally fine parable. I assure you that if you reflect carefully upon it, it will clarify many abstruse points of Buddhism.

This event is said to have occurred at the time of the Buddha. Whether it is true or legendary I cannot say. In any case, Enyadatta was a beautiful maiden who enjoyed nothing more than gazing at herself in the mirror each morning. One day when she looked into her mirror she found no head reflected there. Why not on this particular morning the sutra does not state. At any rate, the shock was so great that she became frantic, rushing around demanding to know who had taken her head. “Who has my head? Where is my head? I shall die if I don’t find it!” she cried. Though everyone told her, “Don’t be silly, your head is on your shoulders where it has always been,” she refused to believe it. “No, it isn’t! No, it isn’t! Somebody must have taken it!” she shouted, continuing her frenzied search. At length her friends, believing her mad, dragged her home and tied her to a pillar to prevent her harming herself.

The being bound can be compared to undertaking zazen. With the immobilization of the body the mind achieves a measure of tranquility. And while it is still distracted, as Enyadatta’s mind was in the belief that she had no head, yet the body is now prevented from scattering its energies.

Slowly her close friends persuaded her that she had always had her head, and gradually she came to half-believe it. Her subconscious mind began to accept the fact that perhaps she was deluded in thinking she had lost her head.

Enyadatta’s receiving the reassurance of her friends can be equated with hearing the roshi’s commentaries (teisho) . Initially these are difficult to understand, but listening to them attentively, every word sinking into your subconscious, you reach the point where you begin to think: “Is that really true? . . . I wonder . . . . Yes, it must be.”

Suddenly one of her friends gave her a terrific clout on the head, upon which, in pain and shock, she yelled “Ouch!” “That’s your head! There it is!” her friend exclaimed, and immediately Enyadatta saw that she had deluded herself into thinking she had lost her head when in fact she had always had it.

In the same way, clouting in zazen is of the utmost value. At precisely the right time—if it is too early, it is ineffective—to be jolted physically by the kyosaku stick or verbally by a perceptive teacher can bring about Self-realization. Not only is the kyosaku valuable for spurring you on, but when you have reached a decisive stage in your zazen a hard whack can precipitate your mind into an awareness of its true nature-in other words, enlightenment.

When this happened to Enyadatta she was so elated that she rushed around exclaiming: “Oh, I’ve got it! I have my head after all! I’m so happy!”

This is the rapture of kensho. If the experience is genuine, you cannot sleep for two or three nights out of joy. Nevertheless, it is a half mad state. To be overjoyed at finding a head you had from the very first is, to say the least, queer. Nor is it less odd to rejoice at the discovery of your Essential-nature, which you have never been without. The ecstasy is genuine enough, but your state of mind cannot be called natural until you have fully disabused yourself of the notion, “I have become enlightened.” Mark this point well, for it is often misunderstood.

As her joy subsided Enyadatta recovered from her half-mad state.

So it is with satori. When your delirium of delight recedes, taking with it all thoughts of realization, you settle into a truly natural life and there is nothing queer about it. Until you reach this point, however, it is impossible to live in harmony with your environment or to continue on a course of true spiritual practice.

I shall now point out more specifically the significance of the first part of the story. Since most people are indifferent to enlightenment, they are ignorant of the possibility of such an experience. They are like Enyadatta when she was unconscious of her head as such. This “head,” of course, corresponds to the Buddha-nature, to our innate perfection. That they even have a Buddha-nature never occurs to most people until they hear Shujo honrai hotoke nari—”All beings are endowed with Buddha-nature from the very first.” Suddenly they exclaim: “Then I too must have the Buddha-nature! But where is it?” Thus like Enyadatta when she first missed her head and started rushing about looking for it, they commence their search for their True-nature.

They begin by listening to various teisho, which seem contradictory and puzzling. They hear that their Essential-nature is no different from the Buddha’s—more, that the substance of the universe is coextensive with their own Buddha-nature—yet because their minds are clouded with delusion they see themselves confronted by a world of individual entities. Once they establish firm belief in the reality of the Buddha-nature, they are driven to discover it with all the force of their being. Just as Enyadatta was never without her head, so are we never separate from our essential Buddha-nature whether we are enlightened or not. But of this we are unaware. We are like Enyadatta when her friends told her: “Don’t be absurd, you have always had your head. It is an illusion to think otherwise.”

The discovery of our True-nature can be compared to Enyadatta’s discovery of her head. But what have we discovered? Only that we have never been without it! Nonetheless we are ecstatic, as she was at the finding of her head. When the ecstasy recedes, we realize we have acquired nothing extraordinary, and certainly nothing peculiar. Only now everything is utterly natural.


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