The story that follows is typical of the many legends that grew up around the Rinzai Zen monk Takuan Soho (1573–1645) in the period following his death. Most of these legends concern Takuan’s close relationship with the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, and with Iemitsu’s retainer, Yagyu Munenori.
The shogun Iemitsu was learning the art of quick movement from the sword master Yagyu Munenori. Munenori told the shogun that he couldn’t claim to have achieved true agility until on rainy days he could leap from the veranda onto the stepping stones in the garden and back again without getting wet. So Iemitsu, whenever he had free time, would practice assiduously to do this.
When Takuan was visiting the castle one rainy day and saw the shogun repeatedly leaping back and forth like this from the veranda, he asked, “Your Majesty, what are you doing?”
“Ah, Takuan!” Iemitsu greeted him. “Lately, I’ve been practicing quick movement, and I’m really making good progress. I can jump out in the rain like this and back again without even getting wet. That’s real agility, don’t you think?”
“Most impressive,” the aged master agreed. “Nevertheless, your movements are still nowhere near as fast as my own.”
“Very interesting,” Iemitsu said. “Why don’t you show me how fast you can move.” “Certainly, your majesty,” Takuan replied, and slipping on a pair of garden geta [traditional Japanese wooden platform sandals], he stepped out into the rain. As Iemitsu was wondering how the Master was going to demonstrate his agility wearing garden clogs, Takuan faced him and, soaking wet, announced, “This is my lightning movement!”
“How?” Iemitsu demanded. “You’re soaking wet!”
Takuan brushed off the rain and rebuked the shogun, saying, “Of course if you don’t use an umbrella when it rains you’re going to get wet like this. If one doesn’t get wet, that’s not yet true agility. Your Majesty requires more training!”
At these words, it is said, Iemitsu first understood the Master’s meaning.
From the Spring 2003 issue of Zen Notes, published by the First Zen Institute of America.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.