Once, while the late Sojo (Archbishop) Eisai1 was at Kenninji, a
poor man came and said, “My family is so destitute that we have had
nothing to eat for several days. My wife and children are about to
die of starvation. Please have compassion on us.”
At the time, there was no clothing, food, or other possessions in the temple. Although Eisai contemplated what to do, he was at a loss. There was a little bit of thin copper allocated for making the halo for the Yakushi-Buddha2 which was under construction. The abbot took it and broke it apart, rolled it up, and gave it to the poor man, telling him to exchange it for food to relieve his family’s hunger.
The man was very delighted and left.
Eisai’s disciples, however, reproached him [Eisai] saying, “That is nothing other than the halo for the statue of the Buddha. You gave it away to the layman. Is it not a sin to use the Buddha’s property for personal use?”
The Sojo replied, “Yes, it is. Yet think of the Buddha’s will. The Buddha cut off his flesh and limbs and offered them to living beings3. Even if we gave the whole body of the Buddha to people who are actually about to die of starvation, such an action would certainly be in accordance with the Buddha’s will.”
He went on, “Even if I fall into hell because of this sin, I have just saved living beings from starvation.”
Students today should also consider the innermost heart of this venerable predecessor. Do not forget it.
Once, some monks in Eisai’s assembly said, “The buildings
of Kenninji are located very close to the river. Surely the time
will come when they will be destroyed by a flood.”
The Sojo replied, “We should not worry about the inevitable destruction of this building in the future. Even at Gion-shoja4 (the Jetavana Monastery) in India, only the cornerstones remain. However, the merit of having founded a monastery is never lost. Also, the virtue of practicing the Way right now, even only for one year or half a year, must be enormous.”
Now, as I think about it, since founding a monastery was a truly great event in his lifetime, it was completely natural to try to avoid future disaster, and yet, along with that frame of mind, Sojo Eisai had such an attitude deep in his heart. We really ought to consider this carefully.