K246 One-Line Calligraphy by Mugaku Bun’eki 無学文奕

The juniper tree in the garden

(signed) The chief abbot of Myōshin-ji Mugaku (kaō)


Mugaku Bun’eki (無学文奕, 1818-1897)
hanging scroll, sumi on paper 135 cm × 36.6 cm.


This phrase comes from case 37 in the Mumonkan. A monk asked Jōshū, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?” Jōshū, replied, “The juniper tree in the garden.” 柏樹子 is often translated as “oak tree,” but it actually refers to the “Chinese juniper tree,” an evergreen, of the same family as the pine or cypress. Since the Chinese juniper has always been planted around temples both in China and Japan, it is likely that Jōshū was pointing to an actual tree in front of him in the garden. This koan “Juniper Tree in the Garden” is difficult to explain—it is pretty much that you get it or you don’t.
There is a similar Zen dialogue between Ingen (1592-1673), the Chinese émigré monk who established Ōbaku Zen in Japan, and Gudō (1579-1661) the Abbot of Myōshinji. Ingen requested, “I would like to see the Recorded Sayings of Kanzan (the founder of Myōshin-ji in 1342).” Gudō said, “There isn’t a collection of Kanzan’s sayings.” “Then how do you know what Kanzan said?” asked Ingen. Gudō said, “We only have Kanzan’s commentary called The Terror of Juniper Tree in the Front Garden. That says it all.” Ingen persisted, “Are you sure that is sufficient?” Gudō told him, “Yes, that one talk is worth more than a thousand volumes of recorded sayings.” Ingen was nonplussed.