The Meaning of Higan

Higan is the practice of leaving our deep attachments in order to reach the world of enlightenment. Specifically, Higan is a practice comprised by six components. They are: charity, observing precepts, perseverance, energy, meditation, and wisdom. There is a story I would like to share with you concerning this practice. In the 9th century, a monk named Kyoukai wrote a series of books called Nippon Reiiki. Spanning three volumes long, these books contained stories concerning his experiences that seemed to transcend the logic and understanding of this world. This particular story I would like to share with you comes from this book, in the second volume of the series in the 38th chapter.

During the era in which Emperor Shomu ruled, there was a monk who lived in a temple in the mountains of Maniwa, located in the city of Nara. That monk had told his disciples upon his deathbed, “After my death, you must not open the entrance to my room for three years.” Saying this, he passed away. Forty-nine days after his death, a venomous snake had appeared before the deceased monk’s door, coiled in place, refusing to move. The disciples quickly realized that this snake was the reincarnation of their master. By chanting towards the snake, the disciples were able to move it, and enter the monk’s room. In the room, the disciples discovered thirty kan (currency used at the time, equaling approximately $30,000 today) saved up and hidden away. Realizing that their master had reincarnated as a venomous snake to protect this money, the disciples used the money to invite many ministers and hold a memorial service for him.

Kyoukai realizes that this particular monk was so desperate to protect his money, that he reincarnated into a snake in order to protect it. Kyoukai says, “No matter how high the mountain, we are able to see its peak. The mountain residing in humans called greed however is so great, that we cannot see its peak.” In other words, the greed and desire residing in humans is so vast and ever-growing, that it has no limit. Higan is a very important practice which aims to rid this greed and desire within us.

Ven. Kenjo lgarashi
March 2016