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THE LOTUS LIFE
“If thou hast Buddha’s sacred fire,
Then art thou like the Lotus white,
Springing in pureness from the mire!”
IN joyous gratitude to my master the august Prince Umayado (known to posterity as Shotoku Taishi, the Saintly Prince), do I, the humble bonze Fu, of the Temple of Horiuji, dedicate my paltry chronicle.
What time my lord was regent of the Empire, ruling wisely and faithfully for his aunt, the aged Empress Suiko, I, a samurai in his service, shared his martial adventures and the brilliant life of courts. Now, alas, am I but a lonely priest, doomed to expiate my countless sins of former existences by mumbling interminable orisons to the accompaniment of a brazen gong.
In moments snatched from my devotional duties have I compiled these memories of manifold misfortunes now sweet to the taste as cooling sake upon the parched lips of age.
On an exceeding windy morning, I encountered
the winsome maid, Ruddy Peachling”
If but long enough I dream
Where, by Sumida’s tide sweet cherries blow,
Showering their snowflake petals on the stream,
The smiling damsels loiter to and fro,
Fairer than blossoms white, their eyes agleam,
Wherefore, if you would heed my counsel wise,
Beware to look upon those lustrous eyes;
Nor thither roam, but safe at home abide
When blossoms bloom by swift Sumida’s tide.
What time the autumn moon with radiance bright
Floodeth the leafy wold with silvery light,
Sudden from out the shadows there will gleam
A maiden’s face, more fair than moonlit stream!
Then better ‘twere to turn your steps aside
Than go moon-gazing by Sumida’s tide.
The sages of the golden age of yore
Lived arduous days and scorned all earthly ties.
Think ye that ye will gain the light of lore
Beholding moonbeams in a maiden’s eyes?
Nay! by a lonely path must ye aspire,
If ye would e’er attain the sacred fire.
Lo! threescore years have I with Shaka sought
The light of Wisdom, shining through the gloom.
Full many a youth I’ve seen to madness brought
Through moon-light roaming mid the Cherry-Bloom.
It fortuned upon an exceeding windy morning that I encountered the winsome maid O Momo San (Ruddy Peachling), whose skirts the wanton breezes fluttered with such seductive audacity, that, had not the dust blinded mine eyes, I might have accosted the wench with unseemly flatteries.
Poring that day over the sacred tomes I came upon this curiously apt scripture:
“Through gazing at the ivory-white shins of a maiden washing clothes the Wizard of Kume fell from his magic chariot, and was drowned in Sumida’s stream.”
Nathless I took no warning, and one lovely summer evening Prince Umayado surprised me moon-roaming with Ruddy Peachling beneath the cherry-bloom.
“Alas, thou Merry One,” thus he upbraided me. “Didst thou but dream—
“What utter dole doth lie
Beholding moonbeams in a maiden’s eye!
Loth wouldst thou be beneath the trees to hie
On April nights moon-gazing at the sky.”
Whereupon Ruddy Peachling retorted:
“Didst thou but dream what bliss for thee doth lie
In unbeholden moonbeams in her eye,
Whose radiance thou dost mercilessly scorn,
Wouldst quit thy couch, and roam the meads till morn.”
Anent my moon-gazings with the lovesome Ruddy Peachling much might be recounted—but that were another chronicle.
Prince Umayado was like his countenance, gentle, spiritual, and calm. Overmuch study had given him the look of one who, aloof from earth, walks the high, untrodden ways of passionless delight. Yet was his sympathy ever ready, and cruelty stirred him to relentless wrath.
Learned was he in the ancient sutras, and in all manner of curious arts; but naught dreamed he of the endless wiles, witchery, and loveliness of womankind, concerning whom the Sanskrit Bôdhisattva wrote:
Long ages gone, as ancient sutras tell,
Twashti, the blacksmith, did the earth create,
Welding each metal with such lavish spell
That beggared were the mines of Chaos great.
Then, since to fashion woman naught was left
Each creature of some trifle he bereft.
He stole the roundness of the silver moon,
The grace of clinging tendrils for her arm,
The doe’s calm gaze, the nightingale’s sweet tune,
The serpent’s silent stealth, its power to charm,
The coo of doves, the raindrop’s merry patter,
The parrot’s scolding and its senseless chatter.
The modest shrinking of the tender grass,
The pride of peacocks of their plumes elate,
Softness of roses, stubbornness of brass,
The dog’s devotion and the tiger’s hate,
The wanton breeze’s coy solicitude,
The fears of hares who hunters swift elude.
Thus in the cauldron cunningly combined
Were heat of fiercest flame, of snow the chill,
Tears of the rain and fickleness of wind,
The diamond’s firmness, laughter of the rill,
Of these and much beside did Twashti great
Woman, man’s blessing and his curse, create.
Such a pretty paradox was the Princess White Chrysanthemum. Compounded was she of such unforeseen pranks and whimsies that none could comprehend her heart; nay not even did the Princess know herself.
Now Prince Umayado loved the wilful damsel right manfully and besought her oft and ardently, deeming from sundry glances and flushings of her ivory cheeks that the prideful Princess was not unmindful of his love.
But with witching coquetry the obdurate maiden withheld surrender.
It chanced upon a day that a certain rebel chieftain, one Mono-nobe, whose ambition soared to heaven and whose treachery sounded the depths of hell, met with the Princess as she walked in the palace garden.
“Prince Umayado,” he asserted vehemently, “is a sexless monk, enwrapt in this strange new cult of the Koreans.”
“Is this the faith they call the Lotus Life, taught by a holy Buddha?” questioned White Chrysanthemum.
“By Benten I know not,” replied Mono-nobe. “But one day, wandering to their temple, I heard the Bonze Fu discoursing the whiles he hammered upon a brazen gong:
“‘Observe, my children,’ he droned, ‘the beasts and the birds! They love their consorts and suffer pangs of jealousy and wrath—therefore is love a thing bestial and unworthy the soul of man.”
“Spake he thus, indeed,” quoth the Princess, “and is Umayado thus heartless?”
“Aye,” answered Mono-nobe, “a being utterly passionless, impotent to love or hate. Grant me, O Princess, the jewel he doth scorn; give me in sooth thine ever radiant self.”
Whereupon White Chrysanthemum demanded:
“Wouldst thou wed me were I dowerless?” Mono-nobe mused, leering at her through his slanted eyelids. “Forfeit not the empire,” counselled the hypocrite, “but wed Umayado and grant me still thy love.”
The eyes of the Princess flashed fire, but, cloaking her indignation under a smile, she guilefully demanded:
“Honourable lord, how might this be?”
“The way is simple,” he answered. “Upon thy wedding night will I slay the Prince. Then wilt thou be to wed with whom it pleaseth thee.”
Of a sudden the boughs parted and Prince Umayado stood before them wide-eyed, pallid, and relentless:
“Princess,” he declared, “I hereby renounce heirship to the throne; and, since thou lovest Mono-nobe, do give him unto thee!”
Whereupon came the Prince to the Empress Suiko.
“August Sovereign,” he besought, “I crave thy sanction that I may renounce the world and devote myself to a life of meditation.”
Nathless not a word did he breathe of the treachery of Mono-nobe, lest he might soil the name of her he loved.
Whereupon the Empress was exceeding wroth. “Bonze me no bonzes,” she cried. “To thee alone do I entrust the Empire, for there is none other fit to mate with my prideful daughter.”
Umayado winced, as though struck upon an unhealed wound. “Methinks, August Empress,” he said, “thou dost little know the Princess, since from her very lips have I heard that her heart is given to Mono-nobe.”
By evil chance it fortuned that Mono-nobe also sought audience with the Empress and openly avowed himself the lover of the Princess.
To the indignant denials of her daughter the mother would not listen: “Thou shalt wed this knave forthwith,” commanded the infuriated Empress.
Our merry monks passed their hours in a ceaseless
round of revels, pranks and pleasantries”
“I sprang into the basket and ferried myself across the chasm”
White as her name-flower paled the Princess: “I will wed with none but my Umayado,” she murmured. Her mother laughed scornfully: “Fool, the Prince will none of thee. Even now did he renounce succession to the throne for sake of Buddha.”
Wherefore, sorely against her will, was the White Chrysanthemum wedded with the black-souled Mononobe.
When the bridegroom went to the nuptial chamber he found the raiment of his bride strewn heedlessly upon the floor; but the Princess had vanished none knew whither!
OF MARVELLOUS MISUNDERSTANDINGS CONCERNING A PARASOL AND A HORSE
Our merry monks of Horiuji passed their hours in a ceaseless round of revels, pranks, and pleasantries.
The butt of their jests was a half-witted lad, Kawaki, who swept the manifold mats and illumined the temple tapers.
Pardon, honourable Reader, this playful digression, for, incredible though it seem, this dullard was destined to become the guiding deity through whom my master discovered his lost Princess.
But here I outrun the march of my chronicle. Let me set down these happenings in due sequence without haste or confusion.
On a certain day Kawaki astounded me with the confession that he had given my most precious parasol to a beggar.
“Lumpkin!” quoth I, “thou shouldst have denied this request, making such courteous and soft answer that the suppliant would have departed contented.”
“How, Master, should I have spoken?” stammered the witling.
“In some such wise as this:
“‘Honourable Pilgrim, on what auspicious errand dost honour my humble dwelling?
“‘Wouldst borrow a parasol? Joyfully I haste to render this trifling service.’
“Then, my wise Kawaki, thou shouldst have offered my meanest parasol, since ne’er would we behold its face again, lamenting the whiles: ‘Woe is me that I find it in such sorry case. My master while holding it above his head encountered a gust of wind, whereby all its ribs were broken, and its skin blown over the pagoda. Naught now remains, alas, but its beautiful handle, which I fear will scarce serve thine honourable purpose.’ Thus shouldst thou speak, that thy words be wise and courteous.”
Now it fortuned on a day that Prince Umayado despatched a samurai to the temple in quest of a horse.
From “In Japan” by Gaston Migeon
Permission Wm. Heineman, London
“All merciful Kwannon embodied in the form of his beloved princess”
From “In Japan” by Gaston Migeon
Permission Wm. Heineman, London
“Crouched beneath a maple tree, with
ankles crossed, as holy Buddhas sit”
Whereupon the witless Kawaki made answer:
“Woe is me that I find myself unable to comply with thine august request, since, while holding it above his head, my master encountered a gust of wind, whereby all its ribs were broken and its skin blown over the pagoda. Naught remains, alas, but its beautiful tail, which I fear will scarce serve thine honourable purpose.”
Thereupon I berated him soundly, the whiles he whimpered: “These very words, Master, didst thou bid me speak!”
“Fool!” I cried, “an thou liest (and a pretty lie is a heaven-descended succour in time of trouble), order thy speech so like the truth that none may be the wiser.”
“Tell me, master,” implored Kawaki, “how I should have answered.”
“Verily, since I have need of a horse that I may carry Ruddy Peachling to a fair, thou mightest have spoken thus: ‘Joyfully would I render thee this trifling service, most august Prince, but my master turned him out to grass and, becoming frolicsome, he fell, dislocated his thigh, and is now lying, much swollen, on the stable floor. I fear therefore that he will scarce serve thine honourable purpose.”
Now it came to pass that a courier brought to the temple a mandate requiring the presence of Prince Umayado at court.
Whereupon did this addlepate answer: “Joyfully would the Prince render thee this trifling service, but toy master turned him out to grass and, becoming frolicsome, he carried Ruddy Peachling on his back to the fair, fell, dislocated his thigh, and is now lying, much swollen, upon the stable floor. I fear therefore he will scarce serve thine honourable purpose.”
THE FLAME OF LIFE
Many and contrary were the surmises of all concerning the whereabouts of White Chrysanthemum. Mononobe spread a malicious report that Prince Umayado had abducted the lost Princess. There were others who maintained that she had slain herself rather than yield to the loathed embraces of Mono-nobe.
When I ventured to broach this opinion to the Prince he protested:
“Nay, methinks the Princess but lieth in hiding waiting release from this loveless bondage.”
When the Empress told him of the words of White Chrysanthemum: “I will wed with none but my Umayado,” then first came to my Prince an understanding of her wondrous white-souled love.
For twelve weary months he sought through the length and breadth of the kingdom; but despite his untiring zeal no trace could he discover of her whom he loved.
At last hope died within his heart, and he strove to realize the peace which, Buddha taught, cometh through renunciation.
The Lotus Life
“All things,” said Shaka sage, “are merely dream!
Like silly apes, who see within a well
The shining moon reflected for a spell,
We vainly strive to clutch the silver beam,
Mistaking for the truth its imaged gleam,
Dupes of illusion void we fondly dwell
In folly’s paradise, an empty shell,
Not knowing joy is root of rue supreme.
Then banish all desire and pleasures shun,
And lift your hearts from thought of death’s dread gloom.
As sleeps the flower within its wintry tomb,
Blooming anew with Spring’s benignant sun;
So shall ye find from sorrow sure surcease,
And sleeping wake again in ceaseless peace.”
Each night the Prince bent over the sutras seeking extinction of desire, but though he laboured till the break of day the image of her whom he loved hovered ever before his imagination, banishing the peace of Buddha from his troubled soul.
His heart cried unceasingly:
Though I may not pluck to-day
In unremitting toil he strove to crush his love. He plunged anew into turmoil of life, solving the problems of the state, giving to his country her first code of laws, and spreading enlightenment among his people. From Korea he summoned priests, architects, sculptors, and artificers, who builded him a vast monastery, a convent for holy women, and a lofty pagoda, like the stalk of some magic lily shooting upward toward the stars.
Watching the sculptors at their work a desire awoke within him to carve a statue which should surpass all others in spirituality and grace, an embodiment of Kwannon, the all-merciful goddess, who forswore Paradise that she might more fittingly minister to the sorrowful sons of men.
Laboriously he chiselled the unwilling wood; but the elusive goddess refused to be conjured forth.
Upon a midsummer night when a silvern moon sailed idly in the heavens, and earth was rife with song of myriad nightingales, my Prince gazed from his “Hall of Dreams.”
In the ebon depths of the lotus pool floated a celestial vision. A goddess, white, vague, and evanescent, glided mysteriously toward him.
Smiling she stretched forth wide appealing arms. In a voice of haunting sweetness the vision spake:
“O thou who deemest thyself forsaken, lift up thine heart. Kwannon, the all-merciful, pitieth thy sorrow and will bring thee love.”
Rapt with wonder and awe Umayado strove to kiss the hem of her fluttering robe, but the goddess vanished, leaving but brimming water upon his eager lips.
All night he laboured the whiles, under deft strokes of his mallet, the dead wood assumed the living semblance. At break of day, his chisel still in hand, sleep fell upon the weary sculptor.
Wondrous was the statue in form and colour and my Prince, amazed at his own workmanship, reverently enthroned it in a golden-lacquered shrine.
Morn and eve he prayed before his statue. Throughout long days of toil and nights of loneliness came a nameless solace, a calm, submissive trust in the goddess that tranquillized his love-deluded soul.
One evening he gazed upon the statue with enraptured eyes, dreaming within his heart:
As fragrant incense smoulders slow away
So wastes my life in unattained desire.
This earthen censer, seared by passion’s fire,
A shattered shard, returneth to the clay
Wherewith ‘twas fashioned once upon a day.
The glowing embers of life’s flaming pyre,
Fanned by vain hope, through disillusion dire
Slowly consumed to ashes cold and grey.
But should the goddess at whose shrine I kneel
Bestow fresh aloes on the embers dead,
The flame would kindle and the incense rise
Seeking anew immeasurable skies,
And living fragrance all around be shed,
For love again this burned-out heart would feel!
Then of a sudden a sweet voice called his name and, lifting his head, the Prince beheld, through clearing rifts of incense, All-Merciful Kwannon embodied in the form of his beloved Princess.
Descending from her golden lotus-blossom the divinity folded warm human arms about the bewildered worshipper and laid his head upon her bosom!
Tenderly he led her into the moon-silvered garden. And as they wandered ‘neath the cherry-bloom I know not in what words they voiced their great felicity; save that I heard the Princess murmur:
“Beloved, my joy is now so great I fear some secret doom!”
THE LAW OF MIGHT
Now it came to pass that the Empress fell sick of a strange malady, which the Shinto priests averred to be a chastisement for her desertion of the old religion.
Believing his sovereign to be at death’s door, Mononobe fomented a great uprising and proclaimed himself Emperor.
With a mob of frenzied fanatics he descended upon Horiuji, burned the monastery, razed the convent, and put the defenceless inmates to the sword.
“By the mace of Bishamon!” cried my master, “for this shall Mono-nobe die!”
Even as he spake there fell upon his knees before him a woeful figure besprent with mire and blood.
“Who art thou?” cried Umayado, but the grovelling creature answered not, save by inarticulate moans. Then, opening his mouth, he revealed a bloody cavity, whence his tongue had been torn.
“It is Kawaki,” exclaimed the Prince. “This thing hath Mono-nobe done!”
The youth bowed assent.
“Whither hath he fled?” demanded Umayado.
The mute pointed to the mountains.
“Bore he thither captive the holy priestesses?”
Lifting two mutilated fingers Kawaki strove most piteously to speak. Of a sudden he ran to the garden, and returning, laid before the Prince a red peach and a white chrysanthemum!
Lifting the lad to his saddle, Umayado summoned his samurai and fared forth in quest of the Princess.
Up a steep and tortuous road we wended, along the mange of beetling cliffs overhanging a foaming torrent. After many a weary mile, upon the brink of a sheer abyss we beheld a mighty castle jutting its turrets into the cloudless sky. Whereupon we gathered about our leader, taking counsel amongst ourselves.
Of a sudden upon the topmost tower fluttered a silken banner.
“Behold! the white chrysanthemum!” he cried. “Kwannon be praised, the Princess bideth within.”
With that the Prince blew a great blast upon his horn. Whereupon Mono-nobe, clad cap-à-pie in lacquered armour, came forth upon a balcony.
“Wouldst parley with me, Priest?” he shouted.
“Nay malefactor,” retorted the other, “but with the captive Princess. Announce to her forthwith that Umayado craveth audience.”
Muttering imprecations Mono-nobe turned upon his heel, and withdrew within the castle.
Somewhile we waited till he came again, bowing obsequiously.
“The Princess granteth thy prayer, augustly honourable lord,” he fawned, “so thou comest alone.”
“First give me sight of her, caitiff, for in sooth I trust thee not,” demanded Umayado.
Growling within his beard, Mono-nobe was about to reply, when the Princess, ghost-white and fair as a goddess stepped forth upon the balcony.
“Venture not within the castle!” she cried, “there lurketh treachery and death!”
Clutching her throat the infuriated ruffian thrust White Chrysanthemum back into her prison.
Maddened by that sight, Umayado drave the rowels deep into his steed and bounded across the draw-bridge.
With clang of bolt and rattle of chain it rose, severing my master from us by a gulf impassable.
THE CHASTISEMENT OF THE GODS
Well we deemed that our Prince was doomed; nor could we devise any means to compass his deliverance.
Wherefore, with a few sturdy knaves, I fetched a circuit about the castle spying if there might be other port of entry. But on all sides was it moated about by a wide and deep abyss, and other bridge or portal was there none.
Howbeit, in the course of my rambling, I chanced upon some woodsmen felling trees upon the brink of the castle moat. To my amazed delight I perceived a cord, stretched from a tree to the lower story of the castle; and a travelling crate, in which the foresters were transporting fuel to the cellars.
Descending suddenly upon the unsuspecting woodsmen, we stripped them of their raiment and attired ourselves therewith. Bidding my men follow, I sprang to the basket and ferried myself across the chasm to the castle cellars.
One by one, in like manner, my lusty rascals climbed into the crate and propelled themselves across the deep abyss.
When all had crossed I bade them wait, crouching silently within the charcoal pen until call, the whiles I mounted to the kitchens.
Mistaking me for a woodsman, the cook welcomed me with a savory mess of toothsome carp from the castle moat.
“The Princess be here,” he boasted, as I praised his cookery.
“Nay that will I in no wise credit,” I shrugged, “save I see her with these mine eyes.”
“Out upon thee, yokel, to deem thyself worthy to gaze upon the beauteous White Chrysanthemum! That canst thou not forsooth. But here cometh one who will certify the truth of that I speak.”
With this there ran into the kitchen, her terror-wide eyes starting from a blanched face, my little Ruddy Peachling!
“Kwannon have mercy!” she cried. “They have lured the good Prince Umayado hither to certain death.”
“Lead me to the Prince forthwith,” I commanded; and shouting: “To the rescue my good rascals!” we charged after Ruddy Peachling.
Indeed we had no great need of her guidance, for a tumult had arisen in the great hall whither we rushed to the deliverance of our master.
“Men of Mono-nobe, are ye samurai or dogs?” out-rang the voice of the Princess. “Stand back all. Let them fight a fair fight, and the gods give victory to the better cause!”
A clash of steel and the swords of Umayado and Mono-nobe flashed above us.
The rebel chieftain howled imprecations as he hacked and slashed.
The Prince, silent, cool, and relentless, deftly countered.
Thus they fought, furiously, craftily, like lion and tiger, till of a sudden Mono-nobe warded a swinging slash and caught the Prince a sharp blow which sent his blade flying.
Seizing a mace from a bystander, Umayado crashed it on the head of his adversary and Mono-nobe crumpled instantly upon the floor, his skull crushed in.
A mighty roar rang forth from the dead man’s ruffians as they surged forward to tear the Prince limb from limb.
Scarce had they drawn sword when my good fellows fell upon them from behind and hewed a path through their ranks. They outnumbered us two to one, brave men all and trained fighters, yet steadily we gained ground and fought our way to the Prince.
“Save the Princess!” he cried, and, clustering together, we formed a wall about them and hacked through that pack of wolves to the castle-court. Then my blood congealed to ice as I beheld the abysmal moat that yawned beyond us. All hope was lost, for a band of samurai guarded the lifted drawbridge.
“Trapped, ye rats!” they yelled, laughing fiendishly, as they caught the despair written upon our blanched faces.
Then fought we but the more desperately, as men, knowing they must die, sell their lives most dearly.
Suddenly the Prince espied a great kettle of oil. Seizing a torch from a cresset he flung it into the cauldron. Clouds of smoke and blinding flame burst forth as a fearsome ally came to our rescue.
“Fire! fire!” shrieked hundreds of frantic soldiery; and the terror-stricken warder flung down the drawbridge.
Crying: “Save not yourselves alone, but all our fallen foes,” the Prince leaped to the back of his stallion and lifting White Chrysanthemum to the saddle galloped across the trembling planks.
Fighting indiscriminately for precedence in flight, our foes rushed forth to safety.
But we, mindful of the mandate of the Prince, bore from that flaming hell each one a wounded enemy. Last of all came Kawaki with the corpse of Mono-nobe. Wherefore I marvelled, until from the lofty bridge he hurled his grewsome burden into the yawning chasm.
Then understood I, for Kawaki was a Fire Worshipper and would not suffer the soul of Mono-nobe to mount purified by flame to the Eternal Land, but committed it to wolves and kites.
My garden is a lovesome thing to view,
A tangle of bright bloom and darkling green,
Frail fronded fern, a plashing brook between,
And lichen-lacquered stones of every hue
Whose mossy fissures flame with lithe bamboo.
Gnarled, pigmy pines their writhen branches lean,
Like goblins in the moonlight’s ghostly sheen,
O’er elfin flowers, besprent with gleaming dew.
Like clouds of rosy smoke, the cherry-bloom
Its wreathed incense softly round me rolls,
And, in the pleachèd shades of fragrant gloom,
A fountain leaps ecstatic toward the skies,
Ever to fall, like our star-soaring souls,
To earth again, ever anew to rise!
What further remaineth to chronicle?
All the world knoweth how Prince Umayado subdued the rebellion, united the worship of Buddha with the ancient Shinto faith, and was honoured by his country with the title of Shotoku Taishi (the Saintly Prince).
I have seen my long-suffering master rewarded for all his trials by the wondrous constancy and love of the Princess White Chrysanthemum.
I have seen Ruddy Peachling blossom from maid to bride — not mine, alas! but the wife of Kawaki. Happy is she. Why should not a woman be content who may prate and chatter to her heart’s desire for her husband may not answer back?
I, a dim-eyed bonze, am also happy, while, with ankles crossed, as holy Buddhas sit, I couch me, neath a maple-tree in my lovesome garden and muse upon friends and days departed. Verily
Our fleeting life is like a boat,
That with the dawn doth seaward float,
Leaving no trace behind!
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