Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road

Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road

 

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Kasamatsu-Shiro-Night-Rain-at-Shinobazu-1938-Woodblock-Print-

 

Zen master Gudo was once the Shogun’s teacher.  Frequently he would be absent from the Capital however, as he undertook to travel alone as a wandering mendicant. 

 

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Ibuki-Satsuki—Y-Xuy

Once when he was on his way to Edo, the cultural and political center of the Shogunate, he came upon a small village named Takenaka.

 

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-Kawase-Hasui-(1883-–-1957)-

 It was evening and the heavy downpours which persisted all day long soaked Gudo to the very marrow.  His wet straw sandals were in tatters.

 

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As he was cold and hungry and exhausted from the long arduous trek, he decided to seek shelter if only for the night. Fortunately he spotted a modest farmhouse near the village and furthermore, noticed four or five pairs of sandals in the window. He at once decided to buy some dry ones and inquire about a night’s lodging.

 

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Rainy-night-at-Maekawa—Hasui-Kawase-(1883 – 1957)

The kindly women, seeing his dire straits, gifted him the pair of sandals and graciously invited him into her humble home to share their meager repast and pass the night.  

 

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Gudo thanked her and entered the dwelling. Going straight to the family shrine, he bowed his thanks and recited a sutra. He was then introduced to the women’s mother, and to her children. Observing that the entire family was depressed, Gudo asked what was wrong.

“My husband is not a bad man but he has a vice of gambling and is a drunkard,” the kindly woman after momentary hesitation decided to unburden herself to him. “When he happens to win he drinks and becomes abusive. When he loses he borrows money from others. Sometimes when he becomes thoroughly drunk he does not come home at all. We are all aggrieved but what’s to be done?”

“I will help him,” said Gudo. “Here is some money. Get me a gallon of fine wine and something good to eat. Then you may retire. I will meditate before the shrine.”

 

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Takahashi-Shotei-(1871-1945)—Night-rain-at-a-shrine-

When the man of the house returned about midnight, quite drunk, he bellowed: “Hey, wife, I am home. Have you something for me to eat?”

 

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-Night-Rain-at-Asagaya,-Wagon-Puller,-1932–Takahashi-Shôtei-(1871—1945)—Color-Woodblock-

“I have something for you,” said Gudo. “I happened to be caught in the rain and your wife kindly asked me to remain here for the night. In return for the night’s lodging I have bought some wine and fish. There is plenty remaining so you might as well partake.”

The man was delighted. He drank his fill of the wine and ate the food after which feeling lethargic, reclined on the mattress in deep slumber. Gudo forsaking sleep sat in meditation beside him.

 

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-asui-kawase-

In the morning when the husband awoke he had forgotten about the previous night. “Who are you? Where do you come from?” he asked Gudo, who was still meditating.

“I am Gudo of Kyoto and I am going on to Edo,” replied the Zen master.

The man was utterly ashamed. He apologized profusely to the teacher of his Emperor.

Gudo smiled. “Everything in this life is impermanent,” he explained. “Life is very brief. If you keep on gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything else, and you will cause your family to suffer too.”

This simple fact awakened the husband’s good sense.  “You are right,” he declared. “How can I ever repay you for this wonderful teaching? Let me see you off and carry your things a little way.”

“If you wish,” assented Gudo.

 

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Hiroshi-Yoshida-–-After-Rain-Graphicine-

The two started out. After they had gone three miles Gudo told him to return. “Just another five miles,” he begged Gudo. They continued on.

“You may return now,” suggested Gudo.

“After another ten miles,” the man replied.

“Return now,” said Gudo, when the ten miles had been passed.

 

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-Morning-Rain-at-Hakone,-woodblock-print,-by-Tsuchiya-Koitsu,-(1938)-c.1948-

“I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” declared the man.

Modern Zen teachings in Japan spring from the lineage of a famous master who was the successor of Gudo. His name was Mu-nan, the man who never turned back.

 

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Moonlight-at-Funayada-Boathouse,-Shotei

Fin

 

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The Ghost Who Was Thwarted

The Ghost Who Was Thwarted

(Revised by BoSt)

 

Just in time for Halloween.

 

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Once upon a time there lived a particularly bright young man who had successfully passed the State military examination, and had been ordered to go, by a specific date, to report for duty in another Province.

As it was the rainy season, he was dressed appropriately with his belongings wrapped in waterproof skins and loaded on horseback. Following the main highways, he rode and whenever possible, galloped with eagerness to reach his destination on time.

On this day the weather had not been particularly cooperative. Gusting winds and sudden downpours hindered his progress all along the way. Dusk was fast approaching and he was nowhere near a town or an inn where he could pass the night in relative comfort.

The buildup of ominous clouds above persuaded him to veer off onto a side road leading to a small village nestled in the woods. He needed to seek immediate accommodations before darkness blanketed the earth. He spotted a peasant, returning from fields at the end of the day’s work loaded with fresh fodder for the animals and inquired as to a possible night’s lodging.

The peasant shook his head, “It’s not that we are inhospitable, but there are only impoverished families in this village. You are certain not to find any room in any of the huts.”  Then in conciliatory mood he directed the Soldier to an old dilapidated Temple still standing just outside of the village. At least there he could spend the night somewhat sheltered from the harsh elements.

The Soldier thanked the peasant and rode away.  He eventually came upon the badly neglected structure, half buried in vines, runners and rampant vegetation. With some difficulty he pushed open the creaking door and stepped in. At once his lungs were assailed by a musky smell and dust lay inches high everywhere. Thick cobwebs hid most of the surfaces. In the niches he saw barely visible statues of gods so decayed through years of neglect that he could not distinguish one from the other.

The suffocating air forced the Soldier to go outside.  He gasped and gasped then looked about him when he could breathe bit more easily. As night cloaked the premises he fetched a candle from his bundle and lit it. Going around the main temple structure he came upon a portion of the second story that was precariously attached, barely hanging on to the main structure.   Following the trellises off to the side he found a protected alcove under an old flight of stone steps that ended abruptly, going nowhere.

“This will do for the night.” He grumbled under his breath then, fetching his knapsack, spread it out under the stone steps. He tied his horse to an old tree and placed some fodder before him. Next he took his flask from the saddle and wet his dry throat. He leaned back and began washing down some dry rations to satiate his sudden grumbling tummy. The rains came and went until the dark sky cleared of the ominous clouds which were replaced with scattered puffs that parted periodically to let the waning new moon peep through.

The Soldier, rather exhausted from travel, had just closed his eyes in sleep when a rustling sound in the temple startled him awake. What’s more, a sudden icy breeze swept over his face making him shudder involuntarily.

The moonlight just then revealed a chalk-faced woman dressed in a dirty old style red gown coming out of the temple. She stole past quietly as though she were afraid of being seen.

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The Soldier quickly swallowed his fear. Lying perfectly still he pretended to be asleep and covertly watched her with half-closed eyes. Curiously, the woman drew a rope from her sleeve and looked at it for a time before instantly vanishing into thin air.  This confirmed she was an apparition, most likely a ghost of one who had hung herself. He got up quietly and traced her steps. 

Sure enough, she went into the village and when she came to a certain house she slipped into the courtyard through a crack in the door.  As he was keen to find out her reason for haunting this premise, the Soldier abandoned propriety and leapt over the wall after her. Standing before him was a modest three roomed house. Crossing the rather empty courtyard, he reached the rear room where a lamp was burning dimly. The Soldier looked through the window into the room, and there he spotted a young woman of about twenty sitting on the bed, sighing deeply. Her kerchief however was soaked through with tears. Beside her in a crib lay a little child fast asleep.

The woman repeatedly looked up toward the beam of the ceiling. She appeared in great dismay, one moment she would weep and the next she would gently, lovingly, stroke the child. The Soldier, following her gaze positioned himself so as to see more clearly the object of her attention.  His eyes avidly searched the high ceiling and finally he spotted the dark apparition sitting up on the beam. Momentarily she glowed. He could see clearly now as she, with an eerie smile, passed the rope around her neck and then, eyes bulging, tongue sticking out, she mimicked being hanged.  Egging on the poor woman on, the ghost hissed with hostility one moment then in the next beckoned alluringly with a hand gesture.

Each time the young woman looked up as though drawn by an irresistible command, remained focused as if mesmerized, then snapped out of her reverie only when the child wiggled or gurgled.  This went on for some time.

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Unexpectedly the young woman in a resolute voice addressed the Ghost: “You say it would be best for me to die. Very well, then, I will die; but oh, I cannot bear to part with my baby!” Once more cupping her face, she burst into heart-wrenching tears, but the heartless ghost merely scoffed and threatened her. In an undecipherable communication the apparition next reached out softly in order to coax her.

When the exhausted young woman finally yielded to all that pressure and in resignation declared: “Enough, do not torture me any more… I’ll do as you wish, I will die. Just leave my baby in peace.”

The Soldier for a time was lost for what to do. He could make noise or force his way in to stop or at least impede the evil apparition’s aim. The very real consequence of being chastised or charged as trespasser however, made him hesitate.

“But can I just stand by and do nothing?”  As he struggled to find the right course of action, the young lady meanwhile had gone over to her chest of clothes, put on new garments, and painted her face before the mirror. Then she drew up a bench and climbed up on it. She undid her girdle and knotted it to the beam. She had already stretched forth her neck and was about to tie the other end around her neck when the child suddenly awoke and began to cry.

To the Soldier’s relief, the woman aborted the suicide, climbed down and, taking the baby to her bosom, stroked the infant’s head and chest as she rocked her body slowly back and forth. Tears streamed from her eyes like a string of pearls and fell onto her child. She wept and wept.  The irate ghost meanwhile heartlessly growled and hissed at this delay. She was so close to reaching her objective.  She had haunted this young woman for many months wearing away her resolve. In a short while the child had again fallen asleep, and the woman once more began to look aloft. Then she rose, again climbed on the bench, and was about to lay the noose about her neck when the Soldier, risking all, began to call out loudly and drum on the window-pane to stop her. Then, with one hard punch, he broke through the pane and climbed into the room. The shocked and frightened woman fell to the ground unconscious while the ghost vanished into thin air.

Fortunately for him there was no other about. The Soldier picked up the unconscious woman and gently laid her on her bed. Then slapped her cheeks tried to bring her around.  As she was about to regain consciousness, he drew away to a distance, intent on leaving. Suddenly however, something hanging down from the beam, like a cord without an end caught his eye. Knowing that it belonged to the ghost of the hanged woman he reached for it and tugged at it. Wrapping it into a coil he placed it in his inner pocket. 

By this time the young woman had gained her full faculties. She trembled with fright at the perceived danger from an intruder.

The Soldier with a placating smile and in a soothing voice tried to reassure the young woman: “Forgive this intrusion. I mean you no harm, but I could not just simply stand by and have you throw your life away.  Your child needs you to take good care of him! You have but one life to lose in this world!”  And with that he made his hasty retreat outside.

He was fearful of the possible consequences and so he headed straight towards the Temple to retrieve his horse and his baggage and make his quick departure.

When he came out of the village he encountered the angry ghost, waiting for him on the road.

Barring his way, the ghost growled: “You have interrupted my plans and have thus wronged me terribly. I was the former wife of that faithless man; one so callously cast me aside in favour of that woman because of my inability to give him an offspring. His cold and cruel ways drove me in the end to suicide where I am now condemned to roam the Earth and suffer this vile existence for all eternity. He happens to be away for a long time and I used this opportunity to effect my revenge on him. She was blameless yes, but …” She appeared truly remorseful. “As you have interceded, there remains little for me to do now. Unfortunately I cannot depart without that thing I left behind me in my hurry. I know you have it, and so I implore you sir, please to return it to me.”

The Soldier showed her the rope, “Is this the thing you mean? I’m sorry for what has happened to you. But why exact revenge on an innocent being? Your grievance is with your husband not her. I fear if I were to give it back to you may once I’m gone try again to snuff out an innocent life.  And that I cannot be party to.”

With these words he wound the rope around his arm and said: “Now be off with you!”

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The ghost in her desperation now grew furious. Her face turned greenish-black, her hair fell in wild disorder down her neck, her eyes grew bloodshot, and her tongue hung far out of her mouth. She stretched forth both hands and tried to seize the Soldier, but he struck out at her with his clenched fist. By mistake he hit himself in the nose and it began to bleed. Then he sprinkled a few drops of blood in her direction and, since the ghosts cannot endure human blood, with a shrilling hiss she ceased her attack, moved off a few paces and began to abuse him. This she did for some time, until the cock in the village began to crow. Then the ghost let out a shrill cry and disappeared before the morning sun hit her.

In the meantime the farmer-folk of the village having been apprised of the happenings, had rushed forth to thank the Soldier. It seems that after he had left the woman, her husband had come home and asked his wife what had happened. And then for the first time he had learned of her long suffering ordeal and what had occurred that very night. So gathering some of the neighbours, they set out together along the road in order to look for the stranger.

When they found him he was still beating the air with his fists and talking wildly. So they called out to him and he told them what had taken place. The rope could still be seen on his bare arm; yet it had grown fast to it, and surrounded it in the shape of a red ring of flesh.

The day was just dawning, so the Soldier packed his belongings then swung himself into his saddle and continued his journey without a word.

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The End

 

(Note: This folk tale has been handed down traditionally.

Adapted from:  The Chinese Fairy Book (1921) by Richard Wilhelm, translated by F. H. Martens LIII. “The Ghost Who Was Foiled”- Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License)

Laoshan Taoist

Laoshan Taoist

(Chinese Classic Revised by BoSt)

 

01

Once upon a time there was a young scholar named Wang Ch’i who was fervent about Taoism and so read every available book and practiced daily to be an ardent Taoist. Somewhere along the way he’d learned that there were many immortals living on Mount Laoshan, so he undertook the long arduous journey there. When he reached the summit of the mountain, true enough he spotted a secluded monastery nestled in the woods.  He raced towards it as fast as his feet could carry him and pounded on the large door.  As no one responded, he tried the latch and found the door was not locked. He hesitantly let himself in and when his eyes adjusted to the dim light he saw some ways  in a distinguished Taoist priest with white hair hanging down to his shoulders who appeared to be in a deep contemplation sitting on a rush mat.  Approaching tentatively, Wang kowtowed to show his respect and knelt before the priest in silence in order to compose his thoughts and allow the priest to respond to his presence. As the latter seemed impervious to Wang’s presence and no response was forthcoming, Wang cleared his throat then again kowtowing begged forgiveness for his intrusion then voiced his innermost desire to learn more of Taoism and asked the priest to be his teacher.

 The priest’s eyelids slowly lifted and his pupils gazed straight at Wang for a seemingly endless time.  His astute observation revealed that Wang, however sincere, was still too pampered to endure all the required hardships to be a proper Taoist.  This simply put, failed to deter Wang. He was adamant and emphatically argued that he could adapt and learn new ways, being most willing to endure any hardship to do so. Therefore he was provided with meager living accommodations and was allowed to remain in the monastery for a time, depending on his progress.

02

Early the next morning, the priest sent for Wang. He was given an ax and told to go with the other disciples to cut firewood in the forest. Wang happily obeyed. After more than a month of cutting wood however, Wang’s hands and feet were covered with thick calluses. The sparse living conditions and the rigid schedule, the enforced quiet, to say nothing of the simple rations eventually took its toll on Wang. Unable to stand the suffering any longer, he began entertaining the idea of returning home.

03

One evening, when he returned from his assigned task, he discovered two guests drinking wine with his master. It was already dark, so the priest cut a piece of white paper in the shape of a round mirror and stuck it on the wall. Instantly, it turned into a brilliant white moon which lit up the room.

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The few other disciples streamed in order to wait upon their master and the guests; however one of the guests, not standing on ceremony went forth, took a jug of wine and offered it to the disciples to drink. The jug was passed around accordingly, but the disciples were astonished to see that the wine in the jar did not diminish even after several rounds of consumption.

The other guest said:”It is rather dull drinking by ourselves. Why not ask the moon goddess to join us?”  The priest nodded, then he threw a chopstick at the moon on the wall and a beautiful girl appeared. Less than a foot tall at first, she stepped down from the wall and grew to human size. She then proceeded to sing and dance gracefully.

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When she finished singing, she jumped onto the table and turned back into a chopstick. The three quests laughed heartily. They talked, joked around and drunk some more, enjoying a truly pleasurable time.  Afterwards one of the guests said:”It has been a very pleasant evening. Will you all drink another glass with me in the Moon Palace?”The three guests ascended and in a flash they disappeared, seeming having moved their table up into the moon.

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Wang rubbed his eyes in disbelief at these phantasmal events. He looked up and strangely enough actually spotted the three figures drinking on the moon, their images completely vivid as though reflected in a mirror.

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After a while, the moon slowly dimmed. One of the disciples brought a lit candle and they saw the priest, once more manifest in the room sitting alone and the two guests gone. The remains of the meal were still on the table and the mirror like paper was still on the wall.

“Have you all had enough to drink?”The priest asked his disciples.”Yes.” they answered. The priest told them to go to bed early, so they wouldn’t be late for their wood-cutting the next day. Full of wonder, Wang thought no more of leaving.

08

 

Another month passed.  Once again Wang found it hard to endure the daily grind and all that hardship, but he stubbornly refused to relent, for the priest still hadn’t taught him any magic. One day Wang again approached the priest with his request:”I have been here for several months already. All I do is get up at daybreak to cut firewood and return at sunset. I never bore such hardship when I was at home.”

“I predicted you wouldn’t be able to stand it,” interjected the priest smiling, “You may as well go home tomorrow morning.”

09

 

Wang had a stubborn streak and would not give up so easily however, so he pleaded with the priest to teach him some small trick, any trick, to make it all worthwhile.

“Which one then?” asked the priest; nodding.

Wang had noticed that the priest could walk through walls and said that he would be content to know how to do that. The priest smiled and agreed. He taught Wang the spell and bade him to repeat it so he could walk through the wall. At first, Wang was hesitant; he dared not to make the bold move. “What if he got stuck inside the wall?”  He envisioned horrifying images, with his head stuck outside or a foot while the torso was trapped within. The priest anticipating his fear smiled reassuringly and voiced his encouragement anew for him to try anyhow. Refusing to be a coward, Wang did as he was told and lo and, behold, passed through the wall unhindered. “Ye!!!!” Elated he turned around but he found himself outside the wall.

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Overjoyed, Wang raced around and went back in to thank the priest. The priest told him to be serious and not misuse the spell when he got home; otherwise, it wouldn’t work. Wang promised to remain vigilant and thanked the priest for his instructions. Shortly after he took his leave and descended the mountain.

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When he got home, Wang boasted that he had met an immortal and learnt the art of passing through walls. His wife refused to believe him, so Wang repeated the spell the priest had taught him, backed away a few feet from the wall and ran straight at it.

Thugg!!!  He hit his head hard at the wall!

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To Wang’s surprise, the spell had lost its magic. He banged his head against the wall again and again, failing each time, and collapsed disoriented and almost unconscious, flat on the ground. When he got up a big bump, the size of an egg, started to swell up on his forehead.

His wife could not help herself and was doubled over with laughter. Wang’s face fell then grew dark, as he was consumed by shame and rage. Gnashing his teeth he inwardly cursed the old priest for his ingratitude and for the perceived betrayal.

Days and month’s passed with Wang incensed at the priest. Eventually reason took hold and he understood what had happened. With humility and longing he anew undertook the journey to visit the monastery.  He followed the same paths and searched every corner of the mountain summit, all however without avail; for there was no trace of either the monastery, or the priest or the many novices.

Eventually he gave up and went back home but he was never the same. Often he would be seen as sitting outside in the garden, silent and staring at the moon. On occasion he would raise a cup to the moon and utter a silent prayer or a wish.

Looking-at-the-moon-800

The End

Kiyohime and the Heartless Priest

Kiyohime and the Heartless Priest

(A Japanese Folklore Revised by BoSt)

01-cKiyo

According to Japanese folklore Kiyohime (or simply Kiyo) was the daughter of a village headman named Shōji, on the Hidaka riverbank. The family was wealthy enough to entertain and provide lodging for traveling priests, who often passed by on their way to a shrine famous for ascetic practices.

One day a handsome visiting priest named Anchin, having arrived at dusk, accepted the gracious invitation to be Shoji’s guest for the night.

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 He was served a sumptuous meal and, was treated very well all during the evening with his needs generously provided for. He was even given the best bedroom.  Unfortunately during the course of the night his attention was taken by Shoji’s rather bashful, beautiful daughter Kiyo.

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As Anchin was rather a debonair, handsome young priest with suave manners and eloquent tongue, Kiyo quickly became smitten by him. 

 Anchin seeing that his feelings were reciprocated, and so wanting more time to get to know Kiyo, he deferred his morning departure and instead made up a plausible excuse so as to extend his stay for a few more days.

It was a beautiful time of year, when the Earth wore the bright coloured cloak of spring and frolicking birds and insects filled the air with cheerful melody. A few surreptitious, fervent meetings led to intimacy and Anachin, having totally lost his head, fell deeply in love with Kiyo.

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Unfortunately Anchin, being a principled, devout individual most dedicated to his vocation, just as quickly snapped out of his infatuation and regained his senses,. From then on his demeanor was icy cold towards her and he refrained from any further covert meetings.  Poor Kiyo wracked her brains for any explanation for this sudden change in Anchin and, failing to do so, fell into deep dismay.

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 In her view she’d been taken advantage of and most cruelly and reprehensibly victimized by Anachin; especially since until then she had been virtuous and proper. The rejection by this heartless rogue Priest fed the furies of her emotions fanning them into intense hatred. 

 When one afternoon Kiyohime was away visiting a neighbour, Anachin took advantage of her absence to escape this sticky situation. He quietly made his excuses to his host Shoji and quickly departed. 

She was incensed when she returned and found him already gone without a word. Beside herself, she dashed out of the house leaving her baffled father behind.

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Tears coursing down her cheeks she ran and ran in hot pursuit of the unfaithful lover, with her heart in a terrible grip of fiery rage.

 Kiyohime eventually caught up with Anchin at the edge of the Hidaka River. Anchin, sighting her first, quickly hired the moored ferryman to help him across the river. Once on board, Anchin pressed the boatmen to gain speed.  Paying him additional funds, he further cautioned the boatman not to let her cross after him.  

Poor, distraught Kiyohime was crushed when she saw Anchin’s icy, heartless glare before he turned his face away to urge the boatmen for speed. She was so incensed; she bit her lip until blood trickled down her chin. Oblivious to her pain she dove into the rapid flowing river and started to swim towards them.  She wanted some explanation, even a feeble excuse for his breaking his promise to her. While swimming in the torrent of the Hidaka River, thrashing this way and that, her heart was so filled with rage that it literally burst. Suddenly pitch darkness engulfed the waters. At that same moment she underwent a transformation, growing scales, becoming misshapen, and stretching until she turned into a fierce Dragon.

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When Anchin looked back and, this time, saw her in the altered state of a monstrous Dragon effortlessly gliding through the foamy tumultuous waters, his heart skipped a beat.  Fortunately the boat had just reached the other shore. Bypassing the boatman who was trying to moor his craft, he simply jumped onto the shore. His feet firmly planted on the ground, he raced towards the temple called Dōjō-ji.  His heart still in his mouth, sweating profusely and panting heavily, he begged the priests of Dōjōji for their cooperation and help in escaping this monster, the terrible evil spirit scourge that had taken on the form of a Dragon.   They believed in Anchin and quickly lowered the bell of the temple to hide him under it.

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09-Bell-2_Painting

The Dragon at first hesitated to enter the temple. But then her icy breath blew open the enormous doors in a miasmic cloud of fog, dust and debris and she manifested inside.

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“Where is he?” She roared. But no one was there to answer her as all the priests had taken flight and hid. Her fiery breath could have razed the temple to the ground but she still retained some benevolence and instead forcefully restrained her wrath. 

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She looked about her for a time, and then her keen sense picked up the frightened odor of Anchin quaking terribly, though well hidden, inside the giant bell.

Seething, the Dragon sliced through the air right across the room and coiled her enormous tail around the bell.  She thrashed the bell loudly for several times.  Anchin was nearly driven insane with all the noise and vibration.  However he was trapped and deep down he knew he would pay for his sin. So he started to pray quietly for absolution.

Too late!

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For just then the Dragon having tired of this fruitless torment, gave a gigantic belch of fire that engulfed and quickly melted the bell with Anchin inside.

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The End.

 

Hungry Ghost Period in 2018

Hungry Ghost Period in 2018

(August 11th – September 9th)

 

01 A Chung-Kwai-800Painting (1)

 

Many people believe in the existence of ghosts. Furthermore, they believe that anyone who meets their end violently or is guilty of some crime or sin when they die, do not go to Heaven or Hell but rather get trapped as lost souls or ghosts in the Earthly Realm, preying on or disrupting the lives of vulnerable individuals.  Those who have perished rather unexpectedly through accidents or catastrophe, particularly during this Hungry Ghost period, are also considered to have been taken away by Ghosts.

This is pretty scary, right?  Wait, there is still more: During the Hungry Ghost time, which falls on  the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, the gates of Hell are supposedly opened wide allowing those other restless and spiteful spirits with their vendettas to escape into the Realm of the Living.  Is it any wonder that superstitious folks are filled with such trepidation and dread during this time?

The night-time, early morning, and late night are considered a particularly vulnerable time and most dangerous as these vengeful ghosts and other evil spirits are at their most potent then.

 To overcome this pervasive fear, perhaps to placate evil spirits and to ensure one’s safety, the Hungry Ghost period is generally transformed into a lively Festival:  This is a time where prayers are offered and sacrificial ceremonies are conducted in temples. The burning of incense and Hell-money at the roadside and the decoration of houses and halls with bright lanterns present a pretty picture. And let us not forget the lively performances by the theatrical troupes in open air banquets or street festivals that draw in the big crowds. On the last day of the 7th lunar month, the Gates of the Underworld then are supposed to close, containing these malevolent spirits till next year.

To ensure further safety, here are few do and don’ts to follow:

In the Ghost Month, particularly in the dark hours, evil spirits may target children, senior citizens, and weak or sensitive people; therefore they are advised to remain indoors.

Also, it is advisable to avoid any risk by swimming in a body of water such as a pool, pond or the sea. And stay away from any supernatural acts or games.  Why tempt fate?

For those that are superstitious, keep items, such as amulets, prayer beads, coarse salt, glutinous rice, crosses and lodestones close at hand as an added protection from evil spirits.

Be safe and have fun.

 

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Infernal Regions

(Below is a classic story from the book of “Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio” by a Qing Dynasty writer, Pu Songling (1640 – 1715). Revised by BoSt)

 

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 Hsi Fang P’ing, a native of Tung An, was an intelligent and hardworking youth who spent his long days helping his father to farm. On his scant spare time he buried his head in books to advance his learning. His father was a sincere and honest man well thought of by his neighbours; unfortunately however, he’d fallen on bad terms with a powerful rich man called Yang who happened to live in the same district.  Yang had many bad attributes and delighted in hurting people; eventually his evil ways caught up with him and he died.

Several years after the death of Yang, old Hsi, who was actually robust for his age, suddenly succumbed to a mysterious illness.  One day, in the throngs of high fever he suddenly sat up from his bed and cried out:”Yang has bribed the devils to beat me.”  Next instant he gave out a terrible scream, spat blood and collapsing, died.

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Hsi Fang P’ing, wowed to avenge his father, certain that his father had been killed by evil spirits. With full determination to go to the nether world and redress the injustice, he avoided all contact with others, virtually locked himself in his study and stopped eating and drinking.  As he refused to light the stove for warmth, the bone chilling cold of winter and ravages of sleepless nights soon took its toll on him and his soul took flight from his emaciated body.  It drifted high and escaping from chimney, floated over the fields and beyond, until it arrived in the nether world.

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Once in the nether world, Hsi Fang P’ing followed behind the group of newly deceased that were being led in chains towards a strange looking town. Separating from the group, he went to search the area, till he came across a holding prison.  There, to his dismay, he saw his father lying in a yoke looking utterly miserable. When the old man looked up and saw his son, he wept bitterly and told Hsi Fang P’ing that the jailers had been bribed to beat him brutally and he was a mass of bruises. Hsi Fang p’ing cursed the jailers loudly. He took out a writing brush and wrote a complaint, and went straight to the town government to lodge an accusation.

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When Yang heard the news, he bought off all the officers in the town high and low, so the Town God paid no attention to Hsi Fang P’ing on the pretext that he had no evidence. Therefore, Hsi went to the prefecture government to protest. But his complaint was kept there for half a month and then sent back to the Town God. The Town God beat Hsi Fang P’ing and as he was not really dead, sent the youth back under escort to his own home.

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Hsi Fang P’ing refused to enter his home.  As it so happens, by this time, his body had truly expired and he became a true spirit. Before he was hauled away however, he successfully freed himself from his captors, and snuck back to the Underworld. He travelled all the way to the capital of Hell, and there, cried loudly about his grievance in front of the Palace of Hell. The Town God and prefecture magistrate sent him a messenger, who promised to give him a thousand ounces of silver if he would withdraw his complaint, but again, Hsi refused.

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When Hsi entered the Palace Hall, he saw that the Yama was angry, and for no reason, he was flogged. Hsi cried:”What have I done wrong?”but the Yama turned a deaf ear to him. Flustered and exasperated, Hsi Fang P’ing shouted:”It’s because I haven’t got the money to bribe you!”This infuriated the Yama ,and he ordered that Hsi be scalded on a hot iron bed.

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Hsi’s flesh was burned till it was black, and the Yama asked him whether he still wished to complain. Hsi replied:”Yes, my grievance is not yet redressed.”Enraged, the Yama gave orders to cut Hsi’s body in half with a saw.

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Two goblins seized Hsi Fang p’ing and began to saw him in half. Unable to stand the pain, Hsi promised the Yama that he would withdraw his complaint.

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The Yama ordered two goblins to sent Hsi Fang P’ing back to the earth. Hsi had learnt that the nether world was even more unjust than the world of man, and he could not appeal to the Jade Emperor. Yet, he knew the Second God in Kuan-k’o was both wise and just, so why not go to him? On his way to Kuan-k’o, he was set upon by devils and captured. He was carried to some other cottage where he was reincarnated as a baby.

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Hsi Fang-p’ing cried and cried and would not take any milk, and finally died three days after his birth. His soul then went in search of Kuan-k’o. He had walked quite a ways, when suddenly he saw a group of men of horseback accompanying a God. It was the Second God returning from his tour of inspection. Hsi Fang P’ing hastened to kneel down before him and told him his story.

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The Second God questioned Hsi and then ordered him to follow them to Kuan-k’o and wait outside the government office for trial. Once in Kuan-k’o,Hsi Fang-P’ing was called into a courtroom, where he saw the Yama, the prefecture magistrate, the Town God and the goblins in cages.   Now his father and Yang stood before the Second God awaiting justice.

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The Second God looking up finally announced his judgement:”The Yama and the officers have violated the law and accepted bribes, and they will all be punished. Yang was rich and heartless. He used his wealth and power to buy off gods, goblins and others to do evil for his own aim. The stink of his money has fouled the whole nether world and filled the Palace of Hell with darkness. Therefore for this, his house shall be searched and his property confiscated and given to Hsi Fang P’ing to reward him for his bravery and determination.”

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Thus, the wrong done to old Hsi and his son Hsi Fang-P’ing was redressed.  The Second God ordered the father and son back to earth, and the Hsi family restored to life,  lived happily ever after.

The End.

 

The Paths to Heaven and Hell

The Paths to Heaven and Hell

 

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A soldier named Nobushige, clad in tattered gear and sporting weaponry worse for wear, brazenly forced his way to see Hakuin, and finding him reposed in contemplation with an ancient book loudly and intrusively demanded: “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”

“Who are you?” Without looking up, Hakuin voiced his inquiry.

 

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“I am a samurai,” the warrior sticking his chest out proudly, responded.

“You, a samurai!”   Hakuin half looking up grunted. “What kind of ruler would have you as his guard?” Hakuin shook his head. “You resemble more a beggar.”

 

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Once a proud warrior, Nobushige was highly incensed and so started to draw his sword, but Hakuin impassively simply added: “So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.”

The outraged Nobushige now brandishing his sword, poised to strike Hakuin.

 

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Still composed, Hakuin simply remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!”

At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed, somewhat ashamed.

“Here open the gates of paradise,” Hakuin uttered, with a calm voice and an almost imperceptible smile.

 

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Fin

 

 

The Distinguished Man

The Distinguished Man

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Tzu Chung asked: What must a man do in order to be considered, distinguished?

The Master said: What do you mean by the term, distinguished?

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Tzu Chung replied: I mean one whose fame fills both his own private circle and the state at large.

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The master said: That is notoriety, not distinction. The man of true distinction is simple, honest, and a lover of justice and duty. He weighs men’s words and observes the expression of their faces. He is anxious to put himself below others. Such a one is truly distinguished in his private and his public life.

As to the man who is merely much talked about, he puts on an appearance of charity and benevolence, but his actions belie it. He is self-satisfied and has no misgivings. Neither in private nor in public life does he achieve more than notoriety.

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Fin