A Legend of Fugen-Bosatsu
*From the old story-book,Jikkun-shō
There was once a very pious and learned priest, called Shōku Shōnin, who lived in the province of Harima. For many years he meditated daily upon the chapter of Fugen-Bosatsu [the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra] in the Sûtra of the Lotos of the Good Law; and he used to pray, every morning and evening, that he might at some time be permitted to behold Fugen-Bosatsu as a living presence, and in the form described in the holy text.
One evening, while he was reciting the Sûtra, drowsiness overcame him; and he fell asleep leaning upon his kyōsoku. Then he dreamed; and in his dream a voice told him that, in order to see Fugen-Bosatsu, he must go to the house of a certain courtesan, known as the “Yujō-no-Chōja,” who lived in the town of Kanzaki. Immediately upon awakening he resolved to go to Kanzaki;—and, making all possible haste, he reached the town by the evening of the next day.
When he entered the house of the yujō, he found many persons already there assembled—mostly young men of the capital, who had been attracted to Kanzaki by the fame of the woman’s beauty. They were feasting and drinking; and the yujō was playing a small hand-drum(tsuzumi), which she used very skilfully, and singing a song. The song which she sang was an old Japanese song about a famous shrine in the town of Murozumi; and the words were these:—
Within the sacred water-tank of Murozumi in Suwō,
Even though no wind be blowing,
The surface of the water is always rippling.
The sweetness of the voice filled everybody with surprise and delight. As the priest, who had taken a place apart, listened and wondered, the girl suddenly fixed her eyes upon him; and in the same instant he saw her form change into the form of Fugen-Bosatsu, emitting from her brow a beam of light that seemed to pierce beyond the limits of the universe, and riding a snow-white elephant with six tusks. And still she sang—but the song also was now transformed; and the words came thus to the ears of the priest:—
On the Vast Sea of Cessation,
Though the Winds of the Six Desires and of the Five Corruptions never blow,
Yet the surface of that deep is always covered
With the billowings of Attainment to the Reality-in-Itself.
Dazzled by the divine ray, the priest closed his eyes: but through their lids he still distinctly saw the vision. When he opened them again, it was gone: he saw only the girl with her handdrum, and heard only the song about the water of Murozumi. But he found that as often as he shut his eyes he could see Fugen-Bosatsu on the six-tusked elephant, and could hear the mystic Song of the Sea of Cessation. The other persons present saw only the yujō: they had not beheld the manifestation.
Then the singer suddenly disappeared from the banquet-room—none could say when or how. From that moment the revelry ceased; and gloom took the place of joy. After having waited and sought for the girl to no purpose, the company dispersed in great sorrow. Last of all, the priest departed, bewildered by the emotions of the evening. But scarcely had he passed beyond the gate, when the yujō appeared befor him, and said:—”Friend, do not speak yet to any one of what you have seen this night.” And with these words she vanished away,—leaving the air filled with a delicious fragrance.
* * *
The monk by whom the foregoing legend was recorded, comments upon it thus:—The condition of a yujō is low and miserable, since she is condemned to serve the lusts of men. Who therefore could imagine that such a woman might be the nirmanakaya, or incarnation, of a Bodhisattva. But we must remember that the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas may appear in this world in countless different forms; choosing, for the purpose of their divine compassion, even the most humble or contemptible shapes when such shapes can serve them to lead men into the true path, and to save them from the perils of illusion.
[kyōsoku] The Kyōsoku is a kind of padded arm-rest, or arm-stool, upon which the priest leans one arm while reading. The use of such an arm-rest is not confined, however, to the Buddhist clergy.
[Yujō-no-Chōja] A yujō, in old days, was a singing-girl as well as a courtesan. The term “Yujō-no-Chōja,” in this case, would mean simply “the first (or best) of yujō.”
[sacred water-tank] Mitarai. Mitarai (or mitarashi) is the name especially given to the water-tanks, or water-fonts—of stone or bronze—placed before Shintō shrines in order that the worshipper may purify his lips and hands before making prayer. Buddhist tanks are not so named.
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