A Legend Of Kwannon
: Japanese Fairy Tales
In the days of the gods, Ama-no-Hashidate was the Floating Bridge of
Heaven. By way of this bridge came the deities from heaven to earth,
bearing their jewelled spears, their great bows and heavenly-feathered
arrows, their wonder robes and their magic mirrors. Afterwards, when the
direct way was closed that had been between earth and heaven, and the
deities walked no more upon the Land of Fresh Rice Ears, the people
ll called a place Ama-no-Hashidate, for the sake of happy memory.
This place is one of the Three Fair Views of Yamato. It is where a strip
of land runs out into the blue sea, like a floating bridge covered with
dark pine trees.
There was a holy man of Kioto called Saion Zenji. He had followed the
Way of the Gods from his youth up. He was also a disciple of the great
Buddha; well versed was he in doctrines and philosophies; he knew the
perils of illusion and the ineffable joys of Nirvana. Long hours would
he pass in mystic meditation, and many of the Scriptures he had by
heart. When he was on a pilgrimage he came to Ama-no-Hashidate, and he
offered up thanks because the place was so lovely in his eyes.
He said, "The blind and ignorant have it that trees and rocks and the
green sea-water are not sentient things, but the wise know that they
also sing aloud and praise the Tathagata. Here will I take up my rest,
and join my voice with theirs, and will not see my home again."
So Saion Zenji, the holy man, climbed Nariai-San, the mountain over
against Ama-no-Hashidate. And when he had come to the place of the Lone
Pine, he built him a shrine to Kwannon the Merciful, and a hut to cover
his own head.
All day he chanted the Holy Sutras. From dawn to eventide he sang, till
his very being was exalted and seemed to float in an ecstasy of praise.
Then his voice grew so loud and clear that it was a marvel. The blue
campanula of the mountain in reverence bowed its head; the great white
lily distilled incense from its deep heart; the cicala shrilled aloud;
the Forsaken Bird gave a long note from the thicket. About the hermit's
hut there fluttered dragon-flies and butterflies innumerable, which are
the souls of the happy dead. In the far valleys the peasant people were
comforted in their toil, whether they planted out the green young rice,
or gathered in the ears. The sun and the wind were tempered, and the
rain fell softly upon their faces. Ever and again they climbed the steep
hillside to kneel at the shrine of Kwannon the Merciful, and to speak
with the holy man, whose wooden bowl they would fill with rice or
millet, or barley-meal or beans. Sometimes he came down and went through
the villages, where he soothed the sick and touched the little children.
Folks said that his very garments shone.
Now in that country there came a winter season the like of which there
had not been within the memory of man. First came the wind blowing
wildly from the north, and then came the snow in great flakes which
never ceased to fall for the period of nine days. All the folk of the
valleys kept within doors as warm as might be, and those that had their
winter stores fared none so ill. But, ah me, for the bitter cold upon
the heights of Nariai-San! At the Lone Pine, and about the hermit's hut,
the snow was piled and drifted. The shrine of Kwannon the Merciful could
no more be seen. Saion Zenji, the holy man, lived for some time upon the
food that was in his wooden bowl. Then he drew about him the warm
garment of thought, and passed many days in meditation, which was meat
and drink and sleep to him. Howbeit, even his clear spirit could not
utterly dispel the clouds of illusion. At length it came to earth and
all the man trembled with bodily weakness.
"Forgive me, O Kwannon the Merciful," said Saion Zenji; "but verily it
seems to me that if I have no food I die."
Slowly he rose, and painfully he pushed open the door of his hut. The
snow had ceased; it was clear and cold. White were the branches of the
Lone Pine, and all white the Floating Bridge.
"Forgive me, O Kwannon the Merciful," said Saion Zenji; "I know not the
reason, but I am loath to depart and be with the Shades of Yomi. Save me
this life, O Kwannon the Merciful."
Turning, he beheld a dappled hind lying on the snow, newly dead of the
cold. He bowed his head. "Poor gentle creature," he said, "never more
shalt thou run in the hills, and nibble the grass and the sweet
flowers." And he stroked the hind's soft flank, sorrowing.
"Poor deer, I would not eat thy flesh. Is it not forbidden by the Law of
the Blessed One? Is it not forbidden by the word of Kwannon the
Merciful?" Thus he mused. But even as he mused he seemed to hear a voice
that spoke to him, and the voice said:
"Alas, Saion Zenji, if thou die of hunger and cold, what shall become of
my people, the poor folk of the valleys? Shall they not be comforted any
more by the Sutras of the Tathagata? Break the law to keep the law,
beloved, thou that countest the world well lost for a divine song."
Then presently Saion Zenji took a knife, and cut him a piece of flesh
from the side of the dappled hind. And he gathered fir cones and made a
little fire and cooked the deer's flesh in an iron pot. When it was
ready he ate half of it. And his strength came to him again, and he
opened his lips and sang praises to the Tathagata, and the very embers
of the dying fire leapt up in flame to hear him.
"Howbeit I must bury the poor deer," said Saion Zenji. So he went to the
door of his hut. But look where he might no deer nor dappled hind did he
see, nor yet the mark of one in the deep snow.
"It is passing strange," he said, and wondered.
As soon as might be, up came the poor folk from the valley to see how
their hermit had fared through the snow and the stormy weather. "The
gods send he be not dead of cold or hunger," they said one to another.
But they found him chanting in his hut, and he told them how he had
eaten of the flesh of a dappled hind and was satisfied.
"I cut but a hand's breadth of the meat," he said, "and half of it is
yet in the iron pot."
But when they came to look in the pot, they found there no flesh of
deer, but a piece of cedar wood gilded upon the one side. Marvelling
greatly, they carried it to the shrine of Kwannon the Merciful, and when
they had cleared away the deep snow, all of them went in to worship.
There smiled the image of the sweet heavenly lady, golden among her
golden flowers. In her right side there was a gash where the gilded wood
was cut away. Then the poor folk from the valley reverently brought that
which they had found in the hermit's pot, and set it in the gash. And
immediately the wound was healed and the smooth gold shone over the
place. All the people fell on their faces, but the hermit stood singing
the high praise of Kwannon the Merciful.
The sun set in glory. The valley folk crept softly from the shrine and
went down to their own homes. The cold moon and the stars shone upon the
Lone Pine and the Floating Bridge and the sea. Through a rent in the
shrine's roof they illumined the face of Kwannon the Merciful, and made
visible her manifold arms of love. Yet Saion Zenji, her servant, stood
before her singing in an ecstasy, with tears upon his face:
"O wonder-woman, strong and beautiful,
Tender-hearted, pitiful, and thousand-armed!
Thou hast fed me with thine own flesh--
Mystery of mysteries!
Poor dead dappled hind thou cam'st to me;
In the deep of mine own heart thou spoke to me
To keep, yet break, and breaking, keep thy law--
Mystery of mysteries!
Kwannon, the Merciful Lady, stay with me,
Save me from the perils of illusion;
Let me not be afraid of the snow or the Lone Pine.
Mystery of mysteries--
Thou hast refused Nirvana,
Help me that I may lose the world, content,
And sing the Divine Song."