Contributed by David Surtasky
Dōjō-ji (道成寺) (summary)
A fourth category play by Kanze Kojirō Nobumitsu
Dōjō-ji Temple had not had a hanging bell for a long time. The reason for this was a terrible circumstance that had happened in the past. After many years, the temple decided they needed a new bell. The Head Priest of the temple was to preside over the ceremony for the installation of this restored treasure. The decision was reached to hang a new bell and hold a Buddhist ceremony on an auspicious day, and the Head Priest called his servant to him. The bell had been lifted into the tower, the servant told the Priest. Make certain no women attend our ceremony, the Head Priest told the servant, warning him to ensure that no women would enter the temple on this day or some evil might befall them.
A Shirabyōshi dancer appeared at the gates of the temple. She had hurried to reach Dōjō-ji before the setting of the sun, with the intention of offering a dance for the ceremony of the bell. The servant told her that she could not enter the temple grounds. The Dancer was kind and attractive, but insistent. The servant asked a senior monk if he might make an exception for her, but was told no – that for certain reasons a woman was forbidden on this day. Making up his own mind the servant decided to allow the woman past the gates and into the temple precinct anyhow. With pleasure the Shirabyōshi began her dance
At the mountain temple, with the gathering dusk of verdant spring the Shirabyōshi danced. Like cherry blossoms falling, her movements were graceful and elegant. The servant was lulled into sleep. Seeing that the servant had drifted off, the dancer approached the bell. Without warning she leapt up and pulled the bell from its mount, covering herself inside it.
Hearing the clatter of the falling bell, and surprised at the noise the Head Priest rushed out and confronted the servant. By this point the whole temple had been aroused. The Head Priest remonstrated the servant, and told him that this was a terrible circumstance. The Head Priest had greatly feared such an outcome, and he proceeded to tell the story of the temple’s previous bell:
Once there was a lord of a manor, who had a comely daughter. His manor was an inn, and so he often welcomed a certain yamabushi to stay there during his annual pilgrimage to Kumano. During one such visit, the lord teased his beloved daughter and told her that – look, over there – that mountain priest must surely be your future husband. Although this was just a teasing remark, as the child grew she took this thought seriously into her heart.
After some time, the daughter grew into a young woman. Again the yamabushi paid his annual visit. The household had all gone to sleep, and the daughter crept into the yamabushi’s room. Confronting the priest, she asked him how long he would leave her in loneliness, and should he not come and marry her soon. The yamabushi was astonished by this sudden request, and so made bland pleasantries to placate the girl and not openly reject her, saying he would be happy to be with her eventually – but as soon as she departed his room, he made off in the middle of the night and came to Dōjō-ji temple.
The fleeing yamabushi requested shelter at Dōjō-ji, but there was no room available for him. After much debate, the monks of the temple took the hanging bell from its mount and let him stay inside it.
The daughter decided she would not let the yamabushi escape. In an anxious state she ran after him through the mountains. When she reached the waters of the Hidaka-gawa they were high, and she could not cross the river. She ran up and down the banks, and in her desperation and obsessive attachment she was turned into a snake. The snake easily crossed the river, and came at once to the temple. Finding the hanging bell resting on the ground, the snake was suspicious and swiftly concluded the whereabouts of the yamabushi. She grasped the crown of the bell between her teeth and wrapped her tail seven times around it, and finally blew fires of resentment upon it. The bell was quickly red hot, and so she struck it with her tail – the bell melted down to nothing consuming the yamabushi inside it as well.
What a terrible story, proclaimed the temple monks. The resentment of rejection still overshadowed the temple and its bell.
The priests vowed to use the power of Buddhist prayer to restore the bell to its tower. They began to invoke Acala (Fudo Myō-ō) and the guardians of the Five Directions. When even the river might run backwards, and all the sand disappear, still the power of their prayers would not be exhausted. They prayed mightily, hoping that the woman inside the bell would hear their words, cast aside her resentment and attain enlightenment. The hanging bell began to move, and the servants pulled mightily on the ropes. Raising up the bell – the unrepentant snake was revealed.
The priests called out to the Five Dragons. They begged the dragons for mercy and to accept their prayers – please don’t allow this terrible snake to be part of the waking world. A spiritual battle ensued between the priests and the snake. Finally beaten down by the prayers, the snake fell to the ground – only to rise up again and breath fire upon the bell intent on melting it once more. The bell, now enchanted, reflected the flames; and the snake found herself afire. Writhing in agony from the supernatural heat she cast herself into the deep waters of the Hidaka-gawa. The priests at last staved off the curse of resentment.