Contributed by David Surtasky
A fourth category play, author unknown.
At a time long ago an Officer in the service of the Emperor had been commanded to dedicate one thousand rolls of silk to the Three Great Shrines of Kumano. This was in accordance with the Emperor’s dream, and so the Officer proceeded with collecting the silk from the many corners of Japan. The Officer found himself in the mountainous region of Kumano waiting for a delivery of silk from Kyoto, and was growing increasingly impatient. In order to fulfill his charge he needed to make the required offering to the Deity.
Meanwhile the Silk-bearer was on his way to Kumano. Having received the imperial command to deliver the silk he had begun his journey with a nervous demeanor. He realized the importance of his task, and made off with his heavy load. He passed Chisato Beach and continued on in Kii Province all the way through to the checkpoint and finally approached the mountains. After arriving at Kumano he decided to first visit Otonashi Tenjin Shrine in order to worship there. He observed some winter plum blossoms, smelling their sweet fragrance he offered up his prayers to the enshrined deity in the form of a poem. After making his obsecience he hurried on to Hongū Shrine in order to complete his appointed task.
Upon arriving at Hongū Shrine the Silk-bearer was immediately set upon by the Imperial Officer. How could you have been so long-delayed, the Officer demanded? The date for the delivery had been made clear, and all the other men had brought their burdens on time. Delay of this Imperial Command was inexcusable, and could only be the result of the Silk-bearer’s laziness and intransigence. The Imperial Officer had the Silk-bearer taken into custody immediately, bound with strong ropes and beaten without mercy.
A Shinto Priestess from Otonashi Tenjin Shrine arrived on this pitiable scene. She remonstrated the Imperial Officer, saying that the Silk-bearer was only delayed because he had paused to offer a poem at the shrine, and through this act of compassion assisted the deity there in the brief escape from the Three Sufferings. Pulling the Silk-bearer up she attempted to untie his stiff ropes, but was unable to undo the twisted knots. How unkind you are, she chided the Officer, please release this poor man at once!
What is going on here, the Officer replied? The Priestess told him that the Silk-bearer had composed a poem, and offered it respectfully at the shrine. Release him at once, she implored. The Officer could not believe her words. How was it possible that such a lowly person could be erudite enough to offer a poem at the shrine? If you doubt me, the Priestess said, then ask the Man to recite the first half of the poem – and I will recite the second half.
Feeling there was nothing to lose in this suggestion, the Officer instructed the Silk-bearer to recite the first line of the poem. The Man did so without hesitation, reciting the poem about the winter plum blossom. Also, without hesitation the Priestess responded with the second line. With this proof the Priestess called upon the Officer to forgive the Silk-bearer for his small transgression and release him without delay.
With this proof, and out of respect for the wishes of the Shinto Priestess of Otonashi Tenjin, the Officer released the Silk-bearer from his bindings.
The Priestess proceeded to tell all around her about the great virtues of poem and dance: The Deities powers are heightened by the worship of their followers, and so people can come to rely on them for protection. Poems, she said, have much the same power as mantras and are like mystic chants that can express great truth. If one were to recite poems, it would be as if one were praying. The release from worldly concerns would surely come upon you, and you would be free of evil inclinations just as if you were bathed in the refreshing light of a full moon. The power of the Silk-bearer’s poem had brought about his release; just as a warm spring wind will open the buds of the cherry flowers.
Impressed by the Shinto Priestess, the Imperial Officer asked of her to become possessed by the deity of her shrine. The Priestess prayed earnestly to the deity, saying that Mount Kumano is located at the southeast of Paradise and was a sacred land. She extolled the virtues of the various mountains and their representation of Buddhist ideals and wisdom. As she continued to pray the deity possessed her. She began a sacred dance.
Slowly at first, she danced, then with greater vigor. Her dance honored the Amita Buddha as the deities possessed her, and moving through her the dance became frantic and wild. Her hang swung about her head in rhythm to unseen musicians and she shook a hei stick. She leapt into the air and stamped upon the earth, rubbed prayer beads together and elegantly swayed the long white sleeves of her robe. Greatly pleased with the dance, the deity departed her in time and she returned to her human countenance.
All who watched were in wonder, and greatly moved by the spirits of the land.