Contributed by David Surtasky
A fifth category play by Motokiyo Zeami
Quite some time ago, a Mountain Priest was traveling, as they often do. From the north, he was making his way to Mount Kazuraki. He passed through the flatlands of Kashima, sleeping in open fields, following the moon as it traveled west. On he traveled, and eventually found himself in Nara. Having arrived, he sought out someone from the area who might tell him more about the place.
The Mountain Priest came across the Watchman of the Kasuga plain. A gentleman of respectable years, he was watchman of the signal fires, and patrolled between the mountain and the village. The Kasuga shrine to which he paid homage was well-known, and as he walked from place to place he sometimes reflected on an ancient poem that spoke of its memorable traits. The Mountain Priest and Watchman met beside a mound, in front of which was a deep clear pool of water.
“Pardon me, sir,” said the Mountain Priest, “but may I ask you a question? Is this where you live?” “Of course,” replied the Watchman, “I am the watchman of Kasuga Plain.” “Ah, thank you. May I ask you about this pool of water? It is somehow thought-provoking. Is it well-known in the area? What can you tell me of it?” asked the Mountain Priest.
“It is the watchman’s mirror, that’s what they call it,” answered the Watchman, “for I see myself reflected in it every day. It takes the name from another watchman’s mirror, one that they say was owned by a demon in ancient days.” “A demon?” exclaimed the Mountain Priest. The Watchman responded; “Indeed. While the sun shone he took the form of a man and held watch over the plain, yet at night he became a demon and lived in the very mound that you see here.” “How interesting,” said the Mountain Priest “so hereabouts, when saying ‘the watchman’s mirror’ one may be referring to both this pool of water, or the demon’s mirror.”
“That is so,” said the Watchman “Please, come look into it for yourself. What is it that you see?”
The Mountain Priest grew near, and gazed into the water. His saw his own reflection, yet suddenly older, his face lined with care and many years. The still, flat surface showed him his face, but with a truth he had yet to confront.
“I have heard a poem about a watchman’s mirror and a hawk ~ is it possible that this is the very same pool of water?” asked the Mountain Priest. “Yes, it most certainly is,” replied the Watchman, “Many years ago the Emperor was hunting on this plain and it came to pass that he lost his hawk. He searched and searched, and finally met a watchman. ‘Grandfather, I have lost my hawk. Have you perhaps seen it?’ asked the Emperor. ‘Yes, your hawk can be found at the bottom of the pool.’ replied the watchman. How can this be, thought the Emperor, and yet he looked into the pool. There was his hawk. Startled, the Emperor then realized it was only a reflection. His hawk was perched high in a tree.”
So it was true, the hawk was in the watchman’s mirror. An old poem said as much: if one only possessed such a mirror, then from far away one would see the reflection of one’s love, and know whether she truly loved one in return. So said the Watchman, thinking on those ancient times. As often happened with the old, the memories of the poem, and the emotions it expressed, made tears dash on his sleeves.
“This is an old story, you are moved, and seem to know much about it,” said the Mountain Priest, displaying his suspicion “Now that you’ve told it, then why don’t you show me the real watchman’s mirror?” “What?” exclaimed the Watchman, “that mirror was owned by a demon? What would I have to do with that?” “Then tell me where I can find it,” insisted the Mountain Priest. “Looking into a demon’s mirror would only horrify you. Content yourself with this pool. This is the mirror of water that once showed the hawk, look upon it instead.” Saying that, with the sun fading beyond in the west, the Watchman faded also like smoke on water, like mist before the moon, and disappeared into the mound.
The Mountain Priest could hardly be more astonished. A Man from the Area arrived, and the Mountain Priest recounted the story of his encounter with the mysterious Watchman, suspecting that he must have been something other than he seemed. “Surely you met the demon himself!” responded the Man “You should stay here for the night, and perhaps you will see something more!”
The Mountain Priest felt his ascetic practice should have prepared him to confront such a supernatural being. Yes, he decided, he would stay before the mound and pray through the night. He rubbed his rosary beads fervently, and called upon the name of the Buddha, hoping that a wonder might be revealed to him.
Called forth by the Mountain Priest’s pious prayer, the Demon of Kasuga appeared out of the mound. Even such a Demon was subject to Buddha’s law. As he rose from the mound, behold; he displayed the watchman’s mirror!
The Mountain Priest shook with fear. How terrible, the mirror was radiant with fire and shone with the reflection of the Demon’s eye. No, thought the Mountain Priest, it is impossible to confront!
“If you cannot abide the truth of this mirror,” said the Demon “Then I will depart …” as he began to sink back into the mound. “No! Wait;” replied the Mountain Priest “I must test the worth of my dharma.” He rubbed his rosary beads and prayed, thinking on the many years of training he had received. Now, the Demon proceeded to dance with the mirror, and a great wonder was revealed in its shining depths:
First Kongara, then Seitaka the attendants of Fudō Myōō were reflected. Then the black dragon Kurikara, he who has wrapped himself around the fearsome sword of Fudō. Now behold Gōsanze, Wisdom King of the East. And now, the other Wisdom Kings. Now turning the mirror to the heavens it reflects the vast emptiness; all-consuming, the thoughts, which contain no thoughts, the words beyond the Gods; composed only of silence, emptiness.
Now turning the mirror to the earth, it transforms into the Mirror of Judgment, the mirror of King Enma, he who determines the depth of our sins. Great sins, small sins, all weighed out and reflected unflinchingly before us, judged by King Enma’s unerring eye. Now behold the torment of the damned, the sky blackened by a rain of arrows, and the ceaseless flailing of iron rods on the backs of those who have sinned, the tortures of lasting attachment. All heaven and earth revealed in the Watchman’s Mirror.
The Demon of Kasuga danced, and the Mountain Priest cowered in wonder, that which is, and that which is yet to be, revealed to him. The Demon struck the ground with his foot, and it opened up beneath him. He disappeared into the bowels of the earth.