Contributed by David Surtasky
A fourth category play by an unknown author
Many, many years ago there was a monk named Genpin. Now Genpin lived at the base of Mount Miwa, somewhat south of Nara. It was a quite beautiful place, and there were many stately cypress trees that grew near to his small home. There, in the shadow of the mountain, the seasons passed peacefully, and the end of fall was approaching.
There had been a Woman of middle-years who’d been coming to Genpin’s house every day, and bringing with her branches of shikimi and pure water as an offering to the Buddha. Genpin decided one day that if she would visit him yet again, he would finally ask her for her name.
As she was in the habit of doing, the Woman was making her way to Genpin’s house. Lost in thought she walked without following a particular path, longing to go to the cypress trees. She was thinking of many things, and among them was the notion that life was so uncertain. “It makes no difference if we are old or young, rich or poor, not one of us knows just when the end will come,” she thought to herself “I have lived in this world for many years, in the village of Miwa, without anything particular to show for it.”
Genpin, alone in his house, was also thinking many things. “When the night sky is clear, a full moon may appear all by itself over the peak of the mountain. Yet, in the morning, the cave mouth exhales clouds.” He felt a bit remorseful as he remembered this poem, looking out at the mountain. He thought of himself as being a bit alone, and regretted that perhaps no one might visit him when winter began.
Just then the Woman arrived. “Hello, kind sir. May I enter?” she said. “Of course,” Genpin replied “you are the Woman who visits me every day, bearing branches of fragrant shikimi and clear water for the Buddha.” In response the Woman quoted an old poem: “The Mountain’s shadow came pushing through the gate, and now won’t leave although I push it in return.” Knowing the poem, Genpin said: “The light of the Moon extends where it will, although I’ve tried to brush it from view.” The view from Genpin’s house looked much like the scene the poem described. It was tranquil there, in the distance the sound of birds, and of water flowing. It felt like a fitting place for an old man to live.
The Woman entered Genpin’s house, pushing aside the rustic brushwood door, and bearing the branches of shikimi. Outside the window, an ancient pine braced against the eaves was blown by the wind, making sounds as if it might be raining. Dry leaves scattered the garden, now brown so late in the season, and weeds had grown up around the gate. Genpin’s house was a bit lonely; there in the stillness of the mountain, and in the distance was the low chuckle of water flowing.
“Kind sir,” said the Woman “May I ask a favor? Now it has become cold, so late in the year. Would you let me borrow a portion of your kimono, so that I might stay warm?” “But of course,” stated Genpin, handing her his kimono, “yet, I am curious, would you please tell me where you live?” “Close to the bottom of the mountain, in the village of Miwa,” the Woman said “There is an old poem that describes it: ‘my house is at the base of Mount Miwa. If you miss me, come and find my cedar gate.’ But, you needn’t come all the way to my house. Still, you may visit me, if you wonder who I am.” Visit me, the Woman said, and so saying she became like evening mist at the foot of the mountain. Her form grew transparent and thin, until she disappeared altogether.
Just then a Man from the Area came by, on his way to pray at the Miwa Myōjin shrine. He’d found a kimono hanging on a branch of a sacred cedar tree near the village. He recognized the garment as belonging to Genpin, and stopped by to ask him why he should leave his robe just hanging on a tree? Genpin described to the Man the mysterious encounter that he’d just had with the Woman, and that he’d given his kimono to her. “Why, you must have met someone who was other than what they seemed! Perhaps you should visit the sacred cedar in Miwa village, and offer prayers to the deity there and you’ll be rewarded with something miraculous,” declared the Man from the Area. And so, Genpin set out to visit the sacred tree in Miwa Village.
Arriving swiftly at the village of Miwa just before dusk, and after looking around for a bit, Genpin found his kimono hanging from a branch on one of a pair of cedar trees. As he drew closer, he saw that someone had written a poem in gold ink on the kimono. The poem said: “The one that gives, the one that receives, and the thing that is given; all must be of purity, so give the garment freely and without thought of return.” Genpin was moved by these words.
Just then, beyond the cedar trees, Genpin could hear the most melodious voice: “Even the deities desire salvation in the heart of the Buddha. I am so glad that you have come.” Genpin was surprised, but the beauty of the voice and the sincerity of the words moved him to sudden tears. “I can hear you,” he said “but in the name of the Buddha, please reveal yourself to me.” “Here I am,” the Deity of Miwa said mellifluously, appearing radiant and beautiful before Genpin “Please pray for my salvation!”
“Surely you can have no sin,” intoned Genpin, “but if you feel that mankind has made you suffer, then the blessings of Buddha can bring peace to you.” The Deity of Miwa had transformed into an exquisite woman, clad in a kariginu and wearing an eboshi atop her head. She was dressed elegantly in the manner of a Shinto priestess, and was glorious to behold in her revealed form.
Tales of the immortal deities are meant to bring comfort to all beings, in the time of the decline of Buddha’s teachings. The stories exist to give guidance and help in the salvation of all creatures. The Deity of Miwa told Genpin such a story:
Deities who manifest in the corrupted world can be tainted by the ugliness of people’s hearts for a time. There can be no true ugliness, only that which we carry within ourselves.
Many years ago there was a man and woman who had been together for some time, but the man would only visit the woman at night and never during the day. And so, one clear night with her man’s head resting upon their pillow the woman asked: “Even though we have been together for some time, you never come to visit me except at night. It is strange, and hurts me greatly. I want to see you always, why do you treat me this way?” The man replied, with great sadness; “I’m terribly embarrassed by my appearance. If I came to you during the day, others might see me and think ill of us both. I’m sorry to say this, but tonight is the last time we will make love with each other. I cannot come here again.” These words were awful for the woman, and she felt the deepest sadness because of them. She was determined to find out just where her man might go, and so she sewed a thin thread from a spool onto the hem of his kimono so that she might be able to follow the thread once he had left.
The thread reeled out, on and on, and the woman moved by her deep love followed after it. Eventually she came to a cedar tree at the base of Mount Miwa. She discovered that the man that she loved was, in fact, the tree! Because she still had three spools of thread, the tree came to be known as the Cedar of the Seal of Miwa.
Genpin was greatly moved by the story, and felt the manifestation of the Deity of Miwa to be one of incomparable beauty. He felt somewhat disturbed though, and a bit remorseful after having heard the tale of the man and the woman. The Deity of Miwa could see his distress, and so told yet another story in order to comfort him:
In ancient days, in times long past, when this world was still in its infancy Amaterasu Ōmikami closed herself up inside Ama-no-Iwato (the heavenly rock cave) because of her distress. As a result, the clever and gorgeous Deity Ama-no-Uzume, stripped herself naked and danced atop an overturned tub to the sound of celestial music in front of the great rock door in order to entice her friend to come out. Amaterasu Ōmikami had hidden herself in the cave, fleeing after her abuse at the hands of her own brother Susanō. Outside the cave, a thousand deities played flutes and drums (both great and small) slowly at first and then with quicker tempo and much vigor. Because Amaterasu Ōmikami had closed herself up inside the cave, the world was blanketed in utter darkness. The heavenly deities mourned her loss, and the loss of her bountiful light. They played music and danced, hoping to entice her out from her hiding.
The Deity of Miwa began to dance the kagura, slowly at first but with stately splendor.
Amaterasu Ōmikami was intrigued by the music she heard. What could they be celebrating, when she felt so sad? She slid the door aside just a crack, and at once the darkness and clouds of the world fled away, and the light of the sun and the moon shone brightly. Enticed by the dance of Deity Ama-no-Uzume, and the music of the other gods, Amaterasu Ōmikami left the cave behind and light was restored to the world. This is the story of the beginning of all things.
Before time was counted in hours and days, and before mankind was abroad in the world, these events had occurred, so we are told. Genpin sat in wonder at the feet of the dancing Deity of Miwa, her flowing sleeves filling the new morning air with a heavenly perfume. It was said that the Deity of Ise, and the Deity of Miwa were one and the same.
As the rock door had once been closed, and darkness covered both the land and the sea, so now the door had been opened and the sun arose again like returning joy in the east. “Oh, no,” thought Genpin “I’m waking from this beautiful dream; I wish it weren’t so. I’m awakening, and will miss it so. Although like all things, it starts and it ends, I don’t want to wake up.”