Contributed by David Surtasky
a third category play by an unknown author
Quite some time ago in Kyoto lived a samurai named Taira no Munemori. Part of the Heike clan, he was considered powerful and important by many people. One of his consorts was a beautiful and wealthy woman named Yuya, who was the mistress of an inn located in Ikeda some distance from the capital. Now Munemori was not an especially cruel man, but he was accustomed to having his way in all matters.
It so happened that Yuya’s mother had fallen quite ill, and she’d asked that Yuya come be by her side at what might be her final hours. Yuya had in turn asked Munemori for permission to leave, but he had refused.
There was a woman named Asagao who served Yuya at her inn. Asagao had sent a number of messengers to Yuya, to tell her of elderly Mother’s plight. Since Yuya had remained in Kyoto for so long, Asagao herself had set out to bring Yuya back home. It was a fine spring, and the fragrance of flowers filled the air. It was a long journey from Ikeda to Kyoto, and Asagao had hurried from inn to inn sleeping only briefly, rising before the sun and leaving early each morning. Finally she arrived in the capital at the mansion where Yuya was staying, and swiftly sought her out.
Yuya was deeply distressed. She could not help but worry about her mother. She thought of the rain and dew, how it nurtured the plants of the world and let the flowers bloom. In this way, one’s parents were like the blessed rain, allowing people to grow and prosper. For these reasons, people owed great obligation to their parents for all they had done for them. Meeting Asagao at the gates of the mansion, Yuya said; “I am so worried. Please tell me, how is my mother?”
Although she was happy to see Yuya, Asagao was sorely distressed and replied; “Your mother is gravely ill.” Asagao delivered the letter she carried to Yuya, asking her to read it without delay. In reading the letter, Yuya became even more upset. It was clear that her mother was growing weaker and weaker. “Come with me,” Yuya said to Asagao, “I must meet with Lord Munemori immediately, and ask him to read this letter. Perhaps he’ll be kind and allow me to leave at once.”
Yuya arrived in the Lord’s hall, and was ushered before him. “Lord Munemori, most humbly I must say that my Mother is gravely ill. Asagao has just come all the way to Kyoto with a letter from her, and I beg that you would take just a moment and read it” Yuya said. “A letter from you Mother?” replied Munemori tersely, “I don’t really need to look at it, just read it aloud.”
In a trembling voice, Yuya read the letter:
The days are long gone since the Emperor Wu spent pleasant spring evenings in the palace with Lady Li, her death having ended those joyous days like a brittle dream. Even though Emperor Xuanzong and his precious wife viewed the autumn moon together and promised to stay with each other eternally, those days have vanished as well. We can understand that even the revered Gautama Buddha himself could not escape the inevitable arrival of his own death.
In February I told you that my body, like an aging cherry tree, couldn’t wait just a bit longer for the blossoms of spring. Even now I’m filled only with worry and weakness. Like an old bush warbler who may not live to see blossoms again, I weep each day without you.
Please, speak to the Lord Munemori, and receive his permission to come be at my side that I might look on your face once more. It is said that only once in the cycle of reincarnation we might be together as mother and child. My only wish is to see you again in this world, before I pass on to the next. Lord Narihira’s mother wrote a poem to him, saying “When it is said that with age, separation is inevitable, then I grow to miss you all the more.” Lord Narihira, busy with his duties to the Imperial Court wrote in response “If only separation were to vanish from the mortal world, for the sake of children who pray for the long lives of their parents.”
“As you have heard,” Yuya continued, “My Mother is in gravely ill, and wants nothing more than to see me one final time. Please, I beg of you, let me return to her at once.”
Lord Munemori was unmoved. “Although I regret to hear of your Mother’s illness, I must say that I desire nothing more than to view the cherry blossoms in your company this spring. In asking to leave, does that mean you care nothing for me?” Yuya was crestfallen; “With deep respect, the cherry blossoms bloom each spring. There will be yet another spring that we can enjoy them together, yet this will no doubt be the last spring for my Mother. Please, give me leave to go to her at once I beg you.”
There seemed to be little compassion in Lord Munemori’s response: “No. You may not. Don’t be concerned, we’ll ride together in the same carriage to see the cherry blossoms and offer each other comfort. Come, let’s depart at once.” Munemori ordered his ox keepers to prepare the carriage. The Lotus Sutra says that we should leave the burning house, and so to leave all worldly attachment behind, yet Yuya was hesitant to do such a thing. Climbing into the carriage, she was filled with remorse and could think only of her dear Mother.
As the carriage moved out across Kyoto, Yuya was unmoved by the many famous sights. Traveling towards the cool Kamo River and Kiyomizu-dera, the river rushed and chuckled, and the blossoms could be seen on Mount Otowa. Looking to the East, Yuya felt the strain in her heart while gazing off towards the road that led towards her home.
Early rain in the spring brings flowers swiftly to bloom. Warm autumn evenings slow the fall of the leaves. Beyond the mountains, there are more mountains. Beyond the roads, more roads are yet to come. The mountains are majestic, and the clouds moving over them more majestic still. Sometimes people are full of joy, and sometimes filled with sorrow. Everywhere in the world all things exist at once, joy and sadness, love and anger, new beginnings and the end of all things.
On the bridges and on the roads of Kyoto, there were many people, old and young, men and women, common people and Lords and Ladies as well. Everywhere, happy people in their best robes, city people and farmers, dressed in wonderful colors and looking like fresh spring flowers. All around them, like fragrant smoke, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
As the carriage passed by the shrine to Ksitigarbha in Rokuhara, Yuya prayed to the to the Bodhisattva of Mercy enshrined there. ‘Please, offer protection to my Mother,’ she said quietly. The carriage moved on, passing Otagi and came to the intersection of Rokudō. Rising from the hill of Toribe, the smoke from bodies being cremated could be seen rising into the hazy air. To the north, honking geese flew low over the river, away towards the Big Dipper just beginning to shine in the sky. Finally, the carriage arrived at Kiyomizu-dera. Yuya climbed from the carriage, and went before the Deity of Mercy to pray.
Meanwhile, Lord Munemori had joined the rest of his party and sat looking out across the basin of Kyoto. “Where is Yuya?” he asked. His retainer answered, “She is still at Kiyomizu-dera, my Lord.” Lord Munemori felt irritated; “Why is she dilly dallying? Go and tell her to come here at once.” The retainer scurried off and sought out Mistress Asagao: “Mistress Asagao, the party is already underway! Please bring Lady Yuya at once!” “Of course,” said Asagao.
Lady Yuya came at Lord Munemori’s bidding and joined the party. Although she was sad, she had such a charming personality and fair appearance that everyone was gladdened by her arrival. “Look at the blossoms!” Yuya said, “It is a splendid view from here. Perhaps we should make some poems to express ourselves?”
If our minds are full of worry, our poems will express them. We have no influence over life itself, nor should we lament it. Butterflies swirl like snow, they dance and move among the flowers. Above the willow tree, Bush Warblers fly like chips of gold. In the river, blossoms float still fragrant. As evening falls, the bell tolls, mingling with clouds in the azure sky.
The bells of Gion and Kiyomizu-dera sound, and remind us that life has no permanence. The cherry flower of Jishu-gongen is white, in memory of the sal tree’s turning in the minute of Gautama Buddha’s death. It is an inevitable law. That which flourishes cannot escape the ravages of time. All living things, like this tree, will come to their timely end. In the distance, the mountains are adrift in clouds. Are they truly clouds, or only cherry blossoms?
In the south the shrine of Ima-gumano floats in a haze, and the Deity of Kumano is enshrined there. Like mist, the deity’s protection covers all creatures with soft mercy. Around Inari Daisha, the leaves are green; although we can imagine them in their full scarlet hew. Here, at Kiyomizu-dera, the long spring passes in immeasurable time. Ten thousand, ten of ten thousand, blossoms are arrayed before us.
On Mount Otowa, blossoms fall like snow.
“No one may understand the deep love I have for my mother,” Yuya thought to herself as she gracefully poured a cup of sake for the reclining Lord Munemori. “Yuya,” Lord Munemori said “won’t you dance for us?” To the sound of flutes and drums, Yuya danced elegantly while gripped in utter sadness.
“There,” Yuya said, “look how the spring rain makes the cherry blossoms scatter. Are the raindrops nothing more than tears from the sky, mourning the swift passage of this too brief season?“ Yuya drew a strip of paper from her sleeve and wrote a poem on it, and, placing on her fan, passed the poem to Lord Munemori. “What can I do?” the poem read, “Although I long for the springtime in Kyoto, even now the cherry blossom in the east is fading.”
Reading this poem, Lord Munemori knew at once that Yuya referred to her mother, and in that moment his heart was opened to her longing and distress. “Your worry is sincere,” Lord Munemori said quietly, “and I now also grieve for your mother. Go to your home in the east!” “You give me leave to go?” Yuya replied. “Yes,” he said, “go quickly now.”
Lady Yuya gathered her few things, and made ready to go. “I am most grateful,” she said to Lord Munemori and left the blossom viewing party. Hurrying away, lest Lord Munemori change his mind, she departed as the evening birds began to call. As she left Kyoto, she stopped at Mount Osaka and looked back at the mountains now to her west. Geese flew overhead. As she traveled east, back to her mother’s side, she felt pangs of longing for Kyoto as well.