The Abbot and The Noble
In our village , Abbot Akisada was enormously respected by most of our folks. With his mellow and savvy manner like the sage who got hold of the unfathomable wisdom , his presence seemed to miraculously soothe our folks' all worries in the world like the sudden devastating flood or the accursed plagues in our rice fields. His austere and hardworking life would earn him the admirations from all the people who knew him ,even not intimately. This was contrary to the previous abbot who had lived like a voracious swine and died out of the blue mysteriously without any remorse from the folks. Doubtlessly, when Akisada's temple held the various ceremonies , our folks would join him with glee. They were so convinced that his solemn chants could ensure that their afterlives would be blissful in Nirvana ,surrounded by their long deceased beloved ones.
Abbot Akisada's temple was situated among the lush green bamboo forest . The temple's ancient gate , adorned with the red paper lanterns , greeted the visitors magnificently. When one rambled on the stone-paved road unto the temple, one could not help himself but feel immersed in the serenity of heaven, as the lean bamboos were moving hither and thither with strong wind. The small children felt grateful for the giant friends who lovingly provided them with the shady playground near the road. Not far from them were the jealous novices who were always tasked with sweeping the large pile of fallen colorful leaves. The young boys had to refrain from joining the games with their secular fellows as they were ordered to clean the wooden shrines and cater for them a daily offering. They also had to clean the hall's floor and its every inch ,including the large Lord Buddha image, to make it glistening to impress the visitors. But most important of all, like the abbot had always said - to work is to meditate and to rid oneself of sins.
Now the temple's janitor was extremely tired of watering the garden .The sound of cicadas in the bamboo forest became the lullaby for him while lying down and dozing off below the cherry tree in the afternoon. Soon the old man was pulled out of his pleasant slumber by a gentle touch of someone. The young stranger was standing before him.
"Sorry ,sir. I have called you several times," that man said humbly.
The janitor began to size him up. The man was perhaps twentysomething ,lanky with broad shoulders. He was quite tanned and grew the thin moustache ,which seemed to be not his original appearance. His hair was a bit scruffy ; his smelly attire was thickly stained and filthy that looked like the pieces of rag.
"What is it that you want , Stranger ?"The old codger yawned with a little agitation.
"I am desperately looking for some place to stay briefly. I have not enough money for tavern," he said.
"So you are another drifter ,right ?" The janitor yawned again like he was being bored to death with too frequent visits by drifters.
"Yes ,and I'm ready to work for the temple in return." The young man's voice was adamant , but something was implying that he was not too serious about his refusal.
"It is not in my power to grant your wish, but I will take you to the abbot," the old man murmured.
The young man nodded as a sign of gratitude. He then yawned too but closed his mouth.
"Are you from the north , Stranger ? Your accent is unfamiliar, " The janitor asked without fully looking at the young man who kept following him in the relaxing manner.
"Not quite ,sir. But you can be sure that it is very far away from here. All the way , I have been walking with the feeling like it's eternity."The stranger's voice was still calm.
The old man chuckled. "Certainly, our land is beset with civil wars and poverty. The herd of Samurai become Ronin (without master) and turn to be the bandits instead. It is not a paradise to waddle through such the unsavory territories."
He then glanced at the stranger again with the wary eyes.
"Or are you their lookout ? Our temple and village are impoverished. So your gang would usurp nothing ,but the meager grains of rice."
The young man said , "Not something like that ,sir. I am the son of peasant , living from hand to mouth. I had been deemed by my father a sluggard ,so I was kicked out of the house."
"Ha ha , like I assume. Kids these days are unaware of how their parents have endured the travails and hard lives. They just live their lives as they please : courting girl ,drinking and fighting senselessly,"
The janitor mumbled like other senile and grumpy men without noticing that the stranger was grinning. He seemed to be oblivious to the young man's manner that appeared not like other drifters'.
The young monk was sweeping the sandlot of temple and peeked at the stranger.After being notified by the janitor , he darted to the hall behind. Abbot Akisada then held rosary and walked out of the hall. The young man nodded to the abbot very politely. The latter stared at him for a long time. The young monk and the novices were gathering and looking at their abbot with curiosity. However, They at last wholeheartedly trusted his insight of whether the stranger should be allowed to live here.
"What's your name , young man ?" asked the abbot.
The young man answered ,"I have already cast off my former name and now don't have one ,sir. You can call me Nameless or whatever."
"Where are you from ? And what's your destination ?" The abbot tried to make his voice evenly.
The stranger looked at his eyes."I was expelled from my house long time ago. When I returned there again and sadly found that my hometown is now utterly ruined by war and all my acquaintance perish. I am the wandering lost soul and sleep where my feet have taken me to."
"How long do you plan to stay here?"The abbot still interrogated him.
"Can you ever exactly predict the time when the snow will stop falling ,sir?"The young man beamed.
The abbot chuckled and turned to the janitor ,as if he had known about the old man's fear.
"Don't worry ,the person like this will never join the bandits to pillage our temple."
He turned to the stranger.
"Young man ,you can stay here as long as you desire. There is a deserted barn near this temple. The old Emon will be your mentor for works, as we are now lacking the manpower."
The young man took a bow and walked with the janitor to the place mentioned by the abbot. The young monk stared at the abbot.
"Sir , wouldn't it be too easy to accept him? He may be the criminal on the loose and hide his own identity."
Akisada beamed and waved his hand.
"No , he is so unique ,Brother Gentaro, I sensed it even I was still being in the hall. Perhaps he might enlighten us in the coming days or months. Remember thousand years ago ,when Lord Buddha escaped from his palace , he became the beggarly vagabond like this."
Brother Gentaro nodded to the abbot. Both of them stood silently on the terrace, watching the novices trimming Bonzai and Banyan trees in the garden. The frog with uncanny eyes was jumping into the pound full of carps.
It was such a long time that Hideyoshi had not dreamt of his mother. In his obfuscate memory , she was gorgeous ; her eyes were radiant ,well according with her voluptuous lips. Her delicate complexion was so white that it became exceedingly pale under her thick Kimono. When she embraced him ,he could smell the fragrance from her lofty neck. His mother was quite shy and taciturn ,so he could not much recall her soft voice. Then it was again that Hideyoshi could not remember whether her sudden absence meant her demise or just everlasting disappearance from the castle he had lived since his birth.
His father , Lord Katsu, provided him another mother who looked dismally inferior to his birth mother. For a decade , the young Hideyoshi could not feel attached to this arrogant woman or even his own father who was the ferocious overlord in this territory. His only consolation was his younger sister who bore strikingly resemblance to their mother. When she smiled , it looked like the twinkling stars to him.When she laughed , he felt he was listening to the goddess playing Koto [Japanese musical instrument].
One day under the clear blue sky ,Hideyoshi was devastated when his younger sister ,as his only friend , was arranged to tie a knot with the son of other Shogun whose territory was so far away from here like it was at the end of the world. He turned to the new reckless habit by sneaking to the neighborhood outside of his castle every night ,with some helps from his faithful servants. He disguised himself as a libertine who enjoyed visiting the gambling house and the brothel. If one frequented one of those places in the dead of night ,one would see the handsome youngster laughing out loud when he won the gambling and insatiably gulped Sake.It was delivered by the pretty Geisha who seemingly got spellbound by his charms.
Before that tragedy , Hideyoshi's father had always wanted his only son to be the valiant warrior like himself ,but Hideyoshi had another plan ; he aspired to be the poet. He loved nature so much and would enthuse with many hours to observe the scattered clouds above the golden rice fields. However, he also grew fond of practicing the sword and archery with his benevolent instructor when all pencils and the papers were seized by his father who learnt his secret ambition. His prodigality gradually emerged when he overslept and increasingly skipped the practices. Finally his father became extremely furious when informed about these by some snitch. Hideyoshi was sent to study with the old master in another town. He thought the word ' banish' would be more appropriate for his own fate. He was confident that the scheming stepmother had manipulated his father to purge him , because she loathed him.
There ,at the school ,The old master was too senile and alcoholic ,so he let all his senior students to supervise education for the teenagers from various backgrounds. No one knew that Hideyoshi was the son of Shogun ,so he was elated by their heartfelt comraderies. Everyday ,after the long industrious studies at night, the students had to wake up early and do some chores and learn all types of martial art ,including the swords fighting. Hideyoshi used to impress everybody by using his well -built body to take on 2 or 3 of his classmates simultaneously. In the afternoon all the boys were scheduled to trek through the forest and mountains nearby ,and they learnt how to write and recite the poems from the tranquility of nature.
Hideyoshi remembered writing the poem and heretofore kept its paper with him.
The sun's caressed the green mountain
,and the birds are singing the earth's ancient song.
I am drinking the elixir from their divinity.
The young man's good time lingered on like the scent of perfume that euphorically filled the heart of the one who smelled but did not know how long it would last. One night the old master passed away in his sleep. The local authority ordered to close their school. All the students were forced to desolately disperse from the place they loved so much. It was no doubt at the farewell party ,all the boys embraced one another with tears and reminisced about their mutually convivial experience. One of Hideyoshi's best friends persuaded him to accompany him to examine for a prestigious post of functionary at the capital city. He refused that good will as a result of a desire of returning home. He really just wanted to catch a last glimpse of his beloved castle before travelling to see the world ,including his younger sister ,and transfom them to be his poems.
Upon his arrival , Hideyoshi was totally petrified to see his castle terribly destroyed. Many parts of its were still being burnt by the smoldering fire. The corpses of his father's soldiers pathetically lied along its gate and the stairs. The young man bawled like a lunatic , struggling to the top of deserted castle and found the body of his father lying on his stepmother's. There were the large arrows stuck on his back. His mind became benumbed and resounded with his own weeping.
For hours that Hideyoshi had managed to pull himself together, sitting and watching the body of his father whom he both loved and hated. The young man grabbed the hand of his father and became illuminated that the old overlord had actually loved him but in his own way.Perhaps his stepmother was not so callous like he had presumed.She might have treated him with the conviction that he detested her. Hideyoshi then walked around and found the seriously wounded soldier.He was imparted of who the real culprits behind this massacre were. But there was now a puzzle swirling on his mind : if he had been here instead of the school, could he have prevented such a havoc ?
-Perhaps you might have been another buffoon cowering with fear in the dungeon of castle, he muttered to himself.
Hideyoshi then spent night and day without sleep digging the gigantic grave to bury all of the corpses ,including that last surviving soldier. He seemed not to be disgusted at all when some of them were beginning to putrefy and their smell was unbearably fetid. The young man used to share the amiable memories with many of them and hoped this would be the last and best tribute he could provide them.
After finishing the loneliest funeral in the world , Hideyoshi fell asleep in his bedroom which was now covered with the pieces of brick and broken furniture. He just waited to see the ghost of his father to bid the final farewell , but ,alas, when he woke up in the morning , he became despondent about finding himself totally alone all along.
Hideyoshi was about to embark on his first journey to the uncharted territory of his life : to the fate that was unforeseen like the murky water in the pond. He amused himself by thinking about the ironic situation he was thrown into. For decades that he was ardent to leave this castle , but now he was dreading leaving it when he came back. The young man had planned to herald the news to his younger sister , but then he changed his mind. He knew she would cordially shelter him and he would be treated in disdain from her husband's snobbish affluent family.It thus could put her in awkward or even troublesome position. Or she probably had known this atrocity already, as the news of downfall of a noble family always travelled swiftly.
Only of Hideyoshi's possession while roaming were his own book and a broken pencil he found in the closet of his father. Instead of making a living by writing letter because of his erudition ,he turned to beg for money from the passers-by who kept looking at him with contempt. Once in a while that he settled down on a particular village for a long time and did the menial jobs like cleaning the floor of local community's hall or carrying the heavy luggage for the vendors. The young man sneered at himself while receiving a paltry amount of money given by his employers who attempted not to accidentally touch his hands.
There was also an ample time that Hideyoshi had nurtured the idea of vendetta. The plan was so simple. He would have an excursion in the territory of his family's murderer. Then he ,in a disguise of commoner, pretended to volunteer with the army. With all skills of fighting , the young man would certainly overwhelm the officers and get promoted quickly. It thus could give him a chance to be close to that nefarious overlord and hence his assassination. Suddenly the young man inadvertently asked himself whether it could simply revive his ruined family or whether this would bring the peace to his mind.Once Hideyoshi rushed to rescue a young lady from sexual advance by a couple of thugs. He beat one of them so awfully that he felt crestfallen to see that man writhing and wailing because of the broken jaws. How was about thrusting sword to the heart of humans ? Did it make him feel better?
So the young man's foremost solace was the poetry .While he was lounging in free time , he wished to transfigure some impressive situations he had encountered into the poems in his very book. But he unexpectedly found the mundanity around him so irresistible. The lonely pink flower that blossomed near the path was greeting him with her mystic smile, the tattered shrine of god which some parts were covered with the green moss that conveyed the feeling of peacefulness to him.The laughter of small urchins who were playing some games was like the manifestations of mother nature that he was searching for. Once the heavy rain stranded him in an old and decrepit barn. There he met a stray dog who took the barn as its shelter like him. It was at first glaring at him with distrust. But when Hideyoshi showed that he was not its threat, it began to relax and whimper before licking its drenched body.
That dog is shivering from the cold
I feel like giving it a towel.
I know how hard life is ,
among the curtain of rain.
Hideyoshi at last stumbled upon a large and bustling town. There he observed the folks quite closely as it was very different from the countryside he got accustomed to. They were just preoccupied with their business and when they smiled , it looked like they were smiling at themselves. 2 women were chatting in front of the noodle stall and giggling that resembled some gossips. The armless beggar prostrated himself before the boisterous passers-by in front of a market. A sturdy man ,who cut a perfect figure of Samurai, walked by and accidentally kicked the poor man's bowl away. But he just kept going without even a slight glance. The young man rushed to bring the bowl back to the man and gave him some money.
Not too long that Hideyoshi was easily recruited by a middle-aged man who felt dazzled to see him adroitly pulling the heavy cart for the weakling old lady. His new work was to carry the merchandise to customer's house from the warehouse belonging to the wealthiest merchant in this town.
At noon, while he and his colleagues were having lunch in front of the warehouse ,suddenly they sprang up and took a bow. Hideyoshi noticed that the girls were passing by. One of them seemed to be the most notable as she was majestic in the ornate dress. The young man was immensely dazed as her beautiful face looked exactly like his younger sister. He later learnt that she was the daughter of the merchant. From now on , her face was always on his drifting mind.
One day her maid walked towards a cohort of workers who were busy packing the utensils. She brandished a book ,asking for its owner. Hideyoshi became dumbfounded : it belonged to him ,as it accidentally slipped from his bag the other day. But he finally kept mum , even though it was the most precious thing in his entire life. 2 days later , the same woman asked him to go into the merchant's house. She was a bit perplexed to see the pauper like him keeping his composure, while both of them were walking through the corridor adorned with luxury decoration and furniture.
Much to his bewilderment, the owner of the room he was about to step in was the merchant's daughter. She was sitting in the middle of the room and reading the book that he believed it was his. Hideyoshi blushed and felt his heart pounding. He took a deep bow to her and found the atmosphere was utterly silent. Her maid nodded and walked out of their room.It resembled the study room , because its wall was hung with the paintings and the calligraphies from ancient time.There were the thick piles of book on the shelves.
Hideyoshi felt like everything in this room was moving unusually slowly as a result of his great thrill. He saw the merchant's daughter beaming with friendliness. She invited him to sit down.The young man smiled back timidly. He also noticed that outside the window behind her was full of the the leafy branches. Their yellow flowers were fluttering, while the breeze was spreading their fragrance into the room.
"Don't be so surprised. This is not my room. This is the room of my uncle , " she said.
"ha ...." He was surprised.
The girl stared at him."It was funny.One of those days , my uncle was like a sage ; he kept reading without weariness, whereas my father cared about only money and how to make money. People said one of these siblings might have been adopted."
"Your uncle must have been a great man , mustn't he ?" He wondered.
She reminisced about him. "Yes ,I admired and respected him so much. He was the most honest functionary on this land. He loved to recite the ancient poems and teach me a lot about Confucianism and Buddhism. But he passed away last year. So I always sit in his study room to lovingly think about him. I know people would be so stunned to see a girl reading and writing like this."
"I am sorry to hear that , ma'am. Life is pulled strings by a deity of capriciousness." Hideyoshi looked around the room.
"Thank you , do you think it is peculiar for the strangers like me and you to break the ice like this ?" she asked.
He smiled."Yes , it's really astounding me. I am simply your father's benighted worker who cares about only Sake and some dirty jokes with my colleagues." He rubbed his nose coyly.
She giggled."Nonsense ! I'm so assured that you are not, as this is your book -so much insightful and sensational here. How's about this one ?" She showed one of its page." You were stuck in the deserted barn and felt sorry for the shaking frightened dog. You are so empathetic !"
The young man asked,"Young lady, how do you know that's mine?"
She answered , "It is because I frequently see you writing something on this book after lunch ,whereas your colleagues are taking the blissful naps."
"Does it mean you are keeping an eye on me ? " He frowned.
She confessed, "Yes, I have the gift of observing someone without his or her awareness. Even though I don't see most of your routine , I still know that this book is yours ,because the way you are talking with your colleague is full of self-contemplation. "
Hideyoshi was surprised with her insight."I think you are exaggerating ,ma'am. I only once gave an advice to him how in the world he should have coped with the loss of his daughter."
"You are underestimating me , my friend. I also know the way you are nodding -that is not bowing - to me and the looks you are giving to me. It is the sense of arrogance mixing with self-deprecation. The kind of man I have never seen in my life , " she said and filled the room with laughter that sounded like sarcasm.
He was curious."Why did you send your maid to ask us about the owner of this book?"
She was dauntless."I want to gauge how much you really want to hide your identity."
"How come you are so smart, ma'am ? You are the kind of girl I have never seen in my life too." The young man thought that it was a soft retaliation.
"Men men men , in spite of how long the time has passed , they still believe that women are ignorant like cows .What a male chauvinism! " She still laughed.
He stammered."Sorry , I don't mean that. You are indeed one of a kind."
"That's alright , by the way, may I know your name?" Her eyes showed more sincerity.
"My name becomes the thing in the past. I am nameless , or you can call me whatever you like." He tried to avoid looking into her eyes that had pierced his soul like a sword.
"This implies that you are trying to suppress painfulness in your life. You have been through a lot of things."She lowered the voice to make it more solemn.
Hideyoshi felt the warm blood running around his face ; she knew too much.
"Yes , but my suppression finally fails ,when I meet you. You bring back the traumatic memories to me."
"How come ?" She looked guilty.
He said , "You bear resemblance to my younger sister and my mother ,ma'am- the way you amble and the way you move around your head. It gives me goosebumps whenever I meet you." He thanked himself for saying that.
She felt sorry for him."I guess they have already departed from you in these days."
But he still smiled."Yes , I don't know whether my mother is dead or still alive .And my younger sister is at the end of the world."
"Sorry to hear that. It is such an agony for you. They must have been so beautiful ,even I can't be compared to them," she said and sighed out loud.
Her maid rushed into the room and whispered into her ears.
The girl said , "Sorry , my parents are coming back now. I'm filled with longing to see you again. So you are currently tasked by your boss' daughter to evoke her reverie of seeing uncle' s apparition once more. And you can teach her a lot of things in your head ,especially the poems. Now please leave. "
Hideyoshi beamed and received the book from her before leaving.
She smiled."By the way , my name is Natsumi. I don't know who you actually are, so I'll thereupon call you like you desire - Mr.Nameless."
Hideyoshi then took a bow to her. He told himself that he had never seen such an attractive and beguiling smile from the girls ,even his younger sister. And her wisdom was so profound that it even scared him sometimes.
Someone shook Hideyoshi's shoulder forcefully. He woke up and found the janitor standing and smiling before him.
"You are oversleeping , Nameless , get cracking ! , the monks are about to have morning chants within several minutes."
The young man smiled sheepishly - he just dreamt of Natsumi again. He hid his book behind the pile of straw he had used as the mattress for a week since arriving at the temple.
The old man stared at him."Did you sneak to visit the brothel at the next town last night ? It was quite far from here ,but young man's lust seemed to have no mercy."
Hideyoshi chortled, while both of them were walking with haste towards the temple.
"I don't have enough money to pay, even if I really want to. It is my habit of a night owl."
"Good for you ,because you might get some disease that could make you insane or even sleep peacefully in the coffin , " The old man muttered with a dark humour.
"By the way, how old is our temple , Mr. Emon ?" asked the young man ,but his eyes were catching a little squirrel scampering on the branch of one of the cedar trees which were lining up along their path.
"Perhaps several hundred years , I can't remember much. Our village might be a little older. It is so deplorable that since I was born, it was poor.And until now it is still something like that , no less , " Emon lamented
The young man kept asking , "What about Abbot Akisada ? Has he been the abbot here for a long time ? "
"Yes , for almost 2 decades , since the former abbot deceased ....."The old man looked reluctant to give him the full answer.
"I learnt some from the folks living near my barn that the former abbot was obese , eating and drinking much. Sometimes he sneaked a woman into his cottage."The young man sneered.
"Ha , you learn about our history well !"
The janitor exclaimed. He actually relished talking with the young man so much, because the latter was incessantly curious and let him talk as much as he'd love to.Now the old man had been quite lonely.
"That bastard devoured like a filthy swine ! Our folks had filed complaint to the authority ,but it didn't do anything. As we later learnt that he had some close connections with the senior monks in the capital city. Someday that damn abbot was found drowned in the river. Perhaps he was too drunk and fell by himself, or someone made the merit by murdering him. The police investigated tersely and wrapped up the case by saying that it was an accident."
"And Abbot Akisada ?" asked the young man.
"Ha , he is like the deity .... sent from heaven above," murmured Emon.
The conversation came to a halt when they reached the temple.
This ancient temple might be too old and shabby ; Its wooden gate was quite dilapidated. But if one passed through it, one might feel humbled from the invincible presence of deity radiating from the shrine in front of the bamboo forest. The evergreen pines beside the temple were magnificent from their height and appeared to embrace the building with great care . Inside the cloister , the chants of monk and novice had already begun. Hideyoshi walked along the corridor and gazed at the garden which was quite uncanny for him , because it was full of white sand and gravel like a tapestry.Some large black rocks were scattered on it.
"It was the kind of Zen garden to show the voidness and the impermanence of universe," Abbot Akisada used to explain to him.
The young man felt amused with the words he had not heard for long time since he left the school.
- If the universe is voided , what is the point of living ? , pondered Hideyoshi. But when he met Abbot Akisada , the monk's mystic smile seemed to dissuade him from discussing this.
Both old and young men had helped prepare some alms for the monks and the novices. They also did some trivial chores like everyday. After that, they could fill their stomachs with the monotonous breakfast : it was the porridge made from millet along with some herbs and mushrooms they had collected from the mountain.But those tasted better when their room's window helped them to revel in the serene view of the brook adjunct to the pond full of carps.
Abbot Akisada stepped into their room. He assigned some works to Emon and asked the young man with the smile he couldn't comprehend again."
"How are you , Nameless, do you feel happy to be here ?"
Hideyoshi smiled instead of the answer.
The abbot ordered him ,"Please clean up my study room. It becomes messy again, as some young novices don't khow how to put the things back properly. This morning I and Brother Gentaro are scheduled to perform the ceremony at the nearby village."
2 men nodded humbly , even though they were hunkering.The abbot nodded a little in return as a token of gratitude.He at last went away.
There Hideyoshi was surprised to learn that the abbot's study room was utterly akin to the one of Natsumi's uncle. Even some paintings probably belonged to the same artists. Outside the window were the leafy branches with yellow flowers that he assumed as the same one behind Natsumi's shoulders.The young man went numb when her beautiful face recurred on his mind like the dreams in his 3 straight nights
"Do you like rohbai * ? It is absolutely splendid. My mother loves it because of its adorable appearance. It bursts into bloom during winter and fulfills our yearning for its indelible fragrance."
Natsumi stared at the yellow flowers outside the window and turned to Hideyoshi. He found her dazzling eyes so harmonious with them.
After an appropriate period of intimacy , the young man observed that : although Natsumi was precocious , her life was in an extremely comfortable cocoon from the outside world. But she was quite distant from her parents for the reason that they were always busy at the nearby office. So she seemed to be a bit arrogant and detached sometimes. As did the young man rarely find them together , he was not wary of being caught citing the poems or having the philosophical discussions with their only child.
At last , both Hideyoshi and Natsumi came across their desire that their meeting was inappeasable .The young man felt that he couldn't miss a chance to drink in the young woman's allure ,even for a single day.And she regarded him as a gate to the wide world and the spirituality that she had craved for all her life. When they were together , he felt like the reunion between him and the other half of him who was far more exalted. Nonetheless , Hideyoshi always thought Natsumi was furtively trying to outsmart him and engulf his soul - just like the rapids. But deep in his heart , he would not even bother to climb from it. He was ready to be drowned ...
In the deep river of her charms
,I found the sun shining from her eyes.
When she's giggling , the whole forest's singing.
When Hideyoshi's colleagues became inquisitive about his brief absence everyday , his explanation was hilarious like he was assigned to help the maids do some chores in the kitchen or the storeroom that needed hard labors. The young man thought that it couldn't fill the void of their curiosities ,but he was delighted that there weren't the malicious gossips. As his colleagues had other thousand business to deal with, especially their family's well- being.
One day ,after Hideyoshi and other colleagues went back from delivering the goods , they found the warehouse suspiciously quiet without the workers around. Its gate was ajar and when one of them opened it , the arrow suddenly struck his arm. All of them were befuddled and scrambled to find the hiding place from some men who had darted out of the warehouse to arrest them. Finally they came to the conclusion that the gang of bandits had already seized the warehouse and other parts of their company. Everyone probably was being held as hostages.
Hideyoshi was suddenly dizzy when thinking about Natsumi. He told one of his senior colleagues to go to the police, and the other one ,who was wounded, to be his lookout. The young man felt his heart racing. All of his body went benumbed and profuse with sweat.He stole around the warehouse ,as he had known the secret route to enter it. He was totally aware that the police would never be on time , let alone arrest such the fierce bandits.
On the dark balcony of second floor, he saw all the people ,including Natsumi, were sitting stiffly in a huddle to witness the bandits -perhaps 4 or 5 - searching for the valuables hastily. This was because they were aware that someone outside had already learnt about their looting. The brawny brute , presumed to be their chief, was yelling at the merchant to intimidate him into giving more possession. On the chief's hand was the bow, and the bag of arrows was around his shoulder. Natsumi ,who was behind her father, seemed pretty calm - extraordinary for the girl in this age.
Hideyoshi grabbed the large wooden stick he had accidentally found on the way. He spent some minutes sizing up positions and gestures of the bandits who all were wielding the swords. He breathed deeply and crept downstairs, not making even the slightest noise. The young man then hit the head of a bandit who was standing at the corner , that was the farthest from all of his peers. Unfortunately, that man loudly yowled before falling down. Hideyoshi unexpectedly drew everyone's attentions.
In the blink of an eye , the young man astounded all people in the hall by adroitly evading the incessant attacks from sword of the remaining bandits. He then used the wooden stick to batter several particular parts of their bodies to subdue them. The brawny brute later found all his henchmen lying unconscious on the floor. He adeptly shot the bow in the professional manner, but all of them sadly missed the target. The last one scratched Hideyoshi's shoulder ,while he was rushing towards the chief. The young man stunned a bit and suddenly became utterly furious since it was reminding him of the death of his father.
The chief threw the bow away and nimbly drew a sword to attack Hideyoshi. All of a sudden, he was very puzzled to find that his sharp sword could not even slice a single piece of the young man's wooden stick. The young man shrieked and forcefully thrashed the chief without pause like a madman. The sword bounced off from the the latter's hand. He was hit by a wooden stick and fell down on the floor. Afterwards, he could not move because the knees of the crazy young man pinned his shoulders against the floor. Finally, he found the edge of wooden stick was hovering above one of his eyes. If that young man prodded it , his life would become only a history.
* the Japanese name of Wintersweet flower.
However, the thing that was as appalling as the death for the chief now was to see the full- grown man, siting on the top of his body, wailing like an angry toddle and repeating the sentence : "Did you kill my father , son of a bitch ? ".The chief piteously tried to turn his face to other directions, but to no avail.
Within seconds ,Hideyoshi came to his senses and threw the wooden stick away He then tied up the brawny brute who became too frightened to resist. The people in the hall rushed to seize all weapons and tie up other bandits. The arrival of a band of police greatly enlivened the atmosphere ,and all the criminals were escorted away. The people gradually surrounded Hideyoshi with the gestures of utmost gratitude and jubilation. The room then resounded with applause. The young man saw Natsumi walking towards him. Her beautiful eyes were brimming with tears.He out of the blue coveted her sweet kiss and warm embrace.But her father dashed to kiss and embrace him instead. The young man laughed wryly. He felt amused by the past that the chubby merchant used to brush him aside, as if he had been merely one of his working machines.
"Young man , thank you so much. I was just scared shitless that I and my family would have been slaughtered by those bastards. You will enjoy a handsome reward after this."The merchant looked over the moon.
Natsumi's mother interrupted , "No , Kosuke , he won't !"
Everyone looked at her.
"What does this mean ,mother ?" Natsumi frowned , but her mother smiled with mischief and turned to everyone.
"This young man deserves much and much better than that. He will get married with my only daughter."
The people all clamored with surprise.
Natsumi's mother stared at her.
"Silly girl. Do you think you are the only one who has the gift of observing people ? I frequently peeped into your study room and eavesdropped on everything you were talking. Both of you are such a wonderful match in heaven. Pardon me if I will say that, although he does look like a tramp , he is unique as he is highly erudite and so much insightful. I believe he will make an exceptional husband and son-in-law."
The merchant immediately contradicted ,"But my dear, it is inappropri ...... ". But he baulked at finishing his sentence when his wife was scowling at him. Everybody burst into laughter. Hideyoshi looked at Natsumi ; the latter smiled while weeping.
That night Hideyoshi was lying awake in the room for her family's guest. There were plenty of things today like he had become the new man with proper haircut and thorough cleaning. He then had been dressed in the most expensive clothes this town had ever had. Indeed this was not his new image ,but his former one when he still lived in the castle. He even now hid his real name and lied to them that he was the son of a wealthy family which was ruined by the earthquake. His future mother-in-law tried to rename him like 'Toshiro' and would elevate him to the position of manager , as its incumbent had decided to retire because of his trauma during the looting.
- Now I am being treated like animal in a circus , the young man fumed.
Several serious problems were racing on his mind right now. First he didn't know whether Natsumi actually loved him like he had felt for her. Or it was just the feeling of gratitude for being the shadow of her late uncle ? Or it was an attempt to escape from the banality of her life? Second , in spite of how smooth their marriage would turn out, his new life would turn him into a businessman who was preoccupied with abacus and accounting he had long abhorred. He was also mindful that it was not possible for him to persuade Natsumi to elope with him. Even if she agreed ,their lives would inevitably encounter poverty and hunger that the young man would not allow to happen with his beloved one.
Lastly , Hideyoshi's long ambition of being the poet who appreciated the profundity of world would be lamentably thwarted. That was not the thing he was going to tolerate. Finally when the pictures of the green moss on the deserted shrine and the laughter of small urchins arose on his mind , the young man decisively stood up and changed the clothes to his old worn-out ones. As the house was built with the excellent materials, he barely felt the wind from outside. But he knew how very cold it was. He was still determined to go. Hideyoshi quietly opened the door and tiptoed along the corridor.
The family's cat walked nearby and gave Hideyshi the soft meow. He held and kissed that cat before letting him go. The young man opened the door of Natsumi's room and put his book on a shelf with the hope that she would sometimes use it to muse over him. He stood still for a while to catch a last glimpse of the woman who was a blessing to his life. She was sleeping so peacefully like a child. The moonlight through the ajar window caressed her face above the blanket that was covering her graceful body.
It disheartened him when he pondered over the future that some day Natsumi would tie a knot with a son of the wealthy merchant or the noble like his father .As many decades had passed , she would be the powerful matriarch of the affluent family ,whereas he would be just the old drifter listening to her story from the folks he was walking by. After all ,Hideyoshi knew their departure had already been predestined. He closed the door and shed some tears from his eyes.
The young man went back to his room and climbed down from the second storey of the house .Fortunately, the guard dozed off , and the dogs knew him so well. They wagged their tails and whimpered ,licking his hand with delight. The young man walked with slow pace to climb up the fence. He thus had spent all night walking ,so the merchant's men would not be able to find him. But the only thing that always found him was the face of Natsumi.
Hideyoshi spent some of his paltry money to buy another book and pencil and wandered like he used to many months ago.After all , Hideyoshi was still comforted by the poems he had written along the way. This was from his blissful observation on all the things on his long journey. The young man kept begging for food from the houses on his way. He also did the heavy chores for his benefactors.If he was lucky ,he would be invited to stay for several days by the house owners who were mostly the elderly. There were also numerous times the fortune didn't stay on his side, Hideyoshi had to use the abandoned pavillions or barns as resting place.Besides ,he had to find the fruits or the vegetables in the forest himself as a staple.
Apart from the hunger that had beset him from time to time , once the young man nearly died because of a fatal disease. He was miraculously cured by the compassionate monk who was on pilgrimage. There was also an occasion that he met the little cantankerous man, who claimed to be Samurai , asking for a fight with him. Hideyoshi just nodded and walked away ,even if he could use only one hand to grab the neck of that man and threw him away like a piece of garbage.
One day Hideyoshi found the man painfully writhing on the path. That man was going to die because of the snakebite. Before his eternal journey, he asked the young man to bring a tiny handkerchief to his wife . Hideyoshi buried his corpse and honored his promise by heralding the terrible news to the now widow who lived very far from there. The vapid and lean woman in her 40s bowed down to him with gratefulness. Her face was unusually impassive and she didn't even shade a single tear. But the young man could feel her unbearable remorse beneath .The woman asked him to stay with her and her son in their tattered cottage for a while. The young man accepted the invitation and helped her to do some chores without much talking to each other. Her son was still young, so he was not bereft of his father's death. He became a good friend of Hideyoshi.Many times the latter felt like the boy was the son who he never had.
When a week had almost passed ,the young man found both mother and son lying lifeless on the floor. He immediately knew that they had committed suicide. He sobbed and became depressed, when this reminded him of the corpses of his father and others in the ruined castle once more. Suddenly Hideyoshi felt baffled by the mystery of human life. Although life was fleeting , why was it full of such a misery even in its ending ?
Human life is short like a dew
in the sunlight ,vanishing
,but transforming into the form of tears.
The young man buried both of them and took a deep bow to their graves. Later, he left the house without grasping anything from it. On the way , Hideyoshi felt the soft touch of snowflakes on his hands. The snow intermittently fell to cover everything around him ,including the once greenery forests and mountains. Sometimes it made him barely feel the difference between the sky with strips of clouds and the wintry white landscape. On the wooden bridge , he was standing to watch the serpentine frozen river. Although its surface was quite opaque ,it still reflected his gaunt and grubby face. Hideyoshi felt that he was growing old swiftly.
Not too long that winter turned to be spring. The river and every place thawed without reluctance and all livings were getting exuberant once more. Under the limpid sky, all kinds of bird sang merrily like a chorus with cicadas in the green shrubs below the cedar tress. The cherry blossom had been blooming along the ascent the young man was climbing. Their falling pink flowers brought about a little carpet on the lively green field.
On the hill , Hideyoshi saw the old temple among the tall bamboo forest and the pines. The young man could feel something clanking on his mind. He decided to visit there.
Abbot Akisada had long been proud of his unblemished life story. Although his parents were merely the potters , their perseverance helped them to be the wealthy family in disguise. That meant they stashed away their money and valuables neatly, so that they wouldn't arouse the covet of any bandit or burglar. This also included even the jealous neighbors who kept prying into everything in their community. His father also opened a little grocery store which had the full time employees like him and his sister.
With 4 children in the house , one could swear that, in his life, he never beheld such the proper manners between sibling. They adored one another so much and spoke to one another in soft manners ,let alone a quarrel. As their parents had always enlightened them with some teaching from Buddhism and the sages from ancient times. Their house was thus full of love and compassion. Akisada knew that his parents' real backgrounds were from the higher caste ,but they still concealed their pasts.
One day, their intimate family friend passed away peacefully in her 80s.Akisada, who regularly attended the funeral , noticed a little smoke from the joss stick in front of her coffin. He suddenly felt something jolting his mind. He ,without blinking an eye, compared it with the human life ,as it was so impermanent like the joss stick. He hereinafter was bemused by the mystery of life. Wherefore the Buddha's life and teaching galvanized him, as he had frequently attended the lectures of the venerable monks in his village.
The Abbot was thus always teased by his friends in the village that he was precocious. He always acted like a sage who had the deepest insight for the universe. He loved to teach his friends who were thrilled to see such the odd behaviors from their peer. One day his beloved older sister was married off to the son of other family who was well-to-do. Akisada promptly wanted to enter the priesthood. His parents were unfazed by his decision and supported him without hesitancy. This was due to the fact that both his older brothers - who were already married with decent women - were ready to take care of his family business.
Once again that when Akisada became the novice , he rose to prominence by the duel of Cathechism *.The novice could defeat his opponent who even had been the cultivated monks. He spent only a decade on a way of fame as the most brilliant novice in this land .He was always praised as the teenager who had the profound wisdom like ocean. Even his long time ageing teacher finally took a bow to him.
Akisada , then as a young monk , impressed the senior monks by citing Tripitaka with the masterly skills. He was urged by them to stay at the temple in the capital city. However , the young monk was in a quandary for the reason that he despised the big city as it was full of sins like bustling gambling houses and restaurants full of booze. He thought it would never be the place for a monk to attain Nirvana. One afternoon , while Akisada was ambling along a newfound detour from the village which had invited him to perform some ceremony , he stumbled upon the old temple which was tucked in behind the bamboo forest. In spite of how decrepit that temple was , something was luring him to enter its cloister. There he learnt from our folks that its abbot had just deceased from drowning. Before the abbot's death , the temple became increasingly abandoned as his repulsive behaviors drove most of the monks and novices to flee en masse.
Akisada then turned down the offer by the senior monks and moved from his current temple to that forlorn one. His arrival sparked off delight from its remaining members. Those consisted of only one novice who didn't know where to go because he was an orphan and the janitor who was drowned in his sorrow after the death of his wife of 20 years. The new abbot became the enticement for the villagers to help him and his staffs to renovate the temple ,although they were poverty- stricken. They more and more allowed their children to be ordained as novice. One of Akisada's former student , Gentaro, spent half a day walking from his town to volunteer to work as his assistant.
There was one thing the abbot rested so assured that he managed to restore the faith of our folks in Buddhism for a brief time.The more the time passed , the more he had garnered the respects as their spiritual leader. He was so elated by their humilities and various attempts to appease him ,as they lacked the esteem in the local authority which was obviously unscrupulous.
However , weeks before the arrival of the young stranger , our folks began to be gripped by the rumor of ghost. There were loads of trustworthy witnesses claiming to see the ghost of middle-aged fat man hanging about his temple even in the twilight. Abbot Akisada thought it was absurd , but he finally tried to allay the people's fear by performing the rite of exorcism. But the ghost was still allegedly roaming around his place.
*a group of questions and answers, especially about a set of Christian beliefs , but here is applied with Buddhism.
Abbot Akisada thought that, every night, one of the most mesmerizing view for him was the temple's hall which was partly illuminated by a few lanterns. The light from them accidentally created the ravishing art of shadow of the Lord Buddha image, including altar replete with myriads of offerings and incense burners.Some of them, made from bronze ,glittered like the priceless treasure. Some part of the hall was the gold painted panels with cranes and the exotic trees. Around the hall were there some paintings about the famous followers of Lord Buddha and the calligraphy of the religious puzzles. Those filled the hearts of beholders with awe , and even more ,when they became the half silhouette from the lanterns. The moonlight shone through the circular window to make the strange shape out of a shadow of flower and its vase nearby.
Apart from those ,the abbot relished the fragrance of incenses around the hall, while he was having the meditation alone after the daily evening chant . It made him feel like conversing with the Bodhisattva in heaven.
All of a sudden , Akisada could feel the vibration from someone stepping on the wooden floor. The person, who was hobbling behind him ,appeared to be the quite bald fat man. His body was incandescent ; sometimes he was drifting a bit above the floor. This meant he was other-worldly - the ghost that he used to exorcise. Akisada was a little startled , but in seconds he could keep his composure. This seemed incredible for humans to encounter the spirit with such manner.
Asked the abbot in a calm voice,
"You the uninvited visitor , what is your purpose here in this hour ?"
The fat man was looking around and laughed again. He was even more thuggish-looking with his unkempt moustache and beard.
"It was such a long time that I have not been here. It was changed so tremendously," muttered him.
Akisada said , "Ah , I guess , you are the the former abbot then."
The former abbot grinned. "Yes, you deserve the acclaim for the wisest monk on this land. I've heard a lot about you ,and now I am captivated by your charisma."
The ghost sat down on the floor quickly without even an invitation.
"I've heard a lot about you too , Father." Akisada nodded with politeness.
The former abbot laughed like everything around him was so hilarious. "Those were all the malicious gossips about me. To be straightforward , I do not deny all of these."
"I used to talk with some of the elderly around this temple. Actually you had done such a lot of things for the temple." The abbot admired him sincerely.
The ghost snickered. "Yes. Somehow I wonder how come only my repulsiveness has fit the narrative about me for decades. Please don't think I am bragging. Many years ago , I was exactly like you - the young and ambitious abbot. My ultimate attainment was to reach Nirvana. I even had isolated myself for weeks in forest just for meditation. Sometimes I was also determined not to utter a single word for the rest of my life to lift my spirit into the higher state. Though I felt guilty that I could not abide by the duty of abbot , other monks did me a big favor."
Akisasa frowned. " Why does it turn out to be like the words they describe about you today ?"
The former abbot said , "One day I found out the jar of Sake hidden in the storeroom ,while I was searching for an utensils to work in a garden. I knew it was alcohol which was forbidden for a monk like us . But something was just seducing me. It was irresistible ...."
"and then ? ......" Akisada doubted.
"I sipped it ,and I felt it was goddam delicious! It was the greatest moment of my life within years. Finally I finished it all and got drunk. I found that Sartori [the enlightenment] was not far away from here - just sipping. Why the hell have you tormented yourself for an intangible thing that even you are not sure whether it really exists or not ?" The ghost then yawned and scratched his head.
Akisada blushed and assumed that he was justifying his depravity. The ghost of former abbot made the tone of his voice livelier.
"Then I came to the conclusion that the cravings were just the enemies you created with delusions. They were actually the friends that helped you to get through this boring life. "
Akisada gave a roar of rage."How come you have insulted our Lord Buddha ? Is his teaching to humans not to succumb to those cravings that would lead to his suffering ?"
"My revered abbot , he was really a great teacher. But I think he is a relic from the past ; his teaching is now archaic and impractical."The ghost smiled mischievously.
Akisada tried to calm himself." Why didn't you simply quit your monkhood , If you had already lost the faith in him ? "
"I thought I was going to reinterpret his teachings in my own way. Or actually this was just the excuse to live off the religion for my own self-indulgence like parasite, I didn't know. Afterwards I had lived like a libertine : eating ,drinking and sleeping with women. I thought it might lead me to the real Nirvana. Have you ,Abbot Akisada ,ever tasted woman's lips ? They were juicy."The ghost pursed his lips.
The abbot blushed over and over again. He had thought about ending this unholy conversation , but then he changed his mind.
"Father , how did you die ? Did You really die from drowning in the river ?"
The ghost didn't hesitate to answer , "Yes , but it was my intention to die. I just simply threw myself into the river with strong current. Before that , I had been taken aback whether my hedonism would have led me to soul salvation. If not , it was too late to go back to live like you nowadays. I suddenly thought life was absurd ; I just wanted to exit from it."
"Father, your existence's indisputably proving that the Buddha's teaching is the truth. You are now the wandering spirit who is waiting to go to hell for your sins." Akisada finally found the victory.
"Really ? Perhaps I don't exist ; Heaven and hell don't exist either. I and those things are just the fractions of your imaginations. All the folks around here have just seen me with their memories of resentment. My revered abbot, they are possibly sensing a part of me in you. I noticed how you were moved by confession of my sins just now ."The ghost sneered.
Akisada thought he was going to lose his mind.
"I think we'd better stop this conversation. Please leave ,father. I hope we will never meet again."
The ghost roared with laughter.
"I know I am going to lay bare your soul ,you the conceited monk. You have lived your whole life in an ivory tower. By the way , within weeks , a young stranger will appear on your temple , accommodate him and find more answers from him. Then you will think of me with gratefulness. Thank you for such an awkward conversation with me and good bye then."
The ghost vanished, but thenceforth left some festering traces on the abbot's mind.
Another week had passed , the person ,who appeared on the temple ,was not the young man , but the twentysomething woman whom Abbot Akisada felt familiar with. Her name was Akina , the daughter of the old Daisuke.The old man was now nearly blind and his wife had eloped with someone else long time ago.Only as a teenager , Akina was arranged to marry with the young man who was the soldier serving for a Shogun. And from then on , the abbot and almost everyone in the village had barely heard or seen her again.
It was this moment that Akina was escorting her frail and ageing father to the temple. Abbot Akisada finally was apprised that her husband had been killed in the battlefield. Then she escaped in the spur of the moment , because of the news that she might have been forced to be a comfort woman in the army. Back in her hometown , she was desperately looking for job ,while her father became increasingly ill. Akina's only sibling , the younger brother, settled down in another town ,and they had never heard anything about him again.
"I hope you will find her a job ,Father." The old Daisuke took a deep bow, although he could barely sustain himself from falling. His daughter kept bending down her head while seizing her father's trunk.
Abbot Akisada looked at them inadvertently.It was a mundane routine for the highly revered monk like him to show the boundless mercy to the people with wretched conditions of life.Those happened to be most of the members of this village. Some idea always descended on his mind that , for them , he was much loftier than Shogun or the senior monks in the capital city who cared mostly about power and appreciated the bloody kickbacks.The abbot presumed perhaps he was being on the inchoate level of being the Bodhisattva.
He asked Gentaro,
"Both monks and novices have done their jobs. This also includes the old Emon, our janitor. What is your opinion, Bother Gentaro ? "
Gentaro was counting his fingers with contemplation.
"Father , there are still some chores that belong to woman , and our staffs always do it quite terribly like mending the old clothes or cooking foods ,sir. Emon is also getting more sluggish now. He needs an assistant.
The abbot turned to Akina without really looking at her.
"You can start working in the temple with the duties told by Brother Gentano tomorrow. You will receive some wage which is paltry , since our temple was penniless. But you can bring some of our foods back to your father in each day."
Both father and daughter bowed down over and over again with thankfulness. The old Daisuke held Akisada's hand above his head and wept a little. The Abbot gently withdrew his hand from the old man who could hardly even open his eyes.
He smilingly said , "That's all right, Daisuke. You are my longtime friend who has supported our temple for the ages ,even if you are so poor. Your daughter also remains a member of our community."
Akina suddenly raised her head up and accidentally met the abbot's eyes. It was the first time Akisada could see her face closely since she had come back. In spite of her quite disheveled hair and some stains on her face , she was gorgeous. He was drawn to a gleam in her beautiful eyes and nice white teeth through her grin. He flinched like the first time he saw that ghost. He felt the warm blood running around his face , but now it was the feeling he had never experienced before.
Akisada avoided looking into her eyes and said in the voice that sounded like a mutter,
"That's all. I have to attend the meeting of our village now."
The young woman bowed down for the last time and quietly sustained her father to walk back towards their cottage which was far from the temple.
"What a poor girl ! If her father dies , she will be left alone in the world. By the way , what is the topic of our meeting today , sir ? Is it about an embankment we are expecting ? It will be good , if it is built now ,because our folks would not suffer from floods again."
Gentaro kept prattling, while both of them were walking towards the hall of village. However , he didn't notice that his abbot was being preoccupied with something else.
Akina henceforth highly impressed everyone by acting like a working machine. She had been working from dawn to dusk almost without pause. So all the boys in temple were totally ecstatic when their boring chores were relieved now.They had a whale of a time by playing with other children in the village ,especially when the abbot had meditation or went away. And our old Emon began to indulge himself in slumber under the temple's cherry trees, as some of his works were seized by Akina as well.
Nonetheless , everyone was now too delighted to grasp the meaning of her hard working that it might have been the hopeful gestures to keep her distracted from some troublesome memories in the past. They just noticed that young woman was taciturn ; she merely greeted everyone with melancholic smiles or polite nods and continued her scamper to work.
That time was exactly the turn of season. The frosty winter turned to the refreshing spring and the flowers in the temple were beginning to blossom in due time. They decorated the temple with various colors , apart from the verdant shrubs. Abbot Akisada was seemingly unaware of it. He was reading and found the incomphrensibilty of some of the religious puzzles in the ancient scroll. It was his habit to stroll around the temple and wait for Satori to grip his mind.
Outrageous for the abbot when this kind of old friend didn't greet him in time like he had always anticipated. Akisada just kept sauntering ,and finally he found himself wandering to the bamboo forest. The abbot stopped to greet the children who were boisterously engrossed by jumpsies. Later he saw a woman hunkering down not far from the path he was standing. He walked towards her with curiosity. That woman stood up at once , even it was her back , he immediately knew she was Akina.
The young woman's attire of female peasant was not thick , so the strong sunlight penetrated it to show the shadow of her body that it was more or less slim and graceful. He blushed and looked away ,but something made him look at her again. She raised her hands to gather her untidy hair at the back . The abbot was startled to find that his eyes were affixed at her little white arms which protruded out of the sleeve. Akisada had intended to walk away ,then he stumbled on something and exclaimed with the voice he was not sure whether it was loud or not. But the young woman heard that and rushed towards him with the utter glee. She took a deep bow as usual.
"Good morning, Father. How are you today ? I am sowing and growing the lettuce and some other vegetables as staple for our temple. Please accept my apology that I have not asked for your allowance before."
Akina spoke in the longest sentence since she had been working here. The abbot looked at another way.
"That's not even worth mentioning. Actually you should not ask me about everything.Brother Gentaro can do that duty."
All of a sudden, the abbot looked at her face without restraint. She was profuse with sweats. Several of their beads were sliding from her forehead ,along corner of her eyes ,and to end at her glowing and reddish cheeks. He was surprised that his betraying eyes could catch every movement of this. They were then wantonly caressing her snub nose above that voluptuous red lips, and stopped at a part of cloth that covered her breast which looked swollen in a beautiful shape. Akisada was now bewildered and shook incessantly. He started walking away in a hurry and heard other words from her.
"Father, please don't go yet."
He stopped and looked at the bamboo's leaves instead.
She said gently , "You have been so good to me and my father. I really want to thank you and insist that I can do anything for you in return, anything....."
Akisada was stunned by her last word. He felt his sweaty body was promptly being assailed by the sinister fever. He just smiled solemnly and went on walking. At his cottage ,Satori didn't come as the abbot shut his eyes and kept chanting rapidly for hour like a lunatic before the little Lord Buddha image. He prostrated himself to worship it for a long time and stammered.
"My Lord , please forgive me for my sins. I wholeheartedly repent for this."
At the dark corner of his room. He saw the sly smile from the ghost of former abbot, and then it vanished before he would do anything. The abbot began to understand why ,after almost 20 years, he just visited him that night.
Akisada's inner struggle went on as no one bothered to notice. It was as a result of their worship of him as the deity sent from heaven .Every move of his was deemed by them unarguably divine. The abbot finally learnt that he was like the excellent actor who adroitly kept his forbidden feeling beneath calmness. He avoided meeting Akina ,but his heart was aflame with desire. Whenever he sat for meditation , her alluring face lingered on his perception. Now Akisada found his another unpalatable feeling which was anger : he was angry for not being able to bridle that lowly instinct. He even couldn't clear his mind like the past as well. And finally it became hectic that he was angry with himself that he couldn't suppress his previous anger.
-How did the future Bodhisattva like him wallow in such the hideous feelings like lust and anger ? This question was echoing on his mind.
It became even worse that some mornings he woke up with the indescribable frustration that he had dreamt of touching her. The abbot found those dreams were was so lurid and disgusting ,but he did not know how to get rid of them. Akisada frequently thought about his parents who wept while witnessing him wearing a magnificent monk robe. He also mused over his older sister who confessed that she had extremely envied him for his monkhood. How disappointed would they be when they saw him like this? Let alone the villagers.
One evening the abbot glanced at the pile of books of Dhamma in his room. All the letters in them ,that he had expected to enlighten him more and more, became now useless like garbage. He shrieked and dismantled them in a fit of rage. Akisada felt that someone was outside his cottage.He then found the trembling novice who was assigned by Brother Gentaro to call him for the ritual of evening chant.
Now the abbot's third sin was emerging. He lied to the novice that he was performing a rite of exorcism against another demon and he had to intimidate it with fury. He was not certain whether the novice bought into his pretext or not ,as the boy's gestures were all the same : trembling and stammering.
That night Akisada found his sleep quite troublesome. He woke up and said a prayer and meditated ,which seemed to help him a little. In the next morning , the abbot called on the same boy and unreasonably gave some money to him, saying he should keep mum about this, in order not to frighten the other members of this temple. The novice bowed down with obedience.
In the afternoon , one of Akisada's most blissful daily activities was to perform Sado [tea ceremony] on terrace. This meant the participants will make and sip tea , including nibbling confections ,while watching the beautiful scenery of his Zen garden. His guests were frequently the monks from other towns. They would always feel greatly honored to join this ceremony. As they perhaps hoped the future Bodhisattva would enlighten them in a heartbeat. Their conversations were the blendings between the solemnity of religion and relaxation from this kind of garden.They were mainly about the Dhamma's puzzles and catechism.The conversations always ended with the grateful guests bowing down to the host with overwhelming respects.
"Kokichi , do you remember the moment before Lord Buddha was about to attain Nirvana ?"
Akisada murmured to the nearby monk who happened to be his childhood friend. Kokichi seemed to be bedazzled with the sublime pond full of colorful carps , so he didn't hear that. The abbot thus used a cup to hit the ceramic kettle with a little irritation.
His friend was a bit startled."Yes , what did you just say ? Oh , Lord Buddha was viciously attacked by the king of demons and his formidable army. But at last our teacher could conquer them all - what a spectacular scene !"
"And what are about the demon's daughters ?" Akisada asked.
Kokichi recited , "After Lord Buddha had already attained Nirvana , king of demons sent 3 of his luscious daughters to seduce him , but to no avails. This was because our teacher was so adamant with his exalted state of mind like Nirvana. Why in the world did you ask me , my dear abbot ? What I am saying right now is all in the book you wrote."
Akisada sipped some tea and murmured again.
"It was long time ago. I am afraid that I forget about it."
"Bullshit ! Akisada ,the wisest monk on this land , or on earth. You would certainly never forget about it ,unless you intend to ." His friend chuckled.
"To confess , I am beginning to be skeptical about whether there is really such a man who could resist such the temptations," said Akisada while seeing a large carp dashing a little above the pond's surface.
"Don't say that your faith in our teacher has vanished , my friend. I assume you might have been stirred by those temptations. But it was so ordinary that every of our fellow monks used to encounter them, perhaps several or numerous times in their lives.So if you succumb to craving or sins or whatever , what are about me and our other fellows whose wisdoms were much inferior to yours ? "Kokichi stared at his friend.
Akisada blushed and lied again, "No , many days ago, a young monk confessed to me about having a crush on some girl he met near the market. I thought that time I didn't give him enough satisfactory answers."
Kokichi rose up and pointed to the garden , saying out loud ,
"You told me this garden was your concept of voidness of universe. Everything is void, so is human flesh. Our desire of opposite sex is just an illusion stemming from craving. Her beautiful flesh is merely the transient thing that shrouds all internal organs which are disgusting and ready to decompose after she dies. Then it becomes nothingness ; it is in vain to seize such a thing to be yours forever. You could have told him like this."
Akisada applauded and laughed. This was the first time in a week that he did it without pretension. Kokichi was the only one daring treat and talk to him like in their old days. That was why he liked him so much, because the old friend helped him to feel less lonely on the desolate top of this high hill.
"Well said, my friend, "He said.
"Well said ,my foot ! All of these are what you have taught me."Kokichi looked irritated.
That evening Akisada became enormously relieved as he was reminded (by himself) that all his sins were just his bungling from resisting those temptations.The Bodhisattva had to face the temptations.And sometimes he stumbled upon them before continuing his struggle ,until he reached that worthiest goal. That was ordinary like his friend's saying , in other words , the echo of his own voice.
The sensuous Akina ,he felt head over heels for , was the fantasy his mind had created from craving. She was actually the poor woman he should have treated with compassion like other wretched folks around here. When he became aware of this , her beautiful face miraculously disappeared during his meditation.
He thought that now this revered abbot had already stood up and returned to his same prestigious path again. He merrily smiled while being about to sleep.
In the morning of several days later , Akisada saw the good-looking young man named Watanabe walking past the hall to another part of temple. The abbot was curious to see his smug face and lively style of walk ,which looked like the child eagerly running towards the delicious candies.
Akisada asked Gentaro who was standing nearby ,
" Where is that carpenter going to ? I remember he visited here yesterday. He is not a kind of pious man who enjoys hanging around temple."
Gentaro was noticeably reluctant to answer him. The abbot saw this and solicited him in more solemn voice. Finally the young monk gave in.
"Because you went away for some business in town , you probably don't know that Watanabe has been courting Akina for a while , sir."
Akisada felt something was pricking his heart.
"What ? How dares he ! This is the sacred place. He should have been more discreet !"
Perhaps Gentaro could sense the fury that was the cause of his abbot's unprecedented outburst. He was shaken by Akisada's roars and bent down the head with panic.
The abbot reprimanded ,"You are my student and my deputy. Why in hell don't you know this is totally unacceptable ? Our temple is a place for soul salvation, not a tryst for romance ! "
"I think they are always together at the courtyard ,which is far away from here. And I sympathize with Akina. She and her father should have someone take care of them. I have known Watanabe since he was young. He could manage his family business very well ,sir." Gentaro stuttered.
"Really ? The enlightened one. I don't know since when you have become the expert on the layman's stuffs ."
The abbot attacked his deputy with derision , but he immediately suppressed his wrath.
"Tell both of them to meet me here right now !"
Akisada later thought the word 'sacred' was merely his lame excuse. He even did not give a damn about it, because he had long denounced it as superfluous. Actually he felt as if he had been the boy whose beloved toy was being snatched by someone else.
Now both of young man and woman were exactly acting before the abbot like Gentaro and the novice who had witnessed his tantrum that night : trembling and stammering like scared cats.Akisada used to bask in his vainglory of being feared by people around him.But now it almost vanished into thin air, as he was suspicious that Akina seemed to be elated by the young man's courtship.
The abbot reprimanded both of them briefly and told Watanabe not to visit Akina again with his lame excuse (but for them, it was like the mandate of heaven). But he still suspected that the carpenter might sneak to meet her at her house or anywhere else.
So when Watanabe and Gentaro went away , the abbot lowered his voice and tried to look gentler to her.
"Akina , I know you are quite lonely ,but please be careful. That man used to be notorious for his misdeeds in the past, which I won't mention here. Think of your father who badly needs your filial love, not romantic feeling for another man.
Akina nodded again and scratched her head coyly to acknowledge his good will. The atmosphere looked more relaxing, as they changed the topic of conversation. Suddenly she saw a kitten and smiled at it. Her nose wrinkling made her even more attractive than the one in his meditation , though it looked childish. All at once Akisada lusted after the young woman. He strongly wanted to kiss and fondle her at that moment. The abbot restrained himself and gave her some money ,which tremendously enchanted her. He felt his hand unintentionally touching hers when putting the coins on them. He was aroused by it.
Now the abbot became illuminated that last night he was deceived by self-complacency. But the temptations were dodging around his mind like coyotes aiming at their prey. The inner struggle went on ,but he was depressed that his path to be the Bodhisattva was strewn with obstacles again. Or literally they never went away like he had presumed. He would also never be like Lord Buddha who looked at the daughters of king of demons with emptiness of mind. Or he was probably walking in the opposite direction of the noble teacher.Akisada felt that some part of the former abbot was with him ,and it was getting larger and larger that he could not handle it .Suddenly he thought that the stranger's arrival like the ghost's prediction might shed light on his conundrum.
Much to the abbot's anxiety, days had passed, the young stranger still didn't show up .There was the heavy rain instead. It piteously seemed to stash away the jollity of spring and leave many people stranded in one place in awe of its fierceness , along with the unmerciful thunders and storms.
These folks included Akina who could not return home in one evening .The paper umbrella in the temple was unlikely to stand such a downpour. So Emon urged her to dine and sleep over at the depository of temple, because the rain would probably remain in torrents until tomorrow. Gentaro was the second who learnt this and allowed it. Akisada was the third ,but pretended to be reticent , whereas his heart was burning with desire.
It was expectable that Akisada's evening meditation was nothing but an utter shambles. Perhaps his contemplation of human impermanence seemed to be fading away.He now abandoned the Buddhist method to eradicate the craving : their flesh were only the thing which shrouded the disgusting internal organs. The abbot imagined about Akina's tempting pale body tossing and turning under the thin blanket amidst the cold and humid weather. She must not have easily slumbered as the floor of depository was also too stiff. Why was he still comfy in his warm cottage , while his coveted beautiful creature was enduring such a misery ?
The abbot rose to his feet ,feeling his heart pounding like the downpour outside his cottage. He collected some blanket and walked outside. He firmly held the umbrella ,which of course couldn't prevent him from getting drenched by such a heavy rain ,but it was not his concern at all. He stole to the depository ,looking around like a burglar. He then didn't even bother to knock the unlatched door.
Akina rose from the blanket a bit with suspicion , but then she exclaimed not so loud to show her relief.
"Oh ,Father ! Do you need some help in this hour ?"
"No, I am afraid that you will get cold , take this blanket."
The abbot found his voice quivering, and his half wet body also followed suit. This was the first time he behaved like this since he was still a boy , sneaking out of the house at night to watch the monk's catechism duel in the nearby temple.
The young woman stood up and walked towards him before bowing down with indebtedness. She was deliberately staring at him, so he felt like being drowned in her glinting eyes.
She said, "Thank you so much , my revered abbot. I am wholeheartedly touched by your concern about me. You are like my another father."
She held one of his shaking hands and gently kissed it. Akisada thought that there was a mystic magnet to draw him to that graceful body. He threw down the blanket and promptly embraced her. Akina seemed not surprised with this. She appeased his naughty hands and forceful kiss.
By morning when the rain came to a halt , Akina returned home and henceforth didn't come back. That following night the abbot didn't sleep a wink, and when the dawn broke, he sent a novice to her home. The news , delivered by the boy, made him almost collapse ,as it was about her accepting a marriage proposal from Watanabe. She and her ailing father moved to his house which was the largest furniture store in town - this happened in just one day like she was attempting to flee from Akisada.
The abbot felt like he was being hurled into bonfire. He barely ate or spoke to anyone for days. He was not disturbed at all by the quiet observation of Gentaro who might get suspicious that his melancholy and Akina's flight were occurring in tow. But he later became relieved that Gentaro still treated him the same as his deputy was not too brilliant to fathom his relentlessness. Or perhaps the young monk was presuming that his abbot was too upset when the woman ,who was like his own daughter, had suddenly gone without telling anyone beforehand.
When Akisada turned to be skeptical about everything about his so-called lofty state of mind , his defense mechanism came to comfort him again. He thought Akina was sent by the king of demons to outmaneuver him. But finally she surrendered to his destiny of being the Bodhisattva who had made a slight mistake by temporarily immersing himself in such a bodily pleasure that night. He came to terms with the so-called unrequited love and regained his composure.
From then on, Akisada still relished being kowtowed by the guests who had participated in his afternoon tea ceremony. He was still proud to see that the village chief or sheriff was obsequious when he, for the first time, dared to ask for more money to build new building for the temple. The abbot still enjoyed walking around the temple and looking for Satori. Greeting the children or folks near the temple was still his favorite routine.
But Akisada almost failed to gather his wits when someone raised the name of Akina. Thus some other members of temple secretly did the brainstorming to find the reason why on earth she had been so impetuous. This was since the whirlwind marriage for a couple who just began their courtship for barely a week was a risk. But they (not including the abbot) came to conclusion that the wealth of Watanabe's family was irresistible for even a decent woman like Akina ,who had to live through the penury all her life. So she didn't have reason to refuse the swift proposal from the young man , which showed the rashness of the only son of rich family.
Somehow no one came across the reason why she had never stepped into this temple again. And routinely , nobody also bothered to notice that their revered abbot was still suffering inside ,and felt some part of his went terribly missing. Deep down inside ,Akisada had never believed in destiny like his lame excuse for himself. Every once in a while the abbot thought about the ghost of former abbot who had appeared before him only once. He guessed that that darn thing was probably bursting into laughter right now, when witnessing the conceited monk like him undergoing torments day in , day out.
However , the persons who were suffering from Akina's departure as well , were all the novices as their boring travails returned - and especially Emon who wasn't allowed by Gentaro to doze off again. One afternoon the janitor at last surrendered to his senility. But unfortunately ,within minutes , he was woken up by a young stranger.
(The Last Chapter)
Now Hideyoshi really wanted to leave this temple. Although he extremely reveled in the amiable embrace of this sacred place , it was his habit to endlessly gratify his wanderlust. His relations with all members in the temple were great.They found some of his experiences and eruditions fascinating even as a drifter , while the young man were able to eagerly learn the aspects of monastic life from them. Moreover , the revered abbot ,for everyone ,seemed to be aloof as he was such the towering figure of religion.And the young man could fill the gap between them.
Akisada was also the only person Hideyoshi rarely spoke to. However , the young man felt that the abbot furtively attempted to fathom him from a distance. Every now and then he felt like both of them have been conversing tacitly with the language , unintelligible for others , even Brother Gentaro. One day the abbot asked to borrow his book, and the young man was inquisitive whether it would impress him like it had done to Akina.
However, Hideyoshi decided to tell Gentaro about his intention to leave. When the abbot learned about it ,he said nothing, but invited the young man to join his blissful tea ceremony in the afternoon - perhaps a farewell party.
The atmosphere at the terrace of that day was delightful as usual. The blazing sun in the cloudless day shone tirelessly and penetrated everything in the garden of serenity and nothingness. Hideyoshi had sat to drink in them for a quarter hour ,before the abbot greeted him at the door to terrace.
"Please accept my apology for the belated arrival."The abbot beamed.
"That doesn't matter. I am pleased to hang about here for a day ,as its scenery is so superb. It is like some sort of meditation , sir. " The young man took a bow.
Both of them were totally quiet ,while the young man observed the abbot making tea in delicate and solemn manners. He nodded politely while receiving the hot cup of tea.
The abbot gently put the book on the table.
" I read your book and found the poems incredible for a young man like you. It is insightful and inspires the reader with what are intangible on each of its pages. It looks like you have been writing your penetrating autobiography."
Hideyoshi smiled and said nothing. Suddenly he asked the abbot.
"Sir , you said the other day that your garden was the symbol of nothingness of universe. If the universe is such a void , what is the point of living ?"
"Oh , that is one shrewd question. We can still live our lives in the sensible ways amidst the voidness or the impermanence of universe.. But there is nothing that we would attach to , like it is a ghost that we have always been scared of , but it never really exists." The abbot droned like a lecture.
"Oh , thank you , my revered abbot. By the way , several nights ago , the ghost of former abbot visited me at the barn ," Hideyoshi said.
Akisada was perturbed but adroitly kept this feeling inside.
"Why did he visit you ? He just wanted to haunt you , to rejoice to see you scared to death ? " The abbot quipped.
"No, father. From our tiresome conversation , both of us shared the same conviction that you were the veteran actor , or at least the big liar,"
Hideyoshi said.His face and voice were still evenly. He could sense the simmering wrath inside the radiant face of the abbot.
"Really ? How come you are accusing me like this ?" The tone of the abbot's voice began to change.
"Please , father. I don't have any solid evidence. But the first time I met you several months ago , I could read from your eyes that you were restless and perpetually dwelled on an agony. You had intended to ask me something , but your vainglory kept you from doing that. You had wanted to study me, but our difference deterred you from understanding me."
This time the abbot became dumbfounded.
The young man went on and found his voice a bit shaking.
"You are just like me - the wandering lost souls, although we have lived the totally different lives. I have lived as the pauper and the disconsolate drifter , observing the world via poems.You are indisputably the most brilliant monk in our land. But you live in an ivory tower ; you've got trapped in the so-called Dhamma and this temple. So you are always helpless and disconcerted outside them like your miserable love (of course , the ghost told me about that) . You always feed your own delusion of being the Bodhisattva regardlessly. But it can not bring you out of misery just like me who used to be engrossed in taking vengeance for my late father."
Akisada felt something piercing his soul .His face became ashen and drenched in sweat. He knew it was not at all sarcasm , but deep from the young man's true feeling. He remembered that his embarrassed ageing teacher used to get repeatedly attacked by him like this. And now it was his turn.
"Thank you , young man. I am now overwhelmed by your lengthy lecture. I don't think you will understand me even a bit, because these are all what you are assuming. But I will appease your sense of pride by humbly accepting it , like I used to do with many of my best students,"
Akisada said. He didn't want to lose his face , so he kept smiling.But his hand was so trembling that he couldn't hold even a little cup.
The young man seemed to disagree. "I am not proud of this at all, sir. I just said what I really wanted to. The ghost backbit by saying that you were the conceited monk. But I think you are just what you are , still looking for the way for soul salvation like anyone else. It is still human to be flawed like this. Please forgive me that I was cleaning your study room the other day and overhearing you talking with your friend about Dhamma at this terrace. I promptly knew your faith in Lord Buddha had frequently faltered. From your insinuation , you didn't think he really existed , perhaps because his teaching was too good to be true.Or actually he never came to your rescue from those temptations , even if you kept saying a prayer on a daily basis."
Hideyoshi then pointed to the Little Lord Buddha image in the room.
"O , Father .... Lord Buddha doesn't exist here or there. He simply lives with the wretched peasants toiling in the fields around your temple ,or with the corps lying bleeding and beginning to petrify in a battlefield. He meditates peacefully in the mystic smile of a little flower near street. His mercy dwells in the laughter of children while playing near the bamboo forest. If you want to find him , please embrace the world , not just be ensconced here ! "
All of a sudden , the abbot was stupefied with the young man's strange idea and stared at his eyes. He felt the stream of myriad of human tragedies and unbounded wisdom emancipating from them. The abbot's eyes began to brim with tears.
Hideyoshi pushed the book on the table back to him.
" Sir, please keep this book as a token of gratitude and apology that I am now too impertinent. Comparing to your prestige , I am nothing but a dust. I am still struggling with my unrequited love and unknown fate lying before me. I even now immeasurably respect you , the teacher with boundless wisdom. When you finally find your own way, you will be greater than me a zillion times. Thank you for everything, and please remember me sometimes."
Hideyoshi bowed down to the abbot. He stood up and was about to walk out of the building.
"Hold on !" roared the abbot.
When the young man turned back , Akisada took a deep bow to him. It was the deepest in his life that he had ever done to anyone.