On Paying for and Freeing Turtles and Being Rewarded Immediately and Saved by Them

A tale from the Nihon Ryoiki
of the Monk Kyokai

Dhyana Master Gusai came from Paekche, when that country was invaded, an ancestor of the governor of Mitami district in Bingo province was put in charge of reinforcements and sent to Paekche. At that time the present governor's ancestor vowed that he would build a temple to dedicate to the deities of heaven and earth if he came home safely. Eventually, he escaped harm. Thereupon, he invited Dhyana Master Gusai to return to Japan with him. Mitani-dera is the temple that was founded by this master, and both monks and laymen felt awe and reverence at its sight.

Lotus Sutra jeweled-stupa mandala of Ryuhonji; Nara Nat'l Museum.

Once, in going to the capital to exchange his belongings for gold and paints, the master reached the port of Naniwa. He happened to sea a seaman selling four big turtles, and he advised people to buy them and set them free. After that he rented a boat and boarded it with two acolytes to cross the sea. Late at night, the sailors, filled with greed, threw the acolytes into the sea near Kabanejima, in Bizen, and turned to him saying, "Quick, into the sea with you!" The monk tried to reason with them, but they would not listen. Finally, after making a vow, he sank into the water. When the water came up to his waist, he felt a stone supporting his legs. In the morning light he found that he was being carried by the turtles. They left him on the beach of Bitchu after nodding to him three times. It seems that the turtles which had been set free came back to repay his kindness.

Eventually the thieving sailors, six in all, happened to visit his temple to sell the gold and paints they had stolen from him. The patron of the temple first came out to make an estimate, and then the master appeared to see them. The thieves were petrified with terror. Out of mercy he did not punish them, but rather made a Buddha image to be consecrated in the pagoda and performed rites of dedication. Later he lived by the seaside, and preached to passersby. He passed away when he was over eighty.

Even an animal does not forget gratitude, and repays an act of kindness. How, then, could a righteous man fail to have a sense of gratitude?

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Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition: The Nihon Ryoiki of the Monk Kyokai. Translated and edited by Kyoko Motomochi Nakamura. First published in 1973 by Harvard University Press: MA. This edition published by Curzon Press: Surrey, Great Britain. Copyright 1997. Pages 111-115. For non-profit educational use only. ISBN:0-7007-0449-3
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