On Taking Others' Possessions Unrighteously, Causing Evil, and Gaining a Penalty Showing an Extraordinary Event

A tale from the Nihon Ryoiki
of the Monk Kyokai

Kashiwade no omi Hirokuni was an assistant governor of Miyako district, Buzen province. In the reign of the emporer at Fujiwara Palace, on the fifteenth of the ninth month in the autumn of the second year of the snake, the second year of the Keiun era, Hirokuni passed away suddenly. On the fourth day after his death, about four o'clock in the afternoon, he was brought back to life and told the following tale:

"There came two messangers, one with an adult's hair style, the other with a child's. I accompanied them for the distance of about two stages, and on our way there was a river with a golden bridge. Crossing the bridge, I found myself in a strange land. I asked the messangers, 'What country is this?' They answered, 'It is the land in the southern direction.'

"As we reached the capital, we saw eight armed officials following us. We found ourselves in front of a garden palace. When we entered the palace, a king was seated on the golden throne, and he told me, 'I have summoned you on a complaint by your wife.' Then the king called a woman whom I recognized as my deceased wife. Eight men carried her in: iron nails pierced her from top to bottom and from forehead to the nape of her neck, while an iron chain tied her limbs. The king asked me, 'Do you know her?' I answered, 'Indeed, she is my wife.' Again the king asked, 'Do you know the sin of which you are accused?' I answered, 'No.' When my wife was asked the same question, she answered, 'Yes, indeed. Because he drove me from home, I still bear a grudge and feel envious and hateful.' The king said to me, 'You are really innocent. You may go home. I warn you, however, not to talk thoughtlessly about the land of the dead. If you want to see your father, go to the south.'

Kannon Bodhisattva

"I went south to find my father standing and holding a hot copper pillar. He had thirty-seven nails in his body and was beaten with an iron stick, three hundred times in the morning, three hundred times in the afternoon, three hundred times in the evening, or, altogether, nine hundred times a day. I grieved at this and said, 'I never dreamed that you were suffering such punishment!' Then he spoke to me, saying, 'My son, probably you do not know why I am suffering. In order to support my family I killed living beings, pressed men to repay ten ryo on a loan of eight ryo of cotton, or lent rice and collected three times the amount. Also, I robbed others of their possessions, committed adultery with the wives of others, neglected filial piety and reverence to my elders, and used foul language to abuse those who were not slaves. Because of such offenses I have thirty-seven iron nails in my small body and receive nine hundred beatings daily with an iron stick. What pain! What suffering! When shall I be excused from my sin? When shall my body find rest? Please hurry to atone for my sins by making a Buddha-image and copying scriptures. Never forget this. When I visited you in hunger in the form of a big snake on the seventh of the seventh month and was about to enter the house, you picked up the sanke and threw it away. Again, when I went to your home in the form of a small red dog on the fifth of the fifth month, you call a big dog to chase me, and I left hungry and exhausted. However, when I house in the form of a cat on New Year's Day, I filled my stomach with the various offerings and was able to make up for three years' lack of food. Then, I lost my sense of social order and reason and became a dog eating and watering. I am sure to become a small red dog again.'

"If you make an offering of one quart of rice, you will gain a reward of thrity days food; if you make an offering of one set of clothes, you will gain a reward of one year's clothing. Those who have Buddhist scriptures recited will live in the eastern golden palace and be born in the heaven according to their wish; those who have Buddha-images made will be born in the Western Pure Land of Unlimited Life; those who set living beings free will be reborn in the Northern Pure Land of Unlimited LIfe. Or, those who fast for a day will gain a reward of ten years' food.

The Three Treasures

"Shocked at the sight of so many instances of retribution, I came back to the big bridge. The guards watching the gate checked me and said, 'We cannot let you go out, since you have been in.' I was wandering around when the child appeared. The gatekeepers knelt to greet him. Then the child called me, led me to a side gate, and opened the door. When I was leaving, he said, 'Go quickly.' I asked him, 'Whose child are you?' He answered, 'If you want to know who I am, I am the Kanzeon-gyo which you copied in your childhood.' He was gone, whereupon I looked around to find myself in this world again."

As Hirokuni visited the land of the dead and saw the karmic retribution of good and evil, he recorded it for circulation. Who can fail to believe in the law of karmic retribution, as expounded widely in the Mahayana scriptures? This is what the scripture means when it says, "Honeydew in the present will be an iron ball in the future." Hirokune made Buddha images, copied scriptures, and made offerings to the Three Treasures to repay his father's love and atone for his sin, thereafter turning evil into righteousness.

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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. For non-profit educational use only. ISBN:0-7007-0449-3
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