To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, April 25, 2010

From the Nihon Ryoiki of the Monk Kyokai (An Oral Narrative)

Translation from Japanese by Hiromi Ito & Jerome Rothenberg

It was Sugaru of the Little Boy Clan who was the chancellor of the Emperor Yuryoku, as vital to him as his heart and liver. One day when when the Emperor was residing at Iware-no-Miya palace and was having sex there with his wife, Sugaru burst into the chamber and the Emperor, feeling shame, broke off his foreplay. At that moment they heard thunder and the Emperor told Sugaru: Go forth now and send a summons to the God of Thunder. Sugaru replied that he would go. The Emperor then proclaimed: Go forth and send a summons to the God of Thunder. Following his sovereign’s orders Sugaru set forth. He left the palace, wreathed his head with garlands, raised a lance from which a red flag flew, and started out on horseback. As he rode between Toyura Temple and the Abë fields he reached the sacred Tsuji crossroads, where he cried out in a loud voice to the sky: O you celestial God of Thunder our Emperor has summoned you to him. And having spoken so, he came back to the road where he had started, thinking: When the Emperor once speaks, even a god can’t spurn his summons. And so, somewhere between Toyura Temple and I-Oka hill, Sugaru found the God of thunder who had come to earth. He summoned the shrine’s guardians, who brought a palanquin on which they sat the God of Thunder, and they bore him to the Palace. Sugaru told the Emperor: I’ve brought the God of Thunder for you. At that the God of Thunder radiated gobs of light, at sight of which the Emperor felt shock and awe. He offered him a wealth of goods and had his people bring him to the place where he had come to earth, which to this day we call the Hill of Thunder.

Years passed and Sugaru grew old and died. The Emperor had his body laid in state for seven days and seven nights, and all that time he mourned his loyal chancellor. He made a grave for Sugaru there where the God of Thunder came to earth and carved a monument on which he wrote: This is the grave of Sugaru who caught the God of Thunder. But the God of Thunder raged on hearing this. He danced around it, kicking, trampling it until he broke the monument in two, which closed around him trapping him again. The Emperor when he heard of it released him, but the God of Thunder was bereft. For seven days and nights he lay there senseless. Then the Emperor sent forth an emissary to that place and had the monument restored. And on its side he wrote once more: This is the grave of Sugaru who caught the God of Thunder both alive and dead.

This is the story of the place called Hill of Thunder.

NOTE. The preceding is an attempt by Hiromi Ito and me to translate the first of the curious pre-Buddhist narratives gathered by the Buddhist monk Kyokai in a three volume work, Nihonkoku genpo zen'aku ryoiki (Miraculous Stories of Karmic Retribution of Good and Evil in Japan), dating between A.D. 810 and 823. Writes Helene Bowen Raddeker in the Journal of Religious History (Vol.22 No.2,June 1998, pp.246-248): “The very modest Kyokai could not have imagined that the ‘future generations’ for whom he so painstakingly recorded these miraculous tales from Japan's oral tradition would extend so far into the future. … One reason for the later recognition of the importance of Kyokai's Nihon ryoiki has been its contribution to an understanding of religious belief and practice in early Japan. Even in the title of his work, Kyokai made quite clear the didactic intent of his project, which was to convince his contemporaries of the Buddhist maxim that ‘good and evil cause karmic retribution [in this or in subsequent lives] as a figure causes its shadow, and suffering and pleasure follow such deeds as an echo follows a sound in the valley’ (preface to vol. 1, 101).”


Hannah Stephenson said...

Very fascinating stuff!!!

Anonymous said...

Japan's oral poetry thus far a mystery to me. Your work with Ito so valuable. Thank you. I will anticipate more.

Jeffrey Angles said...

Thank you, Jerry, for putting this up!