Amida’s Riven Breast
Amida’s Riven Breast
Abstract and Keywords
Amida's Riven Breast (Amida no munewari) is classified as a ko-jōruri shōhon, but is also known to have been performed as sekkyō by Tenma Hachidayū and to be thematically consistent with the sekkyō of its time. This Buddhist tale is divided into six acts, the third act of which contains a battle scene. In Amida no munewari, the siblings Teirei and Tenju lose their parents at the ages of five and seven. Then when the brother Teirei is ten years old, he proposes to his elder sister that they sell themselves as slaves to a rich man. Tenju is eventually saved by her Buddhist devotion. The story emphasizes the necessity of dan haramitsu practice of engaging religious professionals.
There was once a vast realm on the outskirts of India known as the Land of Bishari.1 In a place called Katahira Village in the Enta district, there was a great wealthy man by the name of Kanshi Byōe. Among his many riches, Kanshi Byōe possessed seven special treasures: first, he owned nine gold-gushing mountains; second, he owned seven silver-streaming mountains; third, he owned two demon-ridding swords; and fourth, in his south-facing garden, he owned a single otowa pine. The pine was a wondrous tree. When a gentle breeze blew through its branches on an eighty- or ninety-year-old man or woman, that person would be instantly restored to seventeen or eighteen years old. The pine was Kanshi Byōe’s number-one treasure, which is why he included it in his top four. Fifth, he owned a Kantan “prosperity (p.217) pillow”;2 sixth, he owned twelve water-springing urns; and seventh, he owned five fragrant musk dogs. In addition to his seven treasures, Kanshi Byōe had two children, a daughter and a son. His daughter was named Tenju, and she was seven years old. His son was named Teirei, and he was five. There was thus nothing in the world that the rich man lacked.
In his splendid magnificence, Kanshi Byōe once summoned his wife and spoke: “Hello, dear, listen. It seems to me that people pray for salvation in the next life because they won’t be around when the future buddha Maitreya will appear in this world. But since we have the otowa pine, when we get old we can rejuvenate ourselves with the breeze through its branches. There’s no way we’ll die before the final age! So what use is it to pray for the life to come? If it’s all the same, let’s be wicked and have some fun.” “Good idea!” the wife replied, and they did terrible things to no end. As inferiors tend to imitate their superiors, Kanshi Byōe’s servants, retainers, and neighbors all took after his example and began to perform the most heinous evil deeds as well.
Kanshi Byōe burned down all the stupas and temple halls that people had built since the distant past, and he neither floated ships on rivers nor built bridges over streams. He sponsored no services for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha,3 and he spurned the holy practice of bestowing alms. He envied others their good fortune and rejoiced in their hardships, such that it quickly became known that Kanshi Byōe of Katahira Village in the Enta district in the Land of Bishari in India was a stingy, greedy man.
Now around this time Shakyamuni Buddha was on Mount Dandoku,4 and word reached him there about Kanshi Byōe. “Outrageous!” he cried. “It’s already hard enough to get people to do good, what with their natural tendency toward evil. If I leave that man alone there, everyone in the four directions will fall into wicked ways. If that’s the way it’s going to be, then right or (p.218)
The demon kings hurtled headlong into Kanshi Byōe’s mansion, whereupon the man’s demon-ridding swords flew out and about, slashing with all their might. Defeated, the demons made a hasty retreat.
Seeing what had occurred, Shakyamuni said, “Well, then, I’ll send some pestilence deities instead!” Consenting to their task, 98,000 pestilence deities pushed their way into Kanshi Byōe’s mansion. But although they sought to put an end to the rich man’s mischief, the demon-ridding swords flew out as before, slashing heaven and earth in all four directions, and the deities, finding no way to succeed, fled.
Shakyamuni thought that there must be something he could do to make Kanshi Byōe pay. He called together his disciples and spoke: “I want you all to go to hell and bring back some demons, quick!” “Yes, sir,” the disciples replied. Among them, Ānanda, Kāśyapa, Subhūti, Maudgalyāyana, and some others (p.219)
Beholding the demons, Shakyamuni spoke. “I haven’t summoned you here for anything special,” he said. “It’s just that that Kanshi Byōe over there is so stingy and greedy, I want you to grab him and kill him for me. And be sure to make him suffer.” “Yes, sir,” the demons replied. Pouring helter-skelter into Kanshi Byōe’s mansion, they sought to put an end to his evil, but again the demon-ridding swords flew out and about, slashing with all their might. Among the attackers was a fiend named Great Flame. Spitting fire from his hands, he seized the two swords, melting them in his grasp.
Kanshi Byōe’s treasures disappeared like foam on the water. In their triumph, the demons ripped apart and devoured all the servants and retainers. (p.220) But they took their time killing Kanshi Byōe and his wife. They boiled a pot of molten iron and then poured it down the couple’s throats, burning up their five and six internal organs. Then they dropped them into hell.
Shakyamuni watched. “Don’t kill the children,” he said. “I have other plans for them, so keep them safe.” “Yes, sir,” the demons replied, and sparing the sister and brother, they all returned to hell. The feelings in those poor children’s hearts were truly beyond compare!
Now what could be more pitiful than those two little siblings? Suddenly separated from their father and mother, and without the slightest means of getting by in the world, they set out for their neighbors’ houses to beg. The sister led her brother by the hand, and the brother clung to his sister. Watching them come, the neighbors said, “Take a look at that! Until yesterday, they were admired as a rich man’s heirs. But today’s another day, and the poor things beg!” Others scorned the children and refused to let them in, saying, “You’ve lost your parents at the ages of seven and five! It means that all the buddhas have abandoned you. You’re disgusting! Keep away from our house. And don’t stand at the gate!”
Berated and abused, the children returned the way they had come. Sometimes they slept in deserted fields and sometimes in patches of towering eulalia grass. With homelessness their home, they passed the days and months for naught, constantly suffering in their hearts. As they had nothing to eat, they picked parsley on the marshy plains and gathered fallen grains of rice in the village paddies, thereby extending their evanescent lives. Except for the barking dogs in the fields, no one addressed them at all.
One time, the brother approached his sister, Tenju, and spoke: “Listen, sister, I have something to say. Children of the world hold services for their parents’ enlightenment as an act of religious charity, one of the six bodhisattva practices.5 They float ships on rivers and build bridges over streams, read a (p.221)
“How kind of you!” Tenju exclaimed. “I should have been grown-up enough to suggest it myself. It must be because you’re a boy! Yes, let’s go someplace and sell ourselves so that we can hold services for our father and mother’s enlightenment.”
Hand in hand, the children set out. Sleeping in the fields and on the mountains, they walked on and on until, on the ninth day, they came to the Arara district in the Land of Haranai, famous throughout all of India.6 This Arara district (p.222) boasted some forty thousand houses in the four directions, but to the sister and brother’s repeated cries of “People for sale!” and “Buy us, please!” not a single person replied.
Looking around, the children saw a large temple hall dedicated to Amida Buddha. In front of the building there was a clear waterfall, and the sister and brother purified themselves in its cold cascade. Then they composed a poem:
So very quickly
itsushika hana wa
the morning glory petals
scattered all away—
ha ni kienokoru
and the sadness of the dew
tsuyu zo mono uki
that remains on the leaves!
The children wept and visited the temple hall. Rattling the sacred summoning bell, they earnestly prayed: “Hail, Amida Buddha of the West! We wish to sell ourselves so that we might hold services for our father and mother’s enlightenment. We ask that if there’s anyone here who would buy us, that you please let us meet.” The children spent that night supplicating in the temple hall.
Just as they had hoped, Amida Buddha appeared before them in the dark of night. Shining 84,000 rays of light, awesome to behold, he stood beside the sister and brother where they slept. “Dear children,” he said, “how moving that you wish to sell yourselves for the sake of your parents’ enlightenment! As it turns out, there is no one around here who will buy you. However, there is a great wealthy man by the name of Ōman Chōja in Oki Village in the Yume district, deep in the mountains and far away from here. He is certain to buy you without a fuss.” Having spoken thus, Amida caressed the children from top to bottom and bottom to top, two, three, four, and five times and then vanished without a trace. The children awoke.
In their gratitude, the siblings bowed thirty-three times in obeisance.7 Then as it was beginning to grow light, they tearfully set out from the Amida hall, the (p.223) fatigue of their long journey lifted. Following Amida’s instructions, they hurried on their way.
At around this time in Oki Village, there was a rich man named Genta Byōe. He had repeatedly requested that Ōman Chōja’s son, Matsuwaka, be married to his daughter, but in the end Ōman Chōja refused to consent. Genta Byōe was enraged. Summoning a retainer by the name of Kagetsu no Jirō, he told him of his thwarted plans and asked his opinion. “It’s truly hateful!” Kagetsu replied. “Make me your general and I will bring you your enemies’ heads! I’ll see to it that you achieve your aims.” Genta Byōe was enormously pleased. “Well spoken, Kagetsu!” he cried. “Then you shall confront my foe.” And with that, Genta awarded Kagetsu a force of more than three hundred riders.
Kagetsu quickly led his men against Ōman Chōja. Upon arriving at their opponent’s mansion, they surrounded it on three sides and raised a battle cry. After the men’s shouts had died down, the brothers Seigan no Samanosuke and Tōboku no Umanojō emerged from within the compound and bounded up the forward turret. “Who are you, making such a ruckus?” they demanded. “Identify yourselves!”
In a thunderous voice, Kagetsu replied: “The attacking general is I, Kagetsu no Jirō, servant of Genta Byōe! I have come here today to achieve my lord’s long-held desire. You might as well go ahead and slit your bellies now!”
“What a bunch of nonsense!” the brothers declared. “We’ll show you a thing or two!” Striding into the enemy horde, the two men fought as if the day were their last. They cut down fifty strong riders with their own hands, and they sent the remaining attackers flying in the four directions. Kagetsu thought, “This is awful! I’ll have to achieve my master’s desire some other time,” and he set off toward home. But the brothers chased him down, and after twisting and tying his arms behind his back, they brought him before their lord.
“Damn it all!” Kagetsu quietly fumed. “But even if I am a prisoner now, I’ll be the roaring thunder when I’m dead and fulfill my master’s wishes before I’m done!” He glared furiously at his captors, his large eyes contorted with rage. Taking in the sight, Ōman Chōja said, “Shut him up.” The men immediately cut off Kagetsu’s head, whereupon it rose into the sky of its own accord. The men all curled their tongues with dread. Needless to say, Kagetsu’s expression was terrible beyond description.
Ōman Chōja had won the battle, but his only son, Matsuwaka, fell ill with a mysterious ailment and took to his bed, dying. In his sorrow, Ōman Chōja summoned a diviner. “Tell me, doctor,” he said, “what illness afflicts my child? And (p.224) what is the cure? Divine for me, please.” As the man was an able seer, he nimbly set eighty-one divination blocks on a sixty-one-space calendar and began to read the signs. “Oh, how interesting!” he said. “Let me explain. You must buy a girl who was born at the exact same time of the same year as your son was born and then extract her living liver. Wash and cleanse it seventy-five times in the wine known as Longevity Water, and then give it to your son as medicine. If you do, his illness will be cured straightaway.”
“That’s easy enough!” Ōman Chōja exclaimed, and he proceeded to put up placards in the Indian foothills. The placards read:
Wanted for Purchase: Twelve-Year-Old Girls, Best Price Paid
As this was India, more than 350 girls came to see Ōman Chōja about his signs, saying, “I’m twelve years old” and “I’m twelve years old, too.” Ōman Chōja invited them inside, but when he compared them with his son, he found that even though they all were alike in being twelve years old, some were born in a different month than Matsuwaka had been, and those who were born on the same day were born at different hours. Thus in the end there was not a single girl who was born at the exact same time as Ōman Chōja’s son, and they all went home.
Now what could be more pitiful than our two little siblings? As the dawn had already broken, the sister called her brother to her side and spoke: “How about it, Teirei? Let’s go sell ourselves, just as Amida instructed.” And thus they set out, hand in hand. Approaching Ōman Chōja’s mansion, the sister shouted, “People for sale!” and the brother cried, “Buy us, please!” Ōman Chōja sent his ladies out to greet them. The women invited the children inside, where they served them an assortment of wine, delicacies, and local sweets.
After a while, Ōman Chōja wished to see his guests. Swaggering into his reception hall, he beheld a girl so lovely that she seemed to illuminate the entire room. “You beautiful girl!” he exclaimed. “Tell me, why do you wish to sell yourself? How old are you? Where do you come from, and where do you live?”
“Master,” the sister replied, “I am the child of a lowly man from Katahira Village in the Enta district in the Land of Bishari, far away from here. I lost my (p.225) parents when I was small. I would like to sponsor services for their enlightenment, but I lack the means, which is why I am seeking to sell myself. As for my age, I am twelve years old.8 Please buy me and let me serve you, sir, even if only as a wretched water girl.”
Ōman Chōja took in the sister’s words. “So you are twelve years old,” he said. “At what hour of what day of what month of what year were you born?”
“How specific!” the sister replied. “I was born early in the hour of the dragon on the sixth day of the third month of the mizunoto-tori year.”9
“Wonderful!” Ōman Chōja thought to himself. “Our Matsuwaka was also born early in the hour of the dragon on the sixth day of the third month of the mizunoto-tori year. This girl is a perfect match! I’ll buy her as medicine for our son.” Withdrawing from the reception hall, Ōman Chōja summoned his wife and spoke: “Hello, dear, listen to this! That girl here is a perfect match! Go take a look! We’ll buy her, whatever the cost.”
“Really?” the wife replied. Approaching the reception hall, she beheld a child so lovely that she seemed to illuminate the entire room. “What a beautiful girl!” the wife thought. “She’s surely no ordinary human being. She must be a god or a buddha in disguise! If we buy her and then trick her and kill her, we’re bound to suffer heaven’s wrath.”
Deciding that she must tell the girl a bit about their plan, the wife spoke: “Hello, little lady. We, too, have a child, but he has contracted a mysterious illness and is afflicted now to the point of death. In our sorrow, we have assembled the greatest priests of India and offered prayers to the god of Mount Tai,10 but so far to no effect. We summoned a trusty diviner from a particular place and asked him to divine. ‘If you buy a girl who was born at exactly the same time as your son,’ he said, ‘and then extract her living liver, wash and cleanse it seventy-five times in the wine known as Longevity Water, and then feed it to your son, he is sure to be cured.’ ‘That’s easy enough,’ we thought, and we erected (p.226)
Tenju listened. Then, without making the slightest reply, she hung her head and cried. After a while she spoke: “Dear sir and madam, it is not for my own life that I mourn. Since this little boy and I lost our parents at the ages of five and seven, we have had only each other to rely on as we made our sad home in the fields. So if I give my life to you in the evening, who will be his sister in (p.227) the morning? Who will raise this little boy? I felt so sorry for him just now that I was overcome with tears.” The girl pressed her sleeve to her face and wept anew. Ōman Chōja and his wife took in the sight. “How right of her to cry!” they exclaimed, and they wept together with her.
Tenju spoke through her tears: “I will sell myself to you. However, I want to be paid while I’m still alive. I won’t desire a lot of treasure after I die, so I want you to construct a gilded buddha hall now, for the sake of my parents’ enlightenment. It should be four sided and seven ken square.11 Then, if you will carve and install an Amida triad as the principal image,12 I will gladly give you my living liver.”
“That’s easy enough,” Ōman Chōja replied. He assembled carpenters and blacksmiths from all over India, and in twenty-one days he had built a gilded buddha hall, four sided, and seven ken square. He presented it to Tenju.
“There is now nothing that weighs on my mind,” Tenju said, taking in the sight. “But I do worry that this little boy will be an obstacle for me in the world to come. I am entrusting him to you, sir. If you like, please keep him on as Master Matsuwaka’s attendant or page. Or if not that, then employ him as a lowly garden boy. But please, sir, raise him well.”
“Little lady,” Ōman Chōja replied, “fortunately for you, I have no child except for Matsuwaka. I will think of this boy as my second son, and I will leave him half my fortune.”
“There is now truly nothing that weighs on my mind,” Tenju said, and she entered the buddha hall to pray. “Hail, Amida Buddha triad!” she declared. “I offer you this buddha hall, which I have built at the cost of my life. Even if our karmic transgressions run deep, through the power of this offering please save me and my parents and allow us to be reborn on a single jeweled lotus pedestal (p.228) in the upper grade, upper rank of Pure Land rebirth.”13 Then taking out a copy of the Lotus sutra, she assigned the merit of her recitation by proclaiming, “I will read the fifth scroll for my father; the sixth scroll for my mother; the seventh scroll for my brother, Teirei, for his future salvation; and the eighth scroll for myself.”
Teirei approached his sister and spoke. His complaint was moving to hear! “Dear sister,” he began, “when we left our village, you said that we would sell ourselves together for the sake of our parents’ enlightenment. But now we’ve come to this unheard-of faraway land, and you’ve gone and built a big buddha hall for our parents’ enlightenment without me! Why didn’t you let us be bought together? Oh, sister!” Overcome with emotion, the brother could only cry.
“If I explain that I haven’t sold myself,” Tenju thought to herself, “but that I’ve exchanged my life for this buddha hall, then he’ll beg me to take him away somewhere, and that will be too hard to bear.” Tenju therefore decided to tell a little lie: “Listen, Teirei. Ōman Chōja thinks that I’m beautiful, and he’s going to make me his daughter-in-law. He has given me enormous wealth, and because I wanted to do something for our parents’ enlightenment, I built this buddha hall for them. You should become a temple priest. You can dedicate your years to picking fragrant flowers and praying for Mom’s and Dad’s salvation.” Being the small child that he was and knowing nothing of the world, Teirei believed what his sister said. He pillowed his head on her knee and fell fast asleep. It was moving to behold!
Stroking the stray locks of her sleeping brother’s hair, Tenju lamented piteously: “Ever since this little boy and I lost our parents at the ages of five and seven, we’ve always depended on each other. I’ve tried to protect him from everything! As for this hair of his, I dressed it five times a day—never only three. So if I give my life tonight, who will be his sister from tomorrow? Who will dress his hair? My poor little boy!” Again, Tenju pressed her sleeve to her face and wept without restraint.
As dawn broke on the following day, Matsuwaka was suffering horribly from his disease. Ōman Chōja summoned five fierce warriors. “Good morning, men,” (p.229) he said. “I want you to go to the buddha hall and get me that girl’s living liver.” “Yes, sir,” the warriors replied, and they quickly set out.
Arriving at the buddha hall, the warriors shouted, “Hello, young lady! We’ve been sent here to remove your liver. There’s nothing you can do about it, so quit your crying and come right out.”
Tenju heard the men’s calls. “There’s no use in grieving,” she thought, and with a curt reply, she stepped outside. The early morning darkness was shattered by a blaze of light, but whether from the brilliance of Tenju’s beauty or the glimmering of the gilded buddha hall, the warriors could not tell. Dazzled by the girl’s loveliness, the men were at a loss where to strike. They cried out in grief, fearless fighters though they were. “Don’t carry on like that,” Tenju said, taking in the scene. “You’ll make me lose my concentration. It’s for my parents’ sake that I’m giving up my life, and I don’t begrudge it in the least. But it won’t do to spill blood here in the precincts of the buddha hall, so come with me to the foothills village.” Tenju and the men set out together.
When they reached the foothills, Tenju turned toward the west, pressed her palms together and prayed: “Hail, Amida Buddha of the West! Even if our karmic transgressions run deep, please save me and my parents and allow us to be reborn together on a jeweled lotus pedestal in the upper grade, upper rank of Pure Land rebirth.” Then, she chanted a verse in four lines:
sho gyō mu jō
All things are impermanent,
ze shō metsu hō
as that which arises will also expire.
shō metsu metsu i
When arising and expiring themselves have expired,
jaku metsu i raku
that silent extinction produces joy.14
“You warriors,” Tenju said, “it’s a delicate matter, removing a woman’s living liver. I’m sure you don’t know how to do it, so I’ll instruct you. First, wrap a short sword so that only half the blade is exposed. Then, jab it into my left side and rip across to the right. If you do it that way, you won’t have any trouble.”
Replying that they understood, the men wrapped a short sword so that only half the blade was exposed, just as Tenju had instructed. Then they plunged it into her lovely left side, ripped across to the right, and pulled out her (p.230)
Ōman Chōja was overjoyed to see his son restored. Moved at the thought of Tenju’s selflessness, he set off for the foothills to tend to the girl’s bodily remains. Yet despite looking here and there, Ōman Chōja could find no body—only a pool of crimson blood. Thinking this strange, he proceeded to the buddha hall, where he found the girl and her brother lying arm in arm, sound asleep.
Ōman Chōja approached the buddha altar. Opening the altar doors and peering at the Amida triad inside, he saw that the central image was split open at the breast. Crimson blood spilled from the gory wound. “Look at that!” his men (p.231) exclaimed. “The buddhas all pity filial children, and Amida gave himself for the girl!” “Put your hands together and pray!” others cried, and everyone did.
“What shall we do with such a wonderful girl?” Ōman Chōja inquired. He took her as his daughter-in-law, making her Matsuwaka’s wife. The brother, Teirei, became a priest in that same buddha hall. Everyone said that such events were exceedingly rare, and there were none who did not pray.15
Translated from the 1651 Amida no munewari, supplemented by the Urokogataya Amida no munewari.
(1.) Bishari is a Japanese name for Vaiśāli, in the north-central part of India.
(2.) A “prosperity pillow” is a magical pillow that produces wealth in dreams. According to a Tang Chinese story that circulated in medieval Japan, a young man once received such a pillow from a sage in the village of Kantan, which allowed him to experience more than fifty years of worldly success in a short nap before dinner.
(3.) The Buddha (Shakyamuni), the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and the Sangha (the monastic community) are the Three Jewels of Buddhism.
(4.) Dandoku is a Japanese name for Mount Dandaka, in the Gandhāra region of Pakistan. Shakyamuni is said to have performed bodhisattva practices there in his former life as Prince Sudana.
(5.) Charity is the first of six religious practices (roku haramitsu) on the bodhisattva path to enlightenment. The other five are rectitude, forbearance, exertion, meditation, and wisdom.
(6.) Haranai is a Japanese name for Vārānasī, in the north-central part of India.
(7.) Perhaps thirty-three times for the thirty-three manifestations of Kannon, Amida’s attendant bodhisattva.
(8.) There is an inconsistency in the text. Tenju is said to have been seven years old before her parents died and to have set out for the Land of Haranai near the seventh anniversary of their death. So she should be thirteen or fourteen years old.
(9.) The hour of the dragon is from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. Mizunoto-tori is the tenth year in the cyclical sexagenary cycle.
(10.) Mount Tai in China’s Shandong Province. The god of Mount Tai is celebrated as an arbiter of human life and death.
(11.) One ken equals approximately 3.95 square yards, or 3.31 square meters. Seven ken is an area of about 83 square feet, or 23 square meters.
(12.) The triad consists of statues of Amida and his two bodhisattva attendants, Kannon and Seishi. The “principal image” (honzon) is the central object of worship in a temple or buddha hall.
(13.) The Visualization sutra (Kanmuryōjukyō) explains that there are three grades of Pure Land rebirth (higher, middle, and lower), each of which is divided into an additional three (higher, middle, and lower), for a total of nine grades of Pure Land rebirth.
(14.) A famous verse in Heian and medieval Japan. According to the Nirvana sutra, Shakyamuni agreed to feed himself to a ravenous demon in order to learn its second half. The term “silent extinction” (jakumetsu) is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word “nirvana.”