Saturday, 27 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 33

‘Once upon a time, there was Ojiisan, an old man and Obaasan, his wife. They were poor, but they had a kind heart. They lived a simple life in the countryside. On a New Year’s Eve, They did not have enough food. They wished they could eat at least rice cake on New Year’s Day. So Ojiisan went into town and tried to sell the handmade straw hats, but no one was interested in it on busy New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, it began to snow and got dark, so he went back home. He felt sorry for his wife. He didn’t want to spend a New Year without any food. On his way home, he found the six Jizo, a statue of Japanese god. They were covered with snow. Ojiisan thought ‘’It looks very cold. I want to do something for them.’’ So he cleared the snow off and gave them his straw hats. He put it each Jizou but one less. So he gave his old towel he wore and put it. He thought ‘’they are OK now. Have a happy new year!’’In his home, he told to Obaasan about the Jizou. She said ‘’ you did the right thing. I am proud of you’’ At midnight, Ojiisan and Obaasan were awakened by a strange noise outside. They were scared. The noise stopped, they peeped through the door. Then, they saw an unbelievable sight. There were the 6 Jizou and they left a lot of things for New Year, bags of rice, fish, vegetables, and money. These were rewards from Jizou. Ojiisan and Obaasan deeply appreciated their gift. 
They lived happily ever after.’

Friday, 26 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 32

     At the age of five, Kichizaemon Yamamoto’s father ordered him 
     to take sword in hand and cut down a dog. At the age of fifteen, 
     he was ordered to execute criminals. It used to be that a warrior 
     was ordered to take a head by the age of fourteen or fifteen. 
     Lord Katsushige learned to kill with the sword under the 
     direction of his father, Lord Naoshige, while he was still very 
     young. After a while he could cut down ten men in succession. 
     In times past this was the practice, especially among the 
     affluent, but now no one learns to kill while young. This is very 
  Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

The path leading to the main temple grew steeper. Robyn and I climbed up beside a large grotto, containing hundreds of small grey gnomic stone statues, a bald monkish army of cute Casper ghosts, all shapes and sizes, splattered with waves of red fabric, standing in rows. The visual impact was overwhelming. 
“Children?” Robyn asked.
“Their guardians.” I said. “Jizōs.”
Originating in India as Kshitigarbha, the Earth Repository Bodhisattva, Jizō was protected by Prithvi, the Hindu ‘mother of all creatures’ fertility goddess, who personified the blessings of Earth and Space. In the Vedas scriptures, she was celebrated as the consort of the sky, and vowed to use all her miraculous powers to protect Jizō devotees. 
Seven hundred years before Jizō arrived in Japan, during the reign of Emperor Suinin, Haniwa terracotta clay figures, which Picasso once praised for their beauty, began to substitute for the live human sacrifices previously buried at funerals of important people. The ‘earth bearer’ Jizō came through China in the seventh century and in appeared in Nara Period Japan a hundred years later, associated with the Lord of Death and the Taoist Ten Kings of Hell. 
Jizō was the only Bodhisattva portrayed as a monk- no adornments, no royal attire, dressed in the simple kesa robe, and shaven head often surrounded by a halo. In his right hand he holds a six-ring shakujo staff. When Jizō shakes the staff, the jingling awakens us from our delusions, and helps us break free of the six states of rebirth to achieve enlightenment. In his left he holds a hōjunotama mani jewel, which signifies bestows of blessings on all who suffer, grants wishes, pacifies desires, and brings clear understanding of the Dharma.
Jizō’s cartoon likeness was depicted as that of a 7th-century Korean priest named Gin Chau Jue, who resided for 75 years at Chiu-hua-shan in China. When Jue died in 728, at the age of 99, his body did not decay, and was gilded and venerated as an emanation of Jizō.
The height of Jizō’s early popularity came during the late Heian era when the rise of the Jōdo Sect (the Pure Land Sect devoted to the Amida Buddha) intensified fears about afterlife hell. Because of his connection with death and suffering souls, Jizō became closely associated with Amida’s heavenly western paradise, where true believers seek enlightenment and to avoid the torments of the netherworld, no longer trapped in the six states of desire and karmic rebirth. Like Jesus, Jizō is a savior par excellence. The Japanese believe that will save them at any time, in any situation, without any conditions or stipulations beyond simple faith. Even those who have already fallen into the pit, serving time in Hell, are promised that Jizō-san will work diligently to ease their sufferings and shorten their sentences. Jizō is a Bodhisattva who has achieved enlightenment but postponed his own Buddhahood until all can be saved, the embodiment of supreme spiritual optimism, compassion, and universal salvation, all hallmarks of his Mahayana Buddhism.
Jizō is the first deity most people encounter when they set foot in Japan, because he is the patron protector of travelers and pilgrims. You’ll find him peeking out from everywhere- among the grasses along the road, standing at busy intersections, overseeing borders, in graveyards, in temples, along hiking trails, or sitting in a wooden shelter built especially for him. He is found at boundaries between places both physical and spiritual, between here and there, life and death.
In all these places, he fulfills his customary role as guardian of the weak, expectant mothers, children, firemen, and all beings caught in the six realms of transmigration. One of the most beloved of all divinities, depicted in countless forms unique to Japan, a friend to all, never frightening even to children, this is the Jizo they know and love, the Jizo full of awesomeness, compassion and fortitude. Jizo does not get angry, nor does he ever give up, even when trampled and stepped upon like the earth he is the bearer of. They carve him out of stone because of the protective power and spiritual value the material possesses to engage the human heart. 
Nearly all villages have their own beloved Jizō statues, frequently given unique names defining their specific salvific functions- Greasy Jizō, Jizō Without a Jaw, Food Tasting Jizō, Jizō Begging the Sky for Rain, Sweating Jizō, Rice-Ball Jizō, Great Vow Jizō, Muddy-Feet Jizō, Longevity Jizō, Naked Jizō, Noseless Jizō, Blow Hole Jizō, Belly Girdle Jizō, Hatted Jizō  Time-Limiting Jizō, Fire Kindling Jizō, Jizō With Burnt Cheeks, Empty-Handed Jizō, Child-Raising Jizō, Easy Childbirth Jizō, Turn-My-Head Jizō, Jizō with Head Cut Off, Black Jizō, Fire-Kindling Jizō, Patron of Guiding Jizō, Bean-Paste Jizō, Miso-Licking Jizō, Rubbing Jizō, Upside-down Jizō, Cough-Stopping Jizō, String-Bound Jizō, Spirit-Pacifying Jizō, Kitchen-Brush Jizō, Splinter Removing Jizō, Deaf Jizō, Old Woman Jizō, Wheel Jizō, Arrow-Gathering Jizō...
“What a Friend We Have in Jizōs.” Robyn said.
“With his jingling sounds, and his legendary good deeds.” I said. “There seems to be a bit of Saint Nick in him as well.” 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 31

A samurai could divorce his wife with approval from a superior, but divorce was a rare event for a variety of reasons, most of which were covered by Article 28 of the Reform Edict of Taika of 646:

   The seven grounds for divorce of a wife by her husband: 
     1) if she is childless (e.g., without a male child); 
     2) if she commits adultery; 
     3) if she disobeys her parents-in-law; 
     4) if she talks too much; 
     5) if she steals; 
     6) if she is jealous; and 
     7) if she has a bad disease. 
   In all cases the husband must write a notice of divorce which 
   must be signed jointly by the parents and near relatives. Those 
   who cannot write must make their mark.
   Even when there are grounds for divorce a wife will not be sent 
   away in the following three cases: 
     1) if she has maintained the household during the period of   
         mourning for her parents-in-law during which time the 
         husband could not work;
     2) if since marriage the household has risen in status; or 
     3) if there is nobody to receive her (i.e., if there is no member of 
         her family or other sponsor of the marriage to whom she can 
   But these exceptions shall not apply if she has been guilty of a 
   grave offence against piety or of adultery or has a bad disease.

A samurai could divorce even if he simply did not like his wife, but this was avoided because it would embarrass the samurai who had arranged the marriage. A woman could also arrange a divorce, although it would gtake the form of the samurai divorcing her. The fact that the samurai had to return the betrothal money after a divorce, also often prevented them.
If her background had been strictly checked by a higher ranked samurai, a samurai could have a mistress and, in many cases, this was treated as a marriage. Kidnapping a mistress, although common in fiction, would have been shameful, if not a crime. 
The concept of a woman being a fit companion for war was no longer conceivable, and because of the rise in Neo-Confucian influence and the established marriage market of the Edo Period, the status of the onna-bugeisha diminished significantly. Travel during the Edo Period was demanding and unsettling for female samurai because of imposed restrictions. They always had to be accompanied by a man, and had to possess specific permits, establishing their business and motives. Samurai women were severely harassed by inspection checkpoint officials.
Probably the last great female samurai was Nakano Takeko. In 1868, during the Battle of Aizu in the Boshin War she led an ad hoc corps of 20 female combatants against the onslaught of 20,000 Imperial Japanese Army soldiers, her naginata held high. Nakano received a bullet to the chest and, rather than let the enemy capture her head as a trophy, asked her sister, Yūko, to cut it off and have it buried. It was taken to Hōkai Temple and buried under a pine tree.
“For such a noble tradition.” Robyn said. “It certainly doesn’t explain why men cut in front of me.”
“No, it doesn’t.” I said. “And it may worsen again. The Nippon Kaigi, the largest right-wing organization in Japan, bemoans ‘the rampant spread of gender-free education,’ staunchly opposes the notion that a woman could be emperor (despite the existence of Empress Jingu two millennia ago), or even allowing women to use their maiden names after they get married. In Japan they still use the expression Danson Johi. Men over women.”

    ‘The secret to a happy marriage is this: Treat your spouse all of    
      your life as you did when you first met and there will never be 
      room for discord.’
  Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, 1716

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 30

Yoritomo’s wife, Masaka, rode with him on his campaigns and was never defeated. Later, as the Nun Shogun, she enacted laws allowing women to control finances, bequeath property, and receive equal rights of inheritance with fraternal kin. Traits valued in women of the samurai class were humility, obedience, self-control, strength, and loyalty. Maintaining the upkeep of the home, managing servants, raising children, and caring for elderly parents or in-laws living under her roof, were already the main duties of bushi samurai wives, especially crucial during early feudal Japan, when warrior husbands were often traveling abroad or engaged in clan battles. But they were also expected to defend their households forcibly in times of war, and were trained in the use of weapons to do just that. These okugatasama remaining in the home were trained in the special tantojutsu skill of the kaiken knife but, even more effectively, how to wield a long polearm with a curved blade at the tip. The iconic naginata was effective against marauders on horseback, or in close quarter combat. Despite Musashi’s little regard for the weapon, a strong woman armed with a naginata could keep most combatants at bay. The Mongols had taught the samurai class that much.
Chiyo, wife of Yamauchi Kazutoyo, has long been considered the ideal samurai wife. According to legend, she made her kimono out of a quilted patchwork of bits of old cloth and saved pennies to buy her husband a magnificent horse, on which he rode to many victories.
By the Edo Period and beyond, samurai were no longer concerned with battles and war. They were bureaucrats. Along with physical attractiveness, marriage criteria began to weigh intelligence and education as desirable attributes in a wife. Many of the texts written for women, as the Tokugawa period progressed, transcended the usual successful household manager themes, and emphasized the learning of philosophical and literary classics. 
Most samurai married women from a samurai family, arranged by someone with the same or higher rank than those being married; for lower ranked samurai, marriages with commoners were permitted, if a dowry or tax exemption was provided. Some rich merchants had their daughters marry samurai to erase a samurai's debt and advance their positions. Daughters of upper class households, became pawns to dreams of success and power.
But the roaring ideals of fearless devotion and selflessness were replaced by quiet, passive, civil obedience. The social acceptance of women in seventeenth century Japan had strangely devolved. Samurai viewed women as child bearers. The relationship between a husband and wife was that of lord and vassal. Husbands and wives did not customarily sleep together. The husband visited his wife to initiate sexual activity and afterwards retired to his own room. Women were still expected to show solace for death when it came to defending their husband's honor, in the spirit of self-sacrifice and self-renunciation. If a samurai's wife gave birth to a son he could then one day become a samurai.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 29

“Were there ever any female samurai?” Asked Robyn.
“You bet.” I said. “They were upper class warriors called onna-bugeisha. Empress Jingu, who led a miraculously bloodless conquest of Korea in 200 AD, likely doesn’t count because she was royalty, but there were other impressive female fighters that followed.
In the Kamakura Period Genpei War, Yoritoma’s cousin Yoshinaka’s concubine, Tomoe Gozen, was one of the finest.


   ‘Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and 
    charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and 
    as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to 
    confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled 
    unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down 
    perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka 
    sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an 
    oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more 
    deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.’
                                                                  The Tale of the Heike

Remember when Yoshinaka took Kyoto, and Yoritomo sent his brother Yoshitsune to kill him? At the Battle of Awazu on February 21, 1184, Gozen rode into the enemy forces, flung herself on their strongest warrior, Honda no Moroshige, and unhorsed, pinned, and decapitated him. Despite all the bravery, Yoshinaka's troops were outnumbered and overwhelmed. Down to his last few warriors, he told Tomoe to flee because of the shame his name would carry if he died with a woman. Tomoe escaped capture and after the battle became the wife of the samurai who ultimately defeated her in battle. She later became a nun.

Monday, 22 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 28

“Who’s she?” Asked Robyn.
“Benten, or Benzaiten.” I said. “Enoshima Island rose from the sea to receive her footsteps.”
Originally the Hindu River Goddess Sarasvatī, described in the the Indian Rig Veda as the best of goddesses, the ‘inciter of all pleasant songs, inspirer of all gracious thought,’ Benten evolved in Japan as the deity of sea or water, and the Goddess of all that flows- water, words, speech, eloquence, poetry, writing, music, performing arts and, by extension, knowledge, learning, and wisdom. The realm of imagination and Jungian unconscious were the deep uncharted waters from which spring life-renewing creative forces and artistic inspiration streamed up through her. One of Japan's most complex syncretic deities, her worship was widespread in esoteric Buddhist camps, Shintō circles, and mountain Shugendō enclaves.
Sometime in the eighth century she entered Japan as the eight-armed weapon-wielding Defender of Nation, and Protector of Buddhist Law, compatible with her martial description in the Sutra of Golden Light. In her hands she held a sword, a wish-granting jewel, a bow, an arrow, a wheel, and a key, her remaining two hands joined in prayer. It took only a hundred years for the introduction of Mikkyō Esoteric Buddhism to replace her warrior image, favored by samurai praying for battlefield success, with a two-armed beauty playing a lute. In the heavenly Taizōkai Mandala, she became the patroness of music and art and beauty, and all that other stuff.
In the eleventh and twelfth century, Benten became an amiable agricultural deity, providing rain, protecting the harvest, and bringing prosperity. Her sanctuaries were always near water- the sea, a river, a lake, or a pond. Her animal avatars and messengers were turtles, foxes and Naga serpents and dragons, all associated with water and also carrying, like the goddess herself, the sacred pearl or jade jewel that granted desires. Snakes are common in Japan, and one of the most common, the mamushi pit viper, is also the most venomous, causing at least ten deaths a year. In 1885, in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, ‘ while enjoying a vacation near Kamakura,’ a Mr. W. C. deLano described his newfound knowledge of the serpent he had procured.

   ‘The largest mamushi are between seven and eight feet long. 
    Born, the mamaushi is full of the energy of the sun, and for this 
    reason has sharp teeth (!) When a man is bitten by a mamaushi, 
    he dies quicker than from the sting of any other poisonous snake. 
    If bitten by a mamushi, it is best to cut off the swollen parts 
    around the bite with a very sharp knife. If the flesh of the 
    mimushi is thrown on the ground, the earth in the vicinity begins 
    at once to hiss and steam, and, upon inspection, the spot will be 
    found to be burned.’

“Snakes are a big item with Benten, and in Japan.” I said. “She had the power to assume the form of a serpent, and was often shown riding a dragon or serpent and playing the biwa lute, surrounded by white serpents, or crowned with one. The Japanese believe that seeing a white snake is an omen of great luck, but not many will remember why. Putting a cast-off snakeskin in your purse or wallet is said to bring wealth and prosperity. Benten’s companion husband had been Hakuja, a large ugajin white serpent sea dragon kami with the head of an old man, who used to ravage Enoshima and devour children, until she descended form heaven to tame him. She gained the title of protectress of children, and was worshipped as well by geishas and jealous women, dancers and musicians, painters and sculptors and writers, and anyone on an island, especially Enoshima, as she was believed to prevent earthquakes. Robyn and I came out into daylight, from the low ceiling long winding tunnel of Benten-kutsu.
“She was the only female of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese mythology, and goddess of one more thing.” I said. “But I’ll show you that later this morning.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

What a Friend We Have in Jizōs 27

But we were out of earshot soon enough, in a world of stone paths that led upward along running streams and bamboo groves, to exotic verdigris rooflines, red lanterns and Chinese peonies, bronze bells and pink rhododendrons, bonsai black pine and topiary, and long sharpened bamboo conduits hurling long thick streams of falling water into green ponds full of orange and ghostly white koi. Caution. It is not good to drink! We washed out hands at a stone basin, three ladles left for the purpose.
“You can buy a clay bell charm.” I said. “It’s a spiritual replacement for evil destiny. The day it breaks, the bad luck that was supposed to happen to you, will happen to the bell instead.” But my Destiny was good, and no purchase was necessary. 
The first two statues we encountered were male. Fudo-Myo-O, the Immovable Wisdom King, was a most beloved angry god, surrounded by flames, holding a sword and a rope in its hands. His scary demeanor was intended to frighten evil spirits, and his every detail possessed an advanced symbolism- the flames were to consume evil, the sword was the sword of wisdom cutting through ignorant minds, and the coiled rope bound those ruled by violent passions. 
Jikokuten was the next bronze statue, the Guardian of the Nation, the Keeper of the Kingdom, the Upholder of the Country, and the Protector of the World. He commanded an army of celestial musicians and vampire demons, and often carried a sword in right hand, with his closed left hand resting on a hip. Sometimes, instead, he was cast holding a lute harkening the Middle Way- strings broke if too tight, but no sound produced, if too slack.
“No women.” Robyn said.
“Over here.” I said. We entered the small hall of the Benten-do. Arising out of a lotus flower, emerged the beautiful eight-armed bronze goddess of feminine beauty and wealth, the divinity of reason, the patron of literature and music, and much more.