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Drink the Dove
Dreamed c. 1202/9/11 by Myoe Shonin
That night I had a dream. There was a house which I thought was my residence at a place that I knew as Kaburazaka in Kii. It had been built without much consideration. The site of the house was an absurdly high spot. Below it was a large bathhouse. Then I borrowed three fascicles of part of a work (I think it was on the rituals of the sutra) from the same place. I wanted to put them in one place. I went to the bathhouse, stopped, rested, looked up at the house, and thought of staying there. I thought to myself, "The structure before me has already collapsed, but the house is as it was before. Without being concerned about those difficulties, I should stay there."
As I was considering this, there was a sparrow. A dove flew by and the sparrow fell into some ashes. The dove landed in a tree. I picked up the sparrow, turned to the dove, and said, "Please come down into my hands." And it flew down into my hands. The sparrow died.
Butcho-bo, who was in the area of the house, said, "This dove will change into froth." Upon hearing this, I thought, "Will this bird change into something like a hazy mist, that is, froth?" (I think this is the word.)
In one eye of the dove, there was something like a white spot. Then just as I thought that it might die, I opened my hand to look at it and it flew away to a nearby place. Again I called it and it came into my hands.
This time it became a blue bird. It was as if it were made with woven threads. Gradually it changed into a blue cloud and rose into the sky. I reached up with my hands, grabbed the cloud, and slowly drank it. Slowly did it rise into the sky, and bit by bit I grabbed it and drank. Later it became a white cloud and went up. I took it and drank. I think I finished drinking all of it.
I thought of these things while I was drinking. It will benefit all.
- Myoe Shonin (1173-1232) was a Japanese monk living in a time when Buddhism (and many civil institutions) had decayed. Priests were corrupt (some were robbers); temples had been burned, and lines of oral/experiential teaching (vital in many Buddhist sects) wiped out. Myoe was determined to reconstruct the early purity of Buddha's teaching from scratch if need be; and he used ecstatic dreams and visions like this to do it.
- The date: The year is definitely 1202, but the "11th day of the 9th month" is in the lunar calendar and may not line up well with our September. Still, how could I resist even a nominally 9/11 dream--a dream with high, ruined houses, birds crashing, death in ashes, breathing a strange white cloud--a dream dreamt 799 years before the towers fell and white ash blanketed Manhattan? No, I don't think it's predictive. Just surreal.
- The house: I think he means "the bathhouse was a ruin; the house above looked carelessly planted, but it survived whatever wrecked the bathhouse." Given the destruction of Japanese temples and traditions in Myoe's time, there's a temptation to read this as a dream-comment that despite the current crisis this transplanted religion was built to last.
- Froth: I don't know what script Myoe wrote "froth" in. If kanji (Chinese characters), perhaps he was unsure how to write an uncommon word spoken in the dream; he may have intended another word entirely. If kana (phonetic) then it's more likely he means froth but is unsure this was the word spoken; or just that he finds it a strange thing to say, now that he's awake.
- I thought of these things while I was drinking. It will benefit all: Does Myoe mean "as I drank, I thought 'my drinking the dove will benefit all'"? The dream hints he's absorbing some insight he can use to help others. But what? In the Abrahamic religions, the symbolism would be explicit: dove, holy spirit, doctrine. Is it unreasonable to read Myoe's dream this way too? Well, no, not really; he was a bit messianic. He knew the right path, and could turn quite caustic with us corrupt, worldly, or merely misguided souls--like the leaders of rival sects. Saints can be hard to live with.
SOURCE AND TRANSLATION: George Tanabe, Myoe the Dreamkeeper
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