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Zemmyo

Dreamed c.1221?/4/20 by Myoe Shonin

Statue of Zemmyo (Shan-Miao), a woman who turned into a dragon to bear the Buddhist monk Uisang safely over the sea to Korea.

I dreamed that the priest Jizo was carrying an incense burner (it was a tea bowl). I thought to myself that [my cousin] Sakiyama Saburo (Sadashige) had brought this back from China and given it to Jizo. I looked at it; inside there were partitions with various Chinese objects in it. There were more than twenty kinds in it.

There was something in the shape of two turtles mating, and I thought that it was a worldly, congratulatory gift. Inside there was a Chinese female doll about six inches [tall]. This was also like a tea bowl [Myoe probably means the doll is made of stoneware.]

Someone said, "This doll is very upset about being sent from China."

Thereupon I asked, "Is it true that you are upset about coming to this country?" She nodded in reply.

Again I asked, "I feel for you. Do not grieve." Then she shook her head.

After awhile, I picked her up and looked at her; tears were streaming down as she wept. Her eyes were filled with tears and her shoulders were soaked. She was sad for having come to Japan.

Then she uttered some words and said, "If you are my prison keeper, then it will be of no use."

I replied, "I am only called a priest; and that being the case, there is nothing to be concerned about. The great sages in this country think considerably of me; everyone respects me. Therefore I [can] feel for you."

When the doll heard this, she flushed with great joy, nodded, [and said], "If that is so, then you can feel for me." I held her in my palms.

Suddenly she turned into a living woman. Then I thought to myself, 'Tomorrow I must go somewhere for a service. I want to go there to establish a spiritual connection [with someone there]. You must be with me there.'

The woman was happy and wanted to accompany me. I said, "There is a lady there who has some connection with you. (I was thinking of the Sakiyama nun, who was living there. We will go there in order to hear her, because she is Saburo's mother. I thought of this because the doll was sent by Saburo.)

Thus we went to that place together. Jizo was there and said, "This woman consorts with snakes." I heard his words [but knew that] she did not have sexual relations with snakes; it is just that this woman also has the body of a snake. As I was thinking about this, Jizo followed up and said, "This woman doubles up as a snake."

Interpretation:

--Myoe Shonin--

Uisang and the Love of Shan-miao

...Upon his arrival in China in 669 AD by commercial boat, Uisang stopped to beg alms at a house. The patron of the house had a beautiful daughter named Shan-miao [Japanese: Zemmyo], who promptly fell in love with the handsome priest and tried to win him over. But Uisan's heart hardened like a rock that could not be overturned, and her entreaties went unanswered.

Thus rebuffed, she suddenly was overcome with faith in Mahayana and Uisang the priest. Uisang then left for Chang-an to study under Chihyen with Fa-tsang as a fellow student. Upon completing his studies, Uisang went back to the port of his arrival and stopped at the same house to thank his old patron. Shan-miao prepared a gift satchel of robes and ritual implements, which she planned to give to him, but by the time she reached the shore to see him off, Uisan's ship had already left. She chanted a vow to serve Uisang, and prayed for the satchel, which she threw into the water, to reach the boat. The wind immediately blew it across the waves to the boat. Again she made a vow, this time to become a dragon, threw herself into the sea, suddenly became a dragon, and carried the boat on her serpentine back safely to the other shore.

Back home, Usang traveled in search of a temple site, and found a place filled with five hundred heretical priests. Shan-miao, the dragon, now transformed herself into a gigantic boulder floating menacingly in the sky above the priests until they ran off in fear. Uisang moved in and renamed the place the Temple of the Floating Rock (Pusok-sa). His fame reached the court, but he remained true to his vows of poverty by rejecting an offer of land and slaves from the king. He was the first patriarch of the Huaom school in Korea.

Myoe['s] account in the Kegon emaki engi... follows the Sung account for the main story line. When he comes to the first meeting between Uisang and Shan-miao, however, he adds significant dramatic details to turn the story into an occasion for some persuasive preaching. Whereas the Sung account of their first meeting devotes a scant sixty-four characters to tell of how Uisan's stony fortitude was the cause of Shan-miao's religious conversion, Myoe's rewriting is over three times as long and focuses not on the priest's propriety but on the girl's passion. Exercising the imagination and skill of a dramatist, Myoe sets the stage with dialogue added for the moral to follow. The bare facts from the Sung biography in the excerpt below are italicized; all the rest, Myoe has added:

When Shan-miao saw him she raised ber coquettish brows, approached the dharma master and said in a skillful voice, "The dharma master is eminent, has left the world of desire, and widely benefits the dharma realm. I clearly yearn for such merit and virtue, but my attachment to desire is still hard to suppress. When I see your countenance, my heart beats suddenly. I ask you to grant me your compassion and untie my deluded feelings."

When the dharma master heard these words and saw her pose, his heart became hard as a rock. Sending down his compassion, he replied, "I uphold the Buddhist precepts and regard bodily life as secondary. I teach the pure law and benefit sentient beings. I have long since cast off the impure world of desire. Believe in my merit and virtue, and do not grieve for me."

When Shan-miao heard this, sbe suddenly raised an aspiration for the way. Contrite and penitent, she made a great vow saying, "My beginningless attachment to delusion is deep and I have troubled your mind. Now I turn my formerly wicked heart around and will forever respect your merit and virtue. I vow to be reborn with you, never to be separated, birth after birth, life after life. Wherever you promote the great work of the Buddha and benefit sentient beings in the dharma realm, I will follow you like a shadow. I will offer you all that is necessary and will help you with material needs. I ask you, great master, to send down your compassion and accept my vows." As she tearfully said these words, the great master condescended with sympathetic feeling.

After tbis, he went to the great Chih-hsiang's [Chih-yen's] place.

Myoe's portrayal of Uisang as a virtuous priest does not depart from the Uisang of the Sung kao-seng chuan, but he shifts the focus from the priest to the woman. It is Shan-miao who holds center stage; and she, too, triumphs with her conversion and vows, but only after Myoe makes her struggle with her weaknesses.

It is this struggle with passion rather than the quick victory portrayed in the Sung version that concerns Myoe; and even after her confession of faith, she is made to confess her faults. Myoe's Shan-miao has to wrestle with her imperfections and is a heroine for her flaws.

After noting briefly that Uisang studied with Chih-yen, but without mentioning the Sung reference to Fa-tsang as a fellow student, Myoe continues Shan-miao's story at the point of Uisang's return visit to her home. His portrait of her as a passionate, sensitive woman is accomplished through further additions of imaginative details that are not in the Sung biography. He says that upon arriving at the docks with her farewell gift, Shan-miao mused alone about their meeting again, but became terribly distraught upon learning that the boat had already departed, leaving her to stare at its white sails disappearing in the mists far out at sea. She threw herself into the sand, and thrashed about "like a fish put in a basket," weeping and wailing uncontrollably. Remembering her vow to be reborn with her beloved priest in future lives, she cried out, "I will not wait until the next life! I wish to help the dharma master with this body now! The winds are fierce on the seaways; the waves are high. I wish to protect him with my body and see him safely back to his country."

The Shan-miao in the Sung kao-seng chuan is by contrast coldly correct in the midst of adversity; she never thrashed about in the sand.

--Source: George Tanabe's Myoe the Dreamkeeper, p. 178-9, 133-5 and footnotes.

EDITOR'S NOTES



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