|Japanese fairy tales
THE Hunter and the Priest
There was once a hunter who dwelt in the village of Kyoto and sought
his game upon the mountain of Atagoyama. He was proud of being so
mighty a hunter, for he never came empty-handed from the forest; yet at
times he felt ill at ease. This was because he made a daily business of
killing, and so he was displeasing to the Buddha.1
To set his conscience at rest, therefore, he often made offerings of
rice and fruit to a certain holy priest who dwelt in a little shrine
upon the mountain-side.
The priest was very good. Studying the sacred books he dwelt in the
solitude of the forest. He was so far from the homes of men that he
would have fared ill had it not been for the visits of the hunter who
brought to him supplies of things to eat.
One day the hunter came to the temple.
"Honorable one," he said politely, " I have brought you a bag of rice. May each grain be a prayer for me."
"Good friend," said the priest, "I thank you, and in return I will show
you a miracle. For many years I have read and studied and reflected
upon the Holy Books and it may be that I am receiving my reward. Know
then, that each night the Buddha comes to me, here at the temple,
riding upon an elephant. Do you not believe? Then tarry and see."
Speaking respectfully to the priest, the hunter said, "I long to see
this wonderful thing." But in his heart he said to himself, "This thing
can not be true."
Then he turned to the little temple boy and asked, "Have you seen this marvel?"
"Six times I have seen Fugen Bosatsu and fallen before him," said the boy; and the hunter marveled again.
Dark and silent was the night, save for the wind spirit who swept
through the trees, now whispering softly, now moaning as if in pain.
Behind the clouds the moon hid herself, throwing now and again fitful
gleams across the little shrine at the door of which knelt the priest
and his acolyte. Behind them stood the hunter, his heart filled with
unbelief. No word was spoken and only a quick indrawing of the hunter's
breath betokened his amazement as the vision came.
In the east arose a star, which grew and grew until the whole
mountain-side seemed light; and then there appeared a snow-white
elephant with six huge tusks. Upon his back was a rider, and as the
the temple, the priest and the temple boy threw themselves upon the ground, praying aloud to the Fugen Bosatsu.
But the hunter had no prayer within his soul. This thing seemed to him
not holy but accursed, and, springing in front of the priest, he set a
shaft, drew his bow to the full, and sent his arrow straight to the
heart of the Buddha. Straight to the heart it went, clear to the
feathers of the shaft, and lo! a terrible cry rent the air. No longer
was there white light over the mountain. All was darkness.
"Demon in human form!" cried the priest. "Is it not enough that you
spend your vile life destroying God's creatures upon the earth? To this
sin, must you add that of destroying Buddha himself?"
"Not so," replied the hunter. "Be not so rash. Judgment of others is
far too great a sin for one so holy as yourself. Listen, and I will
explain what I have done. I have not destroyed the Buddha. You have
been deceived. Do you think it is possible that I could see Fugen
Bosatsu? I am a mighty hunter, stained with the blood of living
creatures. This is displeasing to the Buddha. Now then, would he reveal
himself to me? The boy too is but a lad, and why should he see holy
visions? You think because you have read and studied much, and because
you are of a pure life and a truthful tongue that the Buddha desires to
do you honor and reveal to you Fugen Bosatsu. No, good sir, for were
this true, you alone could see the vision and it would not be
vouchsafed to two sinful ones beside.
"Indeed, you saw not Fugen Bosatsu, but something deceiving and false;
and when the morning comes I will prove to you that I speak the truth."
So when the morning broke in golden streams across the mountain-top the
hunter and the priest looked long and carefully, and they found a spot
of blood where had stood the vision of the night. Another and another
they found, forming a slender trail which led deep into the forest, and
ever the crimson trail grew larger and larger until at last they found
a pool of blood beside the body of a huge badger which lay dead,
pierced by an arrow.
"See," said the hunter. "You have been deceived though you are far
holier than I. All your study can not teach you what I was taught by