- Buddhism in Noh
- Royall TYLER
It is common knowledge that both Shinto and Buddhism may be found in
Noh. Some plays present Japanese deities and some evoke thoughts of shamanistic ritual,
while a great many are permeated with obviously Buddhist language. This paper will analyze
the themes of the plays in terms of certain key ideas about the world, in order to
describe the Buddhism which is characteristic of Noh.
In the past the Buddhism of Noh has been defined in two ways: as
Amidism and as Zen. Arthur Waley distinguished the Buddhism of educated people and artists
from that of the common people when he wrote: "It was in a style tinged with Zen that
Seami wrote of his own art. But the religion of the Noh plays is predominantly Amidist; it
is the common, average Buddhism of medieval Japan" (1957, p. 59). Waley included
devotion to the Lotus Sutra in "Amidism," and it is hard to know whether Sir
George Sansom subscribed to this nonstandard definition in his own summary of the subject:
There is no trace whatever of direct Zen influence upon the language or
the sentiment of the Noh texts, whereas they abound in the ideas and terminology of the
popular Amidism of the day. . . . The indirect influence of Zen, however, cannot be
exaggerated. The producers and the actors worked primarily for an audience whose aesthetic
standards were those of Zen, and whatever may be said of the literary content of the
plays, their structure, the method and the atmosphere of their presentation were in full
accordance with the canons of Zen taste (1962, p. 388).
Thus Sansom acknowledged the absence of recognizably Zen doctrine from
the plays, and concurred with Waley's appraisal of the Buddhism of Noh as Amidism; but at
the same time he stressed the importance of Zen for the whole art of Noh. Waley's and
especially Sansom's distinction between Zen doctrine and Zen taste is useful, and raises
problems that this paper cannot address. It would be difficult to define what is
necessarily Zen about the aesthetics of Noh, but is would also be difficult to prove that
Sansom overstated the case.
In the meantime, however, D. T. Suzuki left an overwhelming impression
that the Buddhism of Noh is Zen through and through. He wrote, for example:
During [the Kamakura and Ashikaga periods, 1185-1333 and 1333-1568],
the Zen monks were active in bringing Chinese culture into Japan and in preparing the way
for its assimilation later on. Indeed, what we now regard as peculiarly Japanese was in
the process of hatching during those periods. In them we may trace the beginnings of
haiku, n"-gaku, theater, landscape gardening, flower arrangement, and the art of tea
(1970, p. 39).
Therefore Suzuki could write of the play Yamamba ("Granny
Mountains"): " `Yama-uba' is one of the Buddhist plays thoroughly saturated with
deep thought, especially of Zen. It was probably written by a Buddhist priest to propagate
the teaching of Zen" (1970, p. 419). Suzuki must have had in mind the legend that
Yamamba was written by the Zen master Ikky (1394─1481). But even if it was, the
didactic writings by Ikky, or plausibly attributed to him, still reveal little about
unmistakably Zen doctrine; and the same can be said of Yamamba, although the play
undoubtedly says nothing which Zen in a broad sense need disagree.
Both definitions of the Buddhism of Noh, as Amidism and as Zen, refer
to schools of Buddhism which are prominently active in modern times. The essential
teachings of Zen and of the popular Amidist sects founded by H"nen (1133─1212) and
Shinran (1173─1262) are current, easily available, quite easily learned, and undeniably
important. It is no wonder that they should have been invoked to explain aspects of
Japanese culture. But while devotion to Amida does appear in Noh, Amidism as a concerted
faith has not struck the imagination of the West, and the statements about Amidism by
Waley and Sansom seem largely to have been forgotten. Zen, on the other hand, has been
wonderfully publicized by Suzuki and many others, and has drawn fascinated attention.
Consequently most people who know about Noh do not distinguish between doctrine and taste
as Sansom did, but take it for granted that the Buddhism of Noh is simply Zen.
Most Buddhist statements and expressions scattered through the texts of
Noh support neither Amidism nor Zen. Moreover there are two particular difficulties with
these schools. The first is that while Shinto deities are prominent in Noh, neither Zen
nor the Amidist sects are concerned with the Japanese gods. A passage in the play
Y"r" says, "Gods and Buddhas only differ as do water and waves."■
This is not a Zen or an Amidist position, though it is typical of Noh.
The second difficulty is that while the content of Noh, whether
religious or literary, is conservative, Zen and the Amidist sects were relatively recent
in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the time when Noh was new. Noh in
those days was a widely popular art, not normally a vehicle for religious innovation. Any
religious position common in Noh was probably noncontroversial, and founded upon centuries
of general acceptance. If so, then the Buddhism of Noh is to be sought not in schools that
were barely emerging early in the middle ages (1185─1568), but in the Buddhism which was
completely respectable when the middle ages began. This Buddhism is diverse, difficult of
access, and withdrawn from the modern world. There are few apologists for it, and none at
all for its old understanding with the Shinto gods.
The Importance of Place
All Noh plays are precisely situated. Classical verse is full of the
poetry of places and of place names, and strong interest in place may be found in much
other writing of the centuries which precede the time of Noh; but it is remarkable that
practically every Noh play contains a journey to a specific, named spot.
Most of the principal figures in Noh can be met only where they reside.
The glad vision of the god of Sumiyoshi in Takasago, the melancholy dream of the girls of
Suma in Matsukaze ("The Wind in the Pine"), and the horrifying recital by the
lovers of Sano in Funabashi ("The Boat Bridge") are all elaborate evocations of
places known in poetry. Other places are distinguished by their association with the death
of a warrior. Still others, popular pilgrimage centers whose legends were famous,
customarily advertised themselves with these legends. Thus Chikubushima celebrates the
pilgrimage center of that name, a sacred islet in Lake Biwa; and Ama ("The
Diver") promotes a temple named Shidoji on Shikoku.
The significance of place in Noh is heightened by the journey to the
scene of the play. The recent arrival of the play's traveler ensures that one's own
impressions will be fresh and strong. In Nishikigi ("The Brocade Trees"), for
example, one tastes with the traveler the true flavor of the village of Kefu and of the
"narrow cloth" that is woven there. This flavor is conveyed by the man and woman
whom the traveler meets there, two lovers who are forever together yet apart. If the
traveler did not roam one would never visit Kefu; and one would know these lovers, if at
all, only as figures in an old tale.
Often the traveler's wayfaring follows naturally from the story of the
play, as in Ama in which the minister Fujiwara no Fusasaki (681─737) goes down to Shikoku
in search of his mother. In such cases one sees the key figure of the play through the
eyes of a person whose karma has drawn him to the place.
However in many plays the traveler has no link with the place or with
the person. If such a play presents a Shinto deity the traveler will normally be a Shinto
priest, but in other plays of the sort he will typically be a Buddhist monk. The monk has
no name, and the scene of the play is not his destination. He is simply passing through.
In medieval Japan such religious rovers were normally attached to a home temple, and
traveled far and wide either on personal pilgrimage to other holy sites, or to spread the
fame and promote the fortune of their own establishment. Many engaged in ascetic practices
either on their home mountain or on the mountains they visited; and these practices
themselves constituted full acknowledgement of the power of place. One thing such
religious wayfarers did was to pray wherever they went for the enlightenment of
muen-botoke * * * : the spirits of the dead who otherwise have no one in the world to pray
for them. The dead absolutely required such prayers, as many Noh plays and medieval
stories show, and the wayfarers did muen-botoke an essential kindness. Therefore it is
natural that Noh associates these travelers with the appearance and the comforting of
spirits attached to particular spots in the landscape of Japan.
Elements of the Buddhism of Noh
The monks in Noh do not on the whole make an issue of sect, nor do any
of the other figures in the plays. A few travelers specify that they belong to the
Jish, for example, a popular Amidist sect which began in the Kamakura period; but
their sect affiliation, and their sharp consciousness of it, are atypical.
The two great Buddhist schools of Heian and Kamakura times were
Shingon, whose chief center was Mt. K"ya, and Tendai, whose chief center was Mt.
Hiei; and to these should perhaps be added the older Kegon (Hua-yen) and Hoss"
(Yogcra) schools based respectively at T"daiji and K"fukuji temples
in Nara. In principle these schools disagreed sharply on one doctrinal issue or another,
and political rivalry among them could be fierce. It is not that the identity of a monk's
home temple made no difference. However the "school" affiliation of a figure in
Noh cannot usually be deduced from what we learn of his religious life. This is because a
monk from almost anywhere could be doing almost any of the practices then common.
Therefore the following summary will be about modes of faith or practice, but not about
The Buddhism of Noh is composed of devotion to Amida (Amitbha),
of faith in the Lotus Sutra, and of elements of esoteric Buddhism (mikky" * * ). By
the Kamakura period Amida had been widely adored for centuries in Japan, both at Court and
among the common people. Calling Amida's name was a practice anyone might do. There were
communities of Amida devotees associated with many great temples, including K"fukuji
and Mt. K"ya. Most of their members were of modest rank in the religious life, and
one may imagine some of the travelers of Noh as being from among them. There were also
great lay gatherings to invoke Amida, like the one which is the setting for the play
Hyakuman. On Mt. Hiei, devotion to Amida was linked in the daily liturgy to chanting the
Lotus Sutra: Amida was invoked in the morning, and the Lotus chanted in the evening.
Faith in the Lotus Sutra, like devotion to Amida, had been prominent in
Japanese Buddhism for centuries. The Tendai school considered that its teaching was
founded upon the Lotus, but the Lotus Sutra was not at all confined to Tendai. Reciting
the Lotus was an essential practice for a great many ascetics. En no Gy"ja (fl. late
7th c.), the half-legendary founder of the mountain ascetic tradition known as Shugendo (*
* * : "the way of cultivation of spiritual power"), is invariably depicted
sitting under a bird-shaped crag which is Vulture Peak (G┤rdhrak┤ta, near modern
Rajgir in north India), where the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra. The Bodhisattva Kannon
(AvalokiteÂsvara), who was venerated at a great many sacred mountain sites, is prominent
in the Lotus Sutra. So is the Bodhisattva Fugen (Samantabhadra) who appears in the play
Many of the travelers in Noh seem to have been "upholders of the
(Lotus) Sutra" (jiky"sha * * * ). When a spirit begs to hear "the
Sutra," or declares its joy upon hearing "the Sutra," it is the Lotus Sutra
which is meant. One could comfort a spirit also by invoking Amida, but there was a
particularly intimate connection between the Lotus Sutra and the spirits of the dead as
they hovered about the places where they were bound to earth. The Sutra promised release
to the lowliest and most lost of beings, and it affirmed at the same time the sacredness
of the place where it was spoken, whether by the Buddha or one of his followers, and
whether upon Vulture Peak or elsewhere. It was the Lotus, more than any other sutra, which
was ceremonially copied and buried on sacred mountains, or offered at the shrines of
Esoteric Buddhism was everywhere in Heian and Kamakura Japan. A monk in
a Noh play may say he is from Mt. K"ya, but this does not necessarily make him more
of an esoteric practitioner than if he came from elsewhere. Esotericism flavors Noh so
thoroughly that few specific instances of its presence stand out. One finds a clear
intuition that all things, animate or inanimate, are alive;■ and that the seer and the
world are not only of the same stuff, but thoroughly linked by correspondences of body,
speech and mind (sanmitsu * * , the "three mysteries"). Shugendo practices were
deeply colored by esotericism. The traveler in Nomori ("The Watchman of the
Plain") is a mountain ascetic (yamabushi * * ), hence a Shugendo practitioner, who
encounters a magic mirror. The sight of what the mirror shows can be borne only by one
with divine power, and the traveler therefore invokes the esoteric deity Fud" (Acala,
"The Unmoving"). When he gazes into the mirror, his eyes are the eyes of
Fud". This is the Esoteric Buddhist principle of sanmitsu kaji * * * * in action:■
by invoking the deity with body (mudr), speech (mantra), and mind (contemplation)
the traveler has become one with the deity.
An Esoteric Buddhist motif which stands out in Noh is that of the twin
ma┤n┤dalas, the kong"kai * * * (Vajradhtu, "Diamond Realm") and the
taiz"kai * * * (Garbhadhtu, "Womb Realm"). Although the iconography
of this pair is exceedingly complex, the two describe complementary aspects of the cosmos
and thus come to stand quite simply for wholeness: an apparent duality which is non-dual.
Thus these mandalas may be evoked, as at the end of the play Fujisan ("Mt.
Fuji"), to describe the perfection of a sacred mountain; or they may even ornament,
as in Kin'satsu ("The Golden Tablet"), the beneficent action of a god.
Shugendo and related matters deserve special note because mountain
ascetics are so common among the travelers of Noh. If the traveler describes himself as a
kyakus" * * ("guest monk") or speaks, for example, of Haguro, Kazuraki or
▒Omine, one knows that he is a yamabushi for whom these sacred mountains are especially
important. Such a man knows the Lotus Sutra, and various esoteric practices and rites. The
abbot of his home temple will probably be a monk of high rank appointed from Mt.
K"ya, Mt. Hiei or elsewhere, but the temple will be more directly run by a senior
Shugendo adept who may be married.
Practitioners of this sort were often healers who worked, through a
woman medium, with helping spirits (goh" * * , "protectors") and with
ghosts of the living or the dead. By no means all were permanently identified with
Shugendo as an institutionalized tradition, and a successful healer, in particular, could
rise high in the formal Shingon or Tendai hierarchy. Z"yo (1032─1116), for example,
became abbot of Mt. Hiei. Spirits, ghosts, and divine visitations were recognized then as
normal, if never as routine, and religious persons of all sorts encountered them.
My"e Sh"nin (K"ben, 1173─1232), the traveler in Kasuga ryjin
("The Dragon God of Kasuga"), was an eminent monk who attempted a revival of the
Kegon school. However he was also a healer and visionary in touch with supernatural
powers. One of these was the Kasuga deity, the Dragon God of the play.
Elements of Landscape
Japan is a mountainous country, and the typical sacred place in the
Japanese middle ages was a temple or shrine associated with a mountain. Therefore a
mountain is the central element in the landscape of Noh. The other elements are the full
moon, water, the water's edge, and a pine tree. These appear in a great many plays.
The mountain need not be heroic or distinctive. It may be only a hill
or a hillock, or a range of hills. Yama ("mountain") in Japanese refers more to
shape than to size, and it does not distinguish between singular and plural. The hills
behind the beach at Suma serve in several plays just as well as Mt. Fuji in Fujisan; and
so does the modest altitude of the island in Chikubushima.
Mountains in Japan were inhabited first by ancestral spirits who merged
into a collective, divine presence, and this presence was worshipped by the living. In
time, the concern with the afterlife characteristic of Buddhism led to the recognition of
these mountains as the paradises of popular Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In fact one mountain
could easily support more than one Buddhist paradise. The most popular general model of a
magic mountain was neither Shinto nor Buddhist, however, but an item of Chinese myth. This
was P'eng-lai (Jpn. H"rai), the mountain island of the immortals. P'eng-lai is not a
particularly common motif in Noh, but it was prominent in Japanese lore.
The full moon is a well-known emblem of enlightenment in Buddhism, but
it had other associations too. The angel in Hagoromo ("The Feather Mantle") is
from the moon, and linked in the play with the Bodhisattva Seishi
(Mahsthprpta); but when she dances in the climactic scene she also
- rains riches:
- prayers fulfilled,
- the realm replete,
- the seven treasures
and so dispenses not only spiritual illumination but material plenty.
Plenty was the object of countless prayers to all the gods, whose presence is here summed
up by the moon. Moreover the Capital, the seat of the Sovereign, was also associated with
the moon. The "moon-Capital" (tsuki no miyako * * * ) seems to have been
imagined poetically either as the moon itself, or as a moon-illumined mountain where the
courtiers were "dwellers above the clouds" (kumo no ue-bito * * * * ). The final
scenes of most plays are danced under the moon.
The mountain of this landscape is bound to have streams running down
it, and mountain streams certainly may occur in Noh. But more is made of the water below
the mountain, which is ideally the sea. P'eng-lai rises from the ocean like a stone from
an expanse of raked gravel, and even though it is not mentioned in Chikubushima, the rocky
islet, rising from the broad waters of Lake Biwa, makes an unmistakable image of
P'eng-lai. Mt. Fuji was called "the P'eng-lai of Japan," and one has the
impression that in this guise it somehow summed up all of Japan itself as a magic island
in the sea. However the water below the mountain did not have to be so vast or encircling.
The sea is present in many plays, but a stream (Y"r"), a small pond (Nomori), a
well (Izutsu, "The Well-Curb"), a bucket of brine (Matsukaze) or even a wine cup
(Sh"j", "The Wine Genie") may all serve. What matters is that they
should loom large in the mind's eye, and that they should reflect the moon.
Many plays unfold beside this water under the hill. That is because the
edge of the water is where human life is lived. The beings on high are not exactly human,
nor are those in the deep. Though the reflected moon which shines up from the depths
alludes to our inborn enlightenment, we do not usually consider that enlightenment
attained, and, being aware of our own weakness, we do not usually consider those who have
attained it to be quite like us.
In the world of Noh the typical dwellers both on the heights and in the
depths are dragon or serpent beings. A dragon can live in an astonishingly small pool, and
conventional language even for the Emperor is full of dragon imagery. The drama of
Hagoromo is that the angel comes down from the moon to the beach below Mt. Fuji, and there
has her feather mantle (her wings) stolen by a fisherman named White Dragon. To get it
back she has to dance. Her experience is a summary of the human condition. A still more
schematic account of this condition appears in the medieval Chikubushima engi
("History of Chikubushima") where a huge "catfish" (namazu) is said to
coil seven times around the island at the bottom of the lake. From the summit of the
island a white snake descends to the water's edge and lowers its head to drink. At that
instant the "catfish" lifts its head to the surface, takes the snake's head in
its mouth, and pulls upon it (Hanawa 1928, Gunsho ruij, vol. 2, p. 311). This is
what happens at the margin of the water, where human beings suffer from the simultaneous
pull of the heights and the depths.
The pine tree of the landscape of Noh stands at the water's edge. The
angel first hung her mantle on a pine, whence the fisherman took it. Likewise the white
snake of the island coils around a pine before it lowers its head to drink. The pine is
well attested in Japan as an link between the heights and the zone where humans live.
There are many such pines in Noh, but the most famous one is painted on the wall at the
back of the stage. It is called "the pine of the appearance of the god"
(y"g" no matsu * * * * ), and is traditionally identified with one at the Kasuga
Shrine in Nara. A monk is reported to have seen the Kasuga deity dancing under the pine in
the guise of an old man.■ Pines like this link the planes of the world. The sound of the
wind in their branches (matsukaze * * ) is a model of poetry and of communication, and a
pine in Noh may in fact be treated as human. In Jinen Koji ("Layman Selfsame"),
for example, a young man dancing to secure release from his wicked captors likens himself
to the pine of Karasaki which stands on the shore of Lake Biwa.
Happy Affirmations of Non-duality
This dual world and man's correspondingly dual nature, with their
heights and depths, are at once beautiful and painful. It is just because the problem is
so absorbing that affirmations of non-duality are fundamental in Noh. There are so many of
them, made in so many ways, that they are countless. Some are philosophical, others
playful. Some are happy, and some are marked with suffering.
When the awesome old woman in Yamamba reflects that "form is
emptiness," the hearer recognizes a phrase from the Heart Sutra and completes it
himself: "and emptiness is form." This perfectly balanced statement sums up
Buddhist prajŰnpramit ("perfection of wisdom") thought, and
its philosophical nature is obvious. But mute objects in Noh may convey a similar message,
though their import is not obvious at all. What should one make of a forked staff?
The traveler in Chikubushima is a courtier who arrives at the island-
shrine eager to worship there. A shrine attendant then comes forth and displays to the
courtier, with great pride, the island's sacred treasures. One of these is a length of
forked bamboo. The attendant does not comment on it, and the courtier does not ask about
it. One might well wonder what makes it special.
There actually is a length of forked bamboo in a glass case in the
present Chikubushima museum. It is labeled, "The staff of En no Gy"ja."
Therefore it is a kind of mataburi: the forked staff carried, fork downward, by mountain
ascetics and even by mountain goblins (tengu * * ). At sacred places frequented of old by
beings of this sort, and where shrines and temples still flourish today, one may easily
run across mataburi-shaped objects of greater size. These are twin-trunked evergreens
which are visibly honored. A tree of this kind is described in Japanese as aioi * * ,
"growing in co-dependence."
The most famous aioi pair in the classical tradition is celebrated in
the play Takasago. This pair is a further elaboration of the single forked tree, for it
consists of two distinct trees, widely separated. These are the "pine of
Sumiyoshi" and the "pine of Takasago." Both grow by the sea. A complex of
non-dual opposites is sustained by the material image of these two trees. The play shows
that the Sumiyoshi pine is male and represents the present ("His Majesty of Engi, who
dwells in the present age"); while the Takasago pine is female and the past
("the ancient time of the Man'y"sh"). Although the trees are "a
whole province apart," the communication between them is nonetheless everlasting and
complete, so that separation in space is mere appearance, and the gap between past and
present likewise. As for their sex, the trees demonstrate the essential meeting of male
and female. The Sumiyoshi pine turns out to be the god of Sumiyoshi who represents the
idealized Sovereign himself; and the Takasago pine, who does not appear in the second half
of the play, dissolves into the people and the land. Thus Takasago alludes to the sacred
marriage of the Sovereign and his realm, who flourish forever in indivisible
Chikubushima presents for the courtier, and for us, the goddess
Benzaiten (originally the Indian Goddess Sarasvati) who resides high on the rocky
island, and the Dragon God of Lake Biwa who lives in the water's depths. (A medieval
painting of Benzaiten, also in the Chikubushima museum, shows the goddess beautifully
adorned, and seated on a coiled white snake.) The play's theme is the conjunction of these
two. The courtier himself announces it by singing as he approaches the island:
- Reflections of green trees sink down,
- and fishes climb their branches;
- the moon dives beneath the lake,
- and the rabbit [of the moon] sports upon the waves.
This Chinese-style verse recalls the passage in the play Kantan where a
young wanderer, miraculously become Emperor of Cathay, finds himself between a silver
mountain in the east, over which hangs the sun, and a golden mountain in the west, over
which hangs the moon. The courtier in Chikubushima too, from the surface of the lake, sees
two domains at once, each of which is the other's looking-glass world.
Moreover once the shrine attendant has displayed the forked staff, he
next offers to show the courtier the "mystery of the island." This
"mystery" turns out to consist of the attendant jumping off a high rock into the
lake, whence he emerges sneezing. It is a puzzling moment. But when the Dragon God has
risen from the lake and Benzaiten has come down from the summit, and both have danced,
Benzaiten flies off again skyward, and the Dragon God leaps back from the same rock into
the deep. Thus the "mystery of the island" is not someone jumping inexplicably
off a rock, it is the best demonstration one man can make that above and below are
Using an analogous play of reflections, Nomori demonstrates the non-
duality of subject and object with marvelous ingenuity. The traveler, a yamabushi, meets
an old man beside a pond known as nomori no kagami * * * * , the "mirror of the
watchman of the plain." The pond is located on Kasuga Plain, below the mountain of
the Kasuga deity, and the old man is the watchman.
The watchman tells the yamabushi a story. Long ago, the Emperor was out
hunting nearby when he lost his hawk. He then wandered until he came across the old man
himself, then young. "Have you seen my hawk?" the Emperor asked.
"Certainly," the watchman replied, "just look in the pond." The
Emperor was perplexed but he looked in, and there the hawk was, deep in the water, perched
on the high branch of a tree. As he recalls the moment the old man weeps, for then he was
vigorous and, although humble, could exchange words man to man with the exalted Sovereign
But the old man has meanwhile let it slip that the pond is not actually
the "real" mirror of the watchman of the plain. The real mirror, it appears,
belongs to a certain demon. The yamabushi immediately burns to get at that mirror and to
look into it for himself. By-and-by the old man reveals himself, inevitably, as the demon
in question, and holds the mirror forth. The yamabushi, lately so eager, recoils and
averts his eyes, for he sees in the mirror more than he can face. However he gathers
himself, calls on Fud", and looks again. He now sees the universe before him, heaven
and hell, in all six directions and to its outermost confines. His face is all the worlds.
At Mur"ji, a lovely temple whose history is deeply linked with
Shingon Buddhism and with Shugendo, there is a twin-trunked evergreen with a sign in front
of it that reads, "Two yet not two." What can one do but smile? Such a tree is
like the worshipper's handclap at a Shinto shrine. It says nothing, but creates open
space. A forked tree, two as one, shows the world whole; and in an undivided world the
space is boundless.
A forked tree would open no space, and evoke no smile, if the
difference between good and bad, etc., were not so obvious. No one would stress that form
is emptiness if form and emptiness were visibly the same. One whom duality baffles is
Sakagami, in the play Semimaru. Sakagami is mad, and although she is an imperial princess,
she roams the world restlessly as a profoundly philosophical outcast. In the play she
visits her brother, Semimaru, who plays the biwa ("lute") in a hut at the top of
a mountain pass. Semimaru cannot travel at all because he is blind.
Sakagami's name means at once "Upside-Down Hair" and
"God of the Slope." Both are perfectly suitable. Instead of falling normally her
hair grows straight up; and her life is a procession of quite material ups and downs. She
How extraordinary it is that so much before our eyes is upside down.
Flower seeds buried in the ground rise up to grace the branches of a thousand trees. The
moon hangs high in the heavens, but its light sinks to the bottom of the countless waters.
I wonder which of these should be said to go in the proper direction, and which is upside
- I am a princess, yet I have fallen,
- And mingle with the mass of common men;
- My hair, rising upward from my body,
- Turns white with the touch of stars and frost:
- The natural order or upside down?
- How amazing that both should be within me!
- (Transl. by Susan Matisoff in Keene 1970, p. 107)
Sakagami's flowers "which rise up to grace the branches of a
thousand trees" are described in other plays as manifesting the "upward
aspiration to enlightenment" (j"gu bodai * * * * ). Thus their upward aspiration
is a counterpart to the descent of moonlight deep into the waters. Moreover since the
flowers are conventionally of spring, and the moon of fall, the pair also allude to the
seasons and to time. Pretty as all this is, however, Sakagami is still very confused.
There is a passage in an esoteric yamabushi text which also starts from
a question about duality. Like Sakagami's answers to her own question, the answer the
passage gives is unlikely to produce much beside further bemusement. It puts the whole
problem in terms of yin and yang, but otherwise the structure of its thought is strikingly
like Sakagami's own.
The passage is from Buch kanj" honki * * * * * *
("Treatise on initiations in the ▒Omine mountains"), written in 1254. The
rhetorical questioner asks, "Regarding the truth that the potential and the produced
[for example, seed and fruit] are non-dual, does one bring them into non-duality, or are
they non-dual already?" To this the writer replies:
Regarding cold and heat, what we call "cold" is cold endowed
with maleness. "Heat" is heat endowed with femaleness. By means of female heat,
male cold rises, and thus the two produce a child. The nature of fire is to rise, the
nature of water is to fall. What is called the male thought-power (nenriki * N) is yin and
water; it is cold. . . . Further, female thought-power is yang and fire; it is heat. . . .
When heaven and earth parted, the male water was heaven, cold and yin;
the female fire was earth, heat and yang. . . . The male cold turns to ice, and becomes
bone. The female heat, the yang breath, conjoins with this and thus becomes flesh. . . .
Therefore the white bones are concealed (yin) within; and the red flesh stands forth
(yang) without, and its color appears. . . .
Furthermore there is the deep mystery of male yang and female yin. It
is the profound question of the reversed distinction between yin and yang. . . . According
to the secret oral transmission, the female organ enters, in a counterpart manner, into
the male organ. When man and woman conjoin they insert the male organ into the female
organ. At this time there is likewise something which enters the male from the female
organ. When the male enters the female, the female organ is yin and the male is yang.
Hence this [moment] is the beginning of the reversal of yin and yang. Those who do not
know this profound truth cannot achieve the contemplation which is the identity of subject
and object (nyga gany kan * * * * * ).■
The identity of subject and object--of the seer and the seen--is just
what the yamabushi grasps in Nomori, and although he does not do so by any method to be
avoided in polite conversation, he would recognize the theme of this text very well. The
play of opposites is dizzying. Cold and heat, male and female, red and white, heaven and
earth seem to reflect each other into infinity, and with a startling physicality. Since
canonical Buddhist texts, Chinese rhetoric, and classical Japanese discourse all play with
polarities in various ways, it is impossible to tell whether the tradition of this text in
particular might have had any direct influence on Noh. «PG»However the passage is not
much more uncouth, though it is less grand, than Granny Mountains, the old woman of
- The Thirst to Rise and the Descent of Grace
- Granny Mountains,
- . . . whose hair
- sprouts as snowy weeds,
- whose pupils
- shine like stars,
is incomprehensibly diverse, and easily terrifying. She lives deep in
the mountain wilderness. According to one theory explained in the play she is made of
acorns, walnuts, toadstools, vines, balls of pine resin, indescribable trash, and a temple
gong. Her existence recalls that of Sakagami, for she roams endlessly from peak to peak,
riding the "clouds and waters."
The traveler of the play is a dancer from the Capital whose sobriquet
is also "Granny Mountains." She is on a pilgrimage, and her way lies across the
high mountains. The dancer is told that there are three ways over these mountains:
"High Road, Low Road, and the Upward Trail." "The Upward Trail," she
is particularly informed, "was made by the Buddha himself, and traveling it puts one
in touch with the Buddha's own inner illumination." Therefore despite the difficulty
of this path the dancer decides to take it. On the way she meets Granny Mountains, who in
a magnificent sermon on her own nature answers Sakagami, and no doubt the dancer, far
better than Buch kanj" honki. She says:
- Lift of dharma-nature peaks
- displays the upward urge
- to perfect knowledge;
- plunge of gorges without light
- shows downward saving grace
- that touches the golden disk,
- the ground of all.
Thus she affirms that nothing is permanently potential or produced,
right side up or upside down. Instead the abyss reaches upward while heaven graciously
descends. The play of these two is the world, and it is there for anyone to see in the
mountains which are the form of the world. And Granny Mountains continues:
- Yes, see me once
- as other than human,
- and I who am cloud
- screening here from yonder
- shift my form:
- the true nature of things
- changes a while,
- and as one thought
- transmutes existence,
- I turn demon,
- come to fill your gaze.
- Yet when you see
- that true and false are one,
- then "Form is emptiness"
- is obvious.
- For once there is
- a Buddha's Law,
- there is a world's law;
- once suffering,
- supreme knowledge;
- once Buddha,
- then all beings;
- and once all beings,
- Granny Mountains.
- Willows are green,
- flowers red, you know . . .
So things are simply as they are, however one may puzzle about them,
and Granny Mountains herself follows from the Buddha's eternal enlightenment. But however
true this may be, it does not necessarily ease the mind. Sakagami is still confused, the
dancer's pilgrimage is still a hard road, and Granny Mountains still sings,
- Well then an ill way,
- Granny Mountain's
- rounds of the mountains, made in pain!
The Non-Duality of Suffering
The moon in Noh is often comforting, reminding the viewer as it does of
a loftiness and profundity far beyond his commonplace preoccupations. In its nightly
course westward, to sink behind the mountains' rim, it may recall the Buddha Amida whose
paradise is in the west, and whose saving grace is infinite.
Ki no Tsurayuki (868?─945?) may have had Amida in mind when he wrote
this verse "on seeing the moon reflected in a pond":
- One without second
- I had thought it,
- yet in the watery deep--
- no mountain rim--
- rises now the moon.
- (Kokinsh no. 881; Saeki 1958, p. 279)
The motif, so common in Noh, is developed elaborately in the play Ama.
Ama first intimates that the moon is the traveler himself, who has come
down to a remote shore from the exalted Capital; then it likens the moon's reflection to
the priceless pearl that the Dragon Girl of the cosmic ocean offers to the Buddha in the
"Devadatta" chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The play leaves no doubt that the woman
diver (ama * * ) who brought up the play's magic jewel sacrificed her life to do so. For
the diver, as for Sakagami and the mountain ascetic, these matters may require physical as
well as spiritual abandonment of self.
In Ama Fujiwara no Fusasaki goes in search of his ama mother. When he
gets to the shore where he has heard she lives, he meets an ama to whom he immediately
addresses a peculiar request: he asks her to dive down and remove the seaweed which
offends his gaze by obscuring the reflected image of the moon. She does not protest. On
the contrary, she answers that long ago a woman like herself did indeed dive to the bottom
of the sea to rescue a magic jewel. This jewel had been a gift to Japan from the Emperor
of Cathay. It was clear and round, and no matter how one turned it, one saw in it the
Buddha's face. This jewel had fallen into the sea dragon's clutches. To rescue it the
woman had to dive into the deep, cut open her breast, and hide the jewel at her heart as
she fled upward from the dragon. No wonder the Dragon Girl of the Lotus Sutra died as soon
as her offering was made, to pass instantly through a male rebirth into enlightenment. Her
gift was her life. Moreover the diver's jewel and the Dragon Girl's pearl are to the great
Stupa of the Lotus Sutra vision as the moon's reflection to the moon.
So dramatic a story has great power, but one might still hope for a
more expansive thoughtfulness in the telling. The images are strong, and the diver's
suffering heroic. But could they not be more amply set forth? Nowhere does a suffering
being caught between height and abyss speak more beautifully or more wisely than the
harlot in the play Eguchi.
This harlot keeps a brothel in the port town of Eguchi. She appears to
the traveler with her fellow singing girls, making music in a boat which rides on the
moonlit waters of an estuary. In her song she laments their estate:
- Oh, it hurts to ponder
- this our reward for lives gone by!
Yet she delivers from her boat a sermon on the human condition which
she knows so well, and notes that despite our best efforts at philosophy, we still go
- Yes, plants and trees
- that have no heart,
- human beings
- gifted with feeling:
- which of these
- shall evade sorrow?
- So we reflect,
- yet are at times,
- stained with love's hue . . .
- The heart's fond pangs,
- the mouth's own words,
- turn to links
- with wrongful clinging . . .
- for all things seen,
- all things heard,
- turn to the heart's confusion.
- Yet the harlot continues as one who sees all this whole:
- On the great sea
- of truth perfectly contained,
- winds of the five dusts
- and the six desires
- never blow;
- yet waves of the real,
- linked in sequence,
- rise each and every day.
The "great sea of truth perfectly contained" (jiss" muro
no taikai * * * * * * * ) may be imagined as a shining ocean of indeterminate expanse. One
would expect it to be quite smooth, but on the contrary it is furrowed with waves. These
waves have to do with the chain of causation which creates the sensible world, the world
of the passions. It is remarkable that the great sea is tossing and heaving, because it
cannot be touched by any turbulence associated with the impure senses. If it were so
touched, it would not be "perfectly contained." Since it is "perfectly
contained," the waves do not rise because of any impurity. Hence they are waves of
shinnyo, of the real. The moon in Noh is often "the moon of the real" (shinnyo
no tsuki * * * * ), and these waves, as the harlot speaks, are of the moon, or
moon-illumined. They rise in consequence of their en * , or cause, which cannot be impure
either because the great sea is "perfectly contained." Therefore the waves are
- However the harlot goes on to say:
- And the waves rise
- for what reason, pray?
- We set our heart
- on passing shelter;
- if we did not,
- there would be no sad world,
- no lovers to yearn. . . .
Thus the waves are caused by desire after all: desire for the things of
the world and of the flesh, which are summed up in Eguchi by the image of "passing
shelter." The "passing shelter" particularly in question is the harlot's
own brothel. Such a woman riding the water under the "moon of the real" is
herself a "wave of the real." The play makes clear that as she inspires desire,
so she suffers thereby in equal measure; yet her sermon shows that all the waves on the
sea are enlightenment, even the most distraught and the most blind. At the very end of
Eguchi she rises into the heavens, revealed as the all-wise Bodhisattva Fugen.■
Alas, not all suffering beings have present to mind the truth which the
harlot speaks. Among them is the old gardener in Aya no tsuzumi ("The Damask
Drum"). It was this gardener's misfortune to fall in love with a young and highborn
lady. In answer to his entreaties, the lady told him to beat a drum which she had hung in
the tree by the garden pond; and she promised that when she heard that drum she would come
down to him. The drum was damask, however, and refused to sound; and the maddened gardener
drowned himself in the pond. Then his phantom rose up to possess the lady:
- On the face of the evening pool
- A wave stirred.
- And out of the wave
- A voice spoke (Waley 1957, p. 176).
The voice spoke of rage and malediction. Yet gardener and harlot are
equally waves, and no different in nature. The water of the pond is the water on which the
harlot rides. There is no doubt of this because the tree by the pond, with the round,
white, treacherous drum in its branches, was a katsura ("cinnamon") tree: the
tree that grows in the moon.
However non-dual the moon show suffering and enlightenment to be, and
however convincingly this non-duality be demonstrated, beings who are subject to the
passions (bonn" * * ) still suffer. Therefore they long for a realm free from pain,
where all delusion is dispelled; and they thirst for release from the agonies which evoke
visions of hell. Many of the phantoms who appear in Noh are in hell, and convey terrible
anguish. The yearning for rebirth ("j" * * or j"sh" * * ) in paradise
was essential to the religious life of most people, cleric or lay. Hope for salvation, so
often expressed in Noh, is probably the main reason why the Buddhism of Noh has been
defined as Amidism, for in modern Japan "salvation" is almost synonymous with
"j" in the Western Paradise of Amida, as defined by the followers of the Pure
Buddhist texts describe the multiple realms of hell in variously
complicated ways, and some of these realms were common topics in stories and in art. The
hells were located in principle under Mt. Sumeru, the central mountain of the Buddhist
universe. There were hells of searing cold as well as of heat, but on the whole they were
of fire. The cries of sinners and the yells of hell-fiends are often mentioned in Noh, as
are the rods with which the sinners are shattered.
Hell in Noh is a realm of fearful confinement where communication is
only barely imaginable, and almost impossible to achieve. Just as the gardener in Aya no
tsuzumi is imprisoned into lonely rage by his passion for a lady who could hardly be
expected to respond, so the bizarre monster in Nue ("The Nightbird") is stuck in
the dark and cannot move. When alive, this monster had immobilized the Emperor by
tormenting him mercilessly; indeed the monster's ghost boasts as he reenacts his crime,
"I fill all space about the Sovereign's stronghold!" When the monster was
killed, his corpse was sealed into a hollow log and thrown into the river. Thus his ghost
received fitting retribution. In hell there is no space at all.
The damask drum is typical of hell because in hell nothing gives back
sound. In Kinuta ("The Block") a wife who believes herself abandoned is cut off
by her own despair, and dies insane. Then she is in hell, where she is given the same
fulling block that her madness drove her to beat in life. She beats the block in hell too,
but it makes no sound, and her shrieks are silent. Her tears as they touch the block turn
If there were forked staffs in hell, their meaning would be
impenetrable. Subject and object have no contact at all, and duality appears final. One
horrifying demonstration of duality occurs in Motomezuka ("The Maiden's Grave").
The play is about a young woman who was courted by two fine youths, and who liked both so
well that she could not choose between them. In the trials her father proposed, the
suitors always came out perfectly even, till at last the maiden drowned herself in
despair. In hell she is made to embrace the red-hot central pillar of her own grave-mound,
while the two suitors, in the form of iron birds, dive at her from either side and rend
her flesh with their beaks.
Paradise, on the other hand, is perfectly open, light, and free. A
forked tree in paradise has no special meaning because there is no duality to reconcile.
Buddhist paradises are associated with different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and these too,
like the hells, are often shown in painting. Each has canonically described features of
its own, but all are lovely, and in all the timeless Teaching is eternally and directly
heard. Beings in such a paradise are forever in the presence of the divinity they adore,
and whose love has made this perfect realm.
Phantoms in Noh do not speak from paradise as they do from hell, since
one in paradise needs nothing from the living. Nor do any plays take place in a Buddhist
paradise, although Obasute ("The Abandoned Crone") presents an old woman
abandoned on a mountaintop, singing of Amida's Pure Land under a full moon. Instead Noh
presents places on the earth as paradisal.
This is done in plays like Takasago and Chikubushima. Suffering men and
women longed for salvation, but Noh allows for those moments when everything is perfect,
just as it is, and when earth can hardly be distinguished from heaven. Such plays present
a visit to a sacred place, made under ideal conditions, and at the traveler's own
unconstrained wish. The season is spring, the air is mild, and the breeze just enough to
stir the leaves. The traveler is perfectly happy and at ease, whether or not a god
appears. But then a god does appear, also unconstrained, and confirms impressively what
was already clear: that there is nothing wrong anywhere. All things are in boundless
harmony, in an idealized version of the temporal order that theoretically prevailed in
Japan. Thus the dance of the gods in Chikubushima is a happy tribute to the Sovereign
whose representative witnesses it; and Takasago lauds the Sovereign thus:
- So wise His rule
- that plants and trees,
- land that this is
- of our great Lord,
- aspire under His sovereign reign
- to live on and on. . . .
The Sovereign is the one who presides over this perfected harmony. No
wonder the courtier in Chikubushima did not ask about the forked staff. He already knew.
Where to Find the Buddhism of Noh
The patterns of thought just described can be found in a large number
of plays, and they convey the Buddhist ideas to be found in Noh. But being relatively
clear, they do not yet convey the fancy of the plays or of their religion. The plays are
not exactly untidy, but they do not really yield their patterns easily. That is because
they are not religious rites or treatises, but art; and their goal is not to set forth
ideas. They can at least be read or seen, however. The religion, on the other hand, is
spread through all sorts of texts and artifacts, and is indeed untidy as soon as one
descends past a certain level of generalization. A fair account of it should convey its
lack of rigor.
The Buddhism of Noh is a Buddhism which admits stones, plants, trees,
humans, spirits, gods, and Buddhas into an open brotherhood of the numinous. The
philosophical problems posed by this brotherhood are no doubt insoluble, and in fact
related doctrinal questions were sometimes debated in the Buddhist schools. But it is this
Buddhism which is Waley's "common, average Buddhism of medieval Japan."
To convey its flavor one has to describe the religion of a particular
place. Many sacred sites resembled each other in general, but each had its idiosyncrasies
and each, in its way, gave chance its due. The description is bound to be a little
difficult to follow since it must mention names and factors which, in that configuration,
are important only at that site. Perhaps it can be said that the religion of a place makes
no sense without the site itself, and its mountain or hill.
A fine and highly relevant example of such a place is provided by the
medieval cult of Kasuga. The Kasuga Shrine in Nara is the ancestral shrine of the Fujiwara
clan; and K"fukuji, with which it formed an intimately linked pair, is the senior
ancestral temple of the Fujiwara. Both are well known to have played a key role in the
early development of Noh.
"The Path of My Mountain"
Abe no Nakamaro (701─770) lived in China for many years but still
missed Japan. This verse of his is cited by the old man in Nomori:
- Now I lift my gaze
- to the high plain of heaven
- I see the moon
- that rose at Kasuga,
- over Mount Mikasa!
The same moon can be seen over Mikasa-yama in the devotional paintings
(kasuga mandara) of the Kasuga cult. Upon its disk may float images of Buddhas and
Mikasa-yama is 283 meters high. When seen from the west, the direction
of Nara, its regular, conical form stands free against a dark background of higher hills.
Even today Mikasa-yama may not be trodden except by priests of the Kasuga Shrine, which is
immediately below the mountain. There is a small sanctuary at the summit, and the traces
of a much older, open ritual site.
All accounts relate that the god Takemikazuchi reached the top of
«RM46»Mikasa-yama, from Kashima in the Kant" area, early in A.D. 768, and that the
Kasuga Shrine was first erected later that same year. With Takemikazuchi, or shortly after
him, came the three other deities of the main shrine: Futsunushi from Katori in the
Kant" area; Amenokoyane, the Fujiwara clan deity, from Hiraoka, south of modern
Osaka; and Hime-gami ("Lady Deity"). Hime-gami too probably came from Hiraoka,
but in medieval writing about Kasuga she is a manifestation of Ise, and continuous with
the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. The fifth principal Kasuga deity is the Wakamiya ("Young
Prince") who is understood to be the son of Hime-gami and Amenokoyane. The Wakamiya's
origins are obscure, but he acquired an independent sanctuary building about 1135.
These deities were singly or collectively known as Kasuga
Daimy"jin ("Great Resplendent Kasuga Deity"), of whom it is impossible to
say whether he was singular or plural. In 937 Kasuga Daimy"jin announced, in an
oracle, that he wished to assume the name "Bodhisattva Complete in Mercy's
Works" (Jihi Mangy" Bosatsu). Thus the divine presence at Kasuga claimed, as
other gods had already done, the standing of Bodhisattva.■
It is unclear when the Kasuga deities were first identified with
canonical Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; and the identifications, once made, wavered through
the centuries. In Kasuga art (late Heian through Muromachi) they vary particularly widely,
but the main written sources are a little steadier.
The single most prominent honji (* * "original ground")
Buddha at Kasuga is Fukkenjaku Kannon (Amoghap░aÂsa), whose suijaku (* *
"trace shown below") is Takemikazuchi. Fukkenjaku Kannon is identified as
the honji of Takemikazuchi in an influential record of the Kasuga honji, with their
suijaku forms, attributed to the Regent Fujiwara no Motomichi (1160─1233).■ The other
honji in the list are Yakushi (Bhai┤sajyaguru) for Futsunushi, Jiz" (K┤sitigarbha)
for Amenokoyane, Jichimen Kannon (Ek░adaÂsamukha) for Hime-gami, and Monju
(MaýnjuÂsri) for the Wakamiya.
Motomichi's list agrees in all but one respect with another made by the
great K"fukuji monk Gedatsu Sh"nin (J"kei, 1155─1213). Gedatsu Sh"nin
identified Takemikazuchi with Shaka ( Skyamuni).■ Thus a Kamakura- period Kasuga
mandara in the Tokyo National Museum shows all six of the honji, including the two for
Takemikazuchi, painted against a great moon- disk which floats over Mikasa-yama. It was
from such a height that the Buddhist divinities showed their familiar, localized forms in
their suijaku which are the Kasuga gods. This pattern was typical for a sacred mountain.
Mikasa-yama is clearly an ancient kamunabi * * * , a mountain where the
spirits of the ancestors were contained and enshrined. The date of 768 for the founding of
the shrine, which has been official at Kasuga since at least the tenth century, is
nonetheless suspect (Nishida 1978). As a sacred hill Mikasa-yama must be much older. Like
Mt. Sumeru, such mountains may be associated with hell. The hells of Fuji, among others,
were famous, but Mikasa-yama too had a hell. It was below a spot just south of the main
shrine, and was the home of the demon in Nomori. A K"fukuji monk described from this
hell, through a medium, how Kasuga Daimy"jin descended thither every day in the form
of Jiz" (Amenokoyane's honji), and blessed the sinners there with holy water and with
the Buddhist Teaching, until the they gradually "rise and pass out of Hell"
(Gunsho ruij, vol. 2, p. 47).
The summit of Mikasa-yama was assimilated to paradise, and first of all
to the Tosotsu (Tu┤sita) Heaven of Miroku (Maitreya). It was not uncommon for a
mountaintop to be understood as the Tosotsu Heaven and since the Hoss" teaching had
originally been given to the Hoss" founder Mujaku (AsaŻnga) directly by Miroku, the
tie between K"fukuji and Miroku was particularly close. No paintings seem to show the
Tosotsu Heaven over Mikasa-yama, but written records suggest that thoughts of this
paradise must often have been associated with Kasuga Daimy"jin's mountain. Miroku was
an alternate honji for Futsunushi and for the Wakamiya.
Gedatsu Sh"nin is reported to have declared, when possessed by
Kasuga Daimy"jin: "Shaka and Miroku are one in substance. . . . Vulture Peak and
Chisoku [the Tosotsu Heaven] are one." And once Gedatsu Sh"nin heard Kasuga
- Know me as I am!
- The Buddha Shakamuni
- came into this life,
- «PG»and lo! the bright moon
- now illumines the world!
- (Gunsho ruij, vol. 2, pp. 44-5)
This moon, which would be painted rising over Mikasa-yama, may allude
especially to the Buddha preaching the Lotus Sutra on Vulture Peak.
The play Kasuga Ryjin dramatically presents Mikasa-yama as
Vulture Peak. The play's traveler, My"e Sh"nin, has been planning a pilgrimage
to India. Kasuga Daimy"jin, however, does not want him to go, and when My"e
visits Kasuga to say good-by, the deity detains him with an oracle which explains his
concern, and which promises to "make visible upon Mikasa-yama the five regions of
India, the Buddha's birth from My, His enlightenment at Bodhagaya, His
preaching upon Vulture Peak, and His passing in the Sla Grove." Suddenly,
- the divine oracle,
- mightily voiced,
- yields to a burst of light:
- Kasuga, plain and mountain,
- turns to a realm of gold.
- The plants, the trees,
- are the body of enlightenment,
- a wonder to behold!
The Eight Great Dragon Kings of the Lotus Sutra then arrive,
- attended by their entourage,
- an entourage of millions,
- like waves on the plain
to hear the Buddha preach the Lotus Sutra. When all are in place the
Buddha no doubt begins his great discourse, but that is not directly mentioned. Instead
the Dragon Girl of the Lotus Sutra rises and begins to dance.
Mikasa-yama is nowhere near the sea, or indeed near any substantial
body of water at all. But since the water of the landscape of Noh need not be large,
Sarusawa Pond at the south gate of K"fukuji, and the brook called Saho-gawa that runs
down from behind Mikasa-yama, do quite well for the cosmic ocean:
- The Dragon Girl is up to dance,
- her billowing sleeves
- gleam a pristine white
- across the boundless main
- they sweep: a spray
- of shining drops
- rises from the blue
- color of the sky
- cast on the ocean abyss!
- Hither she treads the deep:
- the ship of the moon
- rises on the waters
- of the Saho River. . . .
- At last,
- The Dragon Girl
- mounts the gale-driven clouds
- and vanishes airborne
- toward the south;
- the Dragon God
- with lusty tread
- churns Sarusawa Pond
- and its cerulean waves
- till He towers a thousand fathoms,
- a mighty Serpent,
- swarming in the mid-heaven,
- writhing upon the earth,
- He tosses the pond waters high
- and is lost to view.
The point of all this is to persuade My"e that he has no need to
go anywhere at all, and My"e is convinced. He gives up his journey. The play is an
extensively revised version of actual events, for whereas My"e Sh"nin really did
plan to go to India, Kasuga Daimy"jin dissuaded him from doing so in a series of
oracles and dreams delivered in the first months of 1202. In some of the dreams My"e
went to Vulture Peak, as Kasuga Daimy"jin himself did whenever he wished.■
Such delightful grandiloquence is in tune with the fortunate character
of My"e's vision, but the principle of it should not be dismissed as mere theater.
Once in the early thirteenth century a monk of nearby T"daiji dreamed he saw many
"precious ships" in the rivulet which runs under the main avenue toward the
Kasuga Shrine, at a spot called Rokud", or "Six Realms [of Reincarnation]."
These boats then flew off toward the summit of Mikasa-yama, full of people. The dreamer
was told that the lead boat carried My"e Sh"nin, and that the other passengers
were those who had entrusted themselves to My"e's guidance. My"e was leading
them over the Six Realms, the ocean of suffering, directly to paradise (K"zanji
shiry" s"sho 1971, vol. 1, p. 248).
A mid-fourteenth century history of K"fukuji contains the
following entry: "Ch"h" 3 , eighth month, second day. Gat"
Sh"nin boarded a boat and sailed to Mt. Fudaraku (K"fukuji ryaku nendaiki in
Hanawa 1931, Zoku gunsho ruij, vol. 298, p. 135). Fudaraku (Potalaka) is the
paradise of Kannon, reputed to be a mountain at the southern tip of India. In art it looks
very like P'eng-lai. Gat" Sh"nin actually sailed from Cape Muroto in Shikoku,
and it is remarkable that his departure should have been reported in a history of
K"fukuji. The reason is probably that Mikasa-yama too was Fudaraku. Like
Chikubushima, Fudaraku can only be reached by boat, but as the T"daiji monk's dream
shows, the absence of sea around Mikasa-yama was not a problem. A beautiful Kamakura
period Kasuga mandara in the Nezu Museum shows Mikasa-yama with a detailed vision of
Fudaraku floating above it. The holy mountain is surrounded by tossing waves, over which
boats are sailing from the near shore; and at its summit the Blessed Bodhisattva shines
like a welcoming star.
Faith like this is essential to the Buddhism of Noh. Granny Mountains
and the harlot of Eguchi said all that inspired reason can say, but the quiet of the
following story is eloquent. Fujiwara no Toshimori (1120─?) never neglected his monthly
visit to the Kasuga Shrine.
Once when he had come to the Shrine the night rain was falling softly,
and dripped pleasingly from the pines. He felt unusually at peace. Soon he began to
reflect on the vanity of making his pilgrimages in guest of worldly gain. Then he heard an
awe-inspiring voice speaking from toward the [Four] Sanctuaries and saying, "The path
of Enlightenment is the path of my Mountain." Toshimori shed tears of joy, and would
wet his sleeves again long afterward, remembering (Gunsho ruij, vol. 3, pp. 14-5).
The Red Leaves of Fall
Westward across the Yamato Plain from Mikasa-yama is a hill explicitly
known in classical poetry as a kamunabi. This is Tatsuta-yama, a place celebrated for the
beauty of its autumn leaves. The Tatsuta-gawa flows past Tatsuta-yama, and below the
mountain stands the Tatsuta Shrine.
The traveler in the play Tatsuta is a monk who first meets Tatsuta-hime
(the Lady of Tatsuta) by the river, in the guise of a shrine maiden. As the season and
poetry demand, the river is covered with a leafy, red brocade. The Tatsuta deity is
presented in the play as the guardian of the "August Spear, Protector of the
Realm"; and from what the shrine maiden says, the summit of Tatsuta-yama is occupied
by an "Ascetic, Holder of the Sword."■ Both spear and sword allude to
centrality, eminence and power. A spring welling up at the seat of such power would
cascade on down the mountain and nourish the regions below. In Tatsuta the river is evoked
as flowing down from such a spring.
The traveler has arrived just in time to see music and dance (kagura)
offered splendidly that night, by the light of torches, to the presence on the mountain.
This is the taki-matsuri ("waterfall festival") of Tatsuta, which the play links
intimately to Ise.■ The poetry of the scene suggests the following vision. As the music
begins, the light of the full moon touches the crest of the hill, and from the lip of the
moon, as it were, tumbles the pure water of the stream. The fall at first is white, and
whiter in the moonlight. Then lower down it leaves the zone of rock and evergreen, and
passes beneath the autumn trees. Thus it takes on the color of the leaves, and flows away
to the sea clothed in the red of the world of time and desire. This red is the Lady of
Tatsuta herself, who is the red leaves of fall.
It is a commonplace in poetry that tears shed high in the sky by geese
as they depart in autumn are red when they fall to earth, and that autumn leaves turn
color when touched by the season's cold rains. Tatsuta amplifies both thoughts in perfect
consonance with the fully stated Buddhist significance of the play, which is first given
in the words of the Chinese T'ien-t'ai (Tendai) patriarch Chih-i (538-597): "The
tempering of the light and the merging with the dust initiate the link to enlightenment;
the achieving the Way through all eight phases finishes accomplishing all creatures'
According to Chih-i, the Buddha tempers his light and merges with the
dust so as not to blind and confuse ordinary beings with the full radiance of
enlightenment. Thus the Buddha dims his light and enters completely into the ordinary
world. In this way he manifests enlightenment in various familiar forms, and so makes the
thought of enlightenment accessible to anyone. Chih-i cannot have intended this passage to
be used as in Tatsuta, for the play makes it a complete summary of Buddhist-Shinto
syncretic (honji-suijaku) thought, and of the Buddhism of Noh.
The familiar forms which make enlightenment accessible are those of the
mountains, rivers, trees, gods and holy persons of Japan. The "merging with the dust
initiates the link to enlightenment" because the presence of these forms makes
enlightenment available to all. Kechien, the "link to enlightenment" was the
goal of pilgrimage, and it was to be found in such sacred presence. Thus Tatsuta develops
this first part of Chih-i's statement in verse:
- The red leaves low on the trees
- are the divine intention [kami-gokoro]
- mingling with the dust
- as the tempered light
- deepens in hue. . . .
In poetry the cold rains color the top leaves first, but by-and-by red
descends to the lowest branches, thus showing in the present context that no place is too
humble to speak of enlightenment, and no person too lost to be touched by grace.
The second part of Chih-i's statement, about "achieving the Way
through all eight phases," alludes to the traditional eight phases of the Buddha's
career, from his descent into his mother's womb to his enlightenment, teaching, and final
extinction. During this career the Buddha rose from ignorance to the knowledge which
"finishes accomplishing all creatures' weal." In other words, the Buddha's
enlightenment accomplished the enlightenment of the world. This thought is expressed in a
verse which occurs several times in Noh:■
- As the One Buddha achieves the Way,
- he looks down upon the world [hokkai],
- and plants, trees, soil and land
- all grow to Buddhahood.
A painting of the scene would show mountains under the moon, with
perhaps a dark pine wood along a stretch of shore.
This beautiful view of the world had deep roots in the past of Noh, and
its motifs remained alive into modern times in literature and art. What can one call it?
That is, what is the name of the Buddhism of Noh? The customary sect or school names will
not do. No scholar of Mt. Hiei would have acknowledged the Buddhism of Noh as
"Tendai," nor would a scholar of Mt. K"ya have identified it as
"Shingon," though neither would have wished to disown it. Still less would a
scholar of K"fukuji (perhaps a Kasuga devotee and as much of an esoteric practitioner
as anyone from K"ya or Hiei) have called it Hoss". "Amidism" does not
help. In a word, the Buddhism of Noh has as little school identity as doctrinal
But if this Buddhism is to be named, then "syncretism" is the
word to use. The Buddhism of Noh is the common Buddhism of the time when honji-suijaku
("Shinto-Buddhist syncretic") faith was, in religion, the simple air that people
breathed. Continuity between the Gods and Buddhas was then taken for granted; and given
the localized nature of the Japanese kami as opposed to the universal nature of the
Buddhist deities, this continuity naturally expressed, and shaped as well, the poetic and
religious interest in landscape which this paper has evoked. Honji-suijaku thought and
Shugendo matured roughly together. An admittedly speculative suggestion for the period
when they were at the height of their vigor is about 1100─1300, a time when the Kasuga
cult took the form just described, and when even K"fukuji became a Shugendo center.■
By about the fourteenth century the court had lost its importance, the older religious
forms were taken for granted, and newer trends were gathering strength elsewhere in the
Japanese religious world. That is why syncretism is so basic to the conservative Buddhism
Later on, after the major Buddhist innovations of the Kamakura period
had become thoroughly established in their turn, and the major seventeenth-century
thinkers had absorbed themselves instead in Confucian ideals and ethics, the Buddhist
content of Noh gradually ceased to be understood, or passed into the twilight of
"folk religion." Buddhist sects were codified and organized as a matter of
government policy in the Edo period (1600─1868), and the newer ones (Zen, Pure Land
Amidist and Nichiren) came, in their turn, to represent "Japanese Buddhism."
Moreover Buddhism as a whole came under attack from Confucianists and others who pointed
out its pernicious influence. At last in the first years of Meiji (1868─1912) Shinto and
Buddhism were separated by edict, and the activities of yamabushi, mediums, and other
relics of the past were declared illegal.
One can find right at the start of the Edo period, in the writings of a
Buddhist moralist, clear evidence of a new way of seeing. Suzuki Sh"san (1579─1655)
was a Zen teacher and writer who loved Noh. He had studied Noh singing himself, and like
other writers of his time he took from Noh many ornaments to his style. However he seems
not to have seen, or to have wished to see, in Noh what this paper has sought to show.
Paradox did not please him, and aesthetic excellence was not his main concern. He
cultivated instead a sort of protestant severity.
Sh"san was particularly interested in the famous and paradoxical
play Sotoba Komachi ("Komachi on the Gravepost"), in which the poetess Komachi
passes from broken, old beggar outcast to triumphant winner of a doctrinal debate, to mad
crone possessed by a long-dead suitor, to humble aspirant to enlightenment. The play is as
baffling as Sakagami's musings or as the discourse of Buchu kanj" honki, but
precisely that aspect of it made no sense, or bad sense, to Sh"san. Sh"san did
not subscribe to the all but universal medieval opinion that "the passions are
enlightenment." He preferred to make quite clear the difference between wisdom and
delusion or sin. He therefore rewrote Sotoba Komachi into Omokage Komachi ("Komachi
in Dignity"; Suzuki 1962, pp. 217-20). Sh"san's own Komachi is unwaveringly
positive, and as right-thinking as a tough old nun whose youth is too remote to move her
seriously any longer. She is an unexceptionable moral lesson. Judging from Sh"san's
other work that is obviously what Sh"san intended, but his Komachi for a righteous
age has lost a great deal. Alas, she does not touch us and she is not beautiful.
1. All translations are the author's, unless otherwise noted.
2. For example: "In Exoteric Buddhist teachings, the four great
elements [earth, water, fire and wind] are considered to be nonsentient beings, but in
Esoteric Buddhist teachings they are regarded as the samaya-body of the
Tathgata" (Kkai, Sokushin j"butsu gi, trans. in Hakeda 1972, p.
3. Kaji * * is the Sanskrit adhi┤s┤thna. According to Yoshito
Hakeda: "The three mysteries inborn in men . . . are united with the Three Mysteries
of Mahvairocana. In other words, it is the basic homogeneity of man with
Mahvairocana which makes faith possible. Because of Kkai's emphasis on the
grace of the Three Mysteries, his religion has also been identified as the religion of
`the three mysteries and grace (sammitsu kaji * * * * )' " (Hakeda 1972, p. 92).
4. The earliest occurrence of this story is in G"dansh"
("Discourses of ▒Oe no Masafusa"), written in the early twelfth century (Gunsho
ruij, vol. 27, p. 17); it is then picked up by the musician Koma no Chikazane in his
Ky"kunsh" ("Instruction and Admonishments"), 1233 (Zoku gunsho
ruij, vol. 2a, p. 295); and by later writers. It also occurs in Kasuga Gongen genki
10 ("Record of wonders worked by the deity of Kasuga"; Gunsho ruij, vol.
2, p. 28).
5. This passage is translated from the longer extract quoted by
Moriyama 1965, pp. 134-5. Buch kanj" honki was written by Kyokuren, the head of
a Shingon-affiliated Shugendo temple in the ▒Omine mountains. The sexual imagery of its
discourse marks it as linked to the so-called Tachikawa-ry * * * , a
"left-handed tantric" Shingon heresy which seems to have originated at the
aristocratic Shingon temple and Shugendo center of Daigoji near Kyoto. The
Tachikawa-ry teaching was carried to the provinces in 1113 by Ninkan, a younger
brother of Sh"kaku, the founder of the famous Sanb"in at Daigoji temple. The
father of both was Minamoto no Toshifusa (1035─1121), a Minister of the Left
«PG»(Moriyama 1965, pp. 14-66).
6. Regarding the enlightenment of Fugen, the Bodhicitta Âsstra
(Jpn. Bodaishinron * * * * , "Treatise on the mind of enlightenment") says:
"Because of this meditation, he (the practitioner) sees his true state of mind
[bodhicitta], which is tranquil and pure like the light of a full moon covering space
without discrimination. [This state of mind] is called complete enlightenment [i.e., the
perfection of the cognizer]; it is also called pure dharmadhtu [i.e., the perfection
of the cognized]; and it is also called the sea of the perfection of wisdom [i.e., the
perfection of the identity of the cognizer and the cognized]. Its ability--in
samdhi--to contain a variety of immeasurable precious jewels is like the moon's
[ability to contain] its pureness and brilliance. Why [is this so]? Because all beings are
endowed with the mind of Samantabhadra: one sees one's own mind like the disc of the
moon" (Kiyota 1982, 87).
7. The Kasuga mandara cited below are all published in Nara Kokuritsu
Hakubutsukan (Nara National Museum), ed., Suijaku bijutsu ("Suijaku Art").
Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1964.
8. The first deity to do so was Hachiman, who claimed the title of
Daibosatsu ("Great Bodhisattva") in 783. Kasuga Daimy"jin's oracle of 937
is recorded in Kasuga Gongen genki 1 (Gunsho ruij, vol. 2, p. 4) and in earlier
9. Kasuga-sha shiki [A Personal Account of the Kasuga Shrine, 1275] and
Shun'ya shinki [A Divine Record of Spring Night, not later than 1437] in Shint"
taikei, vol. 13.
10. Kasuga-sha shiki specifies that it was Gedatsu Sh"nin who made
this identification on the basis of the verse quoted below, which Gedatsu heard "in a
dream." The identification of Takemikazuchi with Shaka was adopted by the compilers
of Kasuga Gongen genki.
11. According to Kasuga Gongen genki 16 (p. 416), Kasuga Daimy"jin
told Gedatsu: "I often go to the Tosotsu Heaven and worship there the Lord of
Compassion [Miroku]. Even my eyes cannot encompass the sixteen yojanas of his marvelous
form." The story of the oracles of 1202, written down in 1233, is published under the
title My"e Sh"nin jingon denki [Record of the divine visitations granted the
venerable My"e] in K"zanji shiry" s"sho, vol. 1; and under the title
Kasuga Daimy"jin go-takusenki [Record of the oracles of the Kasuga deity] in Gunsho
ruij, vol. 2, and Dainihon bukky" zensho, vol. 123. Tanabe (1983, ch. 2)
discusses it in the context of My"e's life. Kasuga ryjin has been translated by
12. This "Ascetic" is tsurugi no gens". An appellation
with the same meaning is applied in the "Mongaku no aragy""
("Mongaku's Penances") chapter of Heike monogatari ("The Tale of the
Heike") to the famous ascetic Mongaku Sh"nin. The spear guarded by the Tatsuta
Deity is further celebrated in the Tatsuta Noh play Sakahoko.
13. The taki-matsuri is still observed at the Tatsuta Shrine (Tatsuta
Taisha) each year on April 3. There is no waterfall, however. Instead fish are taken from
the Tatsuta-gawa (which in modern times is called the Yamato-gawa, the modern Tatsuta-gawa
being a different stream), and offered to the Tatsuta Deity. There is also a spot at the
Inner Shrine (Naik) of Ise called taki-matsuri: it is at the bottom of the
Isuzu-gawa. The matter is puzzling.
14. Mo-ho-chih-kuan 6a (Jpn. Makashikan * * * * ; Taish"
shinsh daiz"ky", Takakusu Junjir" et al., eds., Tokyo: Taish"
issaiky" kank"kai, 1924-1934, vol. 46, p. 80a). The text, in the Japanized
version cited in Tatsuta, is wak" d"jin wa kechien no hajime, hass"
j"d" wa rimotsu no owari nari.
15. The verse occurs for example in Nue. It has been studied by
16. The date 1100, suggested by the contents of Kasuga Gongen genki,
agrees with the much broader evidence presented by Tsuji (1944, pp. 436-89). In Shugendo,
1090 is the year when Z"yo of Miidera became the first Kengy" of Kumano;
Z"yo later founded Sh"goin. The terminal date of 1300 is only a rough
suggestion; the twelfth century encompasses the lives of My"e Sh"nin (an
outstanding representative of syncretic faith) and of the founders of the "new
Buddhism." The role of K"fukuji in Shugendo has been acknowledged by Miyake
Hitoshi (1985, p. 8, and earlier works).
1972 Kkai: Major Works. New York: Columbia University Press.
HANAWA Hokiichi * * * * , ed.
1928-31 Gunsho ruij * * * * [Classified compendium of documents].
39 vols. Tokyo: Naigai Shoseki Kaisha.
1931-33 Zoku gunsho ruij * * * * * [Classified compendium of
documents, continued]. 72 vols. Tokyo: Zoku gunsho ruij kansei kai.
KEENE, Donald, ed.
1970 Twenty Plays of the Noh Theatre. New York: Columbia University
1982 Tantric Concept of Bodhicitta: A Buddhist Experiential Philosophy.
Madison: South East Asia Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
KOYAMA Hiroshi * * * * et al., eds.
1973 Y"kyoku sh * * * [A collection of Noh plays] (Nihon
koten bungaku zensh, vols. 33-34). Tokyo: Sh"gakkan.
K▒OZANJI TENSEKI MONJO SOGO CHOSADAN
1971 K"zanji shiry" s"sho * * * * * * * [Compendium of
K"zanji documents], vol. 1. Tokyo: T"ky" Daigaku Shuppankai.
MIYAKE Hitoshi * * * *
1985 Shugendo shis" no kenky * * * * * * * * * [A study of
Shugendo thought]. Tokyo: Shunjsha.
MIYAMOTO Sh"son * * * *
1961 `S"moku kokudo shikkai j"butsu' no bussh"ronteki
igi to sono sakusha * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * [The Buddha-nature
meaning of the `Plants, trees, soil and land' verse, and its author]. Indogaku
bukky"gaku kenky * * * * * * * * [Studies in Indology and Buddhism] 4/2:
MORIYAMA Sh"shin * * * *
1965 Tachikawa jaky" to sono shakaiteki haikei no kenky * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * [A study of the Tachikawa heresy and its social background].
MORRELL, Robert E.
1982 Passage to India denied: Zeami's Kasuga Ryjin. Monumenta
Nipponica 37/2: 179-200.
NARA KOKURITSU HAKUBUTSUKA* (Nara National Museum), ed.
1964 Suijaku bijutsu * * * * [The art of syncretism]. Tokyo: Kadokawa
NISHIDA Nagao * * * *
1978 Kasuga Taisha no seiritsu--bunken shiry" o chshin to
shite * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * [The origins of the Kasuga Shrine, with special
reference to bibliographic materials]. In Nihon Shint" shi kenky * * * * * * *
* [Studies in the history of Japanese Shinto], vol. 9 (Jinja hen 1). Tokyo: Kadokawa
SAEKI Umetomo * * * *
1958 Kokinwakash * * * * * [Collection of poems ancient and
modern]. Nihon koten bungaku taikei [Compendium of classical Japanese literature], vol. 8.
Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
SANARI Kentar" * * * * * * , ed.
1931 Y"kyoku taikan * * * * [A compendium of Noh texts]. 7 vols.
Tokyo: Meiji Shoin.
SANSOM, George B.
1962 Japan, A Short Cultural History, rev. ed. New York:
SHINTO TAIKEI HENSA* KAI * * * * * * * * , ed.
1985 Shint" taikei * * * * [A Shinto compendium], vol. 13
(Kasuga). Tokyo: Shint" taikei hensan kai.
1970 Zen and Japanese Culture (Bollingen Series LXIV). Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University press.
SUZUKI Tesshin * * * * , ed.
1962 Suzuki Sh"san d"nin zensh * * * * * * * * [The
complete works of the monk Suzuki Sh"san]. Tokyo: Sankib".
TANABE, George Joji
1983 My"e Sh"nin (1173─1232): Tradition and Reform in Early
Kamakura Buddhism. Doctoral thesis submitted to Columbia University.
TSUJI Zennosuke * * * *
1944 Nihon bukky" shi * * * * * [A history of Japanese Buddhism],
vol.1 (J"sei hen). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
TYLER, Susan C.
1987 The Art of the Cult of Kasuga. Doctoral thesis submitted to the
University of Oslo.
1957 The Noh Plays of Japan. New York: Grove Press.
YOKOMICHI Mario * * * * * * and OMOTE Akira * * * , eds.
1960 Y"kyoku sh * * * [A Collection of Noh plays]. Nihon
koten bungaku taikei [Compendium of classical Japanese literature], vols. 40-41. Tokyo: