Shike – Day 255 of 306

Jebu smiled and put his hand on Moko’s shoulder. “Seldom has karma manifested itself so clearly, Moko-san. Over thirty years ago I spared your life, and now you have saved mine.”

“It was Lady Taniko who urged you to spare my life, shiké. We three are bound together by what began under that maple tree on the Tokaido Road. You must not leave her out.”

Jebu gripped the battlement with his large, bony hands, the knuckles turning white. “Moko, I have loved Taniko ever since that journey we took together down the Tokaido. I have loved her without hope. Again and again she refused my love. I am a warrior and a monk. I can be nothing else, but she blames and despises me for what I am. Now she wants to see me again. It is too late for that. She could never forgive me for Kiyosi and Atsue. I cannot forgive her for Yukio.”

“She did nothing to hurt Lord Yukio, Master Jebu.”

“She married the man who murdered him. All her life she has sought to link herself with powerful men. Horigawa, Kiyosi, Kublai Khan, Hideyori. I do not seek power, Moko. And that finally is what has always come between Taniko and me. Now she has power. She’s ousted Bokuden from the Regency. Her uncle is chieftain of the Shima, her cousin is Regent and her foster son is Shogun. I hear the samurai are calling her the Ama-Shogun. In a real sense she is the Empress of the Sunrise Land, more powerful indeed than any Empress or Emperor could be nowadays. She may find it is easier to get power than to know what to do with it when she has it. She will get no help from me. The woman who married Hideyori can get her guidance from Hideyori’s ghost. The land that let Yukio die does not deserve to be protected from Kublai Khan.”

Moko, his heart filled with despair, held out his hands to Jebu. “Shiké, you cannot be so unforgiving towards the woman you love or towards your country.”

Jebu turned with a swirl of his grey robe and strode towards the steps leading down to the monastery courtyard. “I’m glad you came when you did, Moko, even though I had to refuse you,” he said briskly. “We are to hold a ceremony here after sunset. There are three circles in our Order—monk, teacher and abbot—and tonight a monk is to be tested for entry into the circle of teachers—myself.”

“You are to be honoured by your Order, shiké? That is wonderful.”

“We do not consider it an honour but an added burden. No monk wants to be removed from the outermost circle. The difficulty of living as a true Zinja, of achieving insight and remaining in contact with the Self is much greater in the inner circles. I pointed out to my brother monks that I would not still be alive if it were not for you and urged that they grant you the privilege of attending tonight. I must warn you that Zinja ceremonies can be frightening.”

“Did I not say I would follow you anywhere, shiké?”

All that afternoon Moko waited in the guesthouse of the Pearl Temple, bemoaning his failure to win Jebu over for Taniko and worrying about tonight’s ceremony. He had lived at Zinja monasteries, but he had never before been invited to witness one of their rites. All the rumours he had heard rose up in his mind, that the Zinja worshipped devils, practised human sacrifice, blasphemed against the Emperor, engaged in unclean sexual practices. That last might be all right, he supposed, but he hoped none of the other things turned out to be true.

It was the beginning of summer and the shutters and blinds of his apartment were open to the outside. Every so often a grey-robed Zinja wearing a white rope around his neck would enter at the gate and be ushered ceremoniously into the monks’ quarters. Obviously these were the teachers and the abbots. Their faces were austere, expressionless. They frightened Moko. Over the years, through his travels and his studies of the crafts of carpentry and shipbuilding, he had learned to regard most religion as empty show, but there was something terribly convincing about these Zinja.

From where he sat Moko could also see some women of the Zinja washing laundry in a small stream that ran past their building. Smoke from a cooking fire rose from a near-by shed. Moko was curious about the Zinja women, but he had always been too afraid of the monks to ask questions about them.

The shadow of the temple hill crept across the compound until it enveloped the room where Moko was sitting. As the sun disappeared, his heart quailed, as if he were bidding goodbye to an old friend he might never see again. A monk in a grey tunic entered behind him, startling him, though he managed to retain enough dignity to keep from crying out. The monk lit an oil lamp for him and silently gave him a black cotton robe which Moko put on over his kimono. It had a deep hood and a black silk cord that went around the waist. Moko seated himself on the floor again, though in his nervousness he ached for something to do. He supposed if he were really a monk he’d meditate. How do you meditate? he wondered.

Twilight deepened to evening. A crescent moon, yellow as a boar’s tusk, rose above the monastery gate, taking Moko’s breath away. He wished he could see the moon rising behind Fuji-san. That would be a spectacle. Amazing how a moment of beauty made a man forget he was frightened. No wonder the samurai devoted themselves to painting and poetry.

His fear returned when a hooded monk came up to the veranda and beckoned. A procession of abbots and teachers, heads and faces shadowed, was slowly ascending the narrow stone steps. They carried no torches. The crescent moon gave faint but sufficient light. Moko’s escort led him to a line of Zinja in grey robes who made room for him. They began to climb the steps.

When he entered the temple, Moko was struck by its simplicity. It was a bare room with a polished floor of dark stone, and walls and ceiling of roughhewn wood. A rectangular stone block served as the altar. The floor descended towards the altar in a series of shallow steps, each broad enough to accommodate a row of seated monks. The rear of the temple, beyond the altar, was open to the night. Out there were the great torii and Mount Fuji, but it was too dark to see either. With slow, monotonous rhythm, a monk with a heavy stick was striking a hollow log suspended from the central roof beam, sending resonant booms through the temple.

The emptiness of the place seemed utterly strange to Moko. All the Buddhist temples he had seen were adorned with gold, crowded with statues painted in dazzling colours. Shinto temples, bare as they were, were palatial in comparison to this. Only Eisen’s meditation hall was as plain, and even that had a statue of Daruma, the founder of Zen, for trainees to contemplate. The Pearl Temple was nearly filled when Moko entered. The white robes sat in front, grey robes in the rear. Moko sank down near the rear and waited. The hollow booming continued, and behind him he could hear the shuffling of sandalled feet as the rest of the monks entered the temple.

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