Shike – Day 276 of 306

“What are they sending against us?” asked Jebu.

Moko’s smile disappeared. “There are two fleets coming, shiké. From Korea there are nine hundred ships carrying fifty thousand Mongols and Koreans, and their horses and siege equipment.”

“That’s about as many as they sent against us last time,” said Jebu.

“Yes,” said Moko. “But before that fleet arrives here, it is to be joined by a second fleet, known as the South of the Yang-Tze Fleet, coming from Linan. In that fleet, shiké, there are four thousand ships. It carries one hundred thousand warriors and even more machines and fire-spitting devices. If I believed that the gods would help us, I’d have some hope, but if we must depend on what mere mortals can do, then it is certain that we will be overwhelmed.” He searched Jebu’s face as if hoping to find some comfort in it.

“Remember what mere mortals did at Kweilin,” Jebu said.

“Yes, shiké. Please excuse my cowardice.” Some of the anxiety went out of Moko’s eyes. This man calls himself a coward, Jebu thought, yet he sailed into the jaws of the enemy to bring back information we need.

Jebu tried to visualize four thousand ships spread out over the sea. The reality would be too large for a single pair of human eyes to take in. He wondered, how can we ever hold out against them? He brought himself up short. I should not ask myself that question. My spirit must be untarnished by the lust for victory. I must try to help all who fight beside me to feel the same way.

“Sensei, I have never killed a man.” They sat facing each other as they had so many times before, cross-legged on woven grass mats, in Eisen’s cell. As always, Sametono felt peace and certainty looking at the monk’s rock-hard yet kindly face. Only to this man could he confide his fears.

“Are you afraid that you will not be able to kill, my son?” said Eisen with a smile.

“No, sensei. That I might be able to kill too easily. The Buddha teaches that we should harm no living thing. How can I remain a follower of the Buddha and at the same time do my duty and wage war?”

Tomorrow he and Mother Taniko and Munetoki would offer prayers at the Hachiman shrine. They they would set sail for Ise. Arriving there a few days later, they would worship at the grand shrine of the sun goddess, asking her help against the Mongols. Thence they would journey to Hakata Bay, making the last part of the trip by land, because the western coast of Kyushu was already under attack by the Grea Khan’s ships. And then he would be at war. The truth was, it was not the teachings of Buddha that provoked his present dilemma. His revulsion at the thought of killing lay deeper than any religious teaching. It was somehow connected with his memory of the arrows striking his mother’s body as she tried to shield him from Horigawa’s samurai. That was killing. That was what he did not want to do. To him it seemed that a horror of killing was as much a natural part of being human as was his newly discovered yearning to hold a woman in his arms. Yet it was his duty to kill and to lead the nation to war.

“You are samurai,” said Eisen, narrowing his eyes sternly. “To be a samurai is to be willing to face death. Whatever work we have been given to do in life by karma, that work is the practice that will lead to our enlightenment. We must do our work correctly to the best of our ability. That is true both for the peasant and for the Shogun. For you to fail in your duty would deprive you of an opportunity to realize your Buddha-nature. But, to be willing to kill does not mean you have to love killing. As a follower of the Buddha you should hate killing. You do it only because it is your duty. It is the same with waging war.”

The smell of incense drifted in from the meditation hall near Eisen’s chamber. The scent hung heavily on the damp afternoon air. Sametono realized he was sweating and wiped his forehead. Eisen’s dome-like head was free of sweat and looked cool.

“If I were to retire from the Shogunate and become a priest like you, it would no longer be my duty to kill, sensei.”

Eisen nodded. “But the right time for a man to enter a new life is when he has truly finished his work in the previous stage. Of course, such a decision is ultimately yours to make. Prince Siddhartha abandoned his position and his family as a young man to go into the forest to seek enlightenment, and he became the Buddha. Each man is different and must find his own way. We do whatever, in our judgment, is most likely to lead to our discovering our own Buddha-nature.”

The perspiration on his forehead, Sametono realized, was not brought out merely by the wet warmth of this spring afternoon, but by his struggle with this, the most difficult and important problem he had ever had to resolve.

“I was in touch with my Buddha-nature before I even heard the word ‘Buddha,'” he said. “What I fear is that I may lose this awareness if I take the life of another.”

Eisen hunched forward, his eyes burning into Sametono’s. “What you are asking is, can a samurai have the Buddha-nature? Long ago the great Chinese Zen master, Joshu, was asked whether a dog has the Buddha-nature. What do you think his answer was?”

Sametono did not answer immediately. Eisen’s questions, though they were never mere trickery, always had unexpected answers. Sametono wanted to please Eisen by finding the right solution to this one. He sorted through a number of possible answers, and at last, frustrated, gave up. Perhaps the obvious answer was correct.

“Every being has the Buddha-nature, sensei. So a dog must have it, too.”

Eisen laughed. “Joshu’s answer was ‘Mu.’ No. Why do you think he said No?”

Sametono felt himself becoming exasperated. Here he had presented Eisen with a question that affected his whole future life, a question of flesh and blood, and Eisen’s answer was to play with words. Well, Sametono knew how to play, too.

“Kwatz!” he cried. He sat back on his haunches and grinned at the bald monk. He felt much better.

Eisen, too, laughed. “Is it kwatz, then? Do you roar like a lion? And will your lion devour Joshu’s dog? Be a lion, then, and meet the Mongols with your roar and your teeth and claws.”

Very clearly now Sametono saw it. I must be what I am. I am a lion, and must eat flesh. A vast relief and pleasure swept over him as he felt his problem solved.

“But.” Eisen held up a finger. Sametono’s heart sank. When you studied with Eisen, no problem was ever solved. One layer was peeled away like the skin of an onion to reveal another layer of mystery underneath.

“Yes, sensei?” he sighed.

“If you were truly enlightened, Sametono-chan, you would be able to tell me why Joshu said that a dog does not have the Buddha-nature. Whenever you have a spare moment, think about Joshu’s No. What does Joshu’s No mean to you? Try to hold No in the back of your mind constantly. Love No. Become No. When you know why Joshu said that a dog—or a lion—does not have the Buddha-nature, you will know what to do with your life.”

The sense of relief was gone. Eisen had given it to him and taken it away again. Perplexed, feeling heavy and awkward, Sametono pressed his forehead against the mat, bidding Eisen goodbye. His armed escort snapped to attention and the monks bowed, but Sametono, lost in thought, did not notice. A monk brought his horse, and he vaulted into the saddle without being aware of what he was doing. Feeling deeply discouraged, he led the way down the mountain path back to the castle in Kamakura. Then it occurred to him that when he had gone to Eisen that day he had been afraid. Now he was just puzzled. That was an improvement. No, No, No. What did Joshu mean by that No?

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