Shike – Day 302 of 306

She thought long. “You play upon my love of country to persuade me to sacrifice the man who is my life.”

“The first branches of the Order Jebu visits will be those in China and Mongolia. He will meet with people who are trying to influence the course of events in those countries.”

“You can’t promise me that Jebu’s leaving me would accomplish any such wonders, can you?”

“Indeed, I can guarantee nothing,” said Eisen. “But it is knowing you should act in a certain way, and acting in that way regardless of the effect of the action, that leads to enlightenment.”

“Do not try to divert me with promises of enlightenment.” Her voice was hard, angry. “I want Jebu.”

“As I told you when we first met, the strength of your love shows that you are already greatly enlightened. But one of the Bakufu’s most important sources of strength is the esteem, almost like worship, in which most samurai hold the Ama-Shogun. Unfortunately, the rumour is spreading that the real power behind the Bakufu is your lover, a monk of the disreputable Zinja Order who, even worse, is half Mongol.”

Taniko was outraged. “I have a right to my privacy. From the Emperor on down, there isn’t a nobleman on these islands who doesn’t sleep with several wives and assorted courtesans. And what’s more, Jebu is a hero. His deeds are legendary. How could anyone say anything against him?”

Eisen shook his head. “Our lords may disport themselves as they wish, but our ladies must be chaste. I disapprove of such a state of affairs as much as you do, but we cannot change it. As for Jebu’s heroism, there are many who envy and hate him. Yukio was a hero, and still the people turned away from him.”

Now Taniko was in tears. “I won’t do it. I won’t give him up. It’s not fair. I have loved him all my life, and I’ve never been able to spend more than a few months at a time with him. Even in the last six years we’ve only been together for brief visits. Now, for the first time in our lives, we can live together as we have always wanted to. We have so little time left, sensei.” She was pleading now for understanding. “We can’t expect to live much longer. Surely we have a right to the few years of happiness left to us.”

Eisen shook his head. “The only thing you are promised in this life is suffering.”

Anger boiled up within her. She took a breath and opened her mouth to shout a protest, to say no to the belief that life was nothing but pain, no to his demand for sacrifice, no to all suffering and loss of her life, no to more years of separation from Jebu. But as she drew in her breath, it seemed some tremendous force took hold of her and drew her breath in for her, as the water near shore is drawn into a grea oncoming wave, till her lungs were full to bursting. Then the wave broke.

She let her breath out in one terrible scream, a long-drawn-out wordless shout of rage and agony, a cry from the very centre of her being. The muscles of her abdomen knotted and her throat burnt and the cords in her neck ached from the force she put into the scream. She went on screaming until every bit of air in her chest was gone.

She opened her eyes and saw to her amazement that Eisen was sitting in the shallow carp pond, staring at her with a surprise as great as her own. After a moment, he began to laugh.

There was a clatter of weapons all around them. Taniko’s samurai guards had heard her scream and had come rushing to her aid. The warrior monks of the Todaiji saw Eisen fall into the pond and came running to their sensei’s aid. The two groups of armed men stood in a circle around Eisen and Taniko glaring at each other, tense and ready to fight. Taniko and Eisen dismissed them with assurances that they were both all right and that neither had in any way hurt the other. Before anyone could help him up, Eisen sprang dripping from the pond, as if to demonstrate by his very agility that all was well.

“Sensei, what happened?” said Taniko in a low voice when they were alone again.

“It is a phenomenon that was developed by the Ch’an masters of China and which we students of Zen are introducing in the martial arts here,” said Eisen. “It is called kiai, the shout. After many years of practice a student of this art can produce a shout that will stun a man or kill him. In your case, under the pressure of the situation, you produced such a kiai shout naturally.”

“Yes, but what happened to me, sensei?”

Eisen looked into her face. It was long past sunset now, and the garden of the Todaiji was illuminated by many bronze and stone lanterns, their reflected lights twinkling in the pond. A nearly full yellow-orange moon was peeping over the temple wall.

“Ah,” said Eisen, after carefully examining Taniko’s face. His little sigh of satisfaction and his look confirmed what she suspected. Even as the moon was rising, she felt a light dawning within her. The suffering of a moment ago was replaced by pure, limitless joy. She had broken through. The scream was the cry of life itself, the life that had been in her parents and which they had passed on to her, that had been passed to them through countless generations of ancestors, that was the same as the life in Eisen, in the carp in the pond, in the trees around them. To be alive is to suffer. The scream of pain and of protest against pain is the original cry of life. The first utterance of each of the children she bore had been such a cry. It was the cry of yang, the creative principle, goaded by its very suffering to overcome its afflictions and grow stronger and wiser. She felt the connectedness of all things. I was an ecstasy she had previously known only during her most exalted moments with Jebu.

“That scream, sensei,” she said, “is the face I had before I was born.”

Eisen knelt and pressed his palms and face to the ground before her in humble acknowledgment of her enlightenment. She was so preoccupied with her new thoughts and feelings that she scarcely noticed what he was doing.

“I do not feel as if I have made a discovery,” she said as he stood up again. “I feel as if I am remembering something I have always known.”

“It is one thing to know that fire burns flesh,” said Eisen. “It is another to learn that truth by putting your hand into the flame of a torch. Now I will have to find a new kung-an for you to work on.”

“Must I go on solving kung-an for the rest of my life?”

Eisen laughed. “Does one who trains in the martial arts ever say, ‘Now my training is complete, I need no more practice?'” Then the round face grew grave and compassionate. “Sometimes life gives us a kung-an to solve. Now that you have found the face you had before you were born, perhaps you will have the wisdom to decide what you and Jebu should do.”

Taniko thought a moment, searching within herself to see if she felt any different about Jebu. Nothing was changed. She still wanted him at her side for the rest of her life, and she still resented the Order for trying to part them.

“Your Order has no right to send Jebu away from me,” she said firmly. “I will make him stay with me. We deserve to be united after all these years, and I defy you to try to separate us.”

Eisen nodded. “You must do what you think you should do. That is the very essence of enlightenment. As for Jebu, he has been given time to think about this journey. I do not know what he will decide. Perhaps he will tell you. When do you see him again?”

“I will see him the day after tomorrow at Heian Kyo for the first time in a month. He stayed behind at Hakata Bay, helping to rebuild and to aid the victims.”

“Please greet him for me when you see him. And also tell his lordship Shogun Sametono that I hope to see him at his convenience. I am anxious to learn what progress he has made with Joshu’s No.”

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