Dokushin (The Bachelor) Part IV

The End is in sight my friends! Hope you enjoy this week’s installment. Two more to go! Cheers!
~苦栗鼠

IV

At that moment there was the sound of someone at the door stamping the snow from his shoes. The master’s dog Jean was going to bark but stopped and instead whimpered softly. Then there was the sound of Take sliding the door open and greeting this new guest.

Presently a Buddhist monk, unshaven and wearing clove-dyed robes, entered the room.1 Nodding slightly to everyone in the room he said “I’m terribly sorry to drop in so late,” placed his folded cushion to the right and sat between Togawa and Tomita.2

He was a priest of the Sōtō sect, from Neikoku Temple. This temple, located near the railroad tracks in Kanedachō, had long been in a state of ruin. Long ago when the region was called Kokura-han a samurai family had patronized the temple, but since most of them had returned to Tomitsu, the temple had fallen into disarray. It resembled a roadside shrine that had been somewhat expanded, and this priest had recently taken up residence there, covering over holes in the main temple with old newspaper.

The master, looking very pleased to see him, called the maid. “If there’s any udon left, could you heat up a bowl for the Neikoku priest? You must be cold.”

Togawa pushed the brazier he had been warming his hands over toward the priest.

The Neikoku priest turned his gaunt, ever-smiling face toward the master and spoke. “Actually, as I was out asking for alms this morning, a great pile of volumes of the Daichidoron caught my eye at a little secondhand bookshop in Tatemachi.3 Thinking how strange it was for an incomplete set to be there, as I made my way in this direction, I then found another pile of volumes of the same Daichidoron in a different shop in Nishikimachi toward Tanka Bridge. There were also many other books like the Hōonjurin.4 Between the two shops there seemed to be a complete set of the Daichiron.”

The master spoke. “It seems someone must have intentionally split the books up and sold them.”

“Exactly. And I know for the most part where the books came from. Now, this is a collection full of things I might want to reference later, and if left incomplete at these bookstores they would likely become wastepaper. Not wanting this to happen, I went to speak with the head priest of Tōzen Temple, who agreed to purchase the set and keep it at his temple. I thought some of the remaining books might be of interest to you, so I came to tell you about it.”

“Thank you for that. I’ll drop by and have a look tomorrow on the way back from the office. Now eat; your udon will get cold.”

The Neikoku priest ate his udon. Shortly after he finished his first helping, Take went to get him another. When she returned with the udon the master stopped her and said, “Tidy up here a little, prepare some tea and cut up some of the yōkan we’ve got for the guests.5­ Hey, you can’t take away Mr. Tomita’s sake.”

“No. I can’t have this taken away from me,” Tomita said, clinging to the bottle with shrimp-like arms. Then he said to the master, “Now, master, being well-read is fine, but don’t tell me a scientist like you is reading Buddhist doctrine. Books on Buddhist doctrine are best left to priests, eh.”

The Neikoku priest maintained his constant smile as he slowly ate his udon.

The master then replied, “You do have a certain point. Concerning medical literature, there are instances in which, should someone who is not a doctor read it, far from being any use, it may actually cause some harm. But Buddhist doctrine is different”

“I don’t get it. It’s strange enough you refuse to marry, but on top of that you put faith in the three Buddhist treasures—that’s too much.”6­

“So you’re attacking my bachelorhood again, eh. Well, the way I look at it, even you have faith in the three Buddhist treasures.”

“I don’t even know what the hell the three treasures are.”

“But you have faith in them, even if you don’t understand them.”

“Don’t just throw around such paradoxical sophistry.”

With an inscrutable expression that seemed at once joking and serious, the master spoke thus: “No, it’s not like that. You keep talking science this, science that, right? Well, that too is doctrine. And those great teachers you’re lot hold in such reverence—yes, Authoritaeten—they are all Buddhas. And all of you are priests. And one way or another you’re all trying to outstrip you’re teachers. It’s called Authoritaeten-Stuermerei—rebuking the Buddhas and cursing you’re predecessors, as it were.”7­

The Neikoku priest continued to smile as he sipped his tea and ate his yōkan.


Notes

1) The priest’s robes are probably a light brown or yellow color and, due to the cloves used to dye them, are quite fragrant.

2) The priest carries around a cushion (or possibly just a cloth) because of the way he must bow when asking for alms, etc. From a seated position he bows so low his head may touch the floor and so he carries a cushion around to lay out in from of him before he bows to keep from touching the floor directly.

3) The Daichidoron is a Buddhist text. The title means “Commentary on the Great Wisdom Sutra” in English, and besides that I don’t know much about it.

4) Again, besides the title, (法苑珠林 Fayuan Zhulin in Chinese) which means “Forest of Gems in the Garden of the Dharma,” I don’t know much besides that it is a Buddhist text.

5) Yōkan is a jelly-like sweet made from red beans.

6) The three treasures of Buddhism are Buddha (仏 butsu), his teachings or doctrine (法 ), and disciples or monks (僧 ).

7) Anyone wanna help with the weird German that according to Google isn’t German?

Part V

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4 Responses to Dokushin (The Bachelor) Part IV

  1. Terry Dassow says:

    I love your translation of the monk. With the words you chose and the sentence structures surrounding him, I have a very clear image of the secret importance of the monk’s presence. I have one question though, you wrote that the monk “placed his folded cushion to the right…” Does this mean the monk walks around with a cushion of his own?

  2. poncho131 says:

    I forgot the footnote! So basically the way monks bow to superiors is very very low, so much so that they touch the floor (the “light” nod to everyone in the room in this passage is not the kind of bow I’m talking about, obviously), and so when they are out and about they carry this cushion (or it may well have just been a cloth or something) to lay out before them when bowing so as not to touch the floor directly. I’ll put this in a footnote! Thanks for noticing!

  3. Terry Dassow says:

    On the second read, so I could review and make sense of part V, I noticed I didn’t know what “yōkan” was and had to look it up. Maybe it would be useful to add a link a the bottom for people who are unfamiliar with Japanese food/sweets.

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