Japanese Buddhist Folktales
The Weasel Priest
Long ago, in Ryusenji, in the land of Dewa, there was a head priest famous as a distinguished cleric. People from far away came and gathered just to listen to the head priest's sermons.
One morning, as the head priest was performing his morning recitation, a weasel stopped beneath the veranda and listened to the sutra. Thereafter, every morning, when it was time for the recitation, that weasel would show itself. The head priest, who was moved by this, turned to the weasel and said, "I am impressed that, although you're only an animal, your piety is no less than that of a human being. Let's pray to the Buddha, so that you will be reborn as a human being. Starting now, for twenty-one days, you should bring an oak leaf every day."
From the next morning, the head priest wrote scripture on the oak leaf that the weasel brought and gave it back to him. After twenty-one days, the weasel suddenly stopped appearing.
Several days later, the weasel was found dead on the oak leaves arranged in the shape of a lotus-seat on the floor of the main hall. The head priest, who pitied the weasel, performed a memorial service with great solemnity.
Well, twenty-one days after that, during the night, the weasel appeared by the side of the head priest's pillow and said: "Thanks to you, I was able to be reborn as the grandson of Kihei in Hiruko Village. Please receive him as your disciple."
The head priest immediately sent a messenger to Hiruko Village to check on Kihei's grandson, and on the baby's chest and stomach were tufts of weasel hair. That child, who was taken to the temple at age five, was very intelligent. He excelled in scholarship and pursued the Buddha Way. In time, he became the head priest of Kanmanji and served the community. He was called "the weasel priest" and was long adored by many people.
(A story from Akita Prefecture)
Nio and Gao
Once upon a time, there was a very strong man named Nio living in this land. So great was his strength that his reputation stretched across the sea to the distant land of Cathay.
In those days, there was in Cathay a very strong man named Gao. When Gao heard about Nio, he could not stay put--he had to come to test his strength against Nio's.
"Hey, Nio, I am Gao, the strongest man in Cathay. Let's have a contest to see who is stronger." Nio's wife, who overheard Gao saying this, set out some iron balls to test how strong he was. Then Gao hungrily devoured them. Nio, who was watching him, said, "All right. I will take you on."
Nio and Gao decided upon a sumo wrestling contest. Both of their faces became red as they pushed each other with thuds and bangs that shook the ground in a match that continued for days with neither side winning. Each was surprised to find that in this world, there was someone else as strong as himself.
And so they ended up becoming great friends. Still today, the two of them stand guard at temple entrances. Since Gao ate the iron balls, his mouth is open, and since Nio did not, his mouth is firmly shut.
(A story from Niigata Prefecture)
This article was originally published in the April-June 2007 issue of Dharma World.
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