Once there lived upon the mountain called Atagoyama, near Kyōto, a certain learned priest who devoted all his time to meditation and the study of the sacred books. The little temple in which he dwelt was far from any village; and he could not, in such a solitude, have obtained without help the common necessaries of life. But several devout country people regularly contributed to his maintenance, bringing him each month supplies of vegetables and of rice.
Among these good folk there was a certain hunter, who sometimes visited the mountain in search of game. One day, when this hunter had brought a bag of rice to the temple, the priest said to him:—
"Friend,I must tell you that wonderful things have happened here since the last time I saw you. I do not certainly know why such things should have happened in my unworthy presence. But you are aware that I have been meditating, and reciting the sûtras daily, for many years; and it is possible that what has been vouchsafed me is due to the merit obtained through these religious exercises. I am not sure of this. But I am sure that Fugen Bosatsu comes nightly to this temple, riding upon his elephant.... Stay here with me this night, friend; then you will be able to see and to worship the Buddha."
"To witness so holy a vision," the hunter replied, "were a privilege indeed! Most gladly I shall stay, and worship with you."
So the hunter remained at the temple. But while the priest was engaged in his religious exercises, the hunter began to think about the promised miracle, and to doubt whether such a thing could be. And the more he thought, the more he doubted. There was a little boy in the temple,—an acolyte,—and the hunter found an opportunity to question the boy.
"The priest told me," said the hunter,"that Fugen Bosatsu comes to this temple very night. Have you also seen Fugen Bosatsu?"
"Six times, already," the acolyte replied, "I have seen and reverently worshipped Fugen Bosatsu."
This declaration only served to increase the hunter's suspicions, though he did not in the least doubt the truthfulness of the boy. He reflected, however, that he would probably be able to see whatever the boy had seen; and he waited with eagerness for the hour of the promised vision.
Shortly before midnight the priest announced that it was time to prepare for the coming of Fugen Bosatsu. The doors of the little temple were thrown open; and the priest knelt down at the threshold, with his face to the east. The acolyte knelt at his left hand, and the hunter respectfully placed himself behind the priest.
It was the night of the twentieth of the ninth month,—a dreary, dark, and very windy night; and the three waited a long time for the coming of Fugen Bosatsu. But at last a point of white light appeared, like a star, in the direction of the east; and this light approached quickly,—growing larger and larger as it came, and illuminating all the slope of the mountain. Presently the light took shape—the shape of a being divine, riding upon a snow-white elephant with six tusks. And, in another moment, the elephant with its shining rider arrived before the temple, and there stood towering, like a mountain of moonlight,—wonderful and weird.
Then the priest and the boy, prostrating themselves, began with exceeding fervour to repeat the holy invocation to Fugen Bosatsu. But suddenly the hunter rose up behind them, bow in hand; and, bending his bow to the full, he sent a long arrow whizzing straight at the luminous Buddha, into whose breast it sank up to the very feathers.
Immediately, with a sound like a thunder-clap, the white light vanished, and the vision disappeared. Before the temple there was nothing but windy darkness.
"O miserable man!" cried out the priest, with tears of shame and despair, "O most wretched and wicked man! what have you done?—what have you done?"
But the hunter received the reproaches of the priest without any sign of compunction or of anger. Then he said, very gently:—
"Reverend sir, please try to calm yourself, and listen to me. You thought that you were able to see Fugen Bosatsu because of some merit obtained through your constant meditations and your recitation of the sûtras. But if that had been the case, the Buddha would have appeared to you only—not to me, nor even to the boy. I am an ignorant hunter, and my occupation is to kill;—and the taking of life is hateful to the Buddhas. How then should I be able to see Fugen Bosatsu? I have been taught that the Buddhas are everywhere about us, and that we remain unable to see them because of our ignorance and our imperfections. you —being a learned priest of pure life—might indeed acquire such enlightenment as would enable you to see the Buddhas; but how should a man who kills animals for his livelihood find the power to see the divine? Both I and this little boy could see all that you saw. And let me now assure you, reverend sir, that what you saw was not Fugen Bosatsu, but a goblinry intended to deceive you—perhaps even to destroy you. I beg that you will try to control your feelings until daybreak. Then I will prove to you truth of what I have said."
At sunrise the hunter and the priest examined the spot where the vision had been standing, and they discovered a thin trail of blood. And after having followed this trail to a hollow some hundred paces away, they came upon the body of a great badger,transfixed by the hunter's arrow.
The priest, although a learned and pious person, had easily been deceived by a badger. But the hunter, an ignorant and irreligious man, was gifted with strong common sense; and by mother-wit alone he was able at once to detect and to destroy a dangerous illusion.