divine lots drawn
by the autumn wind
minoue / mikuji wo hikeba / aki no kaze
The name of the temple, "Stone Hand," goes back to a rather cruel legend. A stingy landlord, Emon Saburo, refused to give alms to Kukai and even broke the begging bowl of the priest. As punishment, all his sons died one after the other from a mysterious illness. Desperate for salvation, Emon gave away all his possessions and went in search of Kukai. He circled Shikoku twenty times, thereby becoming the first Shikoku pilgrim and immediately setting a record for others, but Kukai always eluded him. Finally, he walked the pilgrimage in the opposite direction, hoping to come face to face with Kukai. And indeed, exhausted, he met the priest and died at his feet. His dying wish was to be reborn as an influential person so that he might do good works. Kukai took a stone on which he wrote "Emon Saburo reborn" and gave that to the dying man. Nine months later, the wife of the lord of the province gave birth to a baby that clenched this very stone in its hand. The temple museum museum displays a smooth, egg-like stone it claims to be the very one Emon received from Kukai.
Not only the Medieval legend is ab it weird, also the grounds of the temple are not really "clean." Although there are several interesting haiku stones and other stone steles, there are also many monuments that are rather extravagant or even surrealistic. Sometimes the religious mind is like a bad TV program in its pedestrian extravagance. Behind the main hall are tunnels with modern Buddhas and flashing lights, ending in a three-dimensional mandala. This craziness is perhaps the result of temples having too much money because they do not have to pay taxes...
praise the Daishi
at the Temple of Stone Hand
among blooming rice plants
Namu Daishi | Ishite no tera yo | ine no hana
Shiki wrote in the preface to this haiku, that in the afternoon of September 20, 1895, he enticed his friend Rokudo (Yanagihara Kyokudo), who had come to Gudabutsuan Hermitage, to visit Ishiteji Temple together. The poem is a simple greeting to the temple, standing in the green rice fields. Kobo Daishi or Kukai (774-835) is the supposed founder of the temple; he is one of the most important figures in Japanese Buddhism and honored in the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
During the same visit, Shiki also wrote the haiku inscribed on the top of this page. The circumstances were as follows. At most Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan a small sum of money will get one a fortune-telling paper. Usually, one shakes an oblong box containing bamboo sticks until one stick emerges from a small hole in the bottom. The stick bears a number that corresponds with a fortune slip one then takes from a small drawer. On the slip one's fortune is written in archaic language under such categories as health, love, travel and finances. This is accepted as an oracle from the deity.
Shiki and Rokudo were sitting on the veranda of the Otsuyado, a building in the temple grounds where pilgrims may rest or stay overnight. Suddenly a fortune-telling paper drawn by someone else was carried on the breeze to Shiki's side. He casually picked it up and read it. It contained the worst possible judgement, with lines like "misfortune overshadows your future... illness, long-lasting..." Since Shiki indeed was ill (he had tuberculosis, which would carry him to an early grave) he took the omen seriously and rather worried about it, half believing and half not believing.
how tall the pagoda is
against the autumn sky
mi agureba | to no takasa yo | aki no sora
Ishiteji temple is 15 min on foot from Dogo Onsen along the main road (with the Shiki Memorial Museum) going to Oku Dogo. There is also a bus from Matsuyama that stops in front of the temple. Grounds free.
Ishiteji in the website of Ehime Prefecture.
For the background of the first haiku, I am indebted to Haiku - Messages from Matsuyama, by Yagi Kametaro, edited by Oliver Statler (Katydid Books, 1991), on pp 22-24.
The photos in this post are my own.
Index Haiku Travels