Chapter Two. The Writing of Kobodaishi

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KOBODAISHI, most holy of Buddhist priests, and founder of the Shingon- sho - which is the sect of Akira - first taught the men of Japan to write the writing called Hiragana and the syllabary I-ro-ha; and Kobodaishi was himself the most wonderful of all writers, and the most skilful wizard among scribes.

And in the book, Kobodaishi-ichi-dai-ki, it is related that when he was in China, the name of a certain room in the palace of the Emperor having become effaced by time, the Emperor sent for him and bade him write the name anew. Thereupon Kobodaishi took a brush in his right hand, and a brush in his left, and one brush between the toes of his left foot, and another between the toes of his right, and one in his mouth also; and with those five brushes, so holding them, he limned the characters upon the wall. And the characters were beautiful beyond any that had ever been seen in China - smooth-flowing as the ripples in the current of a river. And Kobodaishi then took a brush, and with it from a distance spattered drops of ink upon the wall; and the drops as they fell became transformed and turned into beautiful characters. And the Emperor gave to Kobodaishi the name Gohitsu Osho, signifying The Priest who writes with Five Brushes.

At another time, while the saint was dwelling in Takawasan, near to Kyoto, the Emperor, being desirous that Kobodaishi should write the tablet for the great temple called Kongo-jo-ji, gave the tablet to a messenger and bade him carry it to Kobodaishi, that Kobodaishi might letter it. But when the Emperor s messenger, bearing the tablet, came near to the place where Kobodaishi dwelt, he found a river before him so much swollen by rain that no man might cross it. In a little while, however, Kobodaishi appeared upon the farther bank, and, hearing from the messenger what the Emperor desired, called to him to hold up the tablet. And the messenger did so; and Kobodaishi, from his place upon the farther bank, made the movements of the letters with his brush; and as fast as he made them they appeared upon the tablet which the messenger was holding up.

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Now in that time Kobodaishi was wont to meditate alone by the river-side; and one day, while so meditating, he was aware of a boy standing before him, gazing at him curiously. The garments of the boy were as the garments worn by the needy; but his face was beautiful. And while Kobodaishi wondered, the boy asked him: 'Are you Kobodaishi, whom men call "Gohitsu-Osho" - the priest who writes with five brushes at once?' And Kobodaishi answered: 'I am he.' Then said the boy: 'If you be he, write, I pray you, upon the sky.' And Kobodaishi, rising, took his brush, and made with it movements toward the sky as if writing; and presently upon the face of the sky the letters appeared, most beautifully wrought. Then the boy said: 'Now I shall try;' and he wrote also upon the sky as Kobodaishi had done. And he said again to Kobodaishi: 'I pray you, write for me - write upon the surface of the river.' Then Kobodaishi wrote upon the water a poem in praise of the water; and for a moment the characters remained, all beautiful, upon the face of the stream, as if they had fallen upon it like leaves; but presently they moved with the current and floated away. 'Now I will try,' said the boy; and he wrote upon the water the Dragon-character - the character Ryu in the writing which is called Sosho, the 'Grass-character;' and the character remained upon the flowing surface and moved not. But Kobodaishi saw that the boy had not placed the ten, the little dot belonging to the character, beside it. And he asked the boy: 'Why did you not put the ten?' 'Oh, I forgot!' answered the boy; 'please put it there for me,' and Kobodaishi then made the dot. And lo! the Dragon-character became a Dragon; and the Dragon moved terribly in the waters; and the sky darkened with thunder-clouds, and blazed with lightnings; and the Dragon ascended in a whirl of tempest to heaven.

Then Kobodaishi asked the boy: 'Who are you?' And the boy made answer: 'I am he whom men worship on the mountain Gotai; I am the Lord of Wisdom, - Monju Bosatsu!' And even as he spoke the boy became changed; and his beauty became luminous like the beauty of gods; and his limbs became radiant, shedding soft light about. And, smiling, he rose to heaven and vanished beyond the clouds.

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But Kobodaishi himself once forgot to put the ten beside the character O on the tablet which he painted with the name of the Gate O-Te-mon of the Emperor's palace. And the Emperor at Kyoto having asked him why he had not put the ten beside the character, Kobodaishi answered: 'I forgot; but I will put it on now.' Then the Emperor bade ladders be brought; for the tablet was already in place, high above the gate. But Kobodaishi, standing on the pavement before the gate, simply threw his brush at the tablet; and the brush, so thrown, made the ten there most admirably, and fell back into his hand.

Kobodaishi also painted the tablet of the gate called Ko-kamon of the Emperor's palace at Kyoto. Now there was a man, dwelling near that gate, whose name was Kino Momoye; and he ridiculed the characters which Kobodaishi had made, and pointed to one of them, saying: 'Why, it looks like a swaggering wrestler!' But the same night Momoye dreamed that a wrestler had come to his bedside and leaped upon him, and was beating him with his fists. And, crying out with the pain of the blows, he awoke, and saw the wrestler rise in air, and change into the written character he had laughed at, and go back to the tablet over the gate.