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← The Japanese folktale of the selfish scholar - Iseult Gillespie

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Showing Revision 5 created 09/09/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. In ancient Kyoto, a devout Shinto scholar
    lived a simple life,
  2. but he was often distracted
    from his prayers by the bustling city.
  3. He felt that his neighbors
    were polluting his soul,
  4. and he sought to perform
    some kind of personal harae—
  5. a purification ritual that would cleanse
    his body and his mind.
  6. He decided to travel
    to the revered Hie Shrine.

  7. The trip was an arduous climb
    that took all day.
  8. But he was glad for the solitude
    it afforded him,
  9. and the peace he felt upon returning
    home was profound.
  10. The scholar was determined to maintain
    this clarity for as long as possible,
  11. and resolved to make this pilgrimage
    another 99 times.
  12. He would walk the path alone, ignoring
    any distractions in his quest for balance,
  13. and never straying from his purpose.
  14. The man was true to his word,
    and as days stretched into weeks,

  15. he walked through driving rain
    and searing sun.
  16. Over time, his devotion revealed
    the invisible world of spirits
  17. which exists alongside our own.
  18. He began to sense the kami,
    which animated the rocks underfoot,
  19. the breeze that cooled him,
    and the animals grazing in the fields.
  20. Still he spoke to no one, spirit or human.

  21. He was determined to avoid contact
    with those who had strayed
  22. from the path
    and become polluted with kegare.
  23. This taboo of defilement hung over
    the sick and deceased,
  24. as well as those who defiled the land
    or committed violent crimes.
  25. Of all of the threats to the scholar’s
    quest for spiritual purity,
  26. kegare was by far the greatest.
  27. After paying his respects
    for the 80th time,

  28. he set out for home once more.
  29. But as darkness fell, he heard
    strained sobs in the night air.
  30. The scholar tried to push forward
    and ignore the moans.
  31. But the desperate cries overwhelmed him.
  32. Grimacing, he left his path
    to follow the sound to its source.
  33. He soon came to a cramped cottage,
    with a woman crumpled outside.

  34. Filled with pity, the scholar implored
    the woman to share her sorrow.
  35. She explained
    that her mother had just died—
  36. but no one would help her with the burial.
  37. At that news, his heart sank.
  38. Touching the body would defile his spirit,
  39. draining his life force and leaving
    him forsaken by the kami.
  40. But as he listened to her cries,
    his sympathy soared.
  41. And so, they buried
    the old woman together,
  42. to ensure her safe passage
    into the spirit world.
  43. The burial was complete, but the taboo
    of death weighed heavily on the scholar.

  44. How could he have been so foolish,
  45. to shirk his most important rule
    and corrupt his divine journey?
  46. After a tormented night,
  47. he resolved to go back
    to the shrine to cleanse himself.
  48. To his surprise, the usually quiet temple
    was filled with people,

  49. all gathering around a medium
    who communicated directly with the kami.
  50. The man hid himself, not daring approach
    in case anyone glimpse his polluted soul.
  51. But the medium had other ways of seeing,
    and called him forward from the crowd.
  52. Ready to be forsaken, the scholar
    approached the holy woman.

  53. But the medium merely smiled.
  54. She took his impure hand in hers,
  55. and whispered a blessing
    only he could hear—
  56. thanking him for his kindness.
  57. In that moment, the scholar discovered
    a great spiritual secret:
  58. contamination and corruption
    are two very different things.
  59. Filled with insight, the scholar
    set himself back on his journey.

  60. But this time, he stopped
    to help those he met.
  61. He began to see the beauty
    of the spirit world everywhere he went,
  62. even in the city
    he'd previously shunned.
  63. Others cautioned that he risked kegare—
  64. but he never told them
    why he so freely mingled
  65. with the sick and disadvantaged.
  66. For he knew that people could
    only truly understand harae
  67. through a journey of their own.