Down the Garden's Twisting Paths
Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth;
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.
O my good worthy friends gathered here,
If you desire to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma,
Exhaust your words, empty your thoughts,
For then you may come to recognize this One Essence.
Dai-O Kokushi, On Zen
“Master Jomei?” Saicho and Matsuo asked in the meeting room of the temple they found themselves in.
“You have been looking for me, Youkai monk, have you not?” said Jomei. “Well, here I am. Is this not a peaceful place.?”
“Yes, it is, I think,” Matsuo replied. “But I’m not sure where here is.”
“Think of it as a resting place,” Jomei said. “If you pay attention, you may learn something. Saicho-san, you particularly pay attention. “
Jomei walked towards the door of the hondo, and stared out at the vista beyond. “Once, it is said, that an abbot was giving a series of sermons. At each sermon, he noticed an elderly man who followed the monks into the hondo, and when the sermon was over, he would leave.
“After one sermon, the old man stayed behind. The abbot asked the old man, ‘Who are you?’ and the man said, ‘I am not a human being. Once, long ago, I too was an abbot who taught the monks in charge of me, but one day, a young man came up to me and asked a question. Thinking I knew everything, I gave him an answer that seemed right to me, but was wrong. Because of my hubris, I was sentenced to live as a fox for five hundred lifetimes on this mountain. I now will ask you the question that was asked of me so many years ago: Is the holy man free from the yoke of cause and effect?’
“The abbot looked at the kitsune standing in front of him. ‘The enlightened man cannot ignore the cycle of cause and effect.’”
Jomei turned back and looked at the two men who were looking at him.
“I feel that since I entered Rinji, I have been that Kitsune, living lifetime after lifetime to learn a lesson that I, in my own blindness should have known all along. I vowed to save all sentient beings. The Buddha declared all sentient beings were his children. Who was I to decide which sentient beings could be saved or not by the way I followed? So much I assumed was hate disguised as light and has let me be the tool of Yomi. The kitsune was freed by death and the monks buried him as one of their own. I wonder what will happen to me?”
“Master Jomei?” said Saicho.
“Do not call me master. I am not worthy to be anyone’s master,” he replied, then recited:
“O Practitioner of mercy,
who brings the boat of compassion,
rescue those beings
drowning in suffering's sea,
caught up in their long dreaming,
burdened with karma.”
“Once I thought I was the tool for that compassion. I was a fool,” he said, and walked out of the building.
“Welcome to my garden,” said Benzaiten.
Dressed in multiple layers of shimmering white silk, she walked gracefully to stand nearer to the youkai and his entourage. In her hand she carried a single white lily.
Kohaku whispered to Rin, “She looks like the Snow Woman.”
That brought a chuckle from the Kami’s lips. “Do you think so, Kohaku-kun? I hear she is very beautiful, although I heard she does not like the spring. As you can see, it is spring here. She does not come and visit me.”
Behind her, Tsukikage appeared, carrying a mat and cushions. The spirit fox maiden helped Benzaiten sit, spreading her skirts in a bright sweep of white silk, then arranged the cushions for the others. Nyoko, dressed in red, stepped out forward, carrying a footed tray, which she placed in front of Benzaiten, and took up a position to her left.
At a flick of Tsukikage’s fan, a breeze blew, carrying the sound of flowing water and the scent of wisteria.
“Will you not sit down with me, Sesshoumaru-sama?” Benzaiten asked.
Sesshoumaru’s golden eyes narrowed as he watched the woman sitting down before him. They looked at each for a moment, not speaking. With a small tilt of his head, he settled on one of the cushions, and motioned for the others to join him.
Looking squarely at Benzaiten, he said, “You are not human.”
“That is correct. I am not,” she said, nodding her head.
“Nor are you youkai,” he continued.
“This is also true,” Benzaiten replied. Carefully, and with skill, she poured tea for her guests. “Rin, be sure to have one of the mochi cakes. I do believe you will like them.”
The small girl, looked up at Sesshoumaru, who nodded. She took a bite, and smiled broadly.
Surprisingly, Jaken remained quiet during this exchange. He opened his mouth once or twice to say something, but no words came out. Kohaku silently sat next to Rin, and ate a cake, but said nothing, and instead, watched first the Daiyoukai and the Kami.
Suddenly, in the far distance, there was a loud boom. At it’s sound, Nyoko’s head turned, then she slowly sighed, dropping her head down, staring at her hands.
“Another ward has failed,” Benzaiten said calmly, reaching out to touch Nyoko’s hand. “But the disaster is not yet upon us. He is still contained.” Looking at Sesshoumaru, she continued, “ But we really do not have much time.”
Sipping her tea, she said, “Let me tell you a story...”
Tama walked down the garden path, laughing as Nezumi ran circles around Daikokutan’s feet. Suddenly the rodent ran around the bend and a woman shrieked.
“I see my friend has found someone,” said the Kami.
Suddenly, the rodent came running towards Daikokutan, being chased by a white shape. The rat ran up the Kami’s body, to pause on his shoulder, and begin grooming his whiskers. He looked at the rat. “You need to stop tormenting the foxes. One day they will catch you, and then where will I be?”
The white shape paused, shimmered, and transformed into the shape of Yuki. Taking several deep breaths, she shook her head, and smoothed down the pale blue silk of her kosode, dropping her eyes as she worked to regain her composure as a graceful lady in waiting and not a fox in fast pursuit.
“Excuse me, Daikokutan-sama, but your rat startled me. I did not realize it was Nezumi.” She bowed deeply.
The rat on his shoulder chattered in her direction, then turned his back.
“Now, Nezumi, that’s no way to behave. Has she ever caught you?” said Daikokutan.
Tama, trying to suppress a giggle, came up to the girl, and adjusted her hair where it had come down in her pursuit. “Oh Yuki! Are you still trying to catch Nezumi? You know Koku-sama won’t ever let you get to him.
“My, my, let me look at you. I worked on that kosode a long time, and you look so nice in it! How come you never came to my house wearing it to let me see how it draped on you? Lady Benzaiten had given me the nicest silk to use to make it.” She walked around the woman, admiring her handiwork.
The Kami laughed at the consternation on the Kitsune’s face. “Come, Yuki-san. I am looking for Teijo the Inu Youkai. Do you know where he is?”
Smiling a little at Tama, she bowed again to the Kami. “Yes, my Lord. If you follow me, I will take you to him.”
Hearing a loud boom, he and the fox women turned and looked, seeing the column of smoke drift higher. “One less thing holding him in the fortress,” he muttered. “Lady Benzaiten had better get ready to move, and soon.”
InuYasha held Kagome in his lap, her back snuggled up against his chest as they sat beneath the old cherry tree.
“Now tell me again why you told the Lady Benzaiten why we would help?” he asked, his arms wrapped around her.
“I was thinking about the dream I had. I told you that. This huge field of dead youkai, and each of them had died in blood and pain. Sesshoumaru was there, and Shippou-chan was there. Even youkai like Kirara. Cold, stiff and wounded badly. But worst for me, what woke me up, was finding you.” She leaned back into his arms. InuYasha pulled her in closer to him.
“It was just a dream, Kagome,” InuYasha said. He gently kissed the top of her head, trying to calm the agitation she felt.
“No, I don’t think it was.” She turned, so she could look him in the eyes. “I think I was picking up on the demon in the fortress. He’s very dark and alien, InuYasha. Naraku was dark, but he was not as black as what I felt. Naraku understood, at least, what it meant to do the things he was doing from a human’s point of view. He wanted power, and he had desires that I could understand. But this monster, he wants these things because he thinks they are pleasant. Death looks beautiful to him, smells sweet, and youkai death feels best of all. He would landscape the earth with bleached bones and dead skulls, and call it a garden.
Her eyes shone with a bright, determined intensity. She reached out and touched his face, gently. “This is something we have to do, InuYasha. We can’t let that out. If we couldn’t let Naraku to what he wanted, we can’t let this out. This is worse.”
Something cold touched him as she talked. He hugged her closer.
A branch snapped behind them. InuYasha turned to look, and a tired and haggard looking man in monks robes walked into the garden clearing.
“A hanyou and a miko,” the monk said thoughtfully. “That’s a sight you don’t see every day.”
“Excuse me, sir, but I am not a miko,” Kagome replied.
“You may not wear the robes,” he said. “But you are one. I could feel your aura a good bit before I saw you sitting here.” The monk sat down on the grass, not far from them, but looked over the horizon instead of at them.
“Once upon a time, I suspect I would have been rather upset to see a hanyou sitting so intimately with a miko like you,” he said.
“She is my wife, Monk,” growled InuYasha. “And I am her protector.” He sat up taller, wrapped one arm more tightly around Kagome and clutched his sword with the other.
“Relax, friend. I mean you no harm. That was once upon a time. I have been given . . . new insight on things lately.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Things aren’t as necessarily so simple. Or so I have been shown.”
They heard the explosion as the ward failed. “I think,” said the monk, “that our real enemy is that way,” he nodded to the direction of the castle.
Suddenly, a dark shape dropped out of the trees nearby. “Ah, there you are, Master Jomei. I’d wondered where you had gone,” said Matsuo.
“Sit down, youkai Monk,” Jomei directed. “Perhaps you would like to chant the Heart Sutra for us today. I am sure we can use the blessings of the Buddha on what is going to happen.”
“Jomei?” said InuYasha.