浄土のはなよめ

十月にサンマテオ仏教会で念仏に生かされたご婦人方をお偲びします。その一人に江戸時代の終わり頃、山口県六連島に住んでいたお軽(かる)(1801〜1856)という妙好人がいました。

お軽は若い時は気が強いことでよく知られました。19歳の時に結婚しましたが、夫は仕事で下関や北九州に行って、お軽をおいて長く島を離れることがよくありました。お軽はそのことを恨み、島の唯一のお寺の住職に相談したところ、住職が言ったこととは、その夫との間の問題が仏法を訪ねるご縁になったことに感謝すべきだという意外な答えでした。

それからお軽はよくお寺にお参りし、仏法を聞き、ありがたい念仏者になりました。人間の先入観はなかなか離れないので、周りの人たちはお軽の心の転回をすぐには受け入れられませんでした。お軽は常に阿弥陀如来の浄土に心を向け、外面的や世俗的なことに興味を示さず、変わり者としてよく扱われました。

六連島では、五月五日の節句は唯一漁が許される日だったので、その日は誰もが海にハマグリやウニを獲りに行きました。お軽もそれに参加し、必死にたくさんの貝類をとりました。それを見た島の人たちは「よくお寺参りをするくせに、私たちよりも殺生をしている。」とお軽をあざ笑いました。

その夜、島の人たちはその日に取った貝を料理し、それぞれの家の前に貝殻の山ができました。お軽もたくさんの貝を取りましたが、家の前に貝殻は一つもなかったので、気ちがい婆々が貝殻ごと食べていると噂しました。

しかし、その夜遅くに一人の人が余った貝を新鮮に保つための海水を取りに浜に行った時、誰かが木の桶から何かを取り出して、海に入れる姿を見ました。近づいて見ましたら、貝を海に戻しながら、「怖い思いをさせてごめんね。助けられたのはあなたたちだけ、本当にごめんね。南無阿弥陀仏。南無阿弥陀仏」と言っているお軽でした。

島の人はお軽をあざ笑いましたが、お軽は人の目を気にしませんでした。必ず阿弥陀如来の浄土に往生する信心が定まったので、お念仏の安心に生かされました。そのように次の詩を読みました。

きちがい婆々といわれしわれも

              やがて浄土のはなよめに

(『妙好人おかるの歌』6頁)

 

南無阿弥陀仏


A Radiant Bride

During the month of October, we remember the women of the Nembutsu whose lives shine with the Buddha’s light of wisdom and compassion. One of the great Nembutsu poets of the late Edo Period was the Myōkōnin Okaru (1801-1856) who lived on the tiny island of Mutsure in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

As a young woman, Okaru was known for her strong personality and fiery temper. She married at age 19, but her husband travelled frequently for business and would stay away from home for long stretches at a time, causing Okaru to become frustrated and angry. When she eventually turned to the priest of the local Buddhist temple for counsel, he surprised her by saying that she should be grateful for this relationship trouble, because it was the karmic condition that led her to the Buddhadharma.

From that point on, Okaru visited the temple regularly, and her heart became settled in the peace and joy of the Nembutsu. People are often reluctant to let go of their preconceptions, so it took time for her fellow islanders to appreciate the change of heart she had experienced. With her mind always directed toward Amida Buddha’s Pure Land, Okaru showed little concern for worldly matters. To her neighbors, she appeared unkempt and peculiar.

The May 5th Children’s Day celebration was the only day of the year when the people of Mutsure were allowed to fish and harvest shellfish in the abundant waters that surrounded their island. Not only did Okaru join her fellow islanders on the beach, she was particularly zealous in gathering as many shellfish as she could. As the other islanders noticed the great trove of shellfish she had amassed, some people made snide remarks, saying “Okaru walks around all day saying ‘Namo Amida Butsu.’ If she’s such a devout Buddhist, how can she take the lives of so many living beings?”

That evening great mounds of empty shells piled up outside each home as families feasted on the day’s catch. When her neighbors noticed that no empty shells had been discarded outside Okaru’s house, some thought “That crazy old hag is eating her clams, shells and all.”

Around midnight, one of the islanders went down to the beach to collect fresh seawater for storing his uneaten shellfish, so they would stay fresh for the next day’s meal. Approaching the water, he noticed someone hunched over a basket, speaking softly. As he drew closer, he saw that it was Okaru carefully releasing the shellfish she had gathered back into the sea, saying “I’m sorry. I must have scared you when I took you away from your home today. I gathered as many of you as I could before the other islanders could get you. I’m sorry I couldn’t save more of your relatives. Now, return to your home, little shellfish! Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu.”

People would occasionally sneer at Okaru, but she did not pay any mind to what others thought of her. She enjoyed peace of mind in the Nembutsu, confident that the most important matter of her birth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha was settled. In the words of one of her poems:

Though mocked (in this world)

              As a crazy old hag,

In the Pure Land

              I will be a radiant bride!

(Myokonin Okaru and Her Poems of the Shinjin, p. 47)

 

Namo Amida Butsu