Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Tunnel

This is a duplicate, one that also appears on my other blog. There is more to say about Zen stories, and what they are and what they do, but I'll do that another time.

Zenkai, the son of a samurai, journeyed to Edo and there became the retainer of a high official. He fell in love with the official's wife and was discovered. In self-defence, he slew the official. Then he ran away with the wife.

Both of them later became thieves. But the woman was so greedy that Zenkai grew disgusted. Finally, leaving her, he journeyed far away to the province of Buzen, where he became a wandering mendicant.

To atone for his past, Zenkai resolved to accomplish some good deed in his lifetime. Knowing of a dangerous road over a cliff that had caused death and injury to many persons, he resolved to cut a tunnel through the mountain there.

Begging food in the daytime, Zenkai worked at night digging his tunnel. When thirty years had gone by, the tunnel was 2,280 feet long, 20 feet high, and 30 feet wide.

Two years before the work was completed, the son of the official he had slain, who was a skillful swordsman, found Zenkai out and came to kill him in revenge.

"I will gived you my life willingly," said Zenkai. "Only let me finish this work. On the day it is completed, then you may kill me."

So the son awaited the day. Several months passed and Zenkai kept digging. The son grew tired of doing nothing and began to help with the digging. After he had helped for more than a year, he came to admire Zenkai's strong will and character.

At last the tunnel was completed and the people could use it and travel safely.

"Now cut off my head," said Zenkai. "My work is done."

"How can I cut off my own teacher's head?" asked the younger man with tears in his eyes.

And there are 100 other Zen stories, here.

My ambition, though, is to write some Zen stories with women as the protagonists, and in which their male partners are described as "so greedy that she grew disgusted." Women are always used as devices in these stories, to get the men into a dramatic mess. I saw this same dynamic in the recent film "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter....and Spring." The young monk is tempted away from the monastery by a woman, and ends up killing another man out of jealousy. He returns embittered and goes through this kind of years-long redemption.

And actually, I've only ever run into one or two Zen stories at all in which women figure as main characters. What about "Reiko, the daughter of a Samurai"? This is why I loved Die Walküre so much; surely there must be some archetypical adventurous woman! Is it that a woman would never make so terrible a mistake that she'd spend a lifetime atoning for it? Is it that a woman cannot leave home to travel and adventure, because she cannot be alone?

Or is it that such a woman is by definition completely evil and unredeemable? The latter, I suspect. Well, time to dig out some different archetypes. A-mazon, after all.

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