Monday, May 16, 2011

As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams by Lady Sarashina (translated by Ivan Morris)..

Lady Sarashina, the author of As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams, led a sad, wistful life. She married late (for a Heian woman), well into her thirties, had three children and seems to spend most of the rest of her years regretting that she had been such a dreamy, self-indulgent youth, forever hankering after 'Tales' and stories. Even for a Heian woman she seems almost pathologically shy, absconding, at the relatively advanced age of 31, from her position in court back to the parental home after just a few hours because she hated sharing her living space with new people.

She seemed to wring misery from each new event in her life; sometimes justifiably so (e.g. when her sister died in childbirth), but at other, less obviously tragic, times too . For instance, the departure of her father for another province following a promotion seemed to be particularly traumatic for them both, and they seemed to encourage each other to new levels of despondency and wretchedness, composing desolate poetry tending almost towards the mawkish. She seems far more fond of her father than the man she eventually marries, and makes little mention of this 'father of her children' except to appreciate his understanding when she wanted to make a pilgrimage out of the city during a time of great celebration (her brother warned her she would be a laughing stock, and indeed she was); and to record later that she was going through marital difficulties.

Her husband's death was foretold with an omen (when 'human-fire' could be seen leaving his body) when he set off on his final post, but Lady Sarashina ignored this just as much as she had ignored the priests appearing in her dreams telling her to learn various sutra. She spent her final years chastising herself for this too, but then she dreamt again, and this dream brought her comfort. A glowing Amida Buddha appeared to her with one arm outstretched, the other hand making magical signs (these signs were ancient, and considered to be very important). 'I am leaving now,' he said, 'but I shall return to fetch you.' So Lady Sarashina took reassurance in this new form of Amida Buddhism which required faith rather than penance for redemption. All she needed to do to reach nirvana was to call on Amida Buddha by using the 'Nembutsu formula' ('I call on thee, Amida Buddha'), and at her death Amida would come and lead her to the western paradise.

I was very glad to read that finally this woman, who sounded as if she had been living in a state of either anxiety or misery for most of her life, spent her final years relatively contented.


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