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Beyond the Realm of Asura in ‘The Twin Stars’ (Futago no Hoshi) and ‘Wild Pear’ (Yamanashi)

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This chapter explores the ontological questions raised in ‘Futago no Hoshi’ (The Twin Stars) and ‘Yamanashi’ (Wild Pear) and demonstrates interpenetrative existence as reliant on the acceptance the light and dark aspects of all life. Makoto and asura refl ect two contradictory aspects of life, the idyllic and the brutal.1 Any redemptive innocence (or, in Niwano’s terms, buddha-nature) is not one-dimensional, but involves a phenomenal or noumenal acknowledgement

of the coincidence of such opposites. In other words, redemption takes cognisance of both positive and negative (or makoto and asura) aspects of any one thing. Only by integrating life’s more frightening, shadowy features can the true beauty of the world be understood.2 Just as there is no light without darkness and shadow, there is no makoto ‘truth’ without asurademons.’ Good without evil is impossible. And just as one cannot, for instance, see light

without shade, one cannot exist without the other because one has little meaning without the other. As Thomas Moore has pointed out, “… virtue is never genuine when it sets itself apart from

evil. We only sustain violence in our world if we fail to admit its place in our own hearts and identify only with unaff ecting innocence.”3 The shadowy aspects of life need to be acknowledged and accepted in order to achieve a true or non-superfi cial acceptance of all life. This acknowledgement of the other, darker side of life (and the mind) demonstrates the (bodhisattva) path to redemption and is crucial to any understanding of a truly interpenetrative

cosmos. ‘Futago no Hoshi,’ henceforth ‘Futago’, was one of Kenji’s fi rst dōwa (children’s tales), written and read to his family in about 1918, although he later modifi ed it.4 ‘Yamanashi’ was the fi rst that Kenji wrote after the death of his sister Toshiko in 1923. It was published in the Iwate Daily in the

same year on 8th April, Buddha’s birthday. This story represents Kenji’s attempt concerns with the cycle of life and death as part of nature. It is less didactic and more complex than ‘Futago’ although, as will be seen, both tales are mutilayered. ‘Yamanashi’ is still being widely read and taught in schools and universities today and is taught from about sixth grade of primary school.5 Although these stories take two diff erent approaches to integrating the asura/makoto struggle, miyazawa kenji and his illustrators

heavenly beings while, as Niwano explains further, the seed of the buddha-nature also exists, albeit undeveloped, in the worlds of hell and demons. Because all the ten realms, the six of the ordinary person and the four of the saint, are manifest within the mind, the buddha is implicit within the self. While the concept of asura represents “a psychological state and self image that internalises Asura’s fi ght against the gods,” asuras are also one of the eight

kinds of beings who protect Buddhism.10 The name Asura gradually acquired negative connotations and came to symbolise a demon or anti-god.11 According to legend, the god Asura, who is considered one of Buddhism’s two tutelary gods and lives at the top of Mt. Sumeru in the Tusita Heaven, is constantly in

dispute with Indra, the main god in the Vedic pantheon. When Asura is thrown out of Mount Sumeru, the mountain that rises in the centre of the world, he falls into the ocean which surrounds the mountain. Due to the force of his fall, he eventually reaches the bottom of the deep ocean, where he opens his

eyes for the fi rst time. Realising that he has been deceived by Indra, Asura is vexed. Since then, Asura is said to have dwelt at the bottom of the

ocean.12 It is not hard to see the similarities with the tale of ‘Futago,’ where twin stars, Chunse and Pōse, are deceived by a comet and thrown into the

sea. Sarah Strong notes links between ‘Futago’ and the legend that two brother stars from Japanese folklore “were once chased by a demon and escaped by clinging to the net of heaven (Scorpio) and hauling themselves into the sky.”13 The imagery of the tale, with the fi rst part set in the sky and the second

in the sea, is also evocative of the scene of Buddha’s original sermon at Vulture’s Peak (Washi no Yama). This sermon was heard by various creatures such as gods who live in the heavens, serpent-shaped demons who live at the bottom of the sea, and fl ying yakusha demons.14 Kerstin Vidaeus further notes that

while asuras contain the confl icting characteristics of anger and hatred, they simultaneously endure the pain of sadness. Those who are arrogant and jealous or suspicious fall into the world of asura after death, but an asura often empathises with human suff ering and

together they demonstrate how two coinciding yet opposing extremes exist within each individual self. The struggle is symbolic of an inner life which strives to accept the asura darkness and makoto light within. While ‘Futago’ uses a macrocosm to present a more passive, almost tariki (enlightenment

through an omniscient power) approach to the struggle, ‘Yamanashi’ incorporates the more brutal aspects of the cycle of life, paradoxically offering a holistic cosmology through a microcosm. The macrocosmic perspective in ‘Futago’ explores the inner life through two discrete realms, the celestial and

oceanic, as representations of the saintly and demonic. The entire cosmos works as a metaphor of an inner struggle for transcendence of asura within the self. Examination of the asura and makoto aspects of ‘Futago’s’ macrocosm forms the basis for comparison of these aspects within ‘Yamanashi’s’ microcosm.

Just as the macrocosm is symbolic of a subject’s inner life, the reverse is also true; a subjective view can also represent a microcosm of the whole world as it does in ‘Yamanashi.’ As explained briefl y in the previous chapter, asura is the world of demons (dispute), one of the six worlds of unending strife

(hell, which represents anger; hungry spirits – covetousness; animalsignorance; demons – dispute; human beings – normal state; heavenjoy). These are

the worlds into which humans are reborn in accordance with accumulated karma from a previous life or lives. They are known collectively as samsara, “the misknowledge-governed cycle of constant frustration and suff ering….”6 They are also described as “the state of cyclic existence wherein the circumstances

of beings are determined by their past actions and habitual mental patterns.”7 These six worlds represent ‘this world’ (or kono yo) where unenlightened beings perpetually repeat birth and death returning, through transmigration, to their former ‘state of ignorance’ within the six worlds of illusion and

suff ering.8 Further, there are another four higher realms of the saints, and it is important to note that all “ten realms exist in the mind of each person in each of the ten realms.”9