illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
« In Kawachi province, there was once a melon merchant whose name was Isowake. He would load huge burdens on his horse, far in excess of what it could carry. Then, if it would not move, he would get furious and drive it on by whipping it. The horse would then move along with its burden, but tears would be falling from its two eyes. When the man had sold all his melons, he would kill the horse. He, in fact, killed a good number of horses this way.
Later, however, this fellow Isowake happened to be just looking down into a kettle of boiling water one day, when his own two eyes fell out of his head and were boiled in the kettle.
Manifest retribution comes quickly. We ought to believe in karmic causality. Even though we look upon animals as mere beasts, they were our parents in some past life. In fact, it is passage through the six courses and according to the four modes of birth that constitutes our real family. Therefore, it will not do to be merciless. »
— Kyōkai, Nihon Ryōiki
The Nihon Ryōiki was written between 787 and 824 by Kyōkai, to replace the Shinto and shamanic explanations of the world with the buddhist understanding of causality (and notably karma), based on 116 widely-accepted folklore stories (possibly modified and then) reinterpreted in Buddhist terms.
While the explanations might seem seriously stretched at times, and the buddhist notions might be simplified (caricatured?) to make them more accessible to all, it remained an influential text for long —by providing anecdotes used by buddhist priests in their sermons— and thus influenced Japanese Buddhism more profoundly than the relative anonymity of the author might let one assume.
"Tears" were previously seen as a human trait. Thus tears from animals point to a more universal nature of "sentient beings", and to inter-dependence / transmigration between the six courses.
The "six courses" are the gods, the humans, the asuras (titans whose killings in the past have given them warlike and ever-warring nature), the animals, the hungry ghosts (beings with insatiable cravings and desires, often represented as having enormous stomachs and needle-thin throats) and the creatures of hell.
The "four modes of birth" are from a womb (e.g. humans), from an egg (e.g. birds), from moisture (e.g. insects), by metamorphosis (gods and demons). Originally found in sanskrit sources in India, this enumeration was seen as Buddhist 'science' at the time.
#Buddhism #Japanese #history