The Waterfall

One day, a pilgrim visited a famous waterfall, where a monk was washing a skull. The pilgrim asked the monk what tragic fate had befallen him. Once upon a time, the aged monk said, a roadside skull rebuked a philosopher for expressing pity—for how could the philosopher know how the skull felt? Long ago, I tried to seduce a young and beautiful princess. Day after day, I begged her to sleep with me, but she would not relent. I sent her poem after poem expressing my incurable passion. Then one day, perhaps because stories about her virtue or vice were already circulating, she agreed to give herself to me if I would strike off the head of her husband with my sword. Only then could I possess her body and soul forever. Naturally I agreed, for I was blinded by lust. She told me to come that very evening. She would get her husband drunk and make him take a hot bath—that would ensure that I could decapitate him without a struggle. Once the deed was done, I was to come to this waterfall with his head. She would be waiting under the cryptomeria tree. That night, I did as I was told. I crept into the house, found the bedding, and felt for the damp hair in the darkness. With one clean stroke, I severed the head. I wrapped it in a large, blue cloth and made my way here. A lantern was burning under that very cryptomeria over there. As I waited for my love, I grew impatient, and unwrapped the cloth to have a look. It was her head that stared back at me with cold, questioning eyes. That very night, I shaved my head and began my penance. Starving myself, I meditated under the waterfall for days and nights. Then I traveled the land, trying to do good things and serve others, trying to forget the horror, trying to make sense of her deception and suicide, trying to expiate my sin. The years passed, and I remained an unforgiven murderer and a haunted man. Not long ago, however, I was down by a river, listening to the sound of the water; when I saw a hooded woman, a pilgrim, crossing a bridge. She was very beautiful and reminded me of my love. Her hood was brand new, and suited her face. Suddenly, I realized something and faced the real mystery of my crime. My lady had not tricked me in any way at all. It was not her body that I had craved, nor her soul. How could I have desired what I had never seen? How could I desire what remains to this day unknown to me? I had only ever seen her head, and that was exactly what she had given me. I have now received her message and gift. For years I have carried around this precious skull; it is now time for it to rest. I only wish it were mine. 

4 thoughts on “The Waterfall

  1. Thank you, Ryan. This is a rendition of a story about the Japanese monk Mongaku and the lady Kesa Gozen. I threw in a reference to Zhuangzi. I normally make up my own plots but now and then I like to rework old stories or proverbs into new things. Thanks so much for your comments and support.

    Liked by 2 people

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