Jiroemon of Settsu Province
During the Kyoho era (1716-35), there lived at the foot of Mt. Maya of Settsu Province a Shin follower with steadfast Faith named Jiroemon. He was extremely poor, making his living as a woodcutter. He would make a pilgrimage to Honzan once or twice a year, and in order to offer a small donation to Honzan, he must earn extra money by gathering brackens in the field and selling them at the market.
About the same time, there was in Nishijin, Kyoto, an exceptionally devout follower named Hishiya Ryogen, who never failed to pay a visit to Honzan everyday. One day he met Jiroemon in the main hall, and witnessed his sincere devotion to the Buddha. Since then they met every year and became good friends. So, whenever Jiroemon visited Kyoto, Ryogen would let him stay at his home and exchange the joy of the Dharma with him for a long time.
Once, a year had passed without Jiroemon's visit to Honzan. Ryogen became worried, thinking that he might have already gone to the Pure Land or become ill. Since, for Ryogen, Jiroemon was the only friend who would remain close to him until after death, although there were many friends in this life, Ryogen pined to see him.
Accompanied by a man, Ryogen set out to Settsu. After a long journey they came to Jiroemon's village. Asked where his house was, a villager replied, "There is certainly a man named Jiroemon, but he wouldn't deserve a visit by such a wealthy man as you. He makes his living with great difficulty; taking poor meals and wearing threadbare clothes, he appears no better than a beggar. But if you insists on going to see him, that is his house." So saying, the villager pointed at a hut by the road.
Ryogen found that the hut had bamboo pillars and the door was made of wormwoods; branches of a thorny shrub constituted walls; there was no floor, except loosely woven straw-mats, which were spread on the earth.
Jiroemon came out of the house to greet Ryogen and showed him in. "Are you not Ryogen-sama?" Jiroemon exclaimed, "How very nice to see you! I have been unwell these days, unable to make a pilgrimage to the Honzan as I used to. I am happy to see you well, enjoying the life of Nembutsu more than ever before."
Apparently unconcerned about his shabby hut, Jiroemon talked all night with Ryogen and renewed their friendship of Dharma, while repeating the Nembutsu all the time. Ryogen's attendant, on the other hand, was uninterested in their conversation and so spent an extremely boring night.
The following morning, they bade each other a long farewell, exchanging words of promise that if one of them died first, he would wait for the other in the Pure Land, eventually sharing the same lotus-seat with each other.
Before departure, Ryogen produced some money from the wallet and gave it to Jiroemon, saying, "You seem rather poor. You may not care about it so much because this is the world of temporary habitation. As a fellow traveler of the Way, I cannot bear to see your poverty. I give some stipend even to the unworthy servants; why should I not share the little money I have with a man of the same Faith? Buy a screen door to shut off the wind."
Jiroemon replied, "This is the remark I did not expect to hear from you. Up to now, I have had a great joy of having you as a good friend of firm Faith. What you have just said makes me wonder about your understanding of the Dharma. The reason is that one's life of poverty or wealth, suffering or pleasure, is dependent upon the karmic cause in one's previous lives. You are rich because of your favorable karma in the past, while I am poor and destitute because of my karma in the past. Even sages cannot escape from the results of their past karma. Your offer of help runs counter to the law of causality, doesn't it?"
Ryogen apologized, "I am sorry. It was my mistake to try to redeem my despicable mind this way. I beg you to remain my best friend of the Dharma as before, for this friendship would be the most valuable thing in this transient world."
After all, they became friendly to each other again, and remained so for the rest of their lives in their joyful pursuit of the Dharma together.
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