The exquisite Shunkai whose other name was Suzu was compelled to marry
against her wishes when she was quite young. Later, after this marriage
had ended, she attended the university, where she studied philosophy.
To see Shunkai was to fall in love with her. Moreover, wherever she
went, she herself fell in love with others. Love was with her at the
university, and afterwards when philosophy did not satisfy her and she
visited the temple to learn about Zen, the Zen students fell in love with
her. Shunkai's whole life was saturated with love.
At last in Kyoto she became a real student of Zen. Her brothers in the
sub-temple of Kennin praised her sincerity. One of them proved to be a
congenial spirit and assisted her in the mastery of Zen.
The abbot of Kennin, Mokurai, Silent Thunder, was severe. He kept the
precepts himself and expected the priests to do so. In modern Japan
whatever zeal these priests have lost for Buddhism they seemed to have
gained for having wives. Mokurai used to take a broom and chase the women
away when he found them in any of his temples, but the more wives he swept
out, the more seemed to come back.
In this particular temple the wife of the head priest had become
jealous of Shunkai's earnestness and beauty. Hearing the students praise
her serious Zen made this wife squirm and itch. Finally she spread a
rumor about that Shunkai and the young man who was her friend. As a
consequence he was expelled and Shunkai was removed from the temple.
"I may have made the mistake of love," thought Shunkai, "but the
priest's wife shall not remain in the temple either if my friend is to be
treated so unjustly."
Shunkai the same night with a can of kerosene set fire to the
five-hundred-year-old temple and burned it to the ground. In the morning
she found herself in the hands of the police.
A young lawyer became interested in her and endeavoured to make her
sentance lighter. "Do not help me." she told him. "I might decide to do
something else which will only imprison me again."
At last a sentance of seven years was completed, and Shunkai was
released from the prison, where the sixty-year-old warden also had become
enamored of her.
But now everyone looked upon her as a "jailbird". No one would
associate with her. Even the Zen people, who are supposed to believe in
enlightenment in this life and with this body, shunned her. Zen, Shunkai
found, was one thing and the followers of Zen quite another. Her relatives
would have nothing to do with her. She grew sick, poor, and weak.
She met a Shinshu priest who taught her the name of the Buddha of Love,
and in this Shunkai found some solace and peace of mind. She passed away
when she was still exquisitely beautiful and hardly thirty years old.
She wrote her own story in a futile endeavour to support herself and
some of it she told to a women writer. So it reached the Japanese people.
Those who rejected Shunkai, those who slandered and hated her, now read of
her life with tears of remorse.