E76 A Cautionary Buddhist Tale


Show Notes for episode 76 of our Podcast – A Cautionary Buddhist Tale.

Story Notes

A Cautionary Buddhist Tale

This particular tale comes from the Uji shui monogatari and centers around the character of Fujiwara no Toshiyuki. A man who died in either 901 or 907AD.

Toshiyuki was a celebrated caligrapher and many people asked him to make copies of the Lotus Sutra for them. In total he had made 200 copies until he suddenly died.

In death he found himself being taken to court as complaints had been raised against him. Toshiyuki saw two hundred warriors in death who wished to seek vengence on him. In his life he had enjoyed fish and women and so was unpure when he wrote the Sutras.

Due to this they did not work for the people he made them for. And so they insisted he be brought to court in the afterlife; even though it was not actually his time to die.

The warriors wanted to cut him into 200 pieces and each keep a piece for themselves. With each piece remaining concious.

They crossed an inky river which turned out to be the ink from his Sutras as unpure copies were never accepted into the Palace of the Dragon King who protected the Buddhist’s Teachings.

A man came to drag him by the neck to speed up his arrival at court, all the while Toshiuki desperate to find a way out of his problem.

The man who was dragging him spoke to him quietly saying that he should make a vow to make a copy of the Sutra of Golden Light right before dropping him infront of the King of Hell, Emma. Here he heard from the baliffs that his sutras were unclean and that those he gave them to wanted their revenge.

And so he told the court he had a made a vow to make a copy of the Sutra of Golden Light, but that he had been taken to death before he could fulfil that vow. And so they checked the Register of Deeds to find that he had indeed said it.

Toshiyuki was then sent back to the land of the living.

He awoke to find he had been dead for two days with his wife and children having been in mourning. When recovered he collected paper to write down the Sutra but soon he became distracted by his old ways and eventually died without completing his vow.

And so one night after Toshiyuki had died, the poet Ki no Tomonori had a dream where Toshiyuki came to him saying he died without fulfilling the vow and now found himself tortured in hell.

And so Ki no Tomonori was instructed to take the paper he had bought the Miidera where the monks there could make the Sutra and finished the dedication. When he arrived at the temple, the monk related how he had had the same dream

And so the monk made the Sutra and the dedication and when the two of them dreamed again they were told by Toshiyuki that their act had greatly lightened the suffering he was going through.

Header Image: Meditation from Pixabay.


  • Tyler, R. (1987) “Japanese Tales.” New York: Pantheon Books. (Story 149)

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Heavenly Spear