E83 The Tale of Priest Zōga


Show Notes for episode 84 of our Podcast – The Tale of Priest Zōga.

Story Notes

The Tale of Priest Zōga

This is the tale of Priest Zōga (蔵賀), a man who we known lived from 917-1003. This particular tale concerning him can be found in several different documents, these being the Konjaku Monogatari Shu, Uji shūi, Senjūshō and Hosshinshū.

It is said that this priest was born in Kyoto, but his parents soon moved. Whilst moving, their wet nurse who was carrying their baby dropped him from the palanquin as she was tired and fell asleep. The baby rolled away and when it was discovered he was missing they returned for him, fearing he had been killed.

Luckily they found him smiling happily, with not a spot of mud or dirt on him.

Later that night his parent dreamt of their child on an expensive couch sat atop mud, with four boys at each corner of the couch chanting out Buddhist Scriptures.

This child is born of the Buddha’s mouth,

Wherefore we keep him from all harm.

At the age of five he decided he was going to go to Mount Hiei and there he would master the Lotus Sutra. At first his mother opposed until again she had a dream.

In this dream she saw him grow up to be a good and mature monk with a sutra in his hand; a monk standing beside him saying it was his destiny to enter into religion.

And so at the age of 11 he finally found a distinguished master upon Mount Hiei and in just a few years he was known for his piety and learning.

One day though, on his return from Ise Shrine, he came back naked. Much to the surprise of everyone. A dream, in which he heard a voice saying ‘Forgot ones body,’ made him do so; though it caused many to now think he had gone mad.

In another later instance of strangeness, during a triumphal procession he chose to ride upon a bony ox, with a dried salmon at his waist instead of a sword.

Eventually he wished to live quietly alone upon Tōnomine, however he was refused by the abbot until he once again made people think he was mad. This time he did so by having the man who collected his food for him stop, so that he could do it himself. However, he collected his food in a dirty box and would share out his dinner with workmen using twigs as chopsticks. The abbot was happy to be rid of him after this event.

When he went to live peacefully upon Tōnomine he found the summit too full of demons and so he moved into the valley. He had become so revered now, he was made one of the personal healers in the Emperors staff and so was often called upon even by the nobles. However he always got out of the capital as quick as he could, should he decide to answer their summons. All the while doing his best to act like a mad man.

One such occasion in which he answered a summons was to attend the Sanjō Empress’s ordination. The Empress had invited him to preside over the ceremony so she could enter into religion.

Zōga arrived, his eyes fierce, though some thought he look a little unwell.

He proceeded with the ceremony, cutting the Empress’s hair, the Empress’s hair placed through the curtain separating her from the priest.

After he stood up and addressed the Empress crassly, asking her why she had asked for him. Was it perhaps because she had heard he had a big penis? Though he admitted it was larger than most, he did say at that moment it was quite soft.

Everyone was left speechless but still he continued.

He proceeded to say he had diarrhoea quite badly and so right there and then on the veranda.

By the age of 80 he came to the understanding that he was to die within 10 days. He had his disciples write verses concerning paradise, and he himself wrote a one which went as follows:

Eighty years of patience,

With age slowly wrinkling me

Into an old man!

What a joy at last to find

The jellyfish’s bones!

On the day of his death he declared it to all and called for a go board to be brought to him. After the board has been set he swiftly swiped all the pieces of the board. When asked why he merely said he just wanted to try the game as he had seen other play it.

Following this he asked for some stirrup guards. When he got them he tied them around his neck, opened his arms and dance though it was painful for him.

He did this because he again wanted to try it as he once saw a man do it himself for fun.

And so after this he retired to an inner room where he sat facing west and chanted the Lotus Sutra until he passed in Nirvana.

Japanese Saying

Today a japanese saying for you all. Something akin to making sure you fill your stomach so you enjoy the scenery around you without being distracted by a grumbling stomach.

Dango before flowers

Header Image: Meditation from Pixabay.


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

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Heavenly Spear