Douglas Penick

The Winds of Continuing

from The Prince’s Tomb

Prince Shotoku Taishi (572-622) was the legendary hero who, at the beginning of literacy in Japan, made Buddhism and Confucian governmental principals two of the foundation stones of Japanese culture. He wrote the earliest commentaries on Buddhist Sutras and commissioned the first histories in Japanese. He is also credited with beginning the traditions of Noh theater, archery, tea Ceremony, sculpture and architecture, among other cultural forms

It is moving away,
              The garments of the senses fall off.

And now,
Such bright uncertainty,          Oh

              Far easier to perceive
In the process of loss,
The wordless and undefined power
Than to see this inner unfolding
              As the new and unknown unfolds.

The Prince Regent, Shōtoku Taishi and his consort, Princess Kashiwade, were entombed near his mother in a mausoleum at Kochi no Shinaga no Oka. A stone gate marked off the path leading to the tomb. Earth had been piled and pounded into the form of a domed hill. A broad corridor lined with stone sloped down to the chamber beneath the dome of earth. Within the dome, there were three stone sarcophagi, objects to assist the dead on their journey and the implement used for making sacrificial prayers.

Before the funeral invocations, offerings prayers have been made, the sarcophagus, and body, the funeral offerings and implements all belong to the world of the living. After the prayers and sacrifices, after the closing of the tomb, they will belong to world of the dead.

After three days of prayers and ceremonies in the Horyu-ji Temple which the Prince had built, the bodies were moved to their tomb. The court and attendants followed the carriages that bore the Prince and Princess ’wooden coffins. Priests in white preceded them. The cortege advanced amidst billows of incense. It seemed from afar to be a cloud moving along the mountain’s base.

The procession passed under the gates that stood before the tomb. The tombs were then blessed. Offerings were placed on altars inside. The bodies were placed in their burial places. Courtiers wept. Priests chanted. The tomb was sealed with a great boulder.

Courtiers cried:
“All the world is mourning. The sun and moon have lost their light and fallen into to sea. Where shall we find light? Food has lost its taste. The brightness of the world has faded. We are like children bereft of parents.”

Then, the living departed. They returned to attend to the needs and desires of life. Prince Regent Shōtoku Taishi and his consort, Princess Kashiwade were left behind. As was said: “They have entered the dark room.” The dead were now alone.

Within the tomb, the dead shed their bodies. The tomb is the place of their transformation. They leave their bodied as a cicada leaves its shell. They live in the dimensions of words. They take their places amongst the panoply of ancestral deities.

The dead are provided with sacrificial vessels and the material for sacrifice. They use implements that are familiar and dear to them in life, and so preserve a past that has otherwise vanished. They chant and make offerings.

The living have hurried home, anxious to resume their lives. Courtiers have hurried to meet with their allies. Courtesans now look carefully in their mirrors. Priests turn to their prayers.

The Prince Regent and his consort have watched them leave. Alone in the darkness, the world dissolves. Everything merges. There is no fixed point.


Not assembled, or ordered, the song of RED or shaped, or having direction; the flare of phenomena of trees with myriad leaves, pale green warm now dark and momentarily cool as white clouds flamboyant, restrained, moving beneath the pale blue sky, impassive, tender, and the smell of the water too long still, the smell of cut grass, the smell of excrement, the feeling of exhausted sadness, the pale yellow light of sun, the memory unplaced, a cramp. A thought of a dying

friend, a dead friend, a wife loved so, the traffic on the street, the song of BLUE raw silk cushion, dark red, a shadow, stomach rolling, ambition for what, unshaped, unlocated and continuing partial and the memory of, the memory, the feeling of remembering without the content, and the next, the next, the feeling of next without anything continuing, and a crushing weight that is dissolving and a light that does not illuminate anything, and the song of GREEN continuing

that has no goal and carries nothing forward except moments here and there and here and there and altogether, this being cannot move, cannot continue and is yet now and forever incomplete. This resembling a love that cannot stop. The breeze again, lifting up, still cool, shivering in the leaves of the pale green new leaves suddenly turned gold and swirling also upwards like a shoal of small fish, wheeling and turning, then gone as a sound of BLACK cloud covers the

sun, leaves darken, and the silver and gold dissolves into new leaves darkened.

And lying there abandoned from whatever carried onward the form of man, the form of woman, and those who sustained that, those relatives, those followers, those laborers and priests who looked out and out of terror of their own dissolved state in the sound of YELLOW had to look to him, to her and make them something to carry on the world in a way that would uphold them, and not just for a moment of uncertainty but for longer, longer. Such heartbeat, such heartbeat, beyond the existence of a center, but beating expanding

contracting continuing without reference point to order or gain or loss or overwhelming vastness minute in every instance through which all, we all fall and fall falling now and on as song of BLACK and wind.

In the black night filled with the sounds of insects and the shining dust of an infinity of stars where constellations are discovered amid the chaos of song of WHITE movement by voyagers who believe in purposeful movement though the stars have none.

Shōtoku Taishi’s sky-vaulting stallion, black as the heart of night, followed behind his master’s coffin as the cortege marched slowly to the tomb. At the gate before the tomb, he stopped. He shuddered, moaned, whinnied.  He refused to go further. He stood trembling, inconsolable, as the final ceremonies were performed, and he wept as the courtiers wept. When the Prince’s body was sealed in the tomb, the horse fell over, dead. He was buried there, at the tomb’s gate.

Six months after Shōtoku Taishi was entombed, Tori, the saddle maker of Shiba completed the statue of the Buddha with two flanking Bodhisattvas. In accord with the vow that the courtiers had made, the statue was installed in the temple at Horyu-ji.

We turn in all directions to find what we have lost.
We extend our hands.
We touch.
We imagine what we touch in the dark
We can see in the light.

When the Prince’s tutor, the Korean monk Eji, heard of Prince’s death, he called for ink and brush and composed this scroll:

“A sage has passed through the Land of the Rising Sun. There he was called Prince of the Upper Palace, Toyotomimi, Prince Shōtoku Taishi. He was a gift from the Heavens. Just as reality does not extend only before us, it is not in the nature of things that our movements are confined to one direction. As a son of the Buddha, he recreated history.

“When the Buddha realized the naturally awakened state, in that very instant the past was changed at the root. 100,000 Buddhas, each with unique body, speech, mind, quality, action, time and realm came to populate the past beyond memory. 100,000 times 100,000 Boddhisattvas came simultaneously to exist in all the times and places of the past. History was immediately filled with the Buddha’s predecessors.

“Shōtoku Taishi has changed the past. In his deeds, in the words he compiled, in the words he wrote and spoke, in his arts and laws, in his love, the past is transformed.”

It is said that these words were written on a scroll that was sent to the Empress Suiko. She had these words carved on the lintel of the gate at the entrance to Prince Shōtoku Taishi’s tomb.

Kose no Mitsue hid himself away and wrote three poems:

Will flowers always grow on Mount Tabasami ?
Will gods always feast there?
Will people always grieve for our great Prince?


If the stream in the Prince’s Ikaruga palace stops,
Only then
Will our Prince’s name be forgotten.


Pine branches hang down
Like a fence around the Prince’s palace.
We cannot see our lord.

We cannot speak to him.
Our wishes, our longings
Cannot not be answered.

Kose no Mitsue sent these poems to the Empress.600 years after Prince Shōtoku Taishi’s death, they were copied into the Jōgū Shōtoku Hōō Taisetsu, a scroll containing five documents relating to the life of Prince Shōtoku. These documents were: a genealogy of the Prince, a description of his deeds including his sutra commentaries and the twelve cap-ranking system he established. The third section consists of the texts of the inscriptions on the following: an image of the Medicine Buddha, the images of the three Buddha images known as the Shaka Sanzon, and the embroidered curtain called the Tenjukoku Mandara. The fourth section contains accounts of the Prince’s role in the introduction of Buddhism into Japan, his seventeen-article constitution, the destruction of the Mononobe and Yamashiro family by the Soga lords, and their destruction by Naka no Ōe. The final section gives accounts of the reigns, deaths and entombments of Emperors Kinmei, Bidatsu, Yomei,Sushun and Empress Suiko, and concludes with the death of Prince Shōtoku Taishi.

This scroll remained in the treasury of Horyu-ji for 800 years before it was transferred elsewhere. 

Three months after Prince Shōtoku Taishi was entombed, the words he had seen restored on the silk scroll of the sutra that he had brought miraculously from Mt. Heie suddenly faded from the page.

Born from fragments;
Born from a fragment
                                            Loneliness is giving birth to all the realms of form.
                                            Loneliness is giving birth to other beings.

Shōtoku Taishi’s consorts, Princess Tachibana no Oiratsume, found herself drowning in a sea of grief. She would not leave her quarters. She would not eat.

She dreamed that she was movingat dizzying speed through a landscape of brilliant flashing lights. Flames filled the sky, and smoking pits of ash and filth covered the earth as far as she could see. Here and there, glowing towers pierced oily clouds beneath a moonless copper sky.

She was carried on violently shifting winds filled with the echoes of forlorn cries, barked orders, declamatory shouts, fragmentary expositions, and lascivious whispers. She could not convey the bleakness and fear she felt as she was carried across this inhuman terrain.

Around her, the gods and goddesses, their bright and radiant forms, their subtle dances and song, all were dissolving, writhing in the polluted air. Beneath her, the world was filled with swarms of racing shadows. Slowly she recognized crowds of men and women. Human beings like locusts were desperately scouring the earth.

Men and women sought only their own pleasures. Children struggled to surpass their mothers and fathers, to forget them, to leave them behind. Without home or obligation, they foraged for new and unimagined happiness, for peace. Behind them, their parents became dim malign spirits, sources of pain and reproach requiring exorcism.

Unloved and loveless, no one could bear to remember even the momentary accomplishments of another. The past was severed from the present. Human life and history had no more meaning than the movements of a cloud of smoke. The passage of time wa an empty wind that swept men and women on and on in an endless ghostly mass migration. All utterly alone.

Horror woke her. She was engulfed in tears and sweat.

The Princess Tachibana sent a message to Empress Suiko:

“I can no longer control my feelings I try to remember how the beloved Prince said:
‘The world is ephemeral. There is no permanence. Only Buddha, the living essence of the awakened state, endures.’ Though this may be true, I cannot find a way to live.’

Empress Suiko replied:
“The Prince’s words are true.
Only the awakened state, the Buddha is real;
All else passes like a dream.” 

The Empresswas moved by the Princess’ sorrow. That night she dreamt of Shōtoku Taishi.  She saw him coursing through a hundred worlds. She then ordered Kurahitobe no Hata no Kuma to supervise Aya no Maken from Japan and Aya no Nukakori from Korea to make two large embroideries to be called the Tenjokoku Mandara, the Mandala of the Realms of Heavenly Existence. It was made as two curtains that together were eighteen feet wide and five feet high

On the border of the tapestry were embroidered 100 turtles, each supporting 100 invisible worlds, each marked with four characters. 200 characters describe the genealogies of Prince Shōtoku and Princess Tachibana. The next 200 tell of Empress Anahobe’s death, the Prince’s death, and how Princess Tachibana requested the creation of this tapestry.

Within the border is a vision of worlds alive with bright flowers, broad trees, shining streams, red birds, bright sun and silver full moon, jeweled palaces, the golden Hall of Dreams, a five-story pagoda. Men and women in splendid court array wandered through these landscapes. Here, the whole court was assembled in its rainbow of ranks. Servants attended them. There, monks and nuns listened as the Prince spoke. On a long marble balustrade, an audience looked out into the theater of the world.  Six Buddhas, each in his own garden of jeweled plants, were seated on multi-colored lotuses in full bloom. The ancestors, dead and living, all were present. The world of the enlightened ones and the world of men and women, animals and plants, day and night, life and death were inseparable.

Here, in many guises, Prince Shōtoku was seen to be alive: listening in the palaces of innumerable Buddhas; wandering in the gardens of the Immortal; still residing in the palaces and temples he had built. To look at these scenes was to know the solace of an inspiration continuing beyond death and change.


Here in the gate
                                                            Through worlds of action and thought
Through rainbows and waves,
                                                           Through sorrows, losses, exaltation.

The pause
The silence

                                                            A sigh
In the center of the story,
The immense simplicity
                                                            Of other worlds poised.

A sky in which clouds hover
Surveying the density of life below
                                                            A vanishing point.