O NCE there was a traveler who spoke these words in sorrow to his host:
In recent years, there have been unusual disturbances in the heavens, strange occurrences on earth, famine and pestilence, all affecting every corner of the empire and spreading throughout the land. Oxen and horses lie dead in the streets, and the bones of the stricken crowd the highways. Over half the population has already been carried off by death, and there is hardly a single person who does not grieve.
All the while some put their whole faith in the sharp sword1 of the Buddha Amida and intone the name of this lord of the Western Land; others believe that hearing the name of the Buddha Medicine Master will heal all ills2 and recite the sutra that describes this Thus Come One of the Eastern Region. Some, putting their trust in the passage in the Lotus Sutra that says, His illness will be wiped out and he will know neither old age nor death,3 pay homage to the wonderful words of that sutra; others, relying upon the sutra passage that reads, The seven disasters will instantly vanish, and the seven blessings will instantly appear,4 conduct ceremonies at which a hundred priests expound the sutra at a hundred preaching platforms.5 There
are those who follow the esoteric teachings of the True Word school and conduct rituals in which they fill five jars with water,6 and others who devote themselves entirely to seated meditation and try to perceive the emptiness of all phenomena as clearly as the moon.7 Some write out the names of the seven guardian spirits8 and paste them on a thousand gates, others paint pictures of the five mighty bodhisattvas9 and hang them over ten thousand thresholds, and still others pray to the heavenly gods and earthly deities in ceremonies conducted at the four corners of the capital and on the four boundaries of the nation. Taking pity on the plight of the common people, the rulers carry out government on the national and local levels in a benevolent manner.
But despite all these efforts, they merely exhaust themselves in vain. Famine and epidemics rage more fiercely than ever, beggars are everywhere in sight, and scenes of death fill our eyes. Corpses pile up in mounds like observation platforms, and dead bodies lie side by side like planks on a bridge.
If we look about, we find that the sun and moon continue to move in their accustomed orbits, and the five planets10 follow the proper course. The three treasures of Buddhism continue to exist, and the period of a hun