You can read the previous part here: Part 3

*****

“There it is!” I exclaim, pointing at a dilapidated structure. I can’t tell that it is a pagoda, even after knowing that that’s exactly what it was. Both of us go toward the structure. The ground is blackened by ash, and we are careful not to slip and fall.

“It is astounding that nothing else here is covered by this ash that we are treading on, is it not?” Master Subarashi observes. And he is absolutely right. The ground near the pagoda is the only thing blackened by ash.

We manage to make our way to the entrance to what must have been a grand pagoda. I kick away some debris from an opening, and we make our way inside. If we were expecting something to happen, it doesn’t. The inside is exactly how I’d expected it to be: just as dilapidated as the outside.

“Well, we should probably go now,” I start. “This pagoda doesn’t seem–,” a flash of bright light cuts off my sentence.

A beautiful fiery light erupts around us in a lotus-like shape, encompassing us completely. It grows brighter and brighter until we both have to shield our eyes. When I open them again, I see a beautiful sight. 

There has never been a better pagoda than this one. It is not like a typical pagoda because it is in no way simple. Gold and silver line the walls of the pagoda, and tapestries are spread over the walls. A massive rug is spread across the floor, made of brown wool. It is soft and feathery, softer than any rug I’ve ever felt.

The middle of the pagoda, which usually has a central pillar for support, instead has a circular rug with a beam of light. Small pillars hold up the sides, strung with rubies. Lotuses – the flowers of the Amida Buddha – are dotted around the pagoda. I finally notice the design in the central rug. It is a painting of the Western Paradise. It seems obvious that that is where we are supposed to go. I move closer to it but am stopped by Master Subarashi.

“Wait,” he says. “Before we enter the Western Paradise, I must do one last thing.”

“What, Master?” I ask him. I try to be patient, as he had taught me about patience quite recently.

“I must listen to your innermost problems. I have forgotten to do so.”

“Master, with all due respect, I don’t believe I need to share my problems with you,” I say.

“Why?” Master Subarashi asks.

“To become a samurai, I have learned to be self-reliant. I learned this years ago,” I say.

“Ah,” he says. “Self-reliance is beautiful. It saves many lives in the army,” he says, “But the army would not exist if not for teamwork. If you are not willing to lay out your problems to others, how can you truly be free? And if you are not free, how will you enter the Western Paradise?”

“I see. Where should I start, Master?” I ask.

“Well, you can tell me about your training as a young samurai,” he says.

“I will tell you about the day that I made my request to go to Edo,” I say.

“I trained in a dojo far from Edo. Edo was where I could get a better education and more training to become a samurai. I was sixteen when I decided to ask my instructors to send me to Edo. That was the most important day of my life,” I pause and look at Master Subarashi. He is calmly listening to me.

“I woke up at sunrise that day, doing drills with my katana. Back in those days, I always wanted to be like the samurai Miyamoto Musashi. I would train as hard as I could, trying to mimic his style. That would become a pain in my future career. That brand of “like Miyamoto” has never escaped me.

I wanted to go to Edo to learn swordsmanship, but also calligraphy. When I was a child, I wanted to be a scholar but became a samurai. Most people end up doing it the other way around,” I chuckle.

“I left for school and went into my swordsmanship class. I was hoping for an easy opponent, one that I could beat to a pulp. But no, I fought the best student in the class that day, but I was determined to win. With determination, one can do anything.

I went to every one of my classes and asked every instructor whether I could go to Edo. They all cracked a small smile at my words. Finally, my request was approved, and I went to Edo,” I finish.

Master Subarashi remains silent. I smile a little bit, assuming that he didn’t find any problems that he could try to solve. Nothing could be farther from the truth. “Why did you imitate Miyamoto Musashi as a young boy?” he asks.

“To be like him, of course!” I say, laughing.

“Yet when someone tells you that you fight like him, you are upset?”

“Yes,” I say. “I realize my mistake in doing so as a child.”

“What you sow, you reap,” Master Subarashi says. “But you have sowed the seed of watermelon and wished for a strawberry. What you sowed is certainly better than what you wished for.”

“True,” I say.

“Having skills in swordsmanship that are comparable to one of the greatest samurai ever is certainly worth paying the small price of being compared to him. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

“You are right, Master. I will no longer be upset by the comments about my similarity to Miyamoto,” I say gratefully.

“That is good,” he says. “Now, we shall go. Follow me.”

Master Subarashi makes his way to the center of the room. He steps into the beam of light, calmly sitting in the lotus position. Suddenly, the light dims, and when it reappears, Master Subarashi is gone.

I do everything that Master Subarashi just did and wait for what seems like an eternity. No flash of light comes. Finally, the light flashes.

*****

You can read the next part here: Part 5

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