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by Susan Scharfman
Excerpt from The Sword and the Chrysanthemum, Journey of the Heart
Used by permission

From Chapter 16
Arashi in the Golden Temple

The monks were still chanting when Arashi half opened his meditative eyelids and closed them again. He had just traveled to one place while remaining in another. The meditation garden was not illusory. It was all beginning to make sense to him. He continued listening to the chanting, following his breath in and out. His breath led him to thoughts. Michiko. Love. Sea lion. Breathe in. Unai. Moon bear. Cormorants. Breathe out. Forget the tide. Look inside. No thoughts. No breath. No sound. Nothing.

He had been in the nothing place many times. Different from sleep and much deeper, he had tried to describe the experience to Kato. "Like the instant between dusk and nightfall; the moment between sleeping and waking. It is so subtle, sensei, I cannot define it."

"Yes, yes. Because you cannot characterize the formless. A sufi saint described it as 'the split second between the bud and the rose. But it is known only to those who become roses.' When you sleep, you are unconscious; in meditation, you are consciously aware, while remaining detached, an observer," Kato had explained. "You are resting in a void which is the wellspring of wisdom, compassion and love. The more often you experience it, the greater will be your knowledge…until you become the rose."

Arashi remained in what his master called the void until a familiar stench brought him out. The voice shattered the silence with a loud and piercing declaration.

"Climbing mountains, fighting derelict samurai, swimming with sea lions; they are the games of children," mocked the entity. "You are the fisher boy who can't catch fish and you will never be anything else, and don't let that lying monk trick you into thinking otherwise. Look at yourself! Naked and trembling with nothing but your human frailties to keep you warm."

The entity's voice exploded in his head, piercing his eardrums until Arashi could no longer bear the pain. Terror once again reached into his bowels, sapped his strength and robbed him of his will. "I cannot see you," he said. "But…but you smell like something rotten. Like death."

"Well done! And yours is the smell of fear, which is the biggest stink of all. You think you are a miracle from the gods? You are what you have always been. The spawn of a foreigner and a whore; she threw you to the fishes rather than suckle you. It's time you knew the truth, fisher boy. You came into this world, disgorged by the sea to be picked clean by crabs. How do you think you got that bite mark behind your ear? The crabs and maggots would have finished you off, if it hadn't been for that damn fisherman."

The hurt in Arashi's heart was worse than the pain in his ears. "That fisherman saved my life. He was the first human being to show me kindness. I know who I am and where I come from, and I am proud of it." But in the presence of the thing he could not see, he still doubted. The clicking and snapping things seemed to be all around him.

"You really believe that phony monk? Did you read the papers you brought to him?" Arashi began to sweat. "Well? Did you? He read them to you, and he made up beautiful lies about your parents. If you are a seeker of truth, then hear the truth. They never wanted you; you were an abomination and they planned to get rid of you by throwing you overboard and pretending it was an accident. The storm helped them do it."

"Kato-san would not lie to me. And Goldie…." Arashi's voice trailed off as he tried to sort it all out, but the excruciating pain in his eardrums would not let him think.

Sensing victory, Akuma continued his verbal assault. "Do you think your aristocratic lady wants you? At this moment, she is where she belongs. In the arms of someone of her own class, who wants her for himself."

Arashi screamed into the darkness: "Nooo! "What do you mean?"

"What do you mean?" it mimicked, laughing. The satanic laughter vibrated Arashi's teeth; he bit through his lip. Hungry for blood, a giant claw grabbed him by the throat and lifted him up. Arashi struggled to free himself. "Tell me what you mean!" he screamed again.

"Tell me what you mean!" it mocked again. But the voice was not connected to the thing around his throat. The more Arashi squirmed, the tighter it got. "Think you are brave enough to take her from her samurai lover? Smart enough? You think because you have learned clever tricks from that fraud of a monk, you belong in her world? You were nothing but a passing amusement for her. Your world is with me, fisher boy. And I am going to enjoy taking you there."

Arashi struggled to release the claw, kicking his legs like a man dancing at the end of a noose. He gagged to get the words out of his mouth. "Nooo! Liar! I don't believe you…. Fight me like a warrior…. Only a coward and a liar…would hide in the dark…to avoid an honorable duel."

"Honorable duel? A terrified mongrel, about to shit in his animal skin pants, wants an honorable duel?" The claw opened and deposited its gasping victim into a thick oily gel that quickly hardened, entombing Arashi from his shoulders to his feet, leaving only his head free. "Now, you insect, you'll suffer slowly as the gel gels. Oh, that's funny. The gel gels. See? I have a sense of humor. We will play some games before I take you below."

At the word "below," a voice hollered, "Nooo-Look up. Look up, Arashi. Take heart!" Satori flew by, the gleaming sword clenched in his beak, and Kato's voice spoke out to him. "Hurry, Arashi. Take the sword!"

"I can't move my arms, Kato-san. I'm trapped."

"Take the sword or all you have endured will have been in vain."

"I can't move."

"You thought you couldn't swim either. Doubt the doubts and reach for the sword!" Arashi tried to break out of his prison by expanding his muscles.

"A useless struggle," needled the evil voice. "Nothing can save you from your pitiful self."

Arashi breathed deeply. If he could replace anxiety with calm…"I am a miracle. I can create miracles!"

"It will take more than chanting to produce miracles, fisher boy."

"Take the sword! Take the sword!" hollered Kato.

Arashi kept up the incantation. "I am a miracle. I am. I can. I am. I can. Never mind the outcome. Focus on the act of doing." His eyes snapped shut. A current of energy crackled through his arteries; his head buzzed with the sound of a million bees. He saw the words, "You will see with both eyes closed. You will see the 'I' that knows."

An eye followed the blood corpuscles moving through his veins. Whose eye? It was his eye. It saw into the cells of his body-atoms, molecules, electrons, protons. He looked into his stomach and, with great clarity, saw the distant galaxies swirling in space. In the constellation of Orion, the supergiant star Rigel sparkled blue-white, while Betelgeuse shone ruby red. In the crown of his head, a red-orange flame burst out of a lotus. In the heart of the lotus, he saw Michiko, wandering lost and frightened in a foreign place.

Kato had imparted rare gifts to him. Only now did he begin to imbibe them. The most important thing in his life was Michiko. The thought of her, the sight of her, ignited a flame that set his body on fire. His skin turned a hot rosy pink and the hard stuff that had imprisoned him in fear and doubt began to soften and melt. The reality of being what he had been telling himself for months manifested in one decisive moment. His eyes snapped open like shutters. He had his will back.

"I Am That!" he shouted "Yutakasa!" With a grunt, he yanked his right arm free, then the left. Breathing enormous quantities of air into his lungs, he expanded his chest, cracked the gel and burst out of his encasement. "Aiee!" Somersaulting into the air, he landed with two feet on the ground, the oily brown goo dripping from him like sweat. He smelled the Akuma's foul breath, but still he could not see him.

Kato continued urging Arashi to take control. "There are many giant claws, with mouths in their centers. They are independent of Akuma, but he controls them. Quickly, reach out and take the sword of Katsujin!"

The snapping and cracking sounds surrounded Arashi in that dark abyss of the unknown. The first time he had touched the sword it had stung him cruelly. But he was no longer that person. Willing himself to reach into what he could not see, Arashi stretched out his arm and grasped the cold hilt of the sword of Katsujin. Instantly, the power of its spirit surged through him like a lightning bolt. In his hand, the gleaming sword became a lethal, flashing razor's edge between life and death.

Out of the blackness, two yellow eyes, big as cannon balls, glared at him through pupils dilated and triangular, like those of a lion ready to pounce. It was impossible to judge the distance between him and those satanic eyes. He guessed the deadly snapping claws were its protective guardians. He had to get closer if he was going to kill the entity that had haunted him his entire life.

Sensing a powerful force approaching, Arashi ducked aside and swung the sword outwards from his body, splitting a claw in half. He heard it crack and thump to the ground. Another razor sharp claw bit into his left leg, pulling him down on his right knee. A third tore at his left shoulder. They were all over him, viciously biting, clawing and snapping. He brought the sword across hard and sliced off the claw clinging to his leg. Quickly rebounding to his feet, he began leaping, spinning, dodging, slashing. He moved with such dizzying speed the claws became confused and turned on each other.

"Don't you get it, fisher boy? Before I evolved, I was mortal like you. I had a conscience and a heart. I, too, felt shame, pain and pity. Now I am without those liabilities. I am Fear, Destroyer of Man! Death, Destroyer of Worlds! You cannot defeat me. Dancing around like a puppet will only make your wounds bleed faster. When your veins run dry, you'll be too weak to lift that sword. In the crap game of life Death always wins."

Every sound uttered by the Akuma was a needle vibrating in the eardrum; it could drive a man insane. Arashi understood pain was a thought; that he had to shift his awareness away from his senses. He had to transcend the concrete material brain, and act from the void of pure consciousness. Yutakasa! I am a miracle. I feel no pain. No pain.

In transcending all thought, his actions became those of a samurai. There was no yesterday, no tomorrow. He was in the moment, detached from the moment, and the moment was his. The soul of a samurai is in his sword and he had become one with his sword. But this was no ordinary sword. Infused with a will of its own, the deadly blade seemed to draw him toward his adversary. When he sensed he was close enough to strike, he shouted: "If you are death, then go straight to hell!" But this was no ordinary sword.

From Chapter 14
Lady Michiko in China

Little Xu had never seen a toy doll. After kowtowing to Michiko, she crawled onto her lap and placed her head on Michiko's shoulder. Mrs. Liu-Yen let out a cry, but Michiko hugged the child and bounced her up and down and everyone laughed. Then Xu put a tiny dirty finger on a pearl that was set into one end of Michiko's long lacquer hairpin. "Is that a tooth?" asked Xu.

Michiko kissed her cheek and laughed. "You are a smart one and very curious. It does look a little like a tooth, but it is a gift from the bottom of the sea and it is very…well, almost as precious as you."

Mrs. Liu-Yen took Xu and sat her on the floor where she squeezed the doll tightly under her chin then kissed it lovingly. Mrs. Liu-Yen smiled with her mouth but not her eyes. She prayed every day to her ancestors that her husband would not have to sell their only daughter. The afternoon passed warmly with tea drinking and story telling. When the palace guards arrived with Michiko's palanquin and servants, the oldest son, Zheng, was sent for. He kowtowed before Michiko and presented her with a small hand scroll, written in his own fine calligraphy.

Liu-Yen said: "My first son wishes you to have this, honorable lady. When he is not tending the fields, Zheng studies with the monks. They teach him how to write; they tell me he does well. Our home is humble; our lives are humble. We have nothing else to give you, and trust you will remember us with this humble offering that my son has written for you."

Michiko unrolled the thin paper and read it.

"I live for the mind that contains everything/but holds nothing/free of attachments"

She wondered whether the family knew how talented the boy was. Sitting beside her during the entire visit, Toffi saw that she was deeply touched; he cleared his throat to relieve the tension of the moment. "I do not see a humble home or a humble gift, only humble people," Michiko told them. "To be humble is to be divine, blessed by one's ancestors and the enlightened Buddha himself. This scroll will remain with me forever; it will have an honored place in my home, which I pray will be as humble in spirit as yours." She leaned toward Toffi with a whisper. "What do you think they will do with little Xu?" she asked, knowing full well the answer.

"Sell her."

Michiko turned to Liu-Yen. "I will be in the Forbidden City until the leaves start to fall. If you cannot keep Xu, you must promise to send word to me, and I will take her with me and keep her as my little sister. She will have a good life. For this, I will pay you well. Do you agree?"

Liu-Yen looked at his wife, who looked down at the floor and nodded. It was agreed.

The palace guards waited outside the door, ignorant of what to make of the scene. Had they missed something important, something crucial the secret police should know about? They had already made up their minds about the Japan lady from across the sea. They had discussed her thoroughly over their gambling mat.

"She is an aristocrat and still her feet are not bound. She often displays her feet when she rides horseback, astride, like a man. She is much too curious about everything, asks too many questions, and reads far too many books for a woman. An entire palanquin is filled with her library. That must surely create discord among the men of her country.

"She is always giving orders, a man's job. Our women know their place. Court ladies, with lotus feet no more than three inches long are the flowers adorning their men's bedrooms. Peasant women are in the kitchen when they are not working in the fields, or on their backs in bed. All the emperors, the Suns of Heaven, have decreed it so."

The guards surmised that the shogun's daughter was a karmic mistake. A man in a woman's body. To this, they all agreed and rolled the dice.

That evening a separate tent was arranged for bathing. Steaming hot water was brought in large cauldrons and poured into a wooden tub for Michiko. Toffi was already soaking in his own tub when Michiko entered, slipped out of her robe and let her attendants soap and rinse her. Ignoring him, she kept her back to him but she felt his eyes on her.

Toffi lowered his gaze and turned his back. As with all Japanese, he was not inhibited about his body. In another place and time, bathing together would have seemed as natural to him as brushing his teeth or viewing the heavens. But when Michiko eased herself into the water with a soft "umm," he silently swore.

Refreshed and relaxed, Michiko dined outdoors, comforted by the crackling sounds of the fire and hot bowls of rice with roasted guinea hen. Toffi could not take his eyes off her. He thought she was more of a woman than any woman he'd ever had or dreamed of having. "Are you sure you know what you are doing, my lady. I mean about the little girl Xu?"

"Perhaps I do not know what I am doing, but I cannot let her be sold like a farm animal. She is beautiful, and she will have an education and a good life at Hatoro Castle."

"What happens when she grows up? Will a Japanese man want to marry her?"

"And why not? she snapped. "Perhaps by that time our society will have evolved beyond its backward thinking. Is not purity of the soul more important than superficial appearance? I have not yet learned how to read the future, Toffi-san. I know only that today it is the right thing for me to do."

He admired her passion. Although he strongly disagreed with most of her liberal views, he wanted her as a man like him wanted a woman like her; for that same passion. The fact that she even had those views challenged him. He could hear her breathing, he was close enough to touch her arm, but he held himself back. Her eyes always said no; it was foreign to him. He could not accept it. "I see you have fallen for the child and will not change your mind."

"Yes. It seems so."

Toffi had planned on their reading poetry together by the fire, where he was certain his charms would prevail. Michiko had other plans. She played her koto and sang favorite childhood songs. He recognized a melody, nodded and smiled, moving closer to her. She stopped playing, aware of his nearness. "You feel it too, don't you?" he asked.

"Feel what?"

"You know what."

She had half-expected he would flirt openly, defying her father's orders. Now that he had crossed that line, she subtly shifted her body away from him. He was right. She could not deny it. His magnetism, his earthiness were overpowering forces she had to consciously resist. "Yes I know what, Toffi. But I do not always surrender to emotions, unless it is on my terms."

"What are your terms? I'll agree to any."

Using her fan to conceal her amusement, she responded: "A challenging game of go." After beating him three consecutive games she was aware of Toffi's damaged pride and enjoyed watching him mask it.

"Though the woman may be better at the game," advised Toffi, "when she lets the man win, she is allowing him to keep his manliness while maintaining her womanliness."

"But that would be dishonest, Toffi-san. Must a woman deceive a man in order to be a woman? Am I not enough of a woman?"

"Quite enough," he said, bowing his head.

Michiko left the samurai by the dwindling embers to contemplate her womanliness and his manliness.