Japanese

"The Wild Goose Child" and the Winged Angels Excavated in the Desert

Archaeological surveys in Central Asia that trace the historical origins of Mahayana Buddhism
The period from the end of the 19th century into the early years of the 20th century was one when numerous landmark discoveries were made during expeditions and archaeological excavations in Central Asia. The expeditions of Sven Anders von Hedin and formal excavation surveys by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein uncovered the great significance of the role played by the oasis towns dotting the skirts of the Taklamakan desert, as cloisters on the routes linking Europe, India, Tibet and China.
Kenji, who read the Mahayana scriptures with great earnestness, must have been keenly interested in the succession of excavation surveys from the standpoint of what they uncovered about how the scriptures came into existence and the history of their dissemination. While it is known that the desert towns of Taklamakan were central to the establishment of Mahayana Buddhism and its introduction into China, a part of this history had been lost, buried in the desert. Thus, uncovering the ruins of some of these former desert oasis towns meant what amounted to the discovery of missing links that led back to the historical origins of Mahayana Buddhism. Among the discoveries, one that made a particularly strong impression on Kenji was Stein's excavation in Miran of a fresco of winged angels. The "children of heaven," which Kenji associated with this fresco, are given an important role in his stories and poetry.
Geology, archaeological excavation and the geology of the mind When considering the significance of the children of heaven and the fresco in Kenji's works, it is necessary to turn our attention to the fact that for Kenji excavation was not only a method used in geological and archaeological research, but also a metaphor for exploring the human consciousness, which can be referred to as a "geology of the mind."
Kenji experienced a number of visions (hallucinations) on his walks through the hills and fields and at other times, such as the spacio-temporal mental images he relates in the poem "Koiwai Farm." While these experiences were disturbing to him some, such as encounters with blessed beings that appeared to him in visions, were very uplifting. Kenji relates these archetypal images that come from the inner recesses of his mind to images from a geological age before mankind walked the Earth. That is to say, the metaphor "geology of the mind" first of all places the inner recesses of the mind parallel to geological stratums from antiquity.
Beings who are seemingly children of heaven, "children wearing jeweled necklaces," appear in Parts 4 and 9 of "Koiwai Farm." In Part 4, just when "I" begin to feel as if I am walking in a forest out of the Cretaceous Period, children of heaven appear in a vision. And if we consider the place in preliminary version A of the poem where he writes I see you are in the style of Gandhara / In Taklamakan desert / I saw an old fresco / of ones who looked just like you we see that Kenji feels that the children of heaven, who emanate as a vision from the inner recesses of his mind, approximate the winged angels in the fresco.
The excavation of the fresco of winged angels from the ruins, in the sense of something that appears unexpectedly from the depths, must have created an impression on Kenji strong enough to cause him to connect it with his vision of blessed children of heaven that emanated from the inner recesses of his mind.
"The Wild Goose Child" and the Fresco As the story "The Wild Goose Child" develops, the child is awakened to an ancient layer of his mind by the unearthing of the fresco that depicts him. One day Suriya Kei, the goose child's foster father, passes by the remains of the ancient Sasha Temple on the outskirts of Sasha where a fresco of three children has been dug up. This triggers his remembrance of his relationship with the goose child in a previous existence, and the goose child then returns to heaven. In a former incarnation, Suriya and the goose child were father and son and Suriya painted the fresco in this previous life. This is the meaning of the words "This child has ties to you," that are spoken by the grandfather goose at the beginning of the story when he is shot down from the sky and entrusts Suriya with the keeping of the goose child before he ascends to heaven.
In this way, the excavated fresco becomes the instrument by which a previous existence is revealed from the depths of the consciousness.

The story "The Wild Goose Child" begins with a man on a journey through the Taklamakan desert who encounters a small shrine and asks an old man on a pilgrimage about it. The old man tells him that it enshrines the wild goose child, and the traveler listens as the old man relates the story of the child. Kenji writes that the shrine "contains some things that a geologist or expeditionary party would want to take as specimens," and this first part of the story in which the little shrine-a possible specimen-appears, is developed to reveal the story of Suriya Kei and the goose child.
In other words, the story begins with a shrine that would make a possible specimen for a geologist and ends with the excavated fresco that reveals what is behind the story, just as the past is unraveled by way of an archaeological "specimen," giving the story a double construction.

"The Wild Goose Child" and the Origins of Mahayana Buddhism "The Wild Goose Child" is set in one of the oasis towns of the Taklamakan desert, the route by which Mahayana Buddhism spread to China, so the story is also one in which the little shrine becomes a means of tracing the origins of Mahayana Buddhism.
The goose child, who is entrusted to Suriya Kei by the grandfather goose who is shot out of the sky and then returns to heaven, seems to impersonate the heart of Mahayana Buddhism. He is a child who shows tremendous compassion towards his parents and living creatures. When Suriya's wife tries to feed the goose child a carp she has boiled in honey and crushes the fish, "suddenly a strange feeling pressed down on his chest, as it were pitiful or sad-something indescribably unbearable" and he rushes outside. In another scene he starts to cry when he sees a foal who is still suckling pulled forcibly away from its mother at a horse fair. When he is twelve and enters a school in the capital, he comes back home, concerned about his mother who has had to take up weaving to pay his tuition, and says "I've decided that I want to work with you, Mother."
Suriya is a little in awe of the goose child. But Suriya understands that he knows the pain felt by other living creatures because he took the form of a wild goose and soared in the skies along with his grandfather, then, when a man shot his grandfather down, only he was turned back into human form and entrusted to Suriya.
The goose child is portrayed as being strongly conscious of the ties between living creatures because of his grandfather, who took the form of a goose, and as a personification of the Buddhist perception of purity.

"Indra's Net" and the Children of Heaven


Poetry Encounters Science (2)
Stars
Characters
Birds
Minerals
Dances, festivals and gods
Ihatovo and foreign land
The World of Kenji's Works
The World of Kenji Miyazawa