By Tsumura Soan (1736-1806)
A monk friend of mine told me a story about a thatched hut down the Oi River in Totomi Province.
Every year, five to ten people were discovered drowned from floods in the Oi River basin, and the number of people who died while trying to cross the river was unusually large. People pulled the bones up every time they floated by, and they held a funeral for them at the thatched hut.
They didn’t know who the people were, or where they came from, so they buried them in the dry river bed without a grave tablet and marked them with their personal belongings, such as a cane or a hat. It was most pitiful.
Every autumn, on prolonged rainy nights or in the moonlight, they could hear the voices of the departed crying out. They were the spirits of the drowned. The voices were so heartbreaking that they gripped people’s hearts. Ceaselessly they cried, from upriver and downriver, all night long.
As this continued night after night, the nearby villagers gathered, bringing with them zeni to hold service to sooth the suffering souls. After that, the voices of the departed ceased, and if they did not hold a Buddhist ceremony for the deceased, then each summer the plains would flood and the villagers’ rice fields would be destroyed.