Amateru's Discourse on Healthy Eating and the Five Elements of Universal Creation
One bright day, when all was still and the world was at peace, Amateru went to the coast at Futamikata (now called Futaminoura, in Mie Prefecture). He was accompanied there by his son, Prince Kusuhi, whose familiar name was Nukatada (today he is remembered as Kumano-Fusumi, a deity of the Kumano Grand Shrine).
After their long journey, father and son bathed together in the briskly swelling tide of the ocean stretched out before them. Gently rocked by the ceaseless rhythm of sun and moon, they then purified themselves by cleansing both mind and body.
Kusuhi, remembering a simple question that had troubled him, then asked his father:
"Why do you have to purify yourself? You ride in an eight-sided palanquin, and are surely the most revered deity in the whole land. Or do divine beings have impurities, too?"
Amateru could but smile at his son's ingenuous question. Then he turned to Kusuhi and the other nobles in their entourage, addressing them calmly thus:
"Nukatada, and all you nobles gathered here, listen well to what I am about to say. When I was born into this world, I appeared like an egg, free of blemish in body or mind. I was given life through the precious 'knot of the soul' (tama-no-wo) bestowed by the heavenly deities, and my heart was pure and free of all uncleanness. But now, my eyes are defiled by the miserable sight of common people living in squalor. My ears are defiled by their incessant grievances against the ills that befall them. When I hear words of haughty self-righteousness, I try to chastise and correct them. In doing so, I myself assume impurity in both body and mind.
"So I immerse my body in the relentless tide of the sea, and thereby cleanse all six parts of my being - eyes, ears, nose, mouth, body and mind. Only then may I restore myself to the spirit of the sun and become divine again."
Amateru interrupted his discourse to survey the nobles and ordinary people who had gathered around him. As he did, he nodded quietly to himself. The murmuring of the common folk had fallen silent as they listened intently to his every word. All that could be heard was the thunderous crashing of the waves on the pebbles of the shore.
As if encouraged by the intensity of their attention, Amateru continued.
"Let me tell you about the food we should eat if we are to maintain a pure, correct and beautiful state of divinity, and live a long life in good health.
"The thing we should shun more than anything is the meat of wild beasts and birds. When we eat the flesh of hairy beasts, we may feel that their spirit enters us. But in fact, too much of their bad spirit comes into our bodies. Our blood and flesh become unclean, our muscles wither, our hair falls out and we are afflicted by disease. Then we suffer and perish while still young. Just as dirty water dries into mud, so, if we eat the flesh of wild beasts, their impure blood will enter our body, our own blood will become impure, and we will succumb to illness.
"You should eat plenty of fresh vegetables every day. Clean vegetables, in particular, are a blessing of nature endowed with the light of the sun. They are like the seed of the sun, sown by the light that pours down on the earth. If you eat green vegetables, your muddied blood grown weak with disease will become red and radiant like the sun. Your life force will be as strong as the tide here at Futamikata.
"I cherish all my subjects, be they noble ministers or common folk, as gifts from heaven, as if they were my own children. I have come here to pray that all my people may live long lives in richness and good health.
"Now is the time for you to learn how to tell good food from bad, and live your lives to the full in good health. For, only by returning to the beginnings of time and knowing the origins of heaven, earth and man will you realize the true value of human life and fulfil the lives that have been granted you.
"Listen carefully, all of you.
"In the far and distant past, when heaven, earth and man were not yet separate, all was confusion and chaos. Then Amemiwoya (the 'August Parent of the Heavens') blew the first breath into this chaos. Thereupon the heavens quietly started to turn, dividing into a negative, female part and a positive, male part. The light, positive, male part rose up into the sky, while the heavy, negative, female part sank down to form the earth.
"The air from the male part, called 'utsuho', gave birth to the wind ('kaze'), then the wind changed further and separated into fire ('ho'). These three original elements of the male, having taken physical shape, then rose into the heavens. The centre of the great male spirit became the orb of the sun, and the origin of the great female spirit became the moon.
"The earth, meanwhile, divided into the two elements of soil ('hani') and water ('mizu'). Soil turned into mountains and countryside, while water was transformed into lakes and seas. Earth then became mixed with air ('utsuho') in the soil, and the clean and beautiful parts became crystallized as jewels. The pure earth of the mountains became well penetrated with air, forming metal ores, while the soil itself turned into mere stones.
"Of these metal ores, those containing more air were crystallized into tin and lead, those containing more pure soil became gold, and those containing more pure water became silver. Light mud turned into copper and heavy mud into iron. The colours of these ores are various. Gold is yellow like the bush clover flower, silver is white like the paulownia blossom, bronze is reddish like the cypress wood, and iron is black like the chestnut.
"You must dig up all these ores from the mountains, build smelting furnaces, circulate air through bellows, and refine the ores into metals.
"The earth receives air and rainwater from the skies, nurtures plants and helps us by producing food and medicinal herbs. The air from the sky can help us to live long lives, but water may make our bodies cold and harm our health. Water from polluted soil is bad, slows the circulation of our blood, and can lead to early death. Flowers and fruits grow according to heavenly providence.
"Plants and fish made from three elements can be eaten, but not minerals and animals made from two or four. Jewels commonly appear as the crystallization of two elements. Other ores can be refined to produce useful metals.
"Insects made from three elements, which feed on water-containing plants, do not normally make any sound. But the spirit of the wind turns them into beautifully singing creatures. This is the same for insects that fly through the air and those that dwell on the ground.
"Birds are made from four elements - air, wind, fire and water. Of these birds, those that have more air are good at flying, those with more wind can sing beautifully, those with more fire can swim well, and those with more water have particularly soft feathers, which can be used to make habutae overgarments.
"Wild animals are made from the four elements of earth, water, fire and wind. Those with more wind and water are given names with three syllables, like 'kitsune' (fox), 'tanuki' (racoon dog), 'usagi' (rabbit) and 'nezumi' (rat). Animals with more fire and earth are given two-syllable names, like 'yino' (boar), 'mashi' (monkey), 'muma' (horse), 'ushi' (cow), 'shika' (deer), 'enu' (dog), and 'kuma' (bear). The same goes for four-syllable animals like 'kawauso' (otter), 'musasabi' (flying squirrel) and 'kamoshika' (mountain goat).
"Dewdrops fall from the moon to moisten the plants, then join up together to form flowing rivers. The water from the rivers joins with air, evaporates and rises high into the sky to form clouds. The appearance of these clouds is like the breath of the land rising into the vastness of the sky. Some clouds look as if the burr of chestnuts that covers the sky has split open. Others look like heavily laden bowls of rice.
"The distance up to the clouds in the sky is 18 tomeji."
Note: The diameter of the earth (12,756 kilometres) is described in another ancient text as measuring "114 tomeji". This would make 1 tomeji = about 112 kilometres. 18 x 112 means that the height of the clouds is 2,016 kilometres. (Source: Mikasa Fumi, Takama Naru Aya, p. 129, ed. Yoshinosuke Matsumoto)
"When a cloud hangs heavy and low in the sky, the shoots of plants turn towards it in search of water. The cloud sends rainwater onto the land. Then the water flows back into rivers and returns to its original form.
"In winter, rainwater is blown by cold winds, turns to snow and freezes hard. But in spring it is melted by the warm light of the sun and again flows into rivers.
"Salt created from the tides of the sea, itself formed through the spirit of the moon, is the first important heavenly vessel that particularly excels in its ability to purify. We eat salt every day, scatter salt to expel evil spirits, and pile up salt to protect our doorways, because the defilement of our bodies is removed by the mystic power of the moon's spirit.
"Shellfish are made from the three elements of water, earth and fire, while fish that swim are made from water, air and fire. Fish with scales, in particular, are good to eat and purify our bodies. But fish without scales are made with too much fire. They should not be eaten because their odour is offensive."
(The intervening section is taken up in Chapter 15-1, The Origin of All Edible Things.)
Amateru continued his discourse without any sign of tiring. On the contrary - he seemed to gain energy as he spoke more of the mystical relationships between the five elements in the heavens, earth and man, and the food sent down by the deities to protect our precious human life.
"Listen to me well, all of you", he continued. "Of all our daily foods, none can surpass rice in excellence. Happy is he who eats this blessed food, full of the spirit of the sun and moisture from the moon, which join to create the 'hiyouru' seed (paddy rice).
"The second best food is fish with scales, and the third is fowl. But the meat of fowl has too much fire in it. People think it gives them strength, but this is a mistake. People who eat too much fowl will fall ill and die, sooner or later. If we eat this meat, it is like stirring up the fire in a lighted torch so as to see more clearly, and too quickly wasting the oil in the burner. In the end, it will consume the valuable fat on which we live and use up our life force. Take care, for if you eat the meat of fowl that contain too much fire you will destroy your body.
"But the worst thing of all is to eat the meat of wild beasts with three syllables in their names. If you eat them, your blood and flesh will harden and shrivel, your body fats will waste away and empty obesity will take over. Your hair will fall out, and you will die an early death. To prevent this, you must confine yourself in a place of abstinence and eat plenty of radishes.
"If by chance a person should eat the meat of a two-syllable animal, his body will give off a foul odour like that of rotting flesh. This is the defilement of living putrefaction. This person will forfeit the blessings of the deities, and is very hard to save. He should be confined for three years and be given plenty of radishes to expel the poisons. As medicine, he should be given dropwort (Japanese parsley) and ginger. With this rigorous regime, the impurity and dirt will be washed out of his body. Then, at length, he may return to normal human life.
"Just recently, the Lord of Suwa (Takeminakata, deity of the Suwa Grand Shrine in Nagano Prefecture) came far from his mountainous land to make an appeal to me. 'Shinano is very cold in winter, and we cannot catch fish', he said. 'When the winter is particularly severe and the snow is deep, people often freeze or starve to death. So they have no choice but to eat the flesh of fowl and wild animals to keep themselves warm. I beg you to permit the eating of meat in winter when food is scarce'.
"Certainly not, I replied. We must not eat harmful food. If we permit the consumption of wild beasts, the people will become unclean and fall ill, and the peace of the land will be destroyed. There are forty types of fish that can be eaten. You should eat them. Even then, you should eat green leaves for three days afterwards to cleanse your bodies. If anyone eats water fowl by mistake, he should eat green leaves for 21 days to purify his body. Let us here forbid the eating of fowl or wild animals. Amend the statutes, and send this command out across the land.
"Some may mistakenly eat the flesh of fowl or beasts, but not regret losing their life, thinking themselves unworthy of human life anyway. But their blood is already contaminated with the blood of beasts, and their flesh is already as foul as if they were dead. If we receive the bad spirits of animals, the knot (tama-no-wo) that connects the heavenly spirit (tama) to the carnal self (shii) will be undone, and the soul will be condemned to suffering and torment. The person who dies in this way will be unable to return to the heavenly abode of the soul. The soul of a person who cannot return to the heavens remains inconsolately wandering, wavering as if at a fork in the road, and in the end, seeks comfort in the spirits of wild beasts. This soul becomes detached from the human world and disappears into the realm of the beasts, to be reborn as one of them. Birds and beasts are made from four elements; they have one element missing. They have no spirit of the sun or moon. For this reason, if we fall into the realm of the beasts we will be unable to return again in human form.
"Rice is the perfect food formed from the spirits of the sun and moon. Since ancient times, people have cherished rice above all others as the food of life.
"Unlike wild beasts, humans are made from the five elements of air, wind, fire, water and earth. We receive the spirits of the sun and moon and are born with thinking minds. If we live honestly, retain our innate dignity and work hard, serve as a model to others and die a natural death, the heavens will reward us. We will not become beasts, but will be able to return to the heavenly abode, guided and protected by the deities of the cosmos.
"One of my daily foods is the herb called chiyomi grass. No-one is wont to eat it, for it is one hundred times more bitter than the bitterest herb known to man. But because I eat this bitter grass, I have lived hundreds of times longer than other people, and so can continue to pray for the health and prosperity of the people. I have already seen one thousand branches of the suzu tree grow and wither four times, and have therefore lived 240,000 years*. But even so, I am strong and well like the kakitsubata (rabbit-eared iris). I plan to live for another million years, so that I may see over the future of the people."
* According to the Hotsuma time calculator, 1 branch of the suzu tree lasted for 60 years. 1,000 branches = 60,000 years, and 60,000 x 4 times = 240,000 years.
"Kusuhi, listen to what my aunt, Princess Kokori told me. She said that, long ago, the deity Kunitokotachi went to survey the eight corners of the earth. When he arrived in the western lands, he pacified the wild landscape and formed a country called Kurosono-Tsumite (in Chinese Xuen Yuan Ji, a legendary land of hermits said to be in the Kun Lun mountain range between China and Tibet). This whole land was then called Ka (the Xia dynasty of China, 20th to 16th centuries BC), and is known to us as Akagata. One of Kunitokotachi's sons, Ka-no-Kunisatsuchi, was made King of Ka, and his son was Toyokunnu of Akagata. Toyokunnu had a child with a woman of Ka, and their descendants have ruled that land ever since.
"But as the many years went by, people came to neglect the Way of Heaven from the ancient days of the gods, and the Way fell into disuse. And because the land was so geographically remote, not only customs and traditions, but also food and language became forgotten and changed.
"One of Toyokunnu's descendants was a noblewoman called Ukesuteme ('woman who receives and discards'). Feeling deep sorrow over the decline of the Way of Heaven, she traversed that vast land from the foothills of the Kun Lun mountains, then crossed over the sea, eventually to reach the Land of Koye-Ne. Then she entered the court of Tamakine, the Lord Toyoke (deity of the Ise Outer Shrine), whom she served and revered as her own father. Toyoke was so moved by her profound devotion that he made her a stepsister to his daughter Kokori, and taught them both the innermost secrets of asceticism at the Yamate Palace (in modern-day Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture).
"Ukesuteme gladly accepted his teaching, and on her return to China, married the King of Korohin (Kun Lun). She bore a single child named Kurosono-Tsumoru, and later became known as 'Nishi-no-Haha Kami' (the Western Mother Deity, known in Chinese legend as Xi Wang Mu).
"Some time later, Nishi-no-Haha again came to the court seeking an audience with Toyoke ("Lord of the East"), bearing distressful news of the situation in her home province.
"'In the Land of Mount Koro (Kun Lun)', she lamented, 'people foolishly eat the flesh of wild beasts, and have become accustomed to its taste. Those who are thus sullied by eating animal meat all die young. They only live 100 or at most 200 years. Some rarely manage to survive for a thousand or ten thousand years, if fortune is on their side. However hard I try to forbid them from eating animal flesh, this impure custom is now too deeply inbred, and they will not stop. I vex myself night and day, wondering how I can return the people to pure, divine and long lives. The Land of Ka has long been ruled by the King of Shina, and he too searches everywhere for chiyomi grass, but always in vain. I beg you to bestow upon my people the innermost secrets of good health and long life.'
"I heard this miserable tale from the Lord Toyoke, and immediately purified myself in body and mind to cleanse my defiled ears.
"For my part, the pure joy of seeing my people honouring the Way of Heaven, planting rice and living long and healthy lives is, in itself, a secret of long life. Hearing this sorrowful story about his people and their short lives, I took pity on the King of Shina and bestowed upon the Nishi-no-Haha Kami the Innermost Secrets of the Way of Heaven.
"Kusuhi, and all of you here, listen to these words and make them your proverb:
"Omoe inochi ha mi no takara
yorokimi mo hitori inochi no
"'Think about it: our life is our body's treasure. Even ten thousand great kings together could not replace the life of a single human being.'
"For example, a man may think he has enjoyed life enough and can die at any time. He will be glad to forego his natural life span and happily die an early death. Then, the knot of his soul will be untied, he will suffer and, unable to return to the heavenly abode, will fall among the wild beasts. But he who values and protects his natural life span will know no suffering. He will die in contentment when he returns to the heavenly abode.
"Just as the chrysanthemum quietly awaits the winter and continues to emit a fragrance even until it naturally withers away, so too, if a person has refrained from eating meat and has only eaten the pure foods of which I speak, he may live an enjoyable life for ten thousand years. Then, when he dies, he will be surrounded by the fragrant smell of chrysanthemums and can go to meet the deities. The body of a person who, like the chrysanthemum, has lived a pure, correct and beautiful life, is already of divine form. The soul laid to rest in the 'miya' (palace or shrine)* is revived together with the chrysanthemums and is delivered to the heavens."
* Suggests that funereal rites were carried out in "miya" before the advent of Buddhism.
"In contrast, a person who has eaten defiled meat smells as foul as rotten flesh, and the knot of his soul is rent asunder. The only way to rid yourself of corrupt food is to purify yourself and cleanse yourself in mind and body.
"Rice is the food of the sun, green leaves the food of the moon. If we eat the leaves of the chrysanthemum, our eyes will see well. The spirit of the sun increases the brightness of the left eye and the spirit of the moon that of the right, making our eyeballs pure and bright.
"Just as the chrysanthemum combines the spirits of sun and moon, he who sincerely follows the Way of Heaven is divine and human in the same form.
"That is why I always cherish the chrysanthemum."
(Seiji Takabatake, from the 15th aya of the Hotsuma-Tsutae)
- END -
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