Feeling Its Breath
Seated in the checkpoint, it becomes clear that there are two enemy voices that matter — the commander of the garrison, not necessarily gullible but maybe a bit idealistic, and his second in command, vigilant and suspicious. And the cunning Benkei knows how to work the former while keeping the latter at bay.
Change Your Description
The most obvious questions come first. We’re looking for 7 warriors dressed like monks and yall seem suspicious. Benkei responds, Count us — we’re 6 monks and 2 porters. Which is when you realize they’ve taken Yoshitsune out of his monk clothes and dressed him as a porter with a hat covering his easily recognizable face.
Know Your Subject Matter
The commander forbids their crossing and orders their arrest. So Benkei responds how an actual monk would — annoyed but resigned. Benkei then has his monks face the wall so he can utter a prayer to Arya-Acalanatha before they are to be taken in (a buddha who carries a sword to cut through ignorance and greed while also being surrounded by flames sustained by wisdom and purity). Benkei’s poetic prayer and Noh intonations please the commander, who from here on out will be looking for reasons to let these pious monks through, although he’s not fully convinced just yet. And we learn the value of feigning submission as well as the nature of Arya-Acalanatha.
Think On Your Feet
The monks are trying to cross on the pretense of raising funds for a temple renovation, so the commander asks for their prospectus, a formal solicitation to finance an endeavor. Benkei has the porter fetch one of their luggage cases and removes a scroll. Holds it up and starts a Noh-style intonation of a poetically written document. As he recites it, the second in command is inching toward him; he’s not buying it. We then see the document and realize it’s blank; Benkei is improvising right now. He forcefully finishes his improvisation and snaps the scroll closed right as the second in command begins to circle around him. And we learn the value of knowing formal language and poetry in order to improvise.
Know Your Symbology
Finally the commander asks Benkei why their garb seems so peculiar. Benkei responds it’s obvious that there are different sects with different garb. No but why do yall wear armor? To foster austerity in a land consumed by sin. Why do you carry swords? Symbols of Amidaba to vanquish evil from our midst (a buddha I’ve never heard of being associated with a sword). But what about any immaterial evils you may encounter? For that we have the Spell of Nine Words: Ron Pyo To Sha Kai Jin Zai Retsu Zen. And we learn how to protect ourselves from evil and the meanings of various symbols.
The commander now fully believes Benkei and wants to apologize by donating to his temple, funds that would no doubt be helpful on the group’s path to safety. But Benkei declines saying they’ll be routing back from their fundraising tour in mid-April so the commander should donate something then to lighten their load on the road. And we learn that sometimes refusing things will get you more, if you’ve thought through the practical implications of a thing.
Actions When Words Fail
They’re on their way out when the second in command stops them. Hey! I recognize that porter hunching under the weight of his package! That’s Yoshitsune! Benkei thinks quickly and accuses the guards of greed. (Remember Arya-Acalantha’s sword from earlier)? Which gets them to back off a little. But he seals the deal by beating Yoshitsune with a stick. You weakling! You are never able to carry your load. This’ll teach you! The commander is satisfied. No vassal would dare beat his own Lord. This cannot be Yoshitsune, a noble unaccustomed to carrying items, just an incompetent porter — you may pass. And we learn the value of making exceptions to immovable traditions as well as the value of strategic, forceful action.
So they pass through the check point and get back on the road to friendly territory. And now they’re home free!
Take Your Time & Control Yourself
Soldiers from the border crossing catch up to the group. The commander feels bad for his suspicion of you and would like to give you this gift. It’s like 10 gallons of sake. So the group sits down and drinks with the soldiers. They get nice and drunk and sing and dance before the soldiers return to their garrison.
I’m not sure what the lesson here is, especially since I ignorantly thought it was a trap (more traditional Indian Hindus tend to avoid alcohol and their priests are usually forbidden from consuming it but I’m not familiar with the religious traditions in Japan). I gather the lesson is to stay focused even when you’re drunk and avoid arousing suspicion by offending people/rushing through a situation that calls for patience.
The group makes camp for the night and when the porter awakes, he’s alone with tokens of gratitude left behind. The group has moved on, leaving us to ponder the lessons we’ve learned.
Without Disturbing The Tiger
Many of these lessons make more sense when we remember that they’re intended for a shogunate, a political structure that places the military in control of government and society. The audience would be samurai and lifelong warriors. For an audience simultaneously desensitized by violence and in control of stately functions, it would be worthwhile to assert the importance of non-violence, religion, logistics, formalities, the arts, and patience while presenting the peasant class (the porter) as simple but valuable if you treat them with kindness.
Thus if you’re going to tread on the tail of a tiger, there’s a way to do it without the tiger noticing.