Nihon Genho Zenaku Ryoiki (set of three books of Buddhist stories, written in the late 8th and early (日本現報善悪霊異記)

Nihon Genho Zenaku Ryoiki (also known as Nihonkoku Genho Zenaku Ryoiiki) is Japan's oldest collection of anecdotes written in the early Heian period. It is commonly abbreviated to "Nihon Ryoiki" (Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition, written in the early Heian period). The author was Kyokai (or Keikai). It consists of 3 volumes. It was written in the Chinese anomalous sentences.

Completion of the book and background of anecdotes.

It remains unclear as to when the book was completed but some say that it was 822 based on the descriptions in the preface and body. The author was the monk Keikai of Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara Ukyo in Nara Prefecture. Keikai included his autobiography in Chapter 38 of Volume 3 in which he wrote that he lived with his wife and children in the secular society, and, having been a shidoso (lay Buddhist monk) himself in his youth albeit became an official monk of Yakushi-ji Temple later on, was sympathetic with lay Buddhist monks who were not recognized as legitimate Buddhist monks by the state. Keikai was from Nagusa-gun County, Ki Province.

Background of anecdotes and the corresponding social conditions

A total of 116 anecdotes which have been broken down into 3 volumes, with 35, 42 and 39 stories being included in Volumes 1, 2 and 3, respectively. Times for many of the anecdotes were set in the Nara period and it is said that the older ones go back to approximately the days of Emperor Yuryaku. As for locations used in the anecdotes, they range from Kazusa Province in east to Higo Province in west covering extremely wide areas. Of those locations, the Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto) and its surrounding provinces, particularly, Kii Province was frequently used as locations of the anecdotes. Characters that appear in the book included ordinary people, bureaucrats, nobles, the Imperial family as well as monks of various classes from celebrated high priests to penniless vagrant monks.

Even though the anecdotes may not have been based on the truth, one can surmise the social conditions of the time from the background and setting associated with the subject. Those anecdotes include: a conflict over water for irrigating rice fields (Chapter 3, Volume 1), a thief selling stolen goods at market (Chapter 34 and Chapter 35, Volume 1 and Chapter 27, Volume 3), onus put on sakimori (soldiers deployed for boarder defenses) on long-term service (Chapter 3, Volume 2), Kokushi's (an officer of local government) using laborers to dig the government mine for his benefit (Chapter 13, Volume 3), a bureaucrat running a body search on a homeless to collect tax (Chapter 14, Volume 3) and a cheater using a doctored scale and measuring cup (Chapter 20 and Chapter 26, Volume 3). One can figure out that, contrary to the admonition mentioned in Ryoiiki, the actual life style of laypersons was applicable to Sessho-kai (the Buddhist precept of the prohibition of killing living things indiscriminately).

The subject and philosophy of anecdotes

For the purpose of compilation, there are many anecdotes concerning miracles and monstrosities. In the anecdotes of Ryoiiki, all good and evil deeds always have consequences which one may face in their lifetime, afterworld or hell. The anecdotes were predominantly broken down into the 3 categories including: a good deed was rewarded by a favorable compensation, someone suffered the consequence of their evil deed or the both but there are some anecdotes concerning monstrosities with no direct relation to good or evil.

Buddha's image and monks should be honored. Good deeds include copying of a sutra and faith in general in addition to offerings and ceremony of releasing captive animals. Wrongdoing includes killing animals in addition to murder, theft. It is wrong to hunt or fish for living. It is particularly evil to harm or insult monks. The foregoing summarizes the philosophy of Ryoiiki.

Transmigration is often the subject of anecdotes. In the anecdotes included in the Ryoiiki, animals often behaved with feelings and thoughts of humans and there were some instances that a man incarnated into cattle as a consequence for his evildoing in his previous existence.

The original
The old manuscripts include the Kofuku-ji Temple manuscript, Raigo-in Temple manuscript, the Shinpuku-ji Temple manuscript Osu kannon, Maeda family manuscript and Kongo Zanmi-in Temple (Koyasan manuscript).

[Original Japanese]