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    Ōno Dōken Sai Harutane
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  1. Significant Dates in the History of Gatsuzōji
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The Living Creatures Depicted in the Scroll and the Cat's Tale

 In the scroll depicting Buddha's death from Gatsuzōji, besides the tigers and elephants specific to India, insects, fantastic animals such as dragons, and other numerous living creatures are represented. The fact that animals which are natural enemies gather in one place to mourn the death of Buddha suggests that the Buddhist philosophy reaches all living things, down to every single tree and every blade of grass.

 The number of living creatures represented in the scroll was reduced in the older works and gradually increased with the passing of years, until scrolls showing more than 80 creatures were produced. Modern painters and artists used their imagination to create foreign animals such as elephants or camels, and added at the base of the scrolls various birds, beasts, turtles and other sea creatures, thus symbolizing the sadness felt by all living things at Buddha's departure from this world.

 Regarding the animals that were present at Buddha's death, a slightly comic tale offers an explanation about the order of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. It seems that the cow, learning of Buddha's death, hurried to give the sad news to all the other animals. The first to hear it was the mouse, who climbed on the cow's back and whispered in her year not to tell the cat, because the cat was such a malefic creature. That is why the cat was late and when it showed up, it was admonished: "First wash your face, then come again". The cat was never included among the twelve zodiac signs and even today it keeps washing its face with the front paws. On the other hand, the mouse jumped from the cow's shoulders, being thus the first to arrive and gaining the first position among the zodiac signs.

 Among the tales surrounding Buddha's life that were published during the Edo period, one is concerned with the same cat and mouse story, as well as the previously mentioned medicine bag. According to this tale, the mouse hurried to get the medicine bag, but was delayed on its way by the cat, thus not being able to take the medicine to Buddha on time. As punishment, the cat was never included in the scrolls depicting Buddha's death.

  The Japanese researcher Gorai Shigeru states that the Japanese funeral customs included the belief that "in the house where there is a dead body there should be no cat, and a knife should be placed on the dead person' s chest, to prevent the transfer of the soul." This is actually related to the belief that the soul can be transferred into a cat (or become a cat itself), the cat gaining thus an evil reputation.

 Yet the stories about the cat are quite numerous. In China, for example, the cat does appear in the scrolls depicting Buddha's death, the following legend being often given as an explanation. A famous artist, while painting Buddha's death, was looking for a colour for Buddha's lips. At precisely that moment his cat showed up, carrying red paint in its mouth. The grateful painter included the cat in his work and from then on, the cat always appeared in that type of paintings.

 Regarding two other funeral rites, the origin of the "last water" (the water used to moisten a dying person's lips) is said to be the water from the Hiranyavati River, which Ananda brought to Buddha at his request. The other one is kita makura (literally—north pillow—the custom of laying a dead person's head toward north), because, according to tradition, Buddha's head had been laid towards north, with his face towards west. These are just a couple of examples of how far the belief in Nirvana and the scrolls depicting Buddha's death had spread among the common people.

涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類
涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類
涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類 涅槃図に描かれた生類


 十二支の順位については「悲報を聞いた牛が駆けつける途中で色々な動物に知らせたが、最初に聞いた鼠が牛に乗り、その耳元で日頃仲の悪い猫には知らせないように言った。鼠は最初に着いた牛の肩から飛び降りて一番になり、子・丑・寅・・・の順になった。また猫は遅れてしまった為に十二支の中に入れず『顔を洗って出直して来い』と云われ今でも前足で顔を洗っている。」という落語の落ちのような話も実しやかに伝わっている。
 江戸時代に次々と刊行された釈尊の伝記によって前述の薬袋説が広まり、「この袋を取りに行こうとした鼠を猫が邪魔をした為に釈尊は薬を飲めなかった」という話が生まれ、それが原因で猫は涅槃図に描かれないという俗説が生れたようである。
 また五来重著『葬と供養』によれば、日本民族が伝承してきた葬送儀礼の一つに「死者が出るとその家の飼い猫を遠ざけて遺体の胸に刃物を置き、魂が移るのを防いだ」というものがあり、猫に魂が移る(又は魂が猫になる)と信じられてきたことから、猫だけが悪者にされてきたのであろう。
一方、中国伝来の涅槃図には猫が描かれていた筈だが、「ある有名な画家が涅槃図を描きながら釈尊の唇の色を探している時に、彼の飼い猫が紅色をくわえて絵師の所に来たのでその猫も描き入れ、それ以後の涅槃図には必ず猫が描かれるようになった」という伝説もあり、猫にまつわる話は多い。
 葬送儀礼に関しては、「末期の水」は阿難が釈尊の仰せで跋提河(バッダイガ)の水を汲み、釈尊に差し上げたことが起源とされ、「北枕」も釈尊が入滅される時に、頭を北に顔を西(頭北面西)にされたことから儀礼として伝承されてきたようだが、涅槃図が信仰対象として庶民にまで広く浸透していたことを物語っている。