Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

From Japanese folklore.

Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

A long, long time ago, there once lived an old and humble bamboo cutter who made a living harvesting bamboo and selling the crafts his wife made from the material.

One day, the old bamboo cutter came upon a large log that glowed like moonlight in the grove. When he cut it open, he found inside it a beautiful miniature girl about three inches tall. The man and his wife were childless and decided to take the miniature girl home to be raised as their own daughter.

They called her Lady Kaguya. Over the next several months, the bamboo cutter discovered bamboo logs that, when chopped, overflowed with gold and treasure. Very soon, the bamboo cutter became very wealthy. He moved his family from the obscurity of the forest and into the city, which he felt was appropriate in light of their newfound riches.

The miniature girl quickly grew into a beautiful woman of normal size. In time, her beauty and fame spread. As people learned of her, suitors came to ask for her hand in marriage. Among the suitors were five princes from the imperial capital. But Lady Kaguya refused to marry and assigned impossible tasks to her suitors that turned them away.

Soon, as Lady Kaguya's fame grew still, even the emperor himself became interested. He requested her presence in court, but she refused. Undeterred, he decided to pay her a visit in person and soon fell madly in love with her. Alas, no matter how much he tried, she would not be his. Eventually, the emperor gave in and returned to his palace.

Around this time, Lady Kaguya began looking up at the sky each night. She would sigh deeply but would not tell her adopted parents what the source of her distress was. Finally, after relentless questioning, through tears, Lady Kaguya confessed that she was a fallen goddess from the moon and that her time among the mortals was coming to an end. Heaven's warriors were coming to fetch her back.

The bamboo cutter and his wife enlisted the assistance of the emperor, who deployed his armies to prevent Lady Kaguya's departure. When the heavenly warriors arrived, a fierce battle ensued but to no avail. Lady Kaguya was taken from her family in the mortal world. She would forget all the time she spent on earth and lose all her mortal connections.

Despite the unsurpassed beauty, fame and status, Lady Kaguya's time on earth—much to her lament—ultimately came to pass.


Notes

Memento mori. “Remember you will die.” These were the blunt words of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus.

Stoics frequently pondered on life's inescapables. It puts everything into a sobering perspective. As depicted in Medieval Danse Macabre illustrations, no matter your station in life, accomplishments, fame or wealth, we are all united in death. In the face of that which is certain, all our daily quarrels and frictions seem insignificant and pointless.

Stoicism advises us to regularly reflect on our mortality. It's not meant to be depressing. It's just that it's easy to give in to the illusion of immortality and wind up expending our limited time and energy on unimportant preoccupations.

In order to recognize truly worthwhile pursuits and to be able to really cherish and appreciate each fleeting moment in the present, one must first understand the truth about our human condition.


“In the end, only three things matter:
How much you loved,
How gently you lived
And how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

The Buddha.