December 12, 2019

The magic mirror

Illustration by Kyosai Kawanabe.
(1831-1889). In chapter 5 of The Space Alien, Kitamura-san describes a piece of mind-reading alien technology as a "magic mirror."

At first glance, it looked like a round silver metal tray. When I brought my face closer to it, I did not see my reflection as in a typical mirror, but a reflection of my mind. The thoughts of the person holding the mirror are displayed like a photograph on the surface of the silver plate. In short, a movie of the mind.

This "magic mirror" bears a strong resemblance to the jouharikyou (浄玻璃鏡) in Buddhist mythology, commonly translated as "Enma's Mirror of Judgment" or the "Mirror of Karma."

Enma (閻魔), commonly known outside Japan as "Yama," is the Ruler of Hell. Enma is a wrathful god who judges the dead. But unlike Saint Peter, he stands at the gates of Hell, where he decides which of the six paths in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) the recently deceased will take.

One of the tools Enma uses when passing judgment is a mirror. Wrote the poet Kobayashi Issa (courtesy David Lanoue, edited for syllable count), perhaps referring to Issa's habit of "stealing" flowers from the gardens of his neighbors,

In Enma's mirror
shines back a reflection of
the plum blossom thief

This "magic mirror" reflects the deeds and true nature of those who stand before Enma, such that they cannot deny the verdict he hands down.

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