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A novelist dreams of becoming Kannon

This is one of the humorous, but edifying, illustrated texts known as yellow-cover books. An impoverished novelist, Yokuro, envious of the wealth of offerings accumulated by the god, Kannon, begs him to change places for a day. The god grants Yokuro's wish and strolls off to the pleasure gardens disguised in everyday clothes - though the headdress is a bit of a giveaway.

Many religious maxims, such as "Blessed are the Poor", apply equally to Buddhism. Poverty is one of the necessary steps towards salvation, which is why mothers encourage their sons to spend at least six months, preferably more, in a monastery.

Fifty years ago when my grandmother was in her prime, Burma's population was 30 million, of which three million were monks. Traditionally, a Buddhist monk is allowed just five earthly possessions: his yellow robe, his sandals, his begging bowl, his fan and an umbrella to keep the sun off his shaven head. Modern 'pongyis' are less scrupulous about rules. The monk who showed me round the temple at the top of Mount Popa, Burma's holiest mountain, had swapped his fan and umbrella for a packet of Marlboro Lights and a Dunhill lighter, given to him by a tourist.

Curatorial note:
This work entitled 'Kareki hana sakusha no seigan', printed in 1791, is an example of the genre of popular fiction known in Japanese as 'kibyoshi' (yellow-cover books) which flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and were often based on adaptations of Buddhist themes. These novels were aimed at a mass market and were woodblock-printed in large large numbers. This example is illustrated by the renowned 'ukiyo-e' artist Toyokuni.

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