A Story by Elizabeth Coatsworth
In ancient Japan, a poor artist was waiting for his housekeeper and when she came home with a basket and a cloth covering the top, the artist hoped she had brought home some food. But when the housekeeper opened the cover, there in the basket was only a little cat. The artist was angered at his housekeeper for only bringing a cat, not food, so the housekeeper told the artist the every night she is awakened by rats. The artist wanted to see the cat, so the cat jumped out of the basket without making the basket move. The artist saw that she was white and had yellow and black spots and a tail like a rabbit. The artist said that a three-colored cat will give luck to them. So they named her Good Fortune.
One day the priest of the temple wanted to see him, so the housekeeper bought some tea and cakes. When the priest arrived he asked the artist to do a painting of the death of the Buddha. Then the priest gave the artist a heavy purse filled of coins as his first payment. The artist thanked him and gave him some tea. The housekeeper, Good Fortune the cat, and the artist were very happy.
Early the next morning the artist woke up and began his painting after praying to Buddha. Good Fortune was there but she was silent and did not disturb him. In the next days, he painted the Buddha and the Japanese gods who came to say goodbye to the Buddha. Then he thought about what animals visited the Buddha before he died, and then he remembered a story of a snail who sacrificed himself for the Buddha, and so the artist drew the snail first.
After the artist drew the snail, the artist drew the elephant because of his size and strength and wisdom. Next the artist drew the horse because of his noble bearing and fiery spirit. Next he drew the swan because of how they follow their kings on mighty flights along the road of the air. After he would draw the artist would eat and rest. Good Fortune was always with him and watched him work.
Next the artist painted the buffalo for its honesty and self-respect, and then he drew the dog for its fidelity and willingness to help other people. He also drew the deer because of its timidity and gentle courage. After he drew the deer he drew the monkey for its compassion, and then the tiger for its fierceness.
After every drawing of an animal for many days, Good Fortune looked sadder and touched the sleeve of her master, looking at him. Good Fortune was watching, waiting for the artist to paint a cat. But according to Japanese legend, the cat refused to accept the teachings of the Buddha. So the artist just looked at Good Fortune but did not draw a cat. Good Fortune sat down with sad eyes. The artist saw how sad the cat was, so he told the housekeeper to bring Good Fortune outside till the painting was done. The housekeeper made a nice dish of fish for the cat, but Good Fortune would refuse to eat and waited for the artist to be done.
In the room the artist felt so sad for the little cat that he painted a little three- colored cat as the last animal and the artist let Good Fortune in the painting. And when Good Fortune saw the painting, she looked at the picture so long with the drawing of a cat. Happily she looked at the artist with her gratitude. Then because she was weak Good Fortune fell dead, but she looked very happy.
The artist gave the painting to the priest. When the priest saw the little three-colored cat he was very angry and said that the painting should be burned the next day. In his home the housekeeper cried in the kitchen and did not disturb the artist.
Then the next day, the priest told the artist that they will not burn the painting at all. A miracle happened. The artist had painted the great Buddha with his hands folded upon his breast. But now, like he is approving the new painting, the Buddha’s drawing changed. The Buddha had stretched out an arm like giving a blessing to a tiny cat bowing with a happy face. Finally, the cat went to heaven.