Baku: the eater of dreams

Japanese painting of a Hakutaku (aka Baku), c. 18th-19th century, Us Public Domain.
Japanese painting of a Hakutaku (aka Baku), c. 18th-19th century, Us Public Domain.

The Japanese Baku (aka Hakutaku) is known as “the eater of dreams.” In Japan it is said that if you chanted an invocation three times then the Baku will eat your dream. After a bad dream people call out to Baku: Baku Kurae! Baku Kurae! “Devour, O Baku! Devour my evil dream.” The Baku is a spiritual being. As explained in the following Japanese story the Baku knows the teachings of the Buddha:

Lafcadio Hearn (1910) tells the story of an encounter with the Baku:

“It was on a very sultry night, during the Period of Greatest Heat, that I last saw the Baku. I  had just awakened out of misery ; and the hour was the Hour of the Ox ; and the Baku came in through the window to ask, ” Have you anything for me to eat?”

I gratefully made answer: —

“Assuredly! . . . Listen, good Baku, to this dream of mine ! — “I was standing in some great white-walled room, where lamps were burning; but I cast no shadow on the naked floor of that room, — and there, upon an iron bed, I saw my own dead body. How I had come to die, and when I had died, I could not remember. Women were sitting near the bed, — six or seven, — and I did not know any of them. They were neither young nor old, and all were dressed in black: watchers I took them to be. They sat motionless and silent : there was no sound in the place; and I somehow felt that the hour was late.

“In the same moment I became aware of something nameless in the atmosphere of the room, — a heaviness that weighed upon the will, — some viewless numbing power that was slowly growing. Then the watchers began to watch each other, stealthily; and I knew that they were afraid. Soundlessly one rose up, and left the room. Another followed; then another. So, one by one, and lightly as shadows, they all went out. I was left alone with the corpse of myself.

” The lamps still burned clearly ; but the terror in the air was thickening. The watchers had stolen away almost as soon as they began to feel it. But I believed that there was yet time to escape; — I thought that I could safely delay a moment longer. A monstrous curiosity obliged me to remain : I wanted to look at my own body, to examine it closely, … I approached it. I observed it. And I wondered — because it seemed to me very long, — unnaturally long. . . . “Then I thought that I saw one eyelid quiver. But the appearance of motion might have been caused by the trembling of a lamp-flame. I stooped to look — slowly, and very cautiously, because I was afraid that the eyes might open.

“It is Myself, I thought, as I bent down, — and yet, it is growing queer!  The face appeared to be lengthening. … It is not My-self,  I thought again, as I stooped still lower,- and yet, it cannot be any other! And I became much more afraid, unspeakably afraid, that the eyes would open…

” They OPENED ! — horribly they opened ! — and that thing sprang, — sprang from the bed at me, and fastened upon me, — moaning, and gnawing, and rending ! Oh ! with what madness of terror did I strive against it! But the eyes of it, and the moans of it, and the touch of it, sickened; and all my being seemed about to burst asunder in a frenzy of loathing, when — I knew not how I found in my hand an axe. And I struck with the axe ; — I clove, I crushed, I brayed the Moaner, — until there lay before me only a shapeless, hideous, reeking mass, — the abominable ruin of Myself. . . .”

“Baku kurail Baku kurai! Baku kurai!”

“Devour, O Baku ! devour the dream !”

“Nay!” made answer the Baku.  “I never eat lucky dreams. lucky dream— a most fortunate dream… The axe— yes ! the Axe of Excellent Law by which the monster of the Self is utterly destroyed. The best kind of a dream! My friend, I believe in the teaching of the Buddha.

“And the Baku went out of the window. I looked after him ; — and I beheld him fleeing over the miles of moonlit roofs, — passing, from house-top to house-top, with amazing soundless leaps, —like a great cat . .

Reference:

  1. Lafcadio Hearn (1910) Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs, Macmillan Company, Norwood Press. Emphasis added to the story.
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