This one is Japanese. Not the earliest instance of The Red Monk in Buddhist folklore, but I feel like it’s a good introduction. I placed some questions that usually occur to me while reading this story at the bottom of the post, if anyone’s interested. -Dee
There was, at one time, an eccentric young monk that lived near a thriving village. In that village the presence of Mara was strong, for there were many luxuries - spices, liquors, fine clothing, and indeed many beautiful women, for this was a town of tradesmen and barter. Towns such as this attract eccentrics, and it was lucky that in this instance there were enough inspired and goodly beings of that persuasion to balance the scale. However the intentions, if such a word is appropriate, of the monk this tale is concerned with were, even then, doubtful.
He was indeed an eccentric. Wearing only the lower part of a Buddhist robe, in a bright red hue, his bare torso spoke of years under the whip. It was speculated by some that he had been made a slave in some far kingdom as a child, but most thought it more likely that he was simply a reformed ascetic. His face was very beautiful, and indeed it has been said that both men and women, monks and laity alike, would visit him only to stare at his features - even in this, a village full of physical beauty.
This “Red Monk,” as the villagers called him, lived at that time in a small hut just across the field and over a hill from the village, and would give advice and compose poetry in exchange for rice and fish. This was, naturally, quite usual for a travelling monk to do. Certain aspects of the monk’s practice were less usual.