Kokoro - Japanese Inner Life Hints
by Lafcadio Hearn
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Concerning all things fortunate, felicitation.

To-day,— from the honorably-known, to the longed-for, beloved, august one, this letter goes.

(1) Actors in Japan often exercise a similar fascination upon sensitive girls of the lower classes, and often take cruel advantage of the power so gained. It is very rarely, indeed, that such fascination can be exerted by a priest.


I called upon a Japanese friend, a Buddhist scholar, to ask some questions about the religious aspects of the incident. Even as a confession of human weakness, that suicide appeared to me a heroism.

It did not so appear to my friend. He spoke words of rebuke. He reminded me that one who even suggested suicide as a means of escape from sin had been pronounced by the Buddha a spiritual outcast,—unfit to live with holy men. As for the dead priest, he had been one of those whom the Teacher called fools. Only a fool could imagine that by destroying his own body he was destroying also within himself the sources of sin.

"But," I protested, "this man's life was pure.... Suppose he sought death that he might not, unwittingly, cause others to commit sin?"

My friend smiled ironically. Then he said:—"There was once a lady of Japan, nobly torn and very beautiful, who wanted to become a nun. She went to a certain temple, and made her wish known. But the high-priest said to her, 'You are still very young. You have lived the life of courts. To the eyes of worldly men you are beautiful; and, because of your face, temptations to return to the pleasures of the world will be devised for you. Also this wish of yours may be due to some momentary sorrow. Therefore, I cannot now consent to your request.' But she still pleaded so earnestly, that he deemed it best to leave her abruptly. There was a large hibachi—a brazier of glowing charcoal—in the room where she found herself alone. She heated the iron tongs of the brazier till they were red, and with them horribly pierced and seamed her face, destroying her beauty forever. Then the priest, alarmed by the smell of the burning, returned in haste, and was very much grieved by what he saw. But she pleaded again, without any trembling in her voice: 'Because I was beautiful, you refused to take me. Will you take me now?' She was accepted into the Order, and became a holy nun.... Well, which was the wiser, that woman, or the priest you wanted to praise?"

"But was it the duty of the priest," I asked, "to disfigure his face?"

"Certainly not! Even the woman's action would have been very unworthy if done only as a protection against temptation. Self- mutilation of any sort is forbidden by the law of Buddha; and she transgressed. But, as she burned her face only that she might be able to enter at once upon the Path, and not because afraid of being unable by her own will to resist sin, her fault was a minor fault. On the other hand, the priest who took his own life committed a very great offense. He should have tried to convert those who tempted him. This he was too weak to do. If he felt it impossible to keep from sinning as a priest, then it would have been better for him to return to the world, and there try to follow the law for such as do not belong to the Order."

"According to Buddhism, therefore, he has obtained no merit?" I queried.

"It is not easy to imagine that he has. Only by those ignorant of the Law can his action be commended."

"And by those knowing the Law, what will be thought of the results, the karma of his act?"

My friend mused a little; then he said, thoughtfully:—"The whole truth of that suicide we cannot fully know. Perhaps it was not the first time."

"Do you mean that in some former life also he may have tried to escape from sin by destroying his own body?"

"Yes. Or in many former lives."

"What of his future lives?"

"Only a Buddha could answer that with certain knowledge."

"But what is the teaching?"

"You forget that it is not possible for us to know what was in the mind of that man."

"Suppose that he sought death only to escape from sinning?"

"Then he will have to face the like temptation again and again, and all the sorrow of it, and all the pain, even for a thousand times a thousand times, until he shall have learned to master himself. There is no escape through death from the supreme necessity of self-conquest."

After parting with my friend, his words continued to haunt me; and they haunt me still. They forced new thoughts about some theories hazarded in the first part of this paper. I have not yet been able to assure myself that his weird interpretation of the amatory mystery is any less worthy of consideration than our Western interpretations. I have been wondering whether the loves that lead to death might not mean much more than the ghostly hunger of buried passions. Might they not signify also the inevitable penalty of long-forgotten sins?



Amazakaru Hi no iru kuni ni Kite wa aredo, Yamato-nishiki no Iro wa kawaraji.


He was born in a city of the interior, the seat of a daimyo of three hundred thousand koku, where no foreigner had ever been. The yashiki of his father, a samurai of high rank, stood within the outer fortifications surrounding the prince's castle. It was a spacious yashiki; and behind it and around it were landscape gardens, one of which contained a small shrine of the god of armies. Forty years ago there were many such homes. To artist eyes the few still remaining seem like fairy palaces, and their gardens like dreams of the Buddhist paradise.

But sons of samurai were severely disciplined in those days; and the one of whom I write had little time for dreaming. The period of caresses was made painfully brief for him. Even before he was invested with his first hakama, or trousers,—a great ceremony in that epoch,—he was weaned as far as possible from tender influence, and taught to check the natural impulses of childish affection. Little comrades would ask him mockingly, "Do you still need milk?" if they saw him walking out with his mother, although he might love her in the house as demonstratively as he pleased, during the hours he could pass by her side. These were not many. All inactive pleasures were severely restricted by his discipline; and even comforts, except during illness, were not allowed him. Almost from the time he could speak he was enjoined to consider duty the guiding motive of life, self-control the first requisite of conduct, pain and death matters of no consequence in the selfish sense.

There was a grimmer side to this Spartan discipline, designed to cultivate a cold sternness never to be relaxed during youth, except in the screened intimacy of the home. The boys were inured to sights of blood. They were taken to witness executions; they were expected to display no emotion; and they were obliged, on their return home, to quell any secret feeling of horror by eating plentifully of rice tinted blood-color by an admixture of salted plum juice.. Even more difficult things might be demanded of a very young boy,—to go alone at midnight to the execution-ground, for example, and bring back a head in proof of courage. For the fear of the dead was held not less contemptible in a samurai than the fear of man. The samurai child was pledged to fear nothing. In all such tests, the demeanor exacted was perfect impassiveness; any swaggering would have been judged quite as harshly as any sign of cowardice.

As a boy grew up, he was obliged to find his pleasures chiefly in those bodily exercises which were the samurai's early and constant preparations for war,—archery and riding, wrestling and fencing. Playmates were found for him; but these were older youths, sons of retainers, chosen for ability to assist him in the practice of martial exercises. It was their duty also to teach him how to swim, to handle a boat, to develop his young muscles. Between such physical training and the study of the Chinese classics the greater part of each day was divided for him. His diet, though ample, was never dainty; his clothing, except in time of great ceremony, was light and coarse; and he was not allowed the use of fire merely to warm himself. While studying of winter mornings, if his hands became too cold to use the writing brush, he would be ordered to plunge them into icy water to restore the circulation; and if his feet were numbed by frost, he would be told to run about in the snow to make them warm. Still more rigid was his training in the special etiquette of the military class, and he was early made to know that the little sword in his girdle was neither an ornament nor a plaything. He was shown how to use it, how to take his own life at a moment's notice, without shrinking, whenever the code of his class might so order(1).

Also in the matter of religion, the training of a samurai boy was peculiar. He was educated to revere the ancient gods and the spirits of his ancestors; he was well schooled in the Chinese ethics; and he was taught something of Buddhist philosophy and faith. But he was likewise taught that hope of heaven and fear of hell were for the ignorant only; and that the superior man should be influenced in his conduct by nothing more selfish than the love of right for its own sake, and the recognition of duty as a universal law.

Gradually, as the period of boyhood ripened into youth, his conduct was less subjected to supervision. He was left more and more free to act upon his own judgment,—but with full knowledge that a mistake would not be forgotten; that a serious offense would never be fully condoned, and that a well-merited reprimand was more to be dreaded than death. On the other hand, there were few moral dangers against which to guard him. Professional vice was then strictly banished from many of the provincial castle-towns; and even so much of the non-moral side of life as might have been reflected in popular romance and drama, a young samurai could know little about. He was taught to despise that common literature appealing either to the softer emotions or the passions, as essentially unmanly reading; and the public theatre was forbidden to his class(2). Thus, in that innocent provincial life of Old Japan, a young samurai might grow up exceptionally pure-minded and simple-hearted.

So grew up the young samurai concerning whom these things are written,—fearless, courteous, self-denying, despising pleasure, and ready at an instant's notice to give his life for love, loyalty, or honor. But though already a warrior in frame and spirit, he was in years scarcely more than a boy when the country was first startled by the coming of the Black Ships.


The policy of Iyemitsu, forbidding any Japanese to leave the country under pain of death, had left the nation for two hundred years ignorant of the outer world. About the colossal forces gathering beyond seas nothing was known. The long existence of the Dutch settlement at Nagasaki had in no wise enlightened Japan as to her true position,—an Oriental feudalism of the sixteenth century menaced by a Western world three centuries older. Accounts of the real wonders of that world would have sounded to Japanese ears like stories invented to please children, or have been classed with ancient tales of the fabled palaces of Horai. The advent of the American fleet, "the Black Ships," as they were then called, first awakened the government to some knowledge of its own weakness, and of danger from afar.

National excitement at the news of the second coming of the Black Ships was followed by consternation at the discovery that the Shogunate confessed its inability to cope with the foreign powers. This could mean only a peril greater than that of the Tartar invasion in the days of Hojo Tokimune, when the people had prayed to the gods for help, and the Emperor himself, at Ise, had besought the spirits of his fathers. Those prayers had been answered by sudden darkness, a sea of thunder, and the coming of that mighty wind still called Kami-kaze,—"the Wind of the Gods," by which the fleets of Kublai Khan were given to the abyss. Why should not prayers now also be made? They were, in countless homes and at thousands of shrines. But the Superior Ones gave this time no answer; the Kami-kaze did not come. And the samurai boy, praying vainly before the little shrine of Hachiman in his father's garden, wondered if the gods had lost their power, or if the people of the Black Ships were under the protection of stronger gods.

(1) "Is that really the head of your father?" a prince once asked of a samurai boy only seven years old. The child at once realized the situation. The freshly-severed head set before him was not his father's: the daimyo had been deceived, but further deception was necessary. So the lad, after having saluted the head with every sign of reverential grief, suddenly cut out his own bowels. All the prince's doubts vanished before that bloody proof of filial piety; the outlawed father was able to make good his escape, and the memory of the child is still honored in Japanese drama and poetry.

(2) Samurai women, in some province, at least, could go to the public theatre. The men could not,—without committing a breach of good manners. But in samurai homes, or within the grounds of the yashiki, some private performances of a particular character were given. Strolling players were the performers. I know several charming old samurai who have never been to a public theatre in their lives, and refuse all invitations to witness a performance. They still obey the rules of their samurai education.


It soon became evident that the foreign "barbarians" were not to be driven away. Hundreds had come, from the East as well as from the West; and all possible measures for their protection had been taken; and they had built queer cities of their own upon Japanese soil. The government had even commanded that Western knowledge was to be taught in all schools; that the study of English was to be made an important branch of public education; and that public education itself was to be remodeled upon Occidental lines. The government had also declared that the future of the country would depend upon the study and mastery of the languages and the science of the foreigners. During the interval, then, between such study and its successful results, Japan would practically remain under alien domination. The fact was not, indeed, publicly stated in so many words; but the signification of the policy was unmistakable. After the first violent emotions provoked by knowledge of the situation,—after the great dismay of the people, and the suppressed fury of the samurai,—there arose an intense curiosity regarding the appearance and character of those insolent strangers who had been able to obtain what they wanted by mere display of superior force. This general curiosity was partly satisfied by an immense production and distribution of cheap colored prints, picturing the manner and customs of the barbarians, and the extraordinary streets of their settlements. Caricatures only those flaring wood—prints could have seemed to foreign eyes. But caricature was not the conscious object of the artist. He tried to portray foreigners as he really saw them; and he saw them as green-eyed monsters, with red hair like Shojo(1), and with noses like Tengu(2), wearing clothes of absurd forms and colors; and dwelling in structures like storehouses or prisons. Sold by hundreds of thousands throughout the interior, these prints must have created many uncanny ideas. Yet as attempts to depict the unfamiliar they were only innocent. One should be able to study those old drawings in order to comprehend just how we appeared to the Japanese of that era; how ugly, how grotesque, how ridiculous.

The young samurai of the town soon had the experience of seeing a real Western foreigner, a teacher hired for them by the prince. He was an Englishman. He came under the protection of an armed escort; and orders were given to treat him as a person of distinction. He did not seem quite so ugly as the foreigners in the Japanese prints: his hair was red, indeed, and his eyes of a strange color; but his face was not disagreeable. He at once became, and long remained, the subject of tireless observation. How closely his every act was watched could never be guessed by any one ignorant of the queer superstitions of the pre-Meiji era concerning ourselves. Although recognized as intelligent and formidable creatures, Occidentals were not generally regarded as quite human; they were thought of as more closely allied to animals than to mankind. They had hairy bodies of queer shape; their teeth were different from those of men; their internal organs were also peculiar; and their moral ideas those of goblins. The timidity which foreigners then inspired, not, indeed, to the samurai, but to the common people, was not a physical, but a superstitious fear. Even the Japanese peasant has never been a coward. But to know his feelings in that time toward foreigners, one must also know something of the ancient beliefs, common to both Japan and China, about animals gifted with supernatural powers, and capable of assuming human form; about the existence of races half-human and half-superhuman; and about the mythical beings of the old picture-books,—goblins long-legged and long-armed and bearded (ashinaga and tenaga), whether depicted by the illustrators of weird stories or comically treated by the brush of Hokusai. Really the aspect of the new strangers seemed to afford confirmation of the fables related by a certain Chinese Herodotus; and the clothing they wore might seem to have been devised for the purpose of hiding what would prove them not human. So the new English teacher, blissfully ignorant of the fact, was studied surreptitiously, just as one might study a curious animal! I Nevertheless, from his students he experienced only courtesy: they treated him by that Chinese code which ordains that "even the shadow of a teacher must not be trodden on." In any event it would have mattered little to samurai students whether their teacher were perfectly human or not, so long as he could teach. The hero Yoshitsune had been taught the art of the sword by a Tengu. Beings not human had proved themselves scholars and poets(3). But behind the never-lifted mask of delicate courtesy, the stranger's habits were minutely noted; and the ultimate judgment, based upon the comparison of such observation, was not altogether flattering. The teacher himself could never have imagined the comments made upon him by his two-sworded pupils; nor would it have increased his peace of mind, while overlooking compositions in the class-room, to have understood their conversation:—

"See the color of his flesh, how soft it is! To take off his head with a single blow would be very easy."

Once he was induced to try their mode of wrestling, just for fun, he supposed. But they really wanted to take his physical measure. He was not very highly estimated as an athlete.

"Strong arms he certainly has," one said. "But he does not know how to use his body while using his arms; and his loins are very weak. To break his back would not be difficult."

"I think," said another, "that it would be easy to fight with foreigners."

"With swords it would be very easy," responded a third; "but they are more skilful than we in the use of guns and cannon."

"We can learn all that," said the first speaker. "When we have learned Western military matters, we need not care for Western soldiers."

"Foreigners," observed another, "are not hardy like we are. They soon tire, and they fear cold. All winter our teacher must have a great fire in his room. To stay there five minutes gives me the headache."

But for all that, the lads were kind to their teacher, and made him love them.

(1) Apish mythological beings with red hair, delighting in drunkenness.

(2) Mythological beings of several kinds, supposed to live in the mountains. Some have long noses.

(3) There is a legend that when Toryoko, a great poet, who was the teacher of Sugiwara-no-Michizane (now deified as Tenjin), was once passing the Gate called Ra-jo-mon, of the Emperor's palace at Kyoto, he recited aloud this single verse which he had just composed:—

"Clear is the weather and fair;—and the wind waves the hair of young willows." Immediately a deep mocking voice from the gateway continued the poem, thus:—

"Melted and vanished the ice; the waves comb the locks of old mosses."

Toryoko looked, but there was no one to be seen. Reaching home, he told his pupil about the matter, and repeated the two compositions. Sugiwara-no-Michizane praised the second one, saying:—

"Truly the words of the first are the words of a poet; but the words of the second are the words of a Demon!"


Changes came as great earthquakes come, without warning: the transformation of daimyates into prefectures, the suppression of the military class, the reconstruction of the whole social system. These events filled the youth with sadness, although he felt no difficulty in transferring his allegiance from prince to emperor, and although the wealth of his family remained unimpaired by the shock. All this reconstruction told him of the greatness of the national danger, and announced the certain disappearance of the old high ideals, and of nearly all things loved. But he knew regret was vain. By self-transformation alone could the nation hope to save its independence; and the obvious duty of the patriot was to recognize necessity, and fitly prepare himself to play the man in the drama of the future.

In the samurai school he had learned much English, and he knew himself able to converse with Englishmen. He cut his long hair, put away his swords, and went to Yokohama that he might continue his study of the language under more favorable conditions. At Yokohama everything at first seemed to him both unfamiliar and repellent. Even the Japanese of the port had been changed by foreign contact: they were rude and rough; they acted and spoke as common people would not have dared to do in his native town. The foreigners themselves impressed him still more disagreeably: it was the period when new settlers could assume the tone of conquerors to the conquered, and when the life of the "open ports" was much less decorous than now. The new buildings of brick or stuccoed timber revived for him unpleasant memories of the Japanese colored pictures of foreign manners and customs; and he could not quickly banish the fancies of his boyhood concerning Occidentals. Reason, based on larger knowledge and experience, fully assured him what they really were; but to his emotional life the intimate sense of their kindred humanity still failed to come. Race-feeling is older than intellectual development; and the superstitions attaching to race-feeling are not easy to get rid of. His soldier-spirit, too, was stirred at times by ugly things heard or seen,—incidents that filled him with the hot impulse of his fathers to avenge a cowardice or to redress a wrong. But he learned to conquer his repulsions as obstacles to knowledge: it was the patriot's duty to study calmly the nature of his country's foes. He trained himself at last to observe the new life about him without prejudice,—its merits not less than its defects; its strength not less than its weakness. He found kindness; he found devotion to ideals,—ideals not his own, but which he knew how to respect because they exacted, like the religion of his ancestors, abnegation of many things.

Through such appreciation he learned to like and to trust an aged missionary entirely absorbed in the work of educating and proselytizing. The old man was especially anxious to convert this young samurai, in whom aptitudes of no common order were discernible; and he spared no pains to win the boy's confidence. He aided him in many ways, taught him something of French and German, of Greek and Latin, and placed entirely at his disposal a private library of considerable extent. The use of a foreign library, including works of history, philosophy, travel, and fiction, was not a privilege then easy for Japanese students to obtain. It was gratefully appreciated; and the owner of the library found no difficulty at a later day in persuading his favored and favorite pupil to read a part of the New Testament. The youth expressed surprise at finding among the doctrines of the "Evil Sect" ethical precepts like those of Confucius. To the old missionary he said: "This teaching is not new to us; but it is certainly very good. I shall study the book and think about it."


The study and the thinking were to lead the young man much further than he had thought possible. After the recognition of Christianity as a great religion came recognitions of another order, and various imaginings about the civilization of the races professing Christianity. It then seemed to many reflective Japanese, possibly even to the keen minds directing the national policy, that Japan was doomed to pass altogether under alien rule. There was hope, indeed; and while even the ghost of hope remained, the duty for all was plain. But the power that could be used against the Empire was irresistible. And studying the enormity of that power, the young. Oriental could not but ask himself, with a wonder approaching awe, whence and how it had been gained. Could it, as his aged teacher averred, have some occult relation to a higher religion? Certainly the ancient Chinese philosophy, which declared the prosperity of peoples proportionate to their observance of celestial law and their obedience to the teaching of sages, countenanced such a theory. And if the superior force of Western civilization really indicated the superior character of Western ethics, was it not the plain duty of every patriot to follow that higher faith, and to strive for the conversion of the whole nation? A youth of that era, educated in Chinese wisdom, and necessarily ignorant of the history of social evolution in the West, could never have imagined that the very highest forms of material progress were developed chiefly through a merciless competition out of all harmony with Christian idealism, and at variance with every great system of ethics. Even to-day in the West unthinking millions imagine some divine connection between military power and Christian belief, and utterances are made in our pulpits implying divine justification for political robberies, and heavenly inspiration for the invention of high explosives. There still survives among us the superstition that races professing Christianity are divinely destined to rob or exterminate races holding other beliefs. Some men occasionally express their conviction that we still worship Thor and Odin,—the only difference being that Odin has become a mathematician, and that the Hammer Mjolnir is now worked by steam. But such persons are declared by the missionaries to be atheists and men of shameless lives.

Be this as it may, a time came when the young samurai resolved to proclaim himself a Christian, despite the opposition of his kindred. It was a bold step; but his early training had given him firmness; and he was not to be moved from his decision even by the sorrow of his parents. His rejection of the ancestral faith would signify more than temporary pain for him: it would mean disinheritance, the contempt of old comrades, loss of rank, and all the consequences of bitter poverty. But his samurai training had taught him to despise self. He saw what he believed to be his duty as a patriot and as a truthseeker, and he followed it without fear or regret.


Those who hope to substitute their own Western creed in the room of one which they wreck by the aid of knowledge borrowed from modern science, do not imagine that the arguments used against the ancient faith can be used with equal force against the new. Unable himself to reach the higher levels of modern thought, the average missionary cannot foresee the result of his small teaching of science upon an Oriental mind naturally more powerful than his own. He is therefore astonished and shocked to discover that the more intelligent his pupil, the briefer the term of that pupil's Christianity. To destroy personal faith in a fine mind previously satisfied with Buddhist cosmogony, because innocent of science, is not extremely difficult. But to substitute, in the same mind, Western religious emotions for Oriental, Presbyterian or Baptist dogmatisms for Chinese and Buddhist ethics, is not possible. The psychological difficulties in the way are never recognized by our modern evangelists. In former ages, when the faith of the Jesuits and the friars was not less superstitious than the faith they strove to supplant, the same deep-lying obstacles existed; and the Spanish priest, even while accomplishing marvels by his immense sincerity and fiery zeal, must have felt that to fully realize his dream he would need the sword of the Spanish soldier. To-day the conditions are far less favorable for any work of conversion than they ever were in the sixteenth century. Education has been secularized and remodeled upon a scientific basis; our religions are being changed into mere social recognitions of ethical necessities; the functions of our clergy are being gradually transformed into those of a moral police; and the multitude of our church-spires proves no increase of our faith, but only the larger growth of our respect for conventions. Never can the conventions of the Occident become those of the Far East; and never will foreign missionaries be suffered in Japan to take the role of a police of morals. Already the most liberal of our churches, those of broadest culture, begin to recognize the vanity of missions. But it is not necessary to drop old dogmatisms in order to perceive the truth: thorough education should be enough to reveal it; and the most educated of nations, Germany, sends no missionaries to work in the interior of Japan. A result of missionary efforts, much more significant than the indispensable yearly report of new conversions, has been the reorganization of the native religions, and a recent government mandate insisting upon the higher education of the native priest-hoods. Indeed, long before this mandate the wealthier sects had established Buddhist schools on the Western plan; and the Shinshu could already boast of its scholars, educated in Paris or at Oxford,—men whose names are known to Sanscritists the world over. Certainly Japan will need higher forms of faith than her mediaeval ones; but these must be themselves evolved from the ancient forms,—from within, never from without. A Buddhism strongly fortified by Western science will meet the future needs of the race.

The young convert at Yokohama proved a noteworthy example of missionary failures. Within a few years after having sacrificed a fortune in order to become a Christian,—or rather the member of a foreign religious sect,—he publicly renounced the creed accepted at such a cost. He had studied and comprehended the great minds of the age better than his religious teachers, who could no longer respond to the questions he propounded, except by the assurance that books of which they had recommended him to study parts were dangerous to faith as wholes. But as they could not prove the fallacies alleged to exist in such books, their warnings availed nothing. He had been converted to dogmatism by imperfect reasoning; by larger and deeper reasoning he found his way beyond dogmatism. He passed from the church after an open declaration that its tenets were not based upon true reason or fact; and that he felt himself obliged to accept the opinions of men whom his teachers had called the enemies of Christianity. There was great scandal at his "relapse."

The real "relapse" was yet far away. Unlike many with a similar experience, he knew that the religious question had only receded for him, and that all he had learned was scarcely more than the alphabet of what remained to learn. He had not lost belief in the relative value of creeds,—in the worth of religion as a conserving and restraining force. A distorted perception of one truth—the truth of a relation subsisting between civilizations and their religions—had first deluded him into the path that led to his conversion. Chinese philosophy had taught him that which modern sociology recognizes in the law that societies without priesthoods have never developed; and Buddhism had taught him that even delusions—the parables, forms, and symbols presented as actualities to humble minds—have their value and their justification in aiding the development of human goodness. From such a point of view, Christianity had lost none of its interest for him; and though doubting what his teacher had told him about the superior morality of Christian nations, not at all illustrated in the life of the open ports, he desired to see for himself the influence of religion upon morals in the Occident; to visit European countries and to study the causes of their development and the reason of their power.

This he set out to do sooner than he had purposed. That intellectual quickening which had made him a doubter in religious matters had made him also a freethinker in politics. He brought down upon himself the wrath of the government by public expressions of opinion antagonistic to the policy of the hour; and, like others equally imprudent under the stimulus of new ideas, he was obliged to leave the country. Thus began for him a series of wanderings destined to carry him round the world. Korea first afforded him a refuge; then China, where he lived as a teacher; and at last he found himself on board a steamer bound for Marseilles. He had little money; but he did not ask himself how he was going to live in Europe. Young, tall, athletic, frugal and inured to hardship, he felt sure of himself; and he had letters to men abroad who could smooth his way.

But long years were to pass before he could see his native land again.


During those years he saw Western civilization as few Japanese ever saw it; for he wandered through Europe and America, living in many cities, and toiling in many capacities,—sometimes with his brain, oftener with his hands,—and so was able to study the highest and the lowest, the best and the worst of the life about him. But he saw with the eyes of the Far East; and the ways of his judgments were not as our ways. For even as the Occident regards the Far East, so does the Far East regard the Occident, —only with this difference: that what each most esteems in itself is least likely to be esteemed by the other. And both are partly right and partly wrong; and there never has been, and never can be, perfect mutual comprehension.

Larger than all anticipation the West appeared to him,—a world of giants; and that which depresses even the boldest Occidental who finds himself, without means or friends, alone in a great city, must often have depressed the Oriental exile: that vague uneasiness aroused by the sense of being invisible to hurrying millions; by the ceaseless roar of traffic drowning voices; by monstrosities of architecture without a soul; by the dynamic display of wealth forcing mind and hand, as mere cheap machinery, to the uttermost limits of the possible. Perhaps he saw such cities as Dore saw London: sullen majesty of arched glooms and granite deeps opening into granite deeps beyond range of vision, and mountains of masonry with seas of labor in turmoil at their base, and monumental spaces displaying the grimness of ordered power slow-gathering through centuries. Of beauty there was nothing to make appeal to him between those endless cliffs of stone which walled out the sunrise and the sunset, the sky and the wind. All that which draws us to great cities repelled or oppressed him; even luminous Paris soon filled him with weariness. It was the first foreign city in which he made a long sojourn. French art, as reflecting the aesthetic thought of the most gifted of European races, surprised him much, but charmed him not at all. What surprised him especially were its studies of the nude, in which he recognized only an open confession of the one human weakness which, next to disloyalty or cowardice, his stoical training had taught him to most despise. Modern French literature gave him other reasons for astonishment. He could little comprehend the amazing art of the story-teller; the worth of the workmanship in itself was not visible to him; and if he could have been made to understand it as a European understands, he would have remained none the less convinced that such application of genius to production signified social depravity. And gradually, in the luxurious life of the capital itself, he found proof for the belief suggested to him by the art and the literature of the period. He visited the pleasure-resorts, the theatres, the opera; he saw with the eyes of an ascetic and a soldier, and wondered why the Western conception of the worth of life differed so little from the Far-Eastern conception of folly and of effeminacy. He saw fashionable balls, and exposures de rigueur intolerable to the Far-Eastern sense of modesty, —artistically calculated to suggest what would cause a Japanese woman to die of shame; and he wondered at criticisms he had heard about the natural, modest, healthy half-nudity of Japanese toiling under a summer sun. He saw cathedrals and churches in vast number, and near to them the palaces of vice, and establishments enriched by the stealthy sale of artistic obscenities. He listened to sermons by great preachers; and he heard blasphemies against all faith and love by priest—haters. He saw the circles of wealth, and the circles of poverty, and the abysses underlying both. The "restraining influence" of religion he did not see. That world had no faith. It was a world of mockery and masquerade and pleasure-seeking selfishness, ruled not by religion, but by police; a world into which it were not good that a man should he born.

England, more sombre, more imposing, more formidable furnished him with other problems to consider. He studied her wealth, forever growing, and the nightmares of squalor forever multiplying in the shadow of it. He saw the vast ports gorged with the riches of a hundred lands, mostly plunder; and knew the English still like their forefathers, a race of prey; and thought of the fate of her millions if she should find herself for even a single month unable to compel other races to feed them. He saw the harlotry and drunkenness that make night hideous in the world's greatest city; and he marveled at the conventional hypocrisy that pretends not to see, and at the religion that utters thanks for existing conditions, and at the ignorance that sends missionaries where they are not needed, and at the enormous charities that help disease and vice to propagate their kind. He saw also the declaration of a great Englishman(1) who had traveled in many countries that one tenth of the population of England were professional criminals or paupers. And this in spite of the myriads of churches, and the incomparable multiplication of laws! Certainly English civilization showed less than any other the pretended power of that religion which he had been taught to believe the inspiration of progress. English streets told him another story: there were no such sights to be seen in the streets of Buddhist cities. No: this civilization signified a perpetual wicked struggle between the simple and the cunning, the feeble and the strong; force and craft combining to thrust weakness into a yawning and visible hell. Never in Japan had there been even the sick dream of such conditions. Yet the merely material and intellectual results of those conditions he could not but confess to be astonishing; and though he saw evil beyond all he could have imagined possible, he also saw much good, among both poor and rich. The stupendous riddle of it all, the countless contradictions, were above his powers of interpretation.

He liked the English people better than the people of other countries he had visited; and the manners of the English gentry impressed him as not unlike those of the Japanese samurai. Behind their formal coldness he could discern immense capacities of friendship and enduring kindness,—kindness he experienced more than once; the depth of emotional power rarely wasted; and the high courage that had won the dominion of half a world. But ere he left England for America, to study a still vaster field of human achievement, mere differences of nationality had ceased to interest him: they were blurred out of visibility in his growing perception of Occidental civilization as one amazing whole, everywhere displaying—whether through imperial, monarchical, or democratic forms—the working of the like merciless necessities with the like astounding results, and everywhere based on ideas totally the reverse of Far-Eastern ideas. Such civilization he could estimate only as one having no single emotion in harmony with it,—as one finding nothing to love while dwelling in its midst, and nothing to regret in the hour of leaving it forever. It was as far away from his soul as the life of another planet under another sun. But he could understand its cost in terms of human pain, feel the menace of its weight, and divine the prodigious range of its intellectual power. And he hated it,—hated its tremendous and perfectly calculated mechanism; hated its utilitarian stability; hated its conventions, its greed, its blind cruelty, its huge hypocrisy, the foulness of its want and the insolence of its wealth. Morally, it was monstrous; conventionally, it was brutal. Depths of degradation unfathomable it had shown him, but no ideals equal to the ideals of his youth. It was all one great wolfish struggle;—and that so much real goodness as he had found in it could exist, seemed to him scarcely less than miraculous. The real sublimities of the Occident were intellectual only; far steep cold heights of pure knowledge, below whose perpetual snow-line emotional ideals die. Surely the old Japanese civilization of benevolence and duty was incomparably better in its comprehension of happiness, in its moral ambitions, its larger faith, its joyous courage, its simplicity and unselfishness, its sobriety and contentment. Western superiority was not ethical. It lay in forces of intellect developed through suffering incalculable, and used for the destruction of the weak by the strong.

And, nevertheless, that Western science whose logic he knew to be irrefutable assured him of the larger and larger expansion of the power of that civilization, as of an irresistible, inevitable, measureless inundation of world-pain. Japan would have to learn the new forms of action, to master the new forms of thought, or to perish utterly. There was no other alternative. And then the doubt of all doubts came to him, the question which all the sages have had to face: Is the universe moral? To that question Buddhism had given the deepest answer.

But whether moral or immoral the cosmic process, as measured by infinitesimal human emotion, one conviction remained with him that no logic could impair: the certainty that man should pursue the highest moral ideal with all his power to the unknown end, even though the suns in their courses should fight against him. The necessities of Japan would oblige her to master foreign science, to adopt much from the material civilization of her enemies; but the same necessities could not compel her to cast bodily away her ideas of right and wrong, of duty and of honor. Slowly a purpose shaped itself in his mind,—a purpose which was to make him in after years a leader and a teacher: to strive with all his strength for the conservation of all that, was best in the ancient life, and to fearlessly oppose further introduction of anything not essential to national self-preservation, or helpful to national, self-development. Fail he well, might, and without shame; but he could hope at least to save something of worth from the drift of wreckage. The wastefulness of Western life had impressed him more than its greed of pleasure and its capacity for pain: in the clean poverty of his own land he saw strength; in her unselfish thrift, the sole chance of competing with the Occident. Foreign civilization had taught him to under-stand, as he could never otherwise have understood, the worth and the beauty of his own; and he longed for the hour of permission to return to the country of his birth.

(1)"Although we have progressed vastly beyond the savage state in intellectual achievements, we have not advanced equally in morals.... It is not too much to say that the mass of our populations have not at all advanced beyond the savage code of morals, and have in many cases sunk below it. A deficient morality is the great blot of modern civilization.... Our whole social and moral civilization remains in a state of barbarism.... We are the richest country in the world; and yet nearly one twentieth of our population are parish paupers, and one thirtieth known criminals. Add to these the criminals who escape detection, and the poor who live mainly or partly on private charity (which, according to Dr. Hawkesley, expends seven millions sterling annually in London alone), and we may be sure that more than ONE TENTH of our population are actually Paupers and Criminals." —ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE


It was through the transparent darkness of a cloudless April morning, a little before sunrise, that he saw again the mountains of his native land,—far lofty sharpening sierras, towering violet-black out of the circle of an inky sea. Behind the steamer which was bearing him back from exile the horizon was slowly filling with rosy flame. There were some foreigners already on deck, eager to obtain the first and fairest view of Fuji from the Pacific;—for the first sight of Fuji at dawn is not to be forgotten in this life or the next. They watched the long procession of the ranges, and looked over the jagged looming into the deep night, where stars were faintly burning still,—and they could not see Fuji. "Ah!" laughed an officer they questioned, "you are looking too low! higher up—much higher!" Then they looked up, up, up into the heart of the sky, and saw the mighty summit pinkening like a wondrous phantom lotos-bud in the flush of the coming day: a spectacle that smote them dumb. Swiftly the eternal snow yellowed into gold, then whitened as the sun reached out beams to it over the curve of the world, over the shadowy ranges, over the very stars, it seemed; for the giant base remained viewless. And the night fled utterly; and soft blue light bathed all the hollow heaven; and colors awoke from sleep; —and before the gazers there opened the luminous bay of Yokohama, with the sacred peak, its base ever invisible, hanging above all like a snowy ghost in the arch of the infinite day.

Still in the wanderer's ears the words rang, "Ah! you are looking too low!—higher up—much higher!"—making vague rhythm with an immense, irresistible emotion swelling at his heart. Then everything dimmed: he saw neither Fuji above, nor the nearing hills below, changing their vapory blue to green, nor the crowding of the ships in the bay; nor anything of the modern Japan; he saw the Old. The land-wind, delicately scented with odors of spring, rushed to him, touched his blood, and startled from long-closed cells of memory the shades of all that he had once abandoned and striven to forget. He saw the faces of his dead: he knew their voices over the graves of the years. Again he was a very little boy in his father's yashiki, wandering from luminous room to room, playing in sunned spaces where leaf-shadows trembled on the matting, or gazing into the soft green dreamy peace of the landscape garden. Once more he felt the light touch of his mother's hand guiding his little steps to the place of morning worship, before the household shrine, before the tablets of the ancestors; and the lips of the man murmured again, with sudden new-found meaning, the simple prayer of the child.



"Do you know anything about josses?"


"Yes; idols, Japanese idols,—josses." "Something," I answered, "but not very much."

"Well, come, and look at my collection, won't you? I've been collecting josses for twenty years, and I've got some worth seeing. They're not for sale, though,—except to the British Museum."

I followed the curio dealer through the bric-a-brac of his shop, and across a paved yard into an unusually large go-down(1). Like all go-downs it was dark: I could barely discern a stairway sloping up through gloom. He paused at the foot.

"You'll be able to see better in a moment," he said. "I had this place built expressly for them; but now it is scarcely big enough. They're all in the second story. Go right up; only be careful,—the steps are bad."

I climbed, and reached a sort of gloaming, under a very high roof, and found myself face to face with the gods.

In the dusk of the great go-down the spectacle was more than weird: it was apparitional. Arhats and Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and the shapes of a mythology older than they, filled all the shadowy space; not ranked by hierarchies, as in a temple, but mingled without order, as in a silent panic. Out of the wilderness of multiple heads and broken aureoles and hands uplifted in menace or in prayer,—a shimmering confusion of dusty gold half lighted by cobwebbed air-holes in the heavy walls,—I could at first discern little; then, as the dimness cleared, I began to distinguish personalities. I saw Kwannon, of many forms; Jizo, of many names; Shaka, Yakushi, Amida, the Buddhas and their disciples. They were very old; and their art was not all of Japan, nor of any one place or time: there were shapes from Korea, China, India,—treasures brought over sea in the rich days of the early Buddhist missions. Some were seated upon lotos-flowers, the lotos-flowers of the Apparitional Birth. Some rode leopards, tigers, lions, or monsters mystical,—typifying lightning, typifying death. One, triple-headed and many-handed, sinister and splendid, seemed moving through the gloom on a throne of gold, uplifted by a phalanx of elephants. Fudo I saw, shrouded and shrined in fire, and Maya-Fujin, riding her celestial peacock; and strangely mingling with these Buddhist visions, as in the anachronism of a Limbo, armored effigies of Daimyo and images of the Chinese sages. There were huge forms of wrath, grasping thunderbolts, and rising to the roof: the Deva-kings, like impersonations of hurricane power; the Ni-O, guardians of long-vanished temple gates. Also there were forms voluptuously feminine: the light grace of the limbs folded within their lotos-cups, the suppleness of the fingers numbering the numbers of the Good Law, were ideals possibly inspired in some forgotten tune by the charm of an Indian dancing-girl. Shelved against the naked brickwork above, I could perceive multitudes of lesser shapes: demon figures with eyes that burned through the dark like the eyes of a black cat, and figures half man, half bird, winged and beaked like eagles,—the Tengu of Japanese fancy.

"Well?" queried the curio dealer, with a chuckle of satisfaction at my evident surprise.

"It is a very great collection," I responded.

He clapped his hand on my shoulder, and exclaimed triumphantly in my ear, "Cost me fifty thousand dollars."

But the images themselves told me how much more was their cost to forgotten piety, notwithstanding the cheapness of artistic labor in the East. Also they told me of the dead millions whose pilgrim feet had worn hollow the steps leading to their shrines, of the buried mothers who used to suspend little baby-dresses before their altars, of the generations of children taught to murmur prayers to them, of the countless sorrows and hopes confided to them. Ghosts of the worship of centuries had followed them into exile; a thin, sweet odor of incense haunted the dusty place.

"What would you call that?" asked the voice of the curio dealer. "I've been told it's the best of the lot."

He pointed to a figure resting upon a triple golden lotos,—Avalokitesvara: she "who looketh down above the sound of prayer."... Storms and hate give way to her name. Fire is quenched by her name. Demons vanish at the sound of her name. By her name one may stand firm in the sky, like a sun.... The delicacy of the limbs, the tenderness of the smile, were dreams of the Indian paradise.

"It is a Kwannon," I made reply, "and very beautiful."

"Somebody will have to pay me a very beautiful price for it," he said, with a shrewd wink. "It cost me enough! As a rule, though, I get these things pretty cheap. There are few people who care to buy them, and they have to be sold privately, you know: that gives me an advantage. See that Jizo in the corner,—the big black fellow? What is it?"

"Emmei-Jizo," I answered,—"Jizo, the giver of long life. It must be very old."

"Well," he said, again taking me by the shoulder, "the man from whom I got that piece was put in prison for selling it to me."

Then he burst into a hearty laugh,—whether at the recollection of his own cleverness in the transaction, or at the unfortunate simplicity of the person who had sold the statue contrary to law, I could not decide.

"Afterwards," he resumed, "they wanted to get it back again, and offered me more, than I had given for it. But I held on. I don't know everything about josses, but I do know what they are worth. There isn't another idol like that in the whole country. The British Museum will be glad to get it."

"When do you intend to offer the collection to the British Museum?" I presumed to ask.

"Well, I first want to get up a show," he replied. "There's money to be made by a show of josses in London. London people never saw anything like this in their lives. Then the church folks help that sort of a show, if you manage them properly: it advertises the missions. 'Heathen idols from Japan!'... How do you like the baby?"

I was looking at a small gold-colored image of a naked child, standing, one tiny hand pointing upward, and the other downward, —representing the Buddha newly born. Sparkling with light he came from the womb, as when the Sun first rises in the east.... Upright he took deliberately seven steps; and the prints of his feet upon the ground remained burning as seven stars. And he spake with clearest utterance, saying, "This birth is a Buddha birth. Re-birth is not for me. Only this last time am I born for the salvation of all on earth and in heaven."

"That is what they call a Tanjo-Shaka," I said. "It looks like bronze."

"Bronze it is," he responded, tapping it with his knuckles to make the metal ring. "The bronze alone is worth more than the price I paid."

I looked at the four Devas whose heads almost touched the roof, and thought of the story of their apparition told in the Mahavagga. On a beautiful night the Four Great Kings entered the holy grove, filling all the place with light; and having respectfully saluted the Blessed One, they stood in the four directions, like four great firebrands.

"How did you ever manage to get those big figures upstairs?" I asked.

"Oh, hauled them up! We've got a hatchway. The real trouble was getting them here by train. It was the first railroad trip they ever made.... But look at these here: they will make the sensation of the show!"

I looked, and saw two small wooden images, about three feet high.

"Why do you think they will make a sensation?" I inquired innocently.

"Don't you see what they are? They date from the time of the persecutions. Japanese devils trampling on the Cross!"

They were small temple guardians only; but their feet rested upon X-shaped supports.

"Did any person tell you these were devils trampling on the cross?" I made bold to ask.

"What else are they doing?" he answered evasively. "Look at the crosses under their feet!"

"But they are not devils," I insisted; "and those cross-pieces were put under their feet simply to give equilibrium."

He said nothing, but looked disappointed; and I felt a little sorry for him. Devils trampling on the Cross, as a display line in some London poster announcing the arrival of "josses from Japan," might certainly have been relied on to catch the public eye.

"This is more wonderful," I said, pointing to a beautiful group, —Maya with the infant Buddha issuing from her side, according to tradition. Painlessly the Bodhisattva was born from her right side. It was the eighth day of the fourth moon.

"That's bronze, too," he remarked, tapping it. "Bronze josses are getting rare. We used to buy them up and sell them for old metal. Wish I'd kept some of them! You ought to have seen the bronzes, in those days, coming in from the temples,—bells and vases and josses! That was the time we tried to buy the Daibutsu at Kamakura."

"For old bronze?" I queried.

"Yes. We calculated the weight of the metal, and formed a syndicate. Our first offer was thirty thousand. We could have made a big profit, for there's a good deal of gold and silver in that work. The priests wanted to sell, but the people wouldn't let them."

"It's one of the world's wonders," I said. "Would you really have broken it up?"

"Certainly. Why not? What else could you do with it?... That one there looks just like a Virgin Mary, doesn't it?"

He pointed to the gilded image of a female clasping a child to her breast.

"Yes," I replied; "but it is Kishibojin, the goddess who loves little children."

"People talk about idolatry," he went on musingly. "I've seen things like many of these in Roman Catholic chapels. Seems to me religion is pretty much the same the world over."

"I think you are right," I said.

"Why, the story of Buddha is like the story of Christ, isn't it?"

"To some degree," I assented.

"Only, he wasn't crucified."

I did not answer; thinking of the text, In all the world there is not one spot even so large as a mustard-seed where he has not surrendered his body for the sake of creatures. Then it suddenly seemed to me that this was absolutely true. For the Buddha of the deeper Buddhism is not Gautama, nor yet any one Tathagata, but simply the divine in man. Chrysalides of the infinite we all are: each contains a ghostly Buddha, and the millions are but one. All humanity is potentially the Buddha-to-come, dreaming through the ages in Illusion; and the teacher's smile will make beautiful the world again when selfishness shall die. Every noble sacrifice brings nearer the hour of his awakening; and who may justly doubt—remembering the myriads of the centuries of man—that even now there does not remain one place on earth where life has not been freely given for love or duty?

I felt the curio dealer's hand on my shoulder again.

"At all events," he cried in a cheery tone, "they'll be appreciated in the British Museum—eh?"

"I hope so. They ought to be."

Then I fancied them immured somewhere in that vast necropolis of dead gods, under the gloom of a pea-soup-fog, chambered with forgotten divinities of Egypt or Babylon, and trembling faintly at the roar of London,—all to what end? Perhaps to aid another Alma Tadema to paint the beauty of another vanished civilization; perhaps to assist the illustration of an English Dictionary of Buddhism; perhaps to inspire some future laureate with a metaphor startling as Tennyson's figure of the "oiled and curled Assyrian bull." Assuredly they would not be preserved in vain. The thinkers of a less conventional and selfish era would teach new reverence for them. Each eidolon shaped by human faith remains the shell of a truth eternally divine, and even the shell itself may hold a ghostly power. The soft serenity, the passionless tenderness, of these Buddha faces might yet give peace of soul to a West weary of creeds transformed into conventions, eager for the coming of another teacher to proclaim, "I have the same feeling for the high as for the low, for the moral as for the immoral, for the depraved as for the virtuous, for those holding sectarian views and false opinions as for those whose beliefs are good and true."

(1) A name given to fireproof storehouses in the open ports of the Far East. The word is derived from the Malay gadong.



"If A Bikkhu should desire, O brethren, to call to mind his various temporary states in days gone by—such as one birth, two births, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, one hundred, or one thousand, or one hundred thousand births,-in all their modes and all their details, let him be devoted to quietude of heart,—let him look through things, let him be much alone." —Akankheyya Sutta.


Were I to ask any reflecting Occidental, who had passed some years in the real living atmosphere of Buddhism, what fundamental idea especially differentiates Oriental modes of thinking from our own, I am sure he would answer: "The Idea of Pre-existence." It is this idea, more than any other, which permeates the whole mental being of the Far East. It is universal as the wash of air: it colors every emotion; it influences, directly or indirectly, almost every act. Its symbols are perpetually visible, even in details of artistic decoration; and hourly by day or night, some echoes of its language float uninvited to the ear. The utterances of the people,—their household sayings, their proverbs, their pious or profane exclamations, their confessions of sorrow, hope, joy, or despair,—are all informed with it. It qualifies equally the expression of hate or the speech of affection; and the term ingwa, or innen,—meaning karma as inevitable retribution, —comes naturally to every lip as an interpretation, as a consolation, or as a reproach. The peasant toiling up some steep road, and feeling the weight of his handcart straining every muscle, murmurs patiently: "Since this is ingwa, it must be suffered." Servants disputing, ask each other, "By reason of what ingwa must I now dwell with such a one as you?" The incapable or vicious man is reproached with his ingwa; and the misfortunes of the wise or the virtuous are explained by the same Buddhist word. The law-breaker confesses his crime, saying: "That which I did I knew to be wicked when doing; but my ingwa was stronger than my heart." Separated lovers seek death under the belief that their union in this life is banned by the results of their sins in a former one; and, the victim of an injustice tries to allay his natural anger by the self-assurance that he is expiating some forgotten fault which had to, be expiated in the eternal order of things.... So likewise even the commonest references to a spiritual future imply the general creed of a spiritual past. The mother warns her little ones at play about the effect of wrong-doing upon their future births, as the children of other parents. The pilgrim or the street-beggar accepts your alms with the prayer that your next birth may be fortunate. The aged inkyo, whose sight and hearing begin to fail, talks cheerily of the impending change that is to provide him with a fresh young body. And the expressions Yakusoku, signifying the Buddhist idea of necessity; mae no yo, the last life; akirame, resignation, recur as frequently in Japanese common parlance as do the words "right" and "wrong" in English popular speech.

After long dwelling in this psychological medium, you find that it has penetrated your own thought, and has effected therein various changes. All concepts of life implied by the idea of preexistence,—all those beliefs which, however sympathetically studied, must at first have seemed more than strange to you,— finally lose that curious or fantastic character with which novelty once invested them, and present themselves under a perfectly normal aspect. They explain so many things so well as even to look rational; and quite rational some assuredly are when measured by the scientific thought of the nineteenth century. But to judge them fairly, it is first necessary to sweep the mind clear of all Western ideas of metempsychosis. For there is no resemblance between the old Occidental conceptions of soul—the Pythagorean or the Platonic, for example—and the Buddhist conception; and it is precisely because of this unlikeness that the Japanese beliefs prove themselves reasonable. The profound difference between old-fashioned Western thought and Eastern thought in this regard is, that for the Buddhist the conventional soul—the single, tenuous, tremulous, transparent inner man, or ghost—does not exist. The Oriental Ego is not individual. Nor is it even a definitely numbered multiple like the Gnostic soul. It is an aggregate or composite of inconceivable complexity,—the concentrated sum of the creative thinking of previous lives beyond all reckoning.


The interpretative power of Buddhism, and the singular accord of its theories with the facts of modern science, appear especially in that domain of psychology whereof Herbert Spencer has been the greatest of all explorers. No small part of our psychological life is composed of feelings which Western theology never could explain. Such are those which cause the still speechless infant to cry at the sight of certain faces, or to smile at the sight of others. Such are those instantaneous likes or dislikes experienced on meeting strangers, those repulsions or attractions called "first impressions," which intelligent children are prone to announce with alarming frankness, despite all assurance that "people must not be judged by appearances": a doctrine no child in his heart believes. To call these feelings instinctive or intuitive, in the theological meaning of instinct or intuition, explains nothing at all—merely cuts off inquiry into the mystery of life, just like the special creation hypothesis. The idea that a personal impulse or emotion might be more than individual, except through demoniacal possession, still seems to old-fashioned orthodoxy a monstrous heresy. Yet it is now certain that most of our deeper feelings are superindividual,—both those which we classify as passional, and those which we call sublime. The individuality of the amatory passion is absolutely denied by science; and what is true of love at first sight is also true of hate: both are superindividual. So likewise are those vague impulses to wander which come and go with spring, and those vague depressions experienced in autumn,—survivals, perhaps, from an epoch in which human migration followed the course of the seasons, or even from an era preceding the apparition of man. Superindividual also those emotions felt by one who, after having passed the greater part of a life on plain or prairies, first looks upon a range of snow-capped peaks; or the sensations of some dweller in the interior of a continent when he first beholds the ocean, and hears its eternal thunder. The delight, always toned with awe, which the sight of a stupendous landscape evokes; Or that speechless admiration, mingled with melancholy inexpressible, which the splendor of a tropical sunset creates,—never can be interpreted by individual experience. Psychological analysis has indeed shown these emotions to be prodigiously complex, and interwoven with personal experiences of many kinds; but in either case the deeper wave of feeling is never individual: it is a surging up from that ancestral sea of life out of which we came. To the same psychological category possibly belongs likewise a peculiar feeling which troubled men's minds long before the time of Cicero, and troubles them even more betimes in our own generation,—the feeling of having already seen a place really visited for the first time. Some strange air of familiarity about the streets of a foreign town, or the forms of a foreign landscape, comes to the mind with a sort of soft weird shock, and leaves one vainly ransacking memory for interpretations. Occasionally, beyond question, similar sensations are actually produced by the revival or recombination of former relations in consciousness; but there would seem to be many which remain wholly mysterious when we attempt to explain them by individual experience.

Even in the most common of our sensations there are enigmas never to be solved by those holding the absurd doctrine that all feeling and cognition belong to individual experience, and that the mind of the child newly-born is a tabula rasa. The pleasure excited by the perfume of a flower, by certain shades of color, by certain tones of music; the involuntary loathing or fear aroused by the first sight of dangerous or venomous life; even the nameless terror of dreams,—are all inexplicable upon the old-fashioned soul-hypothesis. How deeply-reaching into the life of the race some of these sensations are, such as the pleasure in odors and in colors, Grant Allen has most effectively suggested in his "Physiological Aesthetics," and in his charming treatise on the Color-Sense. But long before these were written, his teacher, the greatest of all psychologists, had clearly proven that the experience-hypothesis was utterly inadequate to account for many classes of psychological phenomena. "If possible," observes Herbert Spencer, "it is even more at fault in respect to the emotions than to the cognitions. The doctrine that all the desires, all the sentiments, are generated by the experiences of the individual, is so glaringly at variance with facts that I cannot but wonder how any one should ever have ventured to entertain it." It was Mr. Spencer, also, who showed us that words like "instinct," "intuition," have no true signification in the old sense; they must hereafter be used in a very different one. Instinct, in the language of modern psychology, means "organized memory," and memory itself is "incipient instinct,"—the sum of impressions to be inherited by the next succeeding individual in the chain of life. Thus science recognizes inherited memory: not in the ghostly signification of a remembering of the details of former lives, but as a minute addition to psychological life accompanied by minute changes in the structure of the inherited nervous system. "The human brain is an organized register of infinitely numerous experiences received during the evolution of life, or rather, during the evolution of that series of organisms through which the human organism has been reached. The effects of the most uniform and frequent of these experiences have been successively bequeathed, principal and interest; and have slowly amounted to that high intelligence which lies latent in the brain of the infant—which the infant in after-life exercises and perhaps strengthens or further complicates—and which, with minute additions, it bequeaths to future generations(1)." Thus we have solid physiological ground for the idea of pre-existence and the idea of a multiple Ego. It is incontrovertible that in every individual brain is looked up the inherited memory of the absolutely inconceivable multitude of experiences received by all the brains of which it is the descendant. But this scientific assurance of self in the past is uttered in no materialistic sense. Science is the destroyer of materialism: it has proven matter incomprehensible; and it confesses the mystery of mind insoluble, even while obliged to postulate an ultimate unit of sensation. Out of the units of simple sensation, older than we by millions of years, have undoubtedly been built up all the emotions and faculties of man. Here Science, in accord with Buddhism, avows the Ego composite, and, like Buddhism, explains the psychical riddles of the present by the psychical experiences of the past.

(1) Principles of Psychology: "The Feelings."


To many persons it must seem that the idea of Soul as an infinite multiple would render impossible any idea of religion in the Western sense; and those unable to rid themselves of old theological conceptions doubtless imagine that even in Buddhist countries, and despite the evidence of Buddhist texts, the faith of the common people is really based upon the idea of the soul as a single entity. But Japan furnishes remarkable proof to the contrary. The uneducated common people, the poorest country-folk who have never studied Buddhist metaphysics, believe the self composite. What is even more remarkable is that in the primitive faith, Shinto, a kindred doctrine exists; and various forms of the belief seem to characterize the thought of the Chinese and of the Koreans. All these peoples of the Far East seem to consider the soul compound; whether in the Buddhist sense, or in the primitive sense represented by Shinto (a sort of ghostly multiplying by fission), or in the fantastic sense elaborated by Chinese astrology. In Japan I have fully satisfied myself that the belief is universal. It is not necessary to quote here from the Buddhist texts, because the common or popular beliefs, and not the philosophy of a creed, can alone furnish evidence that religious fervor is compatible and consistent with the notion of a composite soul. Certainly the Japanese peasant does not think the psychical Self nearly so complex a thing as Buddhist philosophy considers it, or as Western science proves it to be. But he thinks of himself as multiple. The struggle within him between impulses good and evil he explains as a conflict between the various ghostly wills that make up his Ego; and his spiritual hope is to disengage his better self or selves from his worse selves,—Nirvana, or the supreme bliss, being attainable only through the survival of the best within him. Thus his religion appears to be founded upon a natural perception of psychical evolution not nearly so remote from scientific thought as are those conventional notions of soul held by our common people at home. Of course his ideas on these abstract subjects are vague and unsystematized; but their general character and tendencies are unmistakable; and there can be no question whatever as to the earnestness of his faith, or as to the influence of that faith upon his ethical life.

Wherever belief survives among the educated classes, the same ideas obtain definition and synthesis. I may cite, in example, two selections from compositions, written by students aged respectively twenty-three and twenty-six. I might as easily cite a score; but the following will sufficiently indicate what I mean:—

"Nothing is more foolish than to declare the immortality of the soul. The soul is a compound; and though its elements be eternal, we know they can never twice combine in exactly the same way. All compound things must change their character and their conditions."

"Human life is composite. A combination of energies make the soul. When a man dies his soul may either remain unchanged, or be changed according to that which it combines with. Some philosophers say the soul is immortal; some, that it is mortal. They are both right. The soul is mortal or immortal according to the change of the combinations composing it. The elementary energies from which the soul is formed are, indeed, eternal; but the nature of the soul is determined by the character of the combinations into which those energies enter."

Now the ideas expressed in these compositions will appear to the Western reader, at first view, unmistakably atheistic. Yet they are really compatible with the sincerest and deepest faith. It is the use of the English word "soul," not understood at all as we understand it, which creates the false impression. "Soul," in the sense used by the young writers, means an almost infinite combination of both good and evil tendencies,—a compound doomed to disintegration not only by the very fact of its being a compound, but also by the eternal law of spiritual progress.


That the idea, which has been for thousands of years so vast a factor in Oriental thought-life, should have failed to develop itself in the West till within, our own day, is sufficiently explained by Western theology. Still, it would not be correct to say that theology succeeded in rendering the notion of pre-existence absolutely repellent to Occidental minds. Though Christian doctrine, holding each soul specially created out of nothing to fit each new body, permitted no avowed beliefs in pre-existence, popular common-sense recognized a contradiction of dogma in the phenomena of heredity. In the same way, while theology decided animals to be mere automata, moved by a sort of incomprehensible machinery called instinct, the people generally recognized that animals had reasoning powers. The theories of instinct and of intuition held even a generation ago seem utterly barbarous to-day. They were commonly felt to be useless as interpretations; but as dogmas they served to check speculation and to prevent heresy. Wordsworth's "Fidelity" and his marvelously overrated "Intimations of Immortality" bear witness to the extreme timidity and crudeness of Western notions on these subjects even at the beginning of the century. The love of the dog for his master is indeed "great beyond all human estimate," but for reasons Wordsworth never dreamed about; and although the fresh sensations of childhood are certainly intimations of something much more wonderful than Wordsworth's denominational idea of immortality, his famous stanza concerning them has been very justly condemned by Mr. John Morley as nonsense. Before the decay of theology, no rational ideas of psychological inheritance, of the true nature of instinct, or of the unity of life, could possibly have forced their way to general recognition.

But with the acceptance of the doctrine of evolution, old forms of thought crumbled; new ideas everywhere arose to take the place of worn-out dogmas; and we now have the spectacle of a general intellectual movement in directions strangely parallel with Oriental philosophy. The unprecedented rapidity and multiformity of scientific progress during the last fifty years could not have failed to provoke an equally unprecedented intellectual quickening among the non-scientific. That the highest and most complex organisms have been developed from the lowest and simplest; that a single physical basis of life is the substance of the whole living world; that no line of separation can be drawn between the animal and vegetable; that the difference between life and non-life is only a difference of degree, not of kind; that matter is not less incomprehensible than mind, while both are but varying manifestations of one and the same unknown reality,—these have already become the commonplaces of the new philosophy. After the first recognition even by theology of physical evolution, it was easy to predict that the recognition of psychical evolution could not be indefinitely delayed; for the barrier erected by old dogma to keep men from looking backward had been broken down. And to-day for the student of scientific psychology the idea of pre-existence passes out of the realm of theory into the realm of fact, proving the Buddhist explanation of the universal mystery quite as plausible as any other. "None but very hasty thinkers," wrote the late Professor Huxley, "will reject it on the ground of inherent absurdity. Like the doc-trine of evolution itself, that of transmigration has its roots in the world of reality; and it may claim such support as the great argument from analogy is capable of supplying(1)."

Now this support, as given by Professor Huxley, is singularly strong. It offers us no glimpse of a single soul flitting from darkness to light, from death to rebirth, through myriads of millions of years; but it leaves the main idea of pre-existence almost exactly in the form enunciated by the Buddha himself. In the Oriental doctrine, the psychical personality, like the individual body, is an aggregate doomed to disintegration By psychical personality I mean here that which distinguishes mind from mind,—the "me" from the "you": that which we call self. To Buddhism this is a temporary composite of illusions. What makes it is the karma. What reincarnates is the karma,—the sum-total of the acts and thoughts of countless anterior existences,—each existences,—each one of which, as an integer in some great spiritual system of addition and subtraction, may affect all the rest. Like a magnetism, the karma is transmitted from form to form, from phenomenon to phenomenon, determining conditions by combinations. The ultimate mystery of the concentrative and creative effects of karma the Buddhist acknowledges to be inscrutable; but the cohesion of effects he declares to be produced by tanha, the desire of life, corresponding to what Schopenhauer called the "will" to live. Now we find in Herbert Spencer's "Biology" a curious parallel for this idea. He explains the transmission of tendencies, and their variations, by a theory of polarities,—polarities of the physiological unit between this theory of polarities and the Buddhist theory of tanha, the difference is much less striking than the resemblance. Karma or heredity, tanha or polarity, are inexplicable as to their ultimate nature: Buddhism and Science are here at one. The fact worthy of attention is that both recognize the same phenomena under different names.

(1) Evolution and Ethics, p.61 (ed 1894).


The prodigious complexity of the methods by which Science has arrived at conclusions so strangely in harmony with the ancient thought of the East, may suggest the doubt whether those conclusions could ever be made clearly comprehensible to the mass of Western minds. Certainly it would seem that just as the real doctrines of Buddhism can be taught to the majority of believers through forms only, so the philosophy of science can be communicated to the masses through suggestion only,—suggestion of such facts, or arrangements of fact, as must appeal to any naturally intelligent mind. But the history of scientific progress assures the efficiency of this method; and there is no strong reason for the supposition that, because the processes of the higher science remain above the mental reach of the unscientific classes, the conclusions of that science will not be generally accepted. The dimensions and weights of planets; the distances and the composition of stars; the law of gravitation; the signification of heat, light, and color; the nature of sound, and a host of other scientific discoveries, are familiar to thousands quite ignorant of the details of the methods by which such knowledge was obtained. Again we have evidence that every great progressive movement of science during the century has been followed by considerable modifications of popular beliefs. Already the churches, though clinging still to the hypothesis of a specially-created soul, have accepted the main doctrine of physical evolution; and neither fixity of belief nor intellectual retrogression can be rationally expected in the immediate future. Further changes of religious ideas are to be looked for; and it is even likely that they will be effected rapidly rather than slowly. Their exact nature, indeed, cannot be predicted; but existing intellectual tendencies imply that the doctrine of. psychological evolution must be accepted, though not at once so as to set any final limit to ontological speculation; and that the whole conception of the Ego will be eventually transformed through the consequently developed idea of pre-existence.


More detailed consideration of these probabilities may be ventured. They will not, perhaps, be acknowledged as probabilities by persons who regard science as a destroyer rather than a modifier. But such thinkers forget that religious feeling is something infinitely more profound than dogma; that it survives all gods and all forms of creed; and that it only widens and deepens and gathers power with intellectual expansion. That as mere doctrine religion will ultimately pass away is a conclusion to which the study of evolution leads; but that religion as feeling, or even as faith in the unknown power shaping equally a brain or a constellation, can ever utterly die, is not at present conceivable. Science wars only upon erroneous interpretations of phenomena; it only magnifies the cosmic mystery, and proves that everything, however minute, is infinitely wonderful and incomprehensible. And it is this indubitable tendency of science to broaden beliefs and to magnify cosmic emotion which justifies the supposition that future modifications of Western religious ideas will be totally unlike any modifications effected in the past; that the Occidental conception of Self will orb into something akin to the Oriental conception of Self; and that all present petty metaphysical notions of personality and individuality as realities per se will be annihilated. Already the growing popular comprehension of the facts of heredity, as science teaches them, indicates the path by which some, at least, of these modifications will be reached. In the coming contest over the great question of psychological evolution, common intelligence will follow Science along the line of least resistance; and that line will doubtless be the study of heredity, since the phenomena to be considered, however in themselves uninterpretable, are familiar to general experience, and afford partial answers to countless old enigmas. It is thus quite possible to imagine a coming form of Western religion supported by the whole power of synthetic philosophy, differing from Buddhism mainly in the greater exactness of its conceptions, holding the soul as a composite, and teaching a new spiritual law resembling the doctrine of karma.

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