Kokoro - Japanese Inner Life Hints
by Lafcadio Hearn
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An objection to this idea will, however, immediately present itself to many minds. Such a modification of belief, it will be averred, would signify the sudden conquest and transformation of feelings by ideas. "The world," says Herbert Spencer, "is not governed by ideas, but by feelings, to which ideas serve only as guides." How are the notions of a change, such as that supposed, to be reconciled with common knowledge of existing religious sentiment in the West, and the force of religious emotionalism?

Were the ideas of pre-existence and of the soul as multiple really antagonistic to Western religious sentiment, no satisfactory answer could be made. But are they so antagonistic? The idea of pre-existence certainly is not; the Occidental mind is already prepared for it. It is true that the notion of Self as a composite, destined to dissolution, may seem little better than the materialistic idea of annihilation,—at least to those still unable to divest themselves of the old habits of thought. Nevertheless, impartial reflection will show that there is no emotional reason for dreading the disintegration of the Ego. Actually, though unwittingly, it is for this very disintegration that Christians and Buddhists alike perpetually pray. Who has not often wished to rid himself of the worse parts of his nature, of tendencies to folly or to wrong, of impulses to say or do unkind things,—of all that lower inheritance which still clings about the higher man, and weighs down his finest aspirations? Yet that of which we so earnestly desire the separation, the elimination, the death, is not less surely a part of psychological inheritance, of veritable Self, than are those younger and larger faculties which help to the realization of noble ideals. Rather than an end to be feared, the dissolution of Self is the one object of all objects to which our efforts should be turned. What no new philosophy can forbid us to hope is that the best elements of Self will thrill on to seek loftier affinities, to enter into grander and yet grander combinations, till the supreme revelation comes, and we discern, through infinite vision,—through the vanishing of all Self,—the Absolute Reality.

For while we know that even the so-called elements themselves are evolving, we have no proof that anything utterly dies. That we are is the certainty that, we have been and will be. We have survived countless evolutions, countless universes. We know that through the Cosmos all is law. No chance decides what units shall form the planetary core, or what shall feel the sun; what shall be locked in granite and basalt, or shall multiply in plant and in animal. So far as reason can venture to infer from analogy, the cosmical history of every ultimate unit, psychological or physical, is determined just as surely and as exactly as in the Buddhist doctrine of karma.


The influence of Science will not be the only factor in the modification of Western religious beliefs: Oriental philosophy will certainly furnish another. Sanscrit, Chinese, and Pali scholarship, and the tireless labor of philologists in all parts of the East, are rapidly familiarizing Europe and America with all the great forms of Oriental thought; Buddhism is being studied with interest throughout the Occident; and the results of these studies are yearly showing themselves more and more definitely in the mental products of the highest culture. The schools of philosophy are not more visibly affected than the literature of the period. Proof that a reconsideration of the problem of the Ego is everywhere forcing itself upon Occidental minds, may be found not only in the thoughtful prose of the time, but even in its poetry and its romance. Ideas impossible a generation ago are changing current thought, destroying old tastes, and developing higher feelings. Creative art, working under larger inspiration, is telling what absolutely novel and exquisite sensations, what hitherto unimaginable pathos, what marvelous deepening of emotional power, may be gained in literature with the recognition of the idea of pre-existence. Even in fiction we learn that we have been living in a hemisphere only; that we have been thinking but half-thoughts; that we need a new faith to join past with future over the great parallel of the present, and so to round out our emotional world into a perfect sphere. The clear conviction that the self is multiple, however paradoxical the statement seem, is the absolutely necessary step to the vaster conviction that the many are One, that life is unity, that there is no finite, but only infinite. Until that blind pride which imagines Self unique shall have been broken down, and the feeling of self and of selfishness shall have been utterly decomposed, the knowledge of the Ego as infinite,—as the very Cosmos,—never can be reached.

Doubtless the simple emotional conviction that we have been in the past will be developed long before the intellectual conviction that the Ego as one is a fiction of selfishness. But the composite nature of Self must at last be acknowledged, though its mystery remain. Science postulates a hypothetical psychological unit as well as a hypothetical physiological unit; but either postulated entity defies the uttermost power of mathematical estimate,—seems to resolve itself into pure ghostliness. The chemist, for working purposes, must imagine an ultimate atom; but the fact of which the imagined atom is the symbol may be a force centre only,—nay, a void, a vortex, an emptiness, as in Buddhist concept. "Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. What is form, that is emptiness; what is emptiness, that is form. Perception and conception, name and knowledge,—all these are emptiness." For science and for Buddhism alike the cosmos resolves itself into a vast phantasmagoria,—a mere play of unknown and immeasurable forces. Buddhist faith, however, answers the questions "Whence?" and "Whither?" in its own fashion, and predicts in every great cycle of evolution a period of spiritual expansion in which the memory of former births returns, and all the future simultaneously opens before the vision unveiled, even to the heaven of heavens. Science here remains dumb. But her silence is the Silence of the Gnostics,—Sige, the Daughter of Depth and the Mother of Spirit.

What we may allow ourselves to believe, with the full consent of Science, is that marvelous revelations await us. Within recent time new senses and powers have been developed,—the sense of music, the ever-growing faculties of the mathematician. Reasonably it may be expected that still higher unimaginable faculties will be evolved in our descendants. Again it is known that certain mental capacities, undoubtedly inherited, develop in old age only; and the average life of the human race is steadily lengthening. With increased longevity there surely may come into sudden being, through the unfolding of the larger future brain, powers not less wonderful than the ability to remember former births. The dreams of Buddhism can scarcely be surpassed, because they touch the infinite; but who can presume to say they never will be realized?


It may be necessary to remind some of those kind enough to read the foregoing that the words "soul," "self," "ego," "transmigration," "heredity," although freely used by me, convey meanings entirely foreign to Buddhist philosophy, "Soul," in the English sense of the word, does not exist for the Buddhist. "Self" is an illusion, or rather a plexus of illusions. "Transmigration," as the passing of soul from one body to another, is expressly denied in Buddhist texts of unquestionable authority. It will therefore be evident that the real analogy which does exist between the doctrine of karma and the scientific facts of heredity is far from complete. Karma signifies the survival, not of the same composite individuality, but of its tendencies, which recombine to form a new composite individuality. The new being does not necessarily take even a human form: the karma does not descend from parent to child; it is independent of the line of heredity, although physical conditions of life seem to depend upon karma. The karma-being of a beggar may have rebirth in the body of a king; that of a king in the body of a beggar; yet the conditions of either reincarnation have been predetermined by the influence of karma.

It will be asked, What then is the spiritual element in each being that continues unchanged,—the spiritual kernel, so to speak, within the shell of karma,—the power that makes for righteousness? If soul and body alike are temporary composites, and the karma (itself temporary) the only source of personality, what is the worth or meaning of Buddhist doctrine? What is it that suffers by karma; what is it that lies within the illusion, —that makes progress,—that attains Nirvana? Is it not a self? Not in our sense of the word. The reality of what we call self is denied by Buddhism. That which forms and dissolves the karma; that which makes for righteousness; that which reaches Nirvana, is not our Ego in our Western sense of the word. Then what is it? It is the divine in each being. It is called in Japanese Muga-no-taiga,—the Great Self-without-selfishness. There Is no other true self. The self wrapped in illusion is called Nyorai-zo,—(Tathagata-gharba),—the Buddha yet unborn, as one in a womb. The Infinite exists potentially in every being. That is the Reality. The other self is a falsity,—-a lie,—a mirage. The doctrine of extinction refers only to the extinction of Illusions; and those sensations and feelings and thoughts, which belong to this life of the flesh alone, are the illusions which make the complex illusive self. By the total decomposition of this false self,—as by a tearing away of veils, the Infinite Vision comes. There is no "soul": the Infinite All-Soul is the only eternal principle in any being;—all the rest is dream.

What remains in Nirvana? According to one school of Buddhism potential identity in the infinite,—so that a Buddha, after having reached Nirvana, can return to earth. According to another, identity more than potential, yet not in our sense "personal." A Japanese friend says:—"I take a piece of gold, and say it is one. But this means that it produces on my visual organs a single impression. Really in the multitude of atoms composing it each atom is nevertheless distinct and separate, and independent of every other atom. In Buddhahood even so are united psychical atoms innumerable. They are one as to condition;—yet each has its own independent existence."

But in Japan the primitive religion has so affected the common class of Buddhist beliefs that it is not incorrect to speak of the Japanese "idea of self." It is only necessary that the popular Shinto idea be simultaneously considered. In Shinto we have the plainest possible evidence of the conception of soul. But this soul is a composite,—not a mere "bundle of sensations, perceptions, and volitions," like the karma-being, but a number of souls united to form one ghostly personality. A dead man's ghost may appear as one or as many. It can separate its units, each of which remains capable of a special independent action. Such separation, however, appears to be temporary, the various souls of the composite naturally cohering even after death, and reuniting after any voluntary separation. The vast mass of the Japanese people are both Buddhists and Shintoists; but the primitive beliefs concerning the self are certainly the most powerful, and in the blending of the two faiths remain distinctly recognizable. They have probably supplied to common imagination a natural and easy explanation of the difficulties of the karma-doctrine, though to what extent I am not prepared to say. Be it also observed that in the primitive as well as in the Buddhist form of belief the self is not a principle transmitted from parent to offspring,—not an inheritance always dependent upon physiological descent.

These facts will indicate how wide is the difference between Eastern ideas and our own upon the subject of the preceding essay. They will also show that any general consideration of the real analogies existing between this strange combination of Far-Eastern beliefs and the scientific thought of the nineteenth century could scarcely be made intelligible by strict philosophical accuracy in the use of terms relating to the idea of self. Indeed, there are no European words capable of rendering the exact meaning of the Buddhist terms belonging to Buddhist Idealism.

Perhaps it may be regarded as illegitimate to wander from that position so tersely enunciated by Professor Huxley in his essay on "Sensation and the Sensiferous Organs:" "In ultimate analysis it appears that a sensation is the equivalent in terms of consciousness for a mode of motion of the matter of the sensorium. But if inquiry is pushed a stage further, and the question is asked, What, then, do we know about matter and motion? there is but one reply possible. All we know about motion is that it is a name for certain changes in the relations of our visual, tactile, and muscular sensations; and all we know about matter is that it is the hypothetical substance of physical phenomena, the assumption of which is as pure a piece of metaphysical speculation as is that of a substance of mind." But metaphysical speculation certainly will not cease because of scientific recognition that ultimate truth is beyond the utmost possible range of human knowledge. Rather, for that very reason, it will continue. Perhaps it will never wholly cease. Without it there can be no further modification of religious beliefs, and without modifications there can be no religious progress in harmony with scientific thought. Therefore, metaphysical speculation seems to me not only justifiable, but necessary.

Whether we accept or deny a substance of mind; whether we imagine thought produced by the play of some unknown element through the cells of the brain, as music is made by the play of wind through the strings of a harp; whether we regard the motion itself as a special mode of vibration inherent in and peculiar to the units of the cerebral structure,—still the mystery is infinite, and still Buddhism remains a noble moral working- hypothesis, in deep accord with the aspirations of mankind and with the laws of ethical progression. Whether we believe or disbelieve in the reality of that which is called the material universe, still the ethical significance of the inexplicable laws of heredity—of the transmission of both racial and personal tendencies in the unspecialized reproductive cell—remains to justify the doctrine of karma. Whatever be that which makes consciousness, its relation to all the past and to all the future is unquestionable. Nor can the doctrine of Nirvana ever cease to command the profound respect of the impartial thinker. Science has found evidence that known substance is not less a product of evolution than mind,—that all our so-called "elements" have been evolved out of "one primary undifferentiated form of matter." And this evidence is startlingly suggestive of some underlying truth in the Buddhist doctrine of emanation and illusion,—the evolution of all forms from the Formless, of all material phenomena from immaterial Unity,—and the ultimate return of all into "that state which is empty of lusts, of malice, of dullness,—that state in which the excitements of individuality are known no more, and which is therefore designated THE VOID SUPREME."




China's chief ally in the late war, being deaf and blind, knew nothing, and still knows nothing, of treaties or of peace. It followed the returning armies of Japan, invaded the victorious empire, and killed about thirty thousand people during the hot season. It is still slaying; and the funeral pyres burn continually. Sometimes the smoke and the odor come wind-blown into my garden down from the hills behind the town, just to remind me that the cost of burning an adult of my own size is eighty sen,—about half a dollar in American money at the present rate of exchange.

From the upper balcony of my house, the whole length of a Japanese street, with its rows of little shops, is visible down to the bay. Out of various houses in that street I have seen cholera-patients conveyed to the hospital,—the last one (only this morning) my neighbor across the way, who kept a porcelain shop. He was removed by force, in spite of the tears and cries of his family. The sanitary law forbids the treatment of cholera in private houses; yet people try to hide their sick, in spite of fines and other penalties, because the public cholera-hospitals are overcrowded and roughly managed, and the patients are entirely separated from all who love them. But the police are not often deceived: they soon discover unreported cases, and come with litters and coolies. It seems cruel; but sanitary law must be cruel. My neighbor's wife followed the litter, crying, until the police obliged her to return to her desolate little shop. It is now closed up, and will probably never be opened again by the owners.

Such tragedies end as quickly as they begin. The bereaved, so soon as the law allows, remove their pathetic belongings, and disappear; and the ordinary life of the street goes on, by day and by night, exactly as if nothing particular had happened. Itinerant venders, with their bamboo poles and baskets or buckets or boxes, pass the empty houses, and utter their accustomed cries; religious processions go by, chanting fragments of sutras; the blind shampooer blows his melancholy whistle; the private watchman makes his heavy staff boom upon the gutter-flags; the boy who sells confectionery still taps his drum, and sings a love-song with a plaintive sweet voice, like a girl's:—

"You and I together.... I remained long; yet in the moment of going I thought I had only just come.

"You and I together.... Still I think of the tea. Old or new tea of Uji it might have seemed to others; but to me it was Gyokoro tea, of the beautiful yellow of the yamabuki flower.

"You and I together.... I am the telegraph-operator; you are the one who waits the message. I send my heart, and you receive it. What care we now if the posts should fall, if the wires be broken?"

And the children sport as usual. They chase one another with screams and laughter; they dance in chorus; they catch dragon-flies and tie them to long strings; they sing burdens of the war, about cutting off Chinese heads:—

"Chan-chan bozu no Kubi wo hane!"

Sometimes a child vanishes; but the survivers continue their play. And this is wisdom.

It costs only forty-four sen to burn a child. The son of one of my neighbors was burned a few days ago. The little stones with which he used to play lie there in the sun just as he left them.... Curious, this child-love of stones! Stones are the toys not only of the children of the poor, but of all children at one period of existence: no matter how well supplied with other playthings, every Japanese child wants sometimes to play with stones. To the child-mind a stone is a marvelous thing, and ought so to be, since even to the understanding of the mathematician there can be nothing more wonderful than a common stone. The tiny urchin suspects the stone to be much more than it seems, which is an excellent suspicion; and if stupid grown-up folk did not untruthfully tell him that his plaything is not worth thinking about, he would never tire of it, and would always be finding something new and extraordinary in it. Only a very great mind could answer all a child's questions about stones.

According to popular faith, my neighbor's darling is now playing with small ghostly stones in the Dry Bed of the River of Souls, —wondering, perhaps, why they cast no shadows. The true poetry in the legend of the Sai-no-Kawara is the absolute naturalness of its principal idea,—the phantom-continuation of that play which all little Japanese children play with stones.


The pipe-stem seller used to make his round with two large boxes suspended from a bamboo pole balanced upon his shoulder: one box containing stems of various diameters, lengths, and colors, together with tools for fitting them into metal pipes; and the other box containing a baby,—his own baby. Sometimes I saw it peeping over the edge of the box, and smiling at the passers-by; sometimes I saw it lying, well wrapped up and fast asleep, in the bottom of the box; sometimes I saw it playing with toys. Many people, I was told, used to give it toys. One of the toys bore a curious resemblance to a mortuary tablet (ihai); and this I always observed in the box, whether the child were asleep or awake.

The other day I discovered that the pipe-stem seller had abandoned his bamboo pole and suspended boxes. He was coming up the street with a little hand-cart just big enough to hold his wares and his baby, and evidently built for that purpose in two compartments. Perhaps the baby had become too heavy for the more primitive method of conveyance. Above the cart fluttered a small white flag, bearing in cursive characters the legend Ki-seru-rao kae (pipe-stems exchanged), and a brief petition for "honorable help," O-tasuke wo negaimasu. The child seemed well and happy; and I again saw the tablet-shaped object which had so often attracted my notice before. It was now fastened upright to a high box in the cart facing the infant's bed. As I watched the cart approaching, I suddenly felt convinced that the tablet was really an ihai: the sun shone full upon it, and there was no mistaking the conventional Buddhist text. This aroused my curiosity; and I asked Manyemon to tell the pipe-stem seller that we had a number of pipes needing fresh stems,—which was true. Presently the cartlet drew up at our gate, and I went to look at it.

The child was not afraid, even of a foreign face,—a pretty boy. He lisped and laughed and held out his arms, being evidently used to petting; and while playing with him I looked closely at the tablet. It was a Shinshu ihai, bearing a woman's kaimyo, or posthumous name; and Manyemon translated the Chinese characters for me: Revered and of good rank in the Mansion of Excellence, the thirty-first day of the third month of the twenty-eighth year of Meiji. Meantime a servant had fetched the pipes which needed new stems; and I glanced at the face of the artisan as he worked. It was the face of a man past middle age, with those worn, sympathetic lines about the mouth, dry beds of old smiles, which give to so many Japanese faces an indescribable expression of resigned gentleness. Presently Manyemon began to ask questions; and when Manyemon asks questions, not to reply is possible for the wicked only. Sometimes behind that dear innocent old head I think I see the dawning of an aureole,—the aureole of the Bosatsu.

The pipe-stem seller answered by telling his story. Two months after the birth of their little boy, his wife had died. In the last hour of her illness she had said: "From what time I die till three full years be past I pray you to leave the child always united with the Shadow of me: never let him be separated from my ihai, so that I may continue to care for him and to nurse him— since thou knowest that he should have the breast for three years. This, my last asking, I entreat thee, do not forget." But the mother being dead, the father could not labor as he had been wont to do, and also take care of so young a child, requiring continual attention both night and day; and he was too poor to hire a nurse. So he took to selling pipe-stems, as he could thus make a little money without leaving the child even for a minute alone. He could not afford to buy milk; but he had fed the boy for more than a year with rice gruel and ame syrup.

I said that the child looked very strong, and none the worse for lack of milk.

"That," declared Manyemon, in a tone of conviction bordering on reproof, "is because the dead mother nurses him. How should he want for milk?"

And the boy laughed softly, as if conscious of a ghostly caress.



"For twelve leagues, Ananda, around the Sala-Grove, there is no spot in size even as the pricking of the point of the tip of a hair, which is not pervaded by powerful spirits." —The Book Of the Great Decease.


The truth that ancestor-worship, in various unobtrusive forms, still survives in some of the most highly civilized countries of Europe, is not so widely known as to preclude the idea that any non-Aryan race actually practicing so primitive a cult must necessarily remain in the primitive stage of religious thought. Critics of Japan have pronounced this hasty judgment; and have professed themselves unable to reconcile the facts of her scientific progress, and the success of her advanced educational system, with the continuance of her ancestor-worship. How can the beliefs of Shinto coexist with the knowledge of modern science? How can the men who win distinction as scientific specialists still respect the household shrine or do reverence before the Shinto parish-temple? Can all this mean more than the ordered conservation of forms after the departure of faith? Is it not certain that with the further progress of education, Shinto, even as ceremonialism, must cease to exist?

Those who put such questions appear to forget that similar questions might be asked about the continuance of any Western faith, and similar doubts expressed as to the possibility of its survival for another century. Really the doctrines of Shinto are not in the least degree more irreconcilable with modern science than are the doctrines of Orthodox Christianity. Examined with perfect impartiality, I would even venture to say that they are less irreconcilable in more respects than one. They conflict less with our human ideas of justice; and, like the Buddhist doctrine of karma, they offer some very striking analogies with the scientific facts of heredity,—analogies which prove Shinto to contain an element of truth as profound as any single element of truth in any of the world's great religions. Stated in the simplest possible form, the peculiar element of truth in Shinto is the belief that the world of the living is directly governed by the world of the dead.

That every impulse or act of man is the work of a god, and that all the dead become gods, are the basic ideas of the cult. It must be remembered, however, that the term Kami, although translated by the term deity, divinity, or god, has really no such meaning as that which belongs to the English words: it has not even the meaning of those words as referring to the antique beliefs of Greece and Rome. It signifies that which is "above," "superior," "upper," "eminent," in the non-religious sense; in the religious sense it signifies a human spirit having obtained supernatural power after death. The dead are the "powers above," the "upper ones,"—the Kami. We have here a conception resembling very strongly the modern Spiritualistic notion of ghosts, only that the Shinto idea is in no true sense democratic. The Kami are ghosts of greatly varying dignity and power,—belonging to spiritual hierarchies like the hierarchies of ancient Japanese society. Although essentially superior to the living in certain respects, the living are, nevertheless, able to give them pleasure or displeasure, to gratify or to offend them,—even sometimes to ameliorate their spiritual condition. Wherefore posthumous honors are never mockeries, but realities, to the Japanese mind. During the present year(1), for example, several distinguished statesmen and soldiers were raised to higher rank immediately after their death; and I read only the other day, in the official gazette, that "His Majesty has been pleased to posthumously confer the Second Class of the Order of the Rising Sun upon Major-General Baron Yamane, who lately died in Formosa." Such imperial acts must not be regarded only as formalities intended to honor the memory of brave and patriotic men; neither should they be thought of as intended merely to confer distinction upon the family of the dead. They are essentially of Shinto, and exemplify that intimate sense of relation between the visible and invisible worlds which is the special religious characteristic of Japan among all civilized countries. To Japanese thought the dead are not less real than the living. They take part in the daily life of the people,—sharing the humblest sorrows and the humblest joys. They attend the family repasts, watch over the well-being of the household, assist and rejoice in the prosperity of their descendants. They are present at the public pageants, at all the sacred festivals of Shinto, at the military games, and at all the entertainments especially provided for them. And they are universally thought of as finding pleasure in the offerings made to them or the honors conferred upon them.

For the purpose of this little essay, it will be sufficient to consider the Kami as the spirits of the dead,—without making any attempt to distinguish such Kami from those primal deities believed to have created the land. With this general interpretation of the term Kami, we return, then, to the great Shinto idea that all the dead still dwell in the world and rule it; influencing not only the thoughts and the acts of men, but the conditions of nature. "They direct," wrote Motowori, "the changes of the seasons, the wind and the rain, the good and the bad fortunes of states and of individual men." They are, in short, the viewless forces behind all phenomena.

(1) Written in September, 1896.


The most interesting sub-theory of this ancient spiritualism is that which explains the impulses and acts of men as due to the influence of the dead. This hypothesis no modern thinker can declare irrational, since it can claim justification from the scientific doctrine of psychological evolution, according to which each living brain represents the structural work of innumerable dead lives,—each character a more or less imperfectly balanced sum of countless dead experiences with good and evil. Unless we deny psychological heredity, we cannot honestly deny that our impulses and feelings, and the higher capacities evolved through the feelings, have literally been shaped by the dead, and bequeathed to us by the dead; and even that the general direction of our mental activities has been determined by the power of the special tendencies bequeathed to us. In such a sense the dead are indeed our Kami and all our actions are truly influenced by them. Figuratively we may say that every mind is a world of ghosts,—ghosts incomparably more numerous than the acknowledged millions of the higher Shinto Kami and that the spectral population of one grain of brain-matter more than realizes the wildest fancies of the medieval schoolmen about the number of angels able to stand on the point of a needle. Scientifically we know that within one tiny living cell may be stored up the whole life of a race,—the sum of all the past sensation of millions of years; perhaps even (who knows?) of millions of dead planets.

But devils would not be inferior to angels in the mere power of congregating upon the point of a needle. What, of bad men and of bad acts in this theory of Shinto? Motowori made answer; "Whenever anything goes wrong in the world, it is to be attributed to the action of the evil gods called the Gods of Crookedness, whose power is so great that the Sun-Goddess and the Creator-God are sometimes powerless to restrain them; much less are human beings always able to resist their influence. The prosperity of the wicked, and the misfortunes of the good, which seem opposed to ordinary justice, are thus explained." All bad acts are due to the influence of evil deities; and evil men may become evil Kami. There are no self-contradictions in this simplest of cults(1),—nothing complicated or hard to be understood. It is not certain that all men guilty of bad actions necessarily become "gods of crookedness," for reasons hereafter to be seen; but all men, good or bad, become Kami, or influences. And all evil acts are the results of evil influences.

Now this teaching is in accord with certain facts of heredity. Our best faculties are certainly bequests from the best of our ancestors; our evil qualities are inherited from natures in which evil, or that which we now call evil, once predominated. The ethical knowledge evolved within us by civilization demands that we strengthen the high powers bequeathed us by the best experience of our dead, and diminish the force of the baser tendencies we inherit. We are under obligation to reverence and to obey our good Kami, and to strive against our gods of crookedness. The knowledge of the existence of both is old as human reason. In some form or other, the doctrine of evil and of good spirits in personal attendance upon every soul is common to most of the great religions. Our own mediaeval faith developed the idea to a degree which must leave an impress on our language for all time; yet the faith in guardian angels and tempting demons evolutionarily represents only the development of a cult once simple as the religion of the Kami. And this theory of mediaeval faith is likewise pregnant with truth. The white-winged form that whispered good into the right ear, the black shape that murmured evil into the left, do not indeed walk beside the man of the nineteenth century, but they dwell within his brain; and he knows their voices and feels their urging as well and as often as did his ancestors of the Middle Ages.

The modern ethical objection to Shinto is that both good and evil Kami are to be respected. "Just as the Mikado worshiped the gods of heaven and of earth, so his people prayed to the good gods in order to obtain blessings, and performed rites in honor of the bad gods to avert their displeasure.... As there are bad as well as good gods, it is necessary to propitiate them with offerings of agreeable food, with the playing of harps and the blowing of flutes, with singing and dancing, and with whatever else is likely to put them in good-humor(2)." As a matter of fact, in modern Japan, the evil Kami appear to receive few offerings or honors, notwithstanding this express declaration that they are to be propitiated. But it will now be obvious why the early missionaries characterized such a cult as devil-worship, —although, to Shinto imagination, the idea of a devil, in the Western meaning of the word, never took shape. The seeming weakness of the doctrine is in the teaching that evil spirits are not to be warred upon,—a teaching essentially repellent to Roman Catholic feeling. But between the evil spirits of Christian and of Shinto belief there is a vast difference. The evil Kami is only the ghost of a dead man, and is not believed to be altogether evil,—since propitiation is possible. The conception of absolute, unmixed evil is not of the Far East. Absolute evil is certainly foreign to human nature, and therefore impossible in human ghosts. The evil Kami are not devils. They are simply ghosts, who influence the passions of men; and only in this sense the deities of the passions. Now Shinto is of all religions the most natural, and therefore in certain respects the most rational. It does not consider the passions necessarily evil in themselves, but evil only according to cause, conditions, and degrees of their indulgence. Being ghosts, the gods are altogether human,—having the various good and bad qualities of men in varying proportions. The majority are good, and the sum of the influence of all is toward good rather than evil. To appreciate the rationality of this view requires a tolerably high opinion of mankind,—such an opinion as the conditions of the old society of Japan might have justified. No pessimist could profess pure Shintoism. The doctrine is optimistic; and whoever has a generous faith in humanity will have no fault to find with the absence of the idea of implacable evil from its teaching.

Now it is just in the recognition of the necessity for propitiating the evil ghosts that the ethically rational character of Shinto reveals itself. Ancient experience and modern knowledge unite in warning us against the deadly error of trying to extirpate or to paralyze certain tendencies in human nature,—tendencies which, if morbidly cultivated or freed from all restraint, lead to folly, to crime, and to countless social evils. The animal passions, the ape-and-tiger impulses, antedate human society, and are the accessories to nearly all crimes committed against it. But they cannot be killed; and they cannot be safely starved. Any attempt to extirpate them would signify also an effort to destroy some of the very highest emotional faculties with which they remain inseparably blended. The primitive impulses cannot even be numbed save at the cost of intellectual and emotional powers which give to human life all its beauty and all its tenderness, but which are, nevertheless, deeply rooted in the archaic soil of passion. The highest in us had its beginnings in the lowest. Asceticism, by warring against the natural feelings, has created monsters. Theological legislation, irrationally directed against human weaknesses, has only aggravated social disorders; and laws against pleasure have only provoked debaucheries. The history of morals teaches very plainly indeed that our bad Kami require some propitiation. The passions still remain more powerful than the reason in man, because they are incomparably older,—because they were once all-essential to self-preservation,-because they made that primal stratum of consciousness, out of which the nobler sentiments have slowly grown. Never can they be suffered to rule; but woe to whosoever would deny their immemorial rights!

(1) I am considering only the pure Shinto belief as expounded by Shinto scholars. But it may be necessary to remind the reader that both Buddhism and Shintoism are blended in Japan, not only with each other, but with Chinese ideas of various kinds. It is doubtful whether the pure Shinto ideas now exist in their original form in popular belief. We are not quite clear as to the doctrine of multiple souls in Shinto,—whether the psychical combination was originally thought of as dissolved by death. My own opinion, the result of investigation in different parts of Japan, is that the multiple soul was formerly believed to remain multiple after death.

(2) Motowori, translated by Satow.


Out of these primitive, but—as may now be perceived—not irrational beliefs about the dead, there have been evolved moral sentiments unknown to Western civilization. These are well worth considering, as they will prove in harmony with the most advanced conception of ethics,—and especially with that immense though yet indefinite expansion of the sense of duty which has followed upon the understanding of evolution. I do not know that we have any reason to congratulate ourselves upon the absence from our lives of the sentiments in question;—I am even inclined to think that we may yet find it morally necessary to cultivate sentiments of the same kind. One of the surprises of our future will certainly be a return to beliefs and ideas long ago abandoned upon the mere assumption that they contained no truth,—belief still called barbarous, pagan, mediaeval, by those who condemn them out of traditional habit. Year after year the researches of science afford us new proof that the savage, the barbarian, the idolater, the monk, each and all have arrived, by different paths, as near to some one point of eternal truth as any thinker of the nineteenth century. We are now learning, also, that the theories of the astrologers and of the alchemists were but partially, not totally, wrong. We have reason even to suppose that no dream of the invisible world has ever been dreamed,—that no hypothesis of the unseen has ever been imagined,—which future science will not prove to have contained some germ of reality.

Foremost among the moral sentiments of Shinto is that of loving gratitude to the past,—a sentiment having no real correspondence in our own emotional life. We know our past better than the Japanese know theirs;—we have myriads of books recording or considering its every incident and condition: but we cannot in any sense be said to love it or to feel grateful to it. Critical recognitions of its merits and of its defects;—some rare enthusiasms excited by its beauties; many strong denunciations of its mistakes: these represent the sum of our thoughts and feelings about it. The attitude of our scholarship in reviewing it is necessarily cold; that of our art, often more than generous; that of our religion, condemnatory for the most part. Whatever the point of view from which we study it, our attention is mainly directed to the work of the dead,—either the visible work that makes our hearts beat a little faster than usual while looking at it, or the results of their thoughts and deeds in relation to the society of their time. Of past humanity as unity,—of the millions long-buried as real kindred,—we either think not at all, or think only with the same sort of curiosity that we give to the subject of extinct races. We do indeed find interest in the record of some individual lives that have left large marks in history;—our emotions re stirred by the memories of great captains, statesmen, discoverers, reformers,—but only because the magnitude of that which they accomplished appeals to our own ambitions, desires, egotisms, and not at all to our altruistic sentiments in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. The nameless dead to whom we owe most we do not trouble ourselves about,—we feel no gratitude, no love to them. We even find it difficult to persuade ourselves that the love of ancestors can possibly be a real, powerful, penetrating, life-moulding, religious emotion in any form of human society,—which it certainly is in Japan. The mere idea is utterly foreign to our ways of thinking, feeling, acting. A partial reason for this, of course, is that we have no common faith in the existence of an active spiritual relation between our ancestors and ourselves. If we happen to be irreligious, we do not believe in ghosts. If we are profoundly religious, we think of the dead as removed from us by judgment,—as absolutely separated from us during the period of our lives. It is true that among the peasantry of Roman Catholic countries there still exists a belief that the dead are permitted to return to earth once a year,—on the night of All Souls. But even according to this belief they are not considered as related to the living by any stronger bond than memory; and they are thought of,—as our collections of folk-lore bear witness,—rather with fear than love.

In Japan the feeling toward the dead is utterly different. It is a feeling of grateful and reverential love. It is probably the most profound and powerful of the emotions of the race,—that which especially directs national life and shapes national character. Patriotism belongs to it. Filial piety depends upon it. Family love is rooted in it. Loyalty is based upon it. The soldier who, to make a path for his comrades through the battle, deliberately flings away his life with a shout of "Teikoku manzai!"—the son or daughter who unmurmuring sacrifices all the happiness of existence for the sake, perhaps, of an undeserving or even cruel, parent; the partisan who gives up friends, family, and fortune, rather than break the verbal promise made in other years to a now poverty-stricken master; the wife who ceremoniously robes herself in white, utters a prayer, and thrusts a sword into her throat to atone for a wrong done to strangers by her husband,—all these obey the will and hear the approval of invisible witnesses. Even among the skeptical students of the new generation, this feeling survives many wrecks of faith, and the old sentiments are still uttered: "Never must we cause shame to our ancestors;" "it is our duty to give honor to our ancestors." During my former engagement as a teacher of English, it happened more than once that ignorance of the real meaning behind such phrases prompted me to change them in written composition. I would suggest, for example, that the expression, "to do honor to the memory of our ancestors," was more correct than the phrase given. I remember one day even attempting to explain why we ought not to speak of ancestors exactly as if they were living parents! Perhaps my pupils suspected me of trying to meddle with their beliefs; for the Japanese never think of an ancestor as having become "only a memory": their dead are alive.

Were there suddenly to arise within us the absolute certainty that our dead are still with us,—seeing every act, knowing our every thought, hearing each word we utter, able to feel sympathy with us or anger against us, able to help us and delighted to receive our help, able to love us and greatly needing our love,— it is quite certain that our conceptions of life and duty would be vastly changed. We should have to recognize our obligations to the past in a very solemn way. Now, with the man of the Far East, the constant presence of the dead has been a matter of conviction for thousands of years: he speaks to them daily; he tries to give them happiness; and, unless a professional criminal he never quite forgets his duty towards them. No one, says Hirata, who constantly discharges that duty, will ever be disrespectful to the gods or to his living parents. "Such a man will also be loyal to his friends, and kind and gentle with his wife and children; for the essence of this devotion is in truth filial piety." And it is in this sentiment that the secret of much strange feeling in Japanese character must be sought. Far more foreign to our world of sentiment than the splendid courage with which death is faced, or the equanimity with which the most trying sacrifices are made, is the simple deep emotion of the boy who, in the presence of a Shinto shrine never seen before, suddenly feels the tears spring to his eyes. He is conscious in that moment of what we never emotionally recognize,—the prodigious debt of the present to the past, and the duty of love to the dead.


If we think a little about our position as debtors, and our way of accepting that position, one striking difference between Western and Far-Eastern moral sentiment will become manifest.

There is nothing more awful than the mere fact of life as mystery when that fact first rushes fully into consciousness. Out of unknown darkness we rise a moment into sun-light, look about us, rejoice and suffer, pass on the vibration of our being to other beings, and fall back again into darkness. So a wave rises, catches the light, transmits its motion, and sinks back into sea. So a plant ascends from clay, unfolds its leaves to light and air, flowers, seeds, and becomes clay again. Only, the wave has no knowledge; the plant has no perceptions. Each human life seems no more than a parabolic curve of motion out of earth and back to earth; but in that brief interval of change it perceives the universe. The awfulness of the phenomenon is that nobody knows anything about it No mortal can explain this most common, yet moat incomprehensible of all facts,—life in itself; yet every mortal who can think has been obliged betimes, to think about it in relation to self.

I come out of mystery;—I see the sky and the land, men and women and their works; and I know that I must return to mystery;—and merely what this means not even the greatest of philosophers—not even Mr. Herbert Spencer—can tell me. We are all of us riddles to ourselves and riddles to each other; and space and motion and time are riddles; and matter is a riddle. About the before and the after neither the newly-born nor the dead have any message for us. The child is dumb; the skull only grins. Nature has no consolation for us. Out of her formlessness issue forms which return to formlessness,—that is all. The plant becomes clay; the clay becomes a plant. When the plant turns to clay, what becomes of the vibration which was its life? Does it go on existing viewlessly, like the forces that shape spectres of frondage in the frost upon a window-pane?

Within the horizon-circle of the infinite enigma, countless lesser enigmas, old as the world, awaited the coming of man. Oedipus had to face one Sphinx; humanity, thousands of thousands,—all crouching among bones along the path of Time, and each with a deeper and a harder riddle. All the sphinxes have not been satisfied; myriads line the way of the future to devour lives yet unborn; but millions have been answered. We are now able to exist without perpetual horror because of the relative knowledge that guides us, the knowledge won out of the jaws of destruction.

All our knowledge is bequeathed knowledge. The dead have left us record of all they were able to learn about themselves and the world,—about the laws of death and life,—about things to be acquired and things to be avoided,—about ways of making existence less painful than Nature willed it,—about right and wrong and sorrow and happiness,—about the error of selfishness, the wisdom of kindness, the obligation of sacrifice. They left us information of everything they could find out concerning climates and seasons and places,—the sun and moon and stars,—the motions and the composition of the universe. They bequeathed us also their delusions which long served the good purpose of saving us from falling into greater ones. They left us the story of their errors and efforts, their triumphs and failures, their pains and joys, their loves and hates,—for warning or example. They expected our sympathy, because they toiled with the kindest wishes and hopes for us, and because they made our world. They cleared the land; they extirpated monsters; they tamed and taught the animals most useful to us. "The mother of Kullervo awoke within her tomb, and from the deeps of the dust she cried to him, —'I have left thee the Dog, tied to a tree, that thou mayest go with him to the chase.'(1)" They domesticated likewise the useful trees and plants; and they discovered the places and the powers of the metals. Later they created all that we call civilization,—trusting us to correct such mistakes as they could not help making. The sum of their toil is incalculable; and all that they have given us ought surely to be very sacred, very precious, if only by reason of the infinite pain and thought which it cost. Yet what Occidental dreams of saying daily, like the Shinto believer:—"Ye forefathers of the generations, and of our families, and of our kindred,—unto you, the founders of our homes, we utter the gladness of our thanks"?

None. It is not only because we think the dead cannot hear, but because we have not been trained for generations to exercise our powers of sympathetic mental representation except within a very narrow circle,—the family circle. The Occidental family circle is a very small affair indeed compared with the Oriental family circle. In this nineteenth century the Occidental family is almost disintegrated;—it practically means little more than husband, wife, and children well under age. The Oriental family means not only parents and their blood-kindred, but grandparents and their kindred, and great-grandparents, and all the dead behind them, This idea of the family cultivates sympathetic representation to such a degree that the range of the emotion belonging to such representation may extend, as in Japan, to many groups and sub-groups of living families, and even, in time of national peril, to the whole nation as one great family: a feeling much deeper than what we call patriotism. As a religious emotion the feeling is infinitely extended to all the past; the blended sense of love, of loyalty, and of gratitude is not less real, though necessarily more vague, than the feeling to living kindred.

In the West, after the destruction of antique society, no such feeling could remain. The beliefs that condemned the ancients to hell, and forbade the praise of their works,—the doctrine that trained us to return thanks for everything to the God of the Hebrews,—created habits of thought and habits of thoughtlessness, both inimical to every feeling of gratitude to the past. Then, with the decay of theology and the dawn of larger knowledge, came the teaching that the dead had no choice in their work,—they had obeyed necessity, and we had only received from them of necessity the results of necessity. And to-day we still fail to recognize that the necessity itself ought to compel our sympathies with those who obeyed it, and that its bequeathed results are as pathetic as they are precious. Such thoughts rarely occur to us even in regard to the work of the living who serve us. We consider the cost of a thing purchased or obtained to ourselves;—about its cost in effort to the producer we do not allow ourselves to think: indeed, we should be laughed at for any exhibition of conscience on the subject. And our equal insensibility to the pathetic meaning of the work of the past, and to that of the work of the present, largely explains the wastefulness of our civilization,—the reckless consumption by luxury of the labor of years in the pleasure of an hour,—the inhumanity of the thousands of unthinking rich, each of whom dissipates yearly in the gratification of totally unnecessary wants the price of a hundred human lives. The cannibals of civilization are unconsciously more cruel than those of savagery, and require much more flesh. The deeper humanity,—the cosmic emotion of humanity,—is essentially the enemy of useless luxury, and essentially opposed to any form of society which places no restraints upon the gratifications of sense or the pleasures of egotism.

In the Far East, on the other hand, the moral duty of simplicity of life has been taught from very ancient times, because ancestor-worship had developed and cultivated this cosmic emotion of humanity which we lack, but which we shall certainly be obliged to acquire at a later day, simply to save our selves from extermination, Two sayings of Iyeyasu exemplify the Oriental sentiment. When virtually master of the empire, this greatest of Japanese soldiers and statesmen was seen one day cleaning and smoothing with his own hands an old dusty pair of silk hakama or trousers. "What you see me do," he said to a retainer, "I am not doing because I think of the worth of the garment in itself, but because I think of what it needed to produce it. It is the result of the toil of a poor woman; and that is why I value it. If we do not think, while using things, of the time and effort required to make them,—then our want of consideration puts us on a level with the beasts." Again, in the days of his greatest wealth, we hear of him rebuking his wife for wishing to furnish him too often with new clothing. "When I think," he protested, "of the multitudes around me, and of the generations to come after me, I feel it my duty to be very sparing, for their sake, of the goods in my possession." Nor has this spirit of simplicity yet departed from Japan. Even the Emperor and Empress, in the privacy of their own apartments, continue to live as simply as their subjects, and devote most of their revenue to the alleviation of public distress.

(1) Kalevala; thirty-sixth Rune.


It is through the teachings of evolution that there will ultimately be developed in the West a moral recognition of duty to the past like that which ancestor-worship created in the Far East. For even to-day whoever has mastered the first principles of the new philosophy cannot look at the commonest product of man's handiwork without perceiving something of its evolutional history. The most ordinary utensil will appear to him not the mere product of individual capacity on the part of carpenter or potter, smith or cutler, but the product of experiment continued through thousands of years with methods, with materials, and with forms. Nor will it be possible for him to consider the vast time and toil necessitated in the evolution, of any mechanical appliance, and yet experience no generous sentiment. Coming generations must think of the material bequests of the past in relation to dead humanity.

But in the development of this "cosmic emotion" of humanity, a much more powerful factor than recognition of our material indebtedness to the past will be the recognition of our psychical indebtedness. For we owe to the dead our immaterial world also,—the world that lives within us,—the world of all that is lovable in impulse, emotion, thought. Whosoever understands scientifically what human goodness is, and the terrible cost of making it, can find in the commonest phases of the humblest lives that beauty, which is divine, and can feel that in one sense our dead are truly gods.

So long as we supposed the woman soul one in itself,—a something specially created to fit one particular physical being,—the beauty and the wonder of mother-love could never be fully revealed to us. But with deeper knowledge we must perceive that the inherited love of myriads of millions of dead mothers has been treasured up in one life;—that only thus can be interpreted the infinite sweetness of the speech which the infant hears,—the infinite tenderness of the look of caress which meets its gaze. Unhappy the mortal who has not known these; yet what mortal can adequately speak of them! Truly is mother-love divine; for everything by human recognition called divine is summed up in that love; and every woman uttering and transmitting its highest expression is more than the mother of man: she is the Mater Dei.

Needless to speak here about the ghostliness of first love, sexual love, which is illusion,—because the passion and the beauty of the dead revive in it, to dazzle, to delude; and to bewitch. It is very, very wonderful; but it is not all good, because it is not all true. The real charm of woman in herself is that which comes later,—when all the illusions fade away to reveal a reality, lovelier than any illusion, which has been evolving behind the phantom-curtain of them. What is the divine magic of the woman thus perceived? Only the affection, the sweetness, the faith, the unselfishness, the intuitions of millions of buried hearts. All live again;-all throb anew, in every fresh warm beat of her own.

Certain amazing faculties exhibited in the highest social life tell in another way the story of soul structure built up by dead lives. Wonderful is the man who can really "be all things to all men," or the woman who can make herself twenty, fifty, a hundred different women,—comprehending all, penetrating all, unerring to estimate all others;—seeming to have no individual self, but only selves innumerable;—able to meet each varying personality with a soul exactly toned to the tone of that to be encountered. Rare these characters are, but not so rare that the traveler is unlikely to meet one or two of them in any cultivated society which he has a chance of studying. They are essentially multiple beings,—so visibly multiple that even those who think of the Ego as single have to describe them as "highly complex." Nevertheless this manifestation of forty or fifty different characters in the same person is a phenomenon so remarkable (especially remarkable because it is commonly manifested in youth long before relative experience could possibly account for it) that I cannot but wonder how few persons frankly realize its signification.

So likewise with what have been termed the "intuitions" of some forms of genius,—particularly those which relate to the representation of the emotions. A Shakespeare would always remain incomprehensible on the ancient soul-theory. Taine attempted to explain him by the phrase, "a perfect imagination;"—and the phrase reaches far in the truth. But what is the meaning of a perfect imagination? Enormous multiplicity of soul-life,—countless past existences revived in one. Nothing else can explain it.... It is not however, in the world of pure intellect that the story of psychical complexity is most admirable: it is in the world which speaks to our simplest emotions of love honor, sympathy, heroism.

"But by such a theory," some critic may observe, "the source of impulses to heroism is also the source of the impulses that people jails. Both are of the dead." This is true. We inherited evil as well as good. Being composites only,—still evolving, still becoming,—we inherit imperfections. But the survival of the fittest in impulses is certainly proven by the average moral condition of humanity,—using the word "fittest" in its ethical sense. In spite of all the misery and vice and crime, nowhere so terribly developed as under our own so-called Christian civilization, the fact must be patent to any one who has lived much, traveled much, and thought much, that the mass of humanity is good, and therefore that the vast majority of impulses bequeathed us by past humanity is good. Also it is certain that the more normal a social condition, the better its humanity. Through all the past the good Kami have always managed to keep the bad Kami from controlling the world. And with the acceptation of this truth, our future ideas of wrong and of right must take immense expansion. Just as a heroism, or any act of pure goodness for a noble end, must assume a preciousness heretofore unsuspected,—so a real crime must come to be regarded as a crime less against the existing individual or society, than against the sum of human experience, and the whole past struggle of ethical aspiration. Real goodness will, therefore, be more prized, and real crime less leniently judged. And the early Shinto teaching, that no code of ethics is necessary,—that the right rule of human conduct can always be known by consulting the heart,—is a teaching which will doubtless be accepted by a more perfect humanity than that of the present.


"Evolution" the reader may say, "does indeed show through its doctrine of heredity that the living are in one sense really controlled by the dead. But it also shows that the dead are within us, not without us. They are part of us;—there is no proof that they have any existence which is not our own. Gratitude to the past would, therefore, be gratitude to ourselves; love of the dead would be self-love. So that your attempt at analogy ends in the absurd."

No. Ancestor-worship in its primitive form may be a symbol only of truth. It may be an index or foreshadowing only of the new moral duty which larger knowledge must force upon as: the duty of reverence and obedience to the sacrificial past of human ethical experience. But it may also be much more. The facts of heredity can never afford but half an explanation of the facts of psychology. A plant produces ten, twenty, a hundred plants without yielding up its own life in the process. An animal gives birth to many young, yet lives on with all its physical capacities and its small powers of thought undiminished. Children are born; and the parents survive them. Inherited the mental life certainly is, not less than the physical; yet the reproductive cells, the least specialized of all cells, whether in plant or in animal, never take away, but only repeat the parental being. Continually multiplying, each conveys and transmits the whole experience of a race; yet leaves the whole experience of the race behind it. Here is the marvel inexplicable: the self-multiplication of physical and psychical being,—life after life thrown off from the parent life, each to become complete and reproductive. Were all the parental life given to the offspring, heredity might be said to favor the doctrine of materialism. But like the deities of Hindoo legend, the Self multiplies and still remains the same, with full capacities for continued multiplication. Shinto has its doctrine of souls multiplying by fission; but the facts of psychological emanation are infinitely more wonderful than any theory.

The great religions have recognized that heredity could not explain the whole question of self,-could not account for the fate of the original residual self. So they have generally united in holding the inner independent of the outer being. Science can no more fully decide the issues they have raised than it can decide the nature of Reality-in-itself. Again we may vainly ask, What becomes of the forces which constituted the vitality of a dead plant? Much more difficult the question, What becomes of the sensations which formed the psychical life of a dead man?-since nobody can explain the simplest sensation. We know only that during life certain active forces within the body of the plant or the body of the man adjusted themselves continually to outer forces; and that after the interior forces could no longer respond to the pressure of the exterior forces,—then the body in which the former were stored was dissolved into the elements out of which it had been built up. We know nothing more of the ultimate nature of those elements than we know of the ultimate nature of the tendencies which united them. But we have more right to believe the ultimates of life persist after the dissolution of the forms they created, than to believe they cease. The theory of spontaneous generation (misnamed, for only in a qualified sense can the term "spontaneous" be applied to the theory of the beginnings of mundane life) is a theory which the evolutionist must accept, and which can frighten none aware of the evidence of chemistry that matter itself is in evolution. The real theory (not the theory of organized life beginning in bottled infusions, but of the life primordial arising upon a planetary surface) has enormous—nay, infinite—spiritual significance. It requires the belief that all potentialities of life and thought and emotion pass from nebula to universe, from system to system, from star to planet or moon, and again back to cyclonic storms of atomicity; it means that tendencies survive sunburnings,—survive all cosmic evolutions and disintegrations. The elements are evolutionary products only; and the difference of universe from universe must be the creation of tendencies,—of a form of heredity too vast and complex for imagination. There is no chance. There is only law. Each fresh evolution must be influenced by previous evolutions,—just as each individual human life is influenced by the experience of all the lives in its ancestral chain. Must not the tendencies even of the ancestral forms of matter be inherited by the forms of matter to come; and may not the acts and thoughts of men even now be helping to shape the character of future worlds? No longer is it possible to say that the dreams of the Alchemists were absurdities. And no longer can we even assert that all material phenomena are not determined, as in the thought of the ancient East, by soul- polarities.

Whether our dead do or do not continue to dwell without us as well as within us,—a question not to be decided in our present undeveloped state of comparative blindness,—certain it is that the testimony of cosmic facts accords with one weird belief of Shinto: the belief that all things are determined by the dead,—whether by ghosts of men or ghosts of worlds. Even as our personal lives are ruled by the now viewless lives of the past, so doubtless the life of our Earth, and of the system to which it belongs, is ruled by ghosts of spheres innumerable: dead universes,—dead suns and planets and moons,—as forms long since dissolved into the night, but as forces immortal and eternally working.

Back to the Sun, indeed, like the Shintoist, we can trace our descent; yet we know that even there the beginning of us was not. Infinitely more remote in time than a million sun-lives was that beginning,—if it can truly be said there was a beginning. The teaching of Evolution is that we are one with that unknown Ultimate, of which matter and human mind are but ever-changing manifestations. The teaching of Evolution is also that each of us is many, yet that all of us are still one with each other and with the cosmos;—that we must know all past humanity not only in ourselves, but likewise in the preciousness and beauty of every fellow-life;—that we can best love ourselves in others;—that we shall best serve ourselves in others;—that forms are but veils and phantoms;—and that to the formless Infinite alone really belong all human emotions, whether of the living or the dead.



Wasuraruru Mi naran to omo Kokoro koso Wasure nu yori mo Omoi nari-kere.

"To wish to be forgotten by the beloved is a soul-task harder far than trying not to forget."—Poem by Kimiko.


The name is on a paper-lantern at the entrance of a house in the Street of the Geisha.

Seen at night the street is one of the queerest in the world. It is narrow as a gangway; and the dark shining woodwork of the house-fronts, all tightly closed,—each having a tiny sliding door with paper-panes that look just like frosted glass,—makes you think of first-class passenger-cabins. Really the buildings are several stories high; but you do not observe this at once,—especially if there be no moon,—because only the lower stories are illuminated up to their awnings, above which all is darkness. The illumination is made by lamps behind the narrow paper-paned doors, and by the paper-lanterns hanging outside,—one at every door. You look down the street between two lines of these lanterns,—lines converging far-off into one motionless bar of yellow light. Some of the lanterns are egg-shaped, some cylindrical; others four-sided or six-sided; and Japanese characters are beautifully written upon them. The street is very quiet,—silent as a display of cabinet-work in some great exhibition after closing-time. This is because the inmates are mostly away,—at tending banquets and other festivities. Their life is of the night.

The legend upon the first lantern to the left as you go south is "Kinoya: uchi O-Kata;" and that means The House of Gold wherein O-Kata dwells. The lantern to the right tells of the House of Nishimura, and of a girl Miyotsuru,—which name signifies The Stork Magnificently Existing. Next upon the left comes the House of Kajita;—and in that house are Kohana, the Flower-Bud, and Hinako, whose face is pretty as the face of a doll. Opposite is the House Nagaye, wherein live Kimika and Kimiko.... And this luminous double litany of names is half-a-mile long.

The inscription on the lantern of the last-named house reveals the relationship between Kimika and Kimiko,—and yet something more; for Kimiko is styled Ni-dai-me, an honorary untranslatable title which signifies that she is only Kimiko No.2. Kimika is the teacher and mistress: she has educated two geisha, both named, or rather renamed by her, Kimiko; and this use of the same name twice is proof positive that the first Kimiko—Ichi-dai-me—must have been celebrated. The professional appellation borne by an unlucky or unsuccessful geisha is never given to her successor. If you should ever have good and sufficient reason to enter the house,—pushing open that lantern-slide of a door which sets a gong-bell ringing to announce visits,—you might be able to see Kimika, provided her little troupe be not engaged for the evening. You would find her a very intelligent person, and well worth talking to. She can tell, when she pleases, the most remarkable stories,—real flesh-and-blood stories,—true stories of human nature. For the Street of the Geisha is full of traditions,—tragic, comic, melodramatic;—every house has its memories;—and Kimika knows them all. Some are very, very terrible; and some would make you laugh; and some would make you think. The story of the first Kimiko belongs to the last class. It is not one of the most extraordinary; but it is one of the least difficult for Western people to understand.


There is no more Ichi-dai-me Kimiko: she is only a remembrance. Kimika was quite young when she called that Kimiko her professional sister.

"An exceedingly wonderful girl," is what Kimika says of Kimiko. To win any renown in her profession, a geisha must be pretty or very clever; and the famous ones are usually both,—having been selected at a very early age by their trainers according to the promise of such qualities Even the commoner class of singing-girls must have some charm in their best years,—if only that beaute du diable which inspired the Japanese proverb that even a devil is pretty at eighteen(1). But Kimiko was much more than pretty. She was according to the Japanese ideal of beauty; and that standard is not reached by one woman in a hundred thousand. Also she was more than clever: she was accomplished. She composed very dainty poems,—could arrange flowers exquisitely, perform tea-ceremonies faultlessly, embroider, make silk mosaic: in short, she was genteel. And her first public appearance made a flutter in the fast world of Kyoto. it was evident that she could make almost any conquest she pleased, and that fortune was before her.

But it soon became evident, also, that she had been perfectly trained for her profession. She had been taught how to conduct herself under almost any possible circumstances; for what she could not have known Kimika knew everything about: the power of beauty, and the weakness of passion; the craft of promises and the worth of indifference; and all the folly and evil in the hearts of men. So Kimiko made few mistakes and shed few tears. By and by she proved to be, as Kimika wished,—slightly dangerous. So a lamp is to night-fliers: otherwise some of them would put it out. The duty of the lamp is to make pleasant things visible: it has no malice. Kimiko had no malice, and was not too dangerous. Anxious parents discovered that she did not want to enter into respectable families, nor even to lend herself to any serious romances. But she was not particularly merciful to that class of youths who sign documents with their own blood, and ask a dancing-girl to cut off the extreme end of the little finger of her left hand as a pledge of eternal affection. She was mischievous enough with them to cure them of their folly. Some rich folks who offered her lands and houses on condition of owning her, body and soul, found her less merciful. One proved generous enough to purchase her freedom unconditionally, at a price which made Kimika a rich woman; and Kimiko was grateful,—but she remained a geisha. She managed her rebuffs with too much tact to excite hate, and knew how to heal despairs in most cases. There were exceptions, of course. One old man, who thought life not worth living unless he could get Kimiko all to himself, invited her to a banquet one evening, and asked her to drink wine with him. But Kimika, accustomed to read faces, deftly substituted tea (which has precisely the same color) for Kimiko's wine, and so instinctively saved the girl's precious life,—for only ten minutes later the soul of the silly host was on its way to the Meido alone, and doubtless greatly disappointed.... After that night Kimika watched over Kimiko as a wild cat guards her kitten.

The kitten became a fashionable mania, a craze,-a delirium,—one of the great sights and sensations of the period. There is a foreign prince who remembers her name: he sent her a gift of diamonds which she never wore. Other presents in multitude she received from all who could afford the luxury of pleasing her; and to be in her good graces, even for a day, was the ambition of the "gilded youth." Nevertheless she allowed no one to imagine himself a special favorite, and refused to make any contracts for perpetual affection. To any protests on the subject she answered that she knew her place. Even respectable women spoke not unkindly of her,—because her name never figured in any story of family unhappiness. She really kept her place. Time seemed to make her more charming. Other geisha grew into fame, but no one was even classed with her. Some manufacturers secured the sole right to use her photograph for a label; and that label made a fortune for the firm.

But one day the startling news was abroad that Kimiko had at last shown a very soft heart. She had actually said good-by to Kimika, and had gone away with somebody able to give her all the pretty dresses she could wish for,—somebody eager to give her social position also, and to silence gossip about her naughty past,—somebody willing to die for her ten times over, and already half-dead for love of her. Kimika said that a fool had tried to kill himself because of Kimiko, and that Kimiko had taken pity on him, and nursed him back to foolishness. Taiko Hideyoshi had said that there were only two things in this world which he feared,—a fool and a dark night. Kimika had always been afraid of a fool; and a fool had taken Kimiko away. And she added, with not unselfish tears, that Kimiko would never come back to her: it was a case of love on both sides for the time of several existences.

Nevertheless, Kimika was only half right. She was very shrewd indeed; but she had never been able to see into certain private chambers in the soul of Kimiko. If she could have seen, she would have screamed for astonishment.

(1) Oni mo jiuhachi, azami no hana. There is a similar saying of a dragon: ja mo hatachi ("even a dragon at twenty").


Between Kimiko and other geisha there was a difference of gentle blood. Before she took a professional name, her name was Ai, which, written with the proper character, means love. Written with another character the same word-sound signifies grief. The story of Ai was a story of both grief and love.

She had been nicely brought up. As a child she had been sent to a private school kept by an old samurai,—where the little girls squatted on cushions before little writing-tables twelve inches high, and where the teachers taught without salary. In these days when teachers get better salaries than civil-service officials, the teaching is not nearly so honest or so pleasant as it used to be. A servant always accompanied the child to and from the school-house, carrying her books, her writing-box, her kneeling cushion, and her little table.

Afterwards she attended an elementary public school. The first "modern" text-books had just been issued,—containing Japanese translations of English, German, and French stories about honor and duty and heroism, excellently chosen, and illustrated with tiny innocent pictures of Western people in costumes never of this world. Those dear pathetic little text-books are now curiosities: they have long been superseded by pretentious compilations much less lovingly and sensibly edited. Ai learned well. Once a year, at examination time, a great official would visit the school, and talk to the children as if they were all his own, and stroke each silky head as he distributed the prizes. He is now a retired statesman, and has doubtless forgotten Ai;—and in the schools of to-day nobody caresses little girls, or gives them prizes.

Then came those reconstructive changes by which families of rank were reduced to obscurity and poverty; and Ai had to leave school. Many great sorrows followed, till there remained to her only her mother and an infant sister. The mother and Ai could do little but weave; and by weaving alone they could not earn enough to live. House and lands first,—then, article by article, all things not necessary to existence—heirlooms, trinkets, costly robes, crested lacquer-ware—passed cheaply to those whom misery makes rich, and whose wealth is called by the people Namida no kane,—"the Money of Tears." Help from the living was scanty,—for most of the samurai-families of kin were in like distress. But when there was nothing left to sell,—not even Al's little school-books,—help was sought from the dead.

For it was remembered that the father of Al's father had been buried with his sword, the gift of a daimyo; and that the mountings of the weapon were of gold. So the grave was opened, and the grand hilt of curious workmanship exchanged for a common one, and the ornaments of the lacquered sheath removed. But the good blade was not taken, because the warrior might need it. Ai saw his face as he sat erect in the great red-clay urn which served in lieu of coffin to the samurai of high rank when buried by the ancient rite. His features were still recognizable after all those years of sepulture; and he seemed to nod a grim assent to what had been done as his sword was given back to him.

At last the mother of Ai became too weak and ill to work at the loom; and the gold of the dead had been spent. Ai said:—"Mother, I know there is but one thing now to do. Let me be sold to the dancing-girls." The mother wept, and made no reply. Ai did not weep, but went out alone.

She remembered that in other days, when banquets were given in her father's house, and dancers served the wine, a free geisha named Kimika had often caressed her. She went straight to the house of Kimika. "I want you to buy me," said Ai;—"and I want a great deal of money." Kimika laughed, and petted her, and made her eat, and heard her story,—which was bravely told, without one tear. "My child," said Kimika, "I cannot give you a great deal of money; for I have very little. But this I can do:—I can promise to support your mother. That will be better than to give her much money for you,—because your mother, my child, has been a great lady, and therefore cannot know how to use money cunningly. Ask your honored mother to sign the bond,—promising that you will stay with me till you are twenty-four years old, or until such time as you can pay me back. And what money I can now spare, take home with you as a free gift."

Thus Ai became a geisha; and Kimika renamed her Kimiko, and kept the pledge to maintain the mother and the child-sister. The mother died before Kimiko became famous; the little sister was put to school. Afterwards those things already told came to pass.

The young man who had wanted to die for love of a dancing-girl was worthy of better things. He was an only son and his parents, wealthy and titled people, were willing to make any sacrifice for him,—even that of accepting a geisha for daughter-in-law. Moreover they were not altogether displeased with Kimiko, because of her sympathy for their boy.

Before going away, Kimiko attended the wedding of her young sister, Ume, who had just finished school. She was good and pretty. Kimiko had made the match, and used her wicked knowledge of men in making it. She chose a very plain, honest, old-fashioned merchant,—a man who could not have been bad, even if he tried. Ume did not question the wisdom of her sister's choice, which time proved fortunate.


It was in the period of the fourth moon that Kimiko was carried away to the home prepared for her,—a place in which to forget all the unpleasant realities of life,-a sort of fairy-palace lost in the charmed repose of great shadowy silent high-walled gardens. Therein she might have felt as one reborn, by reason of good deeds, into the realm of Horai. But the spring passed, and the summer came,—and Kimiko remained simply Kimiko. Three times she had contrived, for reasons unspoken, to put off the wedding-day.

In the period of the eighth moon, Kimiko ceased to be playful, and told her reasons very gently but very firmly:—"It is time that I should say what I have long delayed saying. For the sake of the mother who gave me life, and for the sake of my little sister, I have lived in hell. All that is past; but the scorch of the fire is upon me, and there is no power that can take it away. It is not for such as I to enter into an honored family,—nor to bear you a son,—nor to build up your house.... Suffer me to speak; for in the knowing of wrong I am very, very much wiser than you.... Never shall I be your wife to become your shame. I am your companion only, your play-fellow, your guest of an hour, —and this not for any gifts. When I shall be no longer with you nay! certainly that day must come!—you will have clearer sight. I shall still be dear to you, but not in the same way as now—which is foolishness. You will remember these words out of my heart. Some true sweet lady will be chosen for you, to become the mother of your children. I shall see them; but the place of a wife I shall never take, and the joy of a mother I must never know. I am only your folly, my beloved,—an illusion, a dream, a shadow flitting across your life. Somewhat more in later time I may become, but a wife to you never, neither in this existence nor in the next. Ask me again-and I go."

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