Is our universe so composed

I have cited this last only as a curiosity. For it has a strange
history, and is not what it seems,–although the apparent motive was
certainly suggested by some song like the one immediately preceding
it. It is a song of loyalty, and was composed by Kido of Chō-shū,
one of the leaders in that great movement which brought about the
downfall of the Shōgunate, the restoration of the Imperial power, the
reconstruction of Japanese society, and the introduction and adoption
of Western civilization. Kido, Saigō, and Ōkubo are rightly termed the
three heroes of the restoration. While preparing his plans at Kyōto, in
company with his friend Saigō, Kido composed and sang this song as an
intimation of his real sentiments. By the phrase, “ravens of the three
thousand worlds,” he designated the Tokugawa partisans; by the word
_nushi_ (lord, or heart’s-master) he signified the Emperor; and by the
term _soiné_ (reposing together) he referred to the hoped-for condition
of direct responsibility to the Throne, without further intervention
of Shōgun and daimyō. It was not the first example in Japanese history
of the use of popular song as a medium for the utterance of opinions
which, expressed in plainer language, would have invited assassination.


While I was writing the preceding note upon Kido’s song, the Buddhist
phrase, _San-zen sékai_ (twice occurring, as the reader will have
observed, in the present collection), suggested a few reflections with
which this paper may fitly conclude. I remember that when I first
attempted, years ago, to learn the outlines of Buddhist philosophy, one
fact which particularly impressed me was the vastness of the Buddhist
concept of the universe. Buddhism, as I read it, had not offered
itself to humanity as a saving creed for one inhabited world, but
as the religion of “innumerable hundreds of thousands of myriads of
_kôtis_[35] of worlds.” And the modern scientific revelation of stellar
evolution and dissolution then seemed to me, and still seems, like a
prodigious confirmation of certain Buddhist theories of cosmical law.

The man of science to-day cannot ignore the enormous suggestions of
the new story that the heavens are telling. He finds himself compelled
to regard the development of what we call mind as a general phase or
incident in the ripening of planetary life throughout the universe.
He is obliged to consider the relation of our own petty sphere to the
great swarming of suns and systems as no more than the relation of a
single noctiluca to the phosphorescence of a sea. By its creed the
Oriental intellect has been better prepared than the Occidental to
accept this tremendous revelation, not as a wisdom that increaseth
sorrow, but as a wisdom to quicken faith. And I cannot but think that
out of the certain future union of Western knowledge with Eastern
thought there must eventually proceed a Neo-Buddhism inheriting all
the strength of Science, yet spiritually able to recompense the seeker
after truth with the recompense foretold in the twelfth chapter of
the Sutra of the Diamond-Cutter. Taking the text as it stands,–in
despite of commentators,–what more could be unselfishly desired from
any spiritual teaching than the reward promised in that verse,–“_They
shall be endowed with the Highest Wonder”?_

[Footnote 35: 1 kôti = 10,000,000.]





“It is not possible, O Subhûti, that this treatise of the
Law should be heard by beings of little faith,–by those
who believe in Self, in beings, in living beings, and in
persons.”–_The Diamond-Cutter._

There still widely prevails in Europe and America the idea that Nirvana
signifies, to Buddhist minds, neither more nor less than absolute
nothingness,–complete annihilation. This idea is erroneous. But it
is erroneous only because it contains half of a truth. This half of a
truth has no value or interest, or even intelligibility, unless joined
with the other half. And of the other half no suspicion yet exists in
the average Western mind.

Nirvana, indeed, signifies an extinction. But if by this extinction of
individual being we understand soul-death, our conception of Nirvana
is wrong. Or if we take Nirvana to mean such reabsorption of the finite
into the infinite as that predicted by Indian pantheism, again our idea
is foreign to Buddhism.

Nevertheless, if we declare that Nirvana means the extinction of
individual sensation, emotion, thought,–the final disintegration of
conscious personality,–the annihilation of everything that can be
included under the term “I,”–then we rightly express one side of the
Buddhist teaching.


The apparent contradiction of the foregoing statements is due only to
our Occidental notion of Self. Self to us signifies feelings, ideas,
memory, volition; and it can scarcely occur to any person not familiar
with German idealism even to imagine that consciousness might not
be Self. The Buddhist, on the contrary, declares all that we call
Self to be false. He defines the Ego as a mere temporary aggregate
of sensations, impulses, ideas, created by the physical and mental
experiences of the race,–all related to the perishable body, and
all doomed to dissolve with it. What to Western reasoning seems the
most indubitable of realities, Buddhist reasoning pronounces the
greatest of all illusions, and even the source of all sorrow and sin.
“_The mind, the thoughts, and all the senses are subject to the law
of life and death. With knowledge of Self and the laws of birth and
death, there is no grasping, and no sense-perception. Knowing one’s
self and knowing how the senses act, there is no room for the idea of
or the ground for framing it The thought of ‘Self’ gives rise to all
sorrows,–binding the world as with fetters; but having found there is
no ‘I’ that can be bound, then all these bonds are severed._”[1]

The above text suggests very plainly that the consciousness is not the
Real Self, and that the mind dies with the body. Any reader unfamiliar
with Buddhist thought may well ask, “What, then, is the meaning of the
doctrine of Karma, the doctrine of moral progression, the doctrine
of the consequence of acts?” Indeed, to try to study, only with the
ontological ideas of the West, even such translations of the Buddhist
Sutras as those given in the “Sacred Books of the East,” is to be at
every page confronted by seemingly hopeless riddles and contradictions.
We find a doctrine of rebirth; but the existence of a soul is denied.
We are told that the misfortunes of this life are punishments of faults
committed in a previous life; yet personal transmigration does not take
place. We find the statement that beings are reindividualized; yet both
individuality and personality are called illusions. I doubt whether
anybody not acquainted with the deeper forms of Buddhist belief could
possibly understand the following extracts which I have made from the
first volume of “The Questions of King Milinda:”–


The King said: “Nagasena, is there any one who after death is
not reindividualized?” Nagasena answered: “A sinful being is
reindividualized; a sinless one is not.” (p. 50.)

“Is there, Nagasena, such a thing as the soul?” “There is no such thing
as soul.” (pp. 86-89.) [The same statement is repeated in a later
chapter (p. 111), with a qualification: “_In the highest sense,_ O
King, there is no such thing.”]

“Is there any being, Nagasena, who transmigrates from this body to
another?” “No: there is not.” (p. 112.)

“Where there is no transmigration, Nagasena, can there be rebirth?”
“Yes: there can.”

“Does he, Nagasena, who is about to be reborn, know that he will be
reborn?” “Yes: he knows it, O King.” (p. 113.)

Naturally the Western reader may ask,–“How can there be
reindividualization without a soul? How can there be rebirth without
transmigration? How can there be personal foreknowledge of rebirth
without personality?” But the answers to such questions will not be
found in the work cited.

It would be wrong to suppose that the citations given offer any
exceptional difficulty. As to the doctrine of the annihilation of
Self, the testimony of nearly all those Buddhist texts now accessible
to English readers is overwhelming. Perhaps the Sutra of the Great
Decease furnishes the most remarkable evidence contained in the
“Sacred Books of the East.” In its account of the Eight Stages of
Deliverance leading to Nirvana, it explicitly describes what we should
be justified in calling, from our Western point of view, the process
of absolute annihilation. We are told that in the first of these
eight stages the Buddhist seeker after truth still retains the ideas
of form–subjective and objective. In the second stage he loses the
subjective idea of form, and views forms as external phenomena only.
In the third stage the sense of the approaching perception of larger
truth comes to him. In the fourth stage he passes beyond all ideas
of form, ideas of resistance, and ideas of distinction; and there
remains to him only the idea of infinite space. In the fifth stage the
idea of infinite space vanishes, and the thought comes: _It is all
infinite reason._ [Here is the uttermost limit, many might suppose, of
pantheistic idealism; but it is only the half way resting-place on the
path which the Buddhist thinker must pursue.] In the sixth stage the
thought comes, _”Nothing at all exists.”_ In the seventh stage the idea
of nothingness itself vanishes. In the eighth stage all sensations and
ideas cease to exist. And _after_ this comes Nirvana.

The same sutra, in recounting the death of the Buddha, represents
him as rapidly passing through the first, second, third, and fourth
stages of meditation to enter into “that state of mind to which the
Infinity of Space alone is present,”–and thence into “that state
of mind to which the Infinity of Thought alone is present,”–and
thence into “that state of mind to which nothing at all is specially
present,”–and thence into “that state of mind between consciousness
and unconsciousness,”–and thence into “that state of mind in which
the consciousness both of sensations and of ideas has wholly passed

For the reader who has made any serious attempt to obtain a general
idea of Buddhism, such citations are scarcely necessary; since
the fundamental doctrine of the concatenation of cause and effect
contains the same denial of the reality of Self and suggests the same
enigmas. Illusion produces action or Karma; Karma, self-consciousness;
self-consciousness, individuality; individuality, the senses; the
senses, contact; contact, feeling; feeling, desire; desire, union;
union, conception; conception, birth; birth, sorrow and decrepitude
and death. Doubtless the reader knows the doctrine of the destruction
of the twelve Nidanas; and it is needless here to repeat it at length.
But he may be reminded of the teaching that by the cessation of contact
feeling is destroyed; by that of feeling, individuality; and by that
of individuality, _self-consciousness._


Evidently, without a preliminary solution of the riddles offered by
such texts, any effort to learn the meaning of Nirvana is hopeless.
Before being able to comprehend the true meaning of those sutras now
made familiar to English readers by translation, it is necessary to
understand that the common Occidental ideas of God and Soul, of matter,
of spirit, have no existence in Buddhist philosophy; their places being
occupied by concepts having no real counterparts in Western religious
thought. Above all, it is necessary that the reader should expel from
his mind the theological idea of Soul. The texts already quoted should
have made it clear that in Buddhist philosophy there is no personal
transmigration, and no individual permanent Soul.

[Footnote 1: _Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King._]


“O Bhagavat, the idea of a self is no idea; and the idea of a being, or
a living person, or a person, is no idea. And why? Because the blessed
Buddhas are freed from all ideas.”–_The Diamond-Cutter._

And now let us try to understand what it is that dies, and what
it is that is reborn,–what it is that commits faults and what
it is that suffers penalties,–what passes from states of woe to
states of bliss,–what enters into Nirvana after the destruction of
self-consciousness,–what survives “extinction” and has power to return
out of Nirvana,–what experiences the Four Infinite Feelings after all
finite feeling has been annihilated.

It is not the sentient and conscious Self that enters Nirvana. The Ego
is only a temporary aggregate of countless illusions, a phantom-shell,
a bubble sure to break. It is a creation of Karma,–or rather, as a
Buddhist friend insists, it _is_ Karma. To comprehend the statement
fully, the reader should know that, in this Oriental philosophy, acts
and thoughts are forces integrating themselves into material and mental
phenomena,–into what we call objective and subjective appearances.
The very earth we tread upon,–the mountains and forests, the rivers
and seas, the world and its moon, the visible universe in short,–_is
the integration of acts and thoughts,_ is Karma, or, at least, Being
conditioned by Karma.[1]

[Footnote 1: “The aggregate actions of all sentient beings give birth
to the varieties of mountains, rivers, countries, etc. … Their eyes,
nostrils, ears, tongues, bodies,–as well as their gardens, woods,
farms, residences, servants, and maids,–men imagine to be their
own possessions; but they are, in truth, only results produced by
innumerable actions.”

–KURODA, _Outlines of the Mahâyana._

“Grass, trees, earth,–all these shall become Buddha.”


“Even swords and things of metal are manifestations of spirit: within
them exist all virtues (or ‘_power_’) in their fullest development and

“When called sentient or non-sentient, matter is Law-Body (or
‘_spiritual body_’).”–CHISHŌ-HISHŌ.

“The Apparent Doctrine treats of the four great elements _[earth, fire,
water, air]_ as non-sentient. But in the Hidden Doctrine these are said
to be the Sammya-Shin (_Samya-Kaya_), or Body-Accordant of the Nyōrai

“When every phase of our mind shall be in accord with the mind of
Buddha, … then there will not be even one particle of dust that does
not enter into Buddhahood.”–ENGAKU-SHŌ.]

The Karma-Ego we call Self is mind and is body;–both perpetually
decay; both are perpetually renewed. From the unknown beginning, this
double–phenomenon, objective and subjective, has been alternately
dissolved and integrated: each integration is a birth; each dissolution
a death. There is no other birth or death but the birth and death of
Karma in some form or condition. But at each rebirth the reintegration
is never the reintegration of the identical phenomenon, but of another
to which it gives rise,–as growth begets growth, as motion produces
motion. So that the phantom-self changes not only as to form and
condition, but as to actual personality with every reëmbodiment. There
is one Reality; but there is no permanent individual, no constant
personality: there is only phantom-self, and phantom succeeds to
phantom, as undulation to undulation, over the ghostly Sea of Birth and
Death. And even as the storming of a sea is a motion of undulation,
not of translation,–even as it is the form of the wave only, not the
wave itself, that travels,–so in the passing of lives there is only
the rising and the vanishing of forms,–forms mental, forms material.
The fathomless Reality does not pass. “All forms,” it is written in the
_Kongō-hannya-haramitsu-Kyō,_[2] “are unreal: he who rises above all
forms is the Buddha.” But what can remain to rise above all forms after
the total disintegration of body and the final dissolution of mind?

[Footnote 2: Vagra-pragnâ-pâramita-Sutra.]

Unconsciously dwelling behind the false consciousness of imperfect
man,–beyond sensation, perception, thought,–wrapped in the envelope
of what we call soul (which in truth is only a thickly woven veil of
illusion), is the eternal and divine, the Absolute Reality: not a soul,
not a personality, but the All-Self without selfishness,–the _Muga
no Taiga,–_the Buddha enwombed in Karma. Within every phantom-self
dwells this divine: yet the innumerable are but one. Within every
creature incarnate sleeps the Infinite Intelligence unevolved, hidden,
unfelt, unknown,–yet destined from all the eternities to waken at
last, to rend away the ghostly web of sensuous mind, to break forever
its chrysalis of flesh, and pass to the supreme conquest of Space and
Time. Wherefore it is written in the _Kegon-Kyō_ (Avatamsaka-Sutra):
“Child of Buddha, there is not even one living being that has not the
wisdom of the Tathâgata. It is only because of their vain thoughts and
affections that all beings are not conscious of this…. I will teach
them the holy Way;–I will make them forsake their foolish thoughts,
and cause them to see that the vast and deep intelligence which dwells
within them is not different from the wisdom of the very Buddha.”


Here we may pause to consider the correspondence between these
fundamental Buddhist theories and the concepts of Western science.
It will be evident that the Buddhist denial of the reality of the
apparitional world is not a denial of the reality of phenomena as
phenomena, nor a denial of the forces producing phenomena objectively
or subjectively. For the negation of Karma as Karma would involve the
negation of the entire Buddhist system. The true declaration is, that
what we perceive is never reality in itself, and that even the Ego that
perceives is an unstable plexus of aggregates of feelings which are
themselves unstable and in the nature of illusions. This position is
scientifically strong,–perhaps impregnable. Of substance in itself
we certainly know nothing: we are conscious of the universe as a vast
play of forces only; and, even while we discern the general relative
meaning of laws expressed in the action of those forces, all that
which is Non-Ego is revealed to us merely through the vibrations of
a nervous structure never exactly the same in any two human beings.
Yet through such varying and imperfect perception we are sufficiently
assured of the impermanency of all forms,–of all aggregates objective
or subjective.

The test of reality is persistence; and the Buddhist, finding in the
visible universe only a perpetual flux of phenomena, declares the
material aggregate unreal because non-persistent,–unreal, at least,
as a bubble, a cloud, or a mirage. Again, relation is the universal
form of thought; but since relation is impermanent, how can thought be
persistent?… Judged from these points of view, Buddhist doctrine is
not Anti-Realism, but a veritable Transfigured Realism, finding just
expression in the exact words of Herbert Spencer:–“Every feeling and
thought being but transitory;–an entire life made up of such feelings
and thoughts being also but transitory;–nay, the objects amid which
life is passed, though less transitory, being severally in the course
of losing their individualities, whether quickly or slowly,–_we learn
that the one thing permanent is the Unknowable Reality hidden under all
these changing shapes._”

Likewise, the teaching of Buddhism, that what we call Self is an
impermanent aggregate,–a sensuous illusion,–will prove, if patiently
analyzed, scarcely possible for any serious thinker to deny. Mind,
as known to the scientific psychologist, is composed of feelings and
the relations between feelings; and feelings are composed of units
of simple sensation which are physiologically coincident with minute
nervous shocks. All the sense-organs are fundamentally alike, being
evolutional modifications of the same morphological elements;–and
all the senses are modifications of touch. Or, to use the simplest
possible language, the organs of sense–sight, smell, taste, even
hearing–have been alike developed from the skin! Even the human brain
itself, by the modern testimony of histology and embryology, “is, at
its first beginning, merely an infolding of the epidermic layer;” and
thought, physiologically and evolutionally, is thus a modification of
touch. Certain vibrations, acting through the visual apparatus, cause
within the brain those motions which are followed by the sensations
of light and color;–other vibrations, acting upon the auditory
mechanism, give rise to the sensation of sound;–other vibrations,
setting up changes in specialized tissue, produce sensations of taste,
smell, touch. All our knowledge is derived and developed, directly or
indirectly, from physical sensation,–from touch. Of course this is
no ultimate explanation, because nobody can tell us _what feels the
touch._ “Everything physical,” well said Schopenhauer, “is at the same
time meta-physical.” But science fully justifies the Buddhist position
that what we call Self is a bundle of sensations, emotions, sentiments,
ideas, memories, all relating to the _physical_ experiences of the
race and the individual, and that our wish for immortality is a wish
for the eternity of this merely sensuous and selfish consciousness.
And science even supports the Buddhist denial of the permanence of
the sensuous Ego. “Psychology,” says Wundt, “proves that not only our
sense-perceptions, but the memorial images that renew them, depend
for their origin upon the functionings of the organs of sense and
movement…. A continuance of this sensuous consciousness must appear
to her irreconcilable with the facts of her experience. And surely we
may well doubt whether such continuance is an ethical requisite: more,
whether the fulfillment of the wish for it, if possible, were not an
intolerable destiny.”


“O Subhûti, if I had had an idea of a being, of a living
being, or of a person, I should also have had an idea of
malevolence…. A gift should not be given by any one who
believes in form, sound, smell, taste, or anything that can
be touched.”–_The Diamond-Cutter._

The doctrine of the impermanency of the conscious Ego is not only the
most remarkable in Buddhist philosophy: it is also, morally, one
of the most important. Perhaps the ethical value of this teaching
has never yet been fairly estimated by any Western thinker. How much
of human unhappiness has been caused, directly and indirectly, by
opposite beliefs,–by the delusion of stability,–by the delusion
that distinctions of character, condition, class, creed, are settled
by immutable law,–and the delusion of a changeless, immortal,
sentient soul, destined, by divine caprice, to eternities of bliss or
eternities of fire! Doubtless the ideas of a deity moved by everlasting
hate,–of soul as a permanent, changeless entity destined to changeless
states,–of sin as unatonable and of penalty as never-ending,–were not
without value in former savage stages of social development. But in the
course of our future evolution they must be utterly got rid of; and it
may be hoped that the contact of Western with Oriental thought will
have for one happy result the acceleration of their decay. While even
the feelings which they have developed linger with us, there can be no
true spirit of tolerance, no sense of human brotherhood, no wakening of
universal love.

Buddhism, on the other hand, recognizing no permanency, no finite
stabilities, no distinctions of character or class or race, except as
passing phenomena,–nay, no difference even between gods and men,–has
been essentially the religion of tolerance. Demon and angel are but
varying manifestations of the same Karma;–hell and heaven mere
temporary halting-places upon the journey to eternal peace. For all
beings there is but one law,–immutable and divine: the law by which
the lowest _must_ rise to the place of the highest,–the law by which
the worst _must_ become the best,–the law by which the vilest _must_
become a Buddha. In such a system there is no room for prejudice and
for hatred. Ignorance alone is the source of wrong and pain; and all
ignorance must finally be dissipated in infinite light _through the
decomposition of Self._


Certainly while we still try to cling to the old theories of permanent
personality, and of a single incarnation only for each individual,
we can find no moral meaning in the universe as it exists. Modern
knowledge can discover no justice in the cosmic process;–the very
most it can offer us by way of ethical encouragement is that the
unknowable forces are not forces of pure malevolence. “Neither moral
nor immoral,” to quote Huxley, “but simply unmoral.” Evolutional
science cannot be made to accord with the notion of indissoluble
personality; and if we accept its teaching of mental growth and
inheritance, we must also accept its teaching of individual dissolution
and of the cosmos as inexplicable. It assures us, indeed, that the
higher faculties of man have been developed through struggle and
pain, and will long continue to be so developed: but it also assures
us that evolution is inevitably followed by dissolution,–that
the highest point of development is the point likewise from which
retrogression begins. And if we are each and all mere perishable forms
of being,–doomed to pass away like plants and trees,–what consolation
can we find in the assurance that we are suffering for the benefit of
the future? How can it concern us whether humanity become more or less
happy in another myriad ages, if there remains nothing for us but to
live and die in comparative misery? Or, to repeat the irony of Huxley,
“what compensation does the Eohippus get for his sorrows in the fact
that, some millions of years afterwards, one of his descendants wins
the Derby?”

But the cosmic process may assume quite another aspect if we can
persuade ourselves, like the Buddhist, that all being is Unity,
–that personality is but a delusion hiding reality,–that all
distinctions of “I” and “thou” are ghostly films spun out of perishable
sensation,–that even Time and Place as revealed to our petty senses
are phantasms,–that the past and the present and the future are
veritably One. Suppose the winner of the Derby quite well able to
remember having been the Eohippus? Suppose the being, once man, able to
look back through all veils of death and birth, through all evolutions
of evolution, even to the moment of the first faint growth of sentiency
out of non-sentiency;–able to remember, like the Buddha of the
Jatakas, all the experiences of his myriad incarnations, and to relate
them like fairy-tales for the sake of another Ananda?

We have seen, that it is not the Self but the Non-Self–the one
reality underlying all phenomena.–which passes from form, to form.
The striving for Nirvana is a struggle perpetual between false and
true, light and darkness, the sensual and the supersensual; and the
ultimate victory can be gained only by the total decomposition of the
mental and the physical individuality. Not one conquest of self can
suffice: millions of selves must be overcome. For the false Ego is
a compound of countless ages,–possesses a vitality enduring beyond
universes. At each breaking and shedding of the chrysalis a new
chrysalis appears,–more tenous, perhaps, more diaphanous, but woven of
like sensuous material,–a mental and physical texture spun by Karma
from the inherited illusions, passions, desires, pains and pleasures,
of innumerable lives. But what is it that feels?–the phantom or the

All phenomena of _Self_-consciousness belong to the false self,–but
only as a physiologist might say that sensation is a product of the
sensiferous apparatus, which would not explain sensation. No more in
Buddhism than in physiological psychology is there any real teaching
of _two_ feeling entities. In Buddhism the only entity is the Absolute;
and to that entity the false self stands in the relation of a medium
through which right perception is deflected and distorted,–in which
and because of which sentiency and impulse become possible. The
unconditioned Absolute is above all relations: it has nothing of what
we call pain or pleasure; it knows no difference of “I” and “thou,”–no
distinction of place or time. But while conditioned by the illusion of
personality, it is aware of pain or pleasure, as a dreamer perceives
unrealities without being conscious of their unreality. Pleasures
and pains and all the feelings relating to self-consciousness are
hallucinations. The false self exists only as a state of sleep exists;
and sentiency and desire, and all the sorrows and passions of being,
exist only as illusions of that sleep.

But here we reach a point at which science and Buddhism diverge.
Modern psychology recognizes no feelings not evolutionally developed
through the experiences of the race and the individual; but Buddhism
asserts the existence of feelings which are immortal and divine. It
declares that in this Karma-state the greater part of our sensations,
perceptions, ideas, thoughts, are related only to the phantom
self;–that our mental life is little more than a flow of feelings
and desires belonging to selfishness;–that our loves and hates, and
hopes and fears, and pleasures and pains, are illusions;[1]–but it
also declares there are higher feelings, more or less latent within us,
according to our degree of knowledge, which have nothing to do with the
false self, and which are eternal.

Though science pronounces the ultimate nature of pleasures and pains
to be inscrutable, it partly confirms the Buddhist teaching of their
impermanent character. Both appear to belong rather to secondary than
to primary elements of feeling, and both to be evolutions,–forms
of sensation developed, through billions of life-experiences, out of
primal conditions in which there can have been neither real pleasure
nor real pain, but only the vaguest dull sentiency. The higher the
evolution the more pain, and the larger the volume of all sensation.
After the state of equilibration has been reached, the volume of
feeling will begin to diminish. The finer pleasures and the keener
pains must first become extinct; then by gradual stages the less
complex feelings, according to their complexity; till at last, in all
the refrigerating planet, there will survive not even the simplest
sensation possible to the lowest form of life.

But, according to the Buddhist, the highest moral feelings survive
races and suns and universes. The purely unselfish feelings, impossible
to grosser natures, belong to the Absolute. In generous natures the
divine becomes sentient,–quickens within the shell of illusion, as
a child quickens in the womb (whence illusion itself is called The
Womb of the Tathâgata). In yet higher natures the feelings which are
not of self find room for powerful manifestation,–shine through
the phantom-Ego as light through a vase. Such are purely unselfish
love, larger than individual being,–supreme compassion,–perfect
benevolence: they are not of man, but of the Buddha within the man. And
as these expand, all the feelings of self begin to thin and weaken.
The condition of the phantom-Ego simultaneously purifies: all those
opacities which darkened the reality of Mind within the mirage of mind
begin to illumine; and the sense of the infinite, like a thrilling
of light, passes through the dream of personality into the awakening

But in the case of the average seeker after truth, this refinement
and ultimate decomposition of self can be effected only with lentor
inexpressible. The phantom-individuality, though enduring only for
the space of a single lifetime, shapes out of the sum of its innate
qualities, and out of the sum of its own particular acts and thoughts,
the new combination which succeeds it,–a fresh individuality,
another prison of illusion for the Self-without-selfishness.[3] As
name and form, the false self dissolves; but its impulses live on and
recombine; and the final destruction of those impulses–the total
extinction of their ghostly vitality,–may require a protraction of
effort through billions of centuries. Perpetually from the ashes
of burnt-out passions subtler passions are born,–perpetually from
the graves of illusions new illusions arise. The most powerful of
human passions is the last to yield: it persists far into superhuman
conditions. Even when its grosser forms have passed away, its
tendencies still lurk in those feelings originally derived from
it or interwoven with it,–the sensation of beauty, for example,
and the delight of the mind in graceful things. On earth these are
classed among the higher feelings. But in a supramundane state their
indulgence is fraught with peril: a touch or a look may cause the
broken fetters of sensual bondage to reform. Beyond all worlds of
sex there are strange zones in which thoughts and memories become
tangible and visible objective facts,–in which emotional fancies are
materialized,–in which the least unworthy wish may prove creative.
It may be said, in Western religious phraseology, that throughout
the greater part of this vast pilgrimage, and in all the zones of
desire, the temptations increase according to the spiritual strength
of resistance. With every successive ascent there is a further
expansion of the possibilities of enjoyment, an augmentation of power,
a heightening of sensation. Immense the reward of self-conquest; but
whosoever strives for that reward strives after emptiness. One must not
desire heaven as a state of pleasure; it has been written, _Erroneous
thoughts as to the joys of heaven are still entwined by the fast cords
of lust._ One must not wish to become a god or an angel. “Whatsoever
brother, O Bhikkus,”–the Teacher said,–“may have adopted the
religious life thinking, to himself, ‘_By this morality I shall become
an angel;’_ his mind does not incline to zeal, perseverance, exertion.”
Perhaps the most vivid exposition of the duty of the winner of
happiness is that given in the Sutra of the Great King of Glory. This
great king, coming into possession of all imaginable wealth and power,
abstains from enjoyments, despises splendors, refuses the caresses of
a Queen dowered with “the beauty of the gods,” and bids her demand
of him, out of her own lips, that he forsake her. She, with dutiful
sweetness, but not without natural tears, obeys him; and he passes
at once out of existence. Every such refusal of the prizes gained by
virtue helps to cause a still more fortunate birth in a still loftier
state of being. But no state should be desired; and it is only after
the wish for Nirvana itself has ceased that Nirvana can be attained.


And now we may venture for a little while into the most fantastic
region of Buddhist ontology,–since, without some definite notion of
the course of psychical evolution therein described, the suggestive
worth of the system cannot be fairly judged. Certainly I am asking the
reader to consider a theory about what is beyond the uttermost limit
of possible human knowledge. But as much of the Buddhist doctrine
as can be studied and tested within the limit of human knowledge is
found to accord with scientific opinion better than does any other
religious hypothesis; and some of the Buddhist teachings prove to be
incomprehensible anticipations of modern scientific disco very,–can
it, therefore, seem unreasonable to claim that even the pure fancies of
a faith so much older than our own, and so much more capable of being
reconciled with the widest expansions of nineteenth-century thought,
deserve at least respectful consideration?

[Footnote 1: “Pleasures and pains have their origin from touch: where
there is no touch, they do not arise.”–_Atthakavagga,_ 11.]

[Footnote 2: “To reach the state of the perfect and everlasting
happiness is the highest Nirvana; for then all mental phenomena–such
as desires, etc.–are annihilated. And as such mental phenomena are
annihilated, there appears the true nature of true mind with all its
innumerable functions and miraculous actions.”–KURODA, _Outlines of
the Mahâyana._]

[Footnote 3: It is on the subject of this propagation and perpetuation
of characters that the doctrine of Karma is in partial agreement with
the modern scientific teaching-of the hereditary transmission of


“Non-existence is only the entrance to the Great Vehicle.”

“And in which way is it, Siha, that one speaking truly could say of me:
‘The Samana Gotama maintains annihilation;–he teaches the doctrine of
annihilation’? I proclaim, Siha, the annihilation of lust, of ill-will,
of delusion; I proclaim the annihilation of the manifold conditions (of
heart) which are evil and not good.”–_Mahavagga,_ vi. 31. 7.

_”Nin mité, hō tokê_” (see first the person, then preach the law) is a
Japanese proverb signifying that Buddhism should be taught according to
the capacity of the pupil. And the great systems of Buddhist doctrine
are actually divided into progressive stages (five usually), to be
studied in succession, or otherwise, according to the intellectual
ability of the learner. Also there are many varieties of special
doctrine held by the different sects and sub-sects,–so that, to make
any satisfactory outline of Buddhist ontology, it is necessary to shape
a synthesis of the more important and non-conflicting among these many
tenets. I need scarcely say that popular Buddhism does not include
concepts such as we have been examining. The people hold to the simpler
creed of a veritable transmigration of simpler The people understand
Karma only as the law that makes the punishment or reward of faults
committed in previous lives. The people do not trouble themselves about
_Nehan_ or Nirvana;[1] but they think much about heaven (_Gokuraku,_)
which the members of many sects believe can be attained immediately
after this life by the spirits of the good. The followers of the
greatest and richest of the modern sects–the _Shinshū–_hold that,
by the invocation of Amida, a righteous person can pass at once
after death to the great Paradise of the West,–the Paradise of the
Lotos-Flower-Birth. I am taking no account of popular beliefs in this
little study, nor of doctrines peculiar to any one sect only.

But there are many differences in the higher teaching as to the
attainment of Nirvana. Some authorities hold that the supreme happiness
can be won, or at least seen, even on this earth; while others declare
that the present world is too corrupt to allow of a perfect life, and
that only by winning, through good deeds, the privilege of rebirth into
a better world, can men hope for opportunity to practice that holiness
which leads to the highest bliss. The latter opinion, which posits the
superior conditions of being in other worlds, better expresses the
general thought of contemporary Buddhism in Japan.


The conditions of human and of animal being belong to what are termed
the Worlds of Desire (_Yoku-Kai_),–which are four in number. Below
these are the states of torment or hells (_Jigoku,_) about which many
curious things are written; but neither the Yoku-Kai nor the Jigoku
need be considered in relation to the purpose of this little essay.
We have only to do with the course of spiritual progress from the
world of men up to Nirvana,–assuming, with modern Buddhism, that the
pilgrimage through death and birth must continue, for the majority of
mankind at least, even after the attainment of the highest conditions
possible upon this globe. The way rises from terrestrial conditions
to other and superior worlds,–passing first through the Six Heavens
of Desire (_Yoku-Ten_);–thence through the Seventeen Heavens of Form
(_Shiki-Kai_);–and lastly through the Four Heavens of Formlessness
(_Mushiki-Kai_), beyond which lies Nirvana.

The requirements of physical life–the need of food, rest, and sexual
relations–continue to be felt in the Heavens of Desire,–which
would seem to be higher physical worlds rather than what we commonly
understand by the expression “heavens.” Indeed, the conditions in some
of them are such as might be supposed to exist in planets more favored
than our own,–in larger spheres warmed by a more genial sun. And some
Buddhist texts actually place them in remote constellations,–declaring
that the Path leads from star to star, from galaxy to galaxy, from
universe to universe, up to the Limit of Existence.[2] In the first
of the heavens of this zone, called the Heaven of the Four Kings
(_Shi-Tennō-Ten_), life lasts five times longer than life on this
earth according to number of years, and each year there is equal
to fifty terrestrial years. But its inhabitants eat and drink, and
marry and give in marriage, much after the fashion of mankind. In the
succeeding heaven (_Sanjiu-san-Ten,_) the duration of life is doubled,
while all other conditions are correspondingly improved; and the
grosser forms of passion disappear. The union of the sexes persists,
but in a manner curiously similar to that which a certain Father of
the Christian Church wished might become possible,–a simple embrace
producing a new being. In the third heaven (called _Emma-Ten_), where
longevity is again doubled, the slightest touch may create life. In
the fourth, or Heaven of Contentment (_Tochita-Ten,_) longevity is
further increased. In the fifth, or Heaven of the Transmutation of
Pleasure (_Keraku-Ten,_) strange new powers are gained. Subjective
pleasures become changed at will into objective pleasures;–thoughts
as well as wishes become creative forces;–and even the act of seeing
may cause conception and birth. In the sixth heaven (_Také-jizai-Ten,_)
the powers obtained in the fifth heaven are further developed; and the
subjective pleasures trans-muted into objective can be presented to
others, or shared with others,–like material gifts. But the look of an
instant,–one glance of the eye,–may generate a new Karma.

The Yoku-Kai are all heavens of sensuous life,–heavens such as might
answer to the dreams of artists and lovers and poets. But those who
are able to traverse them without falling–(and a fall, be it observed,
is not difficult)–pass into the Supersensual Zone, first entering the
Heavens of Luminous Observation of Existence and of Calm Meditation
upon Existence (_Ujin-ushi-shōryo,_ or _Kak-kwan_). These are in number
three,–each higher than the preceding,–and are named The Heaven
of Sanctity, The Heaven of Higher Sanctity, and The Heaven of Great
Sanctity. After these come the heavens called the Heavens of Luminous
Observation of Non-Existence and of Calm Meditation upon Non-Existence
(_Mūjin-mushi-shōryo_). These also are three; and the names of them in
their order signify, Lesser Light, Light Unfathomable, and Light Making
Sound, or, Light-Sonorous. Here there is attained the highest degree
of supersensuous joy possible to temporary conditions. Above are the
states named _Riki-shōryo,_ or the Heavens of the Meditation of the
Abandonment of Joy. The names of these states in their ascending order
are, Lesser Purity, Purity Unfathomable, and Purity Supreme. In them
neither joy nor pain, nor forceful feeling of any sort exist: there is
a mild negative pleasure only,–the pleasure of heavenly Equanimity.[3]
Higher than these heavens are the eight spheres of Calm Meditation upon
the Abandonment of all Joy and Pleasure (_Riki-raku-shōryo._) They are
called The Cloudless, Holiness-Manifest, Vast Results, Empty of Name,
Void of Heat, Fair-Appearing, Vision-Perfecting, and The Limit of Form.
Herein pleasure and pain, and name and form, pass utterly away. But
there remain ideas and thoughts.

He who can pass through these supersensual realms enters at once
into the _Mushiki-Kai,–_the spheres of Formlessness. These
are four. In the first state of the Mushiki-Kai, all sense of
individuality is lost: even the thought of name and form becomes
extinct, and there survives only the idea of Infinite Space, or
Emptiness. In the second state of the Mushiki-Kai, this idea of
space vanishes; and its place is filled by the Idea of Infinite
Reason. But this idea of reason is anthropomorphic: it is an
illusion; and it fades out in the third state of the Mushiki-Kai,
which is called the “State-of-Nothing-to-take-hold-of,” or
_Mū-sho-ū-shō-jō._ Here is only the Idea of Infinite Nothingness.
But even this condition has been reached by the aid of the action
of the personal mind. This action ceases: then the fourth state of
the Mushiki-Kai is reached,–the _Hisō-hihisō-shō_, or the state of
“neither-namelessness-nor-not-namelessness.” Something of personal
mentality continues to float vaguely here,–the very uttermost
expiring vibration of Karma,–the last vanishing haze of being. It
melts;–and the immeasurable revelation comes. The dreaming Buddha,
freed from the last ghostly bond of Self, rises at once into the
“infinite bliss” of Nirvana.[4]


But every being does not pass through all the states above enumerated:
the power to rise swiftly or slowly depends upon the acquisition of
merit as well as upon the character of the Karma to be overcome. Some
beings pass to Nirvana immediately after the present life; some after
a single new birth; some after two or three births; while many rise
directly from this world into one of the Supersensuous Heavens. All
such are called _Chō,–_the Leapers,–of whom the highest class reach
Nirvana at once after their death as men or women. There are two great
divisions of Chō,–the _Fu-Kwan,_ or Never-Returning-Ones,[5] and the
_Kwan,_ Returning Ones, or _revenants._ Sometimes the return may be in
the nature of a prolonged retrogression; and, according to a Buddhist
legend of the origin of the world, the first men were beings who had
fallen from the _Kwō-on-Ten,_ or Heaven of Sonorous Light. A remarkable
fact about the whole theory of progression is that the progression
is not conceived of (except in very rare cases) as an advance in
straight lines, but as an advance by undulations,–a psychical rhythm
of motion. This is exemplified by the curious Buddhist classification
of the different short courses by which the Kwan or _revenants_ may
hope to reach Nirvana. These short courses are divided into Even and
Uneven;–the former includes an equal number of heavenly and of earthly
rebirths; while in the latter class the heavenly and the earthly
intermediate rebirths are not equal in number. There are four kinds
of these intermediate stages. A Japanese friend has drawn for me the
accompanying diagrams, which explain the subject clearly.

Fantastic this may be called; but it harmonizes with the truth that all
progress is necessarily rhythmical.









Though all beings do not pass through every stage of the great
journey, all beings who attain to the highest enlightenment, by
any course whatever, acquire certain faculties not belonging to
particular conditions of birth, but only to particular conditions of
psychical development. These are, the _Roku-Jindzū_ (Abhidjnâ),
or Six Supernatural Powers:[6] (1) _Shin-Kyō-Tsu,_ the power of
passing any-whither through any obstacles,–through solid walls,
for example;–(2) _Tengen-Tsū,_ the power of infinite vision;–(3)
_Tenni-Tsū,_ the power of infinite hearing;–(4) _Tashin-Tsū,_ the
power of knowing the thoughts of all other beings;–(5) _Shuku-jū-Tsū,_
the power of remembering former births;–(6) _Rojin–Tsū,_ infinite
wisdom with the power of entering at will into Nirvana. The Roku-jindzū
first begin to develop in the state of _Shōmon_ (Sravaka), and expand
in the higher conditions of _Engaku_ (Pratyeka-Buddha) and of Bosatsu
(Bodhisattva or Mahâsattva). The powers of the Shōmon may be exerted
over two thousand worlds; those of the Engaku or Bosatsu, over three
thousand;–but the powers of Buddhahood extend over the total cosmos.
In the first state of holiness, for example, comes the memory of a
certain number of former births, together with the capacity to foresee
a corresponding number of future births;–in the next higher state the
number of births remembered increases;–and in the state of Bosatsu
all former births are visible to memory. But the Buddha sees not only
all of his own former births, but likewise all births that ever have
been or can be,–and all the thoughts and acts, past, present, or
future, of all past, present, or future beings…. Now these dreams
of supernatural power merit attention because of the ethical teaching
in regard to them,–the same which is woven through every Buddhist
hypothesis, rational or unthinkable,–the teaching of self-abnegation.
The Supernatural Powers must never be used for personal pleasure, but
only for the highest beneficence,–the propagation of doctrine, the
saving of men. Any exercise of them for lesser ends might result in
their loss,–would certainly signify retrogression in the path.[7]
To show them for the purpose of exciting admiration or wonder were
to juggle wickedly with what is divine; and the Teacher himself is
recorded to have once severely rebuked a needless display of them by a

This giving up not only of one life, but of countless lives,–not only
of one world, but of innumerable worlds,–not only of natural but also
of supernatural pleasures,–not only of selfhood but of godhood,–is
certainly not for the miserable privilege of ceasing to be, but for
a privilege infinitely outweighing all that even paradise can give.
Nirvana is no cessation, but an emancipation. It means only the passing
of conditioned being into unconditioned being,–the fading of all
mental and physical phantoms into the light of Formless Omnipotence and
Omniscience. But the Buddhist hypothesis holds some suggestion of the
persistence of that which has once been able to remember all births
and states of limited being,–the persistence of the identity of the
Buddhas even in Nirvana notwithstanding the teaching that all Buddhas
are one. How reconcile this doctrine of monism with the assurance of
various texts that the being who enters Nirvana can, when so desirous,
reassume an earthly personality? There are some very remarkable texts
on this subject in the Sutra of the Lotos of the Good Law: those for
instance in which the Tathâgata Prabhûtarâtna is pictured as sitting
_”perfectly extinct upon his throne”_ and speaking before a vast
assembly to which he has been introduced as “the great Seer who,
_although perfectly extinct for many kôtis of æons,_ now comes to hear
the Law.” These texts themselves offer us the riddle of multiplicity
in unity; for the Tathâgata Prabhûtarâtna and the myriads of other
extinct Buddhas who appear simultaneously, are said to have been all
incarnations of but a single Buddha.

A reconciliation is offered by the hypothesis of what might be
called a _pluristic monism,_–a sole reality composed of groups of
consciousness, at once independent and yet interdependent,–or, to
speak of pure mind in terms of matter, _an atomic spiritual ultimate._
This hypothesis, though not doctrinably enunciated in Buddhist texts,
is distinctly implied both by text and commentary. The Absolute of
Buddhism is one as ether is one. Ether is conceivable only as a
composition of units.[9] The Absolute is conceivable only (according to
any attempt at a synthesis of the Japanese doctrines) as composed of
Buddhas. But here the student finds himself voyaging farther, perhaps,
beyond the bar of the thinkable than Western philosophers have ever
ventured. All are One;–each by union becomes equal with All! We are
not only bidden to imagine the ultimate reality as composed of units of
conscious being,–but to believe each unit permanently equal to every
other _and infinite in potentiality_.[10] The central reality of every
living creature is a pure Buddha: the visible form and thinking self,
which encell it, being but Karma. With some degree of truth it might be
said that Buddhism substitutes for our theory of a universe of physical
atoms the hypothesis of a universe of psychical units. Not that it
necessarily denies our theory of physical atoms, but that it assumes a
position which might be thus expressed in words: “What you call atoms
are really combinations, unstable aggregates, essentially impermanent,
and therefore essentially unreal. Atoms are but Karma.” And this
position is suggestive. We know nothing whatever of the ultimate nature
of substance and motion: but we have scientific evidence that the known
has been evolved from the unknown; that the atoms of our elements _are_
combinations; and that what we call matter and force are but different
manifestations of a single and infinite Unknown Reality.

There are wonderful Buddhist pictures which at first sight appear to
have been made, like other Japanese pictures, with bold free sweeps of
a skilled brush, but which, when closely examined, prove to have been
executed in a much more marvelous manner. The figures, the features,
the robes, the aureoles,–also the scenery, the colors, the effects of
mist or cloud,–all, even to the tiniest detail of tone or line, have
been produced by groupings of microscopic Chinese characters,–tinted
according to position, and more or less thickly massed according to
need of light or shade. In brief, these pictures are composed entirely
out of texts of Sutras: they are mosaics of minute ideographs,–each
ideograph a combination of strokes, and the symbol at once of a sound
and of an idea.

Is our universe so composed?–an endless phantasmagory made only by
combinations of combinations of combinations of combinations of units
finding quality and form through unimaginable affinities;–now thickly
massed in solid glooms; now palpitating in tremulosities of light
and color; always and everywhere grouped by some stupendous art into
one vast mosaic of polarities;–yet each unit in itself a complexity
inconceivable, and each in itself also a symbol only, a character, a
single ideograph of the undecipherable text of the Infinite Riddle?…
Ask the chemists and the mathematicians.

[Footnote 1: Scarcely a day passes that I do not hear such words
uttered as ingwa, gokuraku, gōshō,–or other words referring to Karma,
heaven, future life, past life, etc. But I have never heard a man or
woman of the people use the word “Nehan;” and whenever I have ventured
to question such about Nirvana, I found that its philosophical meaning
was unknown. On the other hand, the Japanese scholar speaks of Nehan
as the reality,–of heaven, either as a temporary condition or as a

[Footnote 2: This astronomical localization of higher conditions
of being, or of other “Buddha-fields,” may provoke a smile; but it
suggests undeniable possibilities. There is no absurdity in supposing
that potentialities of life and growth and development really pass,
with nebular diffusion and concentration, from expired systems to
new systems. Indeed, not to suppose this, in our present state of
knowledge, is scarcely possible for the rational mind.]

[Footnote 3: One is reminded by this conception of Mr. Spencer’s
beautiful definition of Equanimity:–“Equanimity may be compared to
white light, which, though composed of numerous colors, is colorless;
while pleasurable and painful moods of mind may be compared to the
modifications of light that result from increasing the proportions of
some rays, and decreasing the proportions of others.”–_Principles of

[Footnote 4: The expression “infinite bliss” as synonymous with Nirvana
is taken from the _Questions of King Milinda._]

[Footnote 5: In the Sutra of the Great Decease we find the instance
of a woman reaching this condition:–“The Sister Nanda, O Ananda, by
the destruction of the five bonds that bind people to this world, has
become an inhabitant of the highest heaven,–there to pass entirely
away,–thence never to return.”]

[Footnote 6: Different Buddhist systems give different enumerations
of these mysterious powers whereof the Chinese names literally
signify:–(1) Calm–Meditation-outward-pouring-no-obstacle-wisdom
(2) Heaven-Eye-no-obstacle-wisdom; (3) Heaven
Ear-no-obstacle-wisdom;–(4) Other-minds-no-obstacle-wisdom;–(5)

[Footnote 7: Beings who have reached the state of Engaku or of Sosatsu
are not supposed capable of retrogression, or of any serious error; but
it is otherwise in lower spiritual states.]

[Footnote 8: See a curious legend in the Vinaya texts,–_Kullavagga,_
V. 8, 2.]

[Footnote 9: This position, it will be observed, is very dissimilar
from that of Hartmann, who holds that “all plurality of individuation
belongs to the sphere of phenomenality.” (vol. ii. page 233 of
English translation.) One is rather reminded of the thought of Galton
that human beings “may contribute more or less unconsciously to the
manifestation of a far higher life than our own,–somewhat as the
individual cells of one of the more complex animals contribute to
the manifestation of its higher order of personality.” (_Hereditary
Genius,_ p. 361.) Another thought of Galton’s, expressed on the same
page of the work just quoted from, is still more strongly suggestive
of the Buddhist concept:–“We must not permit ourselves to consider
each human or other personality as something supernaturally added
to the stock of nature, but rather as a segregation of what already
existed, under a new shape, and as a regular consequence of previous
conditions…. Neither must we be misled by the word ‘individuality.’
… We may look upon each individual as something not wholly detached
from its parent-source,–as a wave that has been lifted and shaped by
normal conditions in an unknown and illimitable ocean.”

The reader should remember that the Buddhist hypothesis does not imply
either individuality or personality in Nirvana, but simple entity,–not
a spiritual _body,_ in our meaning of the term, but only a divine
consciousness. “Heart,” in the sense of divine mind, is a term used
in some Japanese texts to describe such entity. In the _Dai-Nichi Kyō_
Sō (Commentary on the Dai-Nichi Sutra), for example, is the statement
“When all seeds of Karma-life are entirely burnt out and annihilated,
then the _vacuum-pure_ Bodhi-heart is reached.” (I may observe that
Buddhist metaphysicians use the term “vacuum-bodies” to describe one
of the high conditions of entity.) The following, from the fifty-first
volume of the work called _Daizō-hō-sū_ will also be found interesting
“By experience the Tathâgata possesses all forms,–forms for multitude
numberless as the dust-grains of the universe…. The Tathâgata gets
himself born in such places as he desires, or in accord with the desire
of others, and there saves [lit., ‘carries over’–that is, over the Sea
of Birth and Death] all sentient beings. Wheresoever his will finds an
abiding-point, there is he embodied: this is called Will-Birth Body….
The Buddha makes Law his body, and remains pure as empty space: this is
called Law-Body.”]

[Footnote 10: Half of this Buddhist thought is really embodied in
Tennyson’s line,–“Boundless inward, in the atom; boundless outward, in
the Whole.”]


… “All beings that have life shall lay
Aside their complex form,–that aggregation
Of mental and material qualities
That gives them, or in heaven or on earth,
Their fleeting individuality.”
_The Book of the Great Decease_.

In every teleological system there are conceptions which cannot bear
the test of modern psychological analysis, and in the foregoing
unfilled outline of a great religious hypothesis there will doubtless
be recognized some “ghosts of beliefs haunting those mazes of verbal
propositions in which metaphysicians habitually lose themselves.”
But truths will be perceived also,–grand recognitions of the law of
ethical evolution, of the price of progress, and of our relation to the
changeless Reality abiding beyond all change.

The Buddhist estimate of the enormity of that opposition to moral
progress which humanity must overcome is fully sustained by our
scientific knowledge of the past and perception of the future.
Mental and moral advance has thus far been effected only through
constant struggle against inheritances older than reason or moral
feeling,–against the instincts and the appetites of primitive brute
life. And the Buddhist teaching, that the average man can hope to
leave his worse nature behind him only after the lapse of millions of
future lives, is much more of a truth than of a theory. Only through
millions of births have we been able to reach even this our present
imperfect state; and the dark bequests of our darkest past are still
strong enough betimes to prevail over reason and ethical feeling. Every
future forward pace upon the moral path will have to be taken against
the massed effort of millions of ghostly wills. For those past selves
which priest and poet have told us to use as steps to higher things are
not dead, nor even likely to die for a thousand generations to come:
they are too much alive;–they have still power to clutch the climbing
feet,–sometimes even to fling back the climber into the primeval slime.

Again, in its legend of the Heavens of Desire,–progress through which
depends upon the ability of triumphant virtue to refuse what it has
won,–Buddhism gives us a wonder-story full of evolutional truth.
The difficulties of moral self-elevation do not disappear with the
amelioration of material social conditions;–in our own day they rather
increase. As life becomes more complex, more multiform, so likewise
do the obstacles to ethical advance,–so likewise do the results of
thoughts and acts. The expansion of intellectual power, the refinement
of sensibility, the enlargement of the sympathies, the intensive
quickening of the sense of beauty,–all multiply ethical dangers just
as certainly as they multiply ethical opportunities. The highest
material results of civilization, and the increase of possibilities of
pleasure, exact an exercise of self-mastery and a power of, ethical
balance, needless and impossible in older and lower states of existence.

The Buddhist doctrine of impermanency is the doctrine also of
modern science: either might be uttered in the words of the other.
“Natural knowledge,” wrote Huxley in one of his latest and finest
essays, “tends more and more to the conclusion that ‘all the choir
of heaven and furniture of the earth’ are the transitory forms of
parcels of cosmic substance wending along the road of evolution from
nebulous potentiality,–through endless growths of sun and planet
and satellite,–through all varieties of matter,–through infinite
diversities of life and thought,–possibly through modes of being of
which we neither have a conception nor are competent to form any,–back
to the indefinable latency from which they arose. Thus the most obvious
attribute of the Cosmos is its impermanency.”[1]

And, finally, it may be said that Buddhism not only presents remarkable
accordance with nineteenth century thought in regard to the instability
of all integrations, the ethical signification of heredity, the lesson
of mental evolution, the duty of moral progress, but it also agrees
with science in repudiating equally our doctrines of materialism and
of spiritualism, our theory of a Creator and of special creation,
and our belief in the immortality of the soul. Yet, in spite of this
repudiation of the very foundations of Occidental religion, it has been
able to give us the revelation of larger religious possibilities,–the
suggestions of a universal scientific creed nobler than any which
has ever existed. Precisely in that period of our own intellectual
evolution when faith in a personal God is passing away,–when the
belief in an individual soul is becoming impossible,–when the most
religious minds shrink from everything that we have been calling
religion,–when the universal doubt is an ever-growing weight upon
ethical aspiration,–light is offered from the East. There we find
ourselves in presence of an older and a vaster faith,–holding no gross
anthropomorphic conceptions of the immeasurable Reality, and denying
the existence of soul, but nevertheless inculcating a system of morals
superior to any other, and maintaining a hope which no possible future
form of positive knowledge can destroy. Reinforced by the teaching
of science, the teaching of this more ancient faith is that for
thousands of years we have been thinking inside-out and upside-down.
The only reality is One;–all that we have taken for Substance is only
Shadow;–the physical is the unreal;–_and the outer-man is the ghost_.

[Footnote 1: _Evolution and Ethics_.]




The following is not a story,–at least it is not one of _my_ stories.
It is only the translation of an old Japanese document–or rather
series of documents–very much signed and sealed, and dating back to
the early part of the present century. Various authors appear to have
made use of these documents: especially the compiler of the curious
collection of Buddhist stories entitled _Bukkyō-hyakkwa-zenshō_, to
whom they furnished the material of the twenty-sixth narrative in that
work. The present translation, however, was made from a manuscript copy
discovered in a private library in Tōkyō. I am responsible for nothing
beyond a few notes appended to the text.

Although the beginning will probably prove dry reading, I presume to
advise the perusal of the whole translation from first to last, because
it suggests many things besides the possibility of remembering former
births. It will be found to reflect something of the feudal Japan
passed away, and something of the old-time faith,–not the higher
Buddhism, but what is incomparably more difficult for any Occidental
to obtain a glimpse of: the common ideas of the people concerning
preëxistence and rebirth. And in view of this fact, the exactness
of the official investigations, and the credibility of the evidence
accepted, necessarily become questions of minor importance.



_The case of Katsugorō, nine years old, second son of Genzō, a farmer
on my estate, dwelling in the Village called Nakano-mura in the
District called Tamagōri in the Province of Musashi._

Some time during the autumn of last year, the above-mentioned
Katsugorō, the son of Genzō, told to his elder sister the story of his
previous existence and of his rebirth. But as it seemed to be only the
fancy of a child, she gave little heed to it. Afterwards, however, when
Katsugorō had told her the same story over and over again, she began to
think that it was a strange thing, and she told her parents about it.

During the twelfth month of the past year, Genzō himself questioned
Katsugorō about the matter, whereupon Katsugorō declared,–

That he had been in his former existence the son of a certain Kyūbei,
a farmer of Hodokubo-mura, which is a village within the jurisdiction
of the Lord Komiya, in the district called Tamagōri, in the province of

That he, Katsugorō, the son of Kyūbei, had died of smallpox at the age
of six years,–and

That he had been reborn thereafter into the family of the Genzō

Though this seemed unbelievable, the boy repeated all the circumstances
of his story with so much exactness and apparent certainty, that the
Headman and the elders of the village made a formal investigation
of the case. As the news of this event soon spread, it was heard
by the family of a certain Hanshirō, living in the village called
Hodokubo-mura; and Hanshirō then came to the house of the Genzō
aforesaid, a farmer belonging to my estate, and found that everything
was true which the boy had said about the personal appearance and the
facial characteristics of his former parents, and about the aspect of
the house which had been his home in his previous birth. Katsugorō was
then taken to the house of Hanshirō in Hodokubo-mura; and the people
there said that he looked very much like their Tōzō, who had died a
number of years before, at the age of six. Since then the two families
have been visiting each other at intervals. The people of other
neighboring villages seem to have heard of the matter; and now persons
come daily from various places to see Katsugorō.


A deposition regarding the above facts having been made before me by
persons dwelling on my estate, I summoned the man Genzō to my house,
and there examined him. His answers to my questions did not contradict
the statements before-mentioned made by other parties.

Occasionally in the world some rumor of such a matter as this spreads
among the people. Indeed, it is hard to believe such things. But I beg
to make report of the present case, hoping the same will reach your
august ear,–so that I may not be charged with negligence.


_The Fourth Month and the Sixth Year of Bunsei_ [1823].


I have been favored with the accompanying copy of the report of Tamon
Dempachirō by Shiga Hyoëmon Sama, who brought it to me; and I take
great pleasure in sending it to you. I think that it might be well for
you to preserve it, together with the writing from Kwan-zan Sama, which
you kindly showed me the other day.

[Signed] KAZUNAWO.

_The twenty-first day of the Sixth Month_. [No other date.]


I herewith enclose and send you the account of the rebirth of
Katsugorō. I have written it in the popular style, thinking that it
might have a good effect in helping to silence those who do not believe
in the doctrines of the Buddha. As a literary work it is, of course, a
wretched thing. I send it to you supposing that it could only amuse you
from that point of view. But as for the relation itself, it is without
mistake; for I myself heard it from the grandmother of Katsugorō. When
you have read it, please return it to me.

[Signed] KWANZAN.

Twentieth day. [No date.]



4.–(Introductory Note by the Priest Teikin.)

This is the account of a true fact; for it has been written by
Matsudaira Kwanzan Sama, who himself went [to Nakano-mura] on the
twenty-second day of the third month of this year for the special
purpose of inquiring about the matter.

After having obtained a glimpse of Katsugoro, he questioned the boy’s
grandmother as to every particular; and he wrote down her answers
exactly as they were given.

Afterwards, the said Kwanzan Sama condescended to honor this temple
with a visit on the fourteenth day of this fourth month, and with his
own august lips told me about his visit to the family of the aforesaid
Katsugorō. Furthermore, he vouchsafed me the favor of permitting me to
read the before-mentioned writing, on the twentieth day of this same
month. And, availing myself of the privilege, I immediately made a copy
of the writing.

[Signed] TEIKIN SŌ

Facsimile of the
priest’s kakihan,
or private
made with the

_The twenty-first day of the Fourth Month of the Sixth Year of Bunsei_



[_Family of Genzō_.]

KATSUGORŌ.–Born the 10th day of the 10th month of the twelfth year
of Bunkwa [1815]. Nine years old this sixth year of Bunsei [1823].[1]
Second son of Genzō, a farmer living in Tanitsuiri in Nakano-mura,
district of Tamagōri, province of Musashi.–Estate of Tamon
Dempachirō, whose yashiki is in the street called Shichikenchō, Nedzu,
Yedo.–Jurisdiction of Yusuki.

GENZŌ.–Father of Katsugorō. Family name, Koyada. Forty-nine years old
this sixth year of Bunsei. Being poor, he occupies himself with the
making of baskets, which he sells in Yedo. The name of the inn at which
he lodges while in Yedo is Sagamiya, kept by one Kihei, in Bakuro-chō.

SEI.–Wife of Genzō and mother of Katsugoro. Thirty-nine years old this
sixth year of Bunsei. Daughter of Murata Kichitarō, samurai,–once an
archer in the service of the Lord of Owari. When Sei was twelve years
old she was a maid-servant, it is said, in the house of Honda Dainoshin
Dono. When she was thirteen years old, her father, Kichitarō was
dismissed forever for a certain cause from the service of the Lord of
Owari, and he became a rōnin.[2] He died at the age of seventy-five, on
the twenty-fifth day of the fourth month of the fourth year of Bunkwa
[1807]. His grave is in the cemetery of the temple called Eirin-ji, of
the Zen sect, in the village of Shimo-Yusuki.

TSUYA.–Grandmother of Katsugoro. Seventy-two years old this sixth year
of Bunsei. When young she served as maid in the household of Matsudaira
Oki-no-Kami Dono [Daimyō].

FUSA.–Elder sister of Katsugoro. Fifteen years old this year.

OTOJIRŌ.–Elder brother of Katsugoro. Fourteen years old this year.

TSUNÉ.–Younger sister of Katsugoro. Four years old this year.

[_Family of Hanshirō_.]

TŌZŌ.–Died at the age of six in Hodo-kubo-mura, in the district
called Tamagori in the province of Musashi. Estate of Nakané Uyemon,
whose yashiki is in the street Ata-rashi-bashi-dōri, Shitaya, Yedo.
Jurisdiction of Komiya.–[Tōzō] was born in the second year of
Bunkwa [1805], and died at about the fourth hour of the day [10
_o’clock in the morning_] on the fourth clay of the second month of
the seventh year of Bunkwa [1810]. The sickness of which he died
was smallpox. Buried in the graveyard on the hill above the village
before-mentioned,–Hodokubo-mura.–Parochial temple: Iwōji in
Misawa-mura. Sect: Zen-shū. Last year the fifth year of Bunkwa [1822],
the _jiū-san kwaiki_[3] was said for Tōzō.

HANSHIRŌ.–Stepfather of Tōzō. Family name: Suzaki. Fifty years old
this sixth year of Bunsei.

SHIDZU.–Mother of Tōzō. Forty-nine years old this sixth year of Bunsei.

KYŪBEI (afterwards TOGŌRŌ).–Real father of Tōzō. Original name,
Kyūbei, afterwards changed to Togōrō. Died at the age of forty-eight,
in the sixth year of Bunkwa [1809], when Tözö was five years old. To
replace him, Hanshirō became an _iri-muko_.[4]

CHILDREN: TWO BOYS AND TWO GIRLS.–These are Hanshirō’s children by the
mother of Tōzō.


Some time in the eleventh month of the past year, when Katsugorō was
playing in the rice-field with his elder sister, Fusa, he asked her,–
“Elder Sister, where did you come from before you were born into our

Fusa answered him:–

“How can I know what happened to me before I was born?”

Katsugoro looked surprised and exclaimed:

“Then you cannot remember anything that happened before you were born?”

“Do _you_ remember?” asked Fusa.

“Indeed I do,” replied Katsugorō. “I used to be the son of Kyūbei San
of Hodo-kubo, and my name was then Tōzō–do you not know all that?”

“Ah!” said Fusa, “I shall tell father and mother about it.”

But Katsugorō at once began to cry, and said:–

“Please do not tell!–it would not be good to tell father and mother.”

Fusa made answer, after a little while:–

“Well, this time I shall not tell. But the next time that you do
anything naughty, then I will tell.”

After that day whenever a dispute arose between the two, the sister
would threaten the brother, saying, “Very well, then–I shall tell
that thing to father and mother.” At these words the boy would always
yield to his sister. This happened many times; and the parents one day
overheard Fusa making her threat. Thinking Katsugorō must have been
doing something wrong, they desired to know what the matter was, and
Fusa, being questioned, told them the truth. Then Genzō and his wife,
and Tsuya, the grandmother of Katsugorō, thought it a very strange
thing. They called Katsugorō, therefore; and tried, first by coaxing,
and then by threatening, to make him tell what he had meant by those

After hesitation, Katsugorō said:–“I will tell you everything. I used
to be the son of Kyūbei San of Hodokubo, and the name of my mother
then was O-Shidzu San. When I was five years old, Kyūbei San died; and
there came in his place a man called Hanshirō San, who loved me very
much. But in the following year, when I was six years old, I died of
smallpox. In the third year after that I entered mother’s honorable
womb, and was born again.”

The parents and the grandmother of the boy wondered greatly at hearing
this; and they decided to make all possible inquiry as to the man
called Hanshirō of Hodokubo. But as they all had to work very hard
every day to earn a living, and so could spare but little time for any
other matter, they could not at once carry out their intention.

Now Sei, the mother of Katsugorō, had nightly to suckle her little
daughter Tsuné, who was four years old;[5]–and Katsugorō therefore
slept with his grandmother, Tsuya. Sometimes he used to talk to her
in bed; and one night when he was in a very confiding mood, she
persuaded him to tell her what happened at the time when he had
died. Then he said:–“Until I was four years old I used to remember
everything; but since then I have become more and more forgetful; and
now I forget many, many things. But I still remember that I died of
smallpox; I remember that I was put into a jar;[6] I remember that I
was buried on a hill. There was a hole made in the ground; and the
people let the jar drop into that hole. It fell pon!–I remember that
sound well. Then somehow I returned to the house, and I stopped on
my own pillow there.[7] In a short time some old man,–looking like
a grandfather–came and took me away. I do not know who or what he
was. As I walked I went through empty air as if flying. I remember it
was neither night nor day as we went: it was always like sunset-time.
I did not feel either warm or cold or hungry. We went very far, I
think; but still I could hear always, faintly, the voices of people
talking at home; and the sound of the Nembutsu[8] being said for me.
I remember also that when the people at home set offerings of hot
_botamochi_[9] before the household shrinen [_butsudan_], I inhaled
the vapor of the offerings…. Grandmother, never forget to offer warm
food to the honorable dead [_Hotoké Sama_], and do not forget to give
to priests–I am sure it is very good to do these things.[10] … After
that, I only remember that the old man led me by some roundabout way
to this place–I remember we passed the road beyond the village. Then
we came here, and he pointed to this house, and said to me:–‘Now you
must be reborn,–for it is three years since you died. You are to be
reborn in that house. The person who will become your grandmother is
very kind; so it will be well for you to be conceived and born there.’
After saying this, the old man went away. I remained a little time
under the kaki-tree before the entrance of this house. Then I was
going to enter when I heard talking inside: some one said that because
father was now earning so little, mother would have to go to service in
Yedo. I thought, “I will not go into that house;” and I stopped three
days in the garden. On the third clay it was decided that, after all,
mother would not have to go to Yedo. The same night I passed into the
house through a knot-hole in the sliding-shutters;–and after that I
stayed for three days beside the _kamado_.[11] Then I entered mother’s
honorable womb.[12] … I remember that I was born without any pain at
all.–Grandmother, you may tell this to father and mother, but please
never tell it to anybody else.”


The grandmother told Genzō and his wife what Katsugorō had related to
her; and after that the boy was not afraid to speak freely with his
parents on the subject of his former existence, and would often say
to them: “I want to go to Hodokubo. Please let me make a visit to the
tomb of Kyūbei San.” Genzō thought that Katsugorō, being a strange
child, would probably die before long, and that it might therefore be
better to make inquiry at once as to whether there really was a man
in Hodokubo called Hanshirō. But he did not wish to make the inquiry
himself, because for a man to do so [_under such circumstances?_] would
seem inconsiderate or forward. Therefore, instead of going himself to
Hodokubo, he asked his mother Tsuya, on the twentieth day of the first
month of this year, to take her grandson there.

Tsuya went with Katsugorō to Hodokubo; and when they entered the
village she pointed to the nearer dwellings, and asked the boy,”
Which house is it?–is it this house or that one?” “No,” answered
Katsugorō,–“it is further on–much further,”–and he hurried before
her. Reaching a certain dwelling at last, he cried, “This is the
house!”–and ran in, without waiting for his grandmother. Tsuya
followed him in, and asked the people there what was the name of the
owner of the house. “Hanshirō,” one of them answered. She asked the
name of Hanshirō’s wife. “Shidzu,” was the reply. Then she asked
whether there had ever been a son called Tōzō born in that house.
“Yes,” was the answer; “but that boy died thirteen years ago, when he
was six years old.”

Then for the first time Tsuya was convinced that Katsugorō had spoken
the truth; and she could not help shedding tears. She related to
the people of the house all that Katsugorō had told her about his
remembrance of his former birth. Then Hanshirō and his wife wondered
greatly. They caressed Katsugorō and wept; and they remarked that he
was much handsomer now than he had been as Tözö before dying at the
age of six. In the mean time, Katsugorō was looking all about; and
seeing the roof of a tobacco shop opposite to the house of Hanshirō,
he pointed to it, and said:–“That used not to be there.” And he also
said,–“The tree yonder used not to be there.” All this was true. So
from the minds of Hanshirō and his wife every doubt departed [_ga wo

On the same day Tsuya and Katsugorō returned to Tanitsuiri,
Nakano-mura. Afterwards Genzō sent his son several times to Hanshirō’s
house, and allowed him to visit the tomb of Kyūbei his real father in
his previous existence.

Sometimes Katsugorō says:–“I am a _Nono-Sama_:[13] therefore please
be kind to me.” Sometimes he also says to his grandmother:–“I think
I shall die when I am sixteen; but, as Ontaké Sama[14] has taught us,
dying is not a matter to be afraid of.” When his parents ask him,
“Would you not like to become a priest?” he answers, “I would rather
not be a priest.”

The village people do not call him Katsugoro any more; they have
nicknamed him “Hodokubo-Kozō” (the Acolyte of Hodokubo).[15] When any
one visits the house to see him, he becomes shy at once, and runs to
hide himself in the inner apartments. So it is not possible to have any
direct conversation with him. I have written down this account exactly
as his grandmother gave it to me.

I asked whether Genzō, his wife, or Tsuya, could any of them remember
having done any virtuous deeds. Genzō and his wife said that they
had never done anything especially virtuous; but that Tsuya, the
grandmother, had always been in the habit of repeating the _Nembutsu_
every morning and evening, and that she never failed to give two
_mon_[16] to any priest or pilgrim who came to the door. But excepting
these small matters, she never had done anything which could be called
a particularly virtuous act.

(–This is the End of the Relation of the Rebirth of Katsugorō.)

7.–(Note by the Translator.) The foregoing is taken from a manuscript
entitled _Chin Setsu Shū Ki_; or, “Manuscript-Collection of Uncommon
Stories,”–made between the fourth month of the sixth year of Bunsei
and the tenth month of the sixth year of Tempo [1823-1835]. At the
end of the manuscript is written,–“From the years of Bunsei to the
years of Tempo.–Minamisempa, Owner: Kurumachō, Shiba, Yedo” Under
this, again, is the following note:–“Bought from Yamatoya Sakujirō
Nishinohubo: twenty-first day [?], Second Year of Meiji [1869].”
From which it would appear that the manuscript had been written by
Minamisempa, who collected stories told to him, or copied them from
manuscripts obtained by him, during the thirteen years from 1823 to
1835, inclusive.


Perhaps somebody will now be unreasonable enough to ask whether I
believe this story,–as if my belief or disbelief had anything to
do with the matter! The question of the possibility of remembering
former births seems to me to depend upon the question what it is that
remembers. If it is the Infinite All-Self in each one of us, then I can
believe the whole of the Jatakas without any trouble. As to the False
Self, the mere woof and warp of sensation and desire, then I can best
express my idea by relating a dream which I once dreamed. Whether it
was a dream of the night or a dream of the day need not concern any
one, since it was only a dream.

[Footnote 1: The Western reader is requested to bear in mind that the
year in which a Japanese child is born is counted always as one year in
the reckoning of age.]

[Footnote 2: Lit.: “A wave-man,”–a wandering samurai without a lord.
The rōnin were generally a desperate and very dangerous class; but
there were some fine characters among them.]

[Footnote 3: The Buddhist services for the dead are celebrated at
regular intervals, increasing successively in length, until the time
of one hundred years after death. The _jiū-san kwaiki_ is the service
for the thirteenth year after death. By “thirteenth” in the context the
reader must understand that the year in which the death took place is
counted for one year.]

[Footnote 4: The second husband, by adoption, of a daughter who lives
with her own parents.]

[Footnote 5: Children in Japan, among the poorer classes, are not
weaned until an age much later than what is considered the proper age
for weaning children in Western countries. But “four years old” in this
text may mean considerably less, than three by Western reckoning.]

[Footnote 6: From very ancient time in Japan it has been the custom
to bury the dead in large jars,–usually of red earthenware,–called
_Kamé_. Such jars are still used, although a large proportion of the
dead are buried in wooden coffins of a form unknown in the Occident.]

[Footnote 7: The idea expressed is not that of lying down with the
pillow under the head, but of hovering about the pillow, or resting
upon it as an insect might do. The bodiless spirit is usually said to
rest upon the roof of the home. The apparition of the aged man referred
to in the next sentence seems a thought of Shinto rather than of

[Footnote 8: The repetition of the Buddhist invocation _Namu Amida
Butsu_! is thus named. The _nembutsu_ is repeated by many Buddhist
sects besides the sect of Amida proper,–the Shinshū.]

[Footnote 9: Botamochi, a kind of sugared rice-cake.]

[Footnote 10: Such advice is a commonplace in Japanese Buddhist
literature. By Hotokė Sama here the boy means, not the Buddhas proper,
but the spirits of the dead, hopefully termed Buddhas by those who
loved them,–much as in the West we sometimes speak of our dead as

[Footnote 11: The cooking-place in a Japanese kitchen. Sometimes the
word is translated “kitchen-range,” but the _kamado_ is something very
different from a Western kitchen-range.]

[Footnote 12: Here I think it better to omit a couple of sentences
in the original rather too plain for Western taste, yet not without
interest. The meaning of the omitted passages is only that even in the
womb the child acted with consideration, and according to the rules of
filial piety.]

[Footnote 13: _Nono-San_ (or _Sama_) is the child-word for the
Spirits of the dead, for the Buddhas, and for the Shintō Gods,–Kami.
_Nono-San wo ogamu_,–“to pray to the Nono-San,” is the child-phrase
for praying to the gods. The spirits of the ancestors become
Nono-San,–_Kami_,–according to Shintō thought.]

[Footnote 14: The reference here to Ontaké Sama has a particular
interest, but will need some considerable explanation.

Ontaké, or Mitaké, is the name of a celebrated holy peak in the
province of Shinano–a great resort for pilgrims. During the
Tokugawa Shōgunate, a priest called Isshin, of the Risshū Buddhists,
made a pilgrimage to that mountain. Returning to his native place
(Sakamoto-chō, Shitaya, Yedo), he began to preach certain new
doctrines, and to make for himself a reputation as a miracle-worker,
by virtue of powers said to have been gained during his pilgrimage to
Ontaké. The Shōgunate considered him a dangerous person, and banished
him to the island of Hachijō, where he remained for some years.
Afterwards he was allowed to return to Yedo, and there to preach his
new faith,–to which he gave the name of Azuma-Kyō. It was Buddhist
teaching in a Shintō disguise,–the deities especially adored by its
followers being Okuni-nushi and Sukuna-hi-kona as Buddhist avatars. In
the prayer of the sect called Kaibyaku-Norito it is said:–“The divine
nature is immovable (fudō); yet it moves. It is formless, yet manifests
itself in forms. This is the Incomprehensible Divine Body. In Heaven
and Earth it is called Kami; in all things it is called Spirit; in Man
it is called Mind…. From this only reality came the heavens, the four
oceans, the great whole of the three thousand universes;–from the One
Mind emanate three thousands of great thousands of forms.” …

In the eleventh year of Bunkwa (1814) a man called Shi moyama Osuké,
originally an oil-merchant in Heiyemon-chō, Asakusa, Yedo, organized,
on the basis of Isshin’s teaching, a religious association named
Tomoyé-Ko. It flourished until the overthrow of the Shōgunate, when
a law was issued forbidding the teaching of mixed doctrines, and the
blending of Shintō with Buddhist religion. Shimo-yama Osuké then
applied for permission to establish a new Shinto sect, under the name
of Mitaké-Kyō,–popularly called Ontaké-Kyō; and the permission was
given in the sixth year of Meiji (1873). Osuké then remodeled the
Buddhist sutra Fudō Kyō into a Shinto prayer-book, under the title,
Shintō-Fudō-Norito. The sect still flourishes; and one of its chief
temples is situated about a mile from my present residence in Tōkyō.

“Ontaké San” (or “Sama”) is a popular name given to the deities adored
by this sect. It really means the Deity dwelling on the peak Mitaké,
or Ontaké. But the name is also sometimes applied to the high-priest
of the sect, who is supposed to be oracularly inspired by the deity
of Ontaké, and to make revelations of truth through the power of the
divinity. In the mouth of the boy Katsugoro “Ontaké Sama” means the
high-priest of that time (1823), almost certainly Osuké himself,–then
chief of the Tomoyé-Kyō.]

[Footnote 15: Kozō is the name given to a Buddhist acolyte, or a youth
studying for the priesthood. But it is also given to errand-boys and
little boy-servants sometimes,–perhaps because in former days the
heads of little boys were shaved. I think that the meaning in this text
is “acolyte.”]

[Footnote 16: In that time the name of the smallest of coins = 1/10 of
1 cent. It was about the same as that now called rin, a copper with a
square hole in the middle and bearing Chinese characters.]



Neither personal pain nor personal pleasure can be really expressed
in words. It is never possible to communicate them in their original
form. It is only possible, by vivid portrayal of the circumstances
or conditions causing them, to awaken in sympathetic minds some
kindred qualities of feeling. But if the circumstances causing the
pain or the pleasure be totally foreign to common human experience,
then no representation of them can make fully known the sensations
which they evoked. Hopeless, therefore, any attempt to tell the real
pain of seeing my former births. I can say only that no combination
of suffering possible to _individual_ being could be likened to such
pain,–the pain of countless lives interwoven. It seemed as if every
nerve of me had been prolonged into some monstrous web of sentiency
spun back through a million years,–and as if the whole of that
measureless woof and warp, over all its shivering threads, were pouring
into my consciousness, out of the abysmal past, some ghastliness
without name,–some horror too vast for human brain to hold. For, as
I looked backward, I became double, quadruple, octuple;–I multiplied
by arithmetical progression;–I became hundreds and thousands,–and
feared with the terror of thousands,–and despaired with the anguish
of thousands,–and shuddered with the agony of thousands; yet knew
the pleasure of none. All joys, all delights appeared but mists or
mockeries: only the pain and the fear were real,–and always, always
growing. Then in the moment when sentiency itself seemed bursting into
dissolution, one divine touch ended the frightful vision, and brought
again to me the simple consciousness of the single present. Oh! how
unspeakably delicious that sudden shrinking back out of multiplicity
into unity!–that immense, immeasurable collapse of Self into the blind
oblivious numbness of individuality!


“To others also,” said the voice of the divine one who had thus
saved me,–“to others in the like state it has been permitted to see
something of their preëxistence. But no one of them ever could endure
to look far. Power to see all former births belongs only to those
eternally released from the bonds of Self. Such exist outside of
illusion,–outside of form and name; and pain cannot come nigh them.

“But to you, remaining in illusion, not even the Buddha could give
power to look back more than a little way.

“Still you are bewitched by the follies of art and of poetry and of
music,–the delusions of color and form,–the delusions of sensuous
speech, the delusions of sensuous sound.

“Still that apparition called Nature–which is but another name for
emptiness and shadow–deceives and charms you, and fills you with
dreams of longing for the things of sense.

“But he who truly wishes to know, must not love this phantom
Nature,–must not find delight in the radiance of a clear sky,–nor in
the sight of the sea,–nor in the sound of the flowing of rivers,–nor
in the forms of peaks and woods and valleys,–nor in the colors of them.

“He who truly wishes to know must not find delight in contemplating
the works and the deeds of men, nor in hearing their converse, nor in
observing the puppet-play of their passions and of their emotions.
All this is but a weaving of smoke,–a shimmering of vapors,–an
impermanency,–a phantasmagory.

“For the pleasures that men term lofty or noble or sublime are
but larger sensualisms, subtler falsities: venomous fair-seeming
flowerings of selfishness,–all rooted in the elder slime of appetites
and desires. To joy in the radiance of a cloudless day,–to see the
mountains shift their tintings to the wheeling of the sun,–to watch
the passing of waves, the fading of sunsets,–to find charm in the
blossoming of plants or trees: all this is of the senses. Not less
truly of the senses is the pleasure of observing actions called great
or beautiful or heroic,–since it is one with the pleasure of imagining
those things for which men miserably strive in this miserable world:
brief love and fame and honor,–all of which are empty as passing foam.

“Sky, sun, and sea;–the peaks, the woods, the plains;–all splendors
and forms and colors,–are spectres. The feelings and the thoughts and
the acts of men,–whether deemed high or low, noble or ignoble,–all
things imagined or done for any save the eternal purpose, are but
dreams born of dreams and begetting hollowness. To the clear of
sight, all feelings of self,–all love and hate, joy and pain, hope
and regret, are alike shadows;–youth and age, beauty and horror,
sweetness and foulness, are not different;–death and life are one and
the same; and Space and Time exist but as the stage and the order of
the perpetual Shadow-play.

“All that exists in Time must perish. To the Awakened there is no Time
or Space or Change,–no night or day,–no heat or cold,–no moon or
season,–no present, past, or future. Form and the names of form are
alike nothingness:–Knowledge only is real; and unto whomsoever gains
it, the universe becomes a ghost. But it is written:–‘_He who hath
overcome Time in the past and the future must be of exceedingly pure

“Such understanding is not yours. Still to your eyes the shadow seems
the substance,–and darkness, light,–and voidness, beauty. And
therefore to see your former births could give you only pain.”


I asked:–

“Had I found strength to look back to the beginning,–back to the verge
of Time,–could I have read the Secret of the universe?”

“Nay,” was answer made. “Only by Infinite Vision can the Secret be
read. Could you have looked back incomparably further than your power
permitted, then the Past would have become for you the Future. And
could you have endured even yet more, the Future would have orbed back
for you into the Present.”

“Yet why?” I murmured, marveling…. “What is the Circle?”

“Circle there is none,” was the response;–“Circle there is none but
the great phantom-whirl of birth and death to which, by their own
thoughts and deeds, the ignorant remain condemned. But this has being
only in Time; and Time itself is illusion.”