OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
VISIT TO JAPAN
MY departure for Japan having been fixed for the 10th of January, I had quite enough to do to get out the Annual Report and put things in order generally within the preceding few days. Dharmapala, who had decided to accompany us, left on the 1st for Colombo to get ready, and Noguchi and I embarked on the appointed day. The passage to Colombo was smooth and pleasant, and a lot of Buddhist friends met us on arrival. The High Priest, Sumangala Thero, awaited us at our Theosophical Headquarters in Maliban Street, and came again the next day for a long and friendly talk. Pandit Batuvantudave, the learned Sanskritist, as Buddhist Registrar of Marriages under the Ordinance which I had persuaded Lord Derby and Sir Arthur Gordon (Governor of Ceylon) to have passed, celebrated a marriage between co-religionists on the 14th, in my presence, and in his address to the bridal couple mentioned the part I had had in bringing about this reform in the old marriage laws.
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Attendance at public meetings, reception, and making of visits, a grand dinner given by the Colombo Branch, a public lecture or two, presiding at school celebrations, and other matters, took up all my time, and sent me to bed each night tired and sleepy. On the evening of the 17th we had a most dramatic send off from a crowded meeting convened to hear the High Priest lecture on Bana. It was stifling hot in our packed hall, and the enthusiasm bubbled over. Sumangala Thero gave a most eloquent and kindly discourse, setting forth the magnitude of the task which I had undertaken, handing me an engrossed Sanskrit letter of credence to the Chief Priests of Japanese Buddhism, which assured them of the sympathy and good-will that they might count on from their co-religionists of the Southern Church. In the course of his remarks he reminded his hearers of the historical incident of the Buddhist monk, Punna Thero, who, when starting on a foreign mission of propaganda, was interrogated by the Buddha as to the course he should adopt in case he should be refused a hearing, should he be reviled, opposed, stoned, persecuted or killed, declared his readiness to bear all, suffer all, and yield up even life if needs be to spread the Dharma among foreign nations who had not yet enjoyed the inestimable blessing of hearing it preached. He applied the lesson to my case, and exhorted the Sinhalese to prove their devotion by deeds of self-sacrifice. In conclusion, he said: “He is the only person who could undertake and carry out this missionary work for Buddhism. It
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is well, therefore, that our Japanese brothers have heard of the great good that he has done for our religion, and have sent for him to help them also.” After complimenting Dharmapala and saying that “he is worthy to share the high honor of his task, and be the first Sinhalese who sets foot upon the shores of Japan,” [an error, since I met a Sinhalese merchant there], he added: “I invoke upon their heads the blessings of the Devas, and I ask you all to speed them on their way with your heartiest good wishes.”1 When, at last, we left the hall for the steamer and passed out into the moonlit street, the welkin rang with cries of “Sâdhu! Sâdhu”! and Noguchi’s and Dharmapala’s bosoms swelled with emotion, as mine did, and our hearts were warmed with hope and infused with courage to face the difficulties before us. Yet, in comparison with the striking pageantry of the scene at Rome in 1584, when the Japanese ambassadors to the Pope asked his religious help, how modest and unnoticeable were the conditions under which our present visit was taking place: a single schoolmaster, representing a small committee of enthusiasts, mostly young men, comes and takes me by the hand and leads me to Japan, not to build up Christianity, but to revive Buddhism. Yet the sequel will show that in this, as in many other cases, great results may follow the employment of insignificant agencies. So superstitious have I become in the matter of the association
1Extract from report of C. W. Leadbeater in Theosophist, February, 1889.
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of the numbers 7, 17, and 27 with our Society’s most important events that I confess to having taken it as a good augury for this present tour that we embarked on the “Djemnah” on the 17th of the month.
This was my first long voyage on a French mail steamer, and I was delighted with the arrangements on board. Travelling second-class, as I almost always do, from motives of economy, I found that the whole deck was free to us to occupy day and night; we mixed on terms of equality with the saloon passengers, and were not made to feel as if we were social pariahs, as one is aboard the British liners. Our table was the same as that of the saloon save in the number of entrées and our not having a huge tiffin at 1 p.m. to gorge on top of a 10 o’clock breakfast: the officers were most courteous, the servants as respectful and attentive as those in good families, and the baggage-room was accessible daily between fixed hours, and one had only to descend a short staircase to get at it. We reached Singapore on the sixth day, and were visited by some Sinhalese who are settled there, and with whom we organised, on the next day, a local T. S. Branch, with Mr. B. P. De Silva, the well-known jeweller, as President, and nineteen members. We sailed the same day and reached the coquettish little Cambodian town of Saigon on the 27th, Sunday. Like Pondicherry, Chandernagore, and all other French colonial towns, Saigon bears the distinct national stamp. There are cafés, marble-topped little tables on the sidewalks, blue and white signs on the street corners, shops that
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remind one of the Palais Royal, a theatre subsidised by Government, military men walking about in uniform, civilians with tiny rosettes in their button-holes, and other external signs that unmistakably indicate the presence of Gallic occupancy. There was a performance of Romeo and Juliet as a grand opera that night, to which all of us passengers went. The auditorium would have astonished an untravelled Frenchman, as the building stood in its own large grounds, was open to all the breezes by arches at the sides, and there were broad verandahs on which one could stroll between the acts. It was a pleasant outing to break the monotony of a sea voyage. The Zoological Garden of Saigon is very pretty, and at that time possessed a splendid collection of birds of all kinds—as fine a one as I ever saw. I came near being compelled to remember it distinctly, as a gigantic scarlet-plumed flamingo took a notion to chase me, and I would have fared ill from his strong beak if his attention had not been diverted at the critical moment.
On the 28th we sailed for Hong Kong, and on our way began to feel the touch of winter, poor Dharmapala shivering and suffering from the cold, icy wind. Hong Kong was found in gala dress for the Chinese New Year (February 1), and we were greatly interested in all the sights. The men and women were gorgeously apparelled, the children, funny moon-faced mites, with their cheeks highly rouged and heads shaved, dragging after their parents, the streets full of jinrickshas, palanquins, and uncouth carts, fire-crackers
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snapping, peripatetic restaurant men carrying their charcoal kitchen-stoves and cooked food by poles across their shoulders, and many other strange things to see.
The next, day we sailed for Shanghai, and went right into a cold air-current which made us huddle around the cabin stove, and me to realise what life in the tropics did for Western constitutions. Dharmapala began to suffer rheumatic pains in his feet and limbs, and to wish himself back in warm Ceylon. Anchored at Woosung, the river harbor of Shanghai, a snow-storm struck us, and the prospects were so uninviting that we stuck to the ship and the stove, and let the other passengers go up the river in the Company’s big launch without us. On the 6th we moved on towards Kobé (Japan) and had a bright, sunny day, fairly comfortable in the sun, but bitter cold in the shade. Up to noon on the 7th the ship made 284 miles within the twenty-four hours, and we got into the warmer air of the black current, which sweeps across the ocean to Japan, and modifies the temperatures of both air and water. A pretty island with snowy mountain peaks was sighted off the coast of Korea, and on the 8th we were sailing through the inland sea of Japan, amid surroundings that were so beautiful as to have made it world-famed. At times it seemed to me like sailing up past the Hudson River highlands or through Lake George.
We reached Kobé at daylight on 9th February, and before I had finished dressing, some members of
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the committee of invitation came to my cabin and testified their delight in welcoming me to their country. On the pier, ranged in a line, were a number of Buddhist priests of all the sects, who saluted me with that exquisite politeness for which the nation is celebrated. Of course, the first thing to strike the eye of one familiar with the appearance and dress of the bhikkus of Southern Buddhism was the entire contrast in the costume of the Japanese monks. Instead of the yellow robe, the bare head, leg, arm, and foot, here we saw them clothed in voluminous garments with huge drooping sleeves, their heads covered in most cases, and the feet protected by tailor-made socks, and sandals with wooden or other soles. They wear under-cloths, and kimonos or outer coats, sometimes several, and, in the cold season, wadded with cotton to protect them from the severity of the climate. Some are made of silk, others of cotton. There are parts of Japan where snow falls to the depth of eight feet, and on some of the mountain peaks the snow never melts. Clearly, then, the robes of India, Burma, and Ceylon are quite unfit for the northern lands where Buddhism flourishes. Forming a procession of jinrickshas, and supplying us with one each, and taking charge of our luggage, they took us to the most ancient temple of the Ten Dai sect, crowds of priests and people following, where I was formally welcomed, and made a suitable reply. In the evening I held a conversazione which ran into a lecture. In the afternoon I had been to the American Consul and
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procured my passport to Kyoto, without which I could not have travelled under then existing laws. The name of the venerable Chief Priest of the temple was Jiko Katto. He treated me with the greatest urbanity, and assured me that the whole nation were waiting to see and hear me, as a defender of Buddhism. After a second lecture, the next morning we left for Kyoto by train, and I found a multitude of well-wishers awaiting me in the station, and crowding the street in front. We were escorted in procession to Nakamaraya’s Hotel, whence, after a rest and some refreshments, I was taken to the great Choo-in Temple of the Jodo sect, and in the “Empress’s Room” held a reception until nightfall. The display of costly lacquered screens and panels, artistic bronzes and paintings on silk was magnificent. The room is set apart as a royal apartment for the use of H. M. the Empress on the occasions of her visits. It was given me for use for functions of sorts during my stay at the ancient capital.
After dinner, American-like, I went sight-seeing with an interpreter and had my first experience with a jinricksha. It is an excellent vehicle—provided that the cooly be sober enough to keep his footing. Mine wasn’t; and the first thing I knew, he had fallen flat, and I came sailing through the air over him, but, fortunately, being sure-footed, I landed with one foot at each side of his head, no worse for the adventure. We strolled through Theatre Street, or at any rate the street which is lined on both sides with theatres
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and show-places of all kinds, and stopped to see a performance of trained birds, which did many wonderful tricks. But I was glad enough to get to bed early; as I was pretty well tired out. Poor Dharmapala was laid up with neuralgia in the feet, suffering cruelly.
The next morning I attended by invitation an imposing ceremony in Choo-in Temple, in which some 600 priests took part. It was to celebrate the voluntary promulgation of a Constitution by H. M. the Emperor, an act which has been rightly characterised as one of unprecedented magnanimity. The most undisputedly autocratic sovereign on earth, out of profound regard for the welfare of his country and his people, had given them the political blessing of a Constitutional Government; not driven to it by rebellious barons, like King John of England, but of his own free will, and because he loved his people with his whole heart. The ceremonies at the Temple included the chanting of hundreds of verses to the rhythmic tapping of drums, which produced vibrations of a strong hypnotic character. At the High Priest’s request I stood before the high altar and in front of the statue of the Buddha, and recited the service of the Panch a Sila in Pali, as it is done in Ceylon. They were all so interested that not one moved until I had finished. Was it not a unique experience for an American man to be standing there, as one of his race had never stood before, in the presence of those hundreds of priests and thousands of laymen, intoning the simple sentences which synthesise
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the obligations assumed by every professing Buddhist of the Southern Church? I could not help smiling to myself when thinking of the horror that would have been felt by any of my Puritan ancestors of the seventeenth century could they have looked forward to this calamitous day! I am sure that if I had been born among them at Boston or Hartford, I should have been hanged for heresy on the tallest tree within easy reach of their infant settlement. And very glad I am to believe it.
The first Buddhist images and sutras were introduced from Korea into Japan, according to that historical book Nihongi, in the year A.D. 552, but the religion did not at once gain popularity. “In the beginning of the ninth century the priest Kûkai, or more generally known as Kôbô Daishi, compounded out of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintô (ancestor worship), a system of doctrine called Riôbu Shintô, the most prominent characteristic of which was the theory that Shintô deities were nothing more than transmigrations of Buddhist divinities. Buddhism, thus fairly introduced, ere long obtained complete ascendency; it became the religion of the whole nation. By different emperors grants were made to Buddhist temples and monasteries, but after the revolution of 1868 these were withdrawn, and Buddhism has been virtually disestablished since 1st January, 1874.”1 Certain temples do, however, still receive governmental patronage, but it is because the monks act as guardians of the tombs of sovereigns;
1Encycl. Brit. (ninth ed.), vol. xiii.
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the others, to the number of some 70,000, if I am right, are supported by voluntary subscriptions and other gifts of the pious. Mr. J. Morris1 notes the coincidence that just when Buddhism was being introduced into Japan by monks from China and Korea, Catholic missionaries were Christianising the kingdom of Northumbria; and as the influence of King Oswy was thrown into the scale in that country in favor of the new religion, so the announced preference of the Empress Gemmei for the rights of Buddhism aided very materially to establish it in Japan—both events going to prove, as one might say, the principle that at certain epochs and places nucleating centres of religious power are developed, making them the initial points of circling waves that run outward into the mass of mankind.
On the 12th of February I paid my respects to the Chief Priest of the Shin Gon sect, the Esoteric Buddhists of Japan, it is said. We had a long and interesting talk, during the course of which it came out that we held many ideas in common. The learned prelate showed me the greatest good-will, and promised me a welcome from his whole body of followers. At 2 p.m. I lectured in the vast preaching-hall of Choo-in Temple to an audience of about 2,000. Mr. Kinza Hirai interpreted, and my remarks on the state of Buddhism were received with storms of applause. The next day I had a grand reception at the chief temple of the Western Hongwanji, one of the two
1Advance Japan, London, 1896, W. H. Allen & Co., Ltd.
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great divisions of the Shin Shu sect.1 The sacred building was decked with the national ensign, and, in compliment to me and the Ceylon Buddhists, the Buddhist symbolical flag, which the Colombo Buddhist T. S. has introduced in the Island of Ceylon. This charming courtesy was shown me throughout my whole tour in Japan, the two flags being grouped together at every hotel, railway station, and temple visited. On the occasion in question 600 pupils of the Temple College were drawn up in two ranks to salute me as I walked between. By request I addressed them, their teachers and the priests, on the subject of education and religion, after which a collation of cakes, etc., was served. The visitor to Japan is astonished to see the exquisite taste displayed in the preparation of these products of the baker’s art; the cakes being made into the shapes of flowers, so deftly colored and moulded that in the light momi wood boxes in which they are laid in cotton, in layers of trays, one might fancy one was receiving a present of hothouse blooms. This developed artistic sense shows itself in every detail of Japanese life—it is ingrained in the national character. In the serving of food, the very vegetables hidden under the inverted lacquer saucers, when uncovered, are seen to have been arranged with an eye to contrast of colors, and to make the meal more appetising by an appeal to the palate through the sense
1For an exposition of the views of this religious body consult “A Shin Shu Catechism” in Theosophist, vol. xi, pp. 9 and 89, by an officer of the Hongwanji.
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of sight. Oh, the dear, kind people! who could help loving them after once seeing them in their own homes!
A similar reception was given me the next day at the Eastern Hongwanji, the body to which belongs Mr. Bunyin Nanjio, the brilliant Sanskrit pupil of Professor Max Müller, and with him co-editor of Sukhâ-vati-Vyûha, a description of the Land of Bliss.1 and I am under obligations to him for kindly interpreting for me on several occasions. I was shown over the huge temple, which was then nearly completed, and which was the finest in the country. They showed me huge cables, each 15 inches thick and 18 yards long, entirely made of tresses of hair cut from the heads of pious women who had offered them to be thus used for hauling the timbers of the new shrine! Did anyone ever hear of a similar act of devotion? On this occasion I received my first present of books for the Adyar Library, the nucleus of the large and rich collection which we possess, thanks to the generosity of our Japanese friends. My third lecture in Kyoto was given that evening to the usual crowd of patient listeners. Later, I sat for my portrait to a very famous artist, whose name I was not fortunate enough to catch. Whatever came of it I have never heard.
On the 15th I went to Osaka, the second largest city of Japan, Kyoto ranking third. It is to the empire what Liverpool or Glasgow is to Great Britain, or Boston or Philadelphia to the United States. It is
1Anecdota Oxoniensis, Aryan Series, vol. i, part ii, Oxford, 1883.
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the headquarters of one of the six military divisions of Japan. One of the quarters of the city bears the name of Tennôji, the Temple of the Heavenly Kings, from the existence there of one of the most sacred fanes of the Buddhist religion—the one, in fact, which I visited on the 17th. I was told that it is the oldest temple in Japan. There is an ancient revolving library arrangement there, the books being shelved on revolving frames which may be turned in search of any desired volume, just like the modern revolving bookcases, quite recently rediscovered, and now in general use; only these at Tennôji are huge structures, and have stood there for no end of years. An interesting feature of this place is a temple for the babies who have left their weeping mothers’ arms to pass on towards Sukhâvati, the Japanese heaven. It is filled with the clothes, toys, and other loved objects which formerly belonged to the little ones, and a bell hangs there for the mother to ring as she offers up her prayer, that the ears now closed in death but reopened in the brighter sphere may hear her heart-cry, and the child answer by coming near to feel the love that rushes out in greeting. The senior trustee of the temple gave me an ancient Japanese gold coin, flat, thin, with rounded ends, and an inscription in the Chinese character. I lectured here to a Prisoners’ Reform Society.
On my arrival at Osaka on the 15th, before reaching my lodging-place, the Un-rai-ji Temple of the Nichiren sect, I had to visit a girls’ school called “So-gai-suchi-een” and address the pupils, and also a large
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boys’ school, “Kyo-ritsu-gakko,” and address them. The damp cold at the former place was so trying to me, standing as I did, according to Japanese custom, in my thin cotton stockings, that I took a severe cold, which threatened an attack of pneumonia; but the timely use of a hot foot-bath and warmed blankets, followed by a refreshing sleep, averted the calamity. Dharmapala, however, did not fare so well, for it intensified the neuralgia in his feet to such a degree that he had to go to the hospital at Kyoto, and stop there until the very last days of my tour. The kindness shown him by all, young and old, hospital officials and outsiders, was simply marvellous. A Society of young Buddhists constituted themselves his nurses, and stopped with him night and day, anticipating his every want, and ministering to him in loving devotion. This national custom of putting off the shoes on entering a house or temple is a dangerous one for foreigners, and I suffered much from it until I learnt from a kind English friend at Kobé to carry with me a pair of woollen felt chaussons, such as the French peasants wear inside their wooden sabots in winter, to put on at the door after removing my shoes. After that there was no further difficulty. I recommend friends who may contemplate a tour in Japan to profit by this warning. At 10 a.m. on the 16th I went to Cho-sen-ji Temple, of the Shin Shu sect (a ride of three miles in jinrickshas), and lectured; thence to the house of Mr. Tamuda for tiffin; and, later, to the Nam-ba-mido Temple, of the same sect as the above, and lectured to an audience
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of 2,500 persons. On the morning of the 18th I returned to Kyoto, leaving Noguchi behind, sick abed.
Things had now reached a critical point as regarded my Japanese tour. It now came to my knowledge that the committee of young men who had invited me had not command of the money that would be needed for the tour, and that they had even been obliged to charge 10 sen for admission to my Kyoto lectures to cover the preliminary expenses. At this juncture the wealthy Shin Shu directors had come forward and offered to take over the tour and pay for everything, on condition that the original committee should withdraw and leave the management of affairs in their hands. This proposal at once put things on a footing of absolute certainty as regarded the success of the tour, but it did not satisfy me, for it would virtually hand me over to one only of the nine principal sects of Buddhists to escort me throughout the empire, thus possibly making the people at large to believe that I specially favored the views of Shin Shu. Now this sect presents the curious anomaly that their priests marry and have families, whereas celibacy was particularly enjoined on his bhikkus by the Buddha. They get over this by claiming to be only samaneras, or, as we should say, clerks in holy orders, not full priests. Be that as it may, it was clearly injudicious for me to consent to the arrangement—made with the committee without my knowledge—so I rebelled. I sent out invitations to the Chief Priests of all the sects to meet me in Council in the Empress’s Room at Chooin-
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Temple on 19th February and listen to what I should have to say. To attend this Council I returned from Osaka on the 18th, as above mentioned. The meeting was, I was told, unprecedented in Japanese history, such a thing as a General Council of the Heads of all the sects never having been held before. That did not trouble me, for I had been bringing together into friendly relations in India and Ceylon, for years past, priests, Pandits, and other people of various sects, and I felt within me that sense of power and of certainty which made me sure that I should succeed. The fact is that the instantaneous and enthusiastic welcome given me from the moment of landing, and the vast crowds that had thronged to hear my message of brotherly love, had placed me in a position to dictate terms, and I had not the least intention to let my visit be exploited for the profit of any one sect, however rich or powerful it might be. I fancy that this decision of mine helped to influence the several sectarian Heads to come and hear my views, however determined they might be not to let themselves be persuaded into concurrence in any plan, even though most ingeniously and speciously set forth, which should seem likely to assign them individually a place that would lessen their importance in the eyes of their followers and the general public. At all events, the Council met at the designated time and was a complete success, as the continuation of my narrative in the next chapter will show.