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OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott




THE sun shone bright for our meeting; and its reflected light made every point of gold in the lacquer panels to sparkle, every sheeny surface in the embroidered satin decorations to blossom out in its lovely hues. A long table had been placed in the middle of the room, with chairs at each side, which were to be occupied, at my suggestion, by the Chief Priests, in the order of their seniority of age: a small table in one corner was meant for the interpreter, Mr. Matsumura, of Osaka. I was invited to take the seat at the top of the long table, but respectfully declined, saying that as I held no official rank in their order, no proper place could be assigned me; as an outsider and a layman, it would be more respectful if I sat at the small table with my interpreter. Second point scored, the first one being the arrangement of seats according to age, it being a fundamental principle among the Orientals to yield precedence to age. This brushed away, at the same time, the difficulty as to which sect was entitled to



the highest place at the board; a point of etiquette as scrupulously held to as it was by that fiery chieftain who said: “Where the Douglas sits is the head of the table.” Among the delegates were several very old men with grey hair and bent forms, who kept their hands and bodies warm in the unheated room with brass braziers placed before them on the table and an ingenious contrivance, a curved tin case with perforated cover, to fit around the pit of the stomach, inside a sash, with a sausage of powdered charcoal in a thin paper cover inside, which, being lighted at one end, consumes away very slowly and gives a pleasant warmth to the body.
All preliminaries being thus disposed of, I first had read by Mr. Matsumura a Japanese translation of the salutatory letter in Sanskrit to the Buddhists of Japan from Sumangala Thero—mentioned above—in which he begged his co-religionists to receive me as a zealous and consistent Buddhist, and help me to realise my plans. Then followed the reading of a joint note of similar purport from the principal priests of both Sinhalese Buddhist sects. I then read in English my address, in which I defined my views and hopes with regard to the present tour, and my reasons for convening the meeting. Inasmuch as the consequences of the meeting were of a permanently important nature, and the event has become historical in Japan, I venture to copy from the Theosophist Supplement for April, 1889, the text of the document in full.


“I have invited you to meet me to-day on neutral ground, for private consultation.
“What can we do for Buddhism?
“What ought we to do?
“Why should the two great halves of the Buddhist Church be any longer ignorant and indifferent about each other?
“Let us break the long silence; let us bridge the chasm of 2,300 years; let the Buddhists of the North and those of the South be one family again.
“The great schism took place at the second council of Vaisâli, and among its causes were these questions: ‘May salt be preserved in horn by the monks for future use?’ ‘May solid food be eaten by them after the hour of noon?’ ‘May fermented drinks which look like water be drunk?’ ‘May seats covered with cloths be used?’ ‘May gold and silver be received by the order?’
“Does it seem worth while that the vast Buddhist family should be estranged from each other for such questions as these? Which is the most important, venerable Sirs, that salt shall or shall not be stored up for future use, or that the Doctrines of Buddhism shall be preached to all mankind? I am come from India—a journey of 5,000 miles, and a long one for a man of nearly 60 years of age—to ask you this question? Answer me, O chief priests of the twelve Japanese sects: I charge you upon your consciences to answer. I have brought you a written appeal from your



co-religionists of Ceylon and a Sanskrit letter from the learned Sumangala, High Priest of Adam’s Peak, begging you to receive their brotherly salutations, and to listen to me and help me carry out my religious work. I have no special, private word to speak to any of you, but one word for all. My mission is not to propagate the peculiar doctrines of any sect, but to unite you all in one sacred undertaking. Each of you I recognise as a Buddhist and a brother. All have one common object. Listen to the words of the learned Chinese pilgrim and scholar, Hiouen Thsang: ‘The schools of philosophy are always in conflict, and the noise of their passionate discussions rises like the waves of the sea. Heretics of the different sects attach themselves to particular teachers, and by different routes walk to the same goal.’ I have known learned priests engage in bitter controversy about the most childish subjects, while the Christian missionaries were gathering the children of their neighborhoods into schools and teaching them that Buddhism is a false religion! Blind to their first duty as priests, they thought only of quarrelling about unimportant matters. I have no respect for such foolish priests, nor can I expect them to help me to spread Buddhism in distant countries, or defend it at home from its bitter, rich, and indefatigable enemies. But my helpers and well-wishers will be all sincere, intelligent, broad-minded Buddhist priests and laymen, of every country and nation.
“We have these two things to do. In Buddhist countries, to revive our religion; purify it of its


corruptions; prepare elementary and advanced books for the education of the young and the information of adults, and expose the falsehoods circulated against it by its opponents. Where these latter are trying to persuade children to change their family religion for another, we must, strictly as a measure of self-defence, and not in any angry or intolerant spirit—condemned by our religion—collect and publish all available facts about the merits and demerits of the new religion offered as better than Buddhism. And then it is our duty—as taught by the Lord Buddha himself—to send teachers and preachers to distant lands, such as Europe and America, to tell the millions now disbelieving Christianity, and looking about for some religion to replace it, that they will find what will convince their reason and satisfy their heart in Buddhism. So completely has intercourse been broken between Northern and Southern Buddhists since the Vaisâli Council, you do not know each other’s beliefs nor the contents of your respective Scriptures. One of the first tasks before you, therefore, is to have the books compared critically by learned scholars, to ascertain which portions are ancient and which modern, which authoritative and which forgeries. Then the results of these comparisons must be published throughout all Buddhist countries, in their several vernaculars. We may have to convene another great Council at some sacred place, such as Buddha-Gaya or Anuradhapura, before the publications mentioned are authorised. What a grand and hopeful spectacle that would be! May we live to see it!



“Now kindly understand that, in making all these plans for the defence and propagation of Buddhism, I do so in the twofold character of an individual Buddhist and President of the Theosophical Society, acting through and on behalf of its Buddhist Division. Our great Brotherhood comprises already 174 Branches, distributed over the world as follows: India, Ceylon, and Burma 129; Europe 13; America 25; Africa 1; Australasia 2; West Indies 2; Japan 1; Singapore 1. Total, 174 Branches of our Society, all under one general management. When first I visited Ceylon (in the year 1880) and formed several Branches, I organised a Buddhist Division of the Society, to include all Buddhist Branches that might be formed in any part of the world. What I now offer you is to organise such Branches throughout Japan, and to register them, along with our Buddhist Branches in Ceylon, Burma, and Singapore, in the “Buddhist Division”; so that you may all be working together for the common object of promoting the interests of Buddhism. This will be an easy thing to do. You have already many such Societies, each trying to do something, but none able to effect as much as you could by uniting your forces with each other and with the sister Societies in foreign countries. It would cost you a great deal of money and years of labor to establish foreign agencies like ours, but I offer you the chance of having these agencies ready-made, without your being put to any preliminary expenses. And since our Buddhist Division has been working for Buddhism without you for


the past ten years, I doubt if you could find more trustworthy or zealous co-operators. The people of Ceylon are too poor and too few in number (only some 2,000,000 of Buddhists) to undertake any such large scheme as I propose, but you and they together could do it successfully. If you ask how we should organise our forces, I point you to our great enemy, Christianity, and bid you look at their large and wealthy Bible, Tract, Sunday-school, and Missionary Societies—the tremendous agencies they support to keep alive and spread their religion. We must form similar Societies, and make our most practical and honest men of business their managers. Nothing can be done without money. The Christians spend millions to destroy Buddhism; we must spend to defend and propagate it. We must not wait for some few rich men to give the capital: we must call upon the whole nation. The millions spent for the missionaries are mainly contributed by poor people and their children: yes, their children, I say, for they teach their children to deny themselves sweets and toys and give the money to convert you to Christianity. Is not that a proof of their interest in the spread of their religion? What are you doing to compare with it? Where are your monster Buddhist Publication Societies, your Foreign Mission Societies, Missionaries in foreign lands? I travel much, but have not heard of them in any country of Europe or America. There are many Christian schools and churches in Japan, but is there a Japanese Buddhist school or temple in London, or



Paris, or Vienna, or New York? If not, why not? You know as well as I that our religion is better than Christianity, and that it would be a blessed thing if the people of Christendom were to adopt it: why, then, have you not given them the chance? You are the watchmen at the gates of our religion, O chief priests! why do you slumber when the enemy is trying to undermine its walls? Yet, though you neglect your duty, Buddhism is rapidly spreading in Christian countries from several causes. First of all its intrinsic merit, then its scientific character, its spirit of love and kindness, its embodiment of the idea of justice, its logical self-consistency. Then the touching sweetness of the story of the life of Sakhya Muni, which has touched the hearts of multitudes of Christians, as recounted in poem and story. There is one book called The Light of Asia, a poem by Sir Edwin Arnold, of which several hundred thousand copies have been sold, and which has done more for Buddhism than any other agency. Then there are and have been great authors and philologists like Professor Max Müller, Messrs. Burnouf, De Rosily, St. Hilaire, Rhys Davids, Beal, Fausböll, Bigandet, and others, who have written about the Lord Buddha in the most sympathetic terms. And among the agencies to be noticed is the Theosophical Society, of which I am President. The Buddhist Catechism, which I compiled for the Sinhalese Buddhists eight-years ago, has already been published in fifteen different languages. A great authority told me recently in Paris that there were not less than 12,000 professed


Buddhists in France alone, and in America I am sure there must be at least 50,000. The auspicious day has come for us to put forth our united efforts. If I can persuade you to join hands with your brothers in Ceylon and elsewhere, I shall think I am seeing the dawn of a more glorious day for Buddhism. Venerable Sirs, hearken to the words of your ignorant yet sincere American co-religionist. Be up and doing. When the battle is set, the hero’s place is at the front: which of you shall I see acting the hero in this desperate struggle between truth and superstition, between Buddhism and its opponents?”
To put everything on a practical footing, I suggested the formation of a General Committee of Buddhist affairs, to comprise representatives of all their sects, and to act for the general interest of Buddhism, not for anyone sect or subdivision. This plan I urged upon them very strenuously. I added that I positively refused to make the tour in Japan unless I could do it under their conjoint auspices, for otherwise my appeals would be taken as though made on behalf of the one sect having the tour in charge, and their influence minimised. I warned them that the Christian missionaries were vigilant and zealous, and would spare no effort to throw discredit upon my mission, not even the employment of calumny and falsehood, as they had done in Ceylon and in India since we first began our labors there. Finally, I gave notice that unless they did form such a Joint Committee I would take the next steamer back to my place of



departure. Dharmapala, being somewhat better that day, was carried to the meeting in a chair and sat through the session. I am not sure, now that I come to look back at it, but that those venerable pontiffs, spiritual teachers of 39,000,000 Japanese and incumbents of about 70,000 temples, must have thought me as dictatorial a fellow as my countryman Commodore Perry. .It doesn’t matter now, since my terms were accepted; the Joint Committee, since known as the Indo-Busseki-Kofuku-Kwai—I think that is the title—was formed, the preliminary outlay of the Young Men’s Committee was refunded to them, and thenceforth my programme was laid out by the Committee so as to take me to every important Buddhist centre throughout the empire, and to have me become the guest of each of the sects and give my lectures at selected temples of each. In the course of the tour a group photograph was taken of the members of the Managing Committee, myself and Mr. Matsumura, and may be seen by visitor’s to our Adyar Headquarters.
The 20th of February is noted in my Diary as a quiet day, a rest after the stiff work of the Council. I consented to visit Yokohama on receipt of telegraphic advices that all was ready for us. I had many visitors on that and the three succeeding days, but the pleasure was marred by the sight of the sufferings of Dharmapala, who was in almost constant agony. I found time for a visit to a new silk-spinning mill, the machinery for which was being set up by a representative of the firm of Birmingham manufacturers. He called my attention


to the super-excellence of the plant, which was the best that money could buy—the finest, he assured me, he had ever installed in the course of his twenty years’ connection with the business. It struck us both that if the Japanese practised the same wise foresight in all their commencements of manufacturing enterprises, they would become most formidable competitors in the marts of the world’s commerce. We have seen during the succeeding ten years how safe was our prognostic.
On the 24th I went to Otsu and lectured in a great hall at the border of the Lake Biwa. A group of Christians were in the audience at first, but when they heard me expounding the beauties of Buddha Dharma they all left, poor things! Lake Biwa is one of the prettiest in the world, its waters glassy-smooth, its snowy mountains and its hills clad in piney woods, going to make up a charming picture. There is a legend that in a dreadful earth-convulsion in 286 B.C. this lake was hollowed out in a single night, while simultaneously Fuji-San, the peerless conical, snow-capped mountain, two hundred miles away, shot up to its height of 12,000 feet above high-water level, with a crater 500 feet deep. Standing on the slope before Mee-de-ra Temple, with the panorama spread out before us, it was interesting to hear the folk-legends of gods and heroes who frequented the locality, and the valiant deeds they performed. At the same time I brought the minds of the party of friends around me to the paramount subject of my mission. Looking



down upon Otsu from it tea-kiosk that stood at the brow of a spur of the hill, and pointing to the great cluster of houses, I asked how many Buddhists the Lord Buddha would find there if he should be standing beside us. Why, so-and-so many thousand, they replied, mentioning approximately the population of the place. I don’t mean that, I said, but how many out of those thousands would he call real Buddhists, the practitioners of his Five Precepts? Oh! hardly any, they said. Well, I rejoined, let us try and increase the number by our good advice, but chiefly by our example. They took it very good-naturedly, and, in fact, I always found them ready to laugh whenever a point was made against themselves: so sweet-tempered are they, they bore no malice when convinced of the friendliness and good-will of their visitor.
One legend of the lake deals with the slaughter of a monstrous serpent which ravaged the whole countryside. No man had the courage to attack it until the Queen of the Watery Kingdom, taking pity upon mankind, assumed the form of a beautiful lady of the Japanese Court, and appealed to Ben-Kei, the hero demigod, to exhibit his superhuman powers. Thereupon, the Japanese St. George bent his strong bow and sped a shaft so truly that it pierced the monster’s brain and effectually silenced him. I purchased for a trifling sum a picture depicting the interesting event.
On the next day I went to see Dharmapala at the hospital and found him a little better. The rest of my time was taken up with visitors. The first application


for a Charter for a T. S. Branch was received this day. On the 26th I went to Kobé, where I was put up by Mr. T. Walsh, a paper-mill owner. He called with me on Mr. Jerningham, the United States Consul. The next day, with my committeemen, I sailed for Yokohama in an excellent Japanese steamer, and arrived there on the 28th at 6 p.m., after a sail through the Inland Sea, and having had a grand view of Fujiama, or Fuji-San. The slopes are so gradual as to deceive the eye as to its height, and make it seem much lower than it is. Representatives of the General Committee met me on arrival and escorted me to the Grand Hotel, where I found myself very comfortable. Mr. James Troup, H. B. M. Consul, the well-known writer on Northern Buddhism, and I exchanged visits and had much agreeable conversation, and our party left for Tokyo (Yeddo), the capital, by the 4 p.m. train. A vast crowd swarmed about the station to greet me, and I could not doubt my being welcome. Nor could the Committee. In the evening Mr. Bunyin Nanjio called with Mr. Akamatsu, another Cambridge man of great intellectual powers and high culture, who has been advanced to a post of great responsibility in the Western Hongwanji, and a most delightful conversationist he is. Other important personages called. The next day I paid my respects to Mr. Hubbard, the American Minister Plenipotentiary, and H. E. Marquis Aoki, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to whom I had a letter of introduction. The Committee took me to see the tombs of two former



Shoguns, where were superb carvings in wood, lacquered panels, and other ornamentations. I was told that a Shogun is interred in a nest of seven coffins, but nobody knew why. Can it typify the sevenfold constitution of man? Near one tomb was the great wardrum of the dead sovereign, which was formerly beaten at the head of his conquering army. The temptation to give them a surprise was so strong that I seized the beater and crashed out a booming note on the gigantic drum. “There,” I cried; “I summon you in the name of this Shogun to the battle of your ancestral religion against the hostile force that would overthrow it,” the next moment asking them to pardon me if I had been guilty of any breach of good manners; but they protested that I had done no more than my duty in reminding them of the obligation resting upon them to be active for their faith, and that they would make good use of the incident with the public.
On 3rd March I was invited to address a large gathering of the most important priests of the capital and environs, and I did so, showing them, with all the earnestness at my command, where their duty lay, and how closely it was associated with their best interests. As I had done in Ceylon, so here showed them that if they were only a little wise they would use every possible exertion to keep up in the rising generation the religious spirit which would make them when adults the willing supporters of the temple and priests, which their forefathers had been and their


parents now were; for if this was suffered to die out, the temples must crumble and the monks die off for lack of sustenance. For myself, I told them, I asked nothing, not the smallest recompense. I stood there as a mouthpiece only of the Founder of our religion, calling them to arouse and work before it was too late to ward off disaster. This was my keynote throughout the tour, and, as will be seen later on, it was effective.
On 4th March I paid a ceremonial visit to the Chief Priest of the Eastern Hongwanji, Otani Koson San, a noble by birth, of the rank of Marquis under the new system. I found him a dignified, courtly man, who seemed to wish well to my mission, and promised all needed help. Thence to the American Embassy; and, later, Messrs. Nanjio, Akamatsu, and I had a long conference about Buddhistic affairs.
In the evening, with Marquis Otani and Mr. Akamatsu, I attended a party at the house of Viscount Sannomiya, Imperial Chamberlain, whose wife is a German Lady-in-Waiting of H. I. M. the Empress. As this was my first party in Japan, and I had been seeing all sorts of high officials in the national dress, I did not know what to wear, and asked Mr. Akamatsu and an American gentleman for advice. Both said it didn’t matter; I might wear the frock-coat I then had on. I was afraid to expose myself to catching a pneumonia by donning our Western evening-dress, but remembering the old rule of Hoyle, “When in doubt take the trick,” I thought it would be the wiser plan to conform to our established usage. Well was



it that I did. On arrival at the house, the host and other gentlemen met us at the door, some in our evening costume, some in Western military dress, all wearing orders. On ascending to the drawing-rooms I saw the whole company similarly clad, the ladies in the latest Parisian fashions. Fancy how I felt at the thought of what I should have looked like but for my instinctive precaution! I cannot say that I was pleased with the sight of all those Orientals doffing their own picturesque apparel, which suits them so well, for our European dress, which suits us, but decidedly does not an Asiatic. But it was a comfort to find, when I called on these personages at their houses, that almost invariably they wear their national dress, and put on the other in public as the imperial regulations prescribe. The party at Viscount Sannomiya’s was in every respect like one of our own, even to the dancing, in which Japanese gentlemen, and sometimes even ladies, indulged. What struck me forcibly, after so many years of India and other Eastern countries, was the tone of respect and equality in the intercourse between the natives and the foreign residents. There was a total absence of that cringing and self-suppression, on the one part, and supercilious patronage, on the other, which are so galling to a lover of Asiatics and their countries. I can hardly express my delight in regard to this during my whole visit in Japan. Among Madame Sannomiya’s guests were royal princes and princesses, and lesser nobles of all ranks. I also made the acquaintance of Professor Fenolosa, of Boston,


U. S. A., Director of the School of Fine Arts, his wife, and a friend, Dr. W. S. Bigelow, all three charming people, with whom I was fortunate enough to form most friendly relations. With Fenolosa I called, the next day, on an old army comrade of mine, Brigadier-General C. W. Legendre, of the Fifty-first New York Regiment, of the Burnside Expedition to North Carolina, with whom I passed through several battles, at one of which—Newbern—I saw him desperately wounded. Of course, we were delighted to meet again, after twenty-six years, in this remote corner of the world, and to talk over old times. At the Tokyo Club, where I was made an Honorary Member, I became acquainted with many of the most influential and cultured men of the day, among them Captain Brinckley, R. A., retired, Editor of the Japan Mail, Dr. Edward Divers, Professor of Chemistry at the University, Professor Milne, the seismologist of world-wide fame, Captain J. M. James, of the Japanese Naval Department, Hon. Mr. Satow, Dr. Baelz, Mr. Basil, Hon. Chamberlain, Honorary Secretary, Asiatic Society of Japan, and others. From one and all I received only the greatest courtesy.
At 3 p.m. on 6th March I lectured in Rin-sho-in Temple to an “educated” audience, without an interpreter, and then made calls. The next day the lecture was in Zo-jo-ji Temple, to junior priests on their duty, and I spoke as plainly as the occasion demanded. I dined at the same temple, and viewed a collection of paintings of alleged Rahans (Arahats,



Rahats, Munis, Mahatmas), the originals of which I should never have taken for spiritually advanced persons if I had casually met them. In fact, I told the friendly monks who were conducting me about that if they had ever seen the sublime faces of real Rahans they would wish to burn these travesties. That same evening I had the pleasure of seeing a performance by a noted Japanese conjurer. He was dressed in a European walking-suit, his black frock-coat buttoned up high, and wore a small gold cross! This, it was explained to me, did not signify that he was a Christian, which he was not, but only that he could work miracles—the cross being associated by popular rumor with miracle-working! He marched in a short procession from a door at the side of the hall, preceded by a drummer and a flute-player, and followed by his assistants, male and female, in native dress. Among the striking feats that he did was to make a jet of water spirit out of a closed fan, and another from the top of a man’s head, while a jet of fire leaped from the same fan the next moment. A girl lying on a wooden bench was apparently transfixed by the blade of a sword, and another suspended by thongs at the wrists and ankles to a large wooden cross was pierced through the body at the point of the heart by a lance, and a torrent of blood poured from the wound. As, however, both damsels were presently walking about again as though nothing unusual had happened, I inferred that that was the real fact, and that I and the rest of the audience had been simply befooled.


At 2 p.m. on the 8th I lectured at Higashi Hongwanji to a very large concourse of priests. On the next day my lecture was at the University, before the Educational Society of Japan, which counts the Princes of the Blood and most of the great men of the country among its members. I was told that no less a personage than H. I. M. the Emperor was present incognito. I was vexed to hear from Captain Brinckley, at the close, that my interpreter had mistranslated a sentence of mine so as to give it a political sense, which, of course, was farthest from my thoughts.
A lecture to the general public followed the next day, and another ,on the 11th, both audiences huge and enthusiastic, and all the Missionaries at the second one, taking notes. Much good did it do them! On that same evening I attended a grand ball given by the merchants of Tokyo to the Imperial Princes. I was introduced to the Prime Minister, General Count Kuroda, the Vice-Ministers of the Treasury and of Communications, the Chief Judge of Kyoto, and many other important personages, Japanese and foreign.
On the 12th I lectured at Shinagawa, in Kon-o-Kong Temple; on the next day at Den-zu-een, a temple of the Jo-do sect, and paid my respects to H. E. Baron Takasaki, Governor of Tokyo, and a most affable gentleman. We had a long discussion about religious and educational matters. I also visited the Crematorium, “Nippori,” and was greatly interested in all the arrangements, most of which are well worth copying. The building and furnaces are



of brick, the latter lined with fire-bricks and having raised floors of iron, which pull out and run in for the removal of the ashes and introduction of new corpses. The cost of cremating a body is only 28 cents, (about 12 annas), and the time required three hours. Tasteful glazed earthenware vases for holding the ashes and unconsumed portions of bone are available at the trifling cost of 30, 12, and 10 cents respectively for first, second, and third qualities. The charges for cremation are $ 7, $ 2.50, and $ 1.30 (the dollar is now worth about Rs. 3) according to the “class” of cremation. In point of fact there is no difference whatever between the quality or quantity of fuel used, nor in any other detail; it is simply a question of family pride. The establishment belongs to a private corporation with a paid-up capital of $ 30,000, and the ground and buildings cost but $ 12,000. Thirty-one corpses may be cremated simultaneously, in as many separate furnaces or cubicles. The funeral ceremonies are held in an adjoining chamber, the body being packed in a tub, in sitting posture, resting on a trolley and covered with a white sheet. At the conclusion of the prayers, the tub is rolled into the cremating chamber assigned to it, and in due course the waiting relatives receive the ashes, and take them away for disposal according to fixed custom.

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