The Soul of the Far East



IN regard to their religion, nations, like individuals, seem singularly averse to practicing what they have preached. Whether it is that his self-constructed idols prove to the maker too suggestive of his own intellectual chisel to deceive him for long, or whether sacred soil, like less hallowed ground, becomes, after a time, incapable of responding to repeated sowings of the same seed, certain it is that in spiritual matters most peoples have grown out of conceit with their own conceptions. An individual may cling with a certain sentiment to the religion of his mother, but nations have shown anything but a foolish fondness for the sacred superstitions of their great - grandfathers. To the charm of creation succeeds invariably the bittersweet after-taste of criticism, and man would not be the progressive animal he is if he long remained in love with his own productions.

What his future will be is too engrossing a subject, and one too deeply shrouded in mystery, not to be constantly pictured anew. No wonder that the consideration of that country toward which mankind is ever being hastened should prove as absorbing to fancy as contemplated earthly journeys proverbially are. Few people but have laid out skeleton tours through its ideal regions, and, perhaps, as in the mapping beforehand of merely mundane travels, one element of attraction has always consisted in the possible revision of our routes.

Besides, there is a fascination about the foreign merely because it is such. Distance lends enchantment to the views of others, and never more so than when those views are religious visions. An enthusiast has certainly a greater chance of being taken for a god among a people who do not know him intimately as a man. So with his doctrines. The imported is apt to seem more important than the home-made; as the far-off bewitches more easily than the near. But just as castles in the air do not commonly become the property of their builders, so mansions in the skies almost as frequently have failed of being directly inherited. Rather strikingly has this been the case with what are to-day the two most powerful religions of the world, — Buddhism and Christianity. Neither is now the belief of its founder’s people. What was Aryan born has become Turanian bred, and what was Semitic by conception is at present Aryan by adoption. The possibilities of another’s hereafter look so much rosier than the limitations of one’s own present!

Few pastimes are more delightful than tossing pebbles into some still, dark pool, and watching the waves that leap in answer, as they run in ever-widening circles to the shore. Most of us as boys have felt its fascination second only to that of the dotted spiral of the skipping stone, a fascination not outgrown with years. There is something singularly attractive in the subtle force that sways each particle, and is then insensibly imparted to the next, a motion mysterious in its immateriality. Some such pleasure must be theirs who have thrown their thoughts into the hearts of men, and seen them spread in waves of feeling, whose sphere keeps widening as it moves on. For like the mobile water is the mind of man, — quick to catch emotions, quick to transmit them. Of all waves of emotion, this is not the least true of religious ones that, starting from their birthplace, pass out to stir others, who have but humanity in common with those who professed them first. Like the waves in the pool, too, they leave their original converts to sink back again into comparative quiescence, as they advance to throw into sudden tremors hordes of outer barbarians. In both of the great religions in question this wave propagation has been most marked, only the direction it took differed. Christianity went westwards ; Buddhism traveled east. Proselytes in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy find counterparts in Eastern India, Burmah, and Thibet. Gradually the taught surpassed their teachers both in zeal and numbers. Jerusalem and Benares eventually gave place to Rome and Lassa as sacerdotal centres. Still the movement journeyed on. Popes and Lhamas remained where their predecessors had founded sees, but the tide of belief surged past them in its irresistible advance. Farther yet from where each faith began are to be found at present the greater part of its adherents. The home that the Western hemisphere seems to promise to the one the extreme Orient affords the other. As Roman Catholicism looks now to America for its strength, so Buddhism to-day finds its worshipers principally in Japan.

But though the Japanese may be said to be all Buddhists, Buddhist is by no means all that they are. At the time of their adoption of the great Indian faith, the Japanese were already in possession of a system of superstition which has held its own to this day. In fact, as the state religion of the land, it has just experienced a revival, a regalvanizing of its old-time energy, at the hands of Mr. Satow and of some of the native arclæologists. Formerly this body of belief was the national faith, the Mikado, the direct descendant of the early gods, being its head on earth. His reinstatement to temporal power formed a very fitting first step toward reinvesting the cult with its pristine prestige : a curious instance, indeed, of a religious revival due to archæological, not to religious zeal, and to foreign more than to native enthusiasm.

This cult is the mythological inheritance of the whole eastern seaboard of Asia, from Siam to Kamchatka. In Japan it is called Shintoism. The word “ Shinto ” means literally “ the way of the gods,” and the letter of its name is a true exponent of the spirit of the belief. For its scriptures are rather an itinerary of the gods’ lives than a guide to that road by which man himself may attain to immortality. Thus with a certain fitness pilgrimages are its most noticeable rites. One cannot journey anywhere into the heart of Japan without meeting multitudes of these pilgrims, with their neat white leggings and their broadbrimmed hats, nor rest at night at any inn that is not hung with countless little banners of the pilgrim associations, of which they all are members. Being a pilgrim there is equivalent to being a tourist here, only that to the excitement of doing the country is added a sustaining sense of the meritoriousness of the deed. Oftener than not his objective point is the summit of some noted mountain. For peaks are peculiarly sacred spots in the Shinto faith. The fact is perhaps an expression of man’s instinctive desire to rise, as if the bodily act in some wise betokened the mental action. The shrine in so exalted a position is of the simplest: a rude hut, with or without the only distinctive emblems of the cult, a mirror typical of the god and the pendent gohei, or zigzag strips of paper, permanent votive offerings of man. As for the belief itself, it is but the deification of those natural elements which aboriginal man instinctively wonders at or fears, the sun, the moon, the thunder, the lightning, and the wind ; all, in short, that he sees, hears, and feels, yet cannot comprehend. He clothes his terrors with forms which resemble the human, because he can conceive of nothing else that could cause the unexpected. But the awful shapes he conjures up have naught in common with himself. They are far too fearful to be followed. Their way is the “ highway of the gods,” but no Jacob’s ladder for wayward man.

In this externality to the human lies the reason that Shintoism and Buddhism can agree so well, and can both join with Confucianism in helping to form that happy family of faiths which is so singular a feature of Far Eastern religious capability. It is not simply that the two contrive to live peaceably together. They are actually both of them implicitly believed by the same individual. Millions of Japanese are good Buddhists and good Shintoists at the same time. That such a combination should be possible is due to the essential difference in the character of the two beliefs. The one is extrinsic, the other intrinsic, in its relations to the human soul. Shintoism tells man but little about himself and his hereafter ; Buddhism, little but about himself and what he may become. In examining Far Eastern religion, therefore, for personality, or the reverse, we may dismiss Shintoism as having no particular bearing upon the subject. The only effect it has is indirect in furthering the natural propensity of these people to an adoration of nature.

In Korea and in China, again, Confucianism is the great moral law, as by reflection it is to a certain extent in Japan. But that in its turn may be omitted in the present argument, inasmuch as Confucius taught confessedly and designedly only a system of morals, and religiously abstained from pronouncing any opinion whatever upon the character and career of the human soul.

Taouism, the third great religion of China, resembles Shintoism to this extent, that it is a, body of superstition, and not a form of philosophy. It undertakes to provide nostrums for spiritual ills, but is dumb as to the constitution of the soul for which it professes to prescribe. Its pills are to be swallowed unquestioningly by the patient, and are warranted to cure ; and owing to the two great human frailties, fear and credulity, its practice is very large. Possessing, however, no philosophic diploma, it is without the pale of the present discussion.

The demon - worship of Korea is a mild form of the same thing, with the hierarchy left out, every man there being his own spiritual adviser. He is born with an innate belief in spirits, whom he accordingly propitiates from time to time.

We come, then, by elimination to a consideration of Buddhism, the great philosophic faith of the whole Far East.

Not uncommonly in the courtyard of a Japanese temple, in the solemn halflight of the sombre firs, there stands a large stone basin, cut from a single block, and full to the brim with water. The trees, the basin, and a few stone lanterns — so called from their form, and not their function, for they have votive pebbles where we should look for wicks — are the sole occupants of the place. Sheltered from the wind, withdrawn from sound, and only piously approached by man, this antechamber of the god seems the very abode of silence and rest. It might be Nirvana itself, human entrance to an immortality like the god’s within, so peaceful, so pervasive, is its calm ; and in its midst is the moss-covered monolith, holding in its embrace the little imprisoned pool of water. So still is the spot and so clear the liquid that you know the one only as the reflection of the other. Mirrored in its glassy surface appears everything around it. As you peer in, far down you see a tiny bit of sky, as deep as the blue is high above, across which slowly sail the passing clouds; then nearer stand the trees, arching overhead, as if bending to catch glimpses of themselves in that other world below; and then nearer yet — yourself.

Emblem of the spirit of man is this little pool to Far Oriental eyes. Subtile as the soul is the incomprehensible water; so responsive to light that it remains itself invisible; so clear that it seems illusion ! Though portrayer so perfect of forms about it, all we know of the thing itself is that it is. Through none of the five senses do we perceive it. Neither sight, nor hearing, nor taste, nor smell, nor touch can tell us it exists; we feel it to be by the muscular sense alone, that blind and dumb analogue for the body of what consciousness is for the soul. Only when disturbed, troubled, does the water itself become visible, and then it is but the surface that we see. So to the Far Oriental this still little lake typifies the soul, the eventual purification of his own ; a something lost in reflection, self-effaced, only the alter ego of the outer world.

For contemplation, not action, is the Far Oriental’s idea of life. The repose of self-adjustment like that to which our whole solar system is slowly tending as its death, — this to him appears, though from no scientific deduction, the end of all existence. So he sits and ponders, abstractly, vaguely, upon everything in general, — synonym, alas, to man’s finite mind, for nothing in particular, — till even the sense of self seems to vanish, and through the mistlike portal of unconsciousness he floats out into the vast indistinguishable sameness of Nirvana’s sea.

At first sight Buddhism is much more like Christianity than those of us who stay at home and speculate upon it commonly appreciate. As a system of philosophy it sounds exceedingly foreign, but it looks unexpectedly familiar as a faith. Indeed, the one religion might well pass for the counterfeit presentment of the other. It so struck the early Catholic missionaries that they felt obliged to explain the remarkable resemblance between the two. With them ingenuous surprise instantly begot ingenious sophistry. Externally, the similarity was so exact that at first they could not bring themselves to believe that the Buddhist ceremonials had not been filched bodily from the practices of the true faith. Finding, however, that no known human agency had acted in the matter, they bethought them of introducing, to account for things, a deus ex machina in the shape of the devil. They were so pleased with this solution of the difficulty that they imparted it at once with much pride to the natives. You have indeed got, they graciously if somewhat gratuitously informed them, the outward semblance of the true faith, but you are in fact the miserable victims of an impious fraud. Satan has stolen the insignia of divinity, and is now masquerading before you as the deity; your god is really our devil, — a recognition of antipodal inversion truly worthy the Jesuitical mind !

Perhaps it is not matter for great surprise that they converted but few of their hearers. The suggestion was hardly so diplomatic as might have been expected from so generally astute a body ; for it could not make much difference what the all-presiding deity was called, if his actions were the same, for his motives were beyond human observation. Besides, the bare idea of a foreign bogus was not very terrifying. The Chinese possessed too many familiar devils of their own. But there was another and a much deeper reason, which we shall come to later, why Christianity made but little headway in the Far East.

But it is by no means in externals only that the two religions are alike. If the first glance at them awakens that peculiar sensation which most of us have felt at some time or other, a sense of having seen all this before, further scrutiny reveals a deeper agreement than merely in appearances.

In passing from the surface into the substance, it may be mentioned incidentally that the codes of morality of the two are about on a level. I say incidentally, for so far as its practice, certainly, is concerned, if not its preaching, morality has no more intimate connection with religion than it has with art or politics. If we doubt this, we have but to examine the facts. Are the most religious peoples the most moral? It needs no prolonged investigation to convince us that they are not. If a proof of this non sequitur were required, the matter of truth-telling might be adduced in point. As this is a subject upon which a slight misconception exists in the minds of some evangelically persuaded persons, and because, what is more generally relevant, the presence of this quality, honesty in word and deed, has more than almost any other one characteristic helped to put us in the van of the world’s advance to-day, it may not unfittingly be cited here.

The argument in the case may be put thus. Have specially religious races been proportionally truth-telling ones ? If not, has there been any other cause at work in the development of mankind tending to increase veracity ? The answer to the first question has all the simplicity of a plain negative. No such pleasing concomitance of characteristics is observable to-day, or has been presented in the past. Permitting, however, the dead past to bury its shortcomings in oblivion, let us look at the world as we find it. We observe, then, that the religious spirit is quite as strong in Asia as it is in Europe ; if anything, that at the present time it is rather stronger. The average Brahman, Mahometan, or Buddhist is quite as devout as the ordinary Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. If he is somewhat less given to propagandism, he is not a whit less regardful of his own salvation. Yet throughout the Orient truth is a thing unknown, lies of courtesy being de rigueur and lies of convenience de raison ; while with us, fortunately, mendacity is generally discredited. But we need not travel so far for proof. The same is evident in less antipodal relations. Have the least religious nations of Europe been any less truthful than the most bigoted ? Was fanatic Spain remarkable for veracity ? Was Loyola a gentleman whose assertions carried conviction other than to the stake ? Were the eminently mundane burghers whom he persecuted noted for a pious superiority to fact ? Or, to narrow the field still further, and scan the circle of one’s own acquaintance, are the most believing individuals among them worthy of the most belief ? Assuredly not.

We come, then, to the second point. Has there been any influence at work to differentiate us in this respect from Far Orientals ? There has. Two separate causes, in fact, have conduced to the same result. The one is the development of physical science ; the other, the extension of trade. The sole object of science being to discover truth, truth-telling is a sine qua non of its existence. Professionally, scientists are obliged to be truthful. A liter of a Jesuit.

So long as science was of the closet, its influence upon mankind generally was indirect and slight; but so soon as it proceeded to stalk into the street and earn its own living, its veracious character began to tell. When out of its theories sprang inventions and discoveries that revolutionized every-day affairs and changed the very face of things, society insensibly caught its spirit. Man awoke to the inestimable value of exactness. From scientists proper, the spirit filtered down through every stratum of education, till to-day the average man is born exact to a degree which his forefathers never dreamed of becoming. To-day, as a rule, the more intelligent the individual, the more truthful he is, because the more innately exact in thought, and thence in word and action. With us, to lie is a sign of a want of cleverness, not of an excess of it.

The second cause, the extension of trade, has inculcated the same regard for veracity through the pocket. For with the increase of business transactions in both time and space, the telling of the truth has become a financial necessity. “Without it, trade would come to a standstill at once. Our whole mercantile system, a modern piece of mechanism unknown to the East till we imported it thither, turns on an implicit belief in the word of one’s neighbor. Our legal safeguards would snap like red tape were the great bond of mutual trust once broken. Western civilization has to be truthful, or perish.

And now for the spirits of the two beliefs.

The soul of any religion realizes in one respect the Brahman idea of the individual soul of man, namely, that it exists much after the manner of an onion, in many concentric envelopes. Man, they tell us, is composed not of a single body simply, but as it were of several layers of body, each shell respectively inclosing another. The outermost is the merely material body, of which we are so directly cognizant. This encases a second, more spiritual, but yet not wholly free from earthly affinities. This contains another, still more refined ; till finally, inside of all is that immaterial something which they conceive to constitute the soul. This eventual residuum exemplifies the Franciscan notion of pure substance, for it is a thing delightfully devoid of any attributes whatever.

We may, perhaps, not be aware of the existence of such an elaborate set of encasings to our own heart of hearts, nor of a something so very indefinite within, but the most casual glance at any religion will reveal its truth as regards the soul of a belief. We recognize the fact outwardly in the buildings erected to celebrate its worship. Not among the Jews alone was the holy of holies kept veiled, to temper the divine radiance to man’s benighted understanding. Nor is the chancel-rail of Christianity the sole survivor of the more exclusive barriers of olden times, even in the Western world. In the Far East, where difficulty of access is deemed indispensable to dignity, the material approaches are still manifold and imposing. Court within court, building after building, isolate the shrine itself from the profane familiarity of the passersby. But though the material encasings vary in number and in exclusiveness, according to the temperament of the particular race concerned, the mental envelopes exist, and must exist, in both hemispheres alike, so long as society resembles the crust of the earth on which it dwells, — a crust composed of strata that grow denser as one descends. What is clear to those on top seems obscure to those below; what are weighty arguments to the second have no force at all upon the first. There must necessarily be grades of elevation in individual beliefs, suited to the needs and cravings of each individual soul. A creed that fills the shallow with satisfaction leaves but an aching void in the deep. It is not of the slightest consequence how the belief starts ; differentiated it is bound to become. The higher minds alone can rest content with abstract imaginings; the lower must have concrete realities on which to pin their faith. With them, inevitably, ideals degenerate into idols. In all religions this unavoidable debasement has taken place. The Roman Catholic who prays to a wooden image of Christ is not one whit less idolatrous than the Buddhist who worships a bronze statue of Amida Butzu. All that the common people are capable of seeing is the soul-envelope, for the soul itself they are unable to appreciate. Spiritually they are undiscerning, because imaginatively they are blind.

Now the grosser soul-envelopes of the two great European and Asiatic faiths, though differing in detail, are in general parallel in structure. Each boasts its full complement of saints, whose congruent catalogues are equally wearisome in length. Each tells its circle of beads to help it keep count of similarly endless prayers. For in both, in the popular estimation, quantity is more effective to salvation than quality. In both the believer practically pictures his heaven for himself, while in each his hell, with a vividness that does like credit to its religious imagination, is painted for him by those of the cult who are themselves confident of escaping it. Into the lap of each mother church the pious believer drops his little votive offering with the same affectionate zeal, and in Asia, as in Europe, the mites of the many make the might of the mass.

But behind all this is the religion of the few, — of those to whom sensuous forms cannot suffice to represent supersensuous cravings; whose god is something more than an anthropomorphic creation ; to whom worship means not the cramping of the body, but the expansion of the soul.

The rays of the truth, like the rays of the sun, which universally seems to have been man’s first adoration, have two properties equally inherent in their essence, warmth and light. And as for the life of all things on this globe both attributes of sunshine are necessary, so to the development of that something which constitutes the ego both qualities of the truth are vital. We sometimes speak of character as if it were a thing wholly apart from mind, but, in fact, the two things are so interwoven that to perceive the right course is the strongest possible of incentives to pursue it. In the end the two are one. Now, while clearness of head is all important, kindness of heart is none the less so. The first, perhaps, is more needed in our dealings with ourselves, the second in our dealings with others. For dark and dense bodies that we are, we can radiate affection much more effectively than we can reflect views.

That Christianity is a religion of love needs no mention; that Buddhism is equally such is perhaps not so generally appreciated. But just as the gospel of the disciple who loved and was loved the most begins its story by telling us of the Light that came into the world, so none the less surely could the Light of Asia but be also its warmth. Half of the teachings of Buddhism are spent in inculcating charity. Not only to men is man enjoined to show kindliness, but to all other animals as well. The people practice what their scriptures preach. The effect indirectly on the condition of the brutes is almost as marked as its more direct effect on the character of mankind. In heart, at least, Buddhism and Christianity are very close.

But here the two paths to a something beyond an earthly life diverge. Up to this point the two religions are alike, but from this point on they are so utterly unlike that the very similarity of all that went before only suffices to make of the second the weird, life-counterfeiting shadow of the first. As in a silhouette, externally the contours are all there, but within is one vast blank. In relation to one’s neighbor the two beliefs are kin, but as regards one’s self as far apart as the west is from the east. For here, at this idea of self, we are suddenly aware of standing on the brink of a fathomless abyss, gazing giddily down into that great gulf which divides Buddhism from Christianity. We cannot see the bottom. It is a separation more profound than death ; it seems to necessitate annihilation. To cross it we must bury in its depths all we know as ourselves.

Christianity is a personal religion; Buddhism, an impersonal one. In this fundamental difference lies the worldwide opposition of the two beliefs. Christianity tells us to purify ourselves that we may enjoy countless æons of that bettered self hereafter ; Buddhism would have us purify ourselves that we may lose all sense of self for evermore.

For all that it preaches the essential vileness of the natural man, Christianity is a gospel of optimism. While it affirms that at present you are bad, it also affirms that this depravity is no intrinsic part of yourself. It unquestioningly asserts that it is something foreign to your true being. It even believes that in a more or less spiritual manner your very body will survive. It essentially clings to the ego. What it inculcates is really present endeavor sanctioned by the prospect of future bliss. It tacitly takes for granted the desirability of personal existence, and promises the certainty of personal immortality, — a terror to evil-doers, and a sustaining sense of coming unalloyed happiness to the good. Through and through its teachings runs the feeling of the fullness of life, that desire which will not die, that wish of the soul which beats its wings against its earthly casement in its longing for expansion beyond the narrow confines of threescore years and ten.

Buddhism, on the contrary, is the cri du cœur of pessimism. This life, it says, is but a chain of sorrows. To multiply days is only to multiply evil. These desires that urge us on are really cause of all our woe. We think they are ourselves. We are mistaken. They are all illusion, and we are victims of a mirage. This personality, this sense of self, is a cruel deception and a snare. Realize once the true soul behind it, devoid of attributes, therefore without this capacity for suffering, an indivisible part of the great impersonal soul of nature: then, and then only, will you have found happiness in the blissful quiescence of Nirvana.

With a certain poetic appropriateness, misery and impersonality were both present in the occasion that gave the belief birth. Many have turned to the consolations of religion by reason of their own wretchedness ; Gautama sought it, touched by the woes of others whom, in his own happy life journey, he chanced one day to meet. Shocked by the sight of human disease, old age, and death, sad facts to which hitherto he had been sedulously kept a stranger, he renounced the world that he might find for it an escape from its ills. His quest for mankind was immunity from suffering, not the active enjoyment of life. In this negative way of looking at happiness, he acted in conformity with the spirit of his world. For the doctrine of pessimism had already been preached. It underlay the whole Brahman philosophy, and everybody believed it implicitly. Already the East looked at this life as an evil, and had affirmed for the individual extinction to be happier than existence. The wish for an end to the ego, the hope to be eventually nothing, Gautama accepted for a truism as undeniably as the Brahmans did. What he denied was the Brahman prospectus of the way to reach this desirable impersonal state. That road, he said, could not possibly land the traveler where it professed, since it began wrong, and ended nowhere. The way, he asserted, is within you. You have but to realize the truth, and from that moment you will see your goal and the road that leads there. There is no panacea for human ills, of external application. The Brahman homœopathic treatment of sin is folly. The slaughtering of men and bulls cannot possibly bring life to the soul. To mortify the body for the sins of the flesh is futile, for in desire alone lies all the evil. Quench the desire, and then the deeds will die of inanition. Man himself is sole cause of his own misery. Get rid, said the Buddha, of these passions, these strivings for self, that hold the true soul a prisoner. They have to do with things which we know are transitory : how can they be immortal themselves ? We recognize them as subject to our will; they are, then, not the I.

As a man, he taught, becomes conscious that he himself is something distinct from his body, so, if he reflect and ponder, he will come to see that in like manner his appetites, ambitions, hopes, are really extrinsic to the spirit proper. Neither heart nor head is truly the man, for he is conscious of something that stands behind both. Behind desire, behind even the will, lies the soul, the same for all men, one with the soul of the universe. When he has once realized this eternal truth, the man has entered Nirvana. For Nirvana is not an absorption of the individual soul into the soul of all things, since the one has always been a part of the other. Still less is it utter annihilation. It is simply the recognition of the eternal oneness of the two, back through an everlasting past on to an everlasting future.

Such is the belief which the Japanese adopted, and which they profess to-day. Such to them is to be the dawn of death’s to-morrow; a blessed impersonal immortality, in which all sense of self, illusion that it is, shall itself have ceased to be; a long dreamless sleep, a beatified rest, which no awakening shall ever disturb.

Among such a people personal Christianity converts but few. They accept our material civilization, but they reject our creeds. To preach a prolongation of life appears to them like preaching an extension of sorrow. At most, Christianity succeeds but in making them doubters of what lies beyond this life. But though professing agnosticism while they live, they turn, when the shadows of death’s night come on, to the bosom of that faith which teaches that, whatever may have been one’s earthly share of happiness, “’t is something better not to be.”

Strange it seems at first that they who have looked so long to the rising sun for inspiration should be they who live only in a sort of lethargy of life, while those who for so many centuries have turned their faces steadily to the fading glory of the sunset should be the ones who have embodied the spirit of progress of the world. Perhaps the light, by its very rising, checks the desire to pursue ; in its setting it lures one on to follow.

Though this religion of impersonality is not their child, it is their choice. They embraced it with the rest that India taught them, centuries ago. But though just as eager to learn of us now as of India then, Christianity fails to commend itself. This is not due to the fact that the Buddhist missionaries came by invitation, and ours do not. Nor is it due to any want of personal character in these latter, but simply to an excess of it in their doctrines.

For the Far East is even more impersonal in its religion than are those from whom it came. India has returned again to its worship of Brahma, which, though impersonal enough, is in one respect less so than is the gospel of Gautama.

Buddhism bears to Brahmanism something like the relation that Protestantism does to Roman Catholicism. Both bishops and Brahmans undertake to save all who shall blindly commit themselves to professional guidance, while Buddhists and Protestants alike believe that a man’s salvation must be brought about by the action of the man himself. The result is that in the matter of individuality the two reformed beliefs are further apart than those against which they severally protested. For by the change the personal became more personal, and the impersonal more impersonal. The Protestant, from having tamely allowed himself to be led, began to take a lively interest in his own self - improvement; while the Buddhist, from a former apathetic acquiescence in what he was told, proceeded to work energetically towards self - obliteration. Curious labor for a mind, that of devoting all its strength to the thinking itself out of existence ! Not content with being born impersonal, a Far Oriental is constantly striving to make himself more so.

We have seen, then, how in trying to understand these peoples we are brought face to face with impersonality in each of those three expressions of the human soul, speech, thought, yearning. We have looked at them from a psychical standpoint rather than a sociological one. Instead of standing as foreigners on the threshold, we have sought to see the soul of their civilization as it lies revealed in its more direct manifestations of itself. We have pushed our inquiry, as it were, one step nearer its home. Had we in place of this examined their social characteristics, we should have met with a like result. Sociologically, the same trait would have been apparent which we have exposed in this perhaps new phase of psychical research. We should have found in vogue in the Far East a system of adoption sufficient of itself to prove a singular disregard of individuality among its adherents. We should have discovered patriarchal practices of so puerile a tendency as to be practically impossible to a people really grown up. We should have witnessed a want of competition in all the affairs of life incompatible with a pushing development of the ego. In social customs as in psychical states, impersonality would have furnished the key to comprehension.

Now what does this strange impersonality betoken ? Why are these peoples so different from us in this most fundamental of considerations to any people, — the consideration of themselves ? The answer leads to a very striking conclusion.



Side by side, in every one of us, with the instinct of self-preservation there exists another instinct, no less strong, which we may call the instinct of individuality. With the same innate tenacity with which we severally cling to life do we hold to the idea of our own identity. Sooner, indeed, would we forego this earthly existence than surrender that something we know as self. We can conceive of courting death ; we cannot imagine so much as exchanging our personality for another’s, still less of abandoning it altogether. Indeed,.the second shrinking is really the quintessence of the first. A man, all the more so as he gets older, grows to regard his body as, after all, separable from himself. It is the soul’s covering, rendered necessary by the climatic conditions of our present existence, and without which we could no longer live here. To forego it does not necessarily negative, as far as we yet know, the possibility of living elsewhere. Some more congenial tropic may be the spirit traveler’s fate. But to give up the sense of self seems to be like an eternal farewell to the soul. The Western mind refuses lodgment to the thought.

The clinging to one’s own identity, then, is now an instinct, whatever it may originally have been. It is a something we inherited from our ancestors, and which we shall transmit, more or less modified, to our descendants. How far back this consciousness has been felt passes the possibilities of history to determine, since the recording of it followed, not preceded, the fact. The Jews, when they undertook to trace back their family tree to a prehistoric garden of Eden, mentioned as growing there two other trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Of what character was this knowledge is inferable from the increased self-consciousness that followed the partaking of it. So that, if we please, we may attribute directly to Eve’s indiscretion the many evils of our morbid self-consciousness of the present day. But without indulging in unchivalrous reflections, we are morally certain of two things : first, that we now possess the sense of individuality; and secondly, that we are extremely loth to part with it. Contrasted with its prevalence here, the want of it in Far Eastern Asia may well strike us as suggestive. For modern science teaches us that we and they are kin. Our common humanity establishes a relationship, though ethnology may not yet have discovered the exact steps in the genealogy.

What, then, does so fundamental a dissimilarity mean ? It suggests, I think, a very pregnant thought. For it points to the importance of the part which the principle of individuality plays in the great drama daily being performed before our eyes, and which we know as evolution. It shows, as I shall hope to prove, that individuality bears the same relation to the development of mind that the differentiation of species does to the evolution of organic life; that the degree of individualization of a people is the self-registered measure of its place in the great march of mind.

Cosmic life, as distinguished from mere existence, consists, as we know, in a change from a state of simple homogeneity to one of complex heterogeneity. Now the force which causes this change, the life principle in organic things, is a subtle something which we call spontaneous variation.

What this mysterious impulse is lies beyond our recognition. As yet the ultimates of everything are hidden in the womb of the vast unknown. But just as in the life of a child we can see the vital force and predicate its action, so with our great cosmical laws we can say in what their power resides, though we know not really what they are. Whether mind be but another kind of matter, or whether it be a something incomparable with substance, of one thing we are certain, — the same laws of heredity govern both. A like chain of continuity leads in each from the present to the dim past, a line we can follow backwards in investigation. Now, what spontaneous variation is for matter, imagination is to mind. Just as spontaneous variation is constantly pushing the plant or the animal to stretch out, as a vine its tendrils, in all directions, while natural conditions are as continually exercising over it a sort of pruning power, so imagination is ever at work urging man’s mind out and on, while the sentiment of the community, commonly called common sense, which is simply the aggregate of the mental advances of the average, is as steadily tending to keep it at its own level. The environment has as much to do with shaping the development in the one case as in the other. Physical in the first, it is both physical and psychical in the second. But in both it is equally only a constraining condition, not the divine impulse itself. Precisely, then, as in organic life this subtle spirit, constantly checked here, finds a way to advance there, and produces in consequence a gradual separation into species, which grow wider with time, so in mental evolution the same force, for the same reasons, tends inevitably to an ever-increasing individualization.

But here a very pertinent question suggests itself. Man in his mind-development is bound to become more and more distinct from his neighbor; but does such distinction imply that he shall also become sensible of it ? Need he, in other words, grow more personal as he grows more individual ? The answer is that the two things are really one. Consciousness is the necessary attribute of mental action. Not only is it the sole way we have of knowing mind; without it there would be no mind to know. Not to be conscious of one’s self is, mentally speaking, not to be. Here it may not be out of place to note the relation between the two words “ individuality ” and “personality.” By individuality is not meant simply the isolation, in a corporeal casing, of a small part of the universal soul of mankind. For, as far as mind goes, this would not be individuality at all, but the reverse. By individuality we mean that bundle of ideas, thoughts, and daydreams which constitutes our separate identity, and by virtue of which we feel each one of us at home within himself.

Now personality is the effect of this complex entity on the consciousness of others, while a sense of individuality is the man’s own self-consciousness of his condition. All three words denote simply the three different aspects of the same thing, according as we regard it from an intrinsic, an altruistic, or an egoistic standpoint.

This psychological fact, that mental progression produces increasing individualization, is what Far Eastern civilization, taken in antithesis to our own, reveals. In doing this it explains incidentally its own seeming anomalies, most unaccountable of which, apparently, is its existence.

We have seen how impressively impersonal the Far East is. Now, if individuality be a natural measure of the height of civilization which a race has reached, we ought to find among these peoples certain other characteristics corroborative of their less advanced condition. In the first place, if imagination be the impelling force of which increase in individuality is the resulting motion, that quality should be at a minimum there. The Far Orientals ought to be a particularly unimaginative set of people. This is precisely what they are. Their lack of imagination is a well-recognized fact. It has been observed by all who have been brought in contact with them, by merchants quite as much as by students. Aston, in one of his pamphlets on the Altaic tongues, notes an instance of their matter-of-fact way of looking at things which is so much to the point that I venture to reproduce it here. He was a true Chinaman, he says, who, when his love-sick master asked him what he thought of

“ That orbed maiden
With white fires laden
Whom mortals call the moon,”

replied, " My thinkee all same lamp pidgin.” A lack of any fanciful ideas is one of the most salient traits of Far Eastern races, if indeed a lack of anything can properly be described as salient. Originality is not their strong point. Their inventions, though full of taste, are essentially realistic. Indirectly, their want of imagination betrays itself in their every-day sayings and doings, and more directly in every branch of creative work. Their entire ignoring of science shows this, and, paradoxical as it may appear at first sight, their art, in spite of its luxuriance, does the same.

Contrary, perhaps, to exogeric ideas on the subject, it is science, rather than art, that demands imagination of her votaries. Not that art may not involve the quality to a very high degree, but that a high degree of art is quite compatible with a very small amount of imagination. Take, for instance, painting, which among the so-called higher arts is the one these people are the most proficient in. Now painting begins its career in the humble character of copyist. Subsequently it rises above mere servile imitation. But that it may attain a high degree of excellence for itself and much distinction for its professors without calling in the aid of imagination is evident enough on this side of the globe, without going to the other. That the Chinese, and later the Japanese, have accomplished results at which the rest of the world will yet live to marvel is due to quite another quality, — taste. But taste or delicacy of perception has absolutely nothing to do with imagination. That the senses of Far Orientals are wonderfully developed, as also those parts of the brain that directly respond to them, is beyond question; but such sensitiveness does not in the least involve the less earth-tied portions of the intellect. A peculiar responsiveness to natural beauty, a sort of mental agreement with its earthly environment, is a marked feature of the Japanese mind. But appreciation, however intimate, is a very different thing from originality. The Far Oriental is essentially a realist, not an idealist.

In the next place, if the evolving force be less active in a race, three results will follow. First, of course, that race will not have advanced so far as others ; secondly, its rate of progress will be less rapid ; and lastly, its members will all be nearer together, just as shot driven from a gun with a smaller charge will at any observed moment be more bunched together, or as a stream in falling becomes, as its speed increases, more and more scattered into drops. All three consequences are visible in these peoples. The first result hardly needs to be proved to us who are only too ready to believe it without proof. It is a fact, nevertheless. We are further advanced in civilization than they. The second effect is scarcely less patent. Chinese conservatism has passed into a proverb. Indeed, in the Middle Kingdom the pendulum of pulsation long since came to rest at the medial dead point. The Chinaman’s disinclination to progress is something more than mere vis inertiœ ; it has grown into a passionate devotion to the status quo. The Japanese condition of affairs is rather different. Their tendency to stand still is of the purely passive, not of the active kind. Left to themselves, they are conservative enough, but they instantly copy a more advanced civilization the moment they get the chance. This proclivity on their part is not out of keeping with our theory. On the contrary, it is precisely what was to have been expected. For we see the very same apparent contradiction in characters we are thrown with every day. The less strong a man’s personality, the more prone is he to adopt the ideas of others, on the same general principle that a void more easily admits a foreign body than does space that is already occupied, or as a brilliant color produces more effect on a neutral background than when superimposed upon another equally brilliant but different tint.

The third result, the remarkable homogeneity of the people, is not, perhaps, so universally appreciated, but it is equally evident on inspection and quite as weighty in proof. Indeed, the word is a kind of charade on the existent state of things. For the difference between the extremes of mind-development in Japan is far less than with us. This lack of divergence exists not simply in certain lines of thought, but in all those things by which man is parted from the brutes. In intellect, in artistic sensibility, in delicacy of perception, it is the same story. The fact is patent historically. The men whose names Japan reveres are much less removed from the common herd than is the case in any Western land. It has been so from the beginning. Shakespeares and Newtons have never existed there. Japanese humanity is not the soil to produce them. But not only are the paths of wisdom untrod ; the purlieus of brutish ignorance are likewise unfrequented. On neither side of the medial line is the departure of individuals either far or frequent. All men there are more alike. Indeed, the place would seem to offer a sort of forlorn hope for disappointed socialists. Though religious missionaries have not met with any marked success among the natives, this other class of enthusiastic disseminators of an all-possessing belief might do well to attempt it. They would certainly find there their best field. It is true, human opposition would undoubtedly wreck the undertaking, but Nature, at least, would not present quite such insuperable obstacles as she wisely does with us.

The individual’s mind is, as it were, an isolated bit of the race mind. The same set of traits will be found in each. Mental characteristics there are a sort of common property, of which a certain undifferentiated portion is indiscriminately allotted to every man at birth. One soul resembles another so much that, in view of the patriarchal system under which they all exist, there seems to the stranger a peculiar appropriateness in so strong a mental family likeness. Some idea of how little one man’s mind differs from his neighbor’s may be gathered from the fact that while a common coolie in Japan spends his spare time in playing a chess twice as complicated as ours, the most advanced philosopher is still on the blissfully ignorant side of the pons asinorum.

Though a want of imagination has been the cause of this Far Eastern impersonality, the environment has helped in the process. These people have traveled very little. A race differs from an individual in its travels in one respect, namely, that while the former lives off the country, in the case of the latter it is the country that lives off him. The result is that, while the individual reaps cosmopolitanism as his recompense, a race is constantly driven in upon itself, in its struggle for existence, and becomes more personal as the outcome of the strife. The changed conditions under which it finds itself necessitate mental ingenuity to adapt them, and influence it unconsciously. To see how potent these influences prove we have but to look at that branch of the Aryan family that for so longnow has stayed at home. Destitute of stimulus from without, the IndoAryan mind turned on itself, and consumed in metaphysics the imagination which has made their cousins the leaders in the world’s progress to-day. The inevitable numbness of monotony crept over them. The deadly sameness of their surroundings began to tell. The torpor of the East, like some paralyzing poison, stole into their souls, and they fell asleep, and did but dream in the land they had formerly wrested from its possessors. Their birthright passed into the West.

That travel without imagination will not produce personality the Altaic peoples abundantly witness. The Huns, the Turks, and the Tartars have remained through all their wanderings nearly as impersonal as when they set out. Both causes combined to keep the Japanese, perhaps, the most impersonal of all.

One thing, then, this glance at Far Eastern civilization has shown. The soul in its progress through this world, at least, tends inevitably to individualization. Grand as is the great conception of Buddhism, majestic as is the idea of the stately rest it would lead us to, the road here below is not one the life of the world can follow. If earthly existence be an evil, then Buddhism will help us ignore it; but if, by an impulse we cannot explain, we instinctively crave activity of mind, then the great gospel of Gautama appeals to us in vain. As for Far Orientals, they but show too clearly the reverse of the medallion. That impersonality is not man’s earthly goal they unwittingly bear witness. Artistic, attractive people that they are, their civilization is like their tree flowers, beautiful blossoms destined never to bear fruit.

For whatever we may conceive their impersonality to foretell in the far future of another life, of one thing we may be certain : its immediate effect cannot but be annihilating. If they continue in their old course, their earthly career is closed. Just as surely as morning passes into afternoon, so surely are these races of the Far East, if unchanged, destined to disappear before the advancing peoples of the West. Vanish they will off the face of the earth, and leave the planet the eventual possession of the dwellers in the day’s decline. Unless their newly imported ideas really take root, it is from this whole world that Japanese and Koreans, as well as Chinese, will inevitably be excluded. Even now Nirvana has come upon them. Already it has wrapped Far Eastern Asia as with a shroud woven of the peaceful, deathlike beauty of the Land of the Day’s Beginning and the Land of its Morning Calm.

Percival Lowell.