The Ideal of Oriental Unity
To personify a nation and to invest it with certain definite attributes has always been an attractive short-cut to knowledge, and a convenient basis for sweeping judgments. It is not surprising that this method should have been applied with even greater boldness to a whole continent, for the infinite variety of Oriental life makes patient inquiry exceedingly perplexing. Such aphorisms as “The East is the East ” afford a welcome solution, but, it must be confessed, not one which will long satisfy the inquiring mind, or afford a reliable guidance in political action. It may therefore be worth while to make some search as to whether amid all this diversity of social phenomena there may actually be discovered a bond of unity. Are there elements in Oriental life universal and powerful enough to constitute a living unity of sentiment for the surging multitudes of the Orient ? What thoughts can they summon up which will stir in them such feelings as overcome us when we see the luminous masterpieces of the Greek chisel, or the soaring arches and pinnacles of Bourges; when we think of the civic wisdom of Rome, the blossoming of Christian ideals of the middle ages ? What names are there to compel homage and undying admiration, as the great ruler after whom all emperors are named ? What philosophers to compare with the two master-spirits in whom all our thoughts and systems have their source? What representatives of an Oriental world-literature as universal as the divine bard, or the exiled Ghibelline of Florence ?
Whether such a unity of thought and sentiment, such a common tradition of powerful personality exists in the Orient, appears at first sight very doubtful, indeed. We must constantly be on our guard against misleading similarities and antitheses. Truth resides neither in “ Yes ” nor in “ No,” neither in difference nor in identity, but in the shade or manner, the subtle relations of thought which lead one race or generation to emphasize classic form, while another dwells on inner force or romantic charm, both believing after all the same religion of beauty. Thus the analogies between Christianity and Buddhism are many, and Confucius solved the great moral problems in a manner not unlike that of other great moral teachers, so that his wisdom often appears trite to those who are looking for the strange and unaccustomed.
Indeed, it may be said that whatever has been thought has, at some time or other, been thought in Asia. But though the periphery and the contents of two theories may be almost identical, their import may nevertheless be immeasurably diverse, according to the nuance of emphasis imparted by the psychological background of primal motives and beliefs. Thus the theories of the advocate of Stuart absolutism and of the sentimental herald of the Revolution are almost identical in their component elements, when statically compared; yet how vastly different in import and result, though distribution of emphasis and grouping of their various concepts! Even thus it is with Gotama, Kapila, and Confucius; and we shall probably get closer to a real understanding of Asiatic unity and of the relations of East and West, if instead of enumerating and counterbalancing qualities and characteristics, and setting up a fixed standard called Oriental, we should rather try to seize the subtle and Protean temper animating Oriental races; and instead of dilating upon the whole complex of their beliefs and institutions, attempt to appreciate the shades and gradations of meaning, and to understand the temperamental background of Oriental life and thought. We may then perhaps find less Orientalism in Schopenhauer, as we have enough of pessimism in the West to supply sundry philosophers; nor shall we probably be confident enough to strike a balance between East and West that will settle categorically all questions of superiority and power of triumphant control. No glittering aphorisms will reward us; nor sensational thrills and excitements. These joys we must forego, if we desire to approach the Orient in the spirit typified by a Humboldt rather than in the excited fancy of the exorcist of war clouds and many-colored perils.
The Orient has always had a dangerous fascination for the West; it has filled the Western mind with vague longings, fantastic imaginings, and lurid forebodings. As fair Italy with Circean charm enticed the rough riders of the Alemannian forests, even so the Orient has always cast a powerful spell over the nations of the West. Her deep philosophy, her venerable history, command their wonder and respect; her potential energy and wealth arouse their cupidity. The Russian mind has been especially prone to such entrancing dreams. 73x8220; The grand and mysterious Orient — it is ours, it is through us that its destiny is to be realized.” Thus spake they, and they were the first to feel the mysterious power which they hoped to bind to their will and make the instrument of a boundless ambition. Such vague aspirations make the romance of history, but they also make the heart-rending misery of the patient poor.
Two utterances by prominent British statesmen have recently caused a great wave of discussion in the intellectual world of the East, particularly in India. On account of their deep effect — due to very different causes — they deserve our attention, and may reveal to us some interesting views of the temper of the Oriental mind. When Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, fond of imperial display and realizing the importance of an impressive ceremonial, was always ready to take advantage of occasions of public moment. It being a part of his official life to personify both the grandeur and the wisdom of the British raj, he was not satisfied with the mere outward pomp and trappings of royal splendor, but also addressed himself to the intelligence of his subjects in dignified discourses. But the homily which, shortly before his resignation, lie delivered at the Convocation of the University of Calcutta seems to have gone far towards destroying whatever assuaging effect his former diplomatic utterances had exerted. Speaking before a select body of the intellectual aristocracy of India, he pronounced his views on some aspects of Oriental character. Though he directed his remarks to the graduating students, his words were interpreted by all his hearers, as well as by those to whom they were reëchoed through the Indian press, as an insult deliberately offered to the moral character of India.
The words which thus stirred up the resentment of a whole nation, and which are even now being discussed throughout Asia, would not at first sight strike us as extravagant, accustomed as we are to the most harebrained generalizations about Oriental races. But their solemn recital in the face of a representative Indian audience, on an occasion generally consecrated to soothing commonplaces, is a poignant instance of the traditional defectiveness of the British sense of humor. Such sentences as the following aroused the storm which has not yet subsided: —
“The highest ideal of truth is to a large extent a Western conception. . . . Truth took a higher place in the moral codes of the West long before it had been similarly honored in the East, where craftiness and diplomatic wile have always been held in repute. We may prove it by the common innuendo that lurks in the words ‘ Oriental diplomacy,’ by which is meant something rather tortuous and hypersubtle.” Lord Curzon then specified that the most ordinary forms which falsehood takes in Indian life are exaggeration, flattery, and vilification.
The retorts to this salutatory address were legion, and ran through the whole gamut of feeling, from bitter recrimination to dignified regret at the Viceroy’s absolute misunderstanding of native life and ideals. There was no scarcity of material for retort, when the records of the British conquest in India were raked up. Lord Lytton’s definition of a diplomat, and such well-known epithets as “ perfide Albion,” not to speak of more pointed and personal charges, were cited to neutralize the innuendo; while a strange light was cast upon Western veracity by recounting the methods of American fraud concerns. Comparisons between the Greek and the Indian epic readily revealed the unfoundedness of Lord Curzon’s allusion to the historic development of the sense of truthfulness; Greek practice, too, was very unfavorably contrasted with that of Asiatic nations like Persia. General surprise was expressed at the rash generalizations of the Viceroy: “ The idea of summing up a whole continent in a single phrase can occur only to the very ignorant or the very confident.” Lord Curzon had given rein to the “ ignorant conceit of pigment and power,” and had emulated the modern Elijah in berating a whole nation. Sarcastic references to Western forms of speech are now common in India, such as: “ a new liquorshop, — they call it a saloon in the more truthful phraseology of civilized Europe.”
The occurrence, however, stirred up feelings deeper than a mere passing resentment and irritation. It led to an earnest self-analysis, and an accounting was taken of the Indian intellectual temper in its relation to the European rulers. While the most serious-minded among the educated Hindus freely admitted that the strictures of Lord Curzon were not entirely unfounded, they with bitterness of heart advanced the charge that if the character and the national self-respect of the Indian people had been impaired, such was the inevitable result of unfreedom and political subjection. “ The greatest evil,” they said, “ that has been wrought by the political dominion of England over India is the loss of our old oriental dignity and reserve —that nobility of knowdng reticence.” Despotism and lying go together, as the national spirit is debased by subjection, and the individual who is oppressed will, like the boy, look upon a falsehood as an abomination unto the Lord, but a very present help in trouble. That the head of the alien government should charge a nation with weaknesses which might largely be attributed to its position of dependence, was to add gratuitous insult to an injury for which his own people were in part responsible.
But aside from a certain degeneracy imposed by unkind conditions, the full tragedy of which they keenly felt, the leaders of Indian thought would not admit that veracity and honesty are held in less esteem in the Orient than among European peoples. They pointed out, however, a highly important difference in valuations, the spirit of which Lord Curzon most strangely had failed to perceive. While freely admitting the greater exactness of the Western mind in observation and statement, they attributed this not to superior honesty but to a keener perception of the utility of accurate thought. Veracity is a social and commercial commodity in England and America, in many cases scarcely involving any moral valuations at all. If, on the other hand, the Oriental is prone to exaggeration, this is not due to a deliberate desire to deceive and to impart false impressions. His temper being emotional and idealistic, he makes known his impressions in a language, not mathematically precise and coldly accurate, but designed to awaken the same emotions of surprise, wonder, admiration, or fear, which he himself experiences. He is not dishonest, though his statements lack accuracy. In the words of an Indian writer, “ It will not do to exaggerate the heating power of the sun, if you want to roast your beef by his rays. When, however, you do not desire to install the luminary of day as your chef, but to contemplate his majesty and glory, to meditate on the promise of his morning rays, and read the message of his dying splendors, then the play of the poetic imagination becomes an essential condition.” Educated Hindus are inclined to doubt whether the standard of utility is higher than the emotional and spiritual standard of the Indian mind.
In considering the question of the valuations of the ideal of truth, I need not repeat Max Müller’s brilliant vindication of the essential truthfulness of Oriental races, nor should we perhaps be ready to follow him in every detail of his apologetics. But we shall find that most fundamental honesty which requires that our actions should correspond to our profession and our beliefs, in as high regard among the Oriental peoples as among those of the West. The ideals of their beliefs may be less elevated than our own, but at any rate there is less variance between actions and belief among Confucians, Shintoists, and Buddhists than among the majority of good Christian people. Moreover, a more honest attitude towards the problems of life than that which characterizes the thought of Buddha and Confucius can hardly be imagined; the relations of life are clearly seen, social duties are faithfully met, and no facile optimism is allowed to gloss over life’s tragedies. Buddha faced unflinchingly the misery of existence, and without appealing for salvation to a future state, worked with a will to discover the path by which men can gain peace and an ennobled life here below. Such a system, if not true, is certainly at least honest.
Nothing has set up a more impassable barrier between the peoples of the East and the West than the profound discrepancy between Christian profession and practice. The deceitful selfishness, the rapacity and bloodshed, with which Christian nations have established their power in the Orient, the viciousness of the earlier adventurers and traders, have thoroughly alienated sympathy and destroyed confidence. When, after the revolting record of the Chinese War, the Western nations offer themselves as moral exhorters, the cultured Oriental is tempted to smile at the incongruity. But the disillusionment which is thus created has its tragic side, too. How pathetic is the blighted hope and utter despair of an ardent convert like Nilakantha Goreh, whose high expectations of Christian life are disappointed! After cutting loose from his earlier beliefs, and thereby bringing deep sorrow on all his beloved ones (his father took the vow of eternal silence, so as not to have to pronounce the curse against his son), this young Indian scholar came to England to live in that atmosphere of love and purity whose ideal simplicity had attracted his soul after he had fought his way through all the systems of Indian philosophy. But, after six weeks in London, he came to his Oxford mentor with the sorrowful words, “ If what I have seen in London is Christianity, I am no longer a Christian.” His noble and brilliant intellect was ultimately wrecked through his great disillusionment. So it is possible that under the law of compensation we may have lost in honesty of life while we have gained in exactness of statement and thought.
Though the appreciation of scientific exactness has of late increased very much in the Orient, yet Oriental thinkers are not ready to give it quite an absolutely leading importance among their ideals. It is in this connection that the other utterance I have mentioned — a recent address of Mr. Balfour as president of the British Association of Science — created a powerful impression in the Orient. He discussed the electrical theory of matter, the latest result of the advances of physical science, according to which the world is motion or energy, expressed in terms of electric monads. Under recent discoveries the supposed solidity of matter has melted away; with proper light we may now look through the heart of oak, nor will the massive fortress wall resist these penetrating rays. The solid mountains and ancient strata of our earth are themselves but imprisoned energy, and all our perceptions are the result of winged motion. After dwelling on the marvelous vistas thus disclosed, the philosophical prime minister said, “ It may seem singular that down to five years ago, our race has, without exception, lived and died in a world of illusions, and that these illusions have not been about things remote or abstract, things transcendental or divine, but about what men see and handle, about those ’plain matters of fact’ among which common sense moves with its most confident step and most self-satisfied smile.” Thus our sensual sight and touch have been deceived, and it is only through the inspired vision, the penetrating imagination, of great scientific seers, that the truth of the real constitution of the universe is beginning to dawn upon our intelligence. Mr. Balfour further notes that through evolution our senses have not been prepared for the vision of the inner and absolute truth of things. The common sense of humanity lives in persistent illusion; “ matter of fact ” means deception. The needs of selfand racepreservation lead to all the falsehoods and deceits involved in the shrewdness of competitive life, the illusions of sexual selection, and the master fallacy of narrow patriotism.
When Western thinkers express and suggest such thoughts as these they awaken a strange echo in the philosophy of the East in both Hindu and Buddhist lands: — the vanity and illusoriness of sensual existence, the veil of Maya cast over us which produces the delusion of the ego, of finite personality; and the Buddhist belief that the desire for individual existence is the root of all suffering, that true happiness comes alone from the perception of the transitoriness of all things and from the gradual conquest of the error of self. As the implications of these views have been fully realized in the East, the attitude of the Oriental mind towards the practical, scientific knowledge, which we value so highly, has differed greatly from our own. The usefulness of science for increasing the comforts of life is indeed admitted, and use will be made of its guidance for practical purposes; but to the Oriental, soullife will always be more important than bodily existence. Buddhism, in the words of one of its adherents, finds its goal rather in the delights of a deep appreciation of the realities of existence, in the exercise of the higher mental faculties, in a life transfused with every-day beauty, than in the possession of innumerable means of advancing wealth and commerce, of gratifying sense, of promoting mere bodily comfort.
As the Oriental strives to overcome the fetters and limitations of personal existence, so his mind yearns rather towards the vast mysteries that surround life on all sides; it loves to dwell on the problems of infinitude and of the ultimate springs of human action, rather than to confine itself within the narrow limits of a detailed scientific investigation. Notwithstanding the sane and positivist teachings of Buddha and Confucius, their insistence on the duties of present life, their refusal to pass in thought beyond the awful gates of life and death, the yearning of the Oriental mind had been towards the mysterious. From the Tantra devils of Thibet, through the awestruck philosophies of Hinduism, to the subtle imaginings of ghostly Japan, this tendency to contemplate the mysterious, the grand, the faraway in time and space, is powerfully present. Day with its solar splendor, with its clear and bright illumination, reveals the form and color of things near by, of household, meadow, and forest; yet this very brightness and effulgence is a heavy curtain that conceals from our sight the universe, the myriads of worlds which the clearness of night will unveil. Compared to these our empires are but fragments of dust. Even so to the Oriental the clear light of experimental science seems but a shred of that veil of Maya which hides the real, the universal, the absolute, from our sight.
The reason for this peculiar Asiatic bent toward the mystic, as compared with the white-light intelligence of Europe, may perhaps be found in the constant presence of overawing natural phenomena. Europe, with its narrow valleys, its rivers across which any stronglimbed man may swim, its equable temperature, its normal succession of seasons, is indeed the place where human intelligence could learn to respect itself, and man conceive the thought of measuring his powers with those of nature. But stand before the heaven-conquering walls of the Himalayas; gaze across the continents of sand in Asiatic deserts, shifted again and again by storm so as to sweep away or create anew veritable mountain ranges; contemplate the torrents which without warning bring destruction to thousands, and the inundations in which hosts lose home and life; think of earthquakes, typhoons, tidal waves, and the black scourge of famine and pestilence as constantly impending; and then apostrophize man and his intelligence as the master of it all; and you will find few believers among the cowed sufferers from the imperious caprice of nature.
Overawed by such forces, surrounded by a nature bountiful and caressing at one moment, bitterly cruel and destructive the next, the Orient could not avoid a temper of mind which looks on human contrivance as weak, on human existence as valueless, and sees real force and permanent sway only in the vast, mysterious powers of earth and sky. Personality, a mere plaything of the grim and irresponsible, cannot have any importance in itself; and the best solution is that all this terror-inspiring existence is but a phantasmagoria, an illusion, a procession of incongruous dream-states. And yet it is an emanation of the universal force. The impersonality of the Orient has for its counterpart an intensive appreciation of the universal force, whatever it may be called. For as the individual counts as nothing in the philosophy of the Brahman and the Buddhist, in the polity of China and Japan, it is the realization of the universal spirit or force, in some form or other, that constitutes the chief yearning of the Asiatic mind.
The Hindu spiritualizes and personifies nature in his crowded pantheon, and sees in all phenomena the expression of one mysterious will; Buddhism, admitting neither spirit, human or divine, yet finds peace and happiness in the elevation of the individual mind to the plane of universal thought, to the contemplation of universal law. In China and Japan the universal is worshiped in the form of ancestral achievement, in that strange identification of ancestral spirits with the soul of the country; so that, in the minds of the people, sacred Fuji and the groves and rivers and seas of Japan are united with the qualities of that silent but ever-present choir of ghosts from which Japan draws her inspiration and strength.
From our one-sided point of view, we would say that humanity in the Orient, overpowered by destiny in the shape of natural catastrophe, famine, pestilence, and war, has not yet found itself. It has never enjoyed the shelter of the Greek city in which Western humanity first became conscious of its powers and its individuality. For though the great master Gotama had a clear vision of human spiritual development, his simple and austere faith has been overlaid by the powerful impulse of Asiatic nature, with a rank growth of animism and mysticism. And though Confucius, too, clung to the practical, his very authority in the course of time deadened individual striving and advance. Oriental humanity has indeed found itself in the nation of Japan, in that brave race which, drawing courage and poetry from the very terrors of the grave, with all the deep suggestiveness of Asiatic insight, has still the iron grip of self-control and the clear vision of the practical.
The Orient shuns limitations. Indeed, if we may be permitted to generalize, one of the chief differences between Oriental and Western civilization lies in the fact that the former has never strictly and consistently limited the field of its consciousness and of its endeavors, but has allowed all the sensations and passions of past and present, of the indefinite and the infinite, to crowd in upon it, so that the sense of individual form in thought and life has not been developed. While in the West, expressing itself in the idea of classicism, and in the concrete sense of form of the Greeks, there has been a steady effort to confine human thought and sentiment within certain lines, to dwell on certain aspects of life which seemed to be most closely connected with human personality as a dominant factor; excluding the fierce and untoward moods of nature, and suppressing certain weird and uncanny tendencies of thought as abnormal and in fact insane.
But such classic limitations of individuality are not of the spirit of the Orient. Rather than limit the individual formally and thus allow the development of characteristic individualism, it would identify him with the social body, and his soul with the world-soul. Thus also, while most punctilious of social forms, and bowing to a super-refined social etiquette, it does not countenance the tyranny of shifting fashions, or the conventional respectability founded on a certain exclusiveness of the individual
It is considered a meritorious thing for the householder and father to leave behind him the confining relations of family life and to become a hermit or monk. The man who leaves his home and family, dresses himself in rags, and ravages his body with hardships and ill-usage, may become an honored teacher, the intellectual and spiritual guide to many. Men love to cast off the shackles of respectability and take to the highways and the woods; and they gain merit by so doing. They are the religious, the philosophers, the inspiration of the multitudes. To the people they appear to realize various immunities. In India, hermits come year after year from the mountains to visit valley towns, showing no signs of aging as long as generations can remember. This same longing for the unlimited, the unrestrained, together with the influence of terrific natural phenomena in Asia, lies at the bottom of the uncanny horror and mystery of Asiatic life. In the delicate ghost stories of Japan this feeling has assumed a graceful and poetic aspect, the æsthetic possibilities of awe and terror have been realized to the full. But in India, where coarse magic flourishes and preys on a superstitious multitude, the awfulness of the abysses of human consciousness may be divined.
The Greek portrayal of death has in this respect sounded the keynote of our civilization. The terror, the heartrending ugliness of dissolution, the hopeless void, are not in the remotest way suggested; the gentleness of grief, the sweetness of consolation, the companionship of loved ones, are represented; while death himself is a friendly genius summoning to rest. And so in our history we early outgrew ancestor-worship, and resolutely turning our back on the past, with all its degrading memories and bestial struggles, we faced the morning of hope, the promise of a sunny day.
Deep in the night of subconsciousness there is still a dark and unclean deposit of wilder ages, of sordid life, cruelty, ignoble conquest, and harsh passions. In the elemental fury of war, these lower instincts awaken, and men whom we love as friends and brothers may be dragged down to the level of a bestial age. But the total effect of our civilization and education is to draw our consciousness away from such impulses, to concentrate our vision upon our present ideals. For how could we preserve a sense of individuality and spirituality, were we to be dragged back constantly into the terrors and passions of primitive ages ?
Much of the potent charm of Japanese life and poetry comes from the ever imminent sense of an abysmal void which threatens to swallow up her flowery meadows and her silent temple groves. May the earthquake never come that will again bring uppermost the dead past in Japan. The Orient, through constant musing on the mysterious and hidden, may have fortified itself against the coarser aspects of the primitive in man, but its development, yes, its very existence, has been jeopardized by this lack of limitation. Japan, it is true, has transfused these elements into a marvelous poetry of life, of which Lafcadio Hearn is the eloquent interpreter; but the other peoples of the Orient have thus far failed to attain such a balance.
While the psychological unity of the Oriental nations has not been so clearly and definitely worked out as it has been in the West, notwithstanding all minor national idiosyncrasies, still the Orient has also had its share of international unifying influences. The sacred places in India where the great teacher lived have for two thousand years attracted pilgrims from all parts of the Buddhist world; and earnest students have sought deeper wisdom by communing with the monks of famous monasteries in Burmah and Ceylon. Ever since the embassy of Emperor Ming-ti sought for the new gospel in the year 61, and the sage Fa-hien undertook his great journey, India has thus been visited by seekers after new light. Also the apostles of India’s missionary religion, in its first age of flourishing enthusiasm, spread the teaching of Gotama to all the lands of Southern and Eastern Asia, even from Palestine, where they implanted the germs of the Western monastic system, to the far islands of the rising sun. Thus Buddhism became the greatest unifying force in Asia, and no name or personality commands a wider and more sincere homage than he who found the light and pointed the way, the great teacher “ who never spake but good and wise words, he who was the light of the world.” And so it is that also in more recent epochs, down to our own day, his thought and life have been and are the chief centre of the common feelings and enthusiasms of Asia.
The great age of illumination under the Sung dynasty in China saw the beginning of the attempts to merge and fuse Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian thought, in Neo-Confucianism, called by Okakura “a brilliant effort to mirror the whole of Asiatic consciousness.” It was Buddhist monks and missionaries who acted as messengers between China and Japan in that great formative period of a thousand years, in which all the currents of Indian and Chinese civilization made their impress upon Japanese national character. And under the Tokugawa régime the independent spirits of Japan trained themselves for the demands of an exacting epoch in the thought of Wang-yangming, or Oyomei, which, informed with the noblest ideals and the deepest insight of Buddhism, joins to these a zest in active life, an ardent desire to participate in the surging development in which the universe and human destiny are unfolding themselves. In this school, which combines a truly poetic sentiment for the pathos of fading beauty and fleeting fragrance, for the ghostliness of an existence made up of countless vibrations of past joy and suffering, with the courageous desire to see clearly and act with energy, to share to the full in this great battle we call life, — in this school were trained the statesmen and warriors of Satsuma and Choshiu who have led Japan to greatness in peace and glory in war.
The unity of Asiatic civilization has found an actual embodiment in the spirit of Japan. There it is not the product of political reasoning, nor the discovery of philosophical abstraction. All the phenomena of the overpowering natural world of Asia are epitomized in the islands of the morning sun, where nature is as luxuriant and as forbidding, as caressing and as severe, as fertile and as destructive, as in all that cyclorama of storm, earthquake, typhoon, flood, and mountain vastness which we call Asia. Even thus has Japan in the course of her historic development received by gradual accretion the fruit of all Asiatic thought and endeavor. Nor have these waves from the mainland washed her shores in vain; her national life has not been the prey of capricious conquerors — imposing for a brief time a sway that would leave no permanent trace on the national life. Her mind and character have received and accepted these continental influences, as the needs of her own developing life have called for them; they have not been received perforce or by caprice, but have exerted a moulding influence and have been assimilated into a consistent, deep, and powerful national character. A psychological unity has thus been created — an actual expression of the flesh and blood of life — in touch with the national ideals and ambitions of a truly patriotic race.
This is a far different matter from the mere intellectual recognition of certain common beliefs, ideals, and institutions throughout the Orient. On such a perception of unity at most a certain intellectual sympathy could be founded. But in Japan the Oriental spirit has become flesh — it has ceased to be a bloodless generalization, and it now confronts the world in the shape of a nation conscious of the complicated and representative character of its psychology, and ardently enthusiastic over the loftiness of its mission. We know Japanese patriotism as national, inspired by loyalty to the Mikado and by love for the land of Fujiyama; we may soon learn to know it as Asiatic — deeply stirred by the exalting purpose of aiding that Asiatic thought-life which has made Japan to come to its own and preserve its dignity and independence through all the ages. Must we view with apprehension such a broadening of Japanese patriotism ? Does not danger threaten the world from having Japan inscribe upon her banner the unity of the Orient and the preservation of its ideals ?
It is said that Asia is pessimistic. Yet her pessimism is not the sodden gloom of despair, whose terrifying scowl we encounter in European realistic art, and which is the bitter fruit of perverted modes of living. The pessimism of Asia, which makes the charm of her poetry, from Firdusi to the writers of the delicate Japanese Haikai, is rather a soothing, quieting, æsthetic influence, like the feeling of sadness which touches the heart at the sight of great beauty, and which perhaps is due to the memory of all the yearnings and renunciations in the experience of a long chain of lives. The pessimism of the Orient is tragic, rather than cynical, and Japan at the present time gives proof of the fact that the spirit of tragedy belongs to strong nations.
As tragedy was the art of the Greeks before Pericles and of the Elizabethan English, so modern Japan draws strength from that deep undercurrent of tragic feeling in her nature. The attitude of the Japanese mind is further apparent from its conception of suicide; the hara-kiri is not a cowardly escape from the burdens of life, it is rather a supreme effort to concentrate all the powers of personality towards the righting of a wrong, or the achievement of a high purpose, which no other sacrifice would attain. Nor is Buddhism itself in any sense nihilistic, as is so often supposed. The goal of Nirvana is not a negative—self-annihilation— but a positive ideal, “life made glorious by self-conquest and exalted by boundless love and wisdom.” The preponderance of ill is admitted, but there is no utter despair of redemption from care and suffering: the diligent development of right thought, the acquisition of that high training which enables the mind to extricate itself from vulgar error and to share the serene peace of impersonal vision—that is the way of salvation. Such tendencies of mind as these cannot indeed be branded as dangerous by simply stamping them with the mark “ pessimism.”
It is said that the Orient is despotic. And yet nowhere are governmental functions more circumscribed than in countries like China. Oriental despotism does not mean constant governmental interference. The despot is, indeed, irresistible when he does act; but he will not choose to act contrary to the general customs of the realm, because these customs are sacred, and on their sacredness his own customary authority depends. It is the people who through continued action make the customs, and they are little interfered with in the management of their local affairs. Though China has no parliament, its social organization is thoroughly democratic. Nor is the Orient subject to industrial tyrannies. Its industries are carried on in the family home, and form part of the family life; the joy of work has not departed, for the workman does not toil in a dreary prison-house, and the soul has not been taken out of his work. As the object of his labor grows under his hand, he rejoices in the perfection of form, and to the satisfaction of the artisan is added the delight of the artist. Thus it is that in the Orient art with all the joy of beauty that it brings has not gone out of the life of the people, has not become an exclusive and artificial language understood only by the few, a minister to luxury and indolent ease. It has retained its true function of pervading all human life with a subtle aroma of refinement and joy.
In ideals such as these it would be difficult to discover the rampant and infuriate dragon of Emperor William’s imagination. Indeed, the temper of Oriental civilization is preëminently peaceful. China has imparted her civilization to all the peoples of the Far East, but she has never attempted to impose her rule upon them by conquest; and of Buddhism alone of all great religions can it be said that it never carried on a propaganda with the sword. The great peoples of the plains of India and China have been too peaceful to resist the conquerors, but they have been strong and patient enough to subdue the victors to their own civilization. The conquering hordes of Asia have come, not from the civilized plains, but from the rude and inhospitable mountain haunts of Turkestan and Mongolia. At their hands peaceful Asia has suffered even more than turbulent Europe, and Japan alone has never been forced to bow before a victorious foe.
If the Orient is allowed more fully to realize these inherent tendencies of its spirit, and to develop along its own natural lines, in a life of peace and artistic industry, true humanity should rejoice, for its purposes would be accomplished. The unity of all human life, the brotherhood of man, is the essential doctrine of the most potent religion of the East. Only if diverted from these ideals by continued injustice and aggression, by a rude attempt to subject these ancient societies to an alien law of life, could the spirit of the Orient be led to assume a threatening and destructive attitude.
After her great successes, Japan was acclaimed by the peoples of the Orient as the Lohengrin who is to champion and protect the honor of Asia; and though there has since been much doubt as to her real purposes, it is not too late for Japan to realize the responsibilities of her position over against the countries to which she owes so much in her civilization. Thus far the ideas of Asiatic unity have been vague and conflicting; the Orient has not possessed that definite stock of common concepts and ideals which constitute the psychological unity of Europe. And hence, also, the conventional and vulgar antithesis of Orient and the West, with its sharp delineations of ideals, has been altogether misleading. As the perception of a certain unity of Oriental development becomes clearer, and as the historic sense is strengthened through the rise of a strong political entity in Japan, we may look for powerful conscious efforts to realize an Oriental unity of spirit and civilization. But when we examine the chief elements upon which such a unity would have to be founded, were it to take as its basis the historic facts of Asiatic life, we can find in them no strident contrast to our ideals.
Nothing, indeed, vouches so much for the ultimate unity of the human race as the fact that the most characteristic expressions of Asiatic thought are not utterly alien to us, but on the contrary they powerfully touch the most secret heartstrings and appeal to our deepest emotions. This is, of course, not surprising when we go back to the Aryan background of Indian civilization. The images and ideas of the Vedic age find a ready response in our poetic experience; Indra, Varuna, and the goddess of dawn appear familiar figures. But even the favorite words of Buddhist devotion uttered to-day by hundreds of thousands as they place their gifts of fresh flowers before the image of the Great Teacher,— a meditation rather than a prayer, for there are no gods to invoke in pure Buddhism, — even these have not an utterly alien sound to us: —
“ These flowers I offer in memory of Him, the Lord, the Holy One, the Supremely-enlightened Buddha, even as the Enlightened Ones in ages past, the Saints and Holy of all times have offered. Now are these flowers fair of form, glorious in color, sweet of scent. Yet soon will all have passed away — withered their fair form, faded the bright hues, and foul the flowers’ scent! Thus even is it with all component things: Impermanent, and full of Sorrow and Unreal. —Realizing this, may we attain unto that peace which is beyond all life! ”