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Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East

Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East
Title: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East
Release Date: 2017-10-05
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 94
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Of whatever dimension, the temples or shrines of pure Shintō are allbuilt in the same archaic style. The typical shrine is a windowlessoblong building of unpainted timber, with a very steep overhangingroof; the front is the gable end; and the upper part of the perpetuallyclosed doors is wooden lattice-work,—usually a grating of barsclosely set and crossing each other at right angles. In most casesthe structure is raised slightly above the ground on wooden pillars;and the queer peaked façade, with its visor-like apertures and thefantastic projections of beam-work above its gable-angle, might remindthe European traveler of certain old Gothic forms of dormer. There isno artificial color. The plain wood[1] soon turns, under the action ofrain and sun, to a natural grey, varying according to surface exposurefrom the silvery tone of birch bark to the sombre grey of basalt. Soshaped and so tinted, the isolated country yashiro may seem less likea work of joinery than a feature of the scenery,—a rural form relatedto nature as closely as rocks and trees,—a something that came intoexistence only as a manifestation of Ohotsuchi-no-Kami, the Earth-god,the primeval divinity of the land.

Why certain architectural forms produce in the beholder a feeling ofweirdness is a question about which I should like to theorize someday: at present I shall venture only to say that Shinto shrines evokesuch a feeling. It grows with familiarity instead of weakening; and aknowledge of popular beliefs is apt to intensify it. We have no Englishwords by which these queer shapes can be sufficiently described,—muchless any language able to communicate the peculiar impression whichthey make. Those Shinto terms which we loosely render by the words"temple" and "shrine" are really untranslatable;—I mean that theJapanese ideas attaching to them cannot be conveyed by translation. Theso-called "august house" of the Kami is not so much a temple, in theclassic meaning of the term, as it is a haunted room, a spirit-chamber,a ghost-house; many of the lesser divinities being veritablyghosts,—ghosts of great warriors and heroes and rulers and teachers,who lived and loved and died hundreds or thousands of years ago. Ifancy that to the Western mind the word "ghost-house" will convey,better than such terms as "shrine" and "temple," some vague notion ofthe strange character of the Shinto miya or yashiro,—containingin its perpetual dusk nothing more substantial than symbols or tokens,the latter probably of paper. Now the emptiness behind the visoredfront is more suggestive than anything material could possibly be;and when you remember that millions of people during thousands ofyears have worshipped their great dead before such yashiro,—thata whole race still believes those buildings tenanted by viewlessconscious personalities,—you are apt also to reflect how difficultit would be to prove the faith absurd. Nay! in spite of Occidentalreluctances,—in spite of whatever you may think it expedient to sayor not to say at a later time about the experience,—you may verylikely find yourself for a moment forced into the attitude of respecttoward possibilities. Mere cold reasoning will not help you far in theopposite direction. The evidence of the senses counts for little: youknow there are ever so many realities which can neither be seen norheard nor felt, but which exist as forces,—tremendous forces. Thenagain you cannot mock the conviction of forty millions of people whilethat conviction thrills all about you like the air,—while consciousthat it is pressing upon your psychical being just as the atmospherepresses upon your physical being. As for myself, whenever I am alone inthe presence of a Shinto shrine, I have the sensation of being haunted;and I cannot help thinking about the possible apperceptions of thehaunter. And this tempts me to fancy how I should feel if I myself werea god,—dwelling in some old Izumo shrine on the summit of a hill,guarded by stone lions and shadowed by a holy grove.

Elfishly small my habitation might be, but never too small, because Ishould have neither size nor form. I should be only a vibration,—amotion invisible as of ether or of magnetism; though able sometimes toshape me a shadow-body, in the likeness of my former visible self, whenI should wish to make apparition.

As air to the bird, as water to the fish, so would all substance bepermeable to the essence of me. I should pass at will through the wallsof my dwelling to swim in the long gold bath of a sunbeam, to thrill inthe heart of a flower, to ride on the neck of a dragon-fly.

Power above life and power over death would be mine,—and the power ofself-extension, and the power of self-multiplication, and the power ofbeing in all places at one and the same moment. Simultaneously in ahundred homes I should hear myself worshiped, I should inhale the vaporof a hundred offerings: each evening, from my place within a hundredhousehold shrines, I should see the holy lights lighted for me inlamplets of red clay, in lamplets of brass,—the lights of the Kami,kindled with purest fire and fed with purest oil.

But in my yashiro upon the hill I should have greatest honor: therebetimes I should gather the multitude of my selves together; thereshould I unify my powers to answer supplication.

From the dusk of my ghost-house I should look for the coming ofsandaled feet, and watch brown supple fingers weaving to my bars theknotted papers which are records of vows, and observe the motion of thelips of my worshipers making prayer:—

—"Harai-tamai kiyomé-tamaé! ... We have beaten drums, we havelighted fires; yet the land thirsts and the rice fails. Deign out ofthy divine pity to give us rain, O Daimyōjin!"

—"Harai-tamai kiyomé-tamaé! ... I am dark, too dark, because I havetoiled in the field, because the sun hath looked upon me. Deign thouaugustly to make me white, very white,—white like the women of thecity, O Daimyōjin!"

—"Harai-tamai kiyomê-tamaé!... For Tsukamoto Motokichi our son, asoldier of twenty-nine: that he may conquer and come back quickly tous,—soon, very soon,—we humbly supplicate, O Daimyōjin!"

Sometimes a girl would whisper all her heart to me: "Maiden of eighteenyears, I am loved by a youth of twenty. He is good; he is true; butpoverty is with us, and the path of our love is dark. Aid us with thygreat divine pity!—help us that we may become united, O Daimyōjin!"Then to the bars of my shrine she would hang a thick soft tress ofhair,—her own hair, glossy and black as the wing of the crow, andbound with a cord of mulberry-paper. And in the fragrance of thatoffering,—the simple fragrance of her peasant youth,—I, the ghost andgod, should find again the feelings of the years when I was man andlover.

Mothers would bring their children to my threshold, and teach themto revere me, saying, "Bow down before the great bright God; makehomage to the Daimyōjin." Then I should hear the fresh soft clappingof little hands, and remember that I, the ghost and god, had been afather.

Daily I should hear the plash of pure cool water poured out for me, andthe tinkle of thrown coin, and the pattering of dry rice into my woodenbox, like a pattering of rain; and I should be refreshed by the spiritof the water, and strengthened by the spirit of the rice.

Festivals would be held to honor me. Priests, black-coiffed andlinen-vestured, would bring me offerings of fruits and fish andseaweed and rice-cakes and rice-wine,—masking their faces withsheets of white paper, so as not to breathe upon my food. And themiko their daughters, fair girls in crimson hakama and robes ofsnowy white, would come to dance with tinkling of little bells, withwaving of silken fans, that I might be gladdened by the bloom of theiryouth, that I might delight in the charm of their grace. And therewould be music of many thousand years ago,—weird music of drums andflutes,—and songs in a tongue no longer spoken; while the miko, thedarlings of the gods, would poise and pose before me:—... "Whosevirgins are these,—the virgins who stand like flowers before theDeity? They are the virgins of the august Deity.

"The august music, the dancing of the virgins,—the Deity will bepleased to hear, the Deity will rejoice to see.

"Before the great bright God the virgins dance,—the virgins all likeflowers newly opened." ...


Votive gifts of many kinds I should be given: painted paper lanternsbearing my sacred name, and towels of divers colors printed with thenumber of the years of the giver, and pictures commemorating thefulfillment of prayers for the healing of sickness, the saving ofships, the quenching of fire, the birth of sons.

Also my Karashishi, my guardian lions, would be honored. I should seemy pilgrims tying sandals of straw to their necks and to their paws,with prayer to the Karashishi-Sama for strength of foot.

I should see fine moss, like emerald fur, growing slowly, slowly, uponthe backs of those lions;—I should see the sprouting of lichens upontheir flanks and upon their shoulders, in specklings of dead-silver, inpatches of dead-gold;—I should watch, through years of generations,the gradual sideward sinking of their pedestals under-mined by frostand rain, until at last my lions would lose their balance, and fall,and break their mossy heads off. After which the people would give menew lions of another form,—lions of granite or of bronze, with gildedteeth and gilded eyes, and tails like a torment of fire.

Between the trunks of the cedars and pines, between the jointedcolumns of the bamboos, I should observe, season after season, thechanges of the colors of the valley: the falling of the snow of winterand the falling of the snow of cherry-flowers; the lilac spread ofthe miyakobana; the blazing yellow of the natané; the sky—bluemirrored in flooded levels,—levels dotted with the moon-shaped hats ofthe toiling people who would love me; and at last the pure and tendergreen of the growing rice.

The muku-birds and the uguisu would fill the shadows of my grove withripplings and purlings of melody;—the bell-insects, the crickets,and the seven marvelous cicadas of summer would make all the wood ofmy ghost-house thrill to their musical storms. Betimes I should enter,like an ecstasy, into the tiny lives of them, to quicken the joy oftheir clamor, to magnify the sonority of their song.


But I never can become a god,—for this is the nineteenth century;and nobody can be really aware of the nature of the sensations of agod—unless there be gods in the flesh. Are there? Perhaps—in veryremote districts—one or two. There used to be living gods.

Anciently any man who did something extraordinarily great or good orwise or brave might be declared a god after his death, no matter howhumble his condition in life. Also good people who had suffered greatcruelty and injustice might be apotheosized; and there still survivesthe popular inclination to pay posthumous honor and to make prayerto the spirits of those who die voluntary deaths under particularcircumstances,—to souls of unhappy lovers, for example. (Probably theold customs which made this tendency had their origin in the wishto appease the vexed spirit, although to-day the experience of greatsuffering seems to be thought of as qualifying its possessor for divineconditions of being;—and there would be no foolishness whatever insuch a thought.) But there were even more remarkable deifications.Certain persons, while still alive, were honored by having templesbuilt for their spirits, and were treated as gods; not, indeed, asnational gods, but as lesser divinities,—tutelar deities, perhaps, orvillage-gods. There was, for instance, Hamaguchi Gohei, a farmer of thedistrict of Arita in the province of Kishu, who was made a god beforehe died. And I think he deserved

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