Japanese Buddhist Proverbs

by Lafcadio Hearn

As representing that general quality of moral experience which remains almost unaffected by social modifications of any sort, the proverbial sayings of a people must always possess a special psychological interest for thinkers. In this kind of folklore the oral and the written literature of Japan is rich to a degree that would require a large book to exemplify. To the subject as a whole no justice could be done within the limits of a single essay. But for certain classes of proverbs and proverbial phrases something can be done within even a few pages; and sayings related to Buddhism, either by allusion or derivation, form a class which seems to me particularly worthy of study. Accordingly, with the help of a Japanese friend, I have selected and translated the following series of examples,— choosing the more simple and familiar where choice was possible, and placing the originals in alphabetical order to facilitate reference. Of course the selection is imperfectly representative; but it will serve to illustrate certain effects of Buddhist teaching upon popular thought and speech.

1.—Akuji mi ni tomaru. All evil done clings to the body.*

*The consequence of any evil act or thought never,—so long as karma endures,—will cease to act upon the existence of the person guilty of it.

2.—Atama soru yori kokoro wo sore. Better to shave the heart than to shave the head.*

*Buddhist nuns and priests have their heads completely shaven. The proverb signifies that it is better to correct the heart,—to conquer all vain regrets and desires,—than to become a religious. In common parlance the phrase "to shave the head" means to become a monk or a nun.

3.—Au wa wakare no hajime. Meeting is only the beginning of separation.*

*Regret and desire are equally vain in this world of impermanency; for all joy is the beginning of an experience that must have its pain. This proverb refers directly to the sutra- text,—Shoja bitsumetsu e-sha-jori,—" All that live must surely die; and all that meet will surely part."

4.—Banji wa yume. All things* are merely dreams.

*Literally, "ten thousand things."

5.—Bonbu mo satoreba hotoke nari. Even a common man by obtaining knowledge becomes a Buddha.*

*The only real differences of condition are differences In knowledge of the highest truth.

6.—Bonno kuno. All lust is grief.*

*All sensual desire invariably brings sorrow.

7—Buppo to wara-ya no ame, dete kike. One must go outside to hear Buddhist doctrine or the sound of rain on a straw roof.*

*There is an allusion here to the condition of the sbuhhl (priest): literally, "one who has left his house." The proverb suggests that the higher truths of Buddhism cannot be acquired by those who continue to live in the world of follies and desires.

8.—Bussho en yori okoru. Out of karma-relation even the divine nature itself grows.*

*There is good as well as bad karma. Whatever hap-piness we enjoy is not less a consequence of the acts and thoughts of previous lives, than is any misfortune that comes to us. Every good thought and act contributes to the evolution of the Buddha-nature within each of us. Another proverb [No. 10],—En naki shujo wa doshi gatashi,—further illustrates the meaning of this one.

9.—Enko ga tsuki wo toran to suru ga gotoshi. Like monkeys trying to snatch the moon's reflection on water.*

*Allusion to a parable, said to have been related by the Buddha himself, about some monkeys who found a well under a tree, and mistook for reality the image of the moon in the water. They resolved to seize the bright apparition. One monkey suspended himself by the tail from a branch overhanging the well, a second monkey clung to the first, a third to the second, a fourth to the third, and so on,—till the long chain of bodies had almost reached the water. Suddenly the branch broke under the unaccustomed weight; and all the monkeys were drowned.

10.—En naki shujo wa doshi gatashi. To save folk having no karma-relation would be difficult indeed!*

*No karma-relation would mean an utter absence of merit as well as of demerit.

11.—Fujo seppo suru hoshi wa, biratake ni umaru. The priest who preaches foul doctrine shall be reborn as a fungus.

12.—Gaki mo ninzu. Even gaki (pretas) can make a crowd.*

*Literally: "Even gaki are a multitude (or, 'population')." This is a popular saying used in a variety of ways. The ordinary meaning is to the effect that no matter how poor or miserable the individuals composing a multitude, they collectively represent a respectable force. Jocosely the saying is sometimes used of a crowd of wretched or tired-looking people,—sometimes of an assembly of weak boys desiring to make some demonstration,— sometimes of a miserable-looking company of soldiers.—Among the lowest classes of the people it is not uncommon to call a deformed or greedy person a "gaki."

13.—Gaki no me ni midzu miezu. To the eyes of gaki water is viewless.*

*Some authorities state that those pretas who suffer especially from thirst, as a consequence of faults committed in former lives, are unable to see water.—This proverb is used in speaking of persons too stupid or vicious to perceive a moral truth.

14.—Gosho wa daiji. The future life is the all-important thing.*

*The common people often use the curious expression "gosho-daiji" as an equivalent for "extremely important."

15.—Gun-mo no tai-zo wo saguru ga gotoshi. Like a lot of blind men feeling a great elephant.*

*Said of those who ignorantly criticise the doctrines of Buddhism.—The proverb alludes to a celebrated fable in the Avadanas, about a number of blind men who tried to decide the form of an elephant by feeling the animal. One, feeling the leg, declared the elephant to be like a tree; another, feeling the trunk only, declared the elephant to be like a serpent; a third, who felt only the side, said that the elephant was like a wall; a fourth, grasping the tail, said that the elephant was like a rope, etc.

16.—Gwai-men nyo-Bosatsu; nai shin nyo-Yasha. In outward aspect a Bodhisattva; at innermost heart a demon.*

*Yasha (Sanscrit Yaksha), a man-devouring demon.

17.—Hana wa ne ni kaeru. The flower goes back to its root.

*This proverb is most often used in reference to death,— signifying that all forms go back into the nothingness out of which they spring. But it may also be used in relation to the law of cause-and-effect.

18.—Hibiki no koe ni ozuru ga gotoshi. Even as the echo answers to the voice.*

*Referring to the doctrine of cause-and-effect. The philosophical beauty of the comparison will be appreciated only if we bear in mind that even the tone of the echo repeats the tone of the voice.

19.—Hito wo tasukéru ga sbukhé no yuku. The task of the priest is to save mankind.

20.—Hi wa kiyuredomo to-shin wa kiyedzu. Though the flame be put out, the wick remains.*

*Although the passions may be temporarily overcome, their sources remain. A proverb of like meaning is, Bonno no inn o?4omo sara u: "Though driven away, the Dog of Lust cannot be kept from coming back again."

21.—Hotoke mo motowa bonbu. Even the Buddha was originally but a common man.

22.—Hotoke ni naru mo shami wo beru. Even to become a Buddha one must first become a novice.

23.—Hotoke no kao mo sando. Even a Buddha's face,—only three times.*

*This is a short popular form of the longer proverb, Hotoke no kao mo sando nazureba, hara wo tatsu: "Stroke even the face of a Buddha three times, and his anger will be roused."

24.—Hotoke tanonde Jigoku e yuku. Praying to Buddha one goes to hell.*

*The popular saying, Oni no Nembutsu,—"a devil's praying,"—has a similar meaning.

25.—Hotoke tsukutte tamashii iredzu. Making a Buddha without putting in the soul.*

*That is to say, making an image of the Buddha without giving it a soul. This proverb is used in reference to the conduct of those who undertake to do some work, and leave the most essential part of the work unfinished. It contains an allusion to the curious ceremony called Kai-gen, or "Eye-Opening." This Kai-gen is a kind of consecration, by virtue of which a newly-made image is supposed to become animated by the real presence of the divinity represented.

26. Ichi-ju no kage, ichi-ga no nagare, tasho no en. Even [the experience of] a single shadow or a single flowing of water, is [made by] the karma-relations of a former life.*

*Even so trifling an occurrence as that of resting with another person under the shadow of a tree, or drinking from the same spring with another person, is caused by the karma-relations of some previous existence.

27. Ichi-mo shu-mo wo hiku. One blind man leads many blind men.*

*From the Buddhist work Dai-chi-do-ron.—The reader will find a similar proverb in Rhys-David's "Buddhist Suttas" (Sacred Books of the East), p. 173,—together with a very curious parable, cited in a footnote, which an Indian commentator gives in explanation.

28.—Ingwa na ko. A karma-child.*

*A common saying among the lower classes in reference to an unfortunate or crippled child. Here the word ingwa is used especially in the retributive sense. It usually signifies evil karma; kwaho being the term used in speaking of meritorious karma and its results. While an unfortunate child is spoken of as "a child of ingwa," a very lucky person is called a "kwaho-mono,"— that is to say, an instance, or example of kwaho.

29.—Ingwa wa, kuruma no wa. Cause-and-effect is like a wheel.*

*The comparison of karma to the wheel of a wagon will be familiar to students of Buddhism. The meaning of this proverb is identical with that of the Dhammapada verse:—"If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage."

30.—Innen ga fukai. The karma-relation is deep.*

*A saying very commonly used in speaking of the attachment of lovers, or of the unfortunate results of any close relation between two persons.

31.—Inochi wa fu-zen no tomoshibi. Life is a lamp-flame before a wind.*

*Or, "like the flame of a lamp exposed to the wind." A frequent expression in Buddhist literature is "the Wind of Death."

32.—Issun no mushi ni mo, gobu no tamashii. Even a worm an inch long has a soul half-an-inch long.*

*Literally, "has a soul of five bu,"—five bu being equal to half of the Japanese inch. Buddhism forbids all taking of life, and classes as living things (Ujo) all forms having sentiency. The proverb, however,—as the use of the word "soul" (tamashii) implies,—reflects popular belief rather than Buddhist philosophy. It signifies that any life, however small or mean, is entitled to mercy.

33.—Iwashi* no atama mo shinjin kara. Even the head of an iwashi, by virtue of faith, [will have power to save, or heal].

*The iwashi is a very small fish, much resembling a sardine. The proverb implies that the object of worship signifies little, so long as the prayer is made with perfect faith and pure intention.

34.—Jigo-jitoku.* The fruit of ones own deeds [in a previous state of existence].

*Few popular Buddhist phrases are more often used than this. Jigo signifies ones own acts or thoughts; jitoku, to bring upon oneself,—nearly always in the sense of misfortune, when the word is used in the Buddhist way. "Well, it is a matter of Jigo- jitoku," people will observe on seeing a man being taken to prison; meaning, "He is reaping the consequence of his own faults."

35.—Jigoku de hotoke. Like meeting with a Buddha in hell.*

*Refers to the joy of meeting a good friend in time of misfortune. The above is an abbreviation. The full proverb is, Jigoku de hotoke ni ota yo da.

36.—Jigoku Gokuraku wa kokoro ni ari. Hell and Heaven are in the hearts of men.*

*A proverb in perfect accord with the higher Buddhism.

37.—Jigoku mo sumika. Even Hell itself is a dwelling-place.*

*Meaning that even those obliged to live in hell must learn to accommodate themselves to the situation. One should always try to make the best of circumstances. A proverb of kindred signification is, Sumeba, My'ako: "Wheresoever ones home is, that is the Capital [or, imperial City]."

38.—Jigoku ni mo shirts bito. Even in hell old acquaintances are welcome.

39.—Kagé no katachi ni shitagau gotoshi. Even as the shadow follows the shape.*

*Referring to the doctrine of cause-and-effect. Compare with verse 2 of the Dhammapada.

40.—Kane wa Amida yori bikaru. Money shines even more brightly than Amida.*

*Amitabha, the Buddha of Immeasurable Light. His image in the temples is usually gilded from head to foot.—There are many other ironical proverbs about the power of wealth,—such as Jigoku no sata mo kane shidai: "Even the Judgments of Hell may be influenced by money."

41.—Karu-toki no Jizo-gao; nasu-toki no Emma-gao. Borrowing-time, the face of Jizö; repaying-time, the face of Emma.* [Figs. 2 & 3]

*Emma is the Chinese and Japanese Yama,—in Buddhism the Lord of Hell, and the Judge of the Dead. The proverb is best explained by the accompanying drawings, which will serve to give an idea of the commoner representations of both divinities.

42.—Kiite Gokuraku, mite Jigoku. Heard of only, it is Paradise; seen, it is Hell.*

*Rumor is never trustworthy.

43.—Koji mon wo idezu: akuji sen ni wo hashiru. Good actions go not outside of the gate: bad deeds travel a thousand ri.

44.—Kokoro no koma ni tadzuna wo yuru-suna. Never let go the reins of the wild colt of the heart.

45.—Kokoro no oni ga mi wo semeru. The body is tortured only by the demon of the heart.*

*Or "mind." That is to say that we suffer only from the consequences of our own faults.—The demon-torturer in the Buddhist hell says to his victim:—"Blame not me!—I am only the creation of your own deeds and thoughts: you made me for this!"— Compare with No. 36.

46.—Kokoro no shi to wa nare; kokoro wo shi to sezare. Be the teacher of your heart: do not allow your heart to become your teacher.

47.—Kono yo wa kari no yado. This world is only a resting-place.*

*"This world is but a travellers' inn," would be an almost equally correct translation. Yado literally means a lodging, shelter, inn; and the word is applied often to those wayside resting-houses at which Japanese travellers halt during a journey. Kari signifies temporary, transient, fleeting,—as in the common Buddhist saying, Kono yo kari no yo: "This world is a fleeting world." Even Heaven and Hell represent to the Buddhist only halting places upon the journey to Nirvana.

48.—Kori wo chiribame; midzu ni égaku. To inlay ice; to paint upon water.*

*Refers to the vanity of selfish effort for some merely temporary end.

49.—Korokoro to
Naku wa yamada no
Chichi niteya aran,
Haha niteya aran.

The bird that cries korokoro in the mountain rice-field I know to be a hototogisu;—yet it may have been my father; it may have been my mother.*

*This verse-proverb is cited in the Buddhist work Wojo Yosbu, with the following comment:—"Who knows whether the animal in the field, or the bird in the mountain-wood, has not been either his father or his mother in some former state of existence?"—The hototogisu is a kind of cuckoo.

50.—Ko wa Sangai no kubikase. A child is a neck-shackle for the Three States of Existence.*

*That is to say, The love of parents for their child may impede their spiritual progress—not only in this world, but through all their future states of being,—just as a kubikasi, or Japanese cangue, impedes the movements of the person upon whom it is placed. Parental affection, being the strongest of earthly attachments, is particularly apt to cause those whom it enslaves to commit wrongful acts in the hope of benefiting their offspring.—The term Sangai here signifies the three worlds of Desire, Form, and Formlessness,—all the states of existence below Nirvana. But the word is sometimes used to signify the Past, the Present, and the Future.

51.—Kuchi wa wazawai no kado. The mouth is the front-gate of all misfortune.*

*That is to say, The chief cause of trouble is unguarded speech.
The word Kado means always the main entrance to a residence.

52.—Kwaho wa, nete mate. If you wish for good luck, sleep and wait.*

*Kwaho, a purely Buddhist term, signifying good fortune as the result of good actions in a previous life, has come to mean in common parlance good fortune of any kind. The proverb is often used in a sense similar to that of the English saying: "Watched pot never boils." In a strictly Buddhist sense it would mean, "Do not be too eager for the reward of good deeds."

53.—Makanu tane wa haenu. Nothing will grow, if the seed be not sown.*

*Do not expect harvest, unless you sow the seed. Without earnest effort no merit can be gained.

54.—Mateba, kanro no hiyori. If you wait, ambrosial weather will come.*

*Kanro, the sweet dew of Heaven, or amrita. All good things come to him who waits.

55.—Meido no michi ni O wa nashi. There is no King on the Road of Death.*

*Literally, "on the Road of Meido." The MeldS is the Japanese
Hades,—the dark under-world to which all the dead must journey.

56.—Mekura hebi ni ojizu. The blind man does not fear the snake.*

*The ignorant and the vicious, not understanding the law of cause-and-effect, do not fear the certain results of their folly.

57.—Mitsureba, hakuru. Having waxed, wanes.*

*No sooner has the moon waxed full than it begins to wane. So the height of prosperity is also the beginning of fortunes decline.

58.—Mon zen no kozo narawanu kyo wo yomu. The shop-boy in front of the temple-gate repeats the sutra which he never learned.

*Kozo means "acolyte" as well as "shop-boy,""errand-boy," or "apprentice;" but in this case it refers to a boy employed in a shop situated near or before the gate of a Buddhist temple. By constantly hearing the sutra chanted in the temple, the boy learns to repeat the words. A proverb of kindred meaning is, Kangaku-In no suzume wa, Mogyu wo sayezuru: "The sparrows of Kangaku-In [an ancient seat of learning] chirp the Mogyu,"—a Chinese text formerly taught to young students. The teaching of either proverb is excellently expressed by a third:—Narau yori wa narero: "Rather than study [an art], get accustomed to it,"— that is to say, "keep constantly in contact with it." Observation and practice are even better than study.

59.—Mujo no kaze wa, toki erabazu. The Wind of Impermanency does not choose a time.*

*Death and Change do not conform their ways to human expectation.

60.—Neko mo Bussho ari. In even a cat the Buddha-nature exists.*

*Notwithstanding the legend that only the cat and the mamushi (a poisonous viper) failed to weep for the death of the Buddha.

61.—Neta ma ga Gokuraku. The interval of sleep is Paradise.*

*Only during sleep can we sometimes cease to know the sorrow and pain of this world. (Compare with No. 83.)

62.—Nijiu-go Bosatsu mo sore-sore no yaku. Even each of the Twenty-five Bodhisattvas has his own particular duty to perform.

63.—Nin mite, no toke. [First] see the person, [then] preach the doctrine.*

*The teaching of Buddhist doctrine should always be adapted to the intelligence of the person to be instructed. There is another proverb of the same kind,—Ki ni yorite, ho wo toke: "According to the understanding [of the person to be taught], preach the Law."

64.—Ninshin ukegataku Buppo aigatashi. It is not easy to be born among men, and to meet with [the good fortune of hearing the doctrine of] Buddhism.*

*Popular Buddhism teaches that to be born in the world of mankind, and especially among a people professing Buddhism, is a very great privilege. However miserable human existence, it is at least a state in which some knowledge of divine truth may be obtained; whereas the beings in other and lower conditions of life are relatively incapable of spiritual progress.

65.—Oni mo jiu-hachi. Even a devil [is pretty] at eighteen.*

*There are many curious sayings and proverbs about the oni, or Buddhist devil,—such as Oni no me ni mo namida, "tears in even a devil's eyes;"—Oni no kakuran, "devil's cholera" (said of the unexpected sickness of some very strong and healthy person), etc., etc.—The class of demons called Oni, properly belong to the Buddhist hells, where they act as torturers and jailers. They are not to be confounded with the Ma, Yasha, Kijin, and other classes of evil spirits. In Buddhist art they are represented as beings of enormous strength, with the heads of bulls and of horses. The bull-headed demons are called Go-zu; the horse-headed Me-zu.

66.—Oni mo mi, naretaru ga yoshi. Even a devil, when you become accustomed to the sight of him, may prove a pleasant acquaintance.

67.—Oni ni kanabo. An iron club for a demon.*

*Meaning that great power should be given only to the strong.

68.—Oni no nyobo ni kijin. A devil takes a goblin to wife.*

*Meaning that a wicked man usually marries a wicked woman.

69.—Onna no ke ni wa dai-zo mo tsunagaru. With one hair of a woman you can tether even a great elephant.

70.—Onna wa Sangai ni iye nashi. Women have no homes of their own in the Three States of Existence.

71.—Oya no ingwa ga ko ni mukuu. The karma of the parents is visited upon the child.*

*Said of the parents of crippled or deformed children. But the popular idea here expressed is not altogether in acco~l with the teachings of the higher Buddhism.

72.—Rakkwa eda ni kaerazu. The fallen blossom never returns to the branch.*

*That which has been done never can be undone: the past cannot be recalled.—This proverb is an abbreviation of the longer Buddhist text: Rakkwa eda ni kaerazu; ha-kyo futatabi terasazu: "The fallen blossom never returns to the branch; the shattered mirror never again reflects."

73.—Raku wa ku no tane; ku wa raku no tane. Pleasure is the seed of pain; pain is the seed of pleasure.

74.—Rokudo wa, me no mae. The Six Roads are right before your eyes.*

*That is to say, Your future life depends upon your conduct in this life; and you are thus free to choose for yourself the place of your next birth.

75.—Sangai mu-an. There is no rest within the Three States of Existence.

76.—Sangai ni kaki nashi;—Rokudo ni hotori nashi. There is no fence to the Three States of Existence;—there is no neighborhood to the Six Roads.*

*Within the Three States (Sangai), or universes, of Desire, Form, and Formlessness; and within the Six Worlds, or conditions of being,—Jigokudo (Hell), Gakido (Pretas), Chikushodo (Animal Life), Shurado (World of Fighting and Slaughter), Ningendo (Mankind), Tenjodo (Heavenly Spirits)—all existence is included. Beyond there is only Nirvana. "There is no fence," "no neighborhood,"—that is to say, no limit beyond which to escape, —no middle-path between any two of these states. We shall be reborn into some one of them according to our karma.—Compare with No. 74.

77.—Sange ni wa sannen no tsumi mo horobu. One confession effaces the sins of even three years.

78.—San nin yoreba, kugai. Where even three persons come together, there is a world of pain.*

*Kugai (lit.: "bitter world") is a term often used to describe the life of a prostitute.

79.—San nin yoreba, Monju no chie. Where three persons come together, there is the wisdom of Monju.*

*Monju Bosatsu [Mandjus'ri Bodhisattva] figures in Japanese Buddhism as a special divinity of wisdom.—The proverb signifies that three heads are better than one. A saying of like meaning is, Hiza to mo danko: "Consult even with your own knee;" that is to say, Despise no advice, no matter how humble the source of it.

80.—Shaka ni sekkyo. Preaching to Sakyamuni.

81.—Shami kara choro. To become an abbot one must begin as a novice.

82.—Shindareba, koso ikitare. Only by reason of having died does one enter into life.*

*I never hear this singular proverb without being re-minded of a sentence in Huxley's famous essay, On the Physical Basis of Life:—"The living protoplasm not only ultimately dies and is resolved into its mineral and lifeless constituents, but is always dying, and, strange as the paradox may sound, could not live unless it died."

83.—Shiranu ga, hotoke; minu ga, Gokuraku. Not to know is to be a Buddha; not to see is Paradise.

84.—Shobo ni kidoku nashi. There is no miracle in true doctrine.*

*Nothing can happen except as a result of eternal and irrevocable law.

85.—Sho-chie wa Bodai no samatage. A little wisdom is a stumbling-block on the way to Buddhahood.*

*Bodai is the same word as the Sanscrit Bodhi, signifying the supreme enlightenment,—the knowledge that leads to Buddhahood; but it is often used by Japanese Buddhists in the sense of divine bliss, or the Buddha-state itself.

86.—Shoshi no kukai hetori nashi. There is no shore to the bitter Sea of Birth and Death.*

*Or, "the Pain-Sea of Life and Death."

87.—Sode no furi-awase mo tasho no en. Even the touching of sleeves in passing is caused by some relation in a former life.

88.—Sun zen; shaku ma. An inch of virtue; a foot of demon.*

*Ma (Sanscrit, Marakayikas) is the name given to a particular class of spirits who tempt men to evil. But in Japanese folklore the Ma have a part much resembling that occupied in Western popular superstition by goblins and fairies.

89.—Tanoshimi wa hanasimi no motoi. All joy is the source of sorrow.

90.—Tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi. So the insects of summer fly to the flame.*

*Said especially in reference to the result of sensual indulgence.

91.—Tsuchi-botoke no midzu-asobi. Clay-Buddha's water-playing.*

*That is to say, "As dangerous as for a clay Buddha to play with water." Children often amuse themselves by making little Buddhist images of mud, which melt into shapelessness, of course, if placed in water.

92.—Tsuki ni murakumo, hana ni kaze. Cloud-wrack to the moon; wind to flowers.*

*The beauty of the moon is obscured by masses of clouds; the trees no sooner blossom than their flowers are scattered by the wind. All beauty is evanescent.

93.—Tsuyu no inochi. Human life is like the dew of morning.

94.—U-ki wa, kokoro ni ari. Joy and sorrow exist only in the mind.

95.—Uri no tsuru ni nasubi wa naranu. Egg-plants do not grow upon melon-vines.

96.—Uso mo hoben. Even an untruth may serve as a device.*

*That is, a pious device for effecting conversion. Such a device is justified especially by the famous parable of the third chapter of the Saddharma Pundarika.

97.—Waga ya no hotoke tattoshi. My family ancestors were all excellent Buddhas.*

*Meaning that one most reveres the hotoke—the spirits of the dead regarded as Buddhas—in one's own household-shrine. There is an ironical play upon the word hotoke, which may mean either a dead person simply, or a Buddha. Perhaps the spirit of this proverb may be better explained by the help of another: Nigeta sakana ni chisai wa nai; shinda kodomo ni warui ko wa nai—"Fish that escaped was never small; child that died was never bad."

98.—Yuki no hate wa, Nehan. The end of snow is Nirvana.*

*This curious saying is the only one in my collection containing the word Nehan (Nirvana), and is here inserted chiefly for that reason. The common people seldom speak of Nehan, and have little knowledge of those profound doctrines to which the term is related. The above phrase, as might be inferred, is not a popular expression: it is rather an artistic and poetical reference to the aspect of a landscape covered with snow to the horizon-line, —so that beyond the snow-circle there is only the great void of the sky.

99.—Zen ni wa zen no mukui; aku ni wa aku no mukui. Goodness [or, virtue] is the return for goodness; evil is the return for evil.*

*Not so commonplace a proverb as might appear at first sight; for it refers especially to the Buddhist belief that every kindness shown to us in this life is a return of kindness done to others in a former life, and that every wrong inflicted upon us is the reflex of some injustice which we committed in a previous birth.

100.—Zense no yakusoku-goto. Promised [or, destined] from a former birth.*

*A very common saying,—often uttered as a comment upon the unhappiness of separation, upon sudden misfortune, upon sudden death, etc. It is used especially in relation to shinju, or lovers' suicide. Such suicide is popularly thought to be a result of cruelty in some previous state of being, or the consequence of having broken, in a former life, the mutual promise to become husband and wife.


I had the privilege of meeting him in Tokyo, where he was making a brief stay on his way to India;—and we took a long walk together, and talked of Eastern religions, about which he knew incomparably more than I. Whatever I could tell him concerning local beliefs, he would comment upon in the most startling manner,—citing weird correspondences in some living cult of India, Burmah, or Ceylon. Then, all of a sudden, he turned the conversation into a totally unexpected direction.

"I have been thinking," he said, "about the constancy of the relative proportion of the sexes, and wondering whether Buddhist doctrine furnishes an explanation. For it seems to me that, under ordinary conditions of karma, human rebirth would necessarily proceed by a regular alternation."

"Do you mean," I asked, "that a man would be reborn as a woman, and a woman as a man?"

"Yes," he replied, "because desire is creative, and the desire of either sex is towards the other."

"And how many men," I said, "would want to be reborn as women?"

"Probably very few," he answered. "But the doctrine that desire is creative does not imply that the individual longing creates its own satisfaction,—quite the contrary. The true teaching is that the result of every selfish wish is in the nature of a penalty, and that what the wish creates must prove—to higher knowledge at least—the folly of wishing."

"There you are right," I said; "but I do not yet understand your theory."

"Well," he continued, "if the physical conditions of human rebirth are all determined by the karma of the will relating to physical conditions, then sex would be determined by the will in relation to sex. Now the will of either sex is towards the other. Above all things else, excepting life, man desires woman, and woman man. Each individual, moreover, independently of any personal relation, feels perpetually, you say, the influence of some inborn feminine or masculine ideal, which you call 'a ghostly reflex of countless attachments in countless past lives.' And the insatiable desire represented by this ideal would of itself suffice to create the masculine or the feminine body of the next existence."

"But most women," I observed, "would like to be reborn as men; and the accomplishment of that wish would scarcely be in the nature of a penalty."

"Why not?" he returned. "The happiness or unhappiness of the new existence would not be decided by sex alone: it would of necessity depend upon many conditions in combination."

"Your theory is interesting," I said;—"but I do not know how far it could be made to accord with accepted doctrine…. And what of the person able, through knowledge and practice of the higher law, to remain superior to all weaknesses of sex?"

"Such a one," he replied, "would be reborn neither as man nor as woman,—providing there were no pre-existent karma powerful enough to check or to weaken the results of the self-conquest."

"Reborn in some one of the heavens?" I queried,—"by the
Apparitional Birth?"

"Not necessarily," he said. "Such a one might be reborn in a world of desire,—like this,—but neither as man only, nor as woman only."

"Reborn, then, in what form?" I asked.

"In that of a perfect being," he responded. "A man or a woman is scarcely more than half-a-being,—because in our present imperfect state either sex can be evolved only at the cost of the other. In the mental and the physical composition of every man, there is undeveloped woman; and in the composition of every woman there is undeveloped man. But a being complete would be both perfect man and perfect woman, possessing the highest faculties of both sexes, with the weaknesses of neither. Some humanity higher than our own,—in other worlds,—might be thus evolved."

"But you know," I observed, "that there are Buddhist texts,—in the Saddharma Pundarika, for example, and in the Vinayas,—which forbid…."

"Those texts," he interrupted, "refer to imperfect beings—less than man and less than woman: they could not refer to the condition that I have been supposing…. But, remember, I am not preaching a doctrine;—I am only hazarding a theory."

"May I put your theory some day into print?" I asked.

"Why, yes," he made answer,—"if you believe it worth thinking about."

And long afterwards I wrote it down thus, as fairly as I was able, from memory.