Wednesday, July 08, 2015

"take nothing for their journey" - The First Japanese that Traveled Tibet


The First Japanese that Traveled Tibet

When a Japanese Buddhist monk had some doubt about Buddhism, say, 100 years ago, he had to go to the original place where the religion had been first established around the 5th century BC.  But India had long lost traditions of Buddhism.  So, he had to go to Tibet, since Tibet had imported important part or some essence of Buddhism between the 7th and 14th centuries before it was lost in India.

Indeed, Japan imported Buddhism through China since the 6th century, but Chinese themselves had first imported Buddhism about 1st century.  Even in the 7th century, a notable Chinese priest made an adventurous journey to India to bring back many Buddhist sutras.  Therefore, if a Japanese monk had any doubt on Buddhism, it meant there was a need to refer to Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures which Chinese monks translated into Chinese versions, since Sanskrit was a classical language of India.  Or, he must refer to Tibetan scriptures as Tibetans must have more faithfully translated Sanskrit scriptures.

So, Ekai Kawaguchi (1866 – 1945)  traveled to Tibet as the first Japanese that had ever entered the Himalayan country closed to foreigners.  Specifically, he secretly reached and stayed in Lhasa from July 1900 to June 1902, and then from 1913 to 1915.

He brought back to Japan a large collection of Tibetan scriptures, but had a lengthy and public dispute with the other pilgrims about who the Dalai Lama had intended to give them to, causing him to lose some face in the Buddhist world.[17] He did assist the German Theravada monk Nyanatiloka in the 1920s. 
After this Kawaguchi became an independent monk, living with his brother's family for the rest of his life, and earning an income from scholarly publications. He refused to assist the military police when they sought intelligence on Tibet, and died in 1945.[18]
He was a friend of Mrs. Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society, who encouraged him to publish the English text of his book, Three Years in Tibet.[19] The Government of Nepal issued a postage stamp in 2003 commemorating Kawaguchi's visits to that country.

Ekai Kawaguchi was a faithful Buddhist.  He never ate meat and fish.  He never tried to make money by selling his experiences on a commercial basis or establishing a new faction of Buddhism in Japan.  After his adventure in Tibet, he tried to edit a Tibetan-Japanese dictionary, which was however never be accomplished when he died in the last year of WWII.

More importantly, through his observations of Buddhist communities in Tibet and other Asian countries as well as Japan, Kawaguchi concluded that there were no truly righteous monks and orders today.  Temples were no more sacred places.  Buddhist organizations were rotten.  Buddhist rituals turned to be false acts.  So, Kawaguchi renounced his status as a Buddhist priest.

Kawaguchi then claimed that people must not respect Buddhist priests and orders.  But people should practice Buddhism in their daily living.  It is just like a Christian priest who has traveled to Rome and Jerusalem to study Christianity starts to claim that churches and priests are useless or anti-Christian so that people must practice teaching of Christ Jesus in their daily lives.

Indeed there is a Buddhist tenet predicting the decline of Buddhism, called "the latter days of Buddhism."  According to the tenet, Buddhism would be correctly practiced and understood for 500 years after the death of the Buddha, but would not be understood, even if practiced superficially, for the next 1,000 years.  And after these 1,500 years, no more correct practice and understanding of Buddhism would be observed.

Ekai Kawaguchi seems to have believed in this theory.  His countermeasure to this state of lost belief in Buddhism is for everybody to practice the teaching of the Buddha in their daily lives.

However, Kawaguchi died in the last year of WWII.  And, after WWII, American Christianity along with American democracy was widely and openly introduced into the Japanese society.  Even the Constitution of Japan was drafted by Christian Americans subject to General MacArthur, the supreme commander of the allied forces that occupied Japan after WWII.  It might suggest that it is Christianity but not Buddhism that the Japanese people should seriously turn to as the means to save their souls.

Today, in Japanese schools, Ekai Kawaguchi is not introduced as a unique Buddhist but simply as a great adventurer who traveled Tibet 100 years ago where no foreigners were allowed in the country at the time.

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Ekai Kawaguchi

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Mar 6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: