OLD DIARY LEAVES, Fourth Series (1887-92)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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ON the evening of the same day I formed—well, no, I can hardly say formed, but went through the ceremony of forming—a local Branch, T. S., with Hongwanji officials for officers. The Branch never did any practical work as such, and, for commonsense reasons that were explained to me, I was not dissatisfied. When discussing the question of the extension of T. S. work to Japan with some of the most enlightened statesmen in the sects, they said that if I would come and settle in the country they would make as many Branches and give me as many thousand members as I chose; but otherwise it would be useless, for the spirit of sectarianism was so rife that they could never consent to come into an organisation where, of necessity, some must be officers and the others simple members, and it would be an even chance if the leaders were not of some sect antipathetic to their own. Only a white man, a foreigner outside all their sects and social groups, could carry on such a Society successfully: moreover, he would have to be a sincere Buddhist, else his motives
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would be open to misconstruction; and as I was the only man they knew who possessed these requirements, they made me the offer in question. The knowledge of this circumstance, added to my intimacy with the Sinhalese and Burmese nations, caused me to see that, if I could be spared from the Theosophical movement proper, and were free to occupy myself exclusively with Buddhistic interests, I could very soon build up an International Buddhistic League that might send the Dharma like a tidal wave around the world. This was the chief motive which prompted me to offer my resignation of the Presidency, and to pass it over to H. P. B., for reasons specified in my Annual Address before the Fifteenth Convention of the T. S. (Theosophist, vol. xii). Old readers will be able to recall the effect of this offer on her. She found that she had crowded me too far, and that if she let me go, something like an avalanche of official responsibility would come tumbling on her head; so she wrote and cabled that if I resigned she would at once quit the Society. Still, this would not have stopped me if a far higher personage than she had not come and told me that the Buddhist scheme must be postponed, and that I must not leave the post confided to me. The Buddhist League is, therefore, a great and splendid work that lies in the closed hand of the future; for it goes without saying that it can never be effected by any existing organisation known as a Buddhistic agency.
On 5th May I said farewell to the assembled Chief Priests of all the sects, advising them most strongly to
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keep up the Central Committee, and use it as the best practical instrument in cases where something had to be done for Buddhism as a whole. At 3 p.m. I lectured for the last time in Kyoto before H. E. the Governor, the Chief Justice, and many other persons of influence—military, civil, and ecclesiastic. On the 6th I left for Osaka by the noon train, and thence took steamer for Okayama. The boat was small, the saloon a den into which eleven persons were packed—like an overcrowded sheepfold, it seemed to me; and as the between-decks was built far a smaller race than ours, I had to bend nearly double to walk through. We landed at San Banco at 3 in the morning, and took refuge in a hotel at the landing. The Governor of Okayama, Mr. Chisoka, kindly sent his carriage for me in the morning, and was very polite in his attentions during my visit to the place. I was put up at the Club, in a splendid garden laid out in the unique Japanese style, with stone and wooden bridges, little islets, artificial mounds, stone lanterns, dwarfed and quaintly-trimmed trees, and abundance of flowers. At 3 p.m. I gave my first lecture before the public. The local committee had, for inscrutable reasons, issued 10,000 tickets, but as not more than half that number could squeeze into the building, there was much confusion outside. Some medical students, who had came early and placed themselves near the platform with intent to create a disturbance, made just one little attempt. When I said that Buddhism had brought with it into Japan the refinements of life, a young
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fellow sitting close by my feet cried out “No! No!” Remembering Noguchi’s forewarning at Madras, and knowing how to deal with such young conspirators, I stopped speaking, turned towards him, looked at him steadily until he felt that he was under observation by the whole audience, and then continued my remarks. After that a flock of lambs could not have kept more quiet. Later in the day, the Governor called and took me to an exhibition of autographs of noted personages, i.e., signatures, with or without accompanying sentences or single words, written vertically on large rolls of silk paper, in big characters, with brush and Indian ink. There were also some pictures, of which His Excellency purchased and gave me one representing a Japanese warrior of the old style, mounted on horse-back. A second public-lecture and an address to priests were given on the following day, after which we left in a small boat, sculled by four men, for Takamatsu, which was reached at 5 p.m. Mr. Tadas Hyash, the Governor, formerly of the Japanese Legations at Washington and London, called on me, and in the evening I lectured to 2,000 people. The trip across the Inland Sea was lovely.
At 10 the next morning a lecture was given on “The Evidences of Buddhism” to a great assemblage, which was very cordial. That afternoon an exhibition of Japanese wrestling was given us in the public park, in the presence of the Governor. It is needless to describe it, since it has been so often described by travellers; suffice it to say that the style is quite
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different from ours, and that the favorite athlete was a very fat man, whose weight was enough to crush down any antagonist on whom he might succeed in getting the upper hold. We left at 3 p.m. by steamer for Imabaru, and had a miserable time of it on board. There was almost every conceivable inconvenience to endure; but as the others seemed to regard them with indifference, I could do no less. It was a splendid day, and the picture before us on approaching the landing was striking. A stone-paved slope leading up from the water’s edge was black with thousands of people, who also lined the crest and spread away to right and left. A boat, with purple silk awnings from the temple, and national and Buddhist flags flying, took me to the stone pier, amid the bursting of bombs, the ringing of bells, and the roar of shouting voices. The projection into the air of paper bells, umbrellas, dragons, fish, and other devices, when the clay bombs burst high up overhead, was something new to me. What charmed me most, however, was the projection of a Buddhist flag, made of thin strips of paper of the conventional colors, so arranged with a tiny parachute at the top end of a retaining string and 5 oz. of small shot in a little bag at the lower end as to stand up straight in the air as though nailed to a pole, while it fluttered in the gentle breeze and the sun shone vividly through the colors as it floated very gently away to leeward. Instantly the fiction of the seeing by Constantine of the figure of a Cross in the air, with the legend In hoc signo vinces, came to my mind. Pointing to the
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lovely object before us in the sky, I said--referring to that story, that was probably false—“But there, my brothers, you see the symbol of our religion, under which we may conquer the minds and hearts of men of all nations if we unite for fraternal co-operation.” The lecture was fixed for 9 the next morning, and after it we left by specially chartered steamer for Hiroshima, one of the most important political and military centres of the empire. The day was fine, the boat dressed with flags, the Buddhist flag at the fore and peak. After a run of five hours we arrived, and found an even more enthusiastic welcome awaiting us. The throngs at the pier and through the town were immense; a number of bombs were fired, from them two very large and several smaller Buddhist flags emerging; a military company of boys, with muskets, fifes, and drums, as an escort, and hundreds of school children, boys and girls, drawn up in two lines for us to pass through. The Senior Army Surgeon, Dr. Endo, a staunch Buddhist and holder of the Imperial University Igakushi degree of Doctor of Medicine, drove me in his own carriage in the very imposing procession in which we moved slowly towards our assigned quarters. The Committee of Reception wore as a badge a gilt circular plate transpierced with the Svastika emblem, so pretty that I procured a supply of them to introduce among the Sinhalese, and it was adopted by the Women’s Education Society of Ceylon as their badge. On the morrow I addressed an audience of 5,000, and, later, the school children. On the 13th
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(May) another 5,000 audience, and after that an address to the senior boys of the Buddhist School. Then came a special lecture before H. E. the Governor of Hiroshima, Viscount Nodzu, the General commanding the District, and the other principal officers and officials, after which the Governor gave me a collation. I considered it a very great privilege to make the acquaintance of General Nodzu, for he was at the same time a most staunch Buddhist, one of the greatest soldiers of the empire, and a man of the most blameless character in every respect. In the recent war with China, it will be remembered, he commanded one of the two wings of the invading army, and won for himself great renown. Letters have comparatively recently been exchanged between us about the religious state of his country, in which his friendly regard for myself was clearly shown.
Our Hiroshima visit ended that night, and we pushed on by water towards Shimonoséki. It poured in torrents when we got to the pier, yet the Committee had had it lighted up with torches as bright as day; flags were flying, friends thronging, the air was rent with cheers. We had to change boats at Bakwan and make a fresh start at 3 a.m. We got to Shimonoséki at 7 p.m., and found only a few waiting, for the boat had been expected at 2, and the multitude had dispersed after waiting several hours. We stopped only three hours and left at 10 for Nagatsu, where there were the usual crowds, bomb-firing, flags, parades of schoolboys, etc. From one bomb was flung out a
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very long streamer of paper, on which was written in giant characters the words “Olcott San is come”! This, I was told, was to notify the inhabitants of the surrounding districts, so that they might come into town. (San is the common honorific suffix, having something of the same value as our Esquire.) At 1 p.m. I lectured in the theatre to 3,500 people, some of whom had come 50 miles, and others shorter distances, from neighboring islands, and camped all night in the theatre. Others had taken their places at daybreak. We left Shimonoséki at 8 p.m. by the Yokohama-Shanghai mail steamer “Tokio Maru” for Nagasaki. She was a very fine and commodious boat, seeming quite palatial after my experience, in small coasting steamers, and the supper and breakfast served us were something to remember. To my great surprise and pleasure, the breakfast bill-of-fare contained those popular American dishes, boiled hominy and buck-wheat cakes, neither of which had I tasted since leaving home. There seems a confusion of entries in my Diary, so that I do not see how I got from Nagatsu to take the steamer, but I certainly did, and it appears that the Committee took the size of my audience there, 2,500, all admitted by tickets, as a measure by which to calculate the average size of my audiences throughout the tour. So that as 75 lectures in all were given, the gross number of my auditors at the above average would be 187,500, and when one remembers that the Committee managed to bring me before all classes and conditions of men, one maybe prepared to believe
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the statements made to the Adyar Convention of 1890 by the Japanese Delegates in their address, to which place will be given in the proper connection. Certainly, it was one of the most remarkable events in contemporary history; and we Theosophists are compelled to see in the results the working beneath the surface of influences far more potent than the efforts of the inferior agent who helped to throw the shuttle in the loom of Karma.
The steamer landed us at Nagasaki at 10 a.m. on the 18th of May, and I lectured at 3 p.m. My excellent and respected interpreter, Professor Sakuma, was confined to bed the next day, and my experiences at the second lecture were not of the happiest kind, for I had two interpreters: one would listen to me and tell the other briefly in Japanese what I had said, while the second would render it to the audience. It is enough to make one shudder to think what misconceptions as to my views must have been given to the public by this roundabout plan. The Committee gave me a farewell banquet, and then there was a lantern-and-jinricksha procession to escort me to the harbor—all of which splendor made me lose my steamer for Kumamoto, my southernmost place on the programme. We got away the next day at noon, and landed at Missooni at 6, spending the night there, and going by jinricksha the next day. The intestinal troubles again attacked me and gave me much pain. I tried to lecture to a great crowd in the theatre on the 21st, but as Professor Sakuma was laid up at Nagasaki, and two amateur interpreters broke down
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in an attempt to see me through, I had to give up the attempt. Somehow, I seem to have succeeded better the next day, for I see that I lectured in a temple to a crowd which packed the building and filled the courtyard, and at 3 p.m. before the Governor and other chief officials, military and civilian, after which we returned by jinricksha to rejoin the steamer at Missooni.
We got to Nagasaki at noon on the 23rd, where I went ashore and passed a pleasant day. I was presented a dwarf orange tree on which were two or three dozen fruits growing, two Buddhist flags in silk crêpe, and other tokens of regard. A lecture on “Practical Religion” was given at a Hongwanji temple in the afternoon, and I returned to the steamer at bedtime. The next two days were passed at sea amid charming surroundings, and a part of the time, was utilised in drafting a Memorandum about the rules which should be adopted by the Chief Priests for sending students to Colombo to pursue their studies in Sanskrit, Pali, and Sinhalese, under the High Priest Sumangala. We reached Kobé on Sunday the 26th, and went to a town named Hameiji, two hours by rail, to lecture, and got back by 8.30 p.m. The morning of the 27th was taken up with getting my return tickets and with other preparations for leaving, and at 4 p.m. I gave my 76th and last lecture at a new preaching hall of the local Hongwanji to an overflowing audience. As I stood there facing the door, the whole town and harbor of Kobé was spread out before me like a beautiful
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picture, lighted up by dazzling sunshine. I hardly ever saw anything more charming. A last dinner was given me at a regular Japanese hotel in the native fashion, my hosts being the members of the Joint General Committee, who were most kind and cordial. After dinner I had many invitations to write Buddhist moralities and my name in Chinese characters on the paper or silk scrolls called Kakomono, which, mounted on map-rollers, are suspended in Japanese houses as ornaments, or, when the scroll (then called mendara) bears a religious picture, as objects promotive of devotional feeling. I had done numberless things of the kind throughout my tour, until, as I told the Committee, I had squeezed my brain dry of Buddhistic axioms. But this being our time of parting, they urged me to compliance, so I went ahead as usual. Finally, a certain lay member of the Committee who was too much inclined to drink Saké, the national beverage—a slightly alcoholic liquor obtained from rice—importuned me to do a Kakomono for him. I protested, on the ground that while at Kyoto I had done two or three for his temple, but he said that was for others, not for himself; so, as he was an obliging, cheerful sort of fellow, I consented. He brought me a piece of fine silk, the Indian-ink cake, small water-bottle and mixing saucer, and a large hair pencil. I asked him what he wanted me to write. “Oh, some sound Buddhistic maxim,” he replied. So, spreading the silk out on a little lacquered stand, I painted this: “Break thy Saké-bottle if thou wouldst reach Nirvana.” There
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was a general roar of laughter when it was translated to him, and he was good-natured enough to join in the merriment.
The next day we were steaming down the Inland Sea on the French mail steamer “Oxus,” having left Kobé at 5 a.m. Among the passengers was a Father Villion, a Roman Catholic priest and savant, who had lived 23 years in Japan, and was thoroughly versed in the language and literature, as well as in Northern Buddhism. Shanghai was reached on the 30th, and the passengers went ashore to look about. I passed some pleasant hours with my compatriots, the American Consul-General, Judge O. N. Denny, Adviser to the King of Korea, Mrs. Denny, and others. I also had as close an inspection of the Chinese town as I shall ever care to make, and was almost choked with the foul smells, which excel anything of the sort I ever came to a knowledge of. In the evening the Master of the local temple of the Hongwanji, and the Chief Priest of a Chinese Buddhist temple, and Mr. Shevey Yessan, Minister of Provincial Military Affairs, came aboard to call on me. The Chief Priest made me the valuable present for our Library of a copy of the Lalita Vishtara, or Legendary Life of the Buddha, in folio, in several volumes, every other page being faced with a full-page picture engraved on wood. Every important detail of the life of the Buddha, as we have it narrated to us in the canon, is there depicted in outline engravings, which are simply admirable examples of the art. In some there are hosts of figures of men and gods. This
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is the book first translated by Eugene Burnouf, and which really introduced the story of the Buddha to the notice of the Western scholars. From the Chinese General and the Chief Priest 1 had a warm invitation to come and make a tour in China like that in Japan, but I had to decline it for various reasons.
Under a queer arrangement of the Messageries Maritimes Company the homeward bound boats wait at Shanghai until relieved, a fortnight later, by the next ship in the list. Thus, we were transhipped at Shanghai to the “Natal” and dropped down the river to Woosung, in readiness to start with the next day’s ebb tide. That night I was aroused from sleep to receive visits from the Chief Priest of the Zen-shin Temple and a Delegate from the General, who brought a letter of thanks from him for a reply I had sent to a letter of his. Presents of books were also made me. The ship weighed anchor at 1 a.m. and sailed for Hong Kong. The day was fine and clear. We reached Hong Kong on the second day, but the weather was so damp and hot that I did not go ashore until the morrow, when I found a scene of desolation in the city. A cloud-burst, two days previously, had discharged 24 inches of water and caused a loss of $1,500,000 to Government, besides enormous losses to merchants. The main street was buried 3 feet deep in sand washed down from the hills, the sewers had burst, some houses had been swept away, and great trees, uprooted, had been washed down into the town. The funicular railway track, climbing to the Peak,
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was broken up, and long stretches had completely disappeared. On the 6th, at noon, we sailed for Saigon, and got there on the 9th. A party of us went ashore to pass the time and see the quaint types of humanity and strange objects that abound. The steamer sailed the next morning for Singapore, and got there on the 11th, and to Colombo on the 18th, without notable incident, save that on emerging from the Straits of Sumatra we were buffeted by the monsoon and had rough weather the rest of the way. Our welcome was enthusiastic at our Theosophical Headquarters that evening. The High Priest presided, W. Subhuti and a representative of the Wimelasara sect were present, and an improvised audience filled the place to suffocation. The room was tastefully decorated with flowers, leaf compositions, and garlands, and brilliantly illuminated with Japanese flags, while trophies of Buddhist and Japanese flags increased the festive appearance of the hall. An hour before the time of meeting the Headquarters was packed, hundreds being turned away for want of standing room. The first number on the programme was the reading of an Address from the Women’s Education Society by Miss M. E. De Silva, this being the first time when a Sinhalese young lady had ever read an address in English. A few brief remarks by Sumangala Thero preceded my report of the mission for international religious comity, in the course of which I introduced four young Japanese Samaneras (theological students), who had, on my appeal, been sent here to study under the High Priest
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and Pandit Batuvantudawe, and take back with them copies of the Tripitakas of the Southern Canon. The Japanese each made short addresses, expressive of the hope of their sects that there might henceforth be a close brotherly relationship between the two hitherto isolated sections of the Buddhist family, after which the High Priest said: “You have all heard Colonel Olcott’s account of his mission to Japan, and it must have made you all glad and proud to hear it. The propagation and improvement of Buddhism is the noblest work in the world, and that is the work in which Colonel Olcott has been engaged. It is true that there is a slight difference between the Northern and Southern Churches, but still the Japanese are Buddhists as we are, and are struggling against the maleficent influence of Christianity as we are, and we therefore look upon them as brothers. We must never forget the cordial reception they have given to Colonel Olcott as our representative, and the brotherly love that they have shown towards us. I trust that this may be the commencement of a real spiritual union between all Buddhist countries.” The four young priests from Japan preceded my return to Adyar by a steamer earlier than mine, under the charge of Dharmapala, and had settled down by the time of my arrival.
A glance at the map of Japan will show the large extent of area which my tour covered, viz., from Sendai, in the extreme north, to Kumamoto, in the far south of the empire. From day of arrival to day
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of embarkation I was ashore 107 days; during which time I visited 33 towns and delivered 76 public and semi-public addresses, reaching, as above stated, 187,500 hearers. This was more work of the sort than I had ever done before, the nearest approach to it having been in my Galle Province tour for the Sinhalese Buddhistic Fund, when I lectured 57 times within 100 days.
To finish the story of the Japan tour, it will be better that we should insert here the testimony of Mr. Tokusawa, as given by him to the T. S. Convention of 1890, as it gives in a condensed statement the tangible and permanent results of my mission. Mr. Tokusawa said:
“Brothers,—My presence, and that of this Buddhist priest, Mr. Kozen Gunaratne, indicates the influence which your Society, through the President, has acquired in our distant country. With my little smattering of English, it is impossible for me to describe all that Colonel Olcott has done there. The effect of his tour through Japan last year has been so great and so lasting that the current of public opinion has been actually turned in the opposite direction. The letters and newspapers received weekly at Colombo by myself and compatriots prove what I have just stated. It is wonderful that one man could have done so much. When I think of the condition of my religion three years ago, I feel inclined to shudder, because it was then at its lowest ebb. The more I reflect upon these evil times, the more inclined I am to bless our Theosophical Society and Colonel Olcott. A comparison
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between the state of Buddhism then and now justifies what I say . . . Till quite recently the more educated of our people regarded Buddhism and its priests with contempt. A few staunch followers of the Lord Buddha’s doctrine tried to counteract the influence of the Christians, but it was in vain. It was at this dark moment that the Buddhists came to hear of the work of Colonel Olcott, and asked his aid and sympathy. Therefore, last year, Mr. Noguchi was sent to this country to persuade the Colonel to go to Japan and make a lecturing tour through the whole country. This, I am happy to say, he did, and his success was far beyond our most sanguine expectations. Buddhism took life again, and Buddhists began everywhere to undertake the revival of their ancient faith. Among the most conspicuous effects of this revival are the three Buddhist Universities and various Colleges now about to be instituted, and the establishment of about 300 periodicals advocating and defending Buddhism. The spread of materialism and scepticism was checked; the insufficiency of Christianity for our wants was shown, and the truth of Buddhism vindicated. A reaction of a most marvellous character has—as I have remarked—set in favor of Buddhism. The founding of many Buddhist schools, Buddhist newspapers and religious journals are the visible results of the Colonel’s mission. Imperial princes and princesses have begun to take a prominent part in Buddhistic education and propaganda. An imperial princess has become the patroness of the Buddhist Women’s Society
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of Nagoya, which was founded soon after he had lectured in that city, and in consequence of his tribute to women. An imperial prince has become President of the ‘Dasa Sila Society,’ a body founded ten years ago for promoting the observance of the Ten Precepts of Buddhism, but which, owing to the streng opposition of the Christian and sceptical classes, had died out. After the Colonel’s mission it has been revived, and is now working. The people now look to the Colonel as their benefactor, and to many he is almost their father. The Christians have ceased to be so aggressive as before: their converts are inventing a new form of their faith. Yes, the mission of Colonel Olcott to Japan will be recorded in history. The Japanese will ever remain grateful to him and to his Society; and I hope, brothers, you will always take a kindly interest in our people.”
Naturally, I should have liked to go home and have some rest after the Japan tour, but it could not be done, so I stopped three weeks in the island, visiting Anuradhapura, where I lectured under the shade of the historical Bo-tree (whose original stock, a cutting from the sacred Bo-tree of Buddha Gya, under which the Bodhisattva Siddhartha had attained enlightenment, had been brought from India by the Princess Sanghamitta, daughter of the Emperor Asoka); Matale (where I formed a T. S. Branch); Kandy (where a big procession took me through the streets, and where I gave two lectures); Gampola; Marvanwella, in the four Korales; Kaigalle; Kurunegalle, where I formed another Branch, and where the picturesque surroundings
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at my open air lecture so vividly linger in my memory that I must give them more than a parenthesis. How I wished for a photographer to take the scene! Back of me rose a hill in which is excavated a rock temple of Buddha. A spur called Elephant Rock sprang out from the hillside. A crowd of 1,500 or so were clustered in a natural amphitheatre at my feet; to the right, front, and left was a grove of old cocoanut trees without undergrowth, and from the trunks were suspended Buddhist flags and other decorations, giving the needed touch of bright color to make the picture perfect. Messrs. Leadbeater, Hogen, and Kawakami, the latter two from Japan, addressed the crowd, and received great applause. The name given to the new Branch, the Maliyadeva, was that of the last of the historical great adepts, the time of whose decease I am not acquainted with, but it was long ago. Since then Ceylon has had no recognised real Arahat, and it is no wonder that its Buddhism has been growing less and less spiritual, until now one would search in vain from Hambantotte to Uva for a single man to whom the Sinhalese could look up with adoring reverence as the embodiment of the truth of the efficacy of the esoteric Yogic system practised and taught by the Founder. That is what makes my work so hard among them; all they care for is the intellectual and moral training of their families; the spiritual is something beyond their grasp; and when I first went to the island, they even told me the ridiculous story that the time for development of Arahats had elapsed, whereas (as
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shown in the Buddhist Catechism) the Buddha himself expressly declares that there would never be lack of Arahats so long as the members of his Sangha continued to observe the Ten Precepts.1
My tour also took me to several wards in Colombo and to Matara, far away down in the Southern Province, where that saintly woman Mrs. Cecilia Dias Ilangakoon lived, and where I lectured at her large house, in presence of the Chief Priests of the Province, all of whom were interested to hear about the state of Buddhism in Japan. It was during this visit of her that Mrs. Ilangakoon gave into my possession the splendid collection of the Tripitikas, in 60 volumes which she has had copied for me by 12 copyists at a cost of £300, and which work occupied two years in the doing. It is, perhaps, the finest collection of palm-leaf writings to be seen in India. Mrs. Ilangakoon also promised me to add to it the Tikka, or Commentary, which would fill about the same number of volumes; and an old relative of hers at Galle told me last season, when I called on him, that she had put a clause in her will to that effect, but all I can say is, that while I have reason to know that there is a clause ordering the Tikka to be prepared, it has not come to my hands as yet, although her estate was large, and the cost could well have been afforded. Possibly her representatives or executors are not so
1Cf. Buddhist Catechism, footnote, page 56 (33rd ed.). “In the Digha Nikâya the Buddha says: Hear, Subhadra! The world will never be without Arahats if the ascetics (Bhikkus) in my congregations well and truly keep my precepts.”
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friendly in feeling towards us as she was, and so have indefinitely postponed the fulfilment of her wishes. I visited Kataluwa, and then Galle, where great courtesies were shown me; thence back to Colombo, and, on the 8th of July, sailed for Madras. The ever blessed Adyar saw me again on the 11th, as glad a person to get home as ever was.