The Nature of The Earth

The sun is a blessed thing. Without it there would be no life. All life points to the sky, but its roots must be in the earth. Life that has no connection with the earth is not really alive, in the word's true sense. We should be awed by the heavens, and be intimate with and love the earth. No matter how much we trample over, strike or pound it, it does not anger. Life begins from the earth and when we die we return to it. We must revere the skies, yet our bodies are not received there. Heaven is distant; the earth is near. In every respect it is a mother, and we feel a corresponding affection for it. Nothing is more tangible or concrete, and religion cannot truly come into being save from this concreteness. The deep recesses of spirituality exist in the earth. Although the people of Heian felt a sympathy with the beauties of nature they did not know of labor on the soil, the intimacy of the earth, or its reassurance. They were consequently incapable of feeling its boundless love, its tolerant, catholic nature; they could not touch this mother of all things.

The sun decomposes death's remains and leaves unsightly remnants. The earth receives all this without so much as a murmur, and resurrects it with a new breath of life as things of beauty. The Heian people embraced beautiful women but forgot the affectionate mother able to embrace even a dead child, and this is an essential reason why religion is found nowhere in their culture.

The earth is where one experiences the blending of man and nature. He adds his power to that of the earth, and with industry harvests its products. It assists him in his work in proportion to his exertion. He is able to measure his own sincerity according to the degree he is helped by the earth. It does not falsify or cheat or delude, nor will it be deceived; it reflects man's heart as honestly as a mirror reflects his face. It does not hurry, knowing that summer can come only after spring. If the sown seed's season does not come, the sprout does not appear. Without the appearance of the leaf, the branch does not lengthen, the flower does not blossom, and therefore the fruit does not come forth and ripen. It does not disrupt this order in any way. Man learns from this the order of things, and is taught the need for patience. The earth is man's great educator and his great disciplinarian. How much of his own excellence he has attained because of it.

Man knows the blessings of the sun by means of the earth. Without it, the great power of the sun would not be felt. The earth immediately heeds man's call, the sun, being distant, cannot be reached. Man can offer up prayers, but beyond that his power does not extend. He is in a completely passive relation to heaven. Heaven is not dear to him to the extent he respects it, for vis-a-vis heaven man can know only a crouching fear. Even were we to grant the possibility of an intimacy with heaven's love, it would have to come to us through the medium of the earth. The direct relation between heaven and man lies nowhere but in man's accepting the action of heaven's will as it is. If the sun is broiling hot, the heat will burn inexorably an earth unshadowed by foliage. The winds blow, the rains fall; to stave them off there is no protection but outcroppings of rock. In such cases the aid of the earth must be relied upon. The warmth of spring is closely felt in the plants and flowers sprouting up from the soil. If this warmth is felt merely in one's own body, the blessings and virtues of the sun cannot have universality. When its blessing is received in conjunction with the earth, the sun goes beyond the individual human being and affirms the impartial nature of its love. The inclusion of both oneself and other in the depth of the individual is essential for genuine love, and it is there religion and the life of spirituality are found.

The sun does not by itself awaken religious consciousness, rather it must pass via the earth, where man and the earth are joined in full and unfettered communion. One can understand neither the sun's blessings nor anything else without these ties, merely floating in mid-air. The sun comes, in varying degrees, into man's direct and tangible experience via the earth upon which his feet rest and upon which he works with his hands. In this way the actions of heaven come to have a connection to him that is dependant upon the earth. Religious consciousness with regard to heaven, quite simply, will not be brought forth by heaven alone. When heaven descends to earth man can feel it in his hands; he has knowledge of heaven's warmth because he can actually touch it. The potential in cultivated land derives from heaven's light falling to earth. For this reason religion bears its greatest authenticity when it appears among peasants and farmers who live and work on the soil. The courtiers did not and could not know the land except as an idea or concept, a shadow they approached only in their poetry and monogatari (tale). The emotions of Heian times are as a result far from religious. Even among the so-called Buddhists, religion was merely an agency to eminence : it did not become a guide, pointing the way into the deep recesses of one's own heart. Nara and Hiei Buddhism lacked human authenticity because it was without the direct experience of the earth.

The four hundred years of Heian rule was a long hibernation, rendered inevitable by historical, political, geographical, and other considerations. Still, the sleep was not without advantage.

On the one hand, the Heian period permitted its courtiers the tender sweetness, sorrow, and elegance of love within a 'world of ideas', but on the other hand, in the country areas, the areas away from the cities, it allowed the samurai and the peasants a continuous and extremely direct connection with the earth. Hence the latter confronted life full face. The Heian nobility were to be superseded both politically and intellectually by the class that directly controlled the farmers and peasants - the samurai. Only those grasping the reality of life can become the leaders of the group life. Although it is said that those who did not or could not realize their ambitions in the capital went to outlying districts, these ambitions referred to include becoming a high government official or minister. Therefore, those with even a little of the "spirit of the Japanese male" (yamato onoko ) - and even in those times it must have existed - probably did not trouble themselves with such trivialities. They no doubt struggled to realize their ardent hopes, even to the point of leaving the boundaries of Japan and going abroad. The taste of the times was single-minded pursuance of pleasure, the men knocking like mud-hens at the doors of their women as the latter composed poetry. To follow such delicacy and refinement is not the way of great men or warriors, who would no doubt wish to live truer lives. In all likelihood they wanted - even if unconsciously - to live closer to the earth. People of this caliber, secluded in the countryside, accumulated visible and invisible influence during the latter part of the Heian period. With the power of the central government doomed to fall, those who would inherit its power would be those firmly entrenched in the earth.

The points I have indicated above are especially true regarding the life of spirituality. Spirituality may appear to be a faint and shadowy concept, but there is nothing more deeply rooted in the earth, for spirituality is life itself.

The depth of the earth is bottomless. Things that soar in the firmament, and things that descend from the sky, are wonderful, but are nonetheless external and do not come from within one's own life. The earth and the self are one. The roots of the earth are the roots of one's own existence. The earth is oneself. The Kyoto nobles and the priesthood hanging in their train continued to lead lives divorced from the earth, and all their artistic taste, learning, yugen, and yubi (another aesthetical term, indicating an elegant, graceful, andrelined beauty)  separated as they are from real life - from the life of reality - are but castles in the air.

The whole of the Heian era did not produce a single man who can be said to have had a spiritual existence or religious character. Even such men as Dengyo Daishi and Kobo Daishi did not have sufficient contact with the earth. Their intelligence, virtue, and achievements are truly the pride of the Japanese people. However, they were the products of an aristocratic culture, and thus provide the good and the bad points discernible in that culture. Since they came to prominence in the early years of the Heian era, the distinctive features of Heian culture - the feelings of frailty, sorrow, gracefulness, delicacy, etc. - are not present. They were more continental in character. Their Buddhism - in contrast to Nara Buddhism - had at first a fresh and pure thrust. After a while it came nevertheless to the same road of formalization, ritualization, aestheticization, and artificiality as the other culture forms, and became separated from the essential nature of Buddhism. Without any stimulus from the continent, confined to an island nation, surrounded by the mountains of Kyoto, the nobles lived on the economic support they gleaned from the rest of the country. Passing their lives in refined and unmixed pleasure, they were bent on somehow passing to position and power, regarding this as necessary to uphold the 'pride of family.' The priesthood, next in line, instead of guiding them as monastics, were dragged along with the nobles.

Contemporary observers of Heian culture give us the account of men who followed the lead of their women, taking great pains with their splendid garments and beautiful personal appearance. Anyone who has read the Heian monogatari (tale) has perceived how rich and beautiful the descriptions of this "masculine attire" are. Men and women, their faces meticulously adorned with cosmetics, freely exchanged and wore one another's clothing. They were also strangely given to tears; so often we read, "my sleeves were wet with tears." The extent of their overt sentimentality can be seen in the following: "By the edge of the swift-running river, the sounds of the falling leaves and the echoing water .... are too fierce to be described as nice; it is a lonesome, desolate place."

The personal appearance of the priests, as well as the various religious ceremonies, were obliged to take their keynote from the effeminant tastes of the nobles. There is no limit to the "exquisiteness, beauty, and delight," of the priests reciting the Nembutsu at the Buddhist services. Their attire is described on page after page, and we are finally told their dress is so magnificent it cannot be readily adjectivized. And it is no ordinary aspect we find in the world of smells. The priests are described walking with weary steps, dragging their robes filled with over-powering odors of incense. We read of their faces covered with cosmetics, their voices delicate as the sound of the Kalavinka bird, and so on and on. We realize that for them religious functions were spectacles of a wholly sensual nature. Even such a life is not entirely meaningless, but those who tread its path cannot help but keep a highly perilous foothold.

It was inevitable Heian culture would be superseded by a culture coming from the earth. Those representing this culture, with a foothold in the country, were the samurai, who had immediate connections to the peasantry. Therefore the nobility was finally to surrender before the gates of the samurai. This did not happen because of the samurai's physical strength, but because their roots were deep in the earth. Historians may call this economic or material strength (or physical force), but to me it is the spirit of the earth.

The spirit of the earth is the spirit of life. This life always unfolds itself within the individual, who is a continuation of the earth - he has his roots there, there is where he appears, and there is where he returns. The spirit of the earth breathes at the inmost recesses of the individual, so that reality is ever present in him, sharing a pole in opposition to the world of ideas. Heian Buddhism was established within the world of ideas and could not be separated from the pleasure-seeking spirit that followed in the wake of aristocratic culture. In the Kokinshu we find this poem:

Is this world dream or reality?
I cannot tell --
Because it at once is and is not.

If they could be satisfied with something like this there is little chance for their attaining the realm of religion; nothing of spirituality is to be found herein. Such words as "melancholy," "loneliness," "world-weariness" are common in Heian literature, and they immediately bring Buddhism to the minds of some people. Regardless, the Heian period had nothing derived from the earth.

As I said above, the samurai's superseding the nobility did not mean force replaced ideas. They did have physical force, yet their strength lay elsewhere, in their relation to the earth. They did not always have their field of operations fixed in the earth. Physical force did exist, for the samurai and physical force were inseparable. But if it had not been entrenched in the earth the physical force would simply have collapsed. Aristocratic culture would perish because of its frail, delicate nature; samurai culture was ordained to fall from its violent, despotic character. Physical force and the earth are not the same thing. Brute force may exist alone. Had even the Heian courtiers taken notice of the earth, there is little doubt their culture would have been different than it actually was. This is a point we should consider deeply. The Kamakura samurai culture which succeeded the Heian had a life of the spirit as well as physical strength. Were it a question of strength alone, the culture that appeared in the Kamakura period in all likelihood would not have evolved. This spiritual life that lived in Kamakura culture was manifested in a religious direction.

The Heian period was an excessively human one. In Kamakura times the spirit of the earth can be said to have returned the Japanese people to their origin.