Tales of Old Japan



Môshi has said, "There is the third finger. If a man's third or nameless finger be bent, so that he cannot straighten it, although his bent finger may cause him no pain, still if he hears of some one who can cure it, he will think nothing of undertaking a long journey from Shin to So94 to consult him upon this deformed finger; for he knows it is to be hateful to have a finger unlike those of other men. But he cares not a jot if his heart be different to that of other men; and this is how men disregard the true order of things."

Now this is the next chapter to the one about benevolence being the true heart of man, which I expounded to you the other night. True learning has no other aim than that of reclaiming lost souls; and, in connection with this, Môshi has thus again declared in a parable the all-importance of the human heart.

The nameless finger is that which is next to the little finger. The thumb is called the parent-finger; the first finger is called the index; the long is called the middle finger; but the third finger has no name. It is true that it is sometimes called the finger for applying rouge; but that is only a name given it by ladies, and is not in general use. So, having no name, it is called the nameless finger. And how comes it to have no name? Why, because it is of all the fingers the least useful. When we clutch at or grasp things, we do so by the strength of the thumb and little finger. If a man scratches his head, he does it with the forefinger; if he wishes to test the heat of the wine95 in the kettle, he uses the little finger. Thus, although each finger has its uses and duties, the nameless finger alone is of no use: it is not in our way if we have it, and we do not miss it if we lose it. Of the whole body it is the meanest member: if it be crooked so that we cannot straighten it, it neither hurts nor itches; as Môshi says in the text, it causes no pain; even if we were without it, we should be none the worse off. Hence, what though it should be bent, it would be better, since it causes no pain, to leave it as it is. Yet if a person, having such a crooked finger, hears of a clever doctor who can set it straight, no matter at how great a distance he may be, he will be off to consult this doctor. And pray why? Because he feels ashamed of having a finger a little different from the rest of the world, and so he wants to be cured, and will think nothing of travelling from Shin to So—a distance of a thousand miles—for the purpose. To be sure, men are very susceptible and keenly alive to a sense of shame; and in this they are quite right. The feeling of shame at what is wrong is the commencement of virtue. The perception of shame is inborn in men; but there are two ways of perceiving shame. There are some men who are sensible of shame for what regards their bodies, but who are ignorant of shame for what concerns their hearts; and a terrible mistake they make. There is nothing which can be compared in importance to the heart. The heart is said to be the lord of the body, which it rules as a master rules his house. Shall the lord, who is the heart, be ailing and his sickness be neglected, while his servants, who are the members only, are cared for? If the knee be lacerated, apply tinder to stop the bleeding; if the moxa should suppurate, spread a plaster; if a cold be caught, prepare medicine and garlic and gruel, and ginger wine! For a trifle, you will doctor and care for your bodies, and yet for your hearts you will take no care. Although you are born of mankind, if your hearts resemble those of devils, of foxes, of snakes, or of crows, rather than the hearts of men, you take no heed, caring for your bodies alone. Whence can you have fallen into such a mistake? It is a folly of old standing too, for it was to that that Môshi pointed when he said that to be cognizant of a deformed finger and ignore the deformities of the soul was to disregard the true order of things. This is what it is, not to distinguish between that which is important and that which is unimportant—to pick up a trifle and pass by something of value. The instinct of man prompts him to prefer the great to the small, the important to the unimportant.

If a man is invited out to a feast by his relations or acquaintances, when the guests are assembled and the principal part of the feast has disappeared, he looks all round him, with the eyeballs starting out of his head, and glares at his neighbours, and, comparing the little titbits of roast fowl or fish put before them, sees that they are about half an inch bigger than those set before him; then, blowing out his belly with rage, he thinks, "What on earth can the host be about? Master Tarubei is a guest, but so am I: what does the fellow mean by helping me so meanly? There must be some malice or ill-will here." And so his mind is prejudiced against the host. Just be so good as to reflect upon this. Does a man show his spite by grudging a bit of roast fowl or meat? And yet even in such trifles as these do men show how they try to obtain what is great, and show their dislike of what is small. How can men be conscious of shame for a deformed finger, and count it as no misfortune that their hearts are crooked? That is how they abandon the substance for the shadow.

Môshi severely censures the disregard of the true order of things. What mistaken and bewildered creatures men are! What says the old song? "Hidden far among the mountains, the tree which seems to be rotten, if its core be yet alive, may be made to bear flowers." What signifies it if the hand or the foot be deformed? The heart is the important thing. If the heart be awry, what though your skin be fair, your nose aquiline, your hair beautiful? All these strike the eye alone, and are utterly useless. It is as if you were to put horse-dung into a gold-lacquer luncheon-box. This is what is called a fair outside, deceptive in appearance.

There's the scullery-maid been washing out the pots at the kitchen sink, and the scullion Chokichi comes up and says to her, "You've got a lot of charcoal smut sticking to your nose," and points out to her the ugly spot. The scullery-maid is delighted to be told of this, and answers, "Really! whereabouts is it?" Then she twists a towel round her finger, and, bending her head till mouth and forehead are almost on a level, she squints at her nose, and twiddles away with her fingers as if she were the famous Gotô96 at work, carving the ornaments of a sword-handle. "I say, Master Chokichi, is it off yet?" "Not a bit of it. You've smeared it all over your cheeks now." "Oh dear! oh dear! where can it be?" And so she uses the water-basin as a looking-glass, and washes her face clean; then she says to herself, "What a dear boy Chokichi is!" and thinks it necessary, out of gratitude, to give him relishes with his supper by the ladleful, and thanks him over and over again. But if this same Chokichi were to come up to her and say, "Now, really, how lazy you are! I wish you could manage to be rather less of a shrew," what do you think the scullery-maid would answer then? Reflect for a moment. "Drat the boy's impudence! If I were of a bad heart or an angular disposition, should I be here helping him? You go and be hung! You see if I take the trouble to wash your dirty bedclothes for you any more." And she gets to be a perfect devil, less only the horns.

There are other people besides the poor scullery-maid who are in the same way. "Excuse me, Mr. Gundabei, but the embroidered crest on your dress of ceremony seems to be a little on one side." Mr. Gundabei proceeds to adjust his dress with great precision. "Thank you, sir. I am ten million times obliged to you for your care. If ever there should be any matter in which I can be of service to you, I beg that you will do me the favour of letting me know;" and, with a beaming face, he expresses his gratitude. Now for the other side of the picture. "Really, Mr. Gundabei, you are very foolish; you don't seem to understand at all. I beg you to be of a frank and honest heart: it really makes me quite sad to see a man's heart warped in this way." What is his answer? He turns his sword in his girdle ready to draw, and plays the devil's tattoo upon the hilt: it looks as if it must end in a fight soon.

In fact, if you help a man in anything which has to do with a fault of the body, he takes it very kindly, and sets about mending matters. If any one helps another to rectify a fault of the heart, he has to deal with a man in the dark, who flies in a rage, and does not care to amend. How out of tune all this is! And yet there are men who are bewildered up to this point. Nor is this a special and extraordinary failing. This mistaken perception of the great and the small, of colour and of substance, is common to us all—to you and to me.

Please give me your attention. The form strikes the eye; but the heart strikes not the eye. Therefore, that the heart should be distorted and turned awry causes no pain. This all results from the want of sound judgment; and that is why we cannot afford to be careless.

The master of a certain house calls his servant Chokichi, who sits dozing in the kitchen. "Here, Chokichi! The guests are all gone; come and clear away the wine and fish in the back room."

Chokichi rubs his eyes, and with a sulky answer goes into the back room, and, looking about him, sees all the nice things paraded on the trays and in the bowls. It's wonderful how his drowsiness passes away: no need for any one to hurry him now. His eyes glare with greed, as he says, "Hullo! here's a lot of tempting things! There's only just one help of that omelette left in the tray. What a hungry lot of guests! What's this? It looks like fish rissoles;" and with this he picks out one, and crams his mouth full; when, on one side, a mess of young cuttlefish, in a Chinese97 porcelain bowl, catches his eyes. There the little beauties sit in a circle, like Buddhist priests in religious meditation! "Oh, goodness! how nice!" and just as he is dipping his finger and thumb in, he hears his master's footstep; and knowing that he is doing wrong, he crams his prize into the pocket of his sleeve, and stoops down to take away the wine-kettle and cups; and as he does this, out tumble the cuttlefish from his sleeve. The master sees it.

"What's that?"

Chokichi, pretending not to know what has happened, beats the mats, and keeps on saying, "Come again the day before yesterday; come again the day before yesterday."98

But it's no use his trying to persuade his master that the little cuttlefish are spiders, for they are not the least like them. It's no use hiding things,—they are sure to come to light; and so it is with the heart,—its purposes will out. If the heart is enraged, the dark veins stand out on the forehead; if the heart is grieved, tears rise to the eyes; if the heart is joyous, dimples appear in the cheeks; if the heart is merry, the face smiles: thus it is that the face reflects the emotions of the heart. It is not because the eyes are filled with tears that the heart is sad; nor because the veins stand out on the forehead that the heart is enraged. It is the heart which leads the way in everything. All the important sensations of the heart are apparent in the outward appearance. In the "Great Learning" of Kôshi it is written, "The truth of what is within appears upon the surface." How then is the heart a thing which can be hidden? To answer when reproved, to hum tunes when scolded, show a diseased heart; and if this disease is not quickly taken in hand, it will become chronic, and the remedy become difficult: perhaps the disease may be so virulent that even Giba and Henjaku99 in consultation could not effect a cure. So, before the disease has gained strength, I invite you to the study of the moral essays entitled Shin-gaku (the Learning of the Heart). If you once arrive at the possession of your heart as it was originally by nature, what an admirable thing that will be! In that case your conscience will point out to you even the slightest wrong bias or selfishness.

While upon this subject, I may tell you a story which was related to me by a friend of mine. It is a story which the master of a certain money-changer's shop used to be very fond of telling. An important part of a money-changer's business is to distinguish between good and bad gold and silver. In the different establishments, the ways of teaching the apprentices this art vary; however, the plan adopted by the money-changer was as follows:—At first he would show them no bad silver, but would daily put before them good money only; when they had become thoroughly familiar with the sight of good money, if he stealthily put a little base coin among the good, he found that they would detect it immediately,—they saw it as plainly as you see things when you throw light on a mirror. This faculty of detecting base money at a glance was the result of having learned thoroughly to understand good money. Having once been taught in this way, the apprentices would not make a mistake about a piece of base coin during their whole lives, as I have heard. I can't vouch for the truth of this; but it is very certain that the principle, applied to moral instruction, is an excellent one,—it is a most safe mode of study. However, I was further told that if, after having thus learned to distinguish good money, a man followed some other trade for six months or a year, and gave up handling money, he would become just like any other inexperienced person, unable to distinguish the good from the base.

Please reflect upon this attentively. If you once render yourself familiar with the nature of the uncorrupted heart, from that time forth you will be immediately conscious of the slightest inclination towards bias or selfishness. And why? Because the natural heart is illumined. When a man has once learned that which is perfect, he will never consent to accept that which is imperfect; but if, after having acquired this knowledge, he again keeps his natural heart at a distance, and gradually forgets to recognize that which is perfect, he finds himself in the dark again, and that he can no longer distinguish base money from good. I beg you to take care. If a man falls into bad habits, he is no longer able to perceive the difference between the good impulses of his natural heart and the evil impulses of his corrupt heart. With this benighted heart as a starting-point, he can carry out none of his intentions, and he has to lift his shoulders sighing and sighing again. A creature much to be pitied indeed! Then he loses all self-reliance, so that, although it would be better for him to hold his tongue and say nothing about it, if he is in the slightest trouble or distress, he goes and confesses the crookedness of his heart to every man he meets. What a wretched state for a man to be in! For this reason, I beg you to learn thoroughly the true silver of the heart, in order that you may make no mistake about the base coin. I pray that you and I, during our whole lives, may never leave the path of true principles.

I have an amusing story to tell you in connection with this, if you will be so good as to listen.

Once upon a time, when the autumn nights were beginning to grow chilly, five or six tradesmen in easy circumstances had assembled together to have a chat; and, having got ready their picnic box and wine-flask, went off to a temple on the hills, where a friendly priest lived, that they might listen to the stags roaring. With this intention they went to call upon the priest, and borrowed the guests' apartments100 of the monastery; and as they were waiting to hear the deer roar, some of the party began to compose poetry. One would write a verse of Chinese poetry, and another would write a verse of seventeen syllables; and as they were passing the wine-cup the hour of sunset came, but not a deer had uttered a call; eight o'clock came, and ten o'clock came; still not a sound from the deer.

"What can this mean?" said one. "The deer surely ought to be roaring."

But, in spite of their waiting, the deer would not roar. At last the friends got sleepy, and, bored with writing songs and verses, began to yawn, and gave up twaddling about the woes and troubles of life; and as they were all silent, one of them, a man fifty years of age, stopping the circulation of the wine-cup, said—

"Well, certainly, gentlemen, thanks to you, we have spent the evening in very pleasant conversation. However, although I am enjoying myself mightily in this way, my people at home must be getting anxious, and so I begin to think that we ought to leave off drinking."

"Why so?" said the others.

"Well, I'll tell you. You know that my only son is twenty-two years of age this year, and a troublesome fellow be is, too. When I'm at home, he lends a hand sulkily enough in the shop: but as soon as he no longer sees the shadow of me, he hoists sail and is off to some bad haunt. Although our relations and connections are always preaching to him, not a word has any more effect that wind blowing into a horse's ear. When I think that I shall have to leave my property to such a fellow as that, it makes my heart grow small indeed. Although, thanks to those to whom I have succeeded, I want for nothing, still, when I think of my son, I shed tears of blood night and day."

And as he said this with a sigh, a man of some forty-five or forty-six years said—

"No, no; although you make so much of your misfortunes, your son is but a little extravagant after all. There's no such great cause for grief there. I've got a very different story to tell. Of late years my shopmen, for one reason or another, have been running me into debt, thinking nothing of a debt of fifty or seventy ounces; and so the ledgers get all wrong. Just think of that. Here have I been keeping these fellows ever since they were little children unable to blow their own noses, and now, as soon as they come to be a little useful in the shop, they begin running up debts, and are no good whatever to their master. You see, you only have to spend your money upon your own son."

Then another gentleman said—

"Well, I think that to spend money upon your shop-people is no such great hardship after all. Now I've been in something like trouble lately. I can't get a penny out of my customers. One man owes me fifteen ounces; another owes me twenty-five ounces. Really that is enough to make a man feel as if his heart was worn away."

When he had finished speaking, an old gentleman, who was sitting opposite, playing with his fan, said—

"Certainly, gentlemen, your grievances are not without cause; still, to be perpetually asked for a little money, or to back a bill, by one's relations or friends, and to have a lot of hangers-on dependent on one, as I have, is a worse case still."

But before the old gentleman had half finished speaking, his neighbour called out—

"No, no; all you gentlemen are in luxury compared to me. Please listen to what I have to suffer. My wife and my mother can't hit it off anyhow. All day long they're like a couple of cows butting at one another with their horns. The house is as unendurable as if it were full of smoke. I often think it would be better to send my wife back to her village; but then I've got two little children. If I interfere and take my wife's part, my mother gets low-spirited. If I scold my wife, she says that I treat her so brutally because she's not of the same flesh and blood; and then she hates me. The trouble and anxiety are beyond description: I'm like a post stuck up between them."

And so they all twaddled away in chorus, each about his own troubles. At last one of the gentlemen, recollecting himself, said—

"Well, gentlemen, certainly the deer ought to be roaring; but we've been so engrossed with our conversation, that we don't know whether we have missed hearing them or not."

With this he pulled aside the sliding-door of the verandah and looked out, and, lo and behold! a great big stag was standing perfectly silent in front of the garden.

"Hullo!" said the man to the deer, "what's this? Since you've been there all the time, why did you not roar?"

Then the stag answered, with an innocent face—

"Oh, I came here to listen to the lamentations of you gentlemen."

Isn't that a funny story?

Old and young, men and women, rich and poor, never cease grumbling from morning till night. All this is the result of a diseased heart. In short, for the sake of a very trifling inclination or selfish pursuit, they will do any wrong in order to effect that which is impossible. This is want of judgment, and this brings all sorts of trouble upon the world. If once you gain possession of a perfect heart, knowing that which is impossible to be impossible, and recognizing that that which is difficult is difficult, you will not attempt to spare yourself trouble unduly. What says the Chin-Yo?101 The wise man, whether his lot be cast amongst rich or poor, amongst barbarians or in sorrow, understands his position by his own instinct. If men do not understand this, they think that the causes of pain and pleasure are in the body. Putting the heart on one side, they earnestly strive after the comforts of the body, and launch into extravagance, the end of which is miserly parsimony. Instead of pleasure they meet with grief of the heart, and pass their lives in weeping and wailing. In one way or another, everything in this world depends upon the heart. I implore every one of you to take heed that tears fall not to your lot.


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