An Indian scholar whom I knew very well once told me a story about a typical Japanese born in Meiji. This Indian lived in Japan in the early part of this century and lectured on Indian philosophy at a few universities in Tokyo. He was a great friend of Prof. Junjiro Takakusu.
When the late Emperor Hirohito was crown prince, it was arranged that he would have an hour’s lecture on each of the world’s great religions from some outstanding authority. Prof. Takakusu was asked to select the lecturer for Hinduism, and he chose this Indian professor. (He told me that the young Crown Prince had listened for an hour without moving, and that at the end he asked intelligent questions.)
This Indian scholar believed that India should not seek independence from Britain too soon. He said that Britain could do much to organize India, and that India would give spiritual truth to Britain and, through Britain, to the West. In previous centuries India had given Mahayana Buddhism to China and, through China, to Japan. Mahayana Buddhism had been the greatest civilizing force the world had ever known. Something similar could happen in this century, but in a Western direction.
He openly expressed these views, and this brought him into conflict with men like Mitsuru Toyama, who wanted to help a revolution in India. He twice met Toyama who respected his courage and sincerity. He also got to know one of the Japanese, who led the so-called Free India movement in Japan. One day he asked this Japanese how he had become interested in a movement for India. The man then told a story which I could believe only because he was a Japanese. If he had been a man of any other nation, I could never have accepted it. This man said:
I was walking through Tokyo one afternoon with nothing particular to do. I passed a small hall, which had a badly written notice advertising a lecture by some foreigner. No title was given, but I went in out of curiosity. I was the only one in the hall. A Japanese came in with an Indian and said that unfortunately the interpreter had not come; so the lecture would be given in English. Then he left. The Indian got up and addressed the single listener with as much passion and force as if he had been speaking to a full hall. I did not understand a word. Afterwards he came up and spoke to me, but I could only spread my hands.
I left him waiting for his guide to come back. But I was so impressed by his sincerity that I determined first to find out what he had been talking about and then to devote my life to it. I have done so.
The Indian scholar who told me this story said that this Japanese man was, as he put it, ‘a member of a group whose programme was world domination by assassination. He was no ordinary man’.
The British respect sincerity too, but we feel it is often wasted. Unless it brings something good, it is wasted. Unless people know about it, it is wasted. However, Japanese often feel that sincerity is a value in itself, whether it is known about or not. Often a poem will express an attitude perfectly. So I will quote two poems, one English and one Japanese, to bring out the difference in our attitude to sincerity. The first is from the famous Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray (1716-1771):
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
The second is by a Japanese poet whose name I do not know:
Not for the sake of a beholder,
In the deep mountains the cherry blooms
Out of the sincerity of its heart.
© Trevor Leggett