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“There is a country situated no far from the River Yet-Sin,” said Yoritomo, “wherein certain villages are renowned for the curative property of the air.”

“With the lightest breezes are diffused balsamic odors, which pour into weak lungs the restoring breath they pant for. At the coming of spring invalids gather there to install themselves temporarily in tiny houses which, seen from a distance, look like huge birds resting for an instant before retaking flight.”

“My venerated master, Lang-Ho, took me one day to visit this privileged country, and while admiring the beauty of the landscape, I could not refrain from actions that showed clearly my surprise.”

“In the gardens that surround the small houses, I see the blooming amaryllis opening its gorgeous chalices from which spring pollen laden pistils, looking like a woman’s long eyelashes that have been made heavy with paint; in the flowerbed bloom roses, delicate or pronounced indoors; while large convolvuli climb the roofs and fall in jagged clusters.”

“The fields extend monotonously in the distance; strips of land were planted with solid banks of chrysanthemums, whose bitter odor we could plainly detect. But above all other odors arose the balsamic fragrance of the resinous trees, vivifying and persistent. Yet, although I looked around carefully, I could perceive no sign of those trees, whose odor filled our lungs.”

“Then my master looked at me and smiled: ‘I thought that you would be surprised,’ said he; ‘that is the common experience of those that visit this country for the first time; but how few among them are wise enough to draw a lesson from what they observed. ’”

“Pointing at a low hill, whose silvery verdure appeared to stand out like a luminous mass against a sky of tenderness blue, he continued: ‘Look! Behind that light screen of bushes is a grove composed of resinous trees. We cannot see them, but their beneficent influence diffuses itself throughout the surrounding country. Do not neglect the lesson this teaches, my son! That little grove of regenerative power happily illustrates a man whose influence radiates upon and extends itself over those that approach him, in pouring out upon them the balm it distils. ’”

“Just as the light and frivolous birches hide rough branches and roots whence proceed health and life, the art of influencing must learn how to surround itself with an aspect of amiability, and in order to reach men’s souls, it must abandon the idea that it must be composed merely of the rougher and more rugged virtues, so much extolled by many philosophers.”

“ Influence must know how to enter the most thoughtless spirit, after the manner in which the balsamic odor penetrates these gewgaw little houses, with their gardens filled with useless flowers.”

“ Most invalids recoil at the mere notion of the boredom of living in the woods; but they come with pleasure to establish themselves among flowers, and yield unconsciously to the restoring influence that radiates around them in the vivifying balsamic atoms.”

“ With the coming winter they will depart. They will take up their old way of life, detaching themselves completely from that which has given them a new birth, so to speak; but they will bear within themselves this principle of new life, which has implanted itself without their will, and which will by slow degrees develop itself in the form of a desire to return.”

“ Be not blind, my son, but receive seriously the lesson given to you by the immensity and simplicity of Nature. As she influences the body, know that she influences souls also; and your earthly sojourn should contribute to the instruction of a strong and supple race, whose power will assert itself throughout the centuries.”

“ That man never really dies who knows how to assume sufficient empire over others to be able to trace lasting marks of his energy and power over the minds of those who, under his influence, bend their steps toward the highest.”

“While he discoursed,” Yoritomo continued, “I glanced around mechanically and saw some of the inhabitants of these little pleasure houses. Some among them occupied themselves with light tasks of horticulture; others strolled about, chatting; the women, whom one could discern among the shadows of the terraces, were preparing tea with a cheerful rattle of cups; no one appeared to give a thought to the neighboring grove, yet everyone felt its beneficent influence.”

“An imperious and passionate desire arose within me to allow the expansion of the forces with energy, always working and always increasing, had put in my brain that their powerful rays might penetrate weak souls and temper them for the bitter struggle of existence by reawakening in them a resolution toward good and hatred of evil, simultaneously with the dauntless courage which is the keynote of all success based on noble ambitions.”

A single word struck me in this last phrase of the Japanese philosopher. He did not say “to create” but to “reawaken” in men’s souls a resolution toward good and hatred of evil. It is only in the simplest romances and the most naïve plays that men are good or bad all in the same way, without any variation.

On the contrary, it is easy to show that each individual is a prey, at a given moment or in special circumstances, to contrary impulses that show in him the presence of a double sensibility.

We will not speak of inclinations that correct themselves or grow weaker after reflection; for example, the sudden and unlooked-for prodigality of a miser who fancies he may gain something by a show of liberality; the voluntary self-indulgence of a man who knows how prejudicial to him may be an appearance of excessive strictness or severity; or the temporary abstemiousness of a gourmand who reserves his appetites for a feast.

Instinct more often takes the place of reason, in imposing on each person acts of contradictory sentiment, according to the time, the place, or circumstances.

Our mind is only too often the field of evolution wherein are elaborated resolutions that are not dictated by an attentive and conscientious will.

Our modern way of speech calls such persons impulsive; following the bend of the idea that haunts them, they may be heroic or cowardly, proud or servile, kind or cruel; it is often impossible for the observer, as well as for themselves, to determine the exact quality, whether good or bad, that plays the chief part in the character of the normal man.

“There are those,” Yoritomo continues, “who, dazzled by the fantastic dreams of a theoretic existence, recoil before the effort necessary to reestablish themselves in actual life and in stripping the rags of illusion from their chimera.”

“All those, again, whom inertia holds ensnared in their vices will feel their hearts moved by an emotion leading toward light and toward the practice of virtues, indispensable to him, who desires to face triumphantly the conflict of existence.”

Note that the Shogun does not speak of “creating” the feeling that gives the impulse toward god; he wishes simply to awaken it, for he knows that it dwells within every heart. If it does not manifest itself, it is because the psychic qualities necessary to its production cannot create successfully the initial impulse, which fortified by the will and rendered more precise by concentration, will become efficacious in forming a habit.

But, in order to possess this gift in a way complete enough to exercise its beneficent influence over others, that it may be possible to suggest favorable thoughts and draw men back from the incline of baleful resolutions, it is indispensable that we should provide ourselves with that beneficent power which must radiate from ourselves as heat rises from a glowing hearth.

What must one do to gain this power? Listen again to the Shogun:

“We possess,” said he, “innumerable forces that lie hidden within ourselves, though it would be easy to lead them, as the waters of a canal are conducted, to make them serve for the conquest of good, spiritual as well as corporeal.”

“The existence of these forces cannot be doubted; they abide in a latent state in some persons and appear intermittently in others. It is the lack of domestication of these forces that causes the frequent and disconcerting plurality of the Ego.”

“What can one think of a man who today commits a villainous crime and who tomorrow, in the same circumstances, will perform an act of devotion?”

“Thinkers have often deduced from this phenomenon the theory that in such a man slumbers different states of the soul, of which one under the influence of a momentary emotion, surges up to the exclusion of all others.”

“These manifestations of the energies that are buried in the most profound depths of being are, unless they are concerned in our moral betterment, almost always regrettable because they are thoughtless, springing up incomplete and nearly always contrary to those designs which deliberate reason would help us to accomplish.”

“It is wise to direct these efforts to a practical end, and not toward such realizations of which the accomplishment would give no virile satisfaction.”Apropos of this, Yoritomo related the following little legend:

“Once upon a time lived a man who was in love with the queen of the clouds. His days were passed in contemplation of the skies; when the sun shone he was sad, but when clouds floated across the heavens like gray tatters he delighted himself with fancying that he could behold his chimera.”

“She was very capricious, and rarely assumed the same aspect twice. But from time to time he recognized her in some flocculent mass, whereupon his heart would swell with joy.”

“At last, he resolved to join her and in order to do so he fancied he must build a monumental stairway that would reach to the sky. So he set himself to work, interrupting himself only to lose himself in the contemplation of his ideal.”

“Years passed; his hair grew gray, his hands and knees trembled, but, faithful at his task, he continued painfully to add one step to another.”

“At last a day came when the tottering builder, struggling in anguish against approaching death attained his object; the stairway reached the clouds, from the midst of which his beloved leaned toward him.”

“He climbed the last step and extended his lips to the longed-for apparition. But he received only the kiss of the rain, which dropping slowly, bore with it the form on which he had doted so many years.”

“Returning to earth, the man wept. He wept for his lost youth, the beautiful years that had gone, and above all for his strength wasted in sterile efforts, when he might have put it to magnificent use.”

May not this little legend be the origin of the story from which our modern writers have drawn the figure of Pierrot enamored of the moon. Are there not many persons who pass their lives in building by slow stages a stairway that leads nowhere, and who do not perceive the fact until the work is finished.

The struggle for life becomes more and more arduous, and the power of our hidden faculties should expand in accordance with ever-growing necessities. It is time, then, to awaken the forces that lie dormant within us.

“But,” someone may object at this appeal, “evil forces as well as good will be aroused, and the combat between them will be so much the stronger because we ourselves must direct it.”

The old Japanese philosopher had foreseen this objection, and he said quietly:

“Why fear to reanimate ALL the possibilities that lie dormant in our natures?”

“Is it not desirable to cultivate all plants indiscriminately?”

“There are those that are poisonous, true, yet even these are indispensable in the practice of medicine.”

“Large doses of certain drugs cause death; but, administered wisely with the hand of a skilful physician, they bring relief and very often a complete cure.”

“The same may be said of many forces that are evil only because they are not disciplined.”

“There is still a danger to avoid; that of failing to discern those who can make us mistake for virtues the evil qualities that are only deceptive copies of virtues.”

“Just as certain poisonous vegetables resemble those that are edible and wholesome, just as certain flowers have the form and color of those that are inoffensive, up to the point where only the initiated can detect the difference, there are failings, which, by their origin, resemble virtues of which they are really the direct opposite.”

“But naturalists are not deceived; the poisonous plant is recognized by them in the midst of a hundred others, and if they gather it, it is only to extract its medicinal properties.”

The philosopher, adept in researches touching suggestion, distinguishes still more rapidly the “enemy” forces that disguise themselves under an appearance of false virtue.

“He will separate pride form vanity, perseverance from obstinacy, gentleness from weakness; and, strong in this knowledge he will know how to gather and to infuse into weak souls the infinitesimal dose necessary to produce the auxiliaries to success.”

I observed that this word “success” occurred frequently in the remarks of the Japanese philosopher. It was because it is the “Open Sesame” of the magic gates that lead to the domain so much desired.

Success! It is the fulfillment of one or of several desires, all-converging toward one end. It is the reason for living for those who wish to struggle for the conquest of Good – that Good which has a way of transforming itself and seems farther away as soon as one has grasped it.

For wise men know the inanity of the word “perfection”; perfection cannot exist, since it cannot be absolute and is always debatable, following the bent of differing tastes or the application of doctrines.

Others, whose convictions modify the ideal, criticize a thing that seems to some persons the highest degree of Good will.

At this point Yoritomo, as he delighted to do, illustrated his words with a fable:

“A man once lived,” said he, “who resolved to climb to the highest summit of a chain of mountains, so that no obstacle should hide from him the view of the universe.

“After countless fatigues, he climbed the peak which from below seemed to him higher than all the others; the ascent was rough, the road arduous and dangerous; but the man, possessed by his idea, felt neither the scorching sun which burned his face, nor the biting north wind on wintry nights.”

“In order to avoid precipices and possible traps along the road, he walked with a bent head and did not raise it until the moment when his feet reached the lofty plateau, the object of his strenuous efforts.”

“Alas! What disillusion was his! A granite wall, which clouds had heretofore hidden from his gaze on looking up from below, rose before him, straight, rigid, impracticable, as it seemed to him.”

“Impracticable! Not entirely so, but perilous and above all mysterious, for the clouds that enveloped it hardly permitted him to discern the road that he must follow amid a thousand dangers.”

“The man postponed the accomplishment of his desire. He descended into the valley again to wait for the dispersion of the clouds, so that he could choose his road by a clearer light.”

“But that was not the real cause of his chagrin. The topmost peak was invisible from below, and he asked himself bitterly whether his great fatigue had not been caused by a mirage, after all.”

“Should he begin another ascent? It was such hard work – it was better to wait! Now that he knew from which side he should climb to reach the summit, there was no need to worry about it. Besides, did a summit really exist? And even if it did, might he not encounter, after a weary climb, still another eminence, which he had not yet been able to discern! ”

“Days passed; the propitious moment did not present itself and at last the man died in the valley, having lived a life interwoven with regrets and aspirations the more cruel because he well knew that he had not the energy sufficient to satisfy them.”

“This often happens to those that assign to themselves nothing short of perfection as the end of their efforts. As soon as they imagine they have attained it, they try sadly to ascertain whether there is not something more left to conquer.”

“Those among them who have become wise compel themselves simply to attain the highest, and soon aacquire a passionate enthusiasm for their task, for their aim is not circumscribed but grand and infinite.”

“One should pity those who believe themselves to have ‘arrived’ quite as much as those who despair of arriving. The former, thinking they have nothing more to combat, soon come to believe that there is nothing more worth conquering.”

“Combat increases our energies, and the desire to live become more determined when one fears that he must die before he has accomplished his task.”

“But,” asked someone, “when should one enjoy the benefits of his continued efforts?”

The answer was ready:

“From the perpetual pursuit of the highest springs a series of realizations, each of which gives us the joy and pride of conquest. Does a trader cease to do business because he has just made a good bargain? While he appreciates the advantages gained in the long-pursued transaction, he will enter upon another into which he will throw himself eagerly, and will even use the gains of the preceding bargain to make sure of negotiating the second.”

“Thus we should use acquired forces, the advantages gained over ourselves in the realization of another ideal, which, once attained will allow us to pursue another of a form more nearly perfect.”

“That man in whom moral strength grows and increases is very near decadence, and that means that he will enter on the road leading to shadows and death.”

“Let us then turn resolutely toward the light; above all, let us increase our psychic forces, for they alone can give us that power that emanates from certain beings whose domination exercises itself beneficially over those that surround them.”

“Just as when, in the heat of the sun, all grains and seeds sleeping in the earths bosom sprout and rise in the form of plants to play their part in the universal fete of Nature, so under the power of influence always augmented and disciplined by noble deeds the hearts of those near us will open to a desire for the best, conducive to the general aim of mankind – Happiness.”


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