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The Ideals of the East
KAKUZO OKAKURA, the author of this work on Japanese Art Ideals — and the future author, as we hope, of a longer and completely illustrated book on the same subject — has been long known to his own people and to others as the foremost living authority on Oriental Archśology and Art.
Although then young, he was made a member of the Imperial Art Commission which was sent out by the Japanese Government in the year 1886 to study the art history and movements of Europe and the United States. Far from being overwhelmed by this experience, Mr. Okakura only found his appreciation of Asiatic art deepened and intensified by his travels, and since that time he has made his influence felt increasingly in the direction of a strong re-nationalising of Japanese art in opposition to that pseudo-Europeanising tendency now so fashionable throughout the East.
On his return from the West, the Government of Japan showed its appreciation of Mr. Okakura's services and convictions by making him Director of their New Art School at Ueno, Tokyo. But political changes brought fresh waves of so-called Europeanism to bear on the school, and in the year 1897 it was insisted that European methods should become increasingly prominent. Mr. Okakura now resigned. Six months later thirty-nine of the strongest young artists in Japan had grouped themselves about him, and they had opened the Nippon Bijitsuin, or Hall of Fine Arts, at Yanaka, in the suburbs of Tokyo, to which reference is made in chapter xiv. of this book.
If we say that Mr. Okakura is in some sense the William Morris of his country, we may also be permitted to explain that the Nippon Bijitsuin is a sort of Japanese Merton Abbey. Here various decorative arts, such as lacquer and metalwork, bronze casting, and porcelain, are carried on, besides Japanese painting and sculpture. The members attempt to possess themselves of a deep sympathy and understanding of all that is best in the contemporary art movements of the West, at the same time that they aim at conserving and extending their national inspiration. They hold proudly that their work will compare favourably with any in the world. And their names include those of Hashimoto Gaho, Kanzan, Taikan, Sessei, Kozn, and others equally famous. Besides the work of the Nippon Bijitsuin, however, Mr. Okakura has found time to aid his Government in classifying the art treasures of Japan, and to visit and study the antiquities of China and India. With regard to the latter country, this is the first instance in modern times of the arrival of a traveller possessed of exhaustive Oriental culture, and Mr. Okakura's visit to the Caves of Ajanta marks a distinct era in Indian archśology. His acquaintance with the art of the same period in Southern China enabled him to see at once that the stone figures now remaining in the caves had been intended originally merely as the bone or foundation of the statues, all the life and movement of the portrayal having been left to be worked into a deep layer of plaster with which they were afterwards covered. A closer inspection of the carvings gives ample justification of this view, though ignorance, "the unconscious vandalism of mercenary Europe," has led to an unfortunate amount of "cleaning" and unintentional disfigurement, as was the case with our own English parish churches only too recently.
Art can only be developed by nations that are in a state of freedom. It is at once indeed the great means and fruitage of that gladness of liberty which we call the sense of nationality. It is not, therefore, very surprising that India, divorced from spontaneity by a thousand years of oppression, should have lost her place in the world of the joy and the beauty of labour.
But it is very reassuring to be told by a competent authority that here also once, as in religion during the era of Asoka, she evidently led the whole East, impressing her thought and taste upon the innumerable Chinese pilgrims who visited her universities and cave-temples, and by their means influencing the development of sculpture, painting, and architecture in China itself, and through China in Japan.
Only those who are already deep in the problems peculiar to Indian archśology, however, will realise the striking value of Mr. Okakura's suggestions regarding the alleged influence of the Greeks on Indian sculpture. Representing, as he does, the great alternative art-lineage of the world — namely, the Chinese — Mr. Okakura is able to show the absurdity of the Hellenic theory. He points out that the actual affinities of the Indian development are largely Chinese, but that the reason of this is probably to be sought in the existence of a common early Asiatic art, which has left its uttermost ripple-marks alike on the shores of Hellas, the extreme west of Ireland, Etruria, Phoenicia, Egypt, India, and China. In such a theory, a fitting truce is called to all degrading disputes about priority, and Greece falls into her proper place, as but a province of that ancient Asia to which scholars have long been looking as the Asgard background of the great Norse sagas. At the same time, a new world is opened to future scholarship, in which a more synthetic method and outlook may correct many of the errors of the past.
With regard to China, Mr. Okakura's treatment is equally rich in suggestions. His analysis of the Northern and Southern thought has already attracted considerable attention amongst the scholars of that country, and his distinction between Laoism and Taoism stands widely accepted. But it is in its larger aspects that his work is most valuable. For he holds that the great historic spectacle with which the world is necessarily familiar, of Buddhism pouring into China across the passes of the Himalayas, and by the sea-route through the straits — that movement which probably commenced under Asoka and became tangible in China itself at the time of N‚garjuna in the second century A.D. — was no isolated event. Rather was it representative of those conditions under which alone can Asia live and flourish. The thing we call Buddhism cannot in itself have been a defined and formulated creed, with strict boundaries and clearly demarcated heresies, capable of giving birth to a Holy Office of its own. Rather must we regard it as the name given to the vast synthesis known as Hinduism, when received by a foreign consciousness. For Mr. Okakura; in dealing with the subject of Japanese art in the ninth century, makes it abundantly clear that the whole mythology of the East, and not merely the personal doctrine of the Buddha, was the subject of interchange. Not the Buddhaising but the Indianising of the Mongolian mind, was the process actually at work — much as if Christianity should receive in some strange land the name of Franciscanism, from its first missioners.
It is well known that in the case of Japan the vital element in her national activity lies always in her art. Here we find, at each period, the indication and memorial of those constituents of her consciousness which are really essential. It is an art, unlike that of ancient Greece, in which the whole nation participates; even as in India, the whole nation combines to elaborate the thought. The question, therefore, becomes profoundly interesting: what is that thing, as a whole, which expresses itself through Japanese art as a whole?
Mr. Okakura answers without hesitation: It is the culture of Continental Asia that converges upon Japan, and finds free living expression in her art. And this Asiatic culture is broadly divisible, as he holds, into Chinese learning and Indian religion. To him, it is not the ornamental and industrial features of his country's art which really form its characteristic elements, but that great life of the ideal by which it is hardly known as yet in Europe. Not a few drawings of plum blossoms, but the mighty conception of the Dragon; not birds and flowers, but the worship of Death; not a trifling realism, however beautiful, but a grand interpretation of the grandest theme within the reach of the human mind, — the longing desire of Buddhahood to save others and not itself — these are the true burden of Japanese art. The means and method of this expression Japan has ever owed to China; it is Mr. Okakura's contention, however, that for the ideals themselves she has depended upon India. It is his belief that her great epochs of expression have always followed in the wake of waves of Indian spirituality. Thus, bereft of the stimulating influenoe of the great southern peninsula, the superb art-instincts of China and Japan must have been lowered in vigour and impoverished in scope, even as those of Northern and Western Europe would undoubtedly have been, if divorced from Italy and the message of the Church. "Bourgeois" our author holds that Asiatic art could never have been, standing in sharp contrast in this respect to that of Germany, Holland, and Norway amongst ourselves. But he would admit, we may presume, that it might have remained at the level of a great and beautiful scheme of peasant decoration.
Exactly how these waves of Indian spirituality have worked to inspire nations, it has been his object throughout the following pages to show us. First understanding the conditions upon which they had to work, the race of Yamato in Japan, the wonderful ethical genius of Northern China, and the rich imaginativeness of the South, we watch the entrance of the stream of Buddhism, as it proceeds to overflow and unite the whole. We follow it here, as the first touch of the dream of a universal faith gives rise to cosmic conceptions in science, and the Roshana Buddha in art. We watch it again as it boils up into the intense pantheism of the Heian period, the emotionalism of the Fujiwara, the heroic manliness of the Kamakura.
It has been by a recrudescence of Shintoism, the primitive religion of Yamato, largely shorn of Buddhistic elements, that the greatness of the Meiji period seems to have been accomplished. But such greatness may leave inspiration far behind. All lovers of the East stand dismayed at this moment before the disintegration of taste and ideals which is coming about in consequence of competition with the West.
Therefore it is worth while to make some effort to recall Asiatic peoples to the pursuit of those proper ends which have constituted their greatness in the past, and are capable of bringing about its restitution. Therefore is it of supreme value to show Asia, as Mr. Okakura does, not as the congeries of geographical fragments that we imagined, but as a united living organism, each part dependent on all the others, the whole breathing a single complex life.
Aptly enough, within the last ten years, by the genius of a wandering monk — the Swami Vivek‚nanda — who found his way to America and made his voice heard in the Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1893, Orthodox Hinduism has again become aggressive, as in the Asokan period. For six or seven years past, it has been sending its missionaries into Europe and America, providing for the future a religious generalisation in which the intellectual freedom of Protestantism — culminating in natural science — can be combined with the spiritual and devotional wealth of Catholicism. It would almost seem as if it were the destiny of imperial peoples to be conquered in turn by the religious ideas of their subjects. "As the creed of the down-trodden Jew has held half the earth during eighteen centuries, so," to quote the great Indian thinker just mentioned, "it seems not unlikely that that of the despised Hindu may yet dominate the world." In some such event is the hope of Northern Asia. The process that took a thousand years at the beginning of our era may now, with the aid of steam and electricity, repeat itself in a few decades and the world may again witness the Indianising of the East.
If so, one of many consequences will be that we shall see in Japanese art a recrudescence of ideals parallel to that of the Mediśval Revival of the past century in England. What would be the simultaneous developments in China? in India? For whatever influences the Eastern Island Empire must influence the others. Our author has talked in vain if he has not conclusively proved that contention with which this little handbook opens, that Asia, the Great Mother, is for ever One.
17 BORE PARA LANE,
BAGH BAZAAR, CALCUTTA.