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Gleaings in Buddha-Fields, by Lafcadio Hearn, [1897], at

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   NEITHER personal pain nor personal pleasure can be really expressed in words. It is never possible to communicate them in their original form. It is only possible, by vivid portrayal of the circumstances or conditions causing them, to awaken in sympathetic minds some kindred qualities of feeling. But if the circumstances causing the pain or the pleasure be totally foreign to common human experience, then no representation of them can make fully known the sensations which they evoked. Hopeless, therefore, any attempt to tell the real pain of seeing my former births. I can say only that no combination of suffering possible to individual being could be likened to such pain,—the pain of countless lives interwoven. It seemed as if every nerve of me had been prolonged into some monstrous web of sentiency spun back through a million

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years,—and as if the whole of that measureless woof and warp, over all its shivering threads, were pouring into my consciousness, out of the abysmal past, some ghastliness without name,—some horror too vast for human brain to hold. For, as I looked backward, I became double, quadruple, octuple—I multiplied by arithmetical progression; I became hundreds and thousands,—and feared with the terror of thousands,—and despaired with the anguish of thousands,—and shuddered with the agony of thousands; yet knew the pleasure of none. All joys, all delights appeared but mists or mockeries: only the pain and the fear were real,—and always, always growing. Then in the moment when sentiency itself seemed bursting into dissolution, one divine touch ended the frightful vision, and brought again to me the simple consciousness of the single present. Oh! how unspeakably delicious that sudden shrinking; back out of multiplicity into unity!—that immense, immeasurable collapse of Self into the blind oblivious numbness of individuality!


   "To others also," said the voice of the divine

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one who had thus saved me,—"to others in the like state it has been permitted to see something of their preëxistence. But no one of them ever could endure to look far. Power to see all former births belongs only to those eternally released from the bonds of Self. Such exist outside of illusion,—outside of form and name; and pain cannot come nigh them.

   "But to you, remaining in illusion, not even the Buddha could give power to look back more than a little way.

   "Still you are bewitched by the follies of art and of poetry and of music,—the delusions of color and form,—the delusions of sensuous speech, the delusions of sensuous sound.

   "Still that apparition called Nature—which is but another name for emptiness and shadow—deceives and charms you, and fills you with dreams of longing for the things of sense.

   "But he who truly wishes to know, must not love this phantom Nature,—must not find delight in the radiance of a clear sky,—nor in the sight of the sea,—nor in the sound of the flowing of rivers,—nor in the forms of peaks and woods and valleys,—nor in the colors of them.

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   "He who truly wishes to know must not find delight in contemplating the works and the deeds of men, nor in hearing their converse, nor in observing the puppet-play of their passions and of their emotions. All this is but a weaving of smoke,—a shimmering of vapors,—an impermanency,—a phantasmagory.

   "For the pleasures that men term lofty or noble or sublime are but larger sensualisms, subtler falsities: venomous fair-seeming flowerings of selfishness,—all rooted in the elder slime of appetites and desires. To joy in the radiance of a cloudless day,—to see the mountains shift their tintings to the wheeling of the sun,—to watch the passing of waves, the fading of sunsets,—to find charm in the blossoming of plants or trees: all this is of the senses. Not less truly of the senses is the pleasure of observing actions called great or beautiful or heroic,—since it is one with the pleasure of imagining those things for which men miserably strive in this miserable world: brief love and fame and honor,—all of which are empty as passing foam.

   Sky, sun, and sea;—the peaks, the

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woods, the plains;—all splendors and forms and colors,—are spectres. The feelings and the thoughts and the acts of men,—whether deemed high or low, noble or ignoble,—all things imagined or done for any save the eternal purpose, are but dreams born of dreams and begetting hollowness. To the clear of sight, all feelings of self,—all love and hate, joy and pain, hope and regret, are alike shadows;—youth and age, beauty and horror, sweetness and foulness, are not different;—death and life are one and the same; and Space and Time exist but as the stage and the order of the perpetual Shadow-play.

   "All that exists in Time must perish. To the Awakened there is no Time or Space or Change,—no night or day,—no heat or cold,—no moon or season,—no present, past, or future. Form and the names of form are alike nothingness:—Knowledge only is real; and unto whomsoever gains it, the universe becomes a ghost. But it is written:—'He who hath overcome Time in the past and the future must be of exceedingly pure understanding.'

   "Such understanding is not yours. Still

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to your eyes the shadow seems the substance,—and darkness, light,—and voidness, beauty. And therefore to see your former births could give you only pain."


   I asked:—

   "Had I found strength to look back to the beginning,—back to the verge of Time,—could I have read the Secret of the universe?"

   "Nay," was answer made. "Only by Infinite Vision can the Secret be read. Could you have looked back incomparably further than your power permitted, then the Past would have become for you the Future. And could you have endured even yet more, the Future would have orbed back for you into the Present."

   "Yet why?" I murmured, marveling. . . . "What is the Circle?"

   "Circle there is none," was the response;—Circle there is none but the great phantom-whirl of birth and death to which, by their own thoughts and deeds, the ignorant remain condemned. But this has being only in Time; and Time itself is illusion."