ONCE more it was evening. We sat again upon the soft turf of the mountain-side, the quietness of our mood in sympathy with the solemn stillness of twilight. The distant mountain-ranges reposed in an atmosphere breathing reverence and devotion--they seemed to be kneeling beneath the heavens, beneath the slow-descending blessing of night. The isolated trees dotted here and there about the hills stood motionless, in a pause of silent worshipping. The rush of the sea sounded distant and indistinct, lost in its own greatness. Peace lay over everything, and soft sounds went up, as of prayer.
The hermit stood before me, dignified as a tree in the midst of Nature, and awe-inspiring as the evening itself.
I had returned to question him again. For my soul found no repose apart from him, and a mighty impulse was stirring within me. But now that I found myself near him, I hardly dared to speak; and indeed it seemed as though words were no longer necessary--as though everything lay, of itself, open and clear as daylight. How goodly and simple everything appeared that evening! Was it not my own inmost being that I recognized in all the beauty around me? and was not the whole on the point of being absorbed into the Eternal?
Nevertheless I broke in upon this train of feeling, and cleft the peaceful silence with my voice:
"Father," I said sadly, "all your words have sunk into my mind, and my soul is filled with the balm of them. This soul of mine is no longer my own--no longer what I used to be. It is as though I were dead: and I know not what is taking place within me--by day and by night--causing it to grow so light, and clear, and vacant in my mind. Father, I know it is Tao; it is death, and glorious resurrection; but it is not love; and without love, Tao appears to me but a gloomy lie."
The old man looked round him at the evening scene, and smiled gently.
"What is love?" he asked calmly. "Are you sure about that, I wonder?"
"No, I am not sure," I answered. "I do not know anything about it, but that is just the reason of its great blessedness. Yes, do but let me express it! I mean: love of a Maiden, love of a woman.--I remember yet, Father, what it was to me when I saw the maiden, and my soul knew delight for the first time. It was like a sea, like a broad heaven, like death. It was light--and I had been blind! It hurt, Father--my heart beat so violently--and my eyes burned. The world was a fire, and all things were strange, and began to live. It was a great flame flaring from out my soul. It was so fearful, but so lovely, and so infinitely great! Father, I think it was greater than Tao!"
"I know well what it was," said the sage. "It was Beauty, the earthly form of the formless Tao, calling up in you the rhythm of that movement by which you will enter into Tao. You might have experienced
the same at sight of a tree, a cloud, a flower. But because you are human, living by desire, therefore to you it could only be revealed through another human being, a woman--because, also, that form is to you more easily understood, and more familiar. And since desire did not allow the full upgrowth of a pure contemplation, therefore was the rhythm within you wrought up to be wild tempest, like a storm-thrashed sea that knows not whither it is tending. The inmost essence of the whole emotion was not 'love,' but Tao."
But the calmness of the old sage made me impatient, and excited me to answer roughly:
"It is easy to talk thus theoretically, but seeing that you have never experienced it yourself, you can understand nothing of that of which you speak!"
He looked at me steadily, and laid his hand sympathetically on my shoulder.
"It would be cruel of you to speak thus to any one but me, young man!--I loved, before you drew breath in this world! At that time there lived a maiden, so wondrous to see, it was as if she were the direct-born expression of Tao. For me she was the world, and the world lay dead around her. I saw nothing but her, and for me there existed no such things as trees, men, or clouds. She was more beautiful than this evening, gentler than the lines of those distant mountains, more tender than those hushed tree-tops; and the light of her presence was more blessed .to see than the still shining of yonder star. I will not tell you her story. It was more scorching than a very hell-fire--but it was not real, and it is over now, like a storm that has passed. It seemed to me that I must die; I longed to flee from my pain into death.--But there came a
dawning in my soul, and all grew light and comprehensible. Nothing was lost. All was yet as it had been. The beauty which I believed to have been taken from me lived on still, spotless, in myself. For not from this woman,--out of my soul had this beauty sprung; and this I saw shining yet, all over the world, with an everlasting radiance, Nature was no other than what I had fashioned to myself out of that shadowy form of a woman. And my soul was one with Nature, and floated with a like rhythm towards the eternal Tao."
Calmed by his calmness, I said: "She whom I loved is dead, Father--She who culled my soul as a child culls a flower never became my wife. But I have a wife now, a miracle of strength and goodness, a wife who is essential to me as light and air. I do not love her as I even now love the dead. But I know that she is a purer human being than that other. How is it then that I do not love her so much? She has transformed my wild and troubled life into a tranquil march towards death. She is simple and true as Nature itself, and her face is dear to me as the sunlight."
"You love her, indeed!" said the sage, "but you know not what love means, nor loving. I will tell it you. Love is no other than the rhythm of Tao. I have told you: you are come out of Tao, and to Tao you will return. Whilst you are young--with your soul still enveloped in darkness--in the shock of the first impulse within you, you know not yet whither you are trending. You see the woman before you. You believe her to be that towards which the rhythm is driving you. But even when the woman is yours, and you have thrilled at the touch of her, you feel the rhythm yet within you, unappeased, and know that
you must forward, ever further, if you would bring it to a standstill. Then it is that in the soul of the man and of the woman there arises a great sadness, and they look at one another, questioning whither they are now bound. Gently they clasp one another by the hand, and move on through life, swayed by the same impulse, towards the same goal. Call this love if you will. What is a name? I call it Tao. And the souls of those who love are like two white clouds floating softly side by side, that vanish, wafted by the same wind, into the infinite blue of the heavens."
"But that is not the love that I mean!" I cried. "Love is not the desire to see the loved one absorbed into Tao; love is the longing to be always with her; the deep yearning for the blending of the two souls in one; the hot desire to soar, in one breath with her, into felicity! And this always with the loved one alone--not with others, not with Nature. And, were I absorbed into Tao, all this happiness would be for ever lost! Oh let me stay here, in this goodly world, with my faithful companion! Here it is so bright and homely, and Tao is still so gloomy and inscrutable for me."
"The hot desire dies out," he answered calmly. "The body of your loved one will wither and pass away within the cold earth. The leaves of the trees fade in autumn, and the withered flowers droop sadly to the ground. How can you love that so much which does not last? However, you know, in truth, as yet, neither how you love nor what it is that you love. The beauty of woman is but a vague reflection of the formless beauty of Tao. The emotion it awakens, the longing to lose yourself in her beauty, that ecstasy of feeling
which would lend wings for the flight of your soul with the beloved--beyond horizon-bounds, into regions of bliss--believe me, it is no other than the rhythm of Tao; only you know it not. You resemble still the river which knows as yet only its shimmering banks; which has no knowledge of the power that draws it forward; but which will one day inevitably flow out into the great ocean. Why this striving after happiness, after human happiness, that lasts but a moment and then vanishes again? Chuang-Tse said truly: 'The highest happiness is no happiness.' Is it not small and pitiable, this momentary uprising, and downfalling, and uprising again? This wavering, weakly intention and progress of men? Do not seek happiness in a woman. She is the joyful revelation of Tao directed towards you. She is the purest form in the whole of nature by which Tao is manifested. She is the gentle force that awakens the rhythm of Tao within you. But she is only a poor creature like yourself. And you are for her the same joyful revelation that she is to you. Fancy not that that which you perceive in her is that Tao, that very holiest, into which you would one day ascend! For then you would surely reject her when you realized what she was. If you will truly love a woman, then love her as being of the same poor nature as yourself, and do not seek happiness with her. Whether in your love you see this or not--her inmost being is Tao. A poet looks upon a woman, and, swayed by the 'rhythm,' he perceives the beauty of the beloved in all things--in the trees, the mountains, the horizon; for the beauty of a woman is the same as that of Nature. It is the form of Tao, the great and formless, and what your soul desires in the
excitement of beholding--this strange, unspeakable feeling--is nothing but your oneness with this beauty, and with the source of this beauty--Tao. And the like is experienced by your wife. Ye are for each other angels, who lead one another to Tao unconsciously."
I was silent for a while, reflecting. In the soft colouring and stillness of the evening lay a great sadness. About the horizon, where the sun had set, there glimmered a streak of faint red light, like dying pain.
"What is this sadness, then, in the Nature around us?" I asked. "Is there not that in the twilight as though the whole earth were weeping with a grievous longing? See how she mourns, with these fading hues, these drooping tree-tops, and solemn mountains. Human eyes must fill with tears, when this great grief of Nature looms within their sight. It is as though she were longing for her beloved--as though everything--seas, mountains and heavens--were full of mourning.
And the Sage replied: "It is the same pain which cries in the hearts of men. Your own longing quivers in Nature too. The 'Heimweh' of the evening is also the 'Heimweh' of your soul. Your soul has lost her love: Tao, with whom she once was one; and your soul desires re-union with her love. Absolute re-union with Tao--is not that an immense love?--to be so absolutely one with the beloved that you are wholly hers, she wholly yours;--a union so full and eternal that neither death nor life can ever cleave your oneness again? So tranquil and pure that desire can no more awaken in you--perfect blessedness being attained,
and a holy and permanent peace? . . . For Tao is one single, eternal, pure infinitude of soul.
"Is that not more perfect than the love of a woman?--this poor, sad love, each day of which reveals to you some sullying of the clear life of the soul by dark and sanguine passion? When you are absorbed into Tao, then only will you be completely, eternally united with the soul of your beloved, with the souls of all men, your brothers, and with the soul of Nature. And the few moments of blessedness fleetingly enjoyed by all lovers upon earth are as nothing in comparison with that endless bliss: the blending of the souls of all who love in an eternity of perfect purity."
A horizon of blessedness opened out before my soul, wider than the vague horizon of the sea, wider than the heavens.
"Father!" I cried in ecstasy, "can it be that everything is so holy, and I have never known it?--I have been so filled with longing, and so wornout with weeping; and my breast has been heavy with sobs and dread. I have been so consumed with fear! I have trembled at the thought of death! I have despaired of all things being good, when I saw so much suffering around me. I have believed myself damned, by reason of the wild passions, the bodily desires, burning within and flaming without me--passions which, though hating them, I still was, coward-like, condemned to serve. With what breathless horror I have realized how the tender, flower-like body of my love must one day moulder and crumble away in the cold, dark earth! I have believed that I should never feel again that blessed peace at the look in her eyes, through which
her soul was shining. And was it Tao!--was Tao really even then always within me, like a faithful guardian? and was it Tao that shone from her eyes? Was Tao in everything that surrounded me? in the clouds, the trees and the sea? Is the inmost being of earth and heaven, then, also the inmost being of my beloved and my own soul? Is it that for which there burns within me that mysterious longing which I did not understand, and which drove me so restlessly onward? I thought it was leading me away from the beloved and that I was ceasing to love her!--Was it really the rhythm of Tao, then, that moved my beloved too?--the same as that in which all nature breathes, and all suns and planets pursue their shining course throughout eternity?--Then all is indeed made holy!--then Tao is indeed in everything, as my soul is in Tao! Oh, Father, Father! it is growing so light in my heart! My soul seems to foresee that which will come one day; and the heavens above us, and the great sea, they foretell it too! See, how reverent is the pose of these trees around us--and see the lines of the mountains, how soft in their holy repose! All Nature is filled with sacred awe, and my soul too thrills with ecstasy, for she has looked upon her beloved!"
I sat there long, in silent, still forgetfulness. It was to me as though I were one with the soul of my master and with Nature. I saw nothing and heard nothing;--void of all desire, bereft of all will, I lay sunk in the deepest peace. I was awakened by a soft sound close by me. A fruit had fallen from the tree to the ground behind us. When I looked up, it was into shimmering moonlight. The recluse was standing by me, and bent over me kindly.
"You have strained your spirit overmuch, my young friend!" he said concernedly. "It is too much for you in so short a time. You have fallen asleep from exhaustion. The sea sleeps too. See, not a furrow breaks its even surface; motionless, dreaming, it receives the benediction of the light. But you must awaken! It is late, your boat is ready, and your wife awaits you at home in the town."
I answered, still half dreaming: "I would so gladly stay here. Let me return, with my wife, and stay here for ever! I cannot go back to the people again! Ah, Father, I shudder--I can see their scoffing faces, their insulting glances, their disbelief, and their irreverence! How can I retain the wondrous light and tender feeling of my soul in the midst of that ungracious people? How can I ever so hide it under smile or speech that they shall never detect it, nor desecrate it with their insolent ridicule?"
Then, laying his hand earnestly upon my shoulder, he said:
"Listen carefully to what I now say to you, my friend, and above all, believe me. I shall give you pain, but I cannot help it. You must return to the world and your fellow-men; it cannot be otherwise. You have spoken too much with me already; perhaps I have said somewhat too much to you. Your further growth must be your own doing, and you must find out everything for yourself. Be only simple of heart, and you will discover everything without effort, like a child finding flowers. At this moment you feel deeply and purely what I have said to you. This present mood is one of the highest moments of your life. But you cannot yet be strong enough to maintain it. You will
relapse, and spiritual feeling will turn again to words and theories. Only by slow degrees will you grow once more to feel it purely and keep it permanently. When that is so, then you may return hither in peace and then you will do well to remain here;--but by that time I shall be long dead.
"You must complete your growth in the midst of life, not outside it; for you are not yet pure enough to rise above it. A moment ago, it is true, you were equal even to that, but the reaction will soon set in. You may not shun the rest of mankind; they are your equals, even though they may not feel. so purely as you do. You can go amongst them as their comrade, and take them by the hand; only do not let them look upon your soul, so long as they are still so far behind you. They would not mock you from evilmindedness, but rather out of religious persuasion, being unaware how utterly miserable, how godless, how forsaken they are, and how far from all those holy things by which you actually live. You must be so strong in your conviction that nothing can hinder you. And that you will only become after a long and bitter struggle. But out of your tears will grow your strength, and through pain you will attain peace. Above all remember that Tao, Poetry and Love are one and the same, although you may seek to define it by these several vague terms;--that it is always within you and around you;--that it never forsakes you; and that you are safe and well cared for in this holy environment. You are surrounded with benefits, and sheltered by a love which is eternal. Everything is rendered holy through the primal force of Tao dwelling within it."
He spoke so gently and convincingly that I had no answer to give. Willingly I allowed myself to be guided by him to the shore. My boat lay motionless upon the smooth water, awaiting me.--
"Farewell, my young friend! Farewell!" he said, calmly and tenderly. "Remember all that I have told you!"
But I could not leave him in such a manner. Suddenly I thought of the loneliness of his life in this place, and tears of sympathy rose to my eyes. I grasped his hand.
"Father, come with me!" I besought him. "My wife and I will care for you; we will do everything for you; and when you are sick we will tend you. Do not stay here in this loneliness, so void of all the love that might make life sweet to you!"
He smiled gently, and shook his head as a father might at some fancy of his child's, answering with tranquil kindness:
"You have lapsed already! Do you realize now how necessary it is for you to remain in the midst of the every-day life? I have but this moment told you how great is the love which surrounds me--and still you deem me lonely here and forsaken?--Here, in Tao, I am as safe at home as a child is with its mother. You mean it well, my friend, but you must grow wiser, much wiser! Be not concerned for me; that is unnecessary, grateful though I am to you for this feeling. Think of yourself just now. And do what I say. Believe that I tell you that which is best for you. In the boat lies something which should remind you of the days you have spent here. Farewell!"
I bent silently over his hand and kissed it. I thought
[paragraph continues] I felt that it trembled with emotion; but when I looked at him again his face was calm and cheerful as the moon in the sky.
I stepped into the boat, and the boatman took up the oars. With dextrous strokes he drove it over the even surface of the water. I was already some way from the land when my foot struck against some object in the boat and I remembered that something for me was lying there. I took it up. It was a small chest. Hastily I lifted the lid. And in the soft, calm moonlight there gleamed with mystical radiance the wonderful porcelain of the Kwan-Yin image, the same which the old man had cherished so carefully, and loved so well.
There, in the lofty tranquillity of severe yet gentle lines, in all the ethereal delicacy of the transparent porcelain, reposed the pure figure of Kwan-Yin, shining as with spiritual radiance amidst the shimmering petals of the lotus.
I scarcely dared believe that this holy thing had been given to me. I seized my handkerchief, and waved with it towards the shore, to convey to the recluse my thanks. He stood there motionless, gazing straight before him. I waited longingly for him to wave--for one more greeting from him--one more sign of love--but he remained immovable.
Was it I after whom he was gazing? Was he gazing at the sea? . . .
I closed the lid of the chest, and kept it near me, as though it had been a love of his which I was bearing away. I knew now that he cared for me; but his imperturbable serenity was too great for me--it saddened my mood that he had never signed to me again.
We drew further and further away; the outlines of his figure grew fainter and fainter; at last I could see it no more.
He remained; with the dreams of his soul, in the midst of Nature--alone in infinity--bereft of all human love--but close to the great bosom of Tao.
I took my way back to the life amongst mankind, my brothers and equals--in all the souls of whom dwells Tao, primordial and eternal.
The ornamental lights of the harbour gleamed already in the distance, and the drone of the great town sounded nearer and nearer to us over the sea.
Then I felt a great strength in me, and I ordered the boatman to row still more quickly. I was ready. Was I not as safely and well cared for in the great town as in the still country?--in the street as on the sea?
In everything, everywhere, dwells Poetry--Love--Tao. And the whole world is a great sanctuary, well-devised and surely-maintained as a strong, well-ordered house.