Three Years in Tibet
by Ekai Kawaguchi
I was lately reading the Holy Text of the Saḍḍharma-Puṇdarīka (the Aphorisms of the White Lotus of the Wonderful or True Law) in a Samskṛṭ manuscript under a Boḍhi-tree near Mṛga-Ḍāva (Sāranāṭh), Benares. Here our Blessed Lord Buḍḍha Shākya-Muni taught His Holy Ḍharma just after the accomplishment of His Buḍḍhahood at Buḍḍhagayā. Whilst doing so, I was reminded of the time, eighteen years ago, when I had read the same text in Chinese at a great Monastery named Ohbakusang at Kyoto in Japan, a reading which determined me to undertake a visit to Tibet.
It was in March, 1891, that I gave up the Rectorship of the Monastery of Gohyakurakan in Tokyo, and left for Kyoto, where I remained living as a hermit for about three years, totally absorbed in the study of a large collection of Buḍḍhist books in the Chinese language. My object in doing so was to fulfil a long-felt desire to translate the texts into Japanese in an easy style from the difficult and unintelligible Chinese.
But I afterwards found that it was not a wise thing to rely upon the Chinese texts alone, without comparing them with Tibetan translations as well as with the original Samskṛṭ texts which are contained in Mahāyāna Buḍḍhism. The Buḍḍhist Samskṛṭ texts were to be found in Tibet and Nepāl. Of course, many of them had been discovered by European Orientalists in Nepāl and a few in other parts of India and Japan. But those texts had not yet been found which included the most important manuscripts of which Buḍḍhist scholars were in great want. Then again, the Tibetan texts were famous for being[vi] more accurate translations than the Chinese. Now I do not say that the Tibetan translations are superior to the Chinese. As literal translations, I think that they are superior; but, for their general meaning, the Chinese are far better than the Tibetan. Anyhow, it was my idea that I should study the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buḍḍhism, and should try to discover Samskṛṭ manuscripts in Tibet, if any were there available.
With these objects in view, I made up my mind to go to Tibet, though the country was closed not only by the Local Government but also by the surrounding lofty mountains. After making my preparations for some time, I left Japan for Tibet in June, 1897, and returned to my country in May, 1903. Then in October, 1904, I again left Japan for India and Nepāl, with the object of studying Samskṛṭ, hoping, if possible, again to penetrate into Tibet, in search of more manuscripts.
On my return to Japan, my countrymen received me with great enthusiasm, as the first explorer of Tibet from Japan. The Jiji, a daily newspaper in Tokyo, the most well-known, influential and widely read paper in Japan, and also a famous paper in Ōsaka, called the Maimichi, published my articles every day during 156 issues. After this, I collected all these articles and gave them for publication in two volumes to Hakubunkwan, a famous publisher in Tokyo. Afterwards some well-known gentlemen in Japan, Mr. Sutejiro Fukuzawa, Mr. Sensuke Hayakawa and Mr. Eiji Asabuki, proposed to me to get them translated into English. They also helped me substantially in this translation, and I take this opportunity of expressing my grateful thanks to them for the favor thus conferred upon me.
When my translation was finished, the British expedition to Tibet had been successful, and reports regarding it were soon afterwards published. I therefore stopped the[vii]publication of my English translation, for I thought that my book would not be of any use to the English-reading public.
Recently, the President of the Theosophical Society, my esteemed friend Mrs. Annie Besant, asked me to show her the translation. On reading it she advised me to publish it quickly. I then told her that it would be useless for me to publish such a book, as there were already Government reports of the Tibetan expedition, and as Dr. Sven Hedin of Sweden would soon publish an excellent book of his travels in Tibet. But she was of opinion that such books would treat of the country from a western point of view, whilst my book would prove interesting to the reader from the point of view of an Asiatic, intimately acquainted with the manners, the customs, and the inner life of the people. She also pointed out to me that the book would prove attractive to the general reader for its stirring incidents and adventures, and the dangers I had had to pass through during my travels.