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Archive for April, 2012

          A German-Swiss alchemist and occultist, Paracelsus[1] (1493-1541) was particularly influential in promoting what was called occult science in the 16th and 17th centuries. His holistic approach in botanical medicine, astrology and alchemical achievements has been a great contribution to the development of herbal medicine as well as of psychology. Amongst many things for which he is known, his cosmic view that the universe and man are intimately connected permeates in all of his philosophy. He believed that “man resembles heaven and earth because he was made from them – ‘hence we must have all their nature and all their parts, down to the last hair.’”[2] Thus, macrocosm (the heaven) and microcosm (man) are interlinked through the medium component of sidereal or astral body in man, which is invisible like the heavenly sphere but mortal like all the terrestrial beings. Because everything in nature was made of the mixture of heaven and earth, and because all was created by God, Divine influence comes to man directly as well as through the other created things such as the stars. In other words, man’s ability to affect the world was comparable to that of the celestial stars. In this way, action among man, stars and natural objects is made reciprocal rather than hierarchical. Therefore, even though the macrocosm is the greater, the microcosm remains similar both in power and in composition.[3]

Because of this interrelation between man and natural objects, man unites within himself all the constituents of the world, and “he could have direct knowledge of Nature on account of sympathy between the inner representative of a particular object in his own constitution and its external counterpart,” that is, by way of similitude and like qualities.[4] This idea of ‘like attracts like’ in Paracelsian philosophy produced a number of followers and practical, or impractical, medicaments in the 17th century Europe. According to this theory, because there is an element of amity as well as enmity in natural things, by appealing to the amity inherent in each object, one can draw a positive outcome from the said objects. This theory of sympathetic magic was largely exercised in alchemy and herbal medicine, where the sympathetic force educed out from the herbs could, by appealing to the sympathy or like qualities between the two objects, improve or heal various human conditions and restore health in us.

Weapon Salve, introduced first in pseudo-Paracelsian book Archidoxis Magica, published in 1570, was one such product of Paracelsian holistic philosophy. This salve is said to cure a wound from distance by being applied to the weapon that has made the wound, rather than the salve onto the wound itself. This is possible because the blood on the weapon and the wound whose blood it is would sympathize with one another, and work together to restore the condition that has been deprived, “for every agent, when it hath begun to act, doth not attempt to make a thing inferior to itself, but as much as may be, like, and suitable to itself,” much like whatever has long stood with salt becomes salt itself.[5] The efficacy of this salve, or the inefficacy of it, is of a great importance in this essay, for its proponents included Robert Fludd, John Baptista von Helmont, and Sir Kenelm Digby amongst other Paracelsians, while some of its primary opponents were William Foster and illustrious Daniel Sonnert. My focus in this paper will be on the arguments offered by the both parties, on the growing interests of nobles to the salve and on how such a miraculous cure is explained rationally at the advent of modern science. I will also discuss the powdered version of the salve invented by Digby as well as laying out the recipes of the salve presented by the proponents.

The pseudo-Paracelsian text, Archidoxis Magica lists the ingredients for this curative salve as well as the manner in which the salve should be prepared as follows: Take of that Moss which grows upon a skull or a bone of a dead body that has lain in the air, of man’s grease[6], of mummy, and man’s blood, linseed oil, oil of roses and bole-armoniack, and “[l]et them all beat together in a Morter so long, until they come to a most pure and subtil [sic] Oyntment; then keep it in a Box,” and when someone gets wounded, you are to dip a wooden stick[7] in the blood so it would become bloody. Upon drying the blood, thrust it in the ointment, and leave it for a while. Afterwards, you are to “binde up the wound with a new Linen Rowler, every morning washing it with the Patients own Urine; and it shall be healed, be it never so great, without any Plaister or Pain.”[8] The author of this Paracelsian text tells us that “you may Cure any one that is wounded, though he be ten miles distant from you, if you have but his blood.” Further, this salve is supposed to be effective in the treatment of toothache[9] or other parts of human body, as well as of injuries of the horses.[10]

Not surprisingly, in the 17th century Europe, where science began to be seen as a rational and experimental enterprise, this doctrine of weapon salve came under serious attack. One such criticism was launched by an English chaplain and clergyman, William Foster, in the book entitled, A Sponge to wipe away the Weapon-Salve[11], published in 1631. He intended to prove its inefficacy, thus irrationality, of this salve by way of refuting its claim to be medicine, its legitimacy as a domain of natural philosophy and its insistence of being in accordance with the scripture. The sponge here refers to his set of arguments that will wipe off any delusional effects imposed upon us by this mystical salve. Foster was reacting against the contemporary general acceptance of such a cure whose origin was neither apparent nor explicable in rational and experimental science of the time, for he says people suppose this cure to be lawful and effective simply “because no man amongst us hath as yet written to contradict it.”[12] But the fact that no one undertook the task of refuting it is simply because, he argues, “till late it was little known amongst us, and therefore little or not at all inquired into,”[13] and he feels the need to publicly denounce it as a superstitious and magical cure that is in discordance with the teachings of the Church.[14] His argument is fourfold – he will insist that this cure is indeed magical and done only by the help from the devil, hence rendering the practice demonic: 1. by appealing to reason and philosophy, 2. from words of the authorities, 3. by examining its effects and 4. by the credibility of the inventor of this cure.[15] He reasons that this cure cannot be a lawful medicine and hence diabolical, because all lawful medicine must be either by divine institution[16] or by natural operation, and this weapon-salve works neither way. It does not work by divine institution, he says, because it is nowhere to be seen in the scripture about the medicine that can cure from a distance, and it does not work naturally because it does not work by means of corporeal contact, as any natural medicine must. Second, none of the ancient authorities spoke of it anywhere, nor scriptures, nor respectable contemporary physicians such as Johhanes Roberti speaks of it as lawful.[17] Third, this ointment works just like any other magical, i.e. diabolical, ointments used by witches and devils. For although it can cure a patient from a distance, “[i]f the weapon be put in the fire, his body will be blistred as if the fire it selfe had burned it,” hence it is also possible that “by the annoynted Weapon you may kill the patient (if you will) without touching him.”[18] Lastly, he attacks the very credibility of the author of this cure, Paracelsus, saying that Paracelsus was “a man which condemned all ancient Physicians and Philosophers, [and] endevored to bring many strange and un-heard of practices into the Art of Medicine, [and] that he was a man of base and wicked life and conversation, ”[19] and hence “Paracelsus is of no credit.”[20] Considering all these points, Foster thinks it adds up to meet all the requirements for it to be called the work of witches and devils. From there, he argues that [w]itchcraft is an offense of the highest nature against God,” and that all Christians must avoid the use of this cure.[21] Further, he argues, it must be evident that this cure is not trustworthy, i.e. lawful, from the fact that the ways in which its ingredients are gathered can differ depending on which physicians you ask. Thus, Foster says, “this salve is not made alike by all men,” and some say the “Mosse growne on the Scull of a Theese Hanged [is needed]. Others say it may be of any man taken away by any kind of violent death, [while o]thers prescribe Mosse growne upon the Scull of any dead man, whether he came by his death violently or naturally.”[22] This, I believe, is a fair criticism.[23] Foster singles out an English Paracelsian physician, Robert Fludd, argues against the physician’s comparison of the salve’s power to the rays of the sun. Just as the sun sends down the beam of heat in a direct line, “Mr. Dr. saith, this line [of the power of the salve] is a direct invisible line.”[24] The sun, Foster argues, is giant and has degrees as well as is larger in size than the earth that its influence is accounted for by the proportion of the sun. But this salve has no proportion or magnitude. So just as “[a] little fire cannot burne or heat a great body, at a great distance… [n]o more can a little Salve worke naturally on a Patient at a great distance,” and the air carrying the curative power to the wound “will be hindered and stopped, if not altered and changed.”[25] But it is evident from experience that the air when it “meets with glabritious [sic] and terse bodies, as polished iron (like Mr. Doctors weapon) stone, glass, &c. is turned into water.”[26] And since the rectitude of the line is broken this way, “Mr. Doctors line will faile, the Cure fayle” and “Mr. Doctors reason is broken also.”[27]

            To this accusation and many others launched by this English chaplain, Robert Fludd responds with the treatise entitled, The Squesing of Parson Fosters Sponge, ordained by him for the wiping away of the Weapon-Salve,[28] in 1631, stating that Foster’s book “expressed both in his erroneous doctrine touching the maine subject of that manner of curing, as also his rude and… Shallowness of the person in this business,”[29] and Fludd promises us with his treatise to “quell the unsatiable appetite of [Foster’s] slave-devouring Sponge, and squeeze or crush it so, that it shall be constrained to vomit up… the weapon-salve, which it hath drunk and sucked up.”[30] Fludd felt indeed rather disoriented at Foster’s serious accusation, for who was William Foster, really? He was no one but a parson with no experience in the matter, yet he was so proud of his attack against this distinguished physician that “he saw to it that two of the title-pages of his tract were nailed to Fludd’s door in the middle of the night,” and accused him of witchcraft. It was bitter enough that his works had been ignored in his own country and the first person to speak of it publicly slandered him, but also the fact that “they were referred to by someone of little significance in a most insulting fashion” was enough to ensure a reply from the renowned physician.[31] The humiliation he suffered was enormous that his response began with a derogatory greeting about Foster’s use of grammar. Having thus casually ridiculed Foster for being ignoble to term Fludd as Master Doctor, setting Master before Doctor, he embarks on a series of convincing arguments, which he calls theo-philosophy, or theosophy. First he refutes Foster’s argument that this cure is a work of witchcraft just because it is not recorded anywhere in the scripture, by pointing out that healing or fluxing in medicine would also be diabolical if what Foster says is true.[32] Second, Fludd insists that this cure is performed sympathetically, that is, by virtual contact of the blood of the wound and that on the weapon through the intermediacy of air. Further, he points out the fallacy of Foster that the ointment works on the wound from distance. This is not only false but also indicative of Foster’s incapacity to comprehend the philosophy of Paracelsus. As has been explained earlier, man can be comparable to the greater world. Hence, the wounded person is seen as a microcosm, composed of spirit and body, and just as the Holy spirit fills the microcosm, so does the same incorruptible spirit fills the little world. Fludd likens this spirit to the animating principle in man, i.e. blood. Blood, he argues, is then the seat of the soul or vital spirit which is inspired by God, and this “Spirit being dispersed through the veynes and arteryes, doth stirre up and move the living creature in every part.”[33] So even when the blood flows out from the wound, it would still retain its vivifying nature as spirit, and correct and repair what has been lost by the violence it has received. It can be spoken of, analogously, that it is like “the wise Spider, who when her web is made imperfect, and in part broken, doth her diligence to bring it again to its wonted perfection.”[34] So the blood from the wound corresponds sympathetically with the blood in the ointment, as the ointment is made of man’s parts, and sends out the power to restore the damage in harmony. This power works very much like the celestial influence or the sun’s beam operates on the earth to vivify the spirits of plants and animals.[35] This explains how there is no impediment or stops of the spirit from being conveyed through the air even if there is a corporeal body in between. Further, the degree of similarity in the blood from the wound and the blood in the ointment makes them homogeneous and well acquainted with one another, which also explains why the use of this salve is helpful.[36]

All seems well, but there are some serious defects to the efficacy of this medicine. As Daniel Sennert, himself a renowned physician and alchemist in Germany, jumps into the Foster-Fludd debate five years later, however rationally this medicine is explained, facts remain that 1) the salve does not always produce the desired effect, i.e. it does not always work, 2) there seems to be no apparent connection between the cure and the ointment, for just because a wound gets cured occasionally after the ointment is applied does not follow that the cure is caused by the ointment, calling it the fallacy of the cause.[37] Sennert indeed suggests that the wound is probably cured naturally without the help of the medicine. That such a doubt is further increased by various other questions is evident, for Sennert asks, “if one at the same time should receive divers wounds in divers places, which oft times falls out of divers weapons, is it enough to anoint one weapon for all?… Or must every particular weapon be anointed? And whether will every particular ointment or salve doe its proper office, so that this goeth directly to this wound, that was made by this weapon, and that to that wound which was done by another weapon?”[38] This is a fair question that yet needs to be answered. Moreover, it seems natural to ask, if this ointment has any power either of preserving or cherishing the balsam, i.e. the spirit of life, why not is the ointment applied directly to the wounded part?[39] Perhaps the weapon salve has this advantage that by the use of this ointment, the patient will feel no pain during the cure, but if the ointment can be freely abused by anyone at the scene, by going through the anointment of the weapon, it risks a danger of being misused, resulting perhaps in the death of the patient, just as Foster argued. Further, oftentimes, if not always, the blood is spilt in dirty places, which makes not only the extraction of the blood difficult but also the extraction of the blood completely is impossible. This is a problem because when the blood “is frozen in winter, & the bloody Rags are wash’d in warme water; sticks sprinkled with blood are burned… the wounded person feeles no hurt.”[40] This is contrary to the number of alleged claims of the efficacy of the cure.[41] For the reasons raised above, Sennert concludes that, rather than complicating the cure, attributing the cure to the nature as more plausible and rational, for we all know that nature cures not only small wounds but also great ones, as he repeatedly emphasizes “wounds are very often healed by Nature, without the help of any Medicament.”[42]

          Despite the seeming decline of the popularity of this salve in the 1630’s, Kenelm Digby, an English courtier and diplomat, claimed to possess the sympathetic cure in the 1650’s, similarly designed with the Weapon-Salve. Digby’s claim was that 1) his cure was powder and not salve, hence is suited for corpuscular explanation prevalent at his time, and that 2) unlike its counter-part, i.e. Weapon-Salve, it has been used for over 20 years with success.[43] The way in which its efficacy is proved is by Digby’s personal anecdote in 1624, where he allegedly cured the wound of a gentleman by the name of James Howell. The significance of the cure being powder rather than salve is of a historical one. For, as Elizabeth Hedrick points out in her elegantly written article, the reason for why his cure was powder had to do with claming the priority to the possession of the said cure, independently from the Paracelsian Weapon-Salve. Hence, his cure was able to bypass the criticism specific to occult forces attributed to the salve. Indeed, Digby even claims that he came to possess the formula for the cure from a Persian Friar who was only briefly in Europe.[44] Further, by virtue of its being powder rather than salve, he was able to explain the efficacy of it in terms of corpuscular theory and contrasted it with the salve that “the powder was a simple, dry compound while the weapon-salve began as and remained a wet preparation consisting of various exotic ingredients such as bear grease, boar fat, blood, wine, skull moss and mummy,” clearly emphasizing the scientific aspect of his cure and differentiating it from irrational, occult cure of the salve.[45] One of the primary criticisms of the weapon slave consisted that it performs action in distance, and this is contrary to the view held by the traditional scholasticism. Hence, whatever works without contact was rendered as occult, and occult cures risked dangers of suggesting the devils at work. In such areas, the power of magnetism was often brought up both by the proponents of the salve and critics of it to support their arguments. For instance, Fludd would often refer to the magnetic force as the proof for the efficacy of his weapon salve in that the spirit in the blood may be transferred from the body to the anointed weapon, just as the magnetic force has the ability to cause separated parts to seek reunion over unlimited distances.[46] Yet at other times, the argument from the validity of the magnetic force was also used by the critics like Hart in opposition to Fludd in that “although some agents worke at some distance, yet is there alwais some proportion to be observed betwixt the agent and the patient; and although there be not alwais a naturall contact, yet there is commonly some effluxe, or emanation whereby the one toucheth the other,”[47] concluding that “even in the case of magnet some form of material emanation must cause contact between the attracting bodies.”[48] In Sennert’s view, Fludd’s weapon salve as a cosmic magnetism[49] was still an occult science, while magnetism of the loadstone is natural and “works only over short distances in a straight line” and its force cannot be “extended in infinitum and it is hindered by the interposition of other substances,” unlike the weapon salve, which claims to penetrate through obstacles.[50] But both parties, i.e. Fludd and Hart, seem to be in agreement that the weapon salve work, if it does, from distance. For as has been mentioned earlier, Fludd likens this sympathetic force to the sun’s beam operating on the earth to vivify the spirits of plants and animals, without getting impeded by objects in between them. And for Hart, it is specifically because the theory of weapon salve requires it to be capable of acting in distance, he as well as other critics cannot accept the salve to be legitimate. However, Digby’s powder of sympathy is different from the traditional Paracelsian salve in that by virtue of its being powder, he made it at least conceptually easy to be explained in terms of atomic, corpuscular theory current of the time. Further, his language is very much in line with the emerging chemists such as Robert Boyle and others like him that it appears now a completely different medicine from its ‘prototype’ – the weapon salve. Let us now take a look at how he explains the procedure of making this powder so that we may see a clear difference from the recipes and ingredients of the predecessors of the cure.

  1. Take good English vitriol [i.e. sulfuric acid]for two pence a pound, and dissolve it in warm water, using no more water than will dissolve it, leaving some of the Impurest part at the bottom undissolved.
  2. Then powr [pour] it off and filter it by laying a Sheet of gray Paper in a Sieve, and pouring your water or Dissolution of Vitriol into it by degrees, setting the Seive upon a large Pan to receive the filtered Liquor; when all your Liquor is filtered, boil it in an earthen Vessel glazed, till you see a thin Scum upon it.
  3. Set it in a Cellar to cool, covering it loosely, so that nothing may fall in.
  4. After two or three days standing, pour off the liquor, and you will find at the bottom and on the sides large and fair green Christals like Emerauds; drain off all the Water clean from them, and dry them.
  5. Then spread them abroad, in a large flat earthen Dish, & expose them to the hot Sun in the Dog-days [i.e. hottest and most sultry days of summer, usually early July to early September], taking them in at night, and setting them out in the Morning, securing them from the Rain.
  6. When the Sun hath calcin’d them to whiteness, beat them to Powder, & set this Powder again in the Sun, stirring it sometimes, and when you see it perfectly white, powder it, & sift it finely, and set it again in the Sun for a day.
  7. You will have a pure white Powder, which is the Powder of Sympathy.[51]

As you can see, compared to the opening phrase in the Paracelsus’ recipe for the salve, which beings with ‘Take of that Moss which grows upon a skull or a bone of a dead body that has lain in the air, of man’s grease[52], of mummy, and man’s blood, linseed oil, oil of roses and bole-armoniack…’[53] the instruction on how to prepare the cure is expressed in a much more ‘scientific’ way as we would conceive of it. As far as how it appears on the recipe, it bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the weapon salve.

However, as its name suggests, this powder too is said to work sympathetically. Digby elaborates how his cure works by way of seven principles, all of which are designed to explain the cure in a mechanistic philosophy and contemporary alchemy. He explains that first the light of the sun attracts the spirits of blood, which are upon the weapon, while the heat of the heart of the injured man pushes out the atoms and “march of themselves a good way in the air, to help there by the attraction of the Sun and of the Light.”[54] The spirit of the vitriol in the powder makes the same voyage through the air with the atoms of blood from the weapon, while the wound exhales hot fiery spirit of the blood into the air surrounding to it. This would, then, draws onto it the air next to it, and the other air which is next to it, and so on, until there is a kind of current of air drawn round about the air. When this air comes in contact with the air that carries the spirit of vitriol from the weapon and is diffused with it, these atoms of the blood on the weapon, through air, finds the proper force and original root whence they came. Because the atoms of the blood is joined inseparably with the spirits of the vitriol, “both the one and the other do jointly imbibe together within all the corners, fibres and offices of the veins which lie open about the wound of the party hurt, which hereby are comforted, and in fine imperceptibly cured.”[55]

Even though, as we have seen, the language Digby uses is very different from the earlier physicians we have encountered, we can see that the mechanics of it is essentially the same. In Digby’s cure, the balsamic spirit is replaced with the spirit of vitriol and spirit of blood is none other than the atoms. If he had possessed this cure in 1624, why did he not announce it at the time, and wait until 1658? Hedrick believes that Digby’s aim was political rather than intellectual, and she gives a strong argument supported by a plenty of historical documents that Digby’s claim for the possession of the cure was most likely fabricated[56], and that “by 1658 the sympathetic cure had in various forms become so well known that the powder was a commodity worth appropriating.”[57] That this was the case is made obvious by looking at the minutes of meetings kept by the Royal Society of London. In fact, by 1661, there had been quite a few members at the Royal Society of London, who claimed to know about this powder of sympathy, yet the powder had not yet been officially demonstrated in the scientific community. Subsequently, the society examined the efficacy of the powder in a series of meetings held between June 5th in 1661 and June 26th of the same year.[58] There, even though Digby was also a member of the Royal Society, the man named Gilbert Talbot was called upon as an authority on the sympathetic powder, even though Digby was in the room.[59] The fact that it had been three years since the publication of Digby’s Late Discourse in 1658, yet his fellow members at the Royal Society made absolutely no mention of him is conclusive enough that his claims to ownership of the powder was discredited by his contemporaries.

Just as the weapon salve stopped being talked about after its peak in the 1630’s, so did the moment of the powder’s peak come in the early 1660’s, and the discussion of it quickly died out. This was because, just as the weapon salve was profusely under attack thirty years before, in the early 1660’s, with the establishment of the Royal Society of London and the growing interests of the scientists to explain phenomena in nature in terms of interactions between the corpuscles, “natural philosophers began putting [the powder] to extensive trails” which “eventually caused it to be rejected as a valid phenomenon.[60] The debate then on the efficacy of the powder seems to have ceased at about this time, even though there had been a few people who claimed to have used this cure in the early 18th century.[61] In reality, by the late 1660’s, the powder of sympathy and weapon-salve were mentioned interchangeably by Robert Boyle and Joseph Granvill, who wrote on the powder,[62] and the sympathetic cure, both in its powder form and in salve, seems to have been looked down by the rapidly emerging group of modern chemists.


[1] Born in 1493, his full name was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. He named himself Paracelsus after Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a Roman encyclopedist in the 1st century C.E., meaning “equal or greater than Celsus”.

[2] F. R. Jevons, “Paracelsus’s Two-Way Astrology. I. What Paracelsus meant by ‘Stars’” The British Journal for the History of Science 2:2 (Dec., 1964): 139-147. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4025012 (accessed September 1, 2012).

[3] F. R. Jevons, “Paracelsus’s Two-Way Astrology. II. Man’s Relation to the Stars” The British Journal for the History of Science 2:2 (Dec., 1964): 148-155. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4025013 (accessed September 1, 2012).

[4] Paracelsus, Paracelsus: Essential Readings, trans. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (USA: North Atlantic Books, 1999), 23. Hence, for instance, a Paracelsian, Agrippa says “it is well known amongst physicians that brain helps the brain, and lungs, the lung. So also it is said, that the right eye of a frog helps the soreness of a man’s right eye, and the left eye thereof, helps the soreness of his left eye, if they be hanged about  in a cloth of its natural colour.” See Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Bk I, XV.

[5] Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, trans. Donald Tyson (USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009), 46-47. See also the footnote 2, “Also Avicenna said, when a thing standeth long in salt, it is salt, and if any thing stand in a stinking place, it is made stinking. And if any thing standeth with a bold man, it is made bold; if it standeth with a fearful man, it is made fearful. (“Marvels of the World”2 [Best and Brightman, 74]).”

[6] I.e. balsamic oil

[7] This is “because the Weapons cannot alwayes be had, the wood [that resembles the weapon] is better.” Pseudo-Paracelsus, Arhidoxis Magica, 118.

[8] Pseudo-Paracelsus, Archidoxis Magica, 117.

[9] Sennert explains how it is said to be done by the proponents of the salve, “in curing the Tooth-ach, the Tooth that aketh is to be scarified with a pen-knife, with this Oyntment, after the blood is dryed into it, and the paine will perfectly cease.” See Daniel Sennert, The Weapon Salve Maladie: or a Declaration of Its Inefficiency to Perform What is Attributed to it, 7.

  1. [10] Pseudo-Paracelsus, Archidoxis Magica., 117-118. Sennert also tells us the procedure used by Crollius, “[i]f a horse be pricked in the foot with a nayle, draw out the nayle and anoint it, and the horse foot will bee forthwith cured without suppuration.” Sennert, 9.

[11] The full title of the book reads, “Hoplocrisma-Spongus: or, A Spong to wipe away the Weapon-Salve. A Treatise, wherein is proved, that the Cure late-taken up amongst us, by applying the Salve to the Weapon, is Magicall and unlawfull.”

[12] William Foster, A Sponge to wipe away the Weapon-Salve, ii in the Epistle Dedicatory.

[13] Foster, A Sponge to wipe away the Weapon-Salve, iii.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 3.

[16] By divine institution, he means numerous passages from the scripture where illness is said to be cured from the assistance or the words of God, such as seen in “Naamans seven times washing himself in the River Jordan to cure his leprosie (2 Kings 5): [or] the poole of Bethesdaes curing such as entered into it after the Angles stirring it (John 5).

[17] Ibid., 10.

[18] Ibid., 11-12.

[19] Ibid., 13.

[20] Ibid., 35. Foster continues, “[f]or he was a Witch and Conjecturer; and so the God whose gift hee meaneth it is, is dues huius mundi, the god of this world, as Saint Paul calls the Devill, 2 Cor. 4.4.”

[21] Ibid., 15.

[22] Ibid., 54.

[23] For instance, somewhat neutral critics such as James Hart in 1633, also expressed the varying explanations of the recipe for the weapon salve unsatisfactory. For instance, for Fludd blood was the central component of the salve, i.e. that without which the salve could not work, however, he pointed out Crollius even omitted blood from the ingredients. See Alelen G. Debus, “Robert Fludd and the Use of Gilbert’s De Magnete in the Weapon-Salve Controversy” in Journal of History of Medicine (Oct. 1964): 389-417. Sennert also briefly mentions of this in his treatise, The Weapon Salves Maladie, and expresses dissatisfaction.

[24] Ibid., 46.

[25] Ibid., 44-45.

[26] Ibid., 46.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Again, its full title is, Doctor Fludds Answer unto M. Foster; or, the Squesing of Parson Fosters Sponge, ordained by him for the wiping away of the Weapon-Salve. Wherein the Sponge-bearers immodest carriage and behaviour towards his bretheren is detected; the bitter flames of his slanderous reports, are by the sharpe vineger of Truth corrected and quite extinguished: and lastly, the vertuous validity of his Sponge, in wiping away of the Weapon-Salve, is crushed out and cleane abolished.

[29] Robert Fludd, The Squesing of Parson Fosters Sponge, the Epistle to the Reader.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Debus, “Fludd, Gilbert and the Weapon Salve.”

[32] Ibid., 27.

[33] Ibid., 70.

[34] Ibid., 89.

[35] Ibid., 103.

[36] Ibid., 35-36, 103.

[37] Daniel Sennert, The Weapon Salve Maladie: or a Declaration of Its Inefficiency to Perform What is Attributed to it, 14. Sennert goes on to say that “they can testify no more then this, that one was wounded; and that this Weapons-Salve was applyed for the Cure, and that hee grew well againe: but they cannot testify, whether hee recovered by the efficacy of this Salve.”

[38] Ibid., 23-24.

[39] Ibid., 25.

[40] Ibid., 27.

[41] Fludd, The Squesing of Parson Fasters Sponge. For instance, one such classic example tells us that when a servant cut himself with an axe, Fludd treated him with the salve. At first the patient was in great pain, but as soon as Fludd anointed the axe with the ointment, the patient felt better, and when he undressed the axe, the patient was in great pain again, yet when he dressed the axe with the salve again, the patient felt completely well. For more examples of this kind, see chapter 5 of Member 2 of his treatise.

[42] Ibid., 14, 16-17, 28. “Seeing then Nature onely and immediately closeth up wounds…”, “the cure of a wound… is for the most part the work of mere Nature, which not onely cureth small wounds, but very great ones.”

[43] Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series 59 (Oct., 1925 – Jun, 1926), 35-96.

[44] Kenelm Digby, A Late Discourse Made in a Solemn Assenbly of Nobles and Learned Men at Montpellier in France, 11-12.

[45] Elizabeth Hedrick, “Romancing the Salve”, in British Journal of History of Science, 41:2, (Sep. 25, 2007), 161-185.

[46] Debus, 415.

[47] James Hart quoted in Debus’ article Fludd, Gilbert & the Weapon Salve.

[48] Debus, 402.

[49] It is cosmic because in Fludd’s view, even Sennert’s ‘natural magnetism’ is likened to and is explained in terms of the man’s relation to the universe. Indeed, for Fludd, when an oblong loadstone is cut in half and its ‘equatorial’ regions seek to reunite, what is happening here is nothing but the two regions being sympathetically attracted to one another through the eternal life spirit infused by God. He calls the ‘equatorial regions’ the divine volunty and the poles the divine nolunty, and likens this to his cosmic scheme to show that “the two basic natures in the universe – the Aequinoctial and the Polar – cannot be joined.” See Debus, 407-408.

[50] Debus, 403.

[51] Kenelm Digby, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (KY, USA: Hard Press, 2001). Also see Issei Takehara’s blog for the use of the powder and how to preserve the powder at http://isseicreekphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/the-true-preparation-of-the-powder-of-sympathy-by-sir-kenelm-digby/, which explains the recipe in a paraphrased copy in modern English.

[52] I.e. balsamic oil

[53] see my footnote 8.

[54] Digby, A Late Discourse, 134.

[55] Ibid., 133-136.

[56] For instance, Digby claims that he came to possess the recipe for the powder upon his encounter with “a religious Camelite that came from the Indies and Persia to Florence… having done marvelous Cures with his Powder,” and that even though the Camelite was very secretive, upon doing “an important courtesie to the said Friar, which induced him to discover unto me his Secret.” See Digby’s treatise, 11-12. Hedrick, however, points out that the Camelite friar has a general resemblance to the wandering Egyptian sage Calasirius in Heliodorus’ Ethiopian Story, “a work upon which Digby drew his own autobiographical romance, Loose Fantasies, written in 1628 but not published until after his death.” Further, “Digby’s use of both a wandering monk and noble witnesses as authorizing tropes in [his] Late Discourse is fully in line with the conventions found in transmutation histories” which are described as William R. Newman as having elements of romance embedded in many of the alchemical writings. See Hedrick for more detailed account of the historical evidence with which she argues for the fabrication of Digby’s anecdote.

[57] Hedrick, Romancing the Salve, 173.

[58] Ibid., 172.

[59] Ibid. “The first entry for this date reports that ‘Sir KENELM DIGBY brought in the stones mentioned by him at the meeting of the 22nd of May, and called by him oculus mundi.’ The fifth entry for the same meeting states, ‘Magnetical cures being then discoursed of, Sir GILBERT TALBOT promised to communicate what he knew of sympathetical cures; and those members, who had any of the powder of sympathy, were desired to bring some of it at the next meeting.’” Yet Digby never spoke about the powder at any of the meetings. *Not to be confused with William Gilbert, who was the author of De Magnete, published in 1600.

[60] Ibid.

[61] For example, the English Post for March of 1702 advertises Digby’s powder of sympathy. Hendrick, 178-179.

[62] Ibid., 179.

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I: Introduction

Nichiren (1222-1282) is known for his radical break with the state-sponsored religion, establishing himself as one of the founders of Kamakura New Buddhism.[1] Although his strong faith in the Lotus Sutra derives its origin from the Mahayana school of Buddhism, officially introduced to Japan in 552 from China[2] as T’ien-T’ai school, Nichiren as well as other monks saw strong objections against how the Buddhism was officially practiced in Japan. Due to the emperors’ monopolization of the right to officially ordain Buddhists, the monks so ordained were not freely able to preach to anyone they wished; their sole job as the official monks was to pray for the welfare of the nation and people collectively, and they were prohibited from performing the funerals or preaching to women and the sick (in particular, lepers) as these are impurities to be avoided.[3] The monks who believed the Buddhist teaching of T’ien-T’ai (the Lotus Sutra) were reduced to nothing but mindless performers of bureaucratic rituals of prayers, thus, some ardent believers broke ties with the official monks, and became independent monks who then came to be known as reclusive monks.[4] Freed from state restrictions, they were finally able to preach and practice Buddhism in accordance with their locus classicus, the Lotus Sutra, hence also giving rise to philosophical interpretations of the texts and debates over specific doctrines within the Mahayana tradition.

In this paper, my focus will be on one of such reclusive monks named Nichiren, who established his own school, Nichiren sect, by faithfully sticking to the authority of Shakyamuni (or, Gotama Buddha). I will in particular explore his major treatises, “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” (1259) and “The Selection of the Time” (1275), where his philosophical views and reasons for the necessity for his doctrine of Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo are expounded. In doing so, the mentions will be made on Mappo (the Latter Day of the Dharma) as well as on his Buddhist cosmic view, i.e. the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life (ichinen sanzen), in relation to Honen’s philosophy, which is what Nichiren was responding to, so we can take a better glance at some of his main arguments.

 

II: History and Philosophy of Nichiren’s Buddhism

 

Nichiren’s philosophy, however, is of necessity at the same time historical. This is because his fundamental beliefs in the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra come from the reflection of the time he lived in. He explains why he felt the need to write his philosophical treatise, On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land, as a result of discovering the true reason for why there had been natural disasters epidemics constantly destroying the lives of people, even though the Buddhist teachings were everywhere practiced.[5] Hence, it was in the enlightenment of achieving his own Buddhahood and disagreement with other ‘heretic’ teachings at the time that his philosophy developed. Such that it is first necessary to be acquainted with the gist of the prevalent teachings of the time which Nichiren so eagerly abhorred.

Honen (1133-1212) is said to have preached the following to a prostitute who suffered from guilt in doing what she did,

WOMAN: Because of the evil deed I did in my previous life, I am forced to have such a sinful occupation in my present life. Please tell me how I can redeem myself so I can get into nirvana in my next life.

HONEN: Stay as you are right now, pray ardently to Amida Buddha for salvation. Amida Buddha offers salvation specifically to people like you. Just keep praying, and stop worrying.[6]

 

What Honen preached was a significant change in the Buddhist philosophy. Up until then, Buddhist teaching was strictly impersonal matter in Japan. Believers were only to follow the officially sanctioned rituals at the scheduled time and pray for the welfare of the state and never for the individual salvation.[7] Further, the doctrine of reincarnation (samsara) was already determined according to the deeds done in the previous life, so there was nothing one could do to change it in the present life. However, Honen preached the possibility of individual salvation and even offered the way to change the course of samsara by fervently praying to Amida Buddha. In his major work Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsu Shu[8], Honen preached that anyone including evil-doers could attain Buddhahood and reborn in the Pure Land just so long as he has absolute faith in Amida Buddha and prays Namu-Amida-Butsu[9] (nenbutsu) until his death.[10] He did this as a result of combining two distinct practices[11] into one, focusing on the easy practice of reciting nenbutsu alone. By combining the difficult and easy practices in the form of nenbutsu, he discarded the importance attached to the traditional performance of rituals, following strict scriptural orders as well as financially sponsoring temples as not essential for salvation.[12] Further, his philosophy of nenbutsu attracted commoners who could not read or understand the Buddhist text, i.e. Mahayana texts, because according to Honen, all one has to do is to recite Namu-Amida-Butsu. Honen reasoned that the Scared Way teachings of Mahayana and Hinayana are difficult to practice, while the Pure Land teaching is easy to practice. Since it is not possible to actually follow all the teachings and live in this world at the same time, it is better to abandon the difficult way, and immediately embrace the easy to practice way instead of trying to do the impossible. In this way, Honen reduced “the doctrine to its very essence, to reliance upon a single act of faith” and nothing but “the utterance of a formula.”[13]

This new movement and the subsequent popularity of nenbutsu in Kamakura period that the Pure Land teaching is the way for salvation necessarily excluded the primary Sacred Way teachings, i.e. Mahayana writings.[14] For Nenbutsu Chosen Above All denied the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, and instead put emphasis on one of Amida of the Land of Perfect Bliss, while forgetting all the other Buddhas.[15] As a devout T’ien-T’ai Buddhist, Nichiren saw this movement as contradicting “the sacred teachings of the Buddha’s entire lifetime and [bringing] confusion to people in every direction.” Further, as he believed that the Lotus Sutra to be the very embodiment of Shakyamuni Buddha, the only way for the protection of the land as well as for the salvation of the people was to propagate the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.[16] Consequently, Nichiren believed this common practice of nenbutsu as destructive to the nation as well as the representation of the Final Dharma age, as described in the Lotus Sutra.[17] Nichiren agrees with Honen in that “our present age corresponds to the fifth five-hundred-year period described in the Great Collection Sutra, when ‘the pure Law will become obscured and lost’”[18], but he disagrees with Honen’s passive attitude towards the possibility of salvation that since we live in the Final Dharma age when everyone is confused and the true teaching lost, there is not much we can do about it except for praying to Amida Buddha for help. Contrast to Honen’s view of reliance on the Other-Power (tariki), i.e. Amida Buddha, for salvation, Nichiren does not discuss using the distinction of self-power and Other Power to achieve Buddhahood. Instead, he directs us to focus on the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, which requires concentration and understanding of the Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo. The fact that he is aversive to the idea of nenbutsu, the reliance on the Other-Power and the reason why Nichiren might have objection against such a practice should be obvious from the variety of Buddhist texts that speaks of there being no self nor others.[19] According to this theory of No-Self (anatman), there is nothing permanent in empirical self, since everything is a stream of becoming that is dependent on everything else.[20] Because there is no such a thing as a distinct ‘self’, and the self is nothing but an illusion arising from the false ideas about the world, it makes no sense in relying on the Other-Power, which does not strictly speaking exist. This original view of Buddhism is also manifest in Hongaku [the original enlightenment] thought inherent in T’ien-T’ai sect, which is nothing but the exposition of that very thought that everything in the world has a potential Buddhahood within, and that the difference between the Buddhasattva (the Absolute or Shakyamuni) and the dependent beings like us is just that “the former is eternally free from what is grasped by false discrimination,”[21] and the latter is lacking in “the concept of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds.”[22] Hence, it is not surprising to see the similar thought in Nichiren’s principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, as he believed himself to be “the votary of the Lotus Sutra.”[23]

III: Philosophy of Nichiren

 

Now, having briefly focused on Nichiren’s thoughts in the context of the emergence of the Kamakura New Buddhism, I shall now turn to the more detailed discussion of his principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life[24] as well as why he thinks he is right in holding this view. A first question that comes to my mind is what the difference between the traditional Hongaku thought and his principle of three thousand realms in s single moment of life is. Why did he have the need to create his own doctrine if it is the essentially the same as the old doctrine of Hongaku thought? Second, in what way did Nichiren’s approach to Buddhism differ from the others, e.g. Honen, and in what way was it similar? After treating with these issues, I will discuss what evidence he had in aggressively exporting his teaching as the one and only way for salvation.

Hongaku thought, or the original enlightenment, developed two main philosophical conclusions from the non-duality of the Mahayana text in that it advanced the theory to its limit, arguing that “[a]ll existents, being empty of independent self-nature, are seen as interpenetrating and mutually identified.” As the Mahayana text attests, this includes not only human beings but also ants and crickets, mountains and rivers, grasses and trees, have potential for enlightenment. What is added here, though, is that all beings are innately buddhas, hence are enlightened inherently.[25] Hongaku thought developed the Mahanaya’s non-dual original enlightenment into the absolute affirmation of the phenomenal world, and subsequently established itself as the climax of Buddhism as philosophy.[26] This addition necessarily “negates any ontological difference between the ordinary person and the Buddha, the mundane world and the Pure Land, self and other, and so forth,” making any conventional distinctions of the phenomenal world collapsed into an undifferentiated, homogeneous realm.[27] Such, then, was the standard concept of Hongaku thought prevalent in Nichiren’s time. However, Honen came into the scene, and obfuscated this distinction by introducing his senju nenbutsu,[28] since it relied solely on the power of Amida Buddha as the other, which goes against both the Mahayana thought and Hongaku thought. Having seen the popularity of the Honen’s philosophy, Nichiren needless to say found it to be scripturally objectionable. The reason for this popularity of nenbutsu in spite of its false doctrine, he thought, was because Hongaku thought was too difficult to grasp for ordinary people and it makes the attainment of buddhahood possible only in theory. Indeed, Hongaku thought long remained a mere theoretical, abstract statement that preaches “beings are inherently enlightened by nature (honrai jikaku)” and bore no practical purpose.[29] Nichiren reasoned that Hongaku thought must have missed something essential in the texts of Mahayana, and having perused the Mahayana writings, finally found the jewel hidden in the Lotus Sutra the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, which manifests itself in the form of Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo.[30] Nichiren knew that Hongaku thought was too theoretical, lacking in concrete practice, while Honen was nothing but an empty recitation of nenbutsu, without a correct view.[31] Although Nichiren fundamentally disagreed with Honen, i.e. in choosing the hierarchically primary text within the Mahayana scriptures, he too believed that Hongaku thought was not only difficult to grasp but also meaningless to try, because it would be impossible for you to know if you have attained a buddhahood until you die even if you understood the teachings and followed them diligently. On the other hand, the Lotus Sutra promises that we can attain buddhahood in this life in this form.[32] Therefore, Nichiren sought out in the Mahayana texts what was missing in the Hongaku thought, which led him to elaborate on the concept of honrai jikaku. As stated in the Hongaku thought, he was convinced that all beings are inherently enlightened, but he realized that this was only a part of the story. He hence distinguished two types of the concept of the original enlightenment, which he called the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. The first is the principle of three thousand realms in principle (ri no ichinen sanzen), which is the theoretical understanding of the beings’ inherent buddhahood. However, this only serves as the potentiality for the attainment of the buddhahood, in the sense that it is potential for the next life. But Nichiren already saw this attainment of buddhahood in the next life problematic, and what is more, not convincing enough for people to believe in it. The second principle is thus needed to concrete the doctrine as convincing and realistic as possible. This is the principle of three thousand realms in actuality (ji no ichinen sanzen),[33] that is to say, “the very act of recitation of the five-character title of the Lotus Sutra (Daimoku or Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo妙法蓮華経).[34] Further, like Honen, he made the simple recitation of Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo sufficient for salvation.[35] What is different from Honen’s nenbutsu, however, is that these five characters already within themselves contain the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. So, by simply reciting these supreme words, Nichiren’s version of recitation is already actually enlightened, i.e. contains the seed for flowering as well as the flower (inherent Buddha nature) and all you need is the sun (the recitation of Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo),[36] whereas Honen’s nenbutsu falls short in the distinction of ‘the concrete actuality of the devotion’ and “the concept of the mutual possession of the Ten World,”[37] needed to achieve a buddhahood. Of course, he also prays to Amida Buddha, who is not the supreme authority in the sutra, which is a problem since he would be praying to the wrong Buddha whose power is not strong enough to save him anyway.[38] As can be seen from this, the principle of three thousand realms in principle and in actuality are so closely interwoven that they are simultaneous, just like “lotus flowers, which turn as the sun does, though the lotus has no mind to direct it, or like the plantain that grows with the rumbling of thunder, though this plant has no ears to hear it.”[39] The likening of the principle to plants is on purpose, for he curiously believes that one can attain buddhahood even without understanding what Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo means, just as long as they recite these words.[40] This is precisely because practice of recitation is not seen in instrumental, linear terms as a means leading to an end, but rather, it is seen as the expression, confirmation, and depending of a liberation or salvation that in some sense is already present.[41] Hence, this rather ‘automatic’ simultaneity of practice and realization is not to be taken as a denial of the necessity of continued practice, but it should be taken as a re-conceiving of it,[42] as a necessity for meaningful practice.

Having elucidated the supremacy of Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo and its intimate connection with the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, Nichiren spends at length discussing about the possibility of salvation of women in the Lotus Sutra. As has been already mentioned in this paper, Nichiren has emphasized the uniquely universal view of humanity in this sutra in affirming that a woman, who would otherwise not be able to attain buddhahood, could indeed become a Buddha as she is. None of the other sutras besides the Lotus Sutra expounded by any of the Buddhas anywhere can help them.[43] Nichiren further makes a notion that it is utterly a waste of time for women to follow other sutras, since even though many of them “intone the name of the Buddha Amida, sixty thousand or a hundred thousand times a day… because the women who do so are relying upon sutras that can never lead women to Buddhahood or to rebirth in the pure land, they are in effect merely counting other people’s riches.”[44] In this way, Nichiren also dissuades women from following the nenbutsu.

 

IV: Concluding Remarks: What Evidence does Nichiren Have

for the Supremacy of the Lotus Sutra?

 

As has been stated in his The Selection of the Time, Nichiren is firmly convinced that he was born to complete the task Buddha himself had anticipated over two millennia before, for he says, “one should understand that I am in fact the votary of the Lotus Sutra,” “If in fact I am not the votary of the Lotus Sutra, then who will uphold the one vehicle, the teaching of the Lotus Sutra?” and that in the over seven hundred years since the introduction of Buddhism into Japan, “there has never been a single votary of the Lotus Sutra other than the Great Teacher Dengyo[45] and I, Nichiren.”[46] One might wonder what would give him such an overwhelming confidence if not sheer arrogance. Nichiren, however, does have a good reason to have believed what he believed himself to be, that is, he has scriptural evidence. These pieces of evidence can be abundantly found throughout his writings, but I will here focus particularly on two of his major writings, namely, On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land, in which he lays out an outline of his general interpretation of the Lotus Sutra, and The Selection of the Time, where he elaborates further in detail why he believed he was the one who would restore the correct teaching of the Lotus Sutra, as opposed to anyone else at the time.

By the time he completed On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of Land in 1260, Japan had already been constantly hit by famine, epidemics and natural disasters.[47] Nichiren describes the sorrowful events in his writing, “[i]n recent years, there have been unusual disturbances in the heavens, strange occurrences on earth, famine and pestilence, all affecting every corner of the empire and spreading throughout the land. Oxen and horses lie dead in the streets, and the bones of the stricken crowd the highway,” with over half the population wiped out, there was hardly anyone who did not grieve.[48] Hence, his journey as a devout monk began so he could understand what really was happening. Having perused the Mahayana sutras, which he believed to be the correct teaching, he soon realized that he lived in the Mappo, i.e. the Final Dharma period. According to the Lotus Sutra, “[i]n that evil age [i.e. Mappo] there will be monks,” “Or there will be forest-dwelling monks,” and “Evil demons will take possession of others.” Nichiren summarizes the situation described in the sutra as follows: In the Mappo period, eminent monks are possessed by demons and everywhere they deceive people and the rulers, but a single wise man will appear. Though people slander him and attack him. This will not please Brahma and Shakra. As a result, there will follow disturbances in the heaven and on earth. If the rulers fail to notice these warnings, “then the Buddhas and the great bodhisattvas will order neighbouring countries to attack the evil rulers and evil priests of these countries.”[49] Nichiren, noticing the unusual phenomena, soon made a prediction saying “[t]hese [disasters] are omens indicating that this country of ours will be destroyed by a foreign nation.”[50] The rulers did not listen to him, and Nichiren was repeatedly exiled afterwards. But in 1274 and 1281, when the Mongolians invaded Japan in the midst of typhoons, Nichiren’s preaching began to attract attention, just as Nichiren predicted according to the Lotus Sutra that “they will put their faith in this single humble priest whom they earlier hated,” and “all bow their heads to the ground, press their palms together, and in one voice will chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”[51]

Even though he seemed to have been subjected to an exile and to continuous severe punishments, without any protections from the gods, or perhaps because of it, his conviction grew stronger. The Lotus Sutra in fact says that “[t]here will be many ignorant people who will curse and speak ill of us and will attack us with swords and staves, with rocks and tiles,” and also that “[a]gain and again we will be banished.”[52] Thus, Nichiren had, indeed, scriptural basis for arguing that he was the votary of the Lotus Sutra since “[h]ad I not been exiled [to Sado] but remained in Kamakura, then I would surely have been killed in the fighting [during the insurrection of 1272]. This too… was surely due to the plan of Shakyamuni Buddha,”[53] and also the scripture would not have fulfilled what it says. In the similar reasoning, he pointed out that where the sutra says “[a]gain and again we will be banished,” if he had not been banished multiple times, the sutra would not have made any sense.[54] By arguing for the close ties with the sutra, his life experience supported the validity of the sutra and vice versa. His argument had already been strengthened by the government officials’ rebellion of Jokyu Disturbance in 1221, which was seen as one of the predictions Buddha had made.

As has have seen, Nichiren’s life was a constant struggle and reconciliation with the historical contingencies, which led his conviction of himself as the restorer of the correct teaching. These events shaped his philosophy as the faithful believer of the Lotus Sutra in Mahayana thought. Seeing that his fundamental view of the world was construed by the concept of Mappo, it is natural that his philosophy was largely, if not entirely, influenced by the history in which he lived. Consequently, one cannot see or understand his philosophy apart from his immediate surroundings.

 

 


[1] Kamakura period began in 1185 and ended in 1333, where the warrior class came to rule under the first shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo. It was followed by a short reestablishment of imperial rule, which again was succeeded by the warrior class rule well into Edo period in the 19th century. In a sense, Kamakura New Buddhism was the religion appropriated by the period of conflicts.

[2] Nichiren, The Selection of the Time, 1275. The traditional date for the introduction of Buddhism to China is said to be 67C.E.

[3] Matsuo, Kenji, “What is Kamakura New Buddhism? Official Monks and Reclusive Monks” in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol.24: ½ (Spring, 1997), 179-189. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30234157 (accessed Mar. 28, 2012).

[4] Ibid. The word for reclusive in Japanese is “tonsei” which originally meant ‘to withdraw from the secular world and enter the priesthood.’ But by the middle ages, it came to mean ‘monks who withdrew from the officially recognized temples.’ Also this is why monks today wear black surplice, which was distinguished from the official monks’ colour of the surplice, i.e. white, which signified purity by staying away from women and lepers. The intent of the reclusive monks was clearly to help and save anyone, including those who were thought to be impure and defiled.

[5] Nichiren, On the Rationale for Writing “On Establishing the Correct Teachings for the Peace of Land”, 1268. “I, Nichiren, observing this state of affairs, proceeded to consult the great collection of Buddhist scriptures. There I discovered the reason why these prayers are without effect and on the contrary actually make the situation worse… In the end I had no other recourse than to compile a work to present my findings, entitling it On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

[6] Honen in Honen Shonin Gyojo-ezu, quoted in Hiroo Sato, Gaisetsu Nihon Shisoshi [The Outline of History of Japanese Philosophy], (Japan, Minerva Publishing: 2011), 97. Translation mine.

[7] Jacqueline I. Stone, “Placing Nichiren in the ‘Big Picture’: Some Ongoing Issues in Scholarship” in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 26: ¾, Revisiting Nichiren (Fall, 1999), 383-421. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30233632 accessed on March 23, 2012.

[8] That is, “Nenbustu Chosen Above All” (1198)

[9] Literally, ‘the devotion to Amida Buddha.’

[10] Shosetsu Nihonshi [Detailed Explanation of Japanese History], ed. Susumu Ishii, Fumihiko Gomi, Seishou Sasayama and 11 others (Japan, Yamakawa Publishing: 2007), 105. *this is the official and standard textbook used for Japanese History in high schools in Japan. Translation mine.

[11] One is a difficult practice (nan-gyou), which is to become aware of the innate Buddhahood in each and everyone, while another is an easy practice (i-gyou), which requires one to simply recite the name of Amida Buddha in devotion, i.e. nenbutsu.

[12] Hiroo Sato, Gaisetsu Nihon Shisoshi, 99. Translation mine.

[13] Goerge Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334 (USA: Stanford University Press, 1958), 425-426.

[14] i.e. the Lotus Sutra and Nehan gyo in particular. See William E. Deal, Nichiren’s Rissho ankoku ron and Canon Formation, in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies vol. 26: ¾ , Revisiting Nichiren (Fall, 1999), 325-348.

[15] For example, Ruben L.F. Habito explains that Nichiren discovered on the basis of his reading of the Lotus Sutra that Amida Buddha was only one of the many emanations of the eternal Shakyamuni. See Habito, “Bodily Reading of the Lotus Sutra” in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies vol. 26: ¾, Revisiting Nichiren (Fall, 1999), 281-306. Accessed on March 28, 2011.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Nichiren, The Selection of Time, 1275. He quotes Shakyamuni Buddha in saying that “the first five hundred years after [my] passing will be the age of attaining liberation, and the next five hundred years, the age of meditation. The next five hundred years will be the age of reading, reciting, and listening, and the next five hundred years, the age of building temples and stupas. In the next five hundred years, ‘quarrels and disputes will arise among the adherents to my teaching, and the pure Law will become obscured and lost.’”

[18] Ibid.

[19] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, Buddhism in A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (USA: Princeton University Press, 1957), 272-346. Also Mahayana texts are clear on that “our ideation gives rise to the false ideas of the ego and dharma,” and things falsely discriminated have no self nature whatsoever. Also Mahayana text says that “the Absolute and the dependent are neither the same nor different.”

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Nichiren, The Opening of the Eyes (1), 1272. The Ten Worlds are the worlds into which persons with certain karma would be reborn.

[23] Nichiren, The Selection of the Time, 1275.

[24] Nichiren explains in his Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind Established in the Fifth Five-Hundred-Year Period after the Thus Come One’s Passing (1273), that “Life at each moment is endowed with the Ten Worlds. At the same time, each of the Ten Worlds is endowed with all Ten Worlds, so that an entity of life actually possesses one hundred worlds. Each of these worlds in turn possesses thirty realms, which means that in the one hundred worlds there are three thousand realms. The three thousand realms of existence are all possessed by life in a single moment.”

[25] Jacqueline Stone, Medieval Tendai Hongaku Thought and the New Kamakura Buddhism: A Reconsideration, in Japanese Journal of Religious Stuides, vol. 22:1/2 (Spring, 1995), 17-48.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Literally, nenbutsu alone. The practice introduced by Honen and subsequently by Nichiren has been suggested by some historians that it bears analogical resemblance to the movement taken up by Martin Luther and others in the West in that this new Buddhism focused on the individual salvation as opposed to the salvation of the state as collectivity, and Nichiren especially made it his calling to preach the Lotus Sutra universally and equally, both men and women, which was unprecedented at the time. See Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334, as well as

[29] Stone, Hongaku Thought.

[30] Nichiren’s Kanjin Honzon Sho, paraphrased in Nichiren Shonin’s View of Humanity: The Final Dharma Age and the Three Thousand Realms in One Thought-Moment, in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 26: ¾, Revisiting Nichiren (Fall, 1999), 239-259. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30233626 accessed on March 28th, 2012.

[31] For instance, Nichiren repeatedly makes a mention of Honen, criticizing him for “[lumping] together all the 637 Mahayana scriptures in 2,883 volumes and along with them all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and the deities of this world, and urged people to ‘discard, close, ignore, and abandon’ them, with these four injunctions corrupting the hearts of all people.” See his On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.

[32] Nichiren, The Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, 1265. Quoting Saicho [a.k.a. Dengyo], the founder of T’ien-T’ai school in Japan, “Neither teacher nor disciple need undergo countless kalpas of austere practice in order to attain Buddhahood. Through the power of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law they can do so in their present form.” Note: although Nichiren criticizes the common practice of the official monks in Hongaku though-based Buddhism in the 13th century, he saw Saicho as the only one, other than Nichiren himself, who truly understood the Lotus Sutra and was a votary of the sutra.

[33] Stone, Hongaku Thought. See also Stone, Placing Nichiren, as well as Habito, Bodily Reading of the Lotus Sutra.

[34] Habito, Bodily Reading of the Lotus Sutra. See also Stone, Placing Nichiren, where she quotes Nichiren saying that this concrete level of principle of three thousand realms in actuality is “found only in the origin teaching [Hongaku thought], hidden in the depths of the ‘Fathoming the Lifespan’ chapter.”

[35] Nichiren, Daimoku.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Nichiren, The Opening of the Eyes (I), “[t]he doctrine of three thousands realms in a single moment of life begins with the concept of the mutual possession of the Ten World.” The Ten World are (from the higher spiritual worlds to the lower ones): Boddhahood, Bodhisattva, Realization, Learning, Heaven, Humanity, Arrogance, Animality, Hunger and Hell. Nichiren also explains, “each of the Ten Worlds is endowed with all Ten Worlds, so that an entity of life actually possesses hundred worlds. See also my footnote 26 above.

[38]This is also a theme of Nichiren’s criticism against Honen’s nenbutsu, for all the Mahayana sutras, other than the Lotus Sutra, do not promise all beings salvation. Women are repeatedly excluded from the equation that at one point they even seem to suggest that “women can attain Buddhahood or be reborn in the Pure Land [only after] they have been reborn as men.” See Mori Ichiu, Nichiren’s View of Women, in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 30: 3/4, Feminism and Religion in Contemporary Japan (Fall, 2003), 279-290. See the full quote by Nichiren in The Opening of the Eyes, “[i]n various Hinayana sutras that were preached before the Lotus Sutra, the possibility of women attaining Buddhahood is denied. In other Mahayana sutras apart from the Lotus Sutra, it seems that women can attain Buddhahood or be reborn in the Pure Land. Yet they may only do so after they have been reborn as men.”

[39] Nichiren quotes a passage from Nirvana Sutra in his Daimoku.

[40] Nichiren, Daimoku. He also uses analogies in every life how this is not at all strange, for he says, “if you so much as hear the words ‘pickled plum,’ your mouth will begin to water. Even in everyday life there are such wonders, so how much greater are the wonders of the Lotus Sutra!” and also that “even those who lack understanding, so long as they chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, can avoid the evil paths.” In other words, the simultaneity of the cause and effect becomes like a second nature to us.

[41] Stone, Placing Nichiren.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Nichiren, Daimoku.

[44] Ibid.

[45] i.e. Saicho.

[46] Nichiren, The Selection of the Time.

[47] Nichiren enumerates the disasters happened during the Final Dharma period, i.e. the last five-hundred-year period. See my footnote 17. In 1257, “there occurred an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude.” In 1258, there was a great wind [perhaps typhoon?]. In 1259, a major famine, epidemics occurred, and “the epidemics continued to rage without abating. By this time, more than half the people of the nation had been laid low by death.”

[48] Nichiren, On Establishing the Correct Teaching.

[49] Nichiren, The Selection of the Time.

[50] Nichiren, The Rationale for Writing “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.

[51] Nichiren, The Selection of the Time.

[52] Nichiren, The Opening of the Eyes (I).

[53] Nichiren quoted in Shijo Kingo-dono Gohenji in Asai, Nichiren’s View of Humanity.

[54] Nichiren, The Opening of the Eyes (I).


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Physics VIII is an argument for the eternal motion as well as for the necessary existence of such a being as the first unmoved mover that must lie at the foundation of all motion, if nature is to be defined as a principle of motion. In this paper, I will attempt to explicate exegetically what such a principle of motion is for Aristotle, and hope to clarify what is meant by the prime unmoved mover insofar as it deals with the realm of physics. In doing so, I will try to outline the main argument of Physics VIII.

1: Preliminary Remarks

            In structuring the argument, Aristotle follows what has been outlined in Posterior Analytics II.1, namely, the investigation of the four things – the fact (that it is), the reason why (why it is), whether it is (if it is) and what it is. But because to seek the fact that the moon is eclipsed is the same as to seek whether it is eclipsed, it suffices to ask if it is eclipsed to account for both things. In the same manner, to ask what it is and why it is are one and the same, since asking what an eclipse is is the same as asking why the moon is eclipsed – privation of light from the moon by the earth’s screening, i.e. the light leaves the earth when the earth screens the moon. In this way, the original four questions we seek to investigate are reduced to two: whether it is (ει εστι) and what it is (τι εστι).[1] Physics VIII. 1 is hence dedicated to answering the first of the two questions, namely, whether motion is. In asking whether/what motion is, Aristotle reviews commonly held opinions (δοξαι) by his predecessors as possibilities for whether motion is. Although the existence of motion is asserted by many who speak of nature, neither Anaxagoras, who says all things were together until Nous introduced motion and separated them, nor Empedocles, who makes motion alternate with rest, nor Democritus, who postulates that there always was motion and there always will be, fails to give a full account of why motion started when it started and how.[2] For this reason, Aristotle thinks that none of them did a sufficient job at explaining the phenomenon, that is, they did not investigate the causal stage of the explanation (τι εστι).

In establishing that motion always existed, it also follows that time as well always existed, because motion is unthinkable without time, and vice versa. This is intuitive since time cannot be thought of apart from the now, but now is nothing but the uniting point of the beginning of future time and the end of past time, so it follows that there must always be time and consequently motion, for “the extremity of the last period of time that we take must be found in some now, since in time we can take nothing but nows.”[3] It is then necessary to conclude that time as well as motion have always existed and will always exist. Aristotle’s task for the following chapters in Physics VIII is to explain why it is the case that motion and time have always existed and how it is the case: that is to say, to elucidate what he has already established, namely, that motion is eternal. In doing so, he will come to the conclusion that if there is to be an eternal motion, it is necessary that the first thing that imparts motion must be without magnitude and without parts, in addition to it being absolutely unmoved. Let us, now, unfold his argument so as to better understand what he means by the eternal motion caused by this unmoved mover.

 

Section 2: Physics VIII 6

 

Aristotle has discussed that nature is a principle of motion[4] and observes that everything that is in motion must be moved by something. Further, there must be three things: the moved, the mover and the instrument of motion.[5] Conversely, he arrives at the tentative conclusion that “[s]ince there must always be motion without intermission, there must necessarily be something eternal… that first imparts motion, and this first mover must be unmoved.”[6] This first mover that is absolutely unmoved, i.e. unmoved not even accidentally, he calls the prime unmoved mover.

The prime unmoved mover is introduced in Physics VIII 6[7] only to an extent necessary to talk about the subject of this treatise, which is eternal motion.[8] To understand why Aristotle does not discuss about it in one chapter or deal with it in the consecutive chapters, instead of dividing it up into two chapters separately located, we must first see what is discussed in the chapters 7 through 9 and in what way they are necessarily connected with the chapter 6.  In doing so, I will first show that it was necessary for Aristotle to briefly introduce the prime unmoved mover if he wanted to talk about the existence of eternal motion, which is what was to be demonstrated in Physics VIII, and then offer an explanation as to why he felt he needed yet another chapter on the prime unmoved mover even though he has demonstrated the necessity of eternal motion in the preceding chapters already.

In Physics VIII 6, he raises three arguments that since there must always be motion without intermission, there must be something that which imparts motion, and its motion must be one and continuous.[9] The subsequent chapters are, thus, concerned with what this eternal motion could be, and how it could come about. He has established in the chapter 5 that since everything that is in motion is necessarily moved by something else or by itself, and since this cannot go on ad infinitum, there must be a point at which this recession ends.[10] And this thing that which moves with itself “must be composed of something that is unmoved but imparts motion and also of something that is moved but does not necessarily impart motion,” because “it is impossible that that which moves itself should in its entirety move itself.”[11] In an animate thing, there always must be a part of it that is unmoved mover and a part that is moved, so that one part that is unmoved can move that which is moved.[12] But if this unmoved mover itself contains a further part of it with which it imparts motion, then the first mover is this part of the unmoved mover and not the whole of it, and it goes on ad infinitum. Hence it is necessary that, in the whole of the thing, there is always both a part that which imparts motion without being itself moved and a part that which is moved.[13] Therefore, Aristotle concludes at the end of the chapter 5 that “in all cases of things being in motion, that which primarily imparts motion is unmoved.”[14] This, then, is an account for how self-motion starts in animals, but even this motion is not strictly speaking generated from within the animals, as “here the motion is caused by the environment and by many things that enter into the animal,” such as nourishment.[15] So in the case of animals, it is clear that the motion does not originate from them, but “it is something else that moves them.”[16] It is also the case that although self-motion in animals is caused in the way mentioned above, the unmoved mover in animals do move accidentally, since when the animal moves, the unmoved part in the body of the animal also moves. But that which moves in this way, i.e. accidentally, cannot produce an eternal continuous motion. Hence, we are now looking for the unmoved mover that is not moved even accidentally. Such a mover must exist to account for the undying and unceasing motion in the world, which remains self-contained, as the principle of nature.[17]

Naturally, his next step is to ask if this unmoved mover is one and eternal. As has been established that motion is eternal elsewhere,[18] he reasons that this first mover which imparts eternal motion too must be eternal, since nothing finite can exert infinite power so as to cause an eternal motion. Further, that there is only one first mover rather than many is shown by the fact that the consequences of either assumptions are the same, and in such a case, it is sufficient to suppose only one mover that is the first of unmoved things and is the principle of everything else.[19]

This eternal first mover, then, must cause an eternal motion that is the subject of the physics. The discussion of the prime unmoved mover, therefore, is necessary to explain the eternal motion. Because we observe motion (effect) to be eternal, there must be a cause that is responsible for its effect. This necessity of such a cause is argued from the effect to the extent it is needed, i.e. the cause needs to be mentioned insofar as it explains the origin of the effect seen. And because it is motion, and not the prime unmoved mover, that is the subject of the investigation in physics, Aristotle is obligated to leave the discussion of the first mover in pursuit of the aim of the treatise. Consequently, having posited that there must be the cause of all motion, which is inferred from the effect we observe, he reverses his argument back from the cause to the effect. That is, if there is to be such a cause, i.e. the prime unmoved mover, then there has to follow such and such an effect. Since this prime unmoved mover is one and eternal, the motion it produces too must be one and eternal.[20] What could such a motion be? The chapters 7 through 9 ask about this very subject that is at the heart of the project in Physics, and illuminate what kind of motions is said to be one and eternal.

 

Section 3: Physics VIII 7-9

As has been discussed elsewhere,[21] there can only be four types of motion: generation and corruption, growth and decay, locomotion, and alteration. The first two of these are concerned with quantitative change, alteration is with qualitative change, and locomotion is a motion in respect of place. Since neither quantitative nor qualitative change can take place without locomotion, this must be the primary type of motion and therefore prior in time and in being to the other types of motion.[22] But we have yet to deal with what kinds of locomotion there are, to which we immediately find that there are two kinds only: rectilinear motion or circular motion.[23] The former of the two cannot be the primary motion that is both one and continuous, since a thing in a finite rectilinear motion must at some point come to a halt to turn back, and “that which turns back in a straight line undergoes two contrary locomotions.”[24] It could not be the case either that a thing is in an infinite rectilinear motion, since it being rectilinear, it must have a beginning at some point, and that which has a beginning must have an end also.[25] That such motion cannot be one and eternal is obvious, since it must come to a stand at some point (hence, rendering it not-continuous) and it undergoes contrary motions (two motions are specifically different, and hence cannot be one).[26] As for the circular motion, it satisfies both requirements, that is, a thing in a circular motion will not come to a stand but can continue to move without ever coming to a stop.[27] Moreover, there are no contrary motions (i.e. motions that are specifically different) in a circular motion, for “that which is in motion from A will in virtue of the same direction of energy be simultaneously in motion to A.”[28] From what has been said, it is established that only circular locomotion can be one and eternal, and only this kind of motion is perfect.[29]

Only now is he able to arrive at the conclusion that circular locomotion is the eternal motion, which is the proper subject of physics.[30] He started out by observing the commonsense fact that there are things that are always in motion, always at rest, and sometimes in motion and sometimes at rest. Cyclical motion of the four elements accounts for our observation that generation and corruption, etc., occur at one time and do not at another time. From this, Aristotle infers back to the necessary existence of the prime unmoved mover that imparts motion continuously. But such motion must necessarily be eternal, and things moved (the subject; material cause) by such a mover (efficient cause) must be moved eternally. That which is eternally moved is eternal circular locomotion. Having explained the phenomenon both from effect to cause and from cause to effect, his treatise on physics is complete, except for the fact that he has not said much about what this prime unmoved mover is. The prime unmoved mover is mentioned in the chapter 6 only as an efficient cause responsible for the eternal circular motion, but we get no picture whatsoever of what type of being this prime unmoved mover is. This is why Aristotle felt necessary to talk about the prime unmoved mover in the last chapter of Physics, and to discuss about it insofar as it remains within the realm of physics to give a more precise description of what this prime unmoved mover is.

 

Section 4: Physics VIII 10

The chapter 10, then, is concerned with a more precise account of the prime unmoved mover as an efficient cause responsible for such motion as eternal circular motion. Because of this reason, the precise nature of what the prime unmoved mover is does not fall within the subject of physics. That is, for what purpose it causes eternal motion is not the scope of this treatise, but it is sufficient here to note that it does cause eternal motion. Some things, however, about this unmoved mover still fall within the subject of our enquiry in physics: namely, whether it has magnitude or what kind of force it has, i.e. finite or infinite? At the end of the chapter 6, it was neither necessary nor possible for Aristotle to ask these questions about the prime unmoved mover, for he was not concerned with what it is but only with the prime unmoved mover as an efficient cause to introduce the subject, which revealed to be the eternal circular locomotion. Insofar as that was his aim, more discussions than necessary into the details of the prime unmoved mover would be distracting to the argument. But now that Aristotle has discussed fully about the eternal motion as the material cause of all motions we see in general physics, he is in a position to say a few more things about the features of the prime unmoved mover.

Here Aristotle argues that this prime unmoved mover must be 1) infinite and 2) without parts and without magnitude. That it is infinite is arrived at by two premises he has established in the works of Physics; namely, that nothing finite can cause motion during an infinite time, and that the prime unmoved mover must have an infinite force if it were to exert continuous motion eternally. Because when a thing moves, it loses some force upon contact with another, although this mover “causes something else consecutive with it to be in motion,” this motion “ceases when the motive force produced in one member of the consecutive series is at each stage less, and it finally ceases when one member no longer causes the next member to be a mover but only causes it to be in motion,” leading up to the eventual cessation of the whole motion.[31] So if this prime unmoved mover has finite force, it will exhaust itself at some point, no longer capable of exerting motion, which is contrary to the phenomenon. It then must have an infinite force. But a finite body cannot have an infinite force, hence it follows that this prime unmoved mover is infinite. If it is infinite, then, it must possess infinite magnitude, but Aristotle has shown that it is impossible to have an infinite magnitude. But a difficulty arises, since we have said that no finite body can have infinite force, then it must follow that this prime unmoved mover must possess an infinite magnitude, which we have said is also impossible. So here, we are faced with a question: is the prime unmoved mover a magnitude? For if it is, then it has to be either infinite or finite, but infinite magnitude does not exist and finite magnitude cannot have an infinite force, which is requisite of the eternal mover, because otherwise motion would eventually cease, as we have said. It then is either a magnitude or not magnitude. But since neither infinite nor finite magnitude is possible, it must be that it has no magnitude. Furthermore, what is without magnitude is necessarily without parts, since whatever has parts is moved by its part, and is in motion. But the prime unmoved mover cannot be in motion even accidentally. Hence, Aristotle argues, it follows that this prime unmoved mover is of necessity without magnitude or parts, and is infinite.[32]

 

 

 


[1] Ibid., Posterior Analytics II. 1-2, 89b23-90a34.

[2] Ibid., Physics VIII.1.

[3] Ibid. italics mine.

[4] Physics III 1.

[5] Aristotle, Physics VIII 5, 256b14-16. Aristotle continues to say that the moved must be in motion, but need not move anything else; the instrument of motion must both move something else and be itself in motion; the mover, which causes motion in such a manner that it is not merely the instrument of motion but also must be unmoved.

[6] Aristotle, Physics VIII 6, 258b10-12.

[7] VIII 5 mentions about the first unmoved mover as a hypothesis, but Aristotle begins to discuss about it extensively only in chapter 6.

[8] A more precise description of what the prime unmoved mover is is given at the very end of the treatise in the chapter 10.

[9] VIII 6, 258b10-12. See also 259a15-19 where he says that motion must be continuous “because what is always is continuous, whereas what is in succession is not continuous. But further, if motion is continuous, it is one… since in the event of a thing’s being moved now by one thing and now by another the whole motion will not be continuous but successive.

[10] See VIII 5, where Aristotle uses an analogy of a person moving something with a stick. “Every mover moves something and moves it with something, either with itself or with something else,” because that which is in motion, if it has no motive agency of its own, must be moved by something else other than by itself, and that too must be moved by something else, and so on, until we arrive at something that which imparts motion with itself. 256a22-256b3.

[11] See VIII 5, 258a8-9, 257b2. For a detailed explanation for why it is impossible, see also De Motu I 1, 669a1-669a6, “…it is necessary in the first place to be supported one of one’s own members which is at rest and so to push, and in the second place for this member, either itself, or that of which it is a part, to remain at rest, fixing itself against something external to it” in order to move.

[12] 257b22.

[13] 258a1.

[14] 258b7-9.

[15] 259b13-15, “when it is being digested animals sleep, and when it is being distributed they awake and move themselves, the first principle of this being thus originally derived from outside,” which clearly shows that “animals are not always in continuous motion by their own agency.”

[16] Ibid.

[17] VIII 6, 259b22-28.

[18] See VIII 1.

[19] VIII 6, 259a9-13.

[20] See VIII 6, 259b32-33, “if there is always something of this nature, a mover that is itself unmoved and eternal, then that which is first moved by it must also be eternal.” Also 260a15-19, “while some things are moved by an eternal unmoved mover and are therefore always in motion, other things are moved by something that is in motion and changing, so that they too must change. But the unmoved mover, as has been said, since it remains simple and unvarying and in the same state, will cause motion that is one and simple.”

[21] Physics VII 2.

[22] See 260a27-28. “Now of the three kinds of motion that there are – motion in respect of magnitude [quantitative], motion in respect of affection [qualitative], and motion in respect of place – it is this last, which we call locomotion, that must be primary,” since “no other motion can be continuous except locomotion.” See also 260b29-30, “locomotion must be primary in time; for this is the only motion possible for eternal things.” And also 261a19, “…this motion [locomotion] must be prior to all others in respect of being.”

[23] 261b28-29.

[24] 261b32-34.

[25] The impossibility of an infinite rectilinear motion is also mentioned at VIII 9, 265a17-19, “the line traversed rectilinear motion cannot be infinite; for there is no such thing as an infinite straight line; and even if there were, it would not be traversed by anything in motion,” since “it is impossible to traverse an infinite distance.” Again see 265a29-32, “[i]n rectilinear motion we have a definite beginning, end, and middle, which all have their place in it in such a way that there is a point from which that which is in motion will begin and a point at which it will end.”

[26] 262a1-6.

[27] 264b17-19, “there is nothing no prevent the motion being continuous and free from all intermission; for [circular] motion is motion of a thing from its place to its place, whereas rectilinear motion is motion from its place to another place.”

[28] 264b10-12, “since [in either way it starts its motion] it is in motion to the point at which it will finally arrive.” This also because “in its locomotion it is proceeding always about a central point and not to an extreme point; and because this remains still, the whole is in a sense always at rest as well as continuously in motion.” See 265b6-8.

[29] 264b23-24. See also VIII 9, 265a16-17, where he says “[circular] locomotion is prior [in time and in being] to rectilinear locomotion, because it is more simple and complete.”

[30] Aristotle’s argument style is known as a ‘progressive revelation’, in that he starts out as knowing only commonsense knowledge, and from there refutes implausible assumptions and conclusions and develops a most rational theory, finally arriving at more informed conclusions. For example, Aristotle could not have argued or known that circular locomotion is the eternal motion he wanted to prove until he has arrived at this point in his argument.

[31] VIII 10, 267a6-10.

[32] VIII 10.


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First making its re-appearance in the 15th century Germany,[1] rhabdomancy remained worthy of attention by scientific communities until the end of the 19th century.[2]

Dowsing[3] is an art used to find underground waters and minerals by using a branch of a tree, forked so the dowser holds “one end of the fork in each hand, [and] walked over the ground, holding the stick before him, the ends pointing towards the earth,” and when he comes to the spot under which water is said to be, “the stick raise[s] itself and turn[s] over in his hand with such force as sometimes break itself.”[4] The controversy obviously involved with how it happens, since only a few randomly selected people seemed to possess this power to successfully perform rhabdomancy.[5] As can be seen from Lynn’s article cited in this paper, Jacques Aymar as well as many others used rhabdomancy not only to find water and minerals but also to find murdered bodies, (a bag of) gold under the earth, lost items and thieves, etc…[6] Further, although the stick used for dowsing should preferably be wood from the trees of hazel, “the almond, the willow, the ash, or somo fruit-bearing trees,” it could also be substituted with a metal or a clock spring, depending on what you are looking for.[7] Some dowsers in fact did not need a rod at all to detect water and minerals, making the rod no more necessary by the diviner than a cowl is necessary to the monk.[8] However, whenever it is used, the rod is always “a forked twig, the ends of the two limbs being held by the operator, and the fragment of the main stem projecting in front.” Holmes notes that this is a curious fact, as it is “the exact opposite of the way in which a forked rod would be held for the purpose of warding off the effects of the ‘evil eye’ by persons fearing that influence.”[9] He thinks that this also makes a rational sense, since with the case of warding off the bad spirits, the rod is used to reduce the effect or reception of the spirits onto the subject holding the stick, whereas in the case of rhabdomancy, the subject desires to be effected by the presence of minerals, as well as whatever is being sought for.[10] Hence, one dowser claimed that he was “conscious of a feeling of ‘chill’ when passing over water,”[11] another claimed that the feeling was “something like a cramp in his back, that the sensation was a painful one, and that it made ill if he continued the process for any length of time.”[12] Similarly, Aymar, who detected dead bodies and thieves, generally felt discomfort but “fell violently ill only when on the trail of particularly violent criminals and not when merely tracking thieves or finding springs and ores.”[13]

Now, despite the cynical disclaimers like those of Riddick,[14] the fact is that these people were, with an outstanding rate of success, able to detect what they looked for. But how can we explain this phenomenon scientifically? Are the dowsers lying when they say ‘they didn’t move the tree’ when the twig apparently moves itself upon detecting water? Holmes does not think so, but he does seem to attribute the cause of the stick’s moving to the muscular motion, initiated psychologically by the subject himself.[15] If that is the case, then we must try and find the answer for the intelligible explanation for how rhabdomancy is possible at all. To rescue dowsers, Cartesians offered a corpuscularian explanation. Accoridng to the corpuscular theory, people leave tiny but very strongly constituted corpuscles behind as they pass. These philosophers expanded this basic tenant of corpuscular theory to suggest that “a dowser could ‘read’ the matter left behind by certain individuals just as one’s hand remains warm for a time after it is removed from a source of heat.” The rod was used as an instrument to focus on these corpuscles, just as the eye is needed in order to see corpuscles emanating from objects.[16]

Now, a couple of concerns still remain – for there is a sense in which this can be seen not as a gift but as a disease, like hydrophobia that stirred up a discussion in the Royal Society of London. According to the reports, a dowser feels pain in close proximity with water. This is quite stressful, as he must constantly be in pain since water is everywhere. If indeed a dowser becomes intense, and “starts off in a trance-like state” every time he senses water,[17] there is no reason why he should not be in a psychiatric hospital rather than publicly celebrated. As one doctor says, people “suffering from rheumatism and neuralgia [are] able to trace water by the sensation of damp.”[18] Also, a yet another set of concerns was also raised that rhabdomancy could be nothing but a case of tree-worshipping, believing that “the divining rod to be ‘a superstition cognate to the belief in sacred trees.’”[19]

As Browne concedes with a professor who explained that “‘[t]esting the divining rod is difficult and promises no answer that will be universally accepted.’ Following the negative results reported in one test come the favorable results reported in another,’”[20] I too believe that the authenticity of the dowsers’ claims will always be contested. But at the same time, it is these anomalies in sciences that propel us to further endeavor and undertake in trying to find rational explanations concerning natural phenomenon.


[1] Micheal R. Lynn, “Dividing the Enlightenment: Public Opinion and Popular Science in Old Regime France,” in Isis vol.92:1 (March, 2001), 34-54. See also Lee J. Vance, “Three Lessons in Rhabdomancy,” in The Journal of American Folklore, vol.4:14 (Jul. – Sep., 1981), 241-246. Particularly, at the footnote 1 on p.244, “The first mention [of the rhabdomancy] is credited by M. Chevreul to Basil Valentin, a monk of the fifteenth century.

[2] Its peak seems to have been at around 1880’s. See C.A. Browne, “Observations upon the Use of the Dividing Rod in Germany,” in Science, New Series, vil.73:1882 (Jan. 23, 1931), 84-86.

[3] A gerundive for rhabdomancy; someone who practices rhabdomancy, thus, is called a dowser.

[4] A.W. Buckland, “Rhabdomancy and Belomancy, or Divination by the Rod and by the Arrow,” in The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol.5 (1876), 436-450.

[5] For instance, astrologers claimed that the “positions of the heavenly bodies influenced the powers of the divining rod itself. Iron, for example, should be sought using a rod cut under the influence of Mars, while diamonds were under the sways of the moon.” But many dowsers did not fit the descriptions. See Lynn’s article.

[6] See Lynn’s and Buckland’s articles. Also Browne, 86.

[7] See Buckland’s and Browne’s articles cited above.

[8] T.V. Holmes, On the Evidence for the Efficacy of the Diviner and His Rod in the Search for Water, in The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol.27 (1898), 233-259. Holmes also describes the account by the diviner that “he could do just well without any [rod] at all, and that the use of the twig was a mere dramatic detail of the situation so far as he personally was concerned.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. It is also interesting that in almost all instances throughout the history, ‘the dividing rod’ where applicable, is in a form that “resembles the letter Y, [which is] vaguely the form and number of limbs of the body,” and Vance quotes Walter Kelley, the author of Curiosities of Indo European Tradition and Folklore, who argues that “a forked rod is the simplest possible image of the human figure.”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lynn, “Dividing the Enlightenment,” 41.

[14] Thomas M. Riddick, in his article, “Dowsing – An Unorthodox Method of Locating Underground Water Supplies or an Interesting Facet of the Human Mind,” argues that there is no mystery in explaining how dowsers can tell where the water is, for he says that “I have no doubt that moderately non-saline and ‘drinkable’ water can be withdrawn from locations,” and that locating of “simple dug wells is not astounding or amazing, except to those who wish to be amazed by treating the commonplace as miraculous.

[15] Holmes, 240. He says “[n]o doubt they are perfectly honest,” but “we know by experience… our own hands [can] deceive out intellect.” That is, honest dowsers are easily deceived by the unconscious actions of their own muscles.”

[16] Lynn, 41.

[17] Vance, “Three Lessons in Rhabdomancy,” 241.

[18] Buckland cites Dr. Spratt saying “there are evidently certain nerves connected with the brain that appear to become more active if over-pressed with local irritation,” in connection with the ability to trace water.

[19] Holmes, 253.

[20] Browne, 86.

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