Archive for the ‘Eastern/Japanese Philosophy’ Category

inoue_enryoEnryō Inoue (井上円了) 1858-1919 was a philosopher and a pioneer of occult studies in early modernity in Japan. His views on occult, or Yōkai, was unique in that he categorized anything supernatural or superstitious as well as natural things that are simply unexplained as Yōkai. His aim in occult studies, or henceforth Yōkai studies, was to explain away the unexplained by means of reason and rationality. He divided the category of Yōkai into four segments: 1) that which cannot be explained with the present method of scientific reasoning, 2) that which can be explained as a natural phenomenon, 3) that which occurs psychologically and therefore a creation of mind due to fear or misunderstanding or prejudice, and lastly 4) that which is made up by people. He published a 8-volume book on these Yokai phenomena that exists in the world, and below is a small section he wrote on the generation and corruption of the soul as well as the status of the soul.

Because the topic at hand is interesting for the Western scholars who study on the soul, and because for reasons incomprehensible to me, Inoue’s work on metaphysics has not been translated into English, I have offered as best as I can a translation on the sections he specifically deals with such topics. For those of you who want to see the original text, from which I have translated, click here: enryo-on-the-soul


Chapter 7 “On the Generation and Corruption of Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. vii, pp33-35, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


Before explaining what the soul per se is, it should be noted first and foremost on one of the most difficult problems in the ancient religions, that is to say, concerning the generation and corruption of the souls. It is often said, on the one hand, that “Souls must at all perish. For we have never heard that once a living body has died, that which is now dead has returned to life. Further, no one has yet to have examined on the existence of a soul after death. This is because the soul dies with the body.” However, such opinion is of an utmost absurdity for it is no different from the argument that when you see someone in a deep sleep, you judge him to be dead, because you have called his name but he does not respond. On the other hand, it is also said that “He who has died sometimes appears in the form of a ghost, or a certain someone has returned to life after death. These suffice to prove that the souls must not perish.” Such opinion too is of a result of a faulty reasoning due to not knowing what a soul per se is, and hence, neither side of opinions is less than credible. First of all, those who argue that souls must perish focus only on the non-existence of the souls after death, yet they do not talk or examine at all about the existence of souls in the living beings. For come to think of it, aside from whether the souls exist or not after death, our minds do not at all agree whether souls exist or not even in the living beings. Nevertheless, they say souls that have already existed in living beings must perish simultaneously at the time of death. Such an opinion is far from rational. For many things often change their shapes but do not perish. For instance, a glass full of water evaporates into steam when it is heated, yet we do not say that water per se has perished. Thus, it would be even more mysterious and the strangest thing to say that the soul that has once existed has perished all of the sudden than to say that the soul is immortal. If we say that the souls have existed in the living beings, from whence they have come from? In other words, we must investigate their origin as well by looking back into the past.

Thus, generally speaking, those who argue that souls are mortal only tell us that there are no souls after death but never stop to think from whence the souls have come in the living beings. It must be concluded that they have such narrow minds. However, on the other hand, those who argue that the souls are immortal too busy themselves with scanty explanations on reincarnation and souls manifesting as ghosts, and it is obvious that they too have no idea what they are talking about. For they say that they have proofs of having seen someone reincarnated or having seen ghosts, yet the number of ghosts seen is one or two even though millions of people have died in the past. Those particular instances far from guarantee the universality of the phenomenon. For they must first of all explain how in the world these numerous dead have never communicated to us or manifested to us. In sum, both of these opinions regarding the souls’ [im]mortality result from the fact that they are at a loss for they do not understand the nature of the souls. If we want to argue for a position clarifying what the souls as such consist of, it would be far more imperative to study the souls in the living beings than the souls after death. For all the emotions of happiness and sadness, of laughter with our mouths wide open, and of sorrow with our tearful eyes; uttering the beauty on seeing flowers, feeling pleasant on listening to the music, all these mysterious changes in behaviors are all due to the faculty of the souls. What a mysterious power souls must have and how they manifest such power! Without understanding the status of the soul in the living being, it would not be easy to understand the soul after death. For if you only speak of after death, and not before death, such an opinion would be a narrow insight and falls short to speak of the souls in general.


Chapter 8 “On the Immortality of the Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. viii, pp35-36, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


In aligning with the academic reasoning of the immortality of the soul, first of all, nothing really perishes according to the law of conservation of mass and the law of conservation of energy. For it has been scientifically proven that one thing does not spontaneously occur and perish completely all of the sudden. The law of physics and the chemistry is built upon such premises. In other words, in the academic world now, that the universe conserves and maintains mass and energy is a principle to which we all adhere. However, my mind too exists as one of the things existing in this universe, hence such law of conservation must also apply to my mind as well. If the mind is nothing but energy, like materialists would argue, it sill must obey the law of conservation and it must be admitted that it never perishes. Suppose that the materialists would say that the mind is neither a thing nor energy, but rather an experience or feeling. Still then, as soon as they admit of saying that there is such a thing as a soul, whatever it is, they must deny that it does not exist. When reasoning with the conservation of mass and energy, they must necessarily say that the mind is immortal.

Second, by the latent power and apparent power of the soul, we can say that the soul active and manifests its apparent power even though it is unable to exercise its apparent power and hidden latent when dead. In this way, it is easy to see that even though the soul seems to perish when the body is dead, even though it was apparent when the body was alive, it would just mean that the soul ceases to manifest apparently in the dead body. The difference is truly in that the difference between latency and apparency of the soul. Take an example of moving your hand. The force exerted in moving your hand does not arise spontaneously. When you suddenly stop the force as to cancel moving your hand, that force does not return to nothingness. In the first case, the force is manifested apparently, but in the second example, the force still exists latent within the body. Power that is latent is only activated when a certain condition is met. Take an example of a seed of a plant, for if you plant it underneath the earth, it will come out and form a specific plant and flower, yet the same seed will remain as it is – a seed – if it is kept in the basket, away from the soil. However, the seed in the basket still possesses the power to become a plant, neither is it the case that the seed planted in the earth gets its power from outside the seed itself. Kept inside the basket, its power is latent and not apparent, whereas once it is planted in the earth its power is made apparent. It is obvious from this that the power itself existing in the seed is any different from the seed being in the basket or underneath the earth. Considered in this line of reasoning, it is natural to think that the mind becomes activated so conditioned when alive, while it conceals its power as latent when the body is dead, that is to say, the actuality of power turns back into potentiality when is it not conditioned to exercise its power.

By the two reasons raised above, it is proved how the mind [soul] is immortal. If so, then, what we need to consider is how the soul in the present and the soul in the future can be different. Yet, that is a topic for the next section.



Chapter 9: “On the Status of the Soul”


(excerpt from Yōkaigaku Kougi 妖怪学講義, or Lectures on Yōkai Phenomenon, Vol. III, Bk 6, Ch. ix, pp36-41, Enryō Inoue, translations mine.)


If the soul is to be immortal, what could be the status of the soul after death? That is a big question. When compared the soul after death to the soul in the living, the soul in the living is comprehended in the body with senses perceptions. Everything external is seen by the soul through the window of the sense perceptions, yet when dead, the mind has already departed the body, and the things cannot be seen through the same window of the sense perceptions. Therefore, the first difference between the soul after death and the soul in the living body is that while in the living it is embedded with sense perceptions, it is without sense perceptions after death. Next, the soul in the living is affected in the consciousness, but it enters into the realm of the unconsciousness after death. For instance, it is like the difference between the soul when the body is awake during daytime and when the body is asleep during nighttime, for the status of the mind is different on the one hand being conscious and on the other hand being unconscious. The soul in the living and the dead is the same as such example, which is the second difference. The third difference is that while in the living, the soul establishes a certain individual identity, yet when after death, it has no such tie to the individuality; namely, it enters into the complete equality with the sea of non-self. Judging from the above three points of difference, the soul after death is in the infinitely vast, elegantly boundless place where there is no suffering nor pleasure, no wisdom nor consciousness. Nonetheless, we have said that the soul is immortal, what difference does it make from being its dead? Even though they say there is nirvana, hell, dying with peace or salvation, such can be just a manner of speech. However, in religion, they do not only preach the immortality of the soul, but also there is the status of the soul’s being suffering or pleasant, and further in Buddhism, on what principle and reasoning can we explain the belief in the endless circle of transmigration of six posthumous worlds (Rokudōrin’ne, 六道輪廻) and the rise and fall of fate? This further requires the studies and researches on the part of scholars. To begin with, such a theory differs from the perspective of the materialists and from that of the rationalists. Yet, this is not the time to enumerate the disagreements between the two schools of thoughts. What follows below will just explain the reasons for why the soul must, even after death, maintain and continue to possess the individuality or identity.

A person’s mind-body relationship is neither that of a single relationship, although a person has one identity, nor that of a double relationship, although a person is composed of two distinct attributes; mind and body. As it were, it has neither a single nor a double relationships, and in one’s life time, every single action with regard to body and mind is acquired through perfuming[1] by means of customs and repetitions, and the more habitual it becomes, the more solidified such an action becomes so as to form as a kind of individuality. Therefore, upon death, when the soul departs body, even though the soul enters upon the sea of equality, the customs once acquired through perfuming in the past must still yet to be differentiated in the soul. Thus, that the cognition during its life time of such soul, however the body it was attached to may have died, due to the power of habit, enters into a kind of the world distinct from other souls differently perfumed goes without saying. By means of such perfuming, my own soul arises into the boundary where there is suffering and pleasantries after death. Such is the reasoning given in order to explain the cause and effect of good and evil, namely, that of Rokudōrin’ne.

Howbeit, if we escape from the self-love and attachment to selfish desire in our lifetime, develop the pure and good light, and if we die with a complete detachment from worldly business and enter upon the rational world of equality, that truly is enlightenment of Buddhist teachings. Hence, should the soul arise and sink into the boundary between suffering and pleasantry due to the individual so perfumed, it exists itself in a kind of state of quandary, but precisely by taking this quandary state as the enlightenment does the soul enter into the sea of equality. In this way, just as the Buddha enters into the enlightenment, whether the soul becomes something of an equal, indiscriminating stuff (平等無差別byoudou musabetsu) and a lone and quiet, non-perceptive entity (空寂無覚 kuujaku mukaku), it is said, “not so.” This point has been debated and argued by various religions, yet if we consider this according to Buddhism, it says that by achieving bodhisattva there exists infinite pleasure and infinite wisdom. Now how can this be, it remains to be a question. Such a question, to begin with, should not be dealt with by means of the current philosophical reasoning. In the realm of absolute, as it were, on the matter of religion, one should wait for the message from the heavens; yet still I wish to explain by means of reason, perhaps according to the perspectives of the religion, so that I may dissolve this doubt that resides within me.

The substratum of the universe and the origin of the consciousness is described as T’ai Chi[2] (太極 taikyoku) in Confucianism and Thusness, or Suchness, (真如shinnyo)[3] in Buddhism. Yet Thusness, when seen from the one side of the equality, it truly means the entity with emptiness and unconsciousness, but when seen from the discriminative side, it means the purest entity of cognition. In other words, Thusness possesses two-sidedness.

The living beings in the terrestrial world, according to the belief in the cosmogony, began as non-conscious state of being and evolved into the conscious and sentient beings, eventually acquiring intelligence[4] as human beings. However, this evolutionary state does not stop at humanity, nor does it mean at all that humanity has manifested all the enlightened attributes that the universe has yet to offer. As the more the universe evolves, the more enlightened the whole state of universe becomes. Even among the same species, the vulgar shines less and dimly, whereas the intellectuals and the scholars demonstrate so much more intelligence. Considering this as a fact, it is not difficult to imagine that there may come a time when there is intelligence that shines tens of hundreds of, or even thousands of, times more. However, this light of intelligence is wisdom of mind, and not something requiring a physical body. Therefore, it is the light emitted from within the mind. In this way, it is not unreasonable to say that this light is the bare individuality of the soul itself. Even though there is a difference between animals and humans, the light of cognizance is similar in quality, for in the case of animals the light is latent within the soul, whereas humanity leaks the light somewhat into the external world. Yet, the humans too do not emit out the light they withhold in their soul, for if they do, the amount of light would probably be near infinite. Therefore, if we have the means to emit all the light out of the soul, it would manifest as the infinite wisdom, the infinite virtue and the infinite pleasure. Speaking in this line of reasoning, the state of complete enlightenment, namely, to achieve the status of gods and Buddha one day is not al all impossible. Hence, Thusness that Buddhism talks of too should be understood as having two sides of interpretation. That is to say, on the one hand, the state of Thusness is utter emptiness, absolutely non-conscious and complete absence of suffer and pleasure, but on the other hand, within this Thusness is also hidden and late the state of infinite wisdom and the infinite tolerance, and when the soul is evolved enough it emits the light of virtue in our minds, becoming itself Thusness, that is to say, the entity of complete cognizance.

In other words, it must be known that Thusness itself possesses the passive and the active qualities.[5] If this is true, even if the state of the soul is now passively following day-by-day activities, if we see it in the active light, it is possible to suddenly shine all its wisdom latent within it, reflecting all the things past and present in the mind’s mirror, reaching the new level of virtue and enlightenment. However, in this physical world, the mind is mesmerized by the sensations from the body, so even the purest mind is surrounded by the clouds of maze and fogs of desire that no one can see through the truth. These clouds and fogs are called kleśa[6] or also known as sins. If now I cultivate good deeds and earn virtue in my body, dissipating the vulgarity once and for all, for the first time in my lifetime, the latent wisdom within my soul will transilluminate the entire universe. The original enlightenment from “Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana”[7] is manifested in such a state. However, the populace preaches in general in the negatively on both souls and the state of Thusness, and they never consider them proactively but only see them on the surface and never argues intrinsically. Arguing thus, they think that the souls after death are like dead trees and ashes, and the nirvana and the hell in the future become idealized and confused, resulting in our never doubting of their existence. However, how or if our own souls came to have consciousness has never been even clarified. What else can you call stupidity, if not this general attitude of the populace?

(Here, Inoue cites two books by Chinese authors who summarize his views so far propounded in the original Chinese and his translation of them for about a page. Because it only reiterates what he has spoken already, and because it is not his writing, I omit the part)

In sum, people do not yet know what the intrinsic light of the soul per se, yet they only see it from the negative aspect of how the soul manifests itself and do not see the proactive side of it. However, Buddhism reasons proactively when it preaches death with one’s mind at ease and achieving enlightenment. Nevertheless, on this point, we can neither offer a physical explanation nor psychological explanation, and it is in actuality a matter concerning the unknowable and the mysterious. We must then enter into the realm of such a state in thinking about it. The kind of religion I speak of opens the gate of the mysterious, and demonstrates the scenery of the realm of the absolute by means of explaining the intrinsicality of the soul according to the proactive reasoning.




[1] Italics mine. This is a Buddhist terminology meaning “affect” (In Japanese, 薫習;くんじゅうread as kunjuu). It explains that experiences through thought and sense-perceptions constantly affect how a person behaves and thinks, gradually coming to form the individual characteristics and hence all current actions and thoughts are the result of what that person has been behaving and thinking in the past. For example, the Consciousness-Only school of Buddhism explains thus: “The first transformation of consciousness is called storehouse in both Mahayana and Hinayana … the other consciousnesses which ‘perfume’ (affect) it and the consciousness which is perfumed arise and perish together, and the concept of perfuming is thus established. The act of enabling the seeds that lie within what is perfumed (the storehouse consciousness) to grow, as hemp plant is perfumed, is called perfuming. As soon as the seeds are produced, the consciousness which can perfume become in their turn causes whch perfume and produce seeds. The three dharmas (the seeds, the manifestations, and perfuming) turn on and on, simultaneously acting as cause and effect…” [excerpted from “A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy”, Chapter 23: Buddhist Idealism, p.p. 370-395, translated and compiled by Wing-Tsit Chan, Princeton University Press, 1963]

[2] It is a supreme ultimate state of undifferentiated, absolute and infinite potential; the oneness from which the duality of yin-yang originated.

[3] Tathātā in Sanskrit. A central concept in Mahayana Buddhism, synonymous with dharma.

[4] I translated 知光 (chikou) and 光明 (koumyou) variously as intelligence, the light, the light of intelligence, the light of cognizance, or enlightenment, depending on how it fits in the context in which it is used. In all cases, however, it appears to refer to the enlightened state of the soul (?) or that which is enlightened, or the virtue.

[5] It appears that the words used in Japanese in this context, 消極 (shoukyoku) and積極 (sekkyoku) may have various meanings present all at the same time. The former can mean passive, negative, pessimistic, latent, hidden, whereas the latter can mean active, positive, proactive, assertive, apparent, and so on.

[6] Sanskrit word for desire, or kleshas in English and煩悩 bonnou in Japanese.

[7] 『大乗起信論』Dai Jo Kishinron, particularly popularized in Kamakura New Buddhism era in Japan during the 13th century. See my paper for more on this topic at


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鬼            Having spoken of the scientific attitude in pre-modern Japan through the eyes of Ninja, who supposedly possessed supra human knowledge of the human behavior and natural medicine, it is now time to delve further into the Buddhist conception of how the world operated. In the first part of my research, I discussed the ways in which a particular group of war specialists in Japan developed their own system of scientific knowledge, prior to the Western contact, and thus making it distinctly Japanese. This group of war specialists, Ninja, studied extensively on human behavior and psychology but my studies have shown that they had poor understanding of medicine and lacked the interest as well as the philosophical rigor in discovering the causes of illness, which in turn led them to essentially rely on nothing but the placebo effect in curing sickness. Hence, in this second part of my research into the history and philosophy of science and medicine in pre-modern Japan, I will look at the broader perspective on medical theory and attitudes towards illness amongst the monastic doctors as well as the commoners prior to the importation of the Western science. In particular, my interest is in the etiology of various types of sickness and how people in Japan dealt with the symptoms. It is of course not possible to speak of purely Japanese practice, since Chinese influence is everywhere seen. However, my study will show that Japanese Buddhist philosophy nevertheless developed distinct features unique to Japan, perhaps as a result of the synthesis of the Buddhism with the Japanese native religion of Shintoism. It is in this context that I will be discussing about the medical philosophy proper to Japan, which must have existed in order to account for sickness and beliefs unique to the culture that were not found in the continent. In this article, I will focus on the supernatural yet real causes of illness according to the Shinto-Buddhist philosophy. In pre-modern period Japan, the causes of illness were explained in terms of Traditional Chinese medical philosophy, Taoism, and Buddhist medical theory. For example, Chigi智顗(538-597), the founder of Tien T’ai school and the author of Makashikan, a widely studied book exploring etiology, asserted that there were six major causes of illness. They are 1) the imbalance of four elements, 2) excessive eating and drinking, 3) lifestyle related diseases, 4) daimon, 5) evil spirits, and 6) deeds in the previous life.[1] Of these, the first three are natural causes and thereby can be treated with the medical knowledge. On the other hand, the latter three are supernatural causes and cannot be treated except spiritually, i.e. one must follow the path of the Buddha. I will focus in particular on the daimon and evil spirits in the field of medical thought in pre-modern Japan, and unveil the familiar concepts of Oni and Yokai in light of medical context in the history of Japan, analyzing the ways in which these supernatural forces came into the medical philosophy in the Japanese monastic medicine. This paper will be divided into three parts, preceded by a brief preliminary remark. First, I will examine what Oni, Yokai and evil spirits are, what their attributes include and what they have to do with the causes of illness. This part will be a socio-historical exposition, and as such, I will mention several prominent figures in the history of Yokai monsters and discuss about the stories told of them. These figures include: Kappa, Zashiki Warashi, Tsukumo-gami, Tenjo-Name, Uji no Hashihime, Shuten-Doji, Onryou as Evil Spirits. I will begin with laying out the socio-cultural belief that the different demons were said to cause different illnesses, and each illness was attributed to a task-oriented deity or a spirit. The second part is a philosophical exposition, in which a detailed analysis on the Buddhist doctrines that were introduced to Japan during the Heian Period in the beginning of the 9th century are examined, which set the stage for the intellectuals of the time to explain these phenomena in terms of the Buddhist doctrines of Consciousnesses, which later became interfused with the native Shinto beliefs and Chinese Ying-Yang theory of medicine, creating Japan’s own philosophical system called Onmyoudo. However, Onmyoudo is more concerned with the natural science as in concoction of medicine or regulae for the dietary recommendations. Since my aim in this paper is to explain the supernatural aspect of the causation of illnesses, I will postpone the analysis of the Onmyoudo as the philosophical system, and I shall only focus on the Buddhist philosophy of Consciousnesses. In the last part of this paper, having reflected upon the socio-cultural beliefs about the causes of illness and having examined the philosophical framework of the time, I will offer an interpretation of the causes of illness, as synthesized version of the two, and conclude that what has usually been considered as distinct fields of study, i.e. socio-anthropology of evil spirits and the philosophy of Buddhism, are in fact deeply related to one another and the ontology of Yokai and evil spirits cannot be fully explained without having an recourse to the fundamental system of Buddhist philosophy. For it has been written and explained that the demons and evil spirits were thought of as causes of illness in Japanese literature, and everyone in Japan knows that demons and evil spirits would bring misfortunes and sickness, but it appears that no one actually has talked about this in light of philosophical reflections but only as a historical fact. People have taken for granted that these demons and evil spirits existed and then discussed about what they would and could do. But upon reflecting on the contemporary philosophy, it seems the beliefs in the demons and particular monsters are rooted in the conception of consciousness as the cosmic force in the Buddhist literature. Furthermore, such demonstration of Yokai phenomena and Buddhist philosophy as a unified framework that constitutes a holistic intellectual system would show how Japanese medical philosophy did not show any interests in the qualitative-quantitative dichotomous way of conceiving the medicine and nature as in the West, and hence no such thing as a ‘scientific revolution’ (dissatisfaction with the way things were explained) came into the scene.   Preliminary Remarks: Defining the Yokai monsters800px-Hyakki_Yako   According to the most widely read medical treatise written by Chigi, Makashikan, of the late 6th century, some of the main causes of illness include demons and evil spirits as well as the deeds done in the past life. In Japan, demons as well as evil spirits are said to belong to the larger category of what is called Yokai. Yokai is written with the kanji characters that mean attractive, bewitching, suspicious 妖and 怪mysterious, creepy. It may be translated as monsters, demons or sometimes as goblins or evil spirits. In this way, Yokai may be said to include all of these supernatural entities, though as we will see, some have acquired distinct attributes and popularity that they may be better expressed as Oni, Onryou or simply as evil spirits in general. These entities are said to enter from outside into the body from the five sense and torment people either physically or spiritually.[2] One medical treatise of the time lists the causes of illness as due to the deeds done in the previous life, blasphemy against Buddha, gods of pestilence or fierce gods and departed souls as well as spirits of fox and Yokai monsters.[3] And this same treatise recommends recitation of sutras and exorcism as well as performing an Onmyo ceremonial rituals. In particular, chanting and reciting sutra were said to have the definitive effect in curing illness, so much so that the 13th century monk, Mujuu 無住 (1227-1312), spoke that “even if you make a mistake reciting the sutra, as long as you believe in it, it has the power to cure even malaria,” suggesting that the placebo effect is a large factor in treatment.[4] Hence, the same monk argued that “it is better to transcribe sutras and read them, hence accumulating good deeds, than to pay money to doctors who do not know anything about medicine. In fact, those quack doctors would not only be able to cure the illness but also make it worse.”[5] Furthermore, yet another treatise specifically refers to the 15 types of demons that are task oriented and how each of them spreads particular illness and makes children sick.[6] Seeing in this light, Yokai may be said to be beings that possess supranatural powers and cause phenomena or experiences in us that are inexplicable according to the modern science. These phenomena or experiences not only refer to the spirits that cause illness and misfortunes but also came to refer to the experiences of simply having seen an animals that talk, encountered with aliens or been in a haunted house. These so-called Yokai phenomena are oftentimes dismissed in our modern society as being unscientific or superstitions, i.e. that which is contrary to the scientific thinking. But by the scientific reasoning is simply meant that a particular experience or an instance of phenomenon to be quantified and measured, and yields the same outcome upon repeated experiments. If regularity and quantifiable phenomenon are what is lacking in classifying Yokai as a scientific phenomenon, then Yokai are not scientific phenomena. But that does not mean Yokai beliefs are at the same time unreasonable or irrational. Just as many of us believe in ghosts or in karmic forces, these beliefs do nevertheless affect us and shape our understanding of the world as a cosmic entity. Further, the fact that these beliefs are held by rational people suggests that there is a rational explanation for why they believe in what they do. Just as people who believed in the existence of witches and feared them as imminent danger in Europe not too long ago in history for which there is a rational explanation, there must have been a similar mindset or a framework that allowed people to believe in the existence of Yokai monsters as well as ghosts and demons in the past. Just because we cannot explain them with our science, it does not mean that the people living in a different place and time did not know what they were doing. It is my aim in this essay to shed light on the philosophical framework and sociological mindset of the period in history that we seem to dismiss as irrational and nonsensical, and explain that what seems unreal or unscientific to us does indeed have a sophisticated theoretical justification that warranted them rationality for their belief.

Part I: Yokai, Oni and Evil Spirits


  As has been mentioned, I will first introduce some Yokai monsters and what they are said to do. There are a countless number of Yokai monsters in the history of Japanese folklore, and it is neither possible nor necessary to discuss all of them for the purpose of this essay. I will here pick some of the major and minor Yokai monsters for analysis rather arbitrarily; namely, Kappa, Zashiki-Warashi, Tsukumo-gami, Tenjo-Name, and Rokuro-Kubi. In the Koshinto belief (the Ancient Way of the Gods), the souls were found in everything. Resulting from this animistic worldview was the belief that things either animate or inanimate, after having been used or lived for a long time, would become holy and be elevated to the status of the gods. These old things that become gods are then called “Tsukumogami” and they may bring you fortune or cause you harm, depending on how you have treated them. As it will be seen, gods in Shintoism are rather like deified spirits in that while they can be worshipped as guardian gods, they can be feared as ill-disposed gods as well. This appears to be the general trend in describing Yokai monsters, i.e. as those gods that have been neglected and forgotten, causing misfortunes to people so people would notice their presence once again so that they can worship them. This is why the Yokai scholar, Kazuhiko Komatsu, describes Yokai as the deities that are not worshipped and gods as the deities that are worshipped.[7] Some examples of these Tsukumogami may include the one-eyed one-footed umbrella and the human shaped cat. The former is said to sneak up on humans and lick them with its large oily tongue,[8] while the latter is more pernicious in that it feeds on humans.[9] Yet another Yokai, Zashiki-Warashi has an appearance of human child, usually aged from 3 to 15. It can take either gender, and when it is a boy it wears a black traditional kimono, and when it is a girl it wears a red padded sleeves kimono jacket. They are heard playing in the tatami room or in the hallway by themselves usually during the nighttime, and when you go to the room where the child’s voice is coming from, you find nothing but the toys and footprints. In recent years, there have been reports that an employee in a building, when working until late at night, heard children’s voices and footsteps from upstairs, and when she went up to see who were there, she only found old toys on the floor and no one else in the building. This Yokai, however, is said to bring fortune to the household in which it resides, and when Zashiki-Warashi leaves the house, the house becomes poor. SekienTenjonameToriyama Sekien, the ukiyo-e artist, in the 18th century depicted yet another Yokai that lives in an old house and leaves stains on the ceiling. This Yokai, Tenjo-Name, appears when there is no one in the room and licks the ceiling to leave marks and disappears.[10] One cannot help but wondering what it wants to do. But probably, some of the most popular Yokai in the popular folklore are Rokuro-Kubi and Kappa. Rokuro-Kubi is usually a female, whose neck stretches or comes off completely to attack people at night and suck their blood. It often comes off completely when she is asleep, and if the body is moved to elsewhere while the head is detached, the head cannot find its way back to the body and goes missing.[11] Kappa too is a Yokai that has a weakness. Kappa is often translated into English as a water imp. It is shaped like a human child and sometimes depicted with scales on its body. Its body is greenish and has a plate on its head. The plate is always wet with water and if it should dry out or gets broken, Kappa loses its power or dies. It has a small beak, a shell, and its hands are web-like. Its arms are connected in the body, and if you pull out one, the other one comes with it. It likes cucumbers and sumo wrestling. This is why we call sushi rolls with cucumbers, “Kappa-maki”. Kappa is usually said to take kids into the water and drown them. [12] So parents in Japan would often tell their kids not to go near the water.Kappa_water_imp_1836 When looking at these Yokai figures, one would immediately see that there are no universally shared characteristics in what they do. Not only is their ontological status ambiguous but also their social functions are obscure at best. Where do they come from? Do they generate from species to species? They must, if these witness accounts across centuries are to be trusted. Or perhaps they are immortal and the same individual keeps appearing throughout the history. One cannot help but asking what sort of purpose, if any, it serves to live for centuries by licking the ceilings of houses or playing with old toys, when there are video games and smartphones available. Indeed, the only social function they play seems to be that they frighten people. But why do they? The answer to this question may be found in more specific Yokai that has its root in Buddhism. For Yokai, after all, are a Shinto belief combined with Buddhist philosophy, which gives the intellectual framework for the native deities to thrive in accordance with the Buddhist teachings. Without understanding the Buddhist origin of the spirits, it is not possible to understand the reason for Yokai’s continuing presence in Japanese intellectual history. I will now examine Oni and evil spirits as causes of illness. Oni is often translated as demons in English, but more strictly speaking, Oni has the same connotation as the Greek word for gods, i.e. daimon. Its essential characteristics do not involve goodness or badness, but only that of powerfulness. Daimons can be good or bad depending upon how we interpret their actions. This is the notion of Oni we have in Japan, for sometimes Oni are seen as harbingers of wealth and fortune. I will deem this notion of Oni as only subjectively true, and according to the Buddhist tradition, Oni are to be always feared as “dreadful supernatural beings emerging from the abyss of Buddhist hell to terrify wicked mortals [and] their grotesque and savage demeanor and form [should] instill instant fear” in us.[13] Further, Oni are described as at one time one-eyed giant who sucks the human’s vital energy and devours humans, or at another time as having one or two horns protruding from their scalps, as having the third eye in the center of the forehead, and as wearing a loincloth of fresh tiger skin.[14] Above all, the most common attributes of Oni are their cannibalistic nature and their ability to transform themselves into anything.[15] It is indeed the Yokai with utmost negative association. In fact, we can see that a lot of illnesses were attributed to the gatherings of Oni from antiquity. For example, in the “Explanation of the Dharani Teachings on the Guardian Gods of the Children” (仏説護諸童子陀羅尼経所説)[16] written in the 6th century, fifteen different Oni were described that are said to make kids sick. These Oni appear as various animals or demon-gods and possess the children. For instance, one Oni takes the shape of a snake, and makes a child belch incessantly as to suffocate him. Another Oni appears as a lion and makes a child vomit. And yet another appears as a bird-like man and causes the possessed kid’s shoulders to shake. The other symptoms caused by the Oni’s possession include baby colic, diarrhea, high fever, dizziness, foaming in the mouth and crunching fists and so on. There were also Oni that spread epidemics, and depressions or mental illness too were attributed to the Oni’s doings. In the 15th century, various studies were conducted in order to identify which Oni is responsible for which illness or epidemics.[17] Although Oni were oftentimes depicted as having some kind of physical appearances, they were often depicted as such simply to render them visibility. For example, in Onmyoudo, Oni referred specifically to the immaterial evil spirits that caused human infirmity. Their invisibility was, in fact, a predominant feature of Oni in their very early stage and it was their invisibility that made them dreadful to us, because there was no way of defending ourselves against what we could not see.[18] Insofar as the Oni refer to the immaterial evil spirits, there does not seem to be much difference between Oni and Ma, which is the evil spirits proper that is listed as the distinct cause of illness from Oni in Makashikan.[19] What is different indeed lies not in their supposed appearances, but in the way in which they affect human health. For Oni enters into the body from the five senses to those who wish ill of others and try to do evil deeds and physically torment them, whereas the evil spirits proper will corrupt apperception and strip away the wisdom to attain Buddhahood. Further, they stir up the ill will in people and destroy the good deeds.[20] In other words, Oni cause physical harm to people, whereas Ma causes spiritual harm. Moreover, whereas Oni choose to cause harm to those who are harmful to the others, Ma will come into people’s body when in the midst of their training as soon as they allow a room for accepting any desires by thinking of impure thoughts.[21] They are on a spiritual, psychological level, attached to the clothes people desire or food people take in, and they enter into one’s body when he gladly accepts those desires and is taken in by them. So according to this tradition, vengeful spirits and ghosts who cause harm to people or who scare them cannot be classified as evil spirits but rather Oni or more broadly as Yokai, for they do not impinge upon people’s effort to attain Buddhahood. Nevertheless, both Oni and Ma are treatable by the Buddhist purification methods, and this is why exorcisms were often recommended in addition to the recitation of Buddhist sutras.epidemic oni We now know what we mean by Yokai, Oni and evil spirits – we also know that they affect us in various different ways. Some seem to exist to scare us and make us recognize the gods who have long been neglected, while others are there to keep an eye on who amongst us have ill intentions and desires to harm others. Yet others try to hinder us from attaining Buddhahood, luring us with material goods and pleasures of life. What I want to focus on now is precisely what happens in us when these external enemies come to affect us. In order to understand why we see Yokai monsters around us, we will need to understand the mechanisms of how Oni are said to attack us. This is because Oni appears to be more closely connected with us than many of the Yokai monsters, for as we have seen, although some Yokai come to hunt us, either with the rolling head that sucks human blood or by abducting kids into the abyss of the water late at night, but many of them are relatively harmless and mind their own businesses. The head of Rokuro-Kubi is not conscious of attacking any particular persons but only subconsciously aware of its actions. This is why a manservant at a certain temple asked the monk in one morning, ‘Has my head come to visit last night?’ The monk responded that a person’s head came to his chest as he slept, and he grabbed it and threw it out. The manservant replied that he had a habit of losing his head and asked that for fear of not causing the monk more trouble, he would like to take a leave.[22] Kappa, too, does not go out of his way to drown children but captures only those who come near the water after dark. Oni, on the other hand, seeks out people with malicious intent, and possesses them to make them sick or severely injure them. From this, I argue that Yokai monsters are rather like variations of Oni – distant relatives, as it were. Just like Oni, Yokai too were feared as vindictive spirits, as we see from some of the older accounts of spiritual Yokai in Shoku-Nihongi 続日本紀 (797) and Makura no Soushi 枕草子in Heian period.[23] But after the Heian period, Oni came to dominate the role of vengeful spirits and Yokai came to be set aside to refer to some innocuous yet mysterious phenomena that could not be attributed to the sheer negativity portrayed in Oni. This is probably because Oni is a Buddhist concept that came to Japan along with the Chinese philosophy, whereas Yokai developed out of a native Shinto concept of animism and only shares the qualitative similarity with Oni. With the spread of Onmyoudo in Heian period, Oni came to symbolize the fearful and the illness, and Yokai phenomena were confined to the rather minor role of Tsukumogami and the other mysterious events. It was only during the Edo period that, with the gradual disappearance of strong belief in Onmyoudo, the concept of Oni deep rooted in such doctrine too came to be dismantled, and what was left were the mysterious but rather innocuous phenomena supposedly attributed to the shapeless Yokai and invisible spirits. Because the core beliefs about Yokai as the fearful spirits were passed onto Oni, and Oni played in large part the role of spreading illness, understanding the cause and the essence of Oni would necessarily clarify what the intellectual basis for the belief and acceptance of such entity. For this, we will now look at the development in Chinese Buddhist philosophy on consciousness, which were largely studied in Japan. In particular, I will focus on the two Buddhist schools that had a tremendous influence on the later development of Buddhism in Japan that I believe would help shed light on the rational acceptance of supernatural entities as the agents of illness.     Part II: Buddhist Philosophy of Consciousness摩訶止観   The first school I discuss is called the Consciousness-Only School, which represented the major development of Mahayana philosophy in India, and this school prepares the way for understanding the T’ien T’ai School, which was introduced to Japan by Saicho in 806. As was mentioned earlier, T’ien T’ai School was established by Chigi in the 6th century in China, and one of his most-studied treatises on Buddhist practice, Makashikan, or the Great Concentration and Insight, lists Oni and Evil Spirits as the causes of illness. T’ien T’ai philosophy is best known for its idea of three thousand worlds immanent in a single instant of thought. What this means, however, is best illustrated with the understanding of dharmas and differing levels of Truth. And the understanding of consciousness in Buddhist philosophy, I believe, will also explain the roles played by Oni and evil spirits as the causes of illness in Japanese society. The central doctrine of the Consciousness-Only School is that of eight Consciousnesses. According to this school, the mind or the consciousness is divided into eight functions and consists of the five sense-consciousnesses of touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell; one sense-center consciousness that organizes sense data and forms conceptions of objects; one though-center consciousness, which wills and reasons on a self-centered basis, and one store-house consciousness (alaya). These Consciousnesses are in perpetual change, involving threefold transformation. The first of which happens at the storehouse consciousness, where the ‘seeds’ or effects of good and evil deeds, which exist from time immemorial are stored, that become the energy to produce the external manifestation such as ideas and images of things existing.[24] This consciousness brings these seeds into manifestation spontaneously through contacts with the other consciousnsses. Although it itself is indifferent to its associations, the storehouse consciousness is constantly affected and perfumed or influenced by incoming perceptions and cognitions by these external manifestations. In this way, “the three dharmas (the seeds, manifestations and perfuming) turn on and on, simultaneously acting as cause and effect.”[25] This transformation in the storehouse consciousness is not external nor does it come to an end, and is thought to be a perpetual transformation from time immemorial. There was never a time at which there was no consciousness nor will the consciousness remain the same at any point in time. Indeed, the Consciousness-Only School argues that there has always been consciousness transforming without interruption and explains that it is like a violent torrent and “the basis of the constructions in the four realms which form the substance of existence, the five stages of transmigration, and the four kinds of living beings, and its nature is so firm that it holds the seeds without losing them,” and as the violent torrent continues for a long time, “some sentient beings will float and others will sink.”[26] This is important, as it means the four realms of substance (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire), the five stages of transmigration (the hells, those of ghosts, animals, human beings and heavenly beings) and the four kinds of living beings (those produced from the womb, from eggs, from moisture and through metamorphosis) are all combined in this consciousness and they constantly influence, or perfume, each other to produce manifestations. The second transformation of consciousness involves the thought-center consciousness, and perpetually takes the storehouse consciousness as an object and is always accompanied by the four evil defilements of self-delusion, self-view, self-conceit and self-love. In the first transformation, we saw the storehouse consciousness as pure consciousness itself with perceptions flowing in and out and producing something while the consciousness itself remained indifferent to any of the seeds, manifestations and perfuming. But here at the second transformation, we see the emergence of self in consciousness. As soon as one cognizes oneself as a thinking subject, self-view exists, which is the belief that exists, “erroneously imagining certain dharmas to be the self that are not the self.”[27] At the same time, self-delusion, or ignorance and lack of understanding of the character of the self emerge. Where there was the principle of non-self in the storehouse consciousness, now self-conceit gives rise to doubt about the possibility of non-self. It produces a sense of pride in the self in feeling of superiority and self-love develops a deep attachment to what is clung to as the self. Through this perpetual transformation, the sentient beings are bound to the cycle of life and death, and the “four defilements constantly arise and pollute the inner minds and cause the six other transforming consciousnesses to be continuously defiled.”[28] The third transformation of consciousness consists of the last six Consciousnesses all together. They are the Consciousnesses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste with the binding sense-center consciousness, and they discriminate the spheres of objects. Because their job is to discriminate sphere of objects only, it is important to note that they too are neither good nor evil in themselves. The difference between the common five Consciousnesses and the sense-center consciousness is that whereas the each of the five has its own sphere of objects, the sense-center consciousness takes the external world as a whole as its object. What is interesting is that while all three transformations take place at the same time and influence each other, and therefore are governed by cause and effect, each transformation is hierarchically organized in that without the thought-center consciousness, there is no grasping of an idea of any external manifestation. Nor would there be any conceptual activity and identification of the self independently of the external world had there been no storehouse consciousness. It all depends on the alaya and it is only through the root consciousness of alaya, can the five sense Consciousnesses manifest themselves in accordance with various causes.[29] Because all depends upon the storehouse consciousness, it is argued that everything is consciousness only and inseparable from consciousness. The word “only”, the Treatise explains, is intended not to deny however that “there are mental qualities, dharmas and so forth inseparable from consciousness.”[30] Further, what follows from this is that because dharmas and manifestations are not separated from minds, sentient beings become pure or impure in accordance with the mind. This is again explained and supported in the Four Wisdoms of bodhisattvas that the contradictory Consciousnesses are but characters, meaning the same thing perceived by ghosts, human beings and deities appear differently to them in accordance with their past deeds. If there was an external sphere as actually existing, how could this be possible? Such is only possible if consciousness takes non-being as its object. Indeed, “he who has realized the freedom and the ease of mind can change and transform earth into gold without fail according to his desires[, but] if there really was an external sphere, how can these transformations be possible?”[31] Here, the Treatise uses an instance in alchemy to support the view that there really is not an external world independently of our consciousness and argues that an apparent transmutation of base metals into precious ones is nothing but a manifestation caused by mental qualities. Although external spheres are apprehended by the consciousness, its externality is still erroneously formed and created by the sense-center consciousness, and these objective spheres that are immediately apprehended are in fact the perceived portions of the Consciousnesses themselves. It is only in this sense that we say they exist externally. But because we know that the colour and so forth that the sense-center consciousness conceives as external and real are erroneously imagined to be existent, we say also that they are nonexistent.[32] In this way, the Consciousness-Only School steers “far away from the two extremes of holding that dharmas are real (although they have no nature of their own) or holding that dharmas are unreal (although they function as causes and effects),” and establishes the Middle Path, which the school holds it to be the correct view.[33] Only through this Middle Path can we differentiate the three kinds of dharmas, avoids being deceived by the worldly existence and discern what has the real existence. For when we know the Middle Path, we can immediately see what is conceived by the vast imagination through juxtapositions of external manifestations, such as horns of a rabbit and unicorns, and recognize that these are purely illusory, being qualities of the mind, and have only false existence.[34] Similarly, those dharmas that depend on others for productions, such as capsizing of the boat in the sea, have purely temporary and dependent existence, and hence have no nature of their own.[35] So the school holds that only the reality that transcends all specific characters and represents Thusness has the true existence and is the Ultimate Reality. Such reality is only realizable “when through discipline and enlightenment the pure seeds in the storehouse consciousness are cultivated and the impure aspect of the storehouse is overcome.”[36] It is only when one is not enlightened does one see horns of a rabbit, a unicorn or a walking umbrella that are purely illusory and therefore have only false existence. Further, some beings may be said to depend on each other for their existence, such as the capsizing of a boat. Suppose a boat was capsized in the sea. And further suppose that this was caused by the successive waves hitting the boat. In this case, the chief condition of the wave is the combination of the wind and water in the sea in such a way that produced a wave. This wave is further followed by succeeding waves enough to capsize the boat. There is the chief constitutive condition, which is wind and water; the immediate condition, which is the following waves; the objective condition, which is the boat on the water; and the upheaving condition, which is the last wave that brings all conditions to the climax, i.e. upsets the boat. This series of event is apparently caused and as a result the boat is capsized, but its causes only have dependent and thus temporary existence, for the capsizing of the boat cannot happen unless all causes are present at the same time. The process of enlightenment resembles that of being in a dream. For, just as we do not know that we are in a dream while sleeping, we do not become aware of the fact that the sphere of objects are unreal before we reach the state of true awakening, and we would be perpetually in the midst of a dream.[37] Having examined the Consciousness-Only School, I will now look at the philosophy of T’ien T’ai School. In the Consciousness-Only School, the Middle Path is identified with Thusness that transcends all specific characters and hence it attempts to arrive at the middle ground between realism and nihilism. T’ien T’ai philosophy, on the other hand, aims to synthesize the both realms in which transcendence (noumenon) and immanence (phenomenon) are harmonized, producing the perfect harmony of the Three Levels of Truth: the Truth of Emptiness, the Temporary Truth, and the Truth of the Mean. The first two levels of truth have already been discussed; namely, that all dharmas are empty because they have no nature of their own but depend on causes for their production (the Truth of Emptiness) and that the dharmas are nonetheless produced and do possess temporary and dependent existence (the Temporary Truth).[38] The third level of Truth is the combination of the first two, that is, it is the very nature of dharmas that they are both empty and temporary (the Truth of the Mean). By not taking on the middle ground between the emptiness and temporary truth, as the Consciousness-Only School did, but rather combining the two into its philosophical system, T’ien T’ai School was able to include all that there is, without making any distinctions between the external manifestations that are qualities of the mind and the internal activities of the pure consciousness in which the production of seeds and perfuming the manifestations perpetually took place. In this way, T’ien T’ai School achieved what is called the three thousand worlds of immanent in an instance of thought. In the realm of the Temporary Truth, there exists ten realms: Buddhas, bodhisattvas, Buddha-for-themselves, direct disciples of the Buddha, heavenly beings, spirits, human beings, departed beings, beasts, and deprived men. In each of these realm involves the other realms as well. So in the realm of Buddha, all the other realms are included, and in the realm of heavenly beings, all the other realms are included, and so on, making it one hundred realms. Each of these realms in turn possesses the ten characters of Thusness: character, nature, substance, energy, activity, cause, condition, effect, retribution, and being ultimate from beginning to end. Each of these then possesses living beings, of space and of aggregates (matter, sensation, thought, disposition, and consciousness), which resulting in the three thousand worlds and the totality of manifested reality.[39] It is the world as the totality of all the worlds. All these realms are so interpenetrated that they are said to be immanent in a single instant of thought. These are not produced by any mind, nor are they included in an instant of though, but rather “all the possible worlds are so much identified that they are involved in every moment of thought.” Unlike the Consciousness-Only School, where the world is the consciousness itself, in T’ien T’ai philosophy, all phenomena are manifestations of the Mind and each manifestation is the Mind in its totality.[40] As has been mentioned, because this philosophy involves all, and since everything involves everything else, it implies the doctrine of universal salvation. All beings possess Buddha-nature and are therefore capable of salvation. And this salvation is achieved through the method of concentration and insight, or Makashikan. Namely, by recognizing the three levels of Truth just discussed.

III: The Etiology of Illness by Supernatural Entities

oni We have seen that Yokai, Oni and evil spirits are said to cause fear and illness. We have also seen what the Buddhist philosophy teaches us this world really is. It is nothing but the consciousness, and the apparent external phenomena are but mental qualities and manifestations of one’s own mind. It is how the mind perceives the floating manifestations arising from imagination. The kinds of manifestation one sees, then, differ from person to person, as the Four Wisdoms of the Consciousness-Only School explains. What we see with our consciousness is dictated by what we do and what we eat. If there is an imbalance in our constituent elements, we become deluded and fall into an easy prey by Oni. Our weakened body will not resist the intrusion of various daimons and the very fact that we become ill serves as a warning and a reminder that we need to be more mindful of our dietary restriction. Similarly, we become sick due to the deeds we did in our previous life, for the soul of such individual is tainted, and the manifestations of the consciousness too will become muddied with malignant seeds. Indeed, illness was such an essentially feature of what it is to be a human that many monks conceived the state of illness as dharma, and taught that one should use the illness as the object of our consciousness and observe it with the wisdom arising from the immobile faith. It is the times of illness, he argued, when one attains enlightenment. Through such means, then, one should discover the reasons as well as the meanings that such illness has brought to him, and search for the treatment, and attain enlightenment by experiencing the entire process as the totality.[41] So Chigi as well as other monks often perceived illness as an opportunity to reflect oneself and the others around him, and this attitude was known as “Byousoku-Bosatsu” 病即菩薩, or the attainment of Buddhahood in sickness.[42] Especially amongst the T’ien T’ai monks in Japan, they preferred to consult with Mahā-prajñāpāramitā-śāstra 大智度論, authored by Nāgārjuna 龍樹, and argued that illness are either caused by the past deeds or by kleshas, i.e. worldly desires.[43] In both physical and spiritual illness, the true cause is said to be in the kleshas煩悩. Once kleshas get activated, it will cause imbalance in the body and bring disharmony in the life rhythm, causing one to be sick. The treatment, therefore, is to actually recognize what is causing the kleshas, and avoid having an attachment arising from the imagination, and further to understand that everything is in a state of flux and nothing is absolute. Things in this world exist as dependent on one another and constantly changing. When you understand this, you will recover from illness.[44] Similarly, Komatsu argues that when a person does something bad, he starts feeling guilty and becomes convinced anyone may harm him because of what he did. This sense of insecurity and fear in turn cultivate the Yokai in his mind. In other words, it is this very fear he feels himself that causes him to fall ill, while attributing the cause for his illness to the evil spirits of the other people.[45] When looked at this way, it is natural to perceive Buddha as the wise doctor and sutra as the medicine, as they were often spoken of as such. Monks then offer the words of Buddha by prescribing the patients the spells or citation of sutras. Indeed, there is an account of medical practice in Japan given by a Jesuit missionary in the 16th century, which reads that   In Japan , when you become sick, a doctor comes and takes the pulse, perform an acupuncture on stomach, back and arms. Although they do not perform bloodletting, they follow dietary restrictions that are contrary to out customs, and take in medicine. They also pray to Buddha and gods, make others observe dharma, have monks read them sutras, and call in exorcists who can perform sorcery.[46]   These monks whose job it is to exorcise were called Genza験者. How this was performed was that they would summon the protector daimons, who then would enter into the sick person. These protector daimons would chase away the Yokai or evil spirits that possessed the sick, which in turn is transferred to another body called Yorimashi憑座. Yorimashi are persons or objects capable of attracting spirits, giving them the physical space to occupy. Once this is done, the protector daimon would once again chase away the evil spirits from Yorimashi to complete the exorcism.[47] There is, of course, this problem of where the spirits would go afterwards. This is not really explained, but granting that all phenomena are mental qualities, evil spirits thrive well in sick person’s mind most comfortably. But once transferred to the healthy subject, the mind of Yorimashi is presumably strong and resistant, so the evil spirits will be driven away from such a subject relatively easily. Once separated from a subject, they lose the consciousness in which they inhere, and disappear into Emptiness. Yokai then are the mental manifestations of one’s own kleshas and how one deals with the external world as such. This is why there are a countless number of different kinds of Yokai and none seems to appear in bulk but always individually – i.e. those who are chased after by Rokuro-Kubi are not on the same night attacked by Kappa and see Tenjou-Name when he comes home. And when many Yokai are depicted, they always appear simultaneously with the other types of Yokai monsters, as in Hyakki Yagyou 百鬼夜行, or Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, throughout Japanese history. In this case, they do not attack specific individuals but walk around at night perhaps representing the kleshas of the phenomenal world. In the case of Oni, however, is rather different, for they represent the evil deeds in the generality. This is why they all share the generic features and they all exist for one purpose, i.e. to cause physical harm to those with malicious intent in order to prevent them from attaining the Buddhahood. Evil spirits further differ from both Yokai and Oni in that Yokai and Oni may appear to ordinary people but evil spirits are normally reserved for those monks who are about to attain Buddhahood but fell prey to the worldly desires in the midst of their training, as we have seen from the account given by Chigi in Makashikan.[48] In this respect, evil spirits may be more pernicious, for they also prey on the Buddhist monks, or those who learn to attain Buddhahood. Perhaps, these evil spirits are so persistent in nature that even with the exorcism using Yorimashi, they may remain independently of anyone’s mind, and it may possess a consciousness of its own. Such evil spirits may materialize and bring about misfortunes of natural disasters, as in the case of the vengeful spirit of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903). Michizane’s vengeful spirit is a famous example of Onryou 怨霊 causing a catastrophic damage to the Heian capital in the 10th century. Michizane, a skilled statesman and a poet, was disgraced, demoted and sent to an exile by jealous Fujiwara leaders. Soon after he died in exile in Kyushu in 903, the Palace at the capital was struck by lightening, and “week after week the capital was drenched by rainstorms and shaken by thunderbolts,” followed by “the violent death of prominent men and the constant outbreak of fires.”[49] These misfortunes continued successively and were of such a magnitude that it was attributed to the vengeful spirit of Michizane. Even after restoring him to the office and ranks he had held during his lifetime and all his official documents sentencing him to exile were destroyed, the calamities continued. In 942, finally an oracle was decreed that a shrine should be erected, where Michizane was to be worshipped as a deity. The calamities finally stopped, and this shrine, Kitano Tenmangu, is still popularly visited by the Japanese in Kyoto to this day, and he was given a title as Tenjin, the Heavenly Deity, in 986.[50] This is a case where the carrier of the evil spirit was never exorcised, nor was he a practicing Buddhist, but not having been exorcised, one could imagine that such a wrathful spirit may grow on to discharge its negative energy until it rested on the shrine which was built to calm the anger of the spirit. Here, I am merely offering a possible interpretation of how such vengeful spirits of aristocrats in the absence of subjects to inhere in could have caused destructions and political instability. But this explanation also well accords with the Shinto belief that daimons become gods when worshipped and become Yokai when neglected. In fact, we do see quite often that evil spirits appear from time to time after the death of the subjects throughout literature and history. It appears that this happens when the grudge of the living subject is so strong that the manifestation of malicious mental qualities becomes attached to this world and somewhat materialized sometimes as Oni and Onryou. Such spirits remain in the phenomenal world and frequently visit specific individuals. Thus Komatsu also argues that while jealousy and irrational emotions residing in the unconsciousness may be restrained by the codes of ethics ordinarily, when opportunities arise, Yokai that lives in this unconsciousness breaks out its boundary and tries to control people. This uncontrollable emotion can oftentimes hurt people and become dangerous to other people as well. It starts with hatred or jealousy, which grows into the demonic will when unrestrained, and then to demonic activity, which finally leads to making the subject a demon with an appearance of demon.[51] This is best evidenced by the story of the princess under the Uji Bridge 宇治の橋姫. There are various versions of this story, but one that appears in the Tale of Heike 平家物語 tells a story of a certain princess who was overly jealous of another woman. She visited the altar of the gods in Kibune and asked the deity to turn her into a demon so she could kill the other woman. She was given an oracle telling her to change her appearance and go to the riverbank at Uji. So she went, having tied up her hair into five sections and shaped them into five horns. She also painted her face in red ink, put an iron tripod on her head and held three torches in her mouth. She sat and submerged herself in water at the riverbank. After twenty-one days, she turned into a living Oni and went out abducting and killing people whom she had grudge against.[52] This theme of abduction by Oni is a common narrative in the ancient writings. Shuten-Doji 酒呑童子, the Oni said to be the master of all other Oni, too abducted people in the capital and fed on the flesh and blood of the abducted. In most cases, the abduction occurs as a result of cheating and betrayal, a blasphemy against Buddhist teachings. In the case of Shuten-Doji too, the young daughter of the retired emperor’s councilor was abducted because the councilor “failed to keep a promise to Kannon when [he] sought her blessing for the birth of the child,” and the diviner who figured out her whereabouts advised the councilor to appeal to Kannon with the appropriate prayers in order to get his daughter back, and it was only with the aid of the deities and Buddha that Shuten-Doji was defeated.[53] 酒呑童子2

IV: Conclusion

  In this paper, I have explained the socio-historical origin of the spirits and Yokai phenomena as well as the Buddhist origin of Oni and evil spirits and how they are said to affect us and make us sick, i.e. by failing to observe the Buddhist teachings and turning away from enlightenment. However, it seems after the Edo period, these supernatural entities gradually came to walk on their own, as it were, and Yokai as effects of the manifestation of consciousness remained and were depicted, clothed with material appearance. These entities seem to have lost their philosophical justification for their existence and instead obtained independent reality in modern day Japan. While their existence continues to both amuse and frighten us, I think it is also important to understand that these entities posed immanent danger for the people in the past with good reasons. In Buddhism, it is said that there are four kinds of beings: those produced from wombs, from eggs, from moisture and through metamorphosis. What does it mean for something to come to be through metamorphosis? Clearly, this refers to the manifestations of the consciousness of the Buddhist philosophy. In this sense, although they do not generate from species to species in the natural means of generation, Yokai and other super natural beings are certainly granted their being-hood in this world. They are not merely imaginary beings but they too are the members of the “one thousand worlds” of immanence in a single instant of thought. Hokusai_rokurokubiThat is why the long neck of Rokuro-Kubi was also explained in terms of ectoplasm, where the soul is said to escape from the body and becomes materialized, and it was believed that the neck is connected with the body through a spiritual thread. Buddhist philosophy also explains the regularity of the phenomena by means of the characters of dharmas and their seeds. For it does seem strange that we have many accounts of the same Yokai with the said characteristics from time to time if all these phenomena are merely attributable to the distinct and individual consciousness. But such problem is easily dissolved by appealing to the doctrine of the causality in Consciousness-Only School that regularity is simply characters of dharmas and as such involves the process of mutual cause and effect, i.e. perfuming. In this process, “certain seeds regularly perfume in a certain way, and therefore people with similar seeds in them are perfumed in the same way.”[54] The way this manifests in our world, again, is the kleshas. Certain conditions also must meet, as in the case of the Four Causes mentioned earlier with the capsizing of a boat example. In order to see Kappa, for instance, one must be situated in such and such an environment that manifestations are perfumed in the similar way so as to have a reason to fear such creature. Further, one must be near a pond or a river, and not in the center of downtown or in a bathroom stall in an old school. These are all preconditions that influence the seeds in certain ways. So, it is futile to say, as Komatsu warns us perhaps jokingly, that in order to avoid getting attacked by Yokai spirits, one must simply avoid encountering one.[55] Nor is it possible to follow his advice not to go outside at night because at the moment when we decide to go outside, our consciousness is not yet properly warned that no effort can be made to change the course of perfuming. However, it is possible to avoid going to places where they cause you to feel fearful, such as graveyards or abandoned buildings, because the perfuming of the manifestations is not the same as a soft-determinism. Suppose I am at home in the evening, and realize that I need to get some milk at the store. Although it is not possible to change the desire to go out to buy the milk, I can decide not to take the route that makes me go through the graveyard or the route that leads me into a dark alley just because it is a shortcut to the store. Similarly, once I find myself in an abandoned building, I can either stay or leave the area at will because essentially it is my own consciousness that shapes the external manifestations and the internal activities of perfuming in bringing about a particular course of action. At the same time, precisely because it is our own consciousness that determines the phenomena and the activity of the soul, it is even possible for anyone who holds grudge against someone or jealous of someone to send out, without his knowing, the vengeful spirits of his own or even of his pets to those he has in mind, and direct these spirits to possess them to make them ill or cause them misfortunes. [56] If the Buddhist philosophy teaches anything about prevention and treatment of the illness, it is that we should never be so attached to the material world and worldly desires that we would feel the need to cling onto the present, but rather be unattached to the mundane world and, like Buddha, we should be like the lotus flower floating on the water.[57] For “if the mind is attached to something, it is bound to it and cannot be emancipated from birth and old age, sickness and death, sorrow and grief, and suffering and distress.”[58] Suuhi_Nekomata Shunkosai_Hokuei_Obake Enshin_Kasa-obake   [1] Taku Shinmura, Medical History in Japanese Buddhism 日本仏教の医療史, 34-36. [2] Taku Shinmura, 36-37. [3] 『日本霊異記』、『今昔物語集』cited in Shinmura, 30. [4] Shinmura, 15. [5] Mujuu paraphrased in Shinmura, 20. [6] 『仏説護諸童子陀羅尼経所説』mentioned in Shinmura, 30. [7] Kazuhiko Komatsu, Yokai-gaku Shinko 妖怪学新考, 17. [8] http://yokai.com/karakasakozou/ [9] http://yokai.com/nekomata/, http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/猫又#cite_note-12 [10] Kazuhiko Komatsu, 62. [11] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ろくろ首 [12] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/河童 [13] Noriko T. Reider, Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present, 1, 3. [14] Ibid., 7. [15] Ibid. 27-35. [16] Translation mine. See, http://www.suttaworld.org/Collection_of_Buddhist/taisho_tripitaka/pdf/menu/19index.htm for the original text, and for the rough description of its content in Japanese, http://i80000.com/japanese/html/cyber/sub_cyber_1_list.asp?Page=44&Search=&SearchString= (accessed Jan. 21st 2015) [17] See Shinmura, 31. The documents published in 1473 and in 1480 are mentioned as evidence of this. [18] Reider, 13. [19] Again, see Shinmura, 36. [20] Ibid. [21] Ibid. [22] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ろくろ首 (accessed on Jan. 22nd, 2015) [23] http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/妖怪 (accessed on Jan. 22nd, 2015) [24] Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan. “Buddhist Idealism: Hsuan-Tsang of the Consciousness-Only School” in A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy, 371. [25] Ibid., 380f. [26] Ibid., 382. [27] Ibid., 383. [28] Ibid. [29] Ibid., 385. See 15., “Sometimes the senses manifest themselves together, and sometimes not, just as waves manifest themselves depending on water conditions.” [30] Ibid., 386. [31] Ibid., 388. [32] Ibid., 390. [33] Ibid., 387. [34] Ibid., 372. [35] Ibid., 372f. wind and water making a wave, succession of waves, a boat in the sea, capsizing the boat… [36] Ibid., 373. [37] [38] Ibid., “The T’ien T’ai Philosophy of Perfect Harmony,” 396. [39] Ibid., 396f. [40] Ibid., 397. [41] Shinmura, 11. [42] Ibid. [43] Ibid., 37. [44] Ibid., 37f. [45] Komatsu, Yokaigaku Shinko, 44f. [46] Ibid., quoted from Shinmura, 19. Translation mine. [47] Ibid, 14. [48] Ibid., see 34. [49] Geroge Sansom, A History of Japan to 1334, 215. [50] Ibid., 215f. [51] Komatsu, Yokaigaku Shinko, 44. [52] Ibid., 180. See also Reider, Japanese Demon Lore, 54. [53] Reider, 186f. [54] Sourcebook of Chinese Philosopy, [55] Komastu, 45. [56] Ibid., 205. [57] Sourcebook, 367f [58] Ibid.

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I: What is Ninja?

As popular as Ninja may be in our modern society, not much is known about them. This is due to the fact that Ninja were an organized intelligence agency that operated covertly in espionage, assassination, counter-intelligence and unconventional warfare. In a way, one could see Ninja as a prototype of the American CIA or the Russian KGB. Such was the nature of Ninja that their activities remained almost exclusively invisible for the general public. In fact, activities of Ninja were so secretive that no one knew who the Ninja were, and a Ninja whose name is most known to us is by definition a Ninja who did not do his job well done. In other words, the most skilled Ninja were the ones whose existence is not even known to us. Hence, it is not hard to understand why they did not leave any manuscripts, and thus scholars of Ninja must work with historical records left by the government officials and oftentimes secondhand account provided by the offspring of Ninja families, many of which were written three generations after the period in which Ninja were most active.[1]関ヶ原の戦い

During the Warring State Period, i.e. Sengoku Period, in the 16th century Japan, feudal lords were raising their army to conquer the lands and claim the country. Warfare in Japan was particularly advanced compared to that in Europe at the time both in the number of soldiers employed and in the preparations for the provisions. For example, the only countries in the world that could afford to mobilize soldiers over 100,000 in the 16th century were Ming Dynasty in China, India and Turks. Even the Hapsburg in Spanish Empire could only mobilize 50,000 soldiers in number. However, in Japan, at the end of Warring State Period in the 16th century, each feudal lord had about 20,000 soldiers at their disposal and in the Battle of Sekigahara (the battle which ended the Warring State Period and opened Edo period) in 1600, over 150,000 soldiers were mobilized. The number of soldiers employed in this battle exceeded the number of soldiers in all Europe combined.[2] From this, it also followed that the demand for swords, guns as well as food was accelerated, and those militia groups who could not keep up with the provisions were naturally at disadvantage. Driven by such necessities, Japanese were forced to find a way to maximize the communication system amongst themselves, while minimizing the leak of information to the outsiders. One of my aims in this paper is to briefly explain in what aspects of warfare Ninja were employed for and to what extent. In passing, a general philosophy of Ninja is discussed. Then, I will present their methods of activity as the collectivity in Japanese empirical science, discuss about the medical practices of Ninja, analyzing if what they practiced can be called a medical knowledge, and conclude with overview of their science. However, we must begin by discussing a little about the primary sources for my findings as well as a brief history regarding the origin of Ninja as such.正忍記

There are three Ninja manuscripts that we use as semi-primary sources. These are 1) Bansenshukai[3], 2) Shouninki[4] and 3) Ninpiden[5]. Each of these includes detailed descriptions on how-to guide for any aspiring Ninja to become one. Here, we might wonder why they cared to write down any of their secrets, if indeed their prosperity was dependent upon appropriation of their own unique knowledge. It seems to be the case that after entering Edo period, centuries-long conflict had ended, and there was not much demand for a covert political organization. Although Ninja still lived among people and trained for a possible employment in the near future, it became increasingly evident that Ninja were no longer needed in this peaceful time. As the name suggests, Ninja is someone who sneaks in with a sword over his heart.[6] It signifies someone whose life is always in danger of death, requiring an attentive performance to do the job, but the current state of affairs offered them no such situations. Ninja families, hence, decreased in number and gradually less and less people practiced Ninjutsu. Fearing that the techniques that once determined the course of Japanese history would become forever lost, the offspring of Ninja decided to write down their secrets. In this way, they chose to preserve their tradition rather than disappearing into the shadow of the history. The nature of their writings is such that there necessarily includes fabrication of techniques later added to exaggerate their merit and incredible accounts of their activities. It is even plausible that, although Ninja who wrote down their tradition were admired as Jo-Nin, they did not quite understand some of the techniques described there. Hence, historians of science must not take their records at face value, and instead try to distinguish a fable from a true claim by comparing various manuscripts passed down to us as well as performing empirical experiments.

Their essential activities, however, are known to us beyond dispute. These can be reduced into four divisions mentioned above, namely 1) espionage, 2) counter-intelligence, 3) conspiracy and 4) unconventional warfare. Ninja were most fitted for all of these activities than any other groups of people. For instance, their ability to move swiftly in small numbers enabled them to deliver information about the enemy’s movement or act in disguise in enemy’s territories to collect inside information as well as leak false information in their favour. The performance of such activities depended on the knowledge of orology. Engaging in unconventional warfare too was a tactic often employed by Ninja. Ninja may throw poison into a well, where they know their enemy gets their water from, or set fire on their provisions. Disguising as a mercenary in the enemy’s territory and spreading a rumour, saying, “we have no chance of winning this war, it’s all over!” also served as a way to demotivate the soldiers. [7]

III: Philosophy of Ninja

Seeing that Ninja primarily served as a covert military organization, who would basically do whatever is asked to do, there is always a concern for the potential employers whether Ninja would not betray them in the end. What distinguished Ninja from bandits or simple criminal organizations were the codes of conduct they firmly adhered to. These are the principles of Jo-nin. Jo-nin means a ninja par excellence. Jo-nin must be “dutiful (giri) to the employers, without desire… knowledgeable in all matters… faithful to Confucianism and Buddhist teachings… respectful to codes of warriors (i.e. Bushi-do)… familiar with the geography and customs… skillful at tactical thinking” and so on.[8] In reality, no one is this talented, and most Ninja were not erudite. These “codes” of conduct are therefore to be taken only as an ideal to be aimed at, and not actually laws that were enforced upon Ninja. This “principle as an ideal” seems to be the central theme in Ninja philosophy, as we will see over and over again in their science. As a matter of fact, Ninja were internally bounded between their members more than they were to their employers, and they believed it utmost duty to help one another in times of difficulties. This gave them a limited but relative freedom as to exchange information amongst them, and Shouninki tells us that this is why some first rate secrets were often concealed from them in their employment.

Ninja philosophy is essentially derivable from Chinese philosophy, though some are more obvious than others. Shouninki, for instance, mentions Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War as the central source for their philosophy, according to which Ninja are supposed to be able to “master the languages of their enemy and become one of them.”[9] Further, they must “talk about an event as if you were there when you were not, speak of someone whom you have never met as if your best friend, buy things when you do not have any money and get drunk when you have not drunk at all. You go out at night and never stay at an inn, sometimes you get surprised by the voice of a deer, and hide in the shadows of the trees, avoiding moonlight and ensconce yourself in an uncomfortable place.” It ends the chapter with a remark “what a sad life and full of hardships we suffer! Yet, one must keep such experiences to yourself, lest not to divulge his identity to others. It is probably for these reasons that people think Ninja are strange. But let them think so, if they do not understand the hardships we go through. If we are asked, ‘Aren’t you stupid to live like that?’ let us respond, ‘yes, we are.’ This too is a way of Shinobi. The Unreal is the Falsity and the Real is the Truth.”[10]

Here, the concept of Falsity-Truth dichotomy deserves some attention. In the philosophy of Ninja, everything is flowing and nothing is absolute. This is an obvious reference to Yin-Yang theory, which states everything is in motion.[11] The success in a mission depends upon perceiving the change in things accurately, and knowing when to act. Shinobi states that whatever disadvantageous is the Falsity and whatever causes benefit and power to them is the Truth. Hence, when times are in the Falsity, one must wait until the right time comes. Acting hastily could ruin the entire operation as well as his own life. “When samurai warriors fight one another, it is a fight between the Truth and the Truth, but when a Ninja fights, you are always the Truth and the enemy always the False. In such cases, it is important to have the enemy believe he is winning until his ultimate defeat.”[12] It is by this means that Ninja can make himself the Truth while keeping the enemy the Falsity. This philosophy is vividly seen in the chapter that talks about Enemy Prevention. Here the text says that “even if the opponent becomes angry obviously because you did something wrong, you should blame the responsibility to someone else and disappear as soon as possible. They say that blaming others for what you did is wrong, but that is just what they say in general. There is no need for you to think such a general principle also applies to you.”[13] Although I have said that Ninja help one another in times of difficulties, we must not forget that what is of utmost importance to them is the fulfillment of their mission. It would negate their whole purpose of existence if helping out a fellow Ninja would mean abandoning the mission. In order to complete the mission, Ninja must do whatever it takes. As such fidelity to mission takes precedence to ethics, they can justify aforementioned unconventional warfare, such as poisoning the enemy, destroying their weapons in advance as well as assassination and arson.[14] Following this philosophy, Ninja believed anything is accomplishable. If you still fail at your mission, then your reason may be troubled by emotions or preconceptions about things, which lead to a lack of conviction or impatience. To prevent this psychological instability, one must maintain the qi at all times. As with Taoism, Ninja teaches us that “human mind is mysterious and comprehends natural elements (activities) namely Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Human heart is thus like the universe itself… When our heart is at calm and observes nature, we can adapt to any situations like flowing Water. It is like Fire changing its force depending on what it burns, and Wood growing roots and leaves in their surrounding climate. If wind tries to sweep down the Wood, accept it and you will wave in unison with the wind, but should you resist it, you will be defeated. Similarly, Metal is hard but changes its shape according to the human deeds. Earth relates to all the Five Activities, and keeps nature in harmony.”[15]

In this way, Ninja must obey the natural occurring of events as they unfold, and act without going against the flow of the nature. Only by attaining this state of detachment of the self can we recognize pure reason, and only through the use of pure reason can we be mindful to the subtleties in nature. Thus, Ninja attack with the absolute detachment of the self that “even if you ask for him, he is shapelessly merged into the universe, and even if you ask of him, he is so detached that there is no answer. He will act only in accordance with the pure reason.” This part of Ninja philosophy is largely taken by Zen philosophy, which states that “the state of bodhisattva[16] is inexpressible in words and is only attainable by pure experience.”[17]

This view of activities as a part of the cosmic nature and that we must respect the laws of nature is prevalent in Chinese medical philosophy.

IV: Philosophy of Medicine

It is unfortunate that Ninja did not elaborate on their medical theories and seemed to think it unimportant to subject their views to a theoretical analysis. This makes sense to some extent, since Ninja were not philosophers or scientists by profession, but only agents in covert operation. They had neither time nor interests in knowing how things worked, but only in that they worked. As a result, the parts in Shouninki where medicine is treated are limited to describing how to make what and when to use it. In fact, there are only two places where medicine is explicitly mentioned in Shouninki, and only few places mention medical recipes in a more philosophical manuscript Bansenshukai. But we know that medical knowledge played an important role in Ninja activities. This is because one of the most basic tasks of Ninja was to get information in the local areas. Whenever people needed to hide their identities in a foreign village, they would often disguise either as monks or as pharmacists in those times. Ninja, too, followed the suit. But they only needed the medical knowledge to the extent necessary, i.e. it must have been enough to be able to answer questions about medicine they were selling when asked about them. Because they were not certified doctors or experienced in medical knowledge but rather “part-time doctors”, they carried simple medicine that would most often be used by the general public. This worked in their advantage, as these medicines would be useful for Ninja themselves during their missions.

Chinese medical philosophy is explained in complex combination of Yin Yang theory and the Five Agents doctrine.[18] Yin and Yang are opposite but complimentary forces, elements or principles, the former being “negative, passive, weak, and destructive, and [the latter,] positive, active, strong, and constructive.”[19] Yin Yang theory sees the events as containing both yin and yang qualities, thus “[e]ach thing or phenomenon could be itself and its contrary,” that is to say, “Yin contains the seed of Yang and vice versa, so that, contrary to Aristotelian logic, A can also be Non-A.”[20] Adding to that is the Five Agents doctrine, which introduces to Yin Yang theory a concept of rotation. These Five Agents are conceived of at the level of Chinese cosmogony; for instance, Water generates Wood, which generates Fire, which generates Earth, which generates Metal, which then generates Water. The concept of generation here is similar to the Four Elements in Greek philosophy. In Chinese philosophy, however, Water assumes an important basis, and is the beginning of the sequence. There are two other sequences that are significant in understanding how the agents interact with one another. One is called the Controlling Sequence in which each Agent controls another and is controlled by one. Thus, Water controls Fire, Fire controls Metal, which then controls Wood, which again controls Earth and back to Water. This sequence ensures that the balance is maintained among the Five Agents. It self-regulates its balance as well, in combination with the generating sequence we have just mentioned. In this model, Water controls Fire, but Fire generates Earth, which controls Water. Similarly, on the one hand, Water controls Fire but also generates Wood, which controls Fire, and so on. This sequence is a key model for sustaining health when dealing with sickness or illness. The second sequence is called The Insulting Sequence, which works the opposite of the Controlling Sequence. Hence, Water insults Earth, Earth insults Wood, which insults Metal, which insults Fire, and which insults Water. When there is an imbalance in the body, causing sickness, it is normally because agents are insulted and the order no longer maintained.[21]五行説

In this way, Chinese model may be comparable to that of Greek humoural medicine. What is different from the Western medical thought is that each Agent has so many correspondences, and what makes it more complex is that it is interlaced with the Five Agents doctrine. Just to give an example, Water corresponds to the kidney in the organ; Wood corresponds to the liver; Fire to the heart; Earth to the spleen; and Metal to the lungs. In this scheme, the liver controls the spleen and generates the heart; the heart controls the lungs and generates spleen; the spleen controls the kidneys and generates the lungs; the lungs control the liver and generate kidneys; and the kidneys control the heart and generate the liver.[22] Further, Yin and Yang correspond to body parts, such as Front-Back, Body-Head, Interior-Exterior, Structure of organs-Function of organs, and Yin organs-Yang organs.[23] Just as the Five Agents aim at maintaining the balance in the body, Yin-Yang theory is applied to medicine to tonify either Yang or Ying quality or to eliminate the excess of Yang quality or eliminate the excess of Ying quality.

For example, a seed of a fruit such as of a peach corresponds to Metal in the Five Agents scheme, whereas in Yin-Yang theory, it corresponds to Yang quality since it is hard rather than soft. Metal also corresponds to repelling of evil spirits, generating Water, which is the beginning of the generation cycle, but it also has a quality to insult Wood, which represents Spring. In this way, Japanese people throw roasted soybeans outside the house on the first day of spring to repel evil spirits for the new cycle of the year. We also throw the beans inside the house, exclaiming “Demons out! Luck in!” The soybeans signifying Metal goes out to guard against the evil demons, while at the same time, the quality of Metal inside the house is weakened by us gnawing the beans to strengthen the quality of Wood.[24]

As you can see, while such was the basic working principles in medical thought in the pre-Modern Japan, it would have been too much to ask of crypto part-time doctors to memorize and understand all the correlations among the Yin-Yang Five Agents Doctrine, not to mention the measurements and dosages of each medicine. In effect, even one of the most celebrated Buddhist doctors in Japan once lamented, “[o]ne cannot memorize all this.”[25] Did Ninja then not understand medicine when they talked about painkillers or antidotes? Their poisons seem to have worked well enough and it is historically true that they made poisons out of surrounding plants to kill. In order to determine their philosophical framework regarding the formulation of medicines, we will now take a look at two of the medical formulae that appear in the most authoritative text and discussed in detail, and see if they follow the medical philosophy of the East.

The first medicine is called “Suikatsu-gan” (水渇丸), which, if taken in a dire need of quenching your thirst, will make you suffer no more. The recipe for which is rather simple and composed of three ingredients:

−        梅干しの肉 1両(4匁)    = Plum without skin, 37.3

−        氷砂糖 2匁       = Rock sugar, 7.5g

−        麦芽(麦門冬/麦角)1匁 = Malt, 3.75g[26]

You will mix them and powder it, and then make a small ball and take one whenever you are thirsty.

The second medicine is “Kikatsu-gan” (飢渇丸), which will render no food necessary when taken three each day.

−        人参(キタネニンジン) 10両      = carrot, 373g

−        蕎麦粉 20両           = soba flour, 746g

−        小麦粉 20両        = (all-purpose) flour, 746g

−        ヤマノイモ(山芋 20両   = Japanese mountain yam, 746g

−        天草/耳草(はこべ類) 1両 = stellaria (or, chickweed, stitchwort) 37.3g

−        ヨクイニン(ハトムギ果)10両 = Job’s Tears, 373g

−        糯米粉 20両         = rice flour, 746g[27]

When you mix them all, you marinate it in five liters of sake for three years, and when sake completely dries out, you make balls of about two centimeters in diameter.

Now, if you follow this recipe verbatim, it will rot before even sake gets dried out.[28] Perhaps you will need to find a way to dry sake out much quicker. But even if it worked, will it have the effect they claim it does? Will it work in theory? As I have mentioned earlier, Ninja did not elaborate at all on their theories but seemed to care only that they worked. Any reflections on their medicine in light of Yin-Yang Five Agents doctrine will be necessarily speculative and unfounded. So the question, which concerns us most, now becomes: did they work? The answer seems to be a disappointing one, that is, yes and no. Although Ninja medicine was not compatible to the Yin-Yang Five Agents doctrine, it did accord with the other prevalent philosophy in medicine as well as in Buddhist philosophy, that is, the transformation or the imbalance of Qi. Qi is the source of all movement in human physiology, and assumes “different forms depending on its state of condensation or dispersal… [and] is transformed, changed, transported, it enters, exits, rises, descends and disperses.”[29] Further, Qi forms a material body and has a Yin quality when condensed, while it has a Yang quality when it is dispersed and in motion. So when “Qi is flourishing there is health, if it is weak there is disease, if it is balanced there is quiet, if it moves in the wrong direction there is disease.”[30] Indeed, already by the 13th century, it was commonly believed that the disorder of Qi within the body was the cause of many illnesses, as a famous Buddhist monk in the 13th century repeatedly remarked in his medical corpus that “medicines that readjust the qi thereby treat the myriad illnesses and can’t go wrong,” categorizing the illnesses arising from the mind as internal causes of ailments.[31] After stating that “internal causes [of ailment] are found where illnesses are produced from the disorder of the seven qi vital energies of joy, anger, melancholy, worry, sadness, fear and fright,” he recounts us “the well-known Chinese story of Yueguang, who exhibited severe symptoms and became ill because he had imagined that he had swallowed a snake.” Apparently, he had mistaken the reflection of a bow in his drink for a snake and believed that he had drunk the snake.[32] In this way, it was conceived that the evil passions and the source of mistakes arise from the imbalance of the qi, which is in the mind. Once this becomes apparent, “emotions are neither produced nor activated, the blood and qi are harmonized, and the mind and the body are at rest.”[33] This philosophy resembles much of what we have spoken of when we saw that Ninja abided themselves by the principle of absolute detachment as discussed towards the end of Shouninki.[34] I would also like to mention in passing that when Ninja talked about using amulets to protect themselves from danger and spells[35] to accomplish their missions, they also stated explicitly that “to actually expect they will work is to be utterly ignorant about the world, yet because there is no particular reason to disregard them as mere superstitions, the decision to use them or not depends upon you.”[36] As the commentator of Shouninki also explains, it seems that if something works actually or not was not a concern to them, as long as it works at least apparently. It is in this sense that Ninja medicine worked. That is, if amulets or medicines had a positive influence to control qi in the person, that is all what was required for. From these considerations, it seems reasonable to suggest that the fruit of Ninja medicine lies in the maintenance of the order of qi rather than depending on the effects of the specific medicaments.[37]

Now, what about poisons? Poisons enjoyed a distinct status in Ninja science in that they actually worked. However, here too, it seems that how they concocted deadly poisons had not much to do with the monastic medical philosophy, but simply to do with pure experience. With the healing medicines, it was possible to argue that whether they work or not depended on how detached you are according to the Buddhist philosophy, but because one cannot deceive another with a poison that does not actually work or whose effects depend upon the enemy’s conviction that it works, Ninja had to actually test them in a number of occasions, and they left recipes for those poisons that did work. In fact, although there are only so few references as to healing medicines, the list of poisonous medicines is incomparably large. There are recipes that use the ingredients like toad’s oil, red spider lily, Japanese star anise, as well as cannabis and nux vomica, but here I will list a few of the deadliest poisons. The first of which is the poison called Machin (馬銭), whose main ingredient is nux vomica. It is a deciduous tree native to India and Southeast Asia, which is highly toxic. Strychnine in the seed is said to kill you if you ingest a mere gram.[38] Ninja used this primarily to kill dogs that guarded the house they tried to sneak into. They studied psychology and human behaviors, and they were able quite accurately to predict how people would react to unknown noises at night or if they would fall for a deception. But dogs were different. Even Ninja could not read dogs’ mind to deceive, since dogs react to movements immediately. In a way, dogs were the Ninja’s enemy par excellence, whom they could not draw in to their side. So the elimination of dogs would give them an advantage, and hence was the basic Ninjutsu. They did this by first taming the dogs of the house, giving them rice balls, a few days before they would sneak into. If they were completely tamed by the night of mission, they would cause them no harm, but if the dogs were still cautious of them, Ninja would give them rice balls mixed with powdered nux vomica. The dogs would remain at the verge of death for a while, and if the missions were accomplished before they died, Ninja would give them water, which would revive them. If you absolutely had to kill the dogs, you would give them rice balls mixed with nux vomica and finely ground iron.[39] Another famous poison is called, loosely translated, ‘the poison of the teahouse.’ It uses Gyokuro, a rare type of tealeaves. You make an extra strong tea, and pour it into a bamboo tube. You will then bury it under the earth, and take it out after a month. It is said that a few drops would make you sick in one month and die in two months.[40] Yet another unique poison includes a mole, a newt and the blood of a snake mixed with other herbs. If you light fire on it and throw it into the enemy’s house, the enemy who inhaled the smoke would sleep or hallucinate, and would die in 70 days.[41] But this probably did not work. There is another medicine that probably did not work but is praised as a ‘medicine of the enlightened,’ which uses black soybeans and cannabis in the ratio of 5:3. You mix them, powder it and make a ball out of it. Then, you smoke it, and powder it again. If you drink a cup of tea made from this formula, you can apparently maintain your energy and do not have to eat or drink for seven days. If you drink two cups, you can stay alive without food or drink for 49 days, and with five cups of it, you will live for 16,807 days.[42]

As we can see, Ninja corpus includes medicines that would and would not work in tandem. This is probably due to the fact that they wrote the manuscripts long after their prime time, and they were writing in part to heroicize their past glory in times of relative peace, but also because their focus in medicine was more about controlling the qi rather than following a theoretical formula.

V: Psychology, Animal Philosophy and Observational Science

Although Ninja medicine lacked in a theoretical rigor, their observation excelled in natural philosophy. Some of their astonishing scientific discoveries based on pure observation include the colour of their costume, cat clock, as well as the accurate observation of the sleeping patterns of human beings. People now take it for granted that Ninja wore a black uniform, but a Ninja scholar, Yamakita, rightfully points out two major problems with this common belief. First of all, wearing such a costume all the time is utterly conspicuous, and illustrates insanity. Why would you wear clothes that speak out ‘I am a Ninja!’ when you want to be invisible to the public eyes? As has been stated earlier, the activities of Ninja primarily include information gathering, as such, they travel between the cities and meet people very frequently. If they really wore black uniforms at night, they must have carried additional clothing for the daytime activities. But carrying extra stuff in addition to several items to be used in their activities is already a huge burden. This is also why Ninja had to invent medicines such as Suikatsu-gan (mentioned above) that are tiny and do not take up space. Considering practicality, it would be much easier and convenient for them to have worn clothes that are darker in colour but could be worn in daytime as well without appearing suspicious. Secondly, pure black colour is rather expensive. Ninja who would sneak into houses and castles were normally the lower rank Ninja, and it would not have been plausible that they could have afforded to have uniforms with pure black colour made for them for everyday use. These are rather technical difficulties, but there is one more crucial scientific reason why they could not have worn black uniform. We now need to look at the structure of human eyes briefly. In retina of the eye, there are two layers of segments: retinal cone photoreceptor cells and rod cell outer segments. The cone photoreceptor cells are converged in the center of the eye and detect colours in daytime or in bright spaces, whereas rod cell segments have photic sense and can see in dark places but detects only light or dark. In short, human eyes can detect colours well only when we see something with the center of the eye in fairly bright places. On the contrary, we cannot detect colours well if we see something at the edge of the eye or in dark places. The cone photoreceptor cells stop detecting colours starting with the ones with longer wavelength. So the colour red which has the longest wavelength in the primary colours become invisible first, and then yellow loses its colour, leaving the blue alone to be seen in the end. This is why at dawn, everything looks somewhat blue-ish, because the photoreceptor cells are inactive due to the lack of light, and as a result, we see things with the rod cell segments of the eye. When you consider this fact, pure black clothing is actually a disadvantage. The reasons being that, even at night, it is not a pitch black. There are moonlight, starlight and candlelight from houses, and almost everything including plants and rooftops reflect tiny amount of light. However, pure black suit would not have any luminosity, so in a place where your surroundings emit some amount of light, you would be more easily found because of the contrast your clothes creates. Now, in daytime, if you hide behind trees or walls, it can be quite dark. Of course, if somebody sees you directly from the front, then there is no chance you can avoid detection, but wearing darker coloured clothing that has similar degree of luminosity as the surroundings would be beneficial if you are seen with the corner of the eye, you may be able to escape their detection. Now we see that clearly, black coloured uniforms are not practical for a covert operation. In fact, the reason why we see Ninja wearing pure black in movies and shows is because it is cool and also it is easy to spot. What Ninja in fact wore was a uniform in dark reddish brown. This is because the cone photoreceptor cells lose colour red before they lose yellow and blue, it is the first colour to disappear in the dark, and because it is not completely pure black, it has the benefit of attaining some level of luminosity, allowing it to be mingled with the surroundings.[43]Cat Clock

That Ninja were particularly observant as regards with lightness and darkness is also seen from their use of cats in determining what time it is. Clocks existed back then, but they were not portable. In order to find roughly what time it is, Ninja looked at eyes of the cats nearby, and made a song to memorize: 6 when it’s round, 5 or 7 when it’s egg-shaped, 4 or 8 when it’s a seed of a persimmon, and 9 when it’s a needle.[44] This finding of knowing the time by looking at the cat’s eyes was employed to argue in support of knowing the best time to sneak into a house. Because the success of sneaking in depends on the time when they sneak in, they left an instruction on when to do it with most success in Shouninki. Here I will quote the article almost in full citation.

“although there is not a fixed time that is best to sneak in, you should in general aim for when people are off-guard, like when they are busy. Do not be inpatient. Some of the best times are at twilight, 10 pm, midnight, 4 am, 6 am, noon and 6 pm. Should you not know what time it is, you should make an effort to know it through experience. Even cat’s eyes become thin or round depending on the time of the day, it is implausible that humans cannot be susceptible to it. In general, people go to bed at around 9 to 10, and are in a deep sleep at 1 to 2 am, waking up at 5 to 6 am. If you are in a deep sleep, the breathing sounds are irregular, if they are regular, you are probably pretending to be asleep. Even if they are deep asleep, people often wake up regularly and you need to be careful to detect when they are in a deep sleep and when they are in a shallow sleep… When climbing the rooftop and walking on it, you will use your sword as a stepping stone and try not to make any sound. If you see something unfamiliar on your way, throw a stone at it and see how it will react. If they notice your presence, use the technique called “Ryofuri (両降り)”, or “Falling from Both Sides”, and throw a stone at the opposite direction to the one you are going to, and make a run for it.”[45]

Ninja were well aware that the eyes of cats are much more receptive and their eyes could be thin even at noon if they are in the shadow. The commentator of Shouninki states that the intent of this article is to encourage you to use all the senses possible, and detect any information necessary to know the time by listening for bells at temples, cries of animals or smells of food being prepared, etc… What is most interesting here is the depiction of sleeping patterns. This is a clear reference to what we now call REM sleep, when breathings become irregular and when we most likely dream. It appears once every two hours or so, and lasts for 5 to 30 minutes. People in REM sleep look as if they are at the verge of waking up but in fact they are in the deepest sleep and would not easily wake up.[46]

Ninja also employed psychological means to hide their identity, and they learned their survival techniques mostly from animals around them. For instance, when you hide by the trees or in the shadows, it was possible for people to still hear heartbeats or breathing sounds especially at a quiet night. There was not a single noise of a car to help you make up for any sound you make. In such situations, Ninja often imitated animals for a disguise. Although this sort of techniques is often used for a comical effect nowadays, when your life depends on how well you imitate, the imitation must have been of the highest quality. When people hear some unknown noise, they would be uneasy and a desire to know what that noise is arises. Ninja observed this fact, and they answered that if people are anxious to know what the noise they had just heard is, only false information was necessary to make them believe they understood the cause of it. If they heard a cat immediately after hearing the strange noise, they would reason that the sound they just heard must have been of the cat they are hearing now. Once they are convinced, even if they hear a stranger sound consequently, they would assume that the cat must be of a big one or must be sick, and so on, to try to stick to the original conclusion they have reached. Further, because they imitate the sound of animals, even if they constantly make some noise, people would just think that cats are being noisy. Since cats and dogs were often found in and out of the house, Ninja were particularly trained to disguise as cats or dogs and were good at it.[47] In addition to this, Ninja used a number of hiding techniques learned from various animals. The famous instances of which are ‘Kitune-gakure (狐隠れ)’ [the Way of Foxes], ‘Tanuki-gakure (狸隠れ)’ [the Way of Raccoon-dogs], and ‘Kakure-mino (隠れ蓑)’ [Hiding in the Straw]. Kitsune-gakure is the one in which Ninja hide underwater. It received its name from the fact that foxes have strong smell, so when they are chased after by hunting dogs, they are said to escape their detection by traversing in the water. Here, Ninja will usually leave the face above the surface to breathe. With water grass and algae around, it is difficult to be found. They probably did use a bamboo tube or a scabbard (a sheath; a case for katana) to breathe, completely submerging themselves under water, but the problem with it is that it would be unnatural and overtly conspicuous if there is a bamboo tube sticking out where there is nothing else around. In any case, to prevent Ninja from hiding, samurai warriors often cleared any water grass or algae in the ponds in advance.[48] This is also known as ‘Suiton no Jutsu (水遁の術) which is a collective name for a escaping method using water. Although it is famously employed often in Ninja themed stories, it is not something you would want to do, as you would be completely wet and anyone who sees you would be suspicious of you.[49] On the contrary, Tanuki-gakure is when you hide on the trees, camouflaging with the leaves. As long as you are not seen climbing the tree, it probably works quite well. We are not used to checking what is above us, so this too is a tactic that studied human psychology.[50] Lastly, Kakure-mino is what you use when there is absolutely no time to climb trees or hide under water without making any splashing sound. In Kakure-mino, you will find a space or a container of rice, for example, to hide and wait until the enemy is gone. If you do this, however, you are deprived of your freedom to move, and once you are found, you probably get killed without a further ado.[51]

There are many other tricks or items Ninja used in their daily operations, some of them ingenious while others are utterly useless. Before I conclude my paper, I would like to mention one more invention of Ninja that most likely did not work but is seen as the most characteristic item of Ninja, and that is: Mizugumo.[52] As you can see in the photo, it is virtually impossible to walk on water, let alone run from the enemy. It is apparently made with a foxglove tree, but in order to float a person weighing 50 kg, you will need to wear a cone tube that is 50 cm in diameter and 20 cm in height on both legs. You may be able to float, but you certainly cannot move smoothly.[53] Further, you would be looking like a crab, unable to move on water, that you are an excellent target for the enemy to throw stones at. Although it is hoisted as one of Ninja’s most famous invention, and also is recorded in Bansenshukai, it is generally attested that such a device did not exist but was later added by the offspring who left the manuscripts.[54]mizugumo

This concludes my findings on the philosophy of Ninja. I have illustrated that Ninja were a professional spy organization, and hence needed to master techniques to find out inside information, poison the enemy before the battle begins, and disguise themselves so as to escape the enemy’s detection. In doing so, I have briefly discussed the basic Chinese philosophy that was on the foundation of Japanese medical theory since the 12th century onwards, such as Yin-Yang theory, Five Agents doctrine as well as transformation of qi energy, and I have argued that Ninja medicine had not much to do with any particular philosophical doctrines but rather much to do with being in control of their own emotions and qi energy. In this respect, it is largely a reflection of Zen philosophy, more so than of other schools of thought. I then concluded with some discussions on their psychology, animal philosophy as well as scientific discoveries for your information, which I term observational science. In sum, I believe Ninja did not know and did not have any interest to Chinese medical corpus but rather collected information on their own through experience and observation. Their interest rather lied with the philosophy of warfare, and although they obtained a lot of information from the Chinese books, their scientific enquiry remained limited and never left their own circle for criticisms and improvement.

[1] This would be the late 16th century, as is discussed below.

[2] Atsushi Yamakita, All Things About Ninja (概説 忍者・忍術) (Japan: Shinkigensha, 2004), 21. Also as opposed to the number of soldiers carrying guns being only 10% of the army in Europe, 30% of the army were equipped with guns in Japan.

[3]萬川集海 was written in 1676, written by Fujibayashi Yasutake.

[4]正忍記 was written in 1681, written by Fujibayashi Masatake.

[5]忍秘伝 was written in 1652-1727, presumably by Hattori Hanzo in 1560, originally.

[6] That is, to be in the state of absolute detachment from the self, as if to kill his own heart. See Shouninki, 39.

[7] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 27.

[8] Ibid., 29.

[9] Shouninki, 35.

[10] Ibid., 39.

[11] See Wing-Tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 246. “the yin ang theory has also put Chinese ethical and social teachings on a cosmological basis. It has helped to develop the view that things are related and that reality is a process of constant transformation.

[12] Ibid., 40.

[13] Ibid., 123.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 183-184.

[16] Satori (悟り), or enlightenment.

[17] Shouninki, 188-189.

[18] Also known as ‘Five Movements’ or ‘Five Actualities’.

[19] Wing-Tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 244.

[20] Giovanni Maciocia, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists, 1.

[21] Ibid., 18-20.

[22] The sample list of correspondences of the Five Agents can be found in the handout. (from p.21)

[23] Ibid., 7.

[24] Makoto Takemitsu, The Wisdom of Onmyo-do Every Japanese Should Know, 126-127. The festivity is called Setsubun for those who wish to further research on this topic.

[25] Andrew Edmund Goble, Confluences of Medicine in Medieval Japan, 51. Kajiwara Shozen (1265-1337)

[26] Referenced in Shouninki, 52.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Yamakita, All Things about Ninja, 183.

[29] Maciocia, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, 59.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Goble, Confluences of Medicine, 63.

[32] Ibid., 62

[33] Ibid.

[34] See Gokuhi-den in Shouninki, 189.

[35] Shouninki,129.

[36] Ibid.

[37] This view is also contested by the other scholars working on Ninja, such as Yamakita Atsushi. See his All Things About Ninja.

[38] Shouninki, 97.

[39] Ibid., 96-97. See also Masayuki Yamaguchi, Shinobi and Ninjutsu, 155.

[40] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 183. However, I have yet to locate where he is getting this information, as Gyokuro was first used in 1835, a long after Ninja had dwindled.

[41] Ibid., 184.

[42] Ibid., 183.

[43] Ibid., 154.

[44] Ibid., 202-203. In Bansenshukai, it is stated that “6 when it’s round, 5 or 8 when it’s egg-shaped, 4 or 7 when it’s a seed of persimmon and 9 when it’s a needle.” Yamaguchi Masayuki thinks it is a mis-scribe and offers the above mentioned interpretation.

[45] Shouninki, 90-92. Here, I quoted the article almost in full.

[46] Shouninki, 92-93.

[47] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 207-208.

[48] Ibid., 215-216.

[49] Ibid., 217.

[50] Ibid., 214.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Literally, ‘water-spider’.

[53] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 177.

[54] It was most likely taken from a Chinese book on warfare that I have not yet been able to locate.

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