Ch'an Dao Links:
Kawaguchi Ekai (1866-1945) – Britain’s Spy in Tibet?
Translator’s Note. This is an English translation of the original Chinese text entitled ‘清末英军如何顺利入侵西藏？日本和尚供情报’ which can be literally translated as ‘How Did British Troops So Easily Invade Tibet during the Qing Dynasty? They Had a Japanese Buddhist Spy Working for Them’. Kawaguchi Ekai was a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk who followed the ‘Obaku’ or ‘Huang Po’ tradition, which is itself a relatively late arrival to Japan (c.1620 CE), and which has its historical roots in the Rinzai (Linji) School. Its first established temple was built in 1661 CE in Uji, Kyoto, and named the Obaku-San Manpuku-ji (黄檗山萬福寺 – Huang Po Shan Wan Fu Si), or ‘Huang Po Mountain Ten Thousand Blessings Temple’. This is named after the Ch’an Temple found on Mount Huang Po in Fujian province, China – the area where this type of Ch’an-Zen originated before being transmitted to Japan. Even today this type of Zen in Japan is still perceived as ‘Chinese’, and it is thought that if Kawaguchi was a Japanese intelligence agent whose cover involved pretending to be a Chinese Ch’an Buddhist monk visiting Tibet, then training in this Zen school in Japan may well have been a logical move. Whatever the case, Kawaguchi was well known in the West, having academically studied under Max Muller, and making friends with Annie Besant (of Theosophy fame). He also assisted the German-born Theravada monk Nyanatiloka in the 1920’s. In a strange twist, not long before his death in 1945, a story emerged that he refused to give the Japanese military police any intelligence information regarding Tibet.
More and more people are aware today of the historical fact that foreign colonialists once invaded Tibet, but what is less well known is that during the 19th and 20th centuries the Japanese Buddhist monk known as Kawaguchi Ekai (河口慧海 – He Kou Hui Hai) entered Tibet twice on spying missions designed to gather useful intelligence for foreign powers. Although some people try to defend the actions of Kawaguchi Ekai that provided the British with the information they desperately required for a successful military invasion of Tibet, stating that he was probably under the influence of the Panchen Lama (班禅大师 – Ban Chen Da Shi), nevertheless, the fact remains that this Japanese Buddhist monk did not wear a ‘halo’, and was definitely a spy for the West. This is a memory that cannot be erased through revisionism.
Do Not Vainly Search for Buddhist Sutras in China
Kawaguchi Ekai was originally known as ‘Sadajiro’ (定治郎 – Ding Zhi Lang) and was born in January 1866, in Sakai City, Osaka prefecture, Japan. His Buddhist ordination name was ‘Ocean of Wisdom’ (慧海 – Hui Hai) – or ‘Ekai’. His father was a craftsman who specialised in designing and constructing wooden barrels. When Kawaguchi was 12 years old, he left primary school and returned home to learn the family business. However, he was studious by nature, and so he would help his father during the day, whilst continuing to study during the night. When he was around 15 years old, Kawaguchi entered the Study Hall of the renowned Sinologist Hiroshi Tsuchiya (土屋弘 – Tu Wu Hong), where for nearly a decade he studied Chinese language and literature. This is where he gained his knowledge of the Confucian Four Books and Five Classics, as well as the Histories of the 24 Dynasties. As Kawaguchi lived during the period of the pro-Western ‘Meiji Restoration’ (明治维新 – Ming Zhi Wei Xin), he was able to learn English from an American Christian Missionary who was invited to the Hiroshi Tsuchiya Study Hall. It was the learning of English that provided Kawaguchi with the correct language background for his later recruitment for British intelligence work in India. It was through the use of English that he communicated with his ‘British spy-masters’ (恩师 – Si Shi).
After formally committing himself to pursuing the Buddhist monastic path, Kawaguchi carefully studied the Buddhist sutras. To further this study, he went to the Uji area of Kyoto, where he joined the Huang Po (黄檗) lineage of Zen, the ancestral temple of which is situated on Huang Po Mountain. This is where he steadfastly studied the Great Tripitaka (大藏经 – Da Zang Jing).
During the period where Kawaguchi was still learning about Buddhist philosophy, he received instruction from the old teacher known as Nanjo Bunyu (南条文雄 – Nan Tiao Wen Xiong). He had studied in the West (with such scholars as Max Muller), and because of this negative influence, had developed the incorrect idea that Tibetan Buddhist Sutras were nearer the original Sanskrit Buddhist texts in (grammar and semantics) meaning than their Chinese counter-parts. In this way Kawaguchi was indoctrinated to believe in the false assumption that Chinese Buddhism was corrupt whilst Tibetan Buddhism was good. However, at this point, Kawaguchi was of the opinion that as Buddhism originated in India, and given that Tibet, Nepal and China were nearer to India than Japan, perhaps Sanskrit Sutras could be found in these countries, despite the fact that other religious beliefs had entered into the area. Kawaguchi decided to travel to Tibet via China in search of Buddhist texts, where he would eventually enter Tibet without a problem because he was in disguise.
On June the 26th, 1897, Kawaguchi, after raising 500 Yen from his friends, planned to board the steamship ‘Izumi’ (和泉 – He Quan) at Kobe, and set sail on a his journey to Tibet. Just prior to this, however, Kawaguchi had heard that a monk had just returned from studying in South Asia in the Three Blessings Temple (三会寺 - San Hui Si) located in Yokohama. His name was ‘Venerable Flourishing Correctness’ (释兴然 – Shi Xing Ran) and Kawaguchi was happy to pay him a visit. Shi Xing Ran explained to Kawaguchi that he had studied in Sri Lanka, and that the Buddhism in that country was known as the Hinayana School, whilst the Buddhism in Japan was of the Mahayana School, which had spread from China. This clarified the differences between these two different schools. Shi Xing Ran made it clear that he thought that the Hinayana School was superior to the Mahayana School, and he advised Kawaguchi to switch sects. Kawaguchi declined this request and Shi Xing Ran became angry and told Kawaguchi to leave the Three Blessings Temple.
On the 25th of July, 1897, Kawaguchi arrived in Calcutta, via Hong Kong, Singapore and other places. During imperial times, Calcutta was the capital city of British India. During his time in Calcutta, Kawaguchi visited the British-Indian Great Bodhi Association (大菩提协会 – Da Pu Ti Xie Hui), and through this association, he was introduced to the British spy Sarath Chandra Das (萨拉特·钱德拉·达斯 – Sa La Te Qian De La Da Si) who then recruited Kawaguchi into the British intelligence service. Sarath Chandra Das informed Kawaguchi that Tibet had closed its borders to foreigners, and that it was dangerous to try and gain entry on fear of death. When he heard this, Kawaguchi suggested that it might be better to try and enter Tibet through Nepal, as Nepal was a well-known Buddhist country that also possessed Sanskrit texts. He explained this plan to Sarath Chandra Das, but made it clear publically that he would return to Japan (as a cover story). To this deceptive end, Kawaguchi bordered a train from Calcutta to Darjeeling – but then secretly retraced his steps and finally arrived in Nepal on the 25th of January, 1899. Whilst in Nepal, Kawaguchi met Lama Sherab Gyatso (喇嘛喜饶嘉措 – La Ma Xi Rao Jia Cuo) who was on a mission to Mongolia from Drepung Temple (哲蚌寺 – Zhe Bang Si) in Lhasa. Under Lama Sherab Gyatso’s guidance, Kawaguchi was taken to just 29km from the China-Nepal border, to the Mustang area of Nepal where he stayed in a village for 10 months studying Tibetan Buddhism, and awaiting for permission to enter Tibet. This permission was finally granted on the 10th of March, 1900. His cover story for this mission was that he was a Chinese Buddhist monk simply moving around within the Chinese geographical borders (which included Tibet). This deception worked as Kawaguchi was allowed to travel where he wanted without being challenged or questioned by the Tibetan authorities.
Meeting the Dalai Lama and the Revealing of his True Identity
On March 21st, 1901, Kawaguchi reached Lhasa two years and three months after leaving Darjeeling. Here, he entered the Sera Temple (色拉寺 - Se La Si). As he had the yellow complexion and black eyes of an Asian person, Kawaguchi obviously possessed better attributes than his Western intelligence colleagues, and as he was pretending to be ‘Chinese’, he was allowed to travel around Lhasa collecting information with impunity, in a place forbidden for foreigners to enter. He participated in debates with other Buddhist monks, asking ‘is the Buddha a human-being – yes or no?’, if some answered ‘yes’, then Kawaguchi would ask ‘then how can he avoid birth and death?’ If someone answered ‘no’ Kawaguchi would ask ‘But how can the Buddha not be human? If he is not human, how could he have existed if he was not born?’…
As a foreigner living in Tibet, Kawaguchi had to keep a low profile and not standout. For a number of months living in the Sera Temple in Lhasa, he did just that. However, Kawaguchi was a proficient healer who started treating everyone in Lhasa for free, which included many grateful poor people. The more people he treated, the more his reputation grew and the further his fame spread, and because of this, he was summoned to a meeting with the 13th Dalai Lama. The problem with this was that the 26 year old 13th Dalai Lama could speak fluent Chinese and Kawaguchi was pretending to be a Chinese Buddhist monk. Kawaguchi was not concerned about his knowledge of Buddhism, but was worried that his Chinese language skills were not good enough to conceal his real identity. As matters transpired, Kawaguchi met with the 13th Dalai Lama and he managed to retain his cover whilst showing the appropriate respect. After this, Kawaguchi made an intelligence report to his British spy-masters, passing on valuable information about Tibet.
At this time in Lhasa there were two Tibetans who knew of Kawaguchi’s true identity, one was a son of an aristocrat, whilst the other was a merchant named ‘Charong Ba’ (擦绒巴 - Ca Rong Ba). These two people had happened to have been in Darjeeling when Kawaguchi was there and knew he was Japanese. The aristocrat’s son mentioned that Kawaguchi was a Japanese spy to anyone who would listen, but most people just laughed it off and even thought the aristocrat’s son was delusional. However, Kawaguchi asked Charong Ba to help him send a letter to Darjeeling. This led to the older brother of the 13th Dalai Lama – the Leader of the Caravan – learning of Kawaguchi’s true identity and informing the 13th Dalai Lama. With this dangerous development, Kawaguchi knew that his time in Tibet was now over and he left during May, 1902.
Acting with considerable haste, Kawaguchi hired a Tibetan guide and loaded two horses with all the Buddhist Sutras he had gathered during his stay in Tibet. He made his way out of Tibet, carefully avoided all the Tibetan checkpoints until he finally arrived into the safety of British India. He entered Darjeeling on July 3, 1902, and found Chandra Das at ‘Lhasa House’ where he made his report. At the time, and many years after these events, it was well known that in Darjeeling and Tibet that Kawaguchi was a British spy trained by Chandra Das as a double agent. When he returned to Japan, his stories about his time in Tibet were published in newspapers in Osaka and Tokyo – running to around 155 instalments. These stories explained how Tibet functioned as a country and how its people thought and behaved. His adventures were very popular not only in Japan, but also throughout the Western world. However, Kawaguchi’s spying in Tibet did not end here, as on October the 11th, 1904, under the same guise of collecting Buddhist texts from Nepal and Tibet, Kawaguchi once again set sail for Tibet from Kobe in Japan.
Japan’s Intent to Divide Tibet
The real reasons behind Kawaguchi’s presence in Tibet have always been the subject of intense debate. The British academic Peter Hopkirk (彼得·霍普柯克 – Bi De Huo Pu Ke Ke) is of the opinion that Kawaguchi’s reason for being in Tibet was because the Japanese government saw that Britain, and Czarist Russia, were involved in a fierce competition over which foreign power would have influence over Tibet, with Russia sending many spies into Tibet over a number of decades. The 13th Dalai Lama and the upper class monks were viewed as particularly corrupt, and the Japanese government thought that it could gain influence by cultivating a pro-Japanese faction amongst the high lamas, whilst feeding the British government just enough information to keep Tibet in a state of division and imbalance, and not benefit the British to any great extent. In this regard Kawaguchi was a double-agent working for the Japanese government under the guise of a Japanese Zen monk impersonating a Chinese Ch’an monk, whilst simultaneously appearing to work for the British. On the other hand, there is also the theory that Kawaguchi had been ‘turned’ by Chandra Das and was really working for the British whilst only seeming to work for the Japanese. This is backed-up by evidence which shows that he often collected information about the Russian presence in Tibet which he immediately fed back to the British. Even the renowned Japanese scholar Kaneko Tamio (金子民雄 – Jin Zi Min Xiong) is of the opinion that Kawaguchi spied for the British and that it was intelligence given to Chandra Das by him that enabled the British Indian Army to successfully invade Tibet and capture Lhasa in 1904.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2015.