To transform the world

'Knowledge can never transform the world,' I blurted out, skirting along the very edge of confession. 'What transforms the world is action. There's nothing else.'


'There you go!' he said. 'Action, you say. But don't you see that the beauty of this world, which means so much to you, craves sleep and that in order to sleep it must be protected by knowledge? You remember that story of 'Nansen Kills a Kitten' which I told you about once. The cat in that story was incomparably beautiful. The reason that the priests from the two halls of the temple quarreled about the cat was that they both wanted to protect the kitten, to look after it, to let it sleep snugly, within their own particular cloaks of knowledge. Now Father Nansen was a man of action, so he went and killed the kitten with his sickle and had done with it. But when Choshu came along later, he removed his shoes and put them on his head.

What Choshu wanted to say was this. He was fully aware that beauty is a thing which must sleep and which, in sleeping, must be protected by knowledge. But there is no individual knowledge, a particular knowledge belonging to one special person or group. Knowledge is the sea of humanity, the field of humanity, the general condition of human existence. I think that is what he wanted to say.

Now you want to play the role of Choshu, don't you? Well, beauty -- beauty that you love so much -- is an illusion of the 'other way to bear life' which you mentioned. One could say in fact there is no such thing as beauty. What makes the illusion so strong, what imparts it with such a power of reality, is precisely knowledge. From the point of view of knowledge, beauty is never a consolation. It may be a woman, it may be one's wife, but it is never a consolation. Yet from the marriage between this beautiful thing which is never a consolation, on the one hand, and knowledge, on the other, something is born. It is as evanescent as a bubble and utterly hopeless. Yet something is born. That something is what people call art.'

-- From Yukio Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.