Shusaku Endo’s Deep River appears in the Season 6 Episode of Lost, “Sundown.” Now that Lost is winding down, I can look at all the books that have appeared on the show and find myself amazed by how many great reads the show has given me since I decided to read all the books that have appeared. How much I’ve discovered. Deep River is another of the great ones.
Deep River is about a group of Japanese tourists on a pilgrimage of sorts to visit some of the Buddhist shrines in India, but most of the characters aren’t going because they’re Buddhist; they’re going to free themselves from their pasts and, like the Hindu pilgrims all around them, their paths lead them toward Vārānasī and the River Ganges.
There is Isobe whose wife has just died from cancer, but in her final moments told him she would be reborn; Numanda who wants to repay a debt owed to a bird whom he believes saved his life; Kiguchi, tormented by memories of his service in World War II; and Mitsuko, a loveless cynic who struggles to understand Ōtsu, the longtime target of her cruelty and derision who is also a troubled and heretical Catholic priest.
Life has not gone according to plan for any of these people, but in India, they are able to find not what they are looking for, but for most of them, perhaps, something deeper. Kind of like a group of flawed people who crash land on an island and find purpose and meaning in their lives.
As I read Deep River, I kept seeing parallels to Lost. Both works exist in a world between Christianity and Buddhism, and like Endo himself, who was a Christian but struggled to make that Christianity work in his Japanese mind, Lost has always hovered between these similar, yet divergent belief systems. In the end what moves Deep River is its recognition of a deeper spirituality that transcends the human construct of religion and points toward a pantheistic Christianity. As Ōtsu explains:
I can’t help but be struck by the clarity and the logic of the way Europeans think, but it seems to me as an Asian that there’s something they have lost sight of with their excessive clarity and their overabundance of logic, and I just can’t go along with it.
Sounds like Jack, Lost’s “man of reason.” Ever since Season 1, the Jack vs. Locke conflict has been built around Jack’s reason and Locke’s faith. For each man, his rigid ways have proved his undoing. Locke’s absolute faith led to his manipulation and death. Jack’s unyielding reason destroyed his life. The thing both men lacked was the balance between the rational and the mystical that Ōtsu seeks.
As for Lost, reading Deep River has convinced me that defeating the so-called evil anti-Jacob / Locke / smoke monster is not the point. As Ōtsu says:
God makes use not only of our good acts, but even of our sins in order to save us.
I was scolded for this notion at the novitiate; they told me it was dangerously Jansenistic or Manichaeistic (‘heretical,’ in short). I was told that good and evil are distinct and mutually incompatible.
Deep River asks us to consider the issue of good and evil from Ōtsu’s perspective, and I think it tells of an endgame. The “evil” being inhabiting Locke’s body is a manifestation of something greater, and its destruction is not going to be the endpoint of Lost. It will need to be balanced not defeated. The question, then, is who is going to spend eternity on the island as a counterweight to the anti-Jacob? I’m guessing it’s going to have to be Jack and wouldn’t be surprised if he and Locke spend all eternity on the island arguing the relative strengths of faith and reason.
The index of all of my Lost book club posts is here.
Next up: The Chosen by Chaim Potok