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beautiful. " Hence, to proclaim the identity of
this evil or phenomenal world with the glorious
underlying reality, or noumenon ; to point out
the way to Buddhahood ; to open the path of
salvation ; above all, to convince the people that
one and all of them might become Buddhas,
here and now, that was the mission of the
sect of Nichiren." 1

The tenets of the sects thus far described may
be said to represent the forms in which Bud-
dhism appealed to the masses. Such doctrines
did not find much vogue among the military
class. The favourite creed of the latter was em-
bodied in the dogmas of the Zen Sect, which,
whether as a curious coincidence or as an out-
come of the tendency of the time, had its origin
in the thirteenth century and was therefore co-
eval with the establishment of military feudalism.

1 See Appendix, note 50.



Having been instructed in the general problems
of life and of salvation, and enlightened about the
doctrine of Karma, the Zen disciple was taught
the duty of confession, because when a man ac-
knowledges his sins he may be said to have put
them away from him. Then followed the pro-
cess of contemplation (zazeti), which was the chief
characteristic of the sect. Its successful practice
demanded a mood like that of the ascetic, who
by sheer force of will subjects all his passions and
emotions to the unique purpose of entering into
the perfection of religious faith. Partly because
such mental training helped to educate inflexibil-
ity of resolution, essential to a soldier, and partly
because, by carrying the disciple entirely beyond
himself and his surroundings, it rendered him in-
different to death or danger, the Zen Sect won
many followers among the Samurai. This sub-
ject, having already been explained in connection
with the Bus hi do, need not be elaborated here,
for the interest of the Zen Sect centres on the
part it took in developing the Japanese military

Thus the colours that Buddhism took in its

transmission through the Japanese mind were all
bright hues. Death ceased to be a passage to
mere non-existence and became the entrance to
actual beatitude. The ascetic selfishness of the
contemplative disciple was exchanged for a career
of active charity. The endless chain of cause and
effect was shortened to a single link. The con-


ception of one supreme, all-merciful being forced
itself into prominence. The gulf of social and
political distinctions that yawned so widely be-
tween the patrician and the plebeian, and all the
other unsightlinesses of the world, became subjec-
tive eidola destined to disappear at the first touch
of moral light. The Buddha and the people
were identified.

Religion does not overshadow the daily life of
the Japanese. The gloomy fanatic is unknown.
Confession of sins, repentance in sackcloth and
ashes, solemn and protracted acts of worship, the
terrors of an eternity of torture, these things
enter scarcely at all into the layman's existence.
The temple presents itself to him as a place where
the mortuary tablets of his ancestors are guarded ;
a place to be visited for the burning of incense
at tombs and their adornment with flowers on
anniversaries of the deaths of near relatives ; a
place for the occasional deposit of small coins
in an alms-chest; a place for offering up brief
prayer when every- day affairs seem in need of
the Buddha's divine influence; a place where the
ashes of the worshipper himself will in the end
be laid to rest, and whither his own friends and
relatives will come to honour his memory when
he too shall have received from the priests one of
those beautiful and benevolent posthumous titles
which they know so well how to choose. It is all
essentially practical and easy-going. If a man needs
moral guidance, he goes to the temple and listens to



a sermon. On set days, sometimes every day, one
of the priests preaches. He kneels before a small
lectern on a dais raised a little above the wide
area of the matted nave, and talks to the people
sitting around him on the floor. His sermon is
generally of the simplest. It deals with the af-
fairs of common life ; with the small cares of
Osandon, the maid of all work ; with the troubles
of Detchi, the shop-boy ; with the woes of O-yuki,
the danseuse, and with the perplexities of Taro-
bei, the rustic. Great ceremonies of worship may
also be attended, but with these the ordinary in-
dividual has no intellectual sympathy. They are
to him merely spectacular effects ; solemn, splen-
did, and impressive, but incomprehensible. If
the devout watches them with awed mien, the
little belles of the parish are guilty of no irrev-
erence when they patter up the steps leading
to the lofty hall of worship, peep in smilingly at
the tonsured chaunters of litanies and reciters of
sutras, -and patter away again with just such faces
of sunny unconcern as they might wear on their
way home from a dancing-lesson. Buddhism, Jap-
anese Buddhism, can never produce a Puritan or a
Covenanter. It weaves no threads of solemnity or
sanctimoniousness into the pattern of every-day
life. Its worlds of hungry demons and infernal
beings are too unsubstantial, too remote, to throw
any lurid glare over the present. The festival,
indeed, may be called the popular form of worship
in Japan such a festival as can be seen at the



Ikegami temple, 1 on the anniversary of Nichiren,
whose doctrine of the Flower of the Law has been
outlined above. It is a species of gala for the huge
multitude numbering some two hundred thou-
sand that throng thither during the two days
of the fete. If the tiny band of devout folks
that listen to the sermon be compared with the
gay crowds that roam about the beautiful woods,
enjoy the enchanting landscapes and seascapes
presenting themselves on every side, and frequent
the various entertainments provided for their di-
version by itinerant showmen, the ratio of holi-
ness to holiday becomes very suggestive. It may
be difficult for the reader to imagine the precincts
of a Christian cathedral on a saint's day occupied
by acrobats, jugglers, travelling menageries, per-
forming dogs, and such frivolities, while the busi-
ness of prayer and preaching proceeds vigorously
within the walls of the building. Yet such a
conception of the Japanese scene is only partial :
it must be supplemented by another strange feat-
ure, namely, that the temple-building stands open
throughout the whole of one side, so that the
people who happen to be praying within are
virtually a part of the audience enjoying the
penny-shows without. Here, as everywhere in
Japan, the practical sincerity of the national
character shows itself. Even at a religious festi-
val, no effort to dissimulate the traits of which
humanity can never divest itself is encouraged

1 See Appendix, note 51.



or expected. The great majority of the people
come for the sake of the outing as much as to
pay respect to the memory of the saint. Let
them, then, enjoy themselves. Religion does not
prescribe austerity of manners or asceticism of life.
The Buddhas are not shocked because a monkey
turns summersaults under the eaves of their sanc-
tuaries, or a rope-dancer balances in the shadow
of their shrines. In this very rope-dancer, too,
the observer may see another instance of the spirit
of sincerity that presides at the festival. In
Europe a female gymnast dresses in flesh-coloured
tights and seeks to place her womanhood in sug-
gestive evidence. The Japanese girl at the Ike-
gami fete has no such fancy. Her business is
rope-dancing, not meretricious posing. The lat-
ter may be very well in its way, but has nothing
to do with the poising of one's body on some
strands of plaited hemp. Therefore the Ikegami
girl, who undertakes to exhibit skill in the science
of equilibrium, wears garments which, while they
are excellently suited to the purposes of her per-
formance, are even better qualified to divert at-
tention from the sex of the performer. There,
too, in another part of the spacious grounds, a
party of priests may be seen watching the ma-
noeuvres of some highly trained birds. They are
jaunty, saucy little chaffinches as ever exhibited
themselves in public ; and to see them skip out
of their cages, bow to their trainer and to the
audience, ring bells, count coins, pound rice, and



do the woodpecker business against every con-
venient post, is to conceive a new respect for
bird intelligence. So the praying goes on, and
the rattling of cash against the bars of the money-
chest, and the burning of incense, and the chat-
tering of monkeys, and the shouting of show-
men, and the perpetual rippling of laughter and
the babble of cheery talk, as the great, good-
humoured multitude flows to and fro, not a bit
nearer to hell or farther from heaven because its
units have studied no hypocritical mien of sanc-
timoniousness, nor been trained to deceive their
deity by putting a veneer of puritanism over the
instincts which he has implanted in their breasts.
But, in such a crowd, what proportion does
the literate element bear to the illiterate, the
patrician to the plebeian ? And if the philos-
opher is there as well as the bumpkin, the savant
as well as the servant, how much of pastime is
the motive of each and how much of worship ?
That is a great question. It amounts to asking
what has been the influence of Buddhism upon
the educated classes in Japan. Undoubtedly that
influence was once very powerful. Undoubtedly
the religion possessed, at the time of its advent,
numerous features strongly attractive. It brought
in its company a noble literature, a literature
pregnant with philosophic thought presented to
the mind in attractive guise, a literature embody-
ing everything that was profound and beautiful
in Oriental speculation. It built for itself temples



the grandeur of whose architectural proportions
and the gorgeousness of whose decoration surpassed
Japanese conception. Its priests manifested a spirit
of activity, benevolence, and self-denial that could
not but impress a nation entirely strange to the
spectacle of religious zeal. It found a people
devoting themselves to the study of Chinese
literature with all the fervour that marks their
descendants' excursions into the domain of West-
ern learning, and it presented to them a library
of books within whose ideographic pages was
enshrined a mine of speculative thought, a mass
of obscure, intricate, subtle metaphysical sugges-
tions that derived a semblance of profundity
from their very strangeness, of magnificence from
the ignorance of their students. The minute
mechanism of the new system constituted an addi-
tional attraction. It carried men from the
simplest and vaguest of creeds to the most com-
plex and definite ; from a faith without ethical
code or canons of dogma to a faith extraordi-
narily rich in both. If there is, as we know
there is, a tendency in the human mind to pass
from one extreme to another, it is easy to under-
stand how gladly the feet of many turned from
wandering in the trackless deserts of Shinto to
march in the beaten paths and along the carefully
graded highways of Buddhism. Further, the
monasteries were the chief seats of learning.
Proficiency in Buddhism was synonymous with
proficiency in the Chinese language ; with posses-



sion of the key to all the stores of the Middle
Kingdom's learning. Yet, when we come to ask
whether from this array of secular and religious
arguments the conclusion may be derived that
the supernatural phases of Buddhism impressed
themselves upon the hearts of the educated classes,
the answer must be negative. It is hard, indeed,
to imagine a total lack of that kind of faith
among men who in mediaeval times contributed
vast sums to support or endow temples, made
them the depositories of their ancestral tablets,
and repaired thither at set seasons to hear orisons
chaunted, sutras read, and sermons preached. But
still more difficult is it to conceive that, had the
transcendental doctrines of Buddhism sunk deep
into the national mind, some evidence of the fact
would not have been furnished in the growth of
a philosophical literature, the product of lay pens.
There is practically no such literature. On the
contrary, there are plain indications that the
supernatural beliefs of Buddhist teachers gradually
became the object of open or covert ridicule among
the learned, and were ultimately relegated to much
the same place in the minds of educated men as
ghost stories occupy in European or American
thought to-day. In short, religion, as distin-
guished from morality, came to be quietly
ignored. Nothing survived beyond an instinctive
belief in the immortality of the soul, and a tradi-
tional faith in a future world peopled by the
shades of parents and relatives loved in life and



reverenced after death. Much of the vogue so
speedily attained and so steadily retained by Con-
fucianism is doubtless due to the subordinate place
assigned to supernatural religion in that system.
Confucianism, too, owing to the note of feudalism
that sounds through its philosophy, has been
found to be more or less out of harmony with
the spirit of Occidental civilisation, and is destined,
in its turn, to pass into the oblivion where so many
Oriental systems lie buried. But through four-
teen centuries it worked steadily and powerfully
to turn the mind of educated Japan from tran-
scendental subtleties and religious mysticism to
a conviction that the only true and rational creed
is one which subjects the human faculties to no
excessive strain, nor asks men to accept, on the
alleged authority of supernatural revelation, prop-
ositions lying wholly beyond the range of mortal
intelligence. Buddhism, in the comparatively
bright and comfortable garments with which
Japanese genius clothed it, is the faith of the
masses, but the scholar proposes to himself a
simpler creed, an essentially work-a-day system
of ethics. To be moral, honest, and upright ;
to be guided by reason and not by passion ; to be
faithful to friends and benefactors ; to abstain
from meanness and selfishness in all forms ; to be
prepared to sacrifice everything to country and
king, that is the ideal of the cultured mind,
and in the pursuit of it no priestly guidance is
considered necessary. If a Japanese be asked to



define the much-talked-of Tamato damashii, the
spirit of Yamato, he will do so in the words
set down here.

As to the masses, the farmer, the artisan, the
shopkeeper, and the proletariat, though it may be
said that Buddhism is their creed, it must also be
said that at sacred service as well as at festival
time they do not take their faith very seriously.
A visitor to a temple on the day of the sekkyo,
the day of the sermon, which has been duly
advertised on a species of sign-board at the en-
trance of the enclosure, cannot fail to note that
nine-tenths of the congregation are white-haired,
the remainder consisting of children with a sparse
admixture of adults. Hodge may be there,
driven by the dread that some unsettled account
stands between him and the heaven which ought
to have averted the typhoon from his rice-field or
the insect plague from his mulberry plantation ;
and little O-setsu may be there, who last even-
ing sat beside her brazier, her dimples banished
and her sweet head bowed as she mused over the
ingwa, the indissoluble chain of causation, that
had linked her to love troubles and a throbbing
heart. But these are the exceptions. Generally
the worshipper carries with him wrinkles and
snowy locks, and a hope that since the affairs of
the " fleeting world " have become to him as
" dust before the wind," he may by pious prac-
tices acquire a vested interest in the affairs of the
world to come. He can follow the sermon. It

1 60



is plain, simple, adapted to the lowest order of
intelligence, the even flow of its gentle precepts un-
impeded by any rocks of erudition nor deepening
to any profundities of transcendental philosophy.
The old folks listen with comfortable reverence,
and at each pause in the preacher's eloquence
eloquence sometimes of the highest order bow
their heads, roll their rosaries between their
palms, devoutly murmur Namu Horen-ge-Kyl), or
whatever formula the sect prescribes, and then
throw into the alms-chest an offering of cash.
The parabled mite of the widow was a farthing.
The cash of Japan is the fortieth part of a penny,
and a worshipper that launches four of these
lilliputian coins into the great chest has done
his duty nobly. No one talks of these copper
tokens as saisen. They are o-saisen. The hono-
rific prefix belongs to them just as fully as it does
to the lordly vases of silver and gold lotus that
flank the altar ; to the resplendent altar itself with
its broad face of rosy lacquer, its richly chased
and heavily gilded mountings, its furniture of
fine bronze and ancient celadon ; or to the magnifi-
cent shrine that glows with mellowed splendour
in the sacred obscurity of the chancel. But be-
yond the sermon, beyond the throwing of o-saisen,
and the rolling of beads, what does the worship-
per understand ? Nothing. The sutra is there ;
the lotus law, engrossed in exquisite ideographs
upon an illuminated scroll. But its texts are
unintelligible. To the average Japanese they



convey as little as a verse from the original Koran
would convey to a cowboy. They are part of
the magnificent unknown. The priest is the
repository of whatever blessed knowledge they
embody, the transmitter of their divine message
to mankind. And the priest himself understands
how to lend spectacular effect to that part of his
office. When he seats himself among his congre-
gation to preach, he wears the simplest of robes, a
white or sober-hued cassock and a black stole.
But when he opens the sutras or recites the
litany, his vestments are of brocade that would
serve worthily to drape a throne, and might well
betray the female units of his congregation into
the sin of " lust of the eye " were not the pre-
caution adopted of cutting the splendid fabric
into a multitude of fragments before fashioning
it into stole or cassock. Patchwork quilts are
not used in Japan, and a girdle chequered with
seams after the fashion of a chess-board would be
a shocking solecism. So the house-wife and the
belle are enabled to admire these grand brocades
without coveting them.

The religious service is strikingly different
from the sermon : the latter a practical, plainly
phrased adaptation of saving ethics to every-day
affairs ; the former, a mysterious, impressive, and
enigmatical display, as far removed from mun-
dane affinities as is the lotus throne itself. At
one of the great temples, in a hall of worship
fifty feet high, four times as many long and three



times as many broad, these services may be seen
by all comers. The huge hall is absolutely with-
out decoration, except in one spot where stand
the shrine and the altar, a mass of glowing gold
and rich colours, mellowed by wide spaces on either
side to which the daylight scarcely penetrates.
Within a circular enclosure at the outer end of
the nave sit a band of acolytes, chaunting to an
accompaniment of wooden timbrels. Their
voices are pitched in octaves, and the number of
chaunters is varied from time to time so as to
break the monotony of the cadence. When this
has continued for some moments, nine priests,
richly robed, emerge slowly and solemnly from
the back of the chancel, and kneel before an
equal number of lecterns ranged in line on the
left of the altar. Each priest carries a chaplet
of beads, and on each lectern is a missal. Then
the chaunt of the acolytes ceases, and the priest
in the middle of the line opens the sutra and
reads aloud. One by one his companions fol-
low his example, until the nine voices blend in a
monotone, which, in turn, is varied by the same
device as that previously adopted by the acolytes.
After an interval, another similar band pace
gravely down the chancel, and kneeling on the
right of the altar, opposite the first comers, add
their voices, in the same cumulative fashion, to
the varying volume of sound. Finally, the chief
priest himself emerges, attended by an acolyte,
and kneels, facing the altar, at a large lectern


placed between the two rows of sufra-readers.
He confines himself at first to burning incense,
and, as the fumes ascend denser and denser, the
intonation of the reading priests grows more and
more accelerated, until at last their words pour
forth with bewildering volubility. Then sud-
denly this peal of resonance dies away to a
scarcely audible murmur, and while its echoes
are still trembling in the air, they are joined by
the voice of the chief priest, which by degrees
absorbs them into its swelling note, and then
itself faints to a whisper, taken up in turn and
swelled to a rolling chaunt by the tones of the
sutra-readers. These alternations of intoning
constitute virtually the whole ceremony. It is
grave, awe-inspiring, and massive in its simplicity.
It captivates the senses by degrees, and lifts them
at last to an ecstasy where reason ceases to dis-
cern that the components of the grand ceremony
are nothing more than deftly interwoven frag-
ments of a chaunted litany, gorgeous vestments, a
heart of glowing gold and soft colours in a vast
sepulchre of shadow, and an edifice of noble pro-
portions. But that analytical consciousness cer-
tainly comes to the average layman sooner or
later. That he has reached it is plainly shown
by his mien. The sketchy act of worship that
he uses as a passport to such ceremonials bears
as little proportion to their magnificence as does
the fee paid at the door of a theatre to the
tumultuous moods of mirth or sadness produced



by the spectacle within. Nothing in which the
mechanical element predominates can be per-
manently interesting. The Buddhist services
appeal only to a narrow range of emotions and
leave the intellect untouched. The adult Jap-
anese takes little interest in them. To be a fre-
quent temple-goer out of season that is to say,
on occasions other than those dictated by rever-
ence to the memory of a deceased relative or
friend is to be regarded by one's neighbours as
uncanny, unpractical, and probably unfortunate.

The priest himself contributes little, either by
intellectual culture or a life of conspicuous zeal
and virtue, to raise his religion to a place in the
people's hearts. He used to be the nation's
schoolmaster as well as its scholar. The State
has stepped in and relieved him of the former
function ; the latter title he has long lost. The
example he sets is one of indolence. Now and
then, in the perfunctory routine of colourless
duty, he has to intone a litany that has been
ringing in his ears since childhood, and always
his figure looms on the horizon of the layman's
life when incense has to be burned and prayer
said for the soul of the departed. But, for the
rest, he is without occupation. He is not to be
found waiting with words of comfort at the bed-
side of the dying, or with hands of helpfulness
in the hovels of the poor. Once only, at the
great Bon festival, when the spirits of the dead
revisit the homes of the living, the priest finds


himself busied with ministrations. But it is an
interval of only four days, and the work is
lightened by its large reward, for during that
brief space the major part of the year's income
is collected.

The advent of Christianity has galvanised
Buddhism into new life. The Western mission-
ary came to uproot the lotus plant. His attack
has resulted in making the sap circulate once
more through its withered limbs. There is a
sort of Buddhist revival. Schools have been
established by each sect for the education of its
priests ; propagandists are sent out ; periodicals
are published. Buddhism is not dead. It is not
even moribund. In the spring of 1895 the
disciples of the Monto Sect assembled in Kyoto
to open a temple on the construction of which
eight million yen had been spent, and in the
transport of whose huge timbers cables made of
women's hair had been used. Hundreds of
thousands of believers had contributed money
and material for the building ; hundreds of
thousands of women and girls had shorn off their

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 5) → online text (page 10 of 16)