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sage lived as units of their families, thoughtless
of a hereafter, and persuaded that the recompense
of their acts would be found, if not in their own
fortunes, then in those of their descendants.

It is thus easy to see how greatly Confucian-
ism differed from Shinto, while, at the same time,
both had much in common. The similarities and
dissimilarities of the two systems are here alluded
to, not simply for the sake of establishing the in-
dependence of Shinto, but also, and mainly, be-
cause from the time of Japan's first acquaintance
with Chinese literature, Confucianism won for
itself a firm place in the minds of her educated



classes. It came to her strengthened and supple-
mented by the genius of Mencius, and in some
respects it supplied an evident want. Shinto, pro-
viding no moral code and relying solely on the
promptings of conscience for ethical guidance,
was too much of an abstraction to satisfy the or-
dinary mind. Confucianism, as elaborated by
Mencius, offered a system of morals avowedly
based on inductive sanctions yet evidently en-
dorsed by the lessons of experience. To a pro-
found belief in the innate goodness of human
nature, it added plain expositions of the four fun-
damental virtues, benevolence, righteousness,
propriety, and wisdom. It taught that the first
aim of administration should be the material good
of the people ; the second, their education. It in-
dicated divine ordination in human affairs, and
defined death in the discharge of duty as compli-
ance with that ordination, a disgraceful death as a
departure from it ; which canon secured implicit
obedience from the Japanese in every age. It
bade men regard suffering and misfortune as
Heaven's instruments for stimulating the mind,
bracing the heart, and compensating defects, a
precept to which the Japanese owed much of
their stoicism in adversity and their cheerfulness
in poverty. It defined society as a compound of
five relationships, sovereign and subject, hus-
band and wife, father and son, elder brother and
younger brother, friend and friend, the first four
linked together by the principle of righteous and



benevolent rule on the one side, and righteous
and sincere submission on the other ; the last, by
the mutual desire of promoting virtue. Side by
side with these and other equally noble bases of
ethics, it laid down an axiom which never ob-
tained open endorsement in Japan, but which any
reader following the historical retrospect contained
in previous chapters must have again and again
detected underlying the conduct of prominent
actors upon the political stage. Confucius and
Mencius alike held that the Throne is an insti-
tution of heaven, but what the former's teach-
ing only implied, the latter's boldly formulated,
namely, that the claim of " divine right " ceases
to be valid unless it inures to the people's good.
The people were the most important element in
the Chinese Sage's conception of a nation. If the
sovereign's rule were injurious to them, he must
be dethroned. No Japanese in any epoch would
have subscribed such a doctrine in its naked out-
lines. Yet in practice it received constant, though
limited obedience, and the methods of obedience
show striking conformity with the sequence of
Mencius' prescriptions. For that philosopher laid
down that the task of removing an unworthy ruler
should be undertaken, first, by a member of the
ruler's family ; secondly, by a high minister, act-
ing purely with a view to the public weal ; and
thirdly, failing either of these, by some subordi-
nate " instrument of heaven." Mencius did not
inculcate sedition, regicide, or open violence ; the



standard to be raised was not of rebellion, but of
righteousness. In turning over the pages of
Japan's annals, it is repeatedly seen that, while the
" divine right " was uniformly recognised in
theory, prince after prince, minister after minis-
ter, subordinate after subordinate, did not scruple to
contrive the compulsory retirement of sovereign,
Shogun, or feudal chief, easily persuading himself,
or being honestly forced by circumstances to
believe, that his own elevation to the place of
the deposed ruler would make for the good of
the people. Shinto educated no such tendency.
Buddhism did not educate it. Whence, then, its
origin but in Chinese philosophy ? l It has be-
come crystallised in the ethics of the nation.
Scarcely a Japanese, however lowly his origin or
humble his station, lacks the conviction that he
carries a natural mandate to redress wrong in a
superior, and that the method of redress depends
upon his own choice, provided that his failure in
" submission " be compensated by strength of
" sincerity," the coordinates of loyal obedience.
Practical illustrations of this characteristic are to
to be found in the field of modern Japanese poli-
tics, as of ancient.

It is seen that Japan received from China a
philosophy only. Her religion was her own, in
so far as concerned a future state, the immortality
of the soul, the cosmogony and the providence
of the gods.

1 See Appendix, note 37.



If the reader asks why to Chinese philosophy
imported into Japan results are here attributed
that did not attend its propagandism in the land
of its origin, the only answer is that the same seed
may produce dissimilar fruit in different soils.

That a connection existed between the relig-
ious creed of the nation and the castes into which
society was divided, is apparent from the nomen-
clature of these castes, namely, the Sbimbetm, or
" divine tribe/* to which the sovereign and
princes of the blood belonged, in other words,
the tribe including all direct descendants of the
deities ; the Kwobetsu, or " imperial tribe," com-
posed of all remote descendants from the heavenly
stock ; and the Bambetm, or " foreign tribe," con-
sisting of the foreign elements of the population.
The difference indicated by these terms is not
clearly explicable. Japanese commentators are
disposed to interpret Eambetsu in its literal sense,
that is to say, as indicating, first, such of the
aboriginal inhabitants as fell under the sway of the
invaders, and secondly, aliens who, having either
attached themselves to the Japanese proper during
the latter's passage across the Asiatic continent to
the Far-Eastern isles, or immigrated thither after-
wards from Korea and China, were finally nat-
uralised in Japan. There is also a plausible theory
that inasmuch as the last and ultimately domi-
nant body of Japanese immigrants found a part
of the islands already under the sway of men
who were not of the aboriginal race and whose



fighting qualities commanded respect, the principal
figures among these prior immigrants were ad-
mitted to the ranks of the Kwobetsu, while their
lower orders were classed as Bambetsu. There
appears to be little hope that these questions will
be fully elucidated. As to the main lines of
division, however, no doubt exists. The chiefs
of the two great tribes, the Shimbetsu and the
Kwobetsu, were priests as well as rulers. At the
head of all stood the Mikado, the Suberagi of
ancient nomenclature, who, originally within
the precincts of the Palace only and afterwards
by occasional visits to the principal shrine, per-
formed religious rites on behalf of the nation's
welfare. Immediately following him in order
of dignity came the great families of Nakatomi,
Mononobe, and Imbe representing the Kwobetsu.
The heads of these houses possessed the right of
disposing of the lives and properties of members,
and the same right devolved upon the heads of
the various branches into which the original
households became divided as time elapsed. The
Nakatomi traced their lineage to one of the
principal councillors attached to the grandchild
of the Sun Goddess when he descended to assume
the rule of Japan ; the Imbe to the deity that
held the mirror and the go-hei before the cave on
the immemorial occasion of the Sun Goddess'
self-effacement ; the Mononobe, to Susa-no-o
himself. Into whatever cloud-land of myth and
marvel the line of these patriarchal families



ascends, their title to divine origin has received
the assent of all generations of Japanese, and the
links that connect their pedigrees with the pres-
ent prosaic era become visible in the facts that a
branch of the Nakatomi changed their name to
Fujiwara, 1 in the seventh century, an epoch at
which administrative functions began to interest
them more than sacerdotal ; that they were sub-
sequently separated into the Five Governing
Families (Go-Sekke) ; that up to the centralisation
of the administration in 1868, the nominal prime-
minister of every sovereign after he came of age,
and the regent during his minority, belonged to
the Fujiwara ; that the Mononobe family has
eight representatives among the present nobility,
one of them being the celebrated Count Katsu,
who played such a conspicuous part in the Res-
toration of 1867; and that no hereditary Shinto
official (Kannushi} of this Meijl era entertains or
admits any doubt of his ancestors' consanguinity
with some deity, great or small. 2 Of such mate-
rials is the Japanese nobility of to-day composed,
for from some Kwobetsu or Shimbetsu family all
the holders of hereditary titles in modern times
can trace their descent.

At the other end of the scale stood the Bam-
betsu, including the commoner (heimin) and the
serf (semmiri), who were immeasurably removed
from the patrician and excluded from association
with him in this life or beyond the grave. Shinto,

1 See Appendix, note 38. 2 See Appendix, note 39.



indeed, was essentially the creed of the upper
classes. They alone enjoyed the guardianship
of the celestial and terrestrial divinities from
whom they claimed descent and to whose ranks
they would be admitted after death, and they
obeyed the inductive system of Shinto morality
which, though lacking codified tenets, certainly
tended in many cases to produce a high type of
character and to nurture a happy faith in the pos-
sibilities of a future state. But the beimin and
the semmin, the commoners and the serfs, what
religion did they embrace ? Some of them,
especially the farmers and artisans, might consider
that they belonged remotely to the congregation
of Shinto worshippers ; but others were effectually
excluded, since they lacked the essential qualifi-
cation of consanguinity with the deities. Look-
ing at the sharp lines of caste cleavage that divided
both heimin and semmin from the patrician class,
it seems evident that all these commoners and
serfs stood originally outside the pale of the patri-
cian creed. At any rate, if the place of the com-
moner in the hierarchy of the hereafter is to
be regulated by his station in the society of the
present, the life beyond the grave cannot have
presented to him a very smiling aspect.

To a nation thus constituted Buddhism came
in the second half of the sixth century. Bud-
dhism has no element of exclusiveness. It re-
sembles that house of many mansions on which
the hopes of the numerous multiple-minded sec-



tions of Christian humanity are fixed with equal
assurance that each has found the truth. In its
library of over two thousand sutras, one of
which, translated into Chinese, is twenty-five
times as large as the whole Christian Bible, every
searcher after the great verity may find materials
to construct a creed according to the pattern of his
own intellectual and emotional nature, and none
can confidently assert that upon him alone the
light of inspiration has shone, for none dare pre-
tend to imagine that his researches have been
exhaustive. It is here that an explanation may
be found of the tranquil tolerance amid which
the various sects of Buddhism have been evolved.
It is here, too, that the faith attracts special in-
terest, for, by inviting eclecticism, it becomes a
mirror of its interpreter's mind. In each vessel
of water drawn from the well where Buddhist
truth lies so profoundly buried, a reflection may
be seen of the drawer's moral features, and it
follows that were it possible to trace accurately
the developments received by Buddhism and
the changes it has undergone during the twelve
hundred years of its active existence in Japan,
the student would find himself looking very
closely at the genius of the Japanese people and
at the guiding spirit of their civilisation.


Chapter V


WESTERN students of Buddhism are
wont to say that the religion has for
its basis the unreality of everything,
and for its goal, non-existence ; that
it regards man's life on earth as a link in a
continuous chain of probations, to the length of
which every sin adds something, so that salvation
may not be reached until three immeasurable
aeons have lapsed.

Such is not the Buddhism of Japan. The
creed, as first preached to the Japanese, was very
simple. It prescribed five negative precepts and
ten positive virtues, 1 of which it is enough to say
that, were they practised to the letter, a high
standard of morality would have been reached.
These injunctions the disciple was asked to accept
with unreasoning assurance. Shinto furnished no
code nor formulated any commandment. Bud-
dhism pursued precisely the opposite plan. It
issued a guiding canon of the utmost precision,
but it refrained from any exposition of motives.
Its method tallied exactly with that prescribed

1 See Appendix, note 40.

I 4 2


by teachers of the ideographic script which had
then become the vehicle for transmitting all
learning to Japan. Just as the student of the
foreign symbols began by mastering their sounds
and shapes and was afterwards inducted into their
meanings, so an inquirer at the portals of Bud-
dhism was first shown the letter of the law, and
when he had learned how to obey, received an
explanation of the principles underlying it. In
the opening stage of discipline, his own salvation
constituted his sole motive of conduct ; in the
subsequent stage of enlightenment, 1 he developed
an ardent desire to save others also. But in both
stages alike salvation was separated from him by
an interval which his individual exertions could
not bridge. Is it not easy to conceive that the
great majority of the new creed's disciples never
passed beyond the first stage ; and is it not easy
also to see that to the plebeian and proletariat
classes, banished beyond the range of Shinto in-
stincts and the pale of its privileges, this arith-
metically precise and comfortably explicit doctrine
of the Buddha offered a welcome moral refuge ?

But the difference between the ardent practical-
ity of the Japanese mind and the dreamy patience
of Oriental dispositions in general, quickly affected
the reception accorded to the new creed. In its
moral precepts there was nothing that could be
called a revelation to the members of the patri-
cian caste, nor did its immeasurably deferred hope

1 See Appendix, note 41.



compare attractively with their own prospect of
certain admission after death to the ranks of the
deities. Even the plebeian wanted something
more tangible than a heaven from which he was
separated by an eternity of effort. Thus Bud-
dhism received its first Japanese modification. A
sect arose, 1 preaching that beatitude meant knowl-
edge of the " Lotus Law ; " that the attain-
ment of that knowledge ensured immediate entry
into Buddhahood, and that the ancient deities
whom Japan worshipped were but manifestations
of the Buddha. Such adaptations quickly won
for Buddhism a strong title to popular regard.
It ceased to be an alien creed and became a liberal
expansion of the indigenous faith. 2 It secured to
the patrician his old privileges while extending
them to the plebeian.

But there remained in this new conception two
deterrent elements. To reach the knowledge
which opened the gate to salvation, it was essen-
tial that the disciple should free himself from
worldly concerns and influences, should stand
aloof from work-a-day existence, should banish
all sense of the beautiful, and should become
absorbed in meditating on absolute truth. 3 Such
a programme repelled the average Japanese. He
found it admirable to worship the Buddha of
" infinite light and life," and comfortable to
think that the state of blessedness might be at-

1 See Appendix, note 42. 2 See Appendix, note 43.

3 See Appendix, note 44.




tained by the work of a single life-span. He
readily adjusted his feet to the first three steps of
progress, obedience to the precepts of morality,
regulation of food and clothing, and the choice
of a suitable house, but when he came to the
fourth, when he had to accept the necessity of
turning his back on the busy world and harmo-
nising his faculties to a meditative career, the
demand overtaxed his dolicity. Besides, the
" Lotus Law " dealt in mysteries beyond compre-
hension. Its teachings lapsed into a vagueness,
its doctrines extended to a comprehensiveness,
that bewildered common intelligence. Soon a
new system was elaborated. The omnipresent
spirit of truth became the centre of the " dia-
mond world " of noumena and the source of
organic life in the world of phenomena. To
reach to the realisation of the truth two ladders
were revealed, an intellectual and a moral, two
canons, each of ten precepts, easy to compre-
hend and not deterrently difficult to practise. At
the head of all virtues stood a charity to which
the Christian apostle's celebrated definition might
aptly have been applied. The scope of this pre-
eminent virtue was described with minutely
practical accuracy. It included the digging of
wells, the building of bridges, the making of
roads, the maintenance of one's parents, the sup-
port of the church, the nursing of the sick, the
succouring of the poor, and the duty of recom-
mending these same acts to others. There were

VOL. V. 10 i A r


further noble precepts, and there was also an
elaborate system of daily worship and prayer.
All idea of abstention from the affairs of every-
day life disappeared, and the hereafter became,
not a state of absolute non-existence (nirvana),
but the " infinite perception of a beatific vision ; "
a condition in which each of the saved formed
one of a band of great intercessors, pleading
continually for their ignorant and struggling
brethren upon earth that they might attain to
the same heights of perfect enlightenment and
bliss. 1

This is the Shingon Sect, the sect of the " True
Word," the sect of the Logos, founded in 816
A.D. by one of the greatest of Japanese religious
teachers, Kobo Daishi. So far as it has been
here set down, its outlines might easily be adapted
to a partial picture of Christianity. There is a
great presiding spirit ; there is an ethical system
that the followers of the Nazarene might endorse ;
there is a band of interceding saints in heaven ;
there is an eternity of happiness ; there is an
everlasting law of retribution, every infraction
of the moral code entailing a commensurate
penalty ; there are incarnations of the supreme
being not one incarnation, indeed, but several
whose mission is to lead men to the knowl-
edge of the truth. But if such affinities with
Christianity exist, so also do differences. There
is a belief in previous existences and in their

1 See Appendix, note 45.



unknown sins, by which the devotee is kept en-
tangled in the cycle of life and death ; there is
prayer to the gods of the country, the Shinto
deities ; and there is worship of ancestors, in a
modified form indeed, but still worship.

With this development of Buddhism the Jap-
anese may be said to have remained content for
three hundred and sixty years. Then, in the
presence of perpetual wars, spoliations, and mis-
eries, the creed took another shape, a shape that
reflected the conditions of the time. Salvation
by faith was preached. The world had fallen
upon such evil days that a cry of despair went up
to Amida, the Buddha of endless life and light.
Men were taught that works could not avail, and
that in blind trust, aided by the repetition of
ceaseless formulae, lay the only hope of salvation.
Such was the doctrine of the Sect of the Pure
Land (^fodo\ founded by Honen Shonin ( 1 1 74
A.D.). It attracted numerous disciples. The
comforting tenet that by simple trust in Amida
during life admittance to his paradise might be
secured after death perfectly suited the dejected
mood of the age, and would, indeed, suit the
mood of men in all ages antecedent to the
millennium. 1

Fifty years later, another sect was born, a child
of the " Pure Land," namely, the Spirit Sect. 2
The latter did not supplant the former, but rather
supplemented it. In this new system love was

1 See Appendix, note 46. a See Appendix, note 47.



added to trust. Grateful remembrance of the
mercies of Amida, and faith in his willingness
and power to save, now sufficed to secure salvation
and to keep the devotee's feet in the true path.
There were other differences also. The disciple
learned, not that Amida waited until the hour of
a man's death to conduct him to paradise, but
that the coming of the saviour was present and
immediate ; that he took up his abode at once,
even during life, in the heart of the saved. The
doctrine, essential to all forms of Buddhism, re-
mained, the doctrine that misfortune in this
world has its root in some evil wrought in a
previous state of existence, but it received the
adjunct that neither Amida nor any other Buddha
might be invoked to interrupt the natural se-
quence of cause and effect, and, as a logical cor-
ollary, amulets, spells, and all such aids were
interdicted. The devotee was no longer invited
to become a priest, to abandon his home and
embrace celibacy. All in every rank and of
every calling were entitled to entertain an equal
hope of salvation. The priests themselves ceased
to observe some of the vetoes that chiefly distin-
guished them from laymen. They married, ate
meat, and, if desirable, replaced the stole by the
surcoat. They learned in the domestic circle
those sympathies and appreciations that a celibate
can never develop.

This " Spirit Sect " is the largest in Japan.
With its parent, the " Pure Land Sect," it pos-



sesses more than one-half of all the temples in
the country. 1 It is full of vitality. Its doctrines
as to the origin of the world, the sphere of provi-
dential functions, original sin, the efficacy of
prayer, the immortality of the soul, and the resur-
rection of the body, do not so greatly shock
ordinary intelligence, or make such large demands
on unreasoning credulity, as do the corresponding
tenets preached from Western pulpits. 2

Among the last sects calling for notice here is
one that has attracted considerable observation
among Occidental students of Japanese Buddhism.
It is the sect of the " Flower of the Law "
(Hokke-shti), founded (1253 A - D ) by Nichiren
(the Lotus of Light), one of the noblest and
most picturesque figures among Japanese " saints."
The essential difference between the creed of
Nichiren and the creeds of all his predecessors is
that he preached a god, the prime and only great
cause. They showed to their disciples a chain
of cause and effect, but had nothing to say about
its origin; he taught that the first link in the
chain was the Buddha of original enlightenment,
of whom all subsequent Buddhas, Sakyamuni and
the rest, were only transient reflections. Nichiren
thus reached the Christian conception of a god
in whom everything lives, moves, and has its
being ; an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnis-
cient deity. All phenomena, mental and material,
in all time and space, were declared by him to

1 See Appendix, note 48. 2 See Appendix, note 49.

I 49


have only subjective existence in the conscious-
ness of the individual. The differences and dis-
tinctions observed by the ordinary man were
imaginary and misleading ; had no foundation
in fact. In the eyes of the Buddha there was
identity where the vulgar saw variety. To know
the underlying sameness of all things ; to under-
stand the oneness of the perceiver and the per-
ceived, that was true wisdom. It followed
that this world, so full of evils to mortal vision,
did not differ from paradise in the Buddha's
sight. To the enlightened all worlds were equally

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 5) → online text (page 9 of 16)