William Elliot Griffis.

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One set of politicians, led by Wang (1021-1086), urged an extension of
administrative functions, including agricultural loans, while the
brothers Cheng (1032-1085, 1033-1107) reaffirmed, with fresh
intellectual power, the old orthodoxy.

The school of writers and party agitators, led by Szma Kwaug
(1009-1086)[5] the historian, contended that the ancient principles of
the sages should be put in force. Others, the Populists of that age and
land, demanded the entire overthrow of existing institutions.

In the bitter contest which ensued, the Radicals and Reformers
temporarily won the day and held power. For a decade the experiment of
innovation was tried. Men turned things social and political upside down
to see how they looked in that position. So these stood or oscillated
for thirteen years, when the people demanded the old order again. The
Conservatives rose to power. There was no civil war, but the Radicals
were banished beyond the frontier, and the country returned to normal

This controversy raised a landmark in the intellectual history of
China.[6] The thoughts of men were turned toward deep and acute inquiry
into the nature and use of things in general. This thinking resulted in
a literature which to-day is the basis of the opinions of the educated
men in all Chinese Asia. Instead of a sapling we now have a mighty tree.
The chief of the Chinese writers, the Calvin of Asiatic orthodoxy, who
may be said to have wrought Confucianism into a developed philosophy,
and who may be called the greatest teacher of the mind, of modern China,
Korea and Japan, is Chu Hi, who reverently adopted the criticisms on the
Chinese classics of the brothers Cheng.[7] It is evident that in Chu
Hi's system, we have a body of thought which may be called the result of
Chinese reflection during a millennium and a half. It is the ethics of
Confucius transfused with the mystical elements of Taoism and the
speculations of Buddhism. As the common people of China made an amalgam
of the three religions and consider them one, so the philosophers have
out of these three systems made one, calling that one Confucianism. The
dominant philosophy in Japan to-day is based upon the writings of Chu Hi
(in Japanese, Shu Shi) and called the system of Téi-Shu, which is the
Japanese pronunciation of the names of the Cheng brothers and of Chu
(Hi). It is a medley which the ancient sage could no more recognize than
would Jesus know much of the Christianity that casts out devils in his

Contrast between the Chinese and Japanese Intellect.

Here we must draw a contrast between the Chinese and Japanese intellect
to the credit of the former; China made, Japan borrowed. While history
shows that the Chinese mind, once at least, possessed mental initiative,
and the power of thinking out a system of philosophy which to-day
satisfies largely, if not wholly, the needs of the educated Chinaman,
there has been in the Japanese mind, as shown by its history, apparently
no such vigor or fruitfulness. From the literary and philosophical
points of view, Confucianism, as it entered Japan, in the sixth century,
remained practically stationary for a thousand years. Modifications,
indeed, were made upon the Chinese system, and these were striking and
profound, but they were less developments of the intellect than
necessities of the case. The modifications were made, as molten metal
poured into a mould shaped by other hands than the artist's own, rather
than as clay made plastic under the hand of a designer. Buddhism, being
the dominant force in the thoughts of the Japanese for at least eight
hundred years, furnished the food for the requirements of man on his
intellectual and religious side.

Broadly speaking, it may be said that the Japanese, receiving passively
the Chinese classics, were content simply to copy and to recite what
they had learned. As compared with their audacity in not only going
beyond the teachings of Buddha, but in inventing systems of Buddhism
which neither Gautama nor his first disciples could recognize, the
docile and almost slavish adherence to ancient Confucianism is one of
the astonishing things in the history of religions in Japan. In the
field of Buddhism we have a luxuriant growth of new and strange species
of colossal weeds that overtower and seem to have choked out whatever
furze of original Buddhism there was in Japan, while in the domain of
Confucianism there is a barren heath. Whereas, in China, the voluminous
literature created by commentators on Confucius and the commentaries on
the commentators suggests the hyperbole used by the author of John's
Gospel,[8] yet there is probably nothing on Confucianism from the
Japanese pen in the thousand years under our review which is worth the
reading or the translation.[9] In this respect the Japanese genius
showed its vast capabilities of imitation, adoption and assimilation.

As of old, Confucianism again furnished a Chinese wall, within which the
Japanese could move, and wherein they might find food for the mind in
all the relations of life and along all the lines of achievement
permitted them. The philosophy imported from China, as shown again and
again in that land of oft-changing dynasties, harmonizing with arbitrary
government, accorded perfectly with the despotism of the Tokugawas, the
"Tycoons" who in Yedo ruled from 1603 to 1868. Nothing new was
permitted, and any attempt at modification, enlargement, or improvement
was not only frowned and hissed down as impious innovation, but usually
brought upon the daring innovator the ban of the censor, imprisonment,
banishment, or death by enforced suicide.[10] In Yedo, the centre of
Chinese learning, and in other parts of the country, there were, indeed,
thinkers whose philosophy did not always tally with what was taught by
the orthodox,[11] but as a rule even when these men escaped the ban of
the censor, or the sword of the executioner, they were but us voices
crying in the wilderness. The great mass of the gentry was orthodox,
according to the standards of the Séido College, while the common people
remained faithful to Buddhism. In the conduct of daily life they
followed the precepts which had for centuries been taught them by their

Philosophical Confucianism the Religion of the Samurai.

What were the features of this modern Confucian philosophy, which the
Japanese Samurai exalted to a religion?[12] We say philosophy and
religion, because while the teachings of the great sage lay at the
bottom of the system, yet it is not true since the early seventeenth
century, that the thinking men of Japan have been satisfied with only
the original simple ethical rules of the ancient master. Though they
have craved a richer mental pabulum, yet they have enjoyed less the
study of the original text, than acquaintance with the commentaries and
communion with the great philosophical exponents, of the master. What,
then, we ask, are the features of the developed philosophy, which,
imported from China, served the Japanese Samurai not only as morals but
for such religion as he possessed or professed?

We answer: The system was not agnostic, as many modern and western
writers assert that it is, and as Confucius, transmitting and probably
modifying the old religion, had made the body of his teachings to be.
Agnostic, indeed, in regard to many things wherein a Christian has
faith, modern Confucianism, besides being bitterly polemic and hostile
to Buddhism, is pantheistic.

Certain it is that during the revival of Pure Shint[=o] in the
eighteenth century, the scholars of the Shint[=o] school, and those of
its great rival, the Chinese, agreed in making loyalty[13] take the
place of filial duty in the Confucian system. To serve the cause of the
Emperor became the most essential duty to those with cultivated minds.
The newer Chinese philosophy mightily influenced the historians, Rai
Sanyo and those of the Mito school, whose works, now classic, really
began the revolution of 1868. By forming and setting in motion the
public opinion, which finally overthrew the Sh[=o]gun and feudalism,
restored the Emperor to supreme power, and unified the nation, they
helped, with modern ideas, to make the New Japan of our day. The
Shint[=o] and the Chinese teachings became amalgamated in a common
cause, and thus the philosophy of Chu Hi, mingling with the nationalism
and patriotism inculcated by Shint[=o], brought about a remarkable
result. As a native scholar and philosopher observes, "It certainly is
strange to see the Tokugawa rule much shaken, if not actually
overthrown, by that doctrine which generations of able Sh[=o]guns and
their ministers had earnestly encouraged and protected. It is perhaps
still more remarkable to see the Mito clan, under many able and active
chiefs, become the centre of the Kinno[14] movement, which was to result
in the overthrow of the Tokugawa family, of which it was itself a

A Medley of Pantheism.

The philosophy of modern Confucianism is wholly pantheistic. There is in
it no such thing or being as God. The orthodox pantheism of Old Japan
means that everything in general is god, but nothing in particular is
God; that All is god, but not that God is all. It is a "pantheistic

Chu Hi and his Japanese successors, especially Ky[=u]-so, argue finely
and discourse volubly about _Ki_[16] or spirit; but it is not Spirit, or
spiritual in the sense of Him who taught even a woman at the well-curb
at Sychar. It is in the air. It is in the earth, the trees, the flowers.
It comes to consciousness in man. His _Ri_ is the Tao of Lao Tsze, the
Way, Reason, Law. It is formless, invisible.

"Ri is not separate from Ki, for then it were an empty abstract
thing. It is joined to Ki, and may be called, by nature, one
decreed, changeless Norm. It is the rule of Ki, the very centre,
the reason why Ki is Ki."

Ten or Heaven is not God or the abode of God, but an abstraction, a sort
of Unknowable, or Primordial Necessity.

"The doctrine of the Sages knows and worships Heaven, and
without faith in it there is no truth. For men and things, the
universe, are born and nourished by Heaven, and the 'Way,' the
'ri,' that is in all, is the 'Way,' the 'ri' of Heaven.
Distinguishing root and branch, the heart is the root of Heaven
and the appearance, the revolution of the sun and moon, the
order of the stars, is the branch. The books of the sages teach
us to conform to the heart of Heaven and deal not with

"The teaching of the sages is the original truth and, given to
men, it forms both their nature and their relationships. With it
complete, naught else is needed for the perfect following of the
'Way.' Let then the child make its parents Heaven, the retainer,
his Lord, the wife her husband, and let each give up life for
righteousness. Thus will each serve for Heaven. But if we exalt
Heaven above parent or Lord, we shall come to think we can serve
it though they be disobeyed and like tiger or wolf shall rejoice
to kill them. To such fearful end does the Western learning
lead.... Let each one die for duty, there is naught else we can

Thus wrote Ohashi Junzo, as late as 1857 A.D., the same year in which
Townsend Harris entered Yedo to teach the practical philosophy of
Christendom, and the brotherhood of man as expressed in diplomacy.
Ohashi Junzo bitterly opposed the opening of Japan to modern
civilization and the ideas of Christendom. His book was the swan-song of
the dying Japanese Confucianism. Slow as is the dying, and hard as its
death may be, the mind of new Japan has laid away to dust and oblivion
the Téi-shu philosophy. "At present they (the Chinese classics) have
fallen into almost total neglect, though phrases and allusions borrowed
from them still pass current in literature, and even to some extent in
the language of every-day life." Séido, the great temple of Confucius in
Tokyo, is now utilized as an educational Museum.[17]

A study of this subject and of comparative religion, is of immediate
practical benefit to the Christian teacher. The preacher, addressing an
audience made up of educated Japanese, who speaks of God without
describing his personality, character, or attributes as illustrated in
Revelation, will find that his hearers receive his term as the
expression for a bundle of abstract principles, or a system of laws, or
some kind of regulated force. They do, indeed, make some reference to a
"creator" by using a rare word. Occasionally, their language seems to
touch the boundary line on the other side of which is conscious
intelligence, but nothing approaching the clearness and definiteness of
the early Chinese monotheism of the pre-Confucian classics is to be
distinguished.[18] The modern Japanese long ago heard joyfully the
words, "Honor the gods, but keep them far from you," and he has done it.

To love God would no more occur to a Japanese gentleman than to have his
child embrace and kiss him. Whether the source and fountain of life of
which they speak has any Divine Spirit, is very uncertain, but whether
it has, or has not, man need not obey, much less worship him. The
universe is one, the essence is the same. Man must seek to know his
place in the universe; he is but one in an endless chain; let him find
his part and fulfil that part; all else is vanity. One need not inquire
into the origins or the ultimates. Man is moved by a power greater than
himself; he has no real independence of his own; everything has its rank
and place; indeed, its rank and place is its sole title to a separate
existence. If a man mistakes his place he is a fool, he deserves

The Ideals of a Samurai.

Out of his place, man is not man. Duty is more important than being.
Nearly everything in our life is fixed by fate; there may seem to be
exceptions, because some wicked men are prosperous and some righteous
men are wretched, but these are not real exceptions to the general rule
that we are made for our environment and fitted to it. And then, again,
it may be that our judgments are not correct. Let the heart be right and
all is well. Let man be obedient and his outward circumstance is
nothing, having no relation to his joy or happiness. Even when as to his
earthly body man passes away, he is not destroyed; the drop again
becomes part of the sea, the spark re-enters the flame, and his life
continues, though it be not a conscious life. In this way man is in
harmony with the original principle of all things. He outlasts the
universe itself.

Hence to a conscientious Samurai there is nothing in this world better
than obedience, in the ideal of a true man. What he fears most and hates
most is that his memory may perish, that he shall have no seed, that he
shall be forgotten or die under a cloud and be thought treacherous or
cowardly or base, when in reality his life was pure and his motives
high. "Better," sang Yoshida Shoin, the dying martyr for his principles,
"to be a crystal and to be broken, than to be a tile upon the housetop
and remain."

So, indeed, on a hundred curtained execution grounds, with the dirk of
the suicide firmly grasped and about to shed their own life-blood, have
sung the martyrs who died willingly for their faith in their idea of
Yamato Damashii.[19] In untold instances in the national history, men
have died willingly and cheerfully, and women also by thousands, as
brave, as unflinching as the men, so that the story of Japanese chivalry
is almost incredible in its awful suicides. History reveals a state of
society in which cool determination, desperate courage and fearlessness
of death in the face of duty were quite unique, and which must have had
their base in some powerful though abnormal code of ethics.

This leads us to consider again the things emphasized by Japanese as
distinct from Chinese and Korean[20] Confucianism, and to call attention
to its fruits, while at the same time we note its defects, and show
wherein it failed. We shall then show how this old system has already
waxed old and is passing away. Christ has come to Japan, and behold a
new heaven and a new earth!

New Japan Makes Revision.

First. For sovereign and minister, there are coming into vogue new
interpretations. This relation, if it is to remain as the first, will
become that of the ruler and the ruled. Constitutional government has
begun; and codes of law have been framed which are recognizing the
rights of the individual and of the people. Even a woman has rights
before the law, in relation to husband, parents, brothers, sisters and
children. It is even beginning to be thought that children have rights.
Let us hope that as the rights are better understood the duties will be
equally clear.

It is coming to pass in Japan that even in government, the sovereign
must consult with his people on all questions pertaining to their
welfare. Although, thus far the constitutional government makes the
ministers responsible to the Sovereign instead of to the Diet, yet the
contention of the enlightened men and the liberal parties is, that the
ministers shall be responsible to the Diet. The time seems at hand when
the sovereign's power over his people will not rest on traditions more
or less uncertain, on history manufactured by governmental order, on
mythological claims based upon the so-called "eternal ages," on
prerogatives upheld by the sword, or on the supposed grace of the gods,
but will be "broad-based upon the people's will." The power of the
rulers will be derived from the consent of the governed. The Emperor
will become the first and chief servant of the nation.

Revision and improvement of the Second Relation will make filial piety
something more real than that unto which China has attained, or Japan
has yet seen, or which is yet universally known in Christendom. The
tyranny of the father and of the older brother, and the sale of
daughters to shame, will pass away; and there will arise in the Japanese
house, the Christian home.

It would be hard to say what Confucianism has done for woman. It is
probable that all civilizations, and systems of philosophy, ethics and
religion, can be well tested by this criterion - the position of woman.
Confucianism virtually admits two standards of morality, one for man,
another for woman.[21] In Chinese Asia adultery is indeed branded as one
of the vilest of crimes, but in common idea and parlance it is a woman's
crime, not man's. So, on the other hand, chastity is a female virtue, it
is part of womanly duty, it has little or no relation to man personally.
Right revision and improvement of the Third Relation will abolish
concubinage. It will reform divorce. It will make love the basis of
marriage. It will change the state of things truthfully pictured in such
books as the Genji Monogatari, or Romance of Prince Genji, with its
examples of horrible lust and incests; the Kojiki or Ethnic scripture,
with its naïve accounts of filthiness among the gods; the Onna Dai Gaku,
Woman's Great Study, with its amazing subordination and moral slavery of
wife and daughter; and The Japanese Bride, of yesterday - all truthful
pictures of Japanese life, for the epoch in which each was written.
These books will become the forgotten curiosities of literature, known
only to the archæologist.

Improvement and revision of the Fourth Relation, will bring into the
Japanese home more justice, righteousness, love and enjoyment of life.
It will make possible, also, the cheerful acceptance and glad practice
of those codes of law common in Christendom, which are based upon the
rights of the individual and upon the idea of the greatest good to the
greatest number. It will help to abolish the evils which come from
primogeniture and to release the clutch of the dead hand upon the
living. It will decrease the power of the graveyard, and make thought
and care for the living the rule of life. It will abolish sham and
fiction, and promote the cause of truth. It will hasten the reign of
righteousness and love, and beneath propriety and etiquette lay the
basis of "charity toward all, malice toward none."

Revision with improvement of the Fifth Relation hastens the reign of
universal brotherhood. It lifts up the fallen, the down-trodden and the
outcast. It says to the slave "be free," and after having said "be
free," educates, trains, and lifts up the brother once in servitude, and
helps him to forget his old estate and to know his rights as well as his
duties, and develops in him the image of God. It says to the hinin or
not-human, "be a man, be a citizen, accept the protection of the law."
It says to the eta, "come into humanity and society, receive the
protection of law, and the welcome of your fellows; let memory forget
the past and charity make a new future." It will bring Japan into the
fraternity of nations, making her people one with the peoples of
Christendom, not through the empty forms of diplomacy, or by the craft
of her envoys, or by the power of her armies and navies reconstructed on
modern principles, but by patient education and unflinching loyalty to
high ideals. Thus will Japan become worthy of all the honors, which the
highest humanity on this planet can bestow.

The Ideal of Yamato Damashii Enlarged.

In this our time it is not only the alien from Christendom, with his
hostile eye and mordant criticism, who is helping to undermine that
system of ethics which permitted the sale of the daughter to shame, the
introduction of the concubine into the family and the reduction of
woman, even though wife and mother, to nearly a cipher. It is not only
the foreigner who assaults that philosophy which glorified the vendetta,
kept alive private war, made revenge in murder the sweetest joy of the
Samurai and suicide the gate to honor and fame, subordinated the family
to the house, and suppressed individuality and personality. It is the
native Japanese, no longer a hermit, a "frog in the well, that knows not
the great ocean" but a student, an inquirer, and a critic, who assaults
the old ethical and philosophical system, and calls for a new way
between heaven and earth, and a new kind of Heaven in which shall be a
Creator, a Father and a Saviour. The brain and pen of New Japan, as well
as its heart, demand that the family shall be more than the house and
that the living members shall have greater rights as well as duties,
than the dead ancestors. They claim that the wife shall share
responsibility with the husband, and that the relation of husband and
wife shall take precedence of that of the father and son; that the
mother shall possess equal authority with the father; that the wife,
whether she be mother or not, shall not be compelled to share her home
with the concubine; and that the child in Japan shall be born in the
home and not in the herd. The sudden introduction of the Christian ideas
of personality and individuality has undoubtedly wrought peril to the
framework of a society which is built according to the Confucian
principles; but faith in God, love in the home, and absolute equality
before the law will bring about a reign of righteousness such as Japan
has never known, but toward the realization of which Christian nations
are ever advancing.

Even the old ideal of the Samurai embodied in the formula Yamato
Damashii will be enlarged and improved from its narrow limits and
ferocious aspects, when the tap-root of all progress is allowed to
strike into deeper truth, and the Sixth Relation, or rather the first
relation of all, is taught, namely, that of God to Man, and of Man to
God. That this relation is understood, and that the Samurai ideal,
purified and enlarged, is held by increasing numbers of Japan's
brightest men and noblest women, is shown in that superb Christian
literature which pours from the pens of the native men and women in the
Japanese Christian churches. Under this flood of truth the old obstacles
to a nobler society are washed away, while out of the enriched soil
rises the new Japan which is to be a part of the better Christendom that
is to come. Christ in Japan, as everywhere, means not destruction, but


"Life is a dream is what the pilgrim learns,
Nor asks for more, but straightway home returns."
- Japanese medieval lyric drama.

"The purpose of Buddha's preaching was to bring into light the
permanent truth, to reveal the root of all suffering and thus to
lead all sentient beings into the perfect emancipation from all

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 11 of 31)