William Elliot Griffis.

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passions." - Outlines of the Mahayana.

"Buddhism will stand forth as the embodiment of the eternal
verity that as a man sows he will reap, associated with the
duties of mastery over self and kindness to all men, and
quickened into a popular religion by the example of a noble and
beautiful life." - Dharmapala of Ceylon.

"Buddhism teaches the right path of cause and effect, and
nothing which can supersede the idea of cause and effect will be
accepted and believed. Buddha himself cannot contradict this law
which is the Buddha, of Buddhas, and no omnipotent power except
this law is believed to be existent in the universe.

"Buddhism does not quarrel with other religions about the truth
... Buddhism is truth common to every religion regardless of the
outside garment." - Horin Toki, of Japan.

"Death we can face; but knowing, as some of us do, what is human
life, which of us is it that without shuddering could (if we
were summoned) face the hour of birth?" -De Quinccy.

The prayer of Buddhism, "Deliver us from existence."
The prayer of the Christian, "Deliver us from evil."

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the
earth." - Genesis.

"I am come that they might have life and that they might have it
more abundantly." - Jesus.


Pre-Buddhistic India.

Does the name of Gautama, the Buddha, stand for a sun-myth or for a
historic personage? One set of scholars and writers, represented by
Professor Kern,[1] of Leyden, thinks the Buddha a mythical personage.
Another school, represented by Professor T. Rhys Davids,[2] declares
that he lived in human flesh and breathed the air of earth. We accept
the historical view as best explaining the facts.

In order to understand a religion, in its origin at least, we must know
some of the conditions out of which it arose. Buddhism is one of the
protestantisms of the world. Yet, is not every religion, in one sense,
protestant? Is it not a protest against something to which it opposes a
difference? Every new religion, like a growing plant, ignores or rejects
certain elements in the soil out of which it springs. It takes up and
assimilates, also, other elements not used before, in order to produce a
flower or fruit different from other growths out of the same soil. Yet
whether the new religion be considered as a development, fulfilment, or
protest, we must know its historical perspective or background. To
understand the origin of Buddhism, one of the best preparations is to
read the history of India and especially of the thought of her many
generations; for the landmarks of the civilizations of India, as a Hindu
may proudly say, are its mighty literatures. At these let us glance.[3]

The age of the Vedas extends from the year 2000 to 1400 B.C., and the
history of this early India is wonderfully like that of America. During
this era, the Hindus, one of the seven Aryan tribes of which the
Persian, Greek, Latin, Celtic, Sclav and Teutonic form the other six,
descending from the mid-Asian plateau, settled the Punjab in Northwest
India. They drove the dark-skinned aborigines before them and reclaimed
forest and swamp to civilization, making the land of the seven rivers
bright with agriculture and brilliant with cities. This was the glorious
heroic age of joyous life and conquest, when men who believed in a
Heavenly Father[4] made the first epoch of Hindu history.

Then followed the epic age, 1400-1000 B.C., when the area of
civilization was extended still farther down the Ganges Valley, the
splendor of wealth, learning, military prowess and social life excelling
that of the ancestral seats in the Punjab. Amid differences of wars and
diplomacy with rivalries and jealousies, a common sacred language,
literature and religion with similar social and religious institutions,
united the various nations together. In this time the old Vedas were
compiled into bodies or collections, and the Brahmanas and the
Upanishads, besides the great epic poems, the Mahabharata and the
Ramayana were composed.

The next, or rationalistic epoch, covers the period from 1000 B.C. to
320 B.C., when the Hindu expansion had covered all India, that is, the
peninsula from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. Then, all India, including
Ceylon, was Hinduized, though in differing degrees; the purest Aryan
civilization being in the north, the less pure in the Ganges Valley and
south and east, while the least Aryan and more Dravidian was in Bengal,
Orissa, and India south of the Kistna River.

This story of the spread of Hindu civilization is a brilliant one, and
seems as wonderful as the later European conquest of the land, and of
the other "Indians" of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Beside the conquests in material civilization of these our fellow-Aryans
(who were the real Indians, and who spoke the language which is the
common ancestor of our own and of most European tongues), what impresses
us most of all, in these Aryans, is their intellectual energy. The
Hindus of the rationalistic age made original discoveries. They invented
grammar, geometry, arithmetic, decimal notation, and they elaborated
astronomy, medicine, mental philosophy and logic (with syllogism) before
these sciences were known or perfected in Greece. In the seventh century
before Christ, Kapila taught a system of philosophy, of which that of
the Europeans, Schopenhaur and Hartmann, seems largely a reproduction.

Following this agnostic scheme of thought, came, several centuries
later, the dualistic Yoga[5] system in which the chief feature is the
conception of Deity as a means of final emancipation of the human soul
from further transmigration, and of union with the Universal Spirit or
World Soul. There is, however, perhaps no sadder chapter in the history
of human thought than the story of the later degeneration of the Yoga
system into one of bloody and cruel rites in India, and of superstition
in China.

Still other systems followed: one by Gautama, of the same clan or family
of the later Buddha, who develops inference by the construction of
syllogism; while Kanada follows the atomic philosophy in which the atoms
are eternal, but the aggregates perishable by disintegration.

Against these schools, which seemed to be dangerous "new departures,"
orthodox Hindus, anxious for their ancient beliefs and practices as laid
down in the Vedas, started fresh systems of philosophy, avowedly more in
consonances with their ancestral faith. One system insisted on the
primitive Vedic ritual, and another laid emphasis on the belief in a
Universal Soul first inculcated in the Upanishads.

Conditions out of which Buddhism Arose.

Whatever we may think of these schools of philosophy, or the connection
with or indebtedness of Gautama, the Buddha, to them, they reveal to us
the conceptions which his contemporaries had of the universe and the
beings inhabiting it. These were honest human attempts to find God. In
them the various beings or six conditions of sentient existence are
devas or gods; men; asuras or monsters; pretas or demons; animals; and
beings in hell. Furthermore, these schools of Hindu philosophy show us
the conditions out of which Buddhism arose, furnish us with its
terminology and technical phrases, reveal to us what the reformer
proposed to himself to do, and, what is perhaps still more important,
show us the types to which Buddhism in its degeneration and degradation
reverted. The strange far-off oriental words which today scholars
discuss, theosophists manipulate, and charlatans employ as catchpennies
were common words in the every-day speech of the Hindu people, two or
three thousand years ago.

Glancing rapidly at the condition of religion in the era ushering in the
birth of Buddha, we note that the old joyousness of life manifested in
the Vedic hymns is past, their fervor and glow are gone. In the morning
of Hindu life there was no caste, no fixed priesthood, and no idols; but
as wealth, civilization, easy and settled life succeeded, the taste for
pompous sacrifices conducted by an hereditary priestly caste increased.
Greater importance was laid upon the detail of the ceremonies, the
attention of the worshipper being turned from the deities "to the
minutiæ of rites, the erection of altars, the fixing of the proper
astronomical moments for lighting the fire, the correct pronunciation of
prayers, and to the various requisite acts accompanying a sacrifice."[6]
In the chapter of decay which time wrote and literature reflects, we
find "grotesque reasons given for every minute rite, dogmatic
explanation of texts, penances for every breach of form and rule, and
elaborate directions for every act and moment of the worshipper."

The literature shows a degree of credulity and submission on the part of
the people and of absolute power on the part of the priests, which
reminds us of the Middle Ages in Europe. The old inspiring wars with the
aborigines are over. The time of bearing a noble creed, meaning culture
and civilization as against savagery and idolatry, is past, and only
intestine quarrels and local strife have succeeded. The age of creative
literature is over, and commentators, critics and grammarians have
succeeded. Still more startling are the facts disclosed by literary
history. The liquid poetry has become frozen prose; the old flaming fuel
of genius is now slag and ashes. We see Hindus doing exactly what Jewish
rabbis, and after them Christian schoolmen and dogma-makers, did with
the old Hebrew poems and prophecies. Construing literally the prayers,
songs and hopes of an earlier age, they rebuild the letter of the text
into creeds and systems, and erect an amazing edifice of steel-framed
and stone-cased tradition, to challenge which is taught to be heresy and
impiety. The poetical similes used in the Rig Vedas have been
transformed into mythological tales. In the change of language the Vedas
themselves are unreadable, except by the priests, who fatten on popular
beliefs in the transmigration of souls and in the power of priestcraft
to make that transmigration blissful - provided liberal gifts are duly
forthcoming. Idolatry and witchcraft are rampant. Some saviour, some
light was needed.

Buddhism a Logical Product of Hindu Thought.

At such a time, probably 557 B.C., was born Shaka, of the Muni clan, at
Kapilavastu, one hundred miles northeast of Benares. We pass over the
details[7] of the life of him called Prince, Lord, Lion of the Tribe of
Shaka, and Saviour; of his desertion of wife and child, called the first
Great Renunciation; of his struggles to obtain peace; of his
enlightenment or Buddhahood; of his second or Greater Renunciation; of
merit on account of austerities; and give the story told in a mountain
of books in various tongues, but condensed in a paragraph by Romesh
Chunder Dutt.

"At an early age, Prince Gautama left his royal home, and his
wife, and new-born child, and became a wanderer and a mendicant,
to seek a way of salvation for man. Hindu rites, accompanied by
the slaughter of innocent victims, repelled his feelings. Hindu
philosophy afforded him no remedy, and Hindu penances and
mortifications proved unavailing after he had practised them for
years. At last, by severe contemplation, he discovered the long
coveted truth; a holy and calm life, and benevolence and love
toward all living creatures seemed to him the essence of
religion. Self-culture and universal love - this was his
discovery - this is the essence of Buddhism."[8]

From one point of view Buddhism was the logical continuance of Aryan
Hindoo philosophy; from another point of view it was a new departure.
The leading idea in the Upanishads is that the object of the wise man
should be to know, inwardly and consciously, the Great Soul of all; and
by this knowledge his individual soul would become united to the Supreme
Being, the true and absolute self. This was the highest point reached in
the old Indian philosophy[9] before Buddha was born.

So, looking at Buddhism in the perspective of Hindu history and thought,
we may say that it is doubtful whether Gautama intended to found a new
religion. As, humanly speaking, Saul of Tarsus saved Christianity from
being a Jewish sect and made it universal, so Gautama extricated the new
enthusiasm of humanity from the priests. He made Aryan religion the
property of all India. What had been a rare monopoly as narrow as
Judaism, he made the inheritance of all Asia. Gautama was a protestant
and a reformer, not an agnostic or skeptic. It is more probable that he
meant to shake off Brahmanism and to restore the pure and original form
of the Aryan religion of the Vedas, as far as it was possible to do so.
In one sense, Buddhism was a revolt against hereditary and sacerdotal
privilege - an attack of the people against priestcraft. The Buddha and
his disciples were levellers. In a different age and clime, but along a
similar path, they did a work analogous to that of the so-called
Anabaptists in Europe and Independents in England, centuries later.

It is certain, however, that Buddhism has grown logically out of ancient
Hinduism. In its monastic feature - one of its most striking
characteristics - we see only the concentration and reduction to system,
of the old life of the ascetics and religious mendicants recognized and
respected by Hinduism. For centuries the Buddhist monks and nuns were
regarded in India as only a new sect of ascetics, among many others
which flourished in the land.

The Buddhist doctrine of karma, or in Japanese, _ingwa_, of cause and
effect, whereby it is taught that each effect in this life springs from
a cause in some previous incarnation, and that each act in this life
bears its fruit in the next, has grown directly out of the Hindu idea of
the transmigration of souls. This idea is first inculcated in the
Upanishads, and is recognized in Hindu systems of philosophy.

So also the Buddhist doctrine of Nirvana, or the attainment of a sinless
state of existence, has grown out of the idea of final union of the
individual soul with the Universal Soul, which is also inculcated in the
Upanishads. Yet, as we shall see, the Buddhists were, in the eyes of the
Brahmans, atheists, because in the ken of these new levellers gods and
men were put on the same plane. Brahmanism has never forgiven Buddhism
for ignoring the gods, and the Hindoos finally drove out the followers
of Gautama from India. It eventuated that after a millenium or so of
Buddhism in India, the old gods, Brahma, Indra, etc., which at first had
been shut out from the ken of the people, by Gautama, found their places
again in the popular faith of the Buddhists, who believed that the gods
as well as men, were all progressing toward the blessed Nirvana - that
sinless life and holy calm, which is the Buddhist's heaven and

It is certainly very curious, and in a sense amusing, to find
flourishing in far-off Japan the old gods of India, that one would
suppose to have been utterly dead and left behind in oblivion. As
acknowledged devas or kings and bodhisattvas or soon-to-be Buddhas, not
a few once defunct Hindu gods, utterly unknown to early Buddhism, have
forced their way into the company of the elect. Though most of them have
not gained the popularity of the indigenous deities of Nippon, they yet
attract many worshippers. They remind one that amid the coming of the
sons of Elohim before Jehovah, "the satan" came also.[10]

From another point of view Buddhism was a new religion; for it swept
away and out of the field of its vision the whole of the World or
Universal Soul theory. "It proclaimed a salvation which each man could
gain for himself and by himself, in this world during this life, without
the least reference to God, or to gods, either great or small." "It
placed the first importance on knowledge; but it was no longer a
knowledge of God, it was a clear perception of the real nature as they
supposed it to be of men and things." In a word, Gautama never reached
the idea of a personal self-existent God, though toward that truth he
groped. He was satisfied too soon.[11] His followers were even more
easily satisfied with abstractions. When Gautama saw the power over the
human heart of inward culture and of love to others, he obtained peace,
he rested on certainty, he became the Buddha, that is, the enlightened.
Perhaps he was not the first Buddhist. It may be that the historical
Gautama, if so he is worthy to be called, merely made the sect or the
new religion famous. Hardly a religion in the full sense of the word,
Buddhism did not assume the rôle of theology, but sought only to know
men and things. In one sense Buddhism is atheism, or rather, atheistic
humanism. In one sense, also, the solution of the mystery of God, of
life, and of the universe, which Gautama and his followers attained, was
one of skepticism rather than of faith. Buddhism is, relatively, a very
modern religion; it is one of the new faiths. Is it paradoxical to say
that the Buddhists are "religious atheists?"

The Buddhist Millennium in India.

Let us now look at the life of the Founder. Day after day, the
pure-souled teacher attracted new disciples while he with alms-bowl went
around as mendicant and teacher. Salvation merely by self-control, and
love without any rites, ceremonies, charms, priestly powers, gods or
miracles, formed the burden of his teachings. "Thousands of people left
their homes, embraced the holy order and became monks, ignoring caste,
and relinquishing all worldly goods except the bare necessaries of life,
which they possessed and enjoyed in common." Probably the first monastic
_system_ of the world, was that of the Indian Buddhists.

The Buddha preached the good news during forty-five years. After his
death, five hundred of his followers assembled at Rajagriha and chanted
together the teachings of Gautama, to fix them in memory. A hundred
years later, in 377 B.C., came the great schism among the Buddhists, out
of which grew the divisions known as Northern and Southern Buddhism.
There was disagreement on ten points. A second council was therefore
called, and the disputed points determined to the satisfaction of one
side. Thereupon the seceders went away in large numbers, and the
differences were never healed; on the contrary, they have widened in the
course of ages.

The separatists began what may be called the Northern Buddhisms of
Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. The orthodox or Southern Buddhists
are those of Ceylon, Burma and Siam. The original canon of Southern
Buddhism is in Pali; that of Northern Buddhism is in Sanskrit. The one
is comparatively small and simple; the other amazingly varied and
voluminous. The canon of Southern scripture is called the Hinayana, the
Little or Smaller Vehicle; the canon of Northern Buddhism is named the
Mahayana or Great Vehicle. Possibly, also, besides the Southern and
Northern Buddhisms, the Buddhism of Japan may be treated by itself and
named Eastern Buddhism.

In the great council called in 242 B.C., by King Asoka, who may be
termed the Constantine of Buddhism, the sacred texts were again chanted.
It was not until the year 88 B.C. in Ceylon, six hundred years after
Gautama, that the three Pitakas, Boxes or Baskets, were committed to
writing in the Pali language. In a word, Buddhism knows nothing of
sacred documents or a canon of scripture contemporary with its first

The splendid Buddhist age of India lasted nearly a thousand years, and
was one of superb triumphs in civilization. It was an age of spiritual
emancipation, of freedom from idol worship, of nobler humanity and of
peace.[12] It was followed by the Puranic epoch and the dark ages. Then
Buddhism was, as some say, "driven out" from the land of its birth,
finding new expansion in Eastern and Northern Asia, and again, a still
more surprising development in the ultima-Thule of the Asiatic
continent, Japan. There is now no Buddhism in India proper, the faith
being represented only in Ceylon and possibly also on the main land, by
the sect of the Jains, and peradventure in Persia by Babism which
contains elements from three religions.[13] Like Christianity, Buddhism
was "driven out" of its old home to bless other nations of the world. It
is probably far nearer the truth to say that Buddhism was never expelled
from India, but rather that it died by disintegration and relapse.[14]
It had become Brahmanism again. The old gods and the old idol-worship
came back. It is in Japan that the ends of the earth, eastern and
western civilization, and the freest and fullest or at least the latest
developments of Christianity and of Buddhism, have met.

In its transfer to distant lands and its developments throughout Eastern
Asia, the faith which had originated in India suffered many changes.
Dividing into two great branches, it became a notably different religion
according as it moved along the southern, the northern, or the eastern
channel. By the vehicle of the Pali language it was carried to Ceylon,
Siam, Burma, Cambodia and the islands of the south; that is, to southern
or peninsular and insular Asia. Here there is little evidence of any
striking departure from the doctrines of the Pali Pitakas; and, as
Southern Buddhism does not greatly concern us in speaking of the
religions of Japan, we may pass it by. For although the books and
writings belonging to Southern Buddhism, and comprehended under the
formula of the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle, have been studied in China,
Korea and Japan, yet they have had comparatively little influence upon
doctrinal, ritualistic, or missionary development in Chinese Asia.

Astonishingly different has been the case with the Northern Buddhisms
which are those of Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, China, Korea and
Japan. As luxuriant as the evolutions of political and dogmatic
Christianity and as radical in their departures from the primitive
simplicity of the faith, have been these forms of Buddhist doctrine,
ritual and organization. We cannot now dwell upon the wonderful details
of the vast and complicated system, differing so much in various
countries. We pass by, or only glance at, the philosophy of the Punjaub;
the metaphysics of Nepal - with its developments into what some writers
consider to be a close approach to monotheism, and others, indeed,
monotheism itself; the system of Lamaism in Tibet, which has paralleled
so closely the development of the papal hierarchy; the possibly two
thousand years' growth and decay of Chinese Buddhism; the varieties of
the Buddhism of Mongolia - almost swamped in the Shamanistic
superstitions of these dwellers on the plains; the astonishing success,
quick ripening, decay, and almost utter annihilation, among the learned
and governing classes, of Korean Buddhism;[15] and study in detail only
Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.

We shall in this lecture attempt but two things:

I. A summary of the process of thought by which the chief features of
the Northern Buddhisms came into view.

II. An outline of the story of Japanese Buddhism during the first three
centuries of its existence.

The Development of Northern Buddhism

Leaving the early Buddha legends and the solid ground of history, the
makers of the newer Buddhist doctrines in Nepal occupied themselves with
developing the theory of Buddhahood and of the Buddhas;[16] for we must
ever remember that Buddha[17] is not a proper name, but a common
adjective meaning enlightened, from the root to know, perceive, etc.
They made constant and marvellous additions to the primitive doctrine,
giving it a momentum which gathered force as the centuries went on; and,
as propaganda, it moved against the sun.

This development theory ran along the line of _personification_. Not
being satisfied with "the wheel of the law," it personified both the hub
and the spokes. It began with the spirit of kindness out of which all
human virtues rise, and by the power of which the Buddhist organization
will conquer all sin and unbelief and become victorious throughout the
world. This personification is called the Maitreya Buddha, the
unconquerable one, or the future Buddha of benevolence, the Buddha who
is yet to come. Here was a tremendous and revolutionary movement in the
new faith, the beginning of a long process. It was as though the
Christians had taken the particular attributes, justice, mercy, etc., of
God and, after personifying each one, deified it, thus multiplying gods.

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 12 of 31)