William Elliot Griffis.

The Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji online

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What was the soil for the new sowing, and what was the harvest to be
reaped in due time?

With many thousands of India Buddhists whose minds were already steeped
in Brahministic philosophy and mythology, who were more given to
speculation and dreaming than to self-control and moral culture, and who
mourned for the dead gods of Hinduism, the soil was already prepared for
a growth wholly abnormal to true Buddhism, but altogether in keeping
with the older Brahministic philosophies from which these dreamers had
been but partially converted to Buddhism.[18]

The seed is found in the doctrine which already forms part of the system
of the Little Vehicle, when it tells of the personal Buddhas and the
Buddhas elect, or future Buddhas. In the Jataka stories, or Birth tales,
"the Buddha elect" is the title given to each of the beings, man, angel,
or animal, who is held to be a Bodhisattva, or the future Buddha in one
of his former births. The title Bodhisattva[19] is the name given to a
being whose Karma will produce other beings in a continually ascending
scale of goodness until it becomes vested in a Buddha. Or, in the more
common use of the word, a Bodhisattva (Japanese bosatsu) is a being
whose essence has become intelligence, and who will have to pass through
human existence once more only before entering Nirvana.

In Southern Buddhist temples, the pure white image of Maitreya is
sometimes found beside the idol representing Gautama or the historical
Buddha. While in Southern Buddhism the idea of this possibility of
development seems to have been little seized upon and followed up, in
Northern Buddhism as early as 400 A.D. the worship of two Buddhas elect
named Manjusri and Avalokitesvara, or personified Wisdom and Power, had
already become general. Manjusri,[20] the Great Being or "Prince Royal,"
is the personification of wisdom, and especially of the mystic religious
insight which has produced the Great Vehicle or canon of Northern
Buddhism; or, as a Japanese author says, the third collection of the
Tripitaka was that made by Manjusri and Maitreya. Avalokitesvara,[21]
the Lord of View or All-sided One, is the personification of power, the
merciful protector and preserver of the world and of men. Both are
frequently and voluminously mentioned in the Saddharma Pundarika,[22] in
which the good law is made plain by flowers of rhetoric, and of which we
shall have occasion frequently to speak. Manjusri is the mythical author
of this influential work,[23] the twenty-fourth chapter being devoted to
a glorification of the character, the power, and the advantages to be
derived from the worship of Avalokitesvara.

The Creation of Gods.

Possibly the name of Manjusri may be derived from that of the Indian
mendicant, the traditional introducer of Buddhism and its accompanying
civilization into Nepal. The Tibetans identify him with the minister of
a great King Strongstun, who lived in the seventh century of our era and
who was the great patron of Buddhism into Tibet. He is the founder of
that school of thought which ended in the Great Vehicle, - the literature
of Northern Buddhism.[24] From Nepal to Japan, in the books of the
Northern Buddhists there is certainly much confusion between the
metaphysical being and the legendary civilizer and teacher of Nepal. The
other name, Avalokitesvara, which means the Lord of View, "the lord who
looks down from on high," instead of being a purely metaphysical
invention, may he only an adaptation of one epithet of Shiva, which
meant Master of View.

Later and by degrees the attributes were separated and each one was
personified. For example, the power of Avalokitesvara was separated from
his protecting care and providence. His power was personified as the
bearer of the thunder-bolt, or the lightning-handed one; and this new
personification added to the two other Buddhas elect, made a triad, the
first in Northern Buddhism. In this triad, the thunder-bolt holder was
Vagrapani; Manjusri was the deified teacher; and Avalokitesvara was the
Spirit of the Buddhas present in the church. Before many centuries had
elapsed, these imaginary beings, with a few others, had become gods to
whom men prayed; and thus Buddhism became a religion with some kind of
theism, - which Gautama had expressly renounced.

If any one wants proof of this reversion into the old religions of
India, he has only to notice that the name, given to the new god made by
personification of the attribute of power, Vagrapani, or Vadjradhara, or
the bearer of the thunder-bolt, had formerly been used as an epithet of
the old fire-god of the Vedas, Indra.

It were tedious to recount all the steps in the further development of
Northern Buddhism.[25] Suffice it to say, that out of ideas and
principles set forth in the earlier Buddhism, and under the generating
force reborn from old Brahminism, the Dhyani Buddhas (that is the
Buddhas evolved out of the mind in mystic trance) were given their elect
Buddhas; and so three sets of five were co-ordinated.[26] That is,
first, five pre-penultimate Buddhas; then their Bodhisattvas or
penultimate Buddhas; and then the ultimate or human Buddhas, of which
Gautama was one. Or, first abstraction; then pre-human effluence; then

All this multiplication of beings is unknown to Southern Buddhism,
unknown to the Saddharma Pundarika, and very probably unknown also to
the Chinese pilgrims who visited India in the fifth and seventh
centuries. Professor Rhys Davids, in his compact little manual of
Buddhism, says:[27]

"Among those hypothetical beings - the creations of a sickly
scholasticism, hollow abstractions without life or reality - the
fourth Amitabha, 'Immeasurable Light,' whose Bodhisatwa is
Avalokitesvara, and whose emanation is Gautama, occupies of
course the highest and most important rank. Surrounded by
innumerable Bodhisatwas, he sits enthroned under a Bo-tree in
Sukhavati, i.e., the Blissful, a paradise of heavenly joys,
whose description occupies whole tedious books of the so-called
Great Vehicle. By this theory, each of the five Buddhas has
become three, and the fourth of these five sets of three is the
second Buddhist Trinity, the belief in which must have arisen
after the seventh century of our era."

Buddhism has been called the light of Asia, and Gautama its illuminator;
but certainly the light has not been pure, nor the products of its
illumination wholesome. Pardon an illustration. In Christian churches
and cathedrals of Europe, there is still a great prejudice against the
use of pipes, and of gas made from coal, because of the machinery and of
the impure emanations. The prejudice is a wholesome one; for we all know
that most of the elements forming common illuminating gas are worthless
except to convey the very small amount of light-giving material, and
that these elements in combustion vitiate the air and give off
deleterious products which corrode, tarnish and destroy. Now though
Buddhist doctrine may have been the light of India, yet to reach the
Northern and Eastern nations of Asia it had, apparently, to be
adulterated for conveyance, as much as is the illuminating gas in our
cities. From the first, Northern Buddhism showed a wonderful affinity,
not only for Brahministic superstitions and speculations, but for almost
everything else with which it came in contact in countries beyond India.
Instead of combating, it absorbed. It adapted itself to circumstances,
and finding certain beliefs prevalent among the people, it imbibed them,
and thus gained by accretion until its bulk, both of beliefs and of
disciples, was in the inverse ratio of its purity. Even to-day, the
occult theosophy of "Isis Unveiled," and of the school of writers such
as Blavatsky, Olcott, etc., seems to be a perfectly logical product of
the Northern Buddhisms, and may be called one of them; yet it is simply
a repetition of what took place centuries ago. Most of the primitive
beliefs and superstitions of Nepal and Tibet were absorbed in the ever
hungry and devouring system of Buddhistic scholasticism.

The Making of a Pantheon.

Let us glance again at this Nepal Buddhism. In the tenth century we find
what at first seems to be a growth out of Polytheism into Monotheism,
for a new Being, to whom the attributes of infinity, self-existence and
omniscience are ascribed, is invented and named Adi-Buddha, or the
primordial Buddha. According to the speculations of the thinkers, he had
evolved himself out of the five Dhyani-Buddhas by the exercise of the
five meditations, while each of these had evolved out of itself by
wisdom and contemplation, the corresponding Buddhas elect. Again, each
of the latter evolved out of his own essence a material world, - our
present world being the fourth of these, that is of Avaloki. One almost
might consider that this setting forth of the primordial Buddha was real
Monotheism; but on looking more carefully one sees that it is as little
real Monotheism as was possible in the system of Gnosticism. Indeed the
force of evolution could not stop here; for, since even this primordial
Buddha rested upon Ossa of hypothesis piled upon Pelion of hypothesis,
there must be other hypotheses yet to come, and so the Tantra system, a
compound of old Brahminism with the magic and witchcraft and Shamanism
of Northern Asia burst into view. As this was to travel into Japan and
be hailed as purest Buddhism, let us note how this tenth century Tantra
system grew up. To see this clearly, is to look upon the parable of the
man with the unclean spirit being acted out on a vast scale in history.

In the sixth century of our era, one Asanga, or Asamga, wrote the
Shastra, called the Shastra Yoga-chara Bhumi.[28] With great dexterity
he erected a sort of clearing-house for both the corrupt Brahminism and
corrupt Buddhism of his day, and exchanging and rearranging the gods and
devils in both systems, he represented them as worshippers and
supporters of the Buddha and Avalokitesvara. In such a system, the old
primitive Buddhism of the noble eight-fold path of self-conquest and
pure morals was utterly lost. Instead of that, the worshipper gave his
whole powers to obtaining occult potencies by means of magic phrases and
magic circles. Then grew up whole forests of monasteries and temples,
with an outburst of devilish art representing many-headed and many-eyed
and many-handed idols on the walls, on books, on the roadside, with
manifold charms and phrases the endless repetitions of which were
supposed to have efficacy with the hypothetical being who filled the
heavens. That was _the_ age of idols for China as well as for India; and
the old Chinese house, once empty, swept and garnished by Confucianism,
was now filled with a mob of unclean spirits each worse than the first.
With more courageous logic than the more matter-of-fact Chinese, the
Tibetan erected his prayer-mills[29] and let the winds of heaven and the
flowing waters continually multiply his prayers and holy syllables. And
these inventions were duly imported into Japan, and even now are far
from being absent.[30]

Passing over for the present the history of Buddhism in China,[31]
suffice it to say that the Buddhism which entered Japan from Korea in
the sixth century, was not the simple atheism touched with morality, the
bald skepticism or benevolent agnosticism of Gautama, but a religion
already over a thousand years old. It was the system of the Northern
Buddhists. These, dissatisfied, or unsatisfied, with absorption into a
passionless state through self-sacrifice and moral discipline, had
evolved a philosophy of religion in which were gods, idols and an
apparatus of conversion utterly unknown to the primitive faith.

Buddhism Already Corrupted when brought to Japan.

This sixth century Buddhism in Japan was not the army with banners,
which was introduced still later with the luxuriances of the fully
developed system, its paradise wonderfully like Mohammed's and its
over-populated pantheon. It was, however, ready with the necessary
machinery, both material and mental, to make conquest of a people which
had not only religious aspirations, but also latent aesthetic
possibilities of a high order. As in its course through China this
Northern Buddhism had acted as an all-powerful absorbent of local
beliefs and superstitions, so in Japan it was destined to make a more
remarkable record, and, not only to absorb local ideas but actually to
cause the indigenous religion to disappear.

Let us inquire who were the people to whom Buddhism, when already
possessed of a millenium of history, entered its Ultima Thule in Eastern
Asia. At what stage of mutual growth did Buddhism and the Japanese meet
each other?

Instead of the forty millions of thoroughly homogeneous people in
Japan - according to the census of December 31, 1892 - all being loyal
subjects of one Emperor, we must think of possibly a million of hunters,
fishermen and farmers in more or less warring clans or tribes. These
were made up of the various migrations from the main land and the drift
of humanity brought by the ocean currents from the south; Ainos,
Koreans, Tartars and Chinese, with probably some Malay and Nigrito
stock. In the central part of Hondo, the main island, the Yamato tribe
dominated, its chief being styled Suméru-mikoto, or Mikado. To the south
and southwest, the Mikado's power was only more or less felt, for the
Yamato men had a long struggle in securing supremacy. Northward and
eastward lay great stretches of land, inhabited by unsubdued and
uncivilized native tribes of continental and most probably of Korean
origin, and thus more or less closely akin to the Yamato men. Still
northward roamed the Ainos, a race whose ancestral seats may have been
in far-off Dravidian India. Despite the constant conflicts between the
Yamato people who had agriculture and the beginnings of government, law
and literature, and their less civilized neighbors, the tendency to
amalgamation was already strong. The problem of the statesman, was to
extend the sway of the Mikado over the whole Archipelago.

Shint[=o] was, in its formation, made use of as an engine to conquer,
unify and civilize all the tribes. In one sense, this conquest of men
having lower forms of faith, by believers in the Kami no Michi, or Way
of the Gods, was analogous to the Aryan conquest of India and the
Dravidians. However this may be, the energy and valor displayed in these
early ages formed the ideal of Yamato Damashii (The Spirit of
unconquerable Japan), which has so powerfully influenced the modern
Japanese. We shall see, also, how grandly Buddhism also came to be a
powerful force in the unification of the Japanese people. At first, the
new faith would be rejected as an alien invader, stigmatized as a
foreign religion, and, as such, sure to invoke the wrath of the native
gods. Then later, its superiority to the indigenous cult would be seen
both by the wise and the practically minded, and it would be welcomed
and enjoyed.

The Inviting Field.

Never had a new religion a more inviting field or one more sure of
success, than had Buddhism on stepping from the Land of Morning Dawn to
the Land of the Rising Sun. Coming as a gorgeous, dazzling and
disciplined array of all that could touch the imagination, stimulate the
intellect and move the heart of the Japanese, it was irresistible. For
the making of a nation, Shint[=o] was as a donkey engine, compared to
the system of furnaces, boilers, shaft and propeller of a
ten-thousand-ton steel cruiser, moved by the energies of a million years
of sunbeam force condensed into coal and released again through
transmigration by fire.

All accounts in the vernacular Japanese agree, that their Butsu-d[=o] or
Buddhism was imported from Korea. In the sixteenth year of Kéitai, the
twenty-seventh Mikado (of the list made centuries after, and the
eleventh after the impossible line of the long-lived or mythical
Mikados), A.D. 534, it is said that a man from China brought with him an
image of Buddha into Yamato, and setting it up in a thatched cottage
worshipped it. The people called it "foreign-country god." Visitors
discussed with him the religion of Shaka, as the Japanese call
Shakyamuni, and some little knowledge of Buddhism was gained, but no
notable progress was made until A.D. 552, which is generally accepted
and celebrated as the year of the introduction of the faith into Japan.
Then a king of Hiaksai in Korea, sent over to the court and to the
Mikado golden images of the Buddha and of the triad of "precious ones,"
with Sutras and sacred books. These holy relics are believed to be still
preserved in the famous temple of Zenk[=o]ji,[32] belonging to the
temple of the Tendai Sect at Nagano in Northern Japan, this shrine being
dedicated to Amida and his two followers Kwannon (Avalokitesvara) and
Dai-séi-shi (Mahastanaprapta). This group of idols, as the custodian of
the shrine will tell you, was made by Shaka himself out of gold, found
at the base of the tree which grows at the centre of the universe. After
remaining in Korea for eleven hundred and twelve years, it was brought
to Japan. Mighty is the stream of pilgrims which continually sets toward
the holy place. A common proverb declares that even a cow can find her
way thither.

In A.D. 572 and again in 584, new images, sutras and teachers came over
from another part of Korea. The Mikado called a council to determine
what should be done with the idols, to the worship of which he was
himself inclined; but a majority were against the idea of insulting the
native gods by receiving the presents and thus introducing a foreign
religion. The minister of state, however, one Soga no Inamé, expressed
himself in favor of Buddhism, and put the images in his country house
which he converted into a temple. When, soon after, the land was
afflicted with a pestilence, the opponents of the new faith attributed
it to the wrath of the gods at the hospitality given to the new idols.
War broke out, fighting took place, and the Buddhist temple was burned
and the idols thrown into the river, near Osaka. Great portents
followed, and the enemies of Buddhism were, it is said, burned up by
flames descending from heaven.

The tide then turned in favor of the Indian faith, and Soga rebuilt his
temple. Priests and missionaries were invited to come over from Korea,
being gladly furnished by the allies of Japan from the state of Shinra,
and Buddhism again flourished at the court, but not yet among the
people. Once more, fighting broke out; and again the temple of the alien
gods was destroyed, only to be rebuilt again. The chief champion of
Buddhism was the son of a Mikado, best known by his posthumous title,
Sh[=o]toku,[33] who all his life was a vigorous defender and propagator
of the new faith. Through his influence, or very probably through the
efforts of the Korean missionaries, the devastating war between the
Japanese and Koreans was ended. In the peace which followed, notable
progress was made through the vigor of the missionaries encouraged by
the regent Sh[=o]toku, so that at his death in the year A.D. 621, there
were forty-six temples, and thirteen hundred and eighty-five priests,
monks and nuns in Japan. Many of the most famous temples, which are now
full of wealth and renown, trace their foundations to this era of
Sh[=o]toku and of his aunt, the Empress Suiko (A.D. 593-628), who were
friendly to the new religion. Sh[=o]toku may be almost called the
founder of Japanese Buddhism. Although a layman, he is canonized and
stands unique in the Pantheon of Eastern Buddhism, his image being
prominently visible in thousands of Japanese temples.

Legend, in no country more luxurious than in Japan, tells us that the
exotic religion made no progress until Amida, the boundlessly Merciful
One, assuming the shape of a concubine of the imperial prince who
afterward became the Mikado Yomé, gave birth to Sh[=o]toku, who was
himself Kwannon or the goddess of mercy in human form; and that when he
grew up, he took to wife an incarnation of the Buddha elect,
Mahastana-prapta, or in Japanese Dai-séi-shi, whose idol is honored at

The New Faith Becomes Popular.

Then Buddhism became popular, passing out from the narrow circle of the
court to be welcomed by the people. In A.D. 623, monks came over
directly from China, and we find mentioned two sects, the Sanron and the
J[=o]jitsu, which are no longer extant in Japan. In about A.D. 650 the
fame of Yuan Chang (Hiouen Thsang) the Chinese pilgrim to India, or the
holy land, reached-Japan; and his illustrious example was
enthusiastically followed. History now frequently repeated itself. The
Japanese monk, D[=o]sh[=o], crossed the seas to China to gaze upon the
face and become the pupil of that illustrious Chinese pilgrim, who had
seen Buddha Land. Later on, other monks crossed to the land of Sinim,
until we find that in this and succeeding centuries, hundreds of
Japanese in their frail junks, braved the dangers of the stormy ocean,
in order to study Sanskrit, to read the old scriptures, to meet the new
lights of learning or revelation, and to become versed in the latest
fashions of religion. We find the pilgrims returning and founding new
sects or sub-sects, and stimulating by their enthusiasm the monks and
the home missionaries. In the year A.D. 700 the custom of cremation was
introduced. This wrought not only a profound change in customs, but also
became the seed of a rich crop of superstitions; since out of the
cremated bodies of the saints came forth the _shari_ or, in Sanskrit,
_sarira_. These hard substances or pellets, preserved in crystal
cabinets, are treated as holy gems or relics. Thus venerated, they
become the nuclei of cycles of fairy lore.

In A.D. 710, the great monastery at Nara was founded; and here we must
notice or at least glance at the great throng of civilizing influences
that came in with Buddhism, and at the great army of artists, artisans
and skilled men and women of every sort of trade and craft. We note that
with the building of this great Nara monastery came another proof of
improvement and the added element of stability in Japanese civilization.
The ancient dread which the Japanese had, of living in any place where a
person had died was passing away. The nomad life was being given up. The
successor of a dead Mikado was no longer compelled to build himself a
new capital. The traveller in Japan, familiar with the ancient poetry of
the Many[=o]-shu, finds no fewer than fifty-eight sites[34] as the early
homes of the Japanese monarchy. Once occupying the proud position of
imperial capitals, they are now for the most part mere hamlets,
oftentimes mere names, with no visible indication of former human
habitation; while the old rivers or streams once gay with barges filled
with silken-robed lords and ladies, have dried up to mere washerwomen's
runnels. For the first time after the building of this Buddhist
monastery, the capital remained permanent, Nara being the imperial
residence during seventy-five years. Then beautiful Ki[=o]to was chosen,
and remained the residence of successive generations of emperors until
1868. In A.D. 735, we read of the Kégon sect. Two years later a large
monastery, with a seven-storied pagoda alongside of it, was ordered to
be built in every province. These, with the temples and their
surroundings, and with the wayside shrines beginning to spring up like
exotic flowers, made a striking alteration in the landscape of Japan.
The Buddhist scriptures were numerously copied and circulated among the
learned class, yet neither now nor ever, except here and there in
fragments, were they found among the people. For, although the Buddhist
canon has been repeatedly imported, copied by the pen and in modern
times printed, yet no Japanese translation has ever been made. The
methods of Buddhism in regard to the circulation of the scriptures are
those, not of Protestantism but of Roman Catholicism.

In the same year, the Mikado called for contributions from all the
people for the building of a colossal image of the Buddha, which was to
be of bronze and gilded. Yet, fearing that the Shint[=o] gods might be
offended, a skilful priest named Giyoku, - probably the same man who
introduced the potter's wheel into Japan, - was sent to the shrine of the
Sun-goddess in Isé to present her with a shari or relic of the Buddha,
and find out how she would regard his project. After seven days and
nights of waiting, the chapel doors flew open and the loud-voiced oracle
was interpreted in a favorable sense. The night following the return of

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 13 of 31)