William Elliot Griffis.

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the priest, the Mikado dreamed that the sun-goddess appeared to him in
her own form and said "The sun is Birushana" (Vairokana). This meant
that the chief deity of the Japanese proclaimed herself an avatar or
incarnation of one of the old Hindu gods.[35] She also approved the
project of the image; and in this same year, 759, native gold was found
in Japan, which sufficed for the gilding of the great idol that, after
eleven hundred years and many vicissitudes, still stands, the glory of a
multitude of pilgrims.

In A.D. 754 a famous priest, who introduced the new Ritsu Sect, was able
to convert the Mikado and obtain four hundred converts in the imperial
court. Thirteen years later, another tremendous triumph of Buddhism was
scored and a deadly blow at Shint[=o] was struck. The Buddhist priests
persuaded the Mikados to abandon their ancient title of Sumeru and adopt
that of Tenn[)o]; (Heavenly King or Tenshi) Son of Heaven, after the
Chinese fashion. At the same time it was taught that the emperor could
gain great merit and sooner become a Buddha, by retiring from the active
cares of the throne and becoming a monk, with the title of H[=o]-[=o],
or Cloistered Emperor. This innovation had far-reaching consequences,
profoundly altering the status of the Mikado, giving sensualism on the
one hand and priestcraft on the other, their coveted opportunity,
changing the ruler of the nation from an active statesman into a recluse
and the recluse into a pious monk, or a licentious devotee, as the case
might be. It paved the way for the usurpation of the government by the
unscrupulous soldier, "the man on horseback," who was destined to rule
Japan for seven hundred years, while the throne and its occupant were in
the shadow. One of a thousand proofs of the progress of the propaganda
scheme is seen in the removal of the Shint[=o] temple which had stood at
Nikk[=o], and the erection in its place of a Buddhist temple. In A.D.
805 the famous Tendai, and in 806 the powerful Shingon Sect were
introduced. All was now ready in Japan for the growth not only of one
new Buddhism, but of several varieties among the Northern Buddhisms
which so arouse the astonishment of those who study the simple Pali
scriptures that contain the story of Gautama, and who know only the
southern phase of the faith, that is to Asia, relatively, what
Christianity is to Europe. We say relatively, for while Buddhism made
Chinese Asia gentle in manners and kind to animals, it covered the land
with temples, monasteries and images; on the other hand the religion of
Jesus filled Europe not only with churches, abbeys, monasteries and
nunneries, but also with hospitals, orphan asylums, lighthouses, schools
and colleges. Between the fruits of Christendom and Buddhadom, let the
world judge.

Survey and Summary.

To sum up: Buddhism is the humanitarian's, and also the skeptic's,
solution of the problem of the universe. Its three great distinguishing
characteristics are atheism, metempsychosis and absence of caste. It was
in its origin pure democracy. As against despotic priesthood and
oppressive hierarchy, it was congregational. Theoretically it is so yet,
though far from being so practically. It is certainly sacerdotal and
aristocratic in organization. As in any other system which has so vast a
hierarchy with so many grades of honor and authority, its theory of
democracy is now a memory. First preached in a land accursed by caste
and under spiritual and secular oppressions, it acknowledged no caste,
but declared all men equally sinful and miserable, and all equally
capable of being freed from sin and misery through Buddhahood, that is,
knowledge or enlightenment.[36]

The three-fold principle laid down by Gautama, and now in dogma,
literature, art and worship, a triad or formal trinity, is, Buddha, the
attainment of Buddha-hood, or perfect enlightenment, through meditation
and benevolence; Karma, the law of cause and effect; and Dharma,
discipline or order; or, the Lord, the Law and the Church. Paying no
attention to questions of cosmogony or theogony, the universe is
accepted as an ultimate fact. Matter is eternal. Creation exists but not
a Creator. All is god, but God is left out of consideration. The gods
are even less than Buddhas. Humanity is glorified and the stress of all
teaching is upon this life. In a word: a sinless life, attainable by
man, through his own exertions in this world, above all the powers or
beings of the universe, is the essence of original Buddhism. Original
Nirvana meant death which ends all, extinction of existence.

Gautama's immediate purpose was to emancipate himself and his followers
from the fetters of Brahminism. He tried to leave the world of Hindu
philosophy behind him and to escape from it.

Did he succeed? Partially.

Buddha hoped also to rise above the superstitions of the common people,
but in this he was again only partially successful.[37] "The clouds
returned after the rain." The old dead gods of Brahminism came back
under new names and forms. The malarial exhalations of corrupt
Brahmanistic philosophy, continually poisoned the atmosphere which
Buddha's disciples breathed. Still worse, as his religion transmigrated
into other lands, it became itself a history of transformation, until
to-day no religion on earth seems to be such a kaleidoscopic
phantasmagoria. Polytheism is rampant over the greater part of the
Buddhist world to-day. In the larger portion of Chinese Asia, pantheism
dominates the mind. In modern Babism, - a mixture of Mohammedanism,
Christianity and Buddhism, - there are streaks of dualism. If Monotheism
has ever dawned on the Buddhist world, it has been in fitful pulses as
in auroral flashes, soon to leave darkness darker.

For us is this lesson: Buddhism, brought face to face with the problem
of the world's evil and possible improvement, evades it; begs the whole
question at the outset; prays: "Deliver us from existence. Save us from
life and give us as little as possible of it." Christianity faces the
problem and flinches not; orders advance all along the line of endeavor
and prays: "Deliver us from evil;" and is ever of good cheer, because
Captain and leader says: "I have overcome the world." Go, win it for me.
"I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more


"All things are nothing but mind."

"The doctrines of Buddhism have no fixed forms."

"There is nothing in things themselves that enables us to
distinguish in them either good or evil, right or wrong. It is
but man's fancy that weighs their merits and causes him to
choose one and reject the other."

"Non-individuality is the general principle of
Buddhism." - Outlines of the Mah[=a]y[=a]na.

"It (Shint[=o]) was smothered before reaching maturity, but
Buddhism and Confucianism had to disguise and change in order to
enter Japan."

"Life has a limited span and naught may avail to extend it. This
is manifested by the impermanence of human beings. But yet
whenever necessary I will hereafter make my appearance from time
to time as a god, a sage, or a Buddha." - Last words of Shaka the
Buddha, in Japanese biography.

"It is our opinion that Buddhism cannot long hold its ground,
and that Christianity must finally prevail throughout all
Japan.... Now, when Buddhism and Christianity are in conflict
for the ascendency, this indifference of the Japanese people to
the difference of sects is a great disadvantage to Buddhism.
That they should worship Jesus Christ with the same mind as they
do _Inari_ or _Mi[=o]jin_ is not at all inconsistent in their
estimation or contrary to their custom." - Fukuzawa, of

"How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God,
follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." - Elijah.

"Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?" - Jesus.

"Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and
bitter?" - James.

"What concord hath Christ with Belial?" - Paul.


Syncretism in Religion.

Two centuries and a half of Buddhism in Japan, showed the leaders and
teachers of the Indian faith that complete victory over the whole nation
was yet very far off. The court had indeed been invaded and won. Even
the Mikado, the ecclesiastical head of Shint[=o], and the incarnation
and vicar of the heavenly gods, had not only embraced Buddhism, but in
many instances had shorn the hair and taken the vows of the monk. Yet
the people clung tenaciously to their old traditions, customs and
worship; for their gods were like themselves and indeed were of
themselves, since Shint[=o] is only a transfiguration of Japanese life.
In the Japanese of those days we can trace the same traits which we
behold in the modern son of Nippon, especially his intense patriotism
and his warlike tendencies. To convert these people to the peaceful
dogmas of Siddartha and to make them good Buddhists, something more than
teaching and ritual was necessary. It was indispensable that there
should be complete substitution, all along the ruts and paths of
national habit, and especially that the names of the gods and the
festivals should be Buddhaized.

Popular customs are nearly immortal and ineradicable. Though wars may
come, dynasties rise and fall, and convulsions in nature take place, yet
the people's manners and amusements are very slow in changing. If, in
the history of Christianity, the European missionaries found it
necessary in order to make conquest of our pagan forefathers, to baptize
and re-name without radically changing old notions and habits, so did it
seem equally indispensable that in Japan there should be some system of
reconciliation of the old and the new, some theological revolution,
which should either fulfil, absorb, or destroy Shint[=o].

In the histories of religions in Western Asia, Northern Africa and
Europe, we are familiar with efforts at syncretism. We have seen how
Philo attempted to unite Hebrew righteousness and Greek beauty, and to
harmonize Moses and Plato. We know of Euhemerus, who thought he read in
the old mythologies not only the outlines of real history, but the
hieroglyphics of legend and tradition, truth and revelation.[1] Students
of Church history are well aware that this principle of interpretation
was followed only too generously by Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria,
Lactantius, Chrysostom and others of the Church Fathers. Indeed, it
would be hard to find in any of the great religions of the world an
utter absence of syncretism, or the union of apparently hostile
religious ideas. In the Thousand and One Nights, we have an example in
popular literature. We see that the ancient men of India, Persia and
pre-Mohammedan Arabia now act and talk as orthodox Mussulmans. In
matters pertaining to art and furniture, the statue of Jupiter in Rome
serves for St. Peter, and in Japan that of the Virgin and child for the
Buddha and his mother.[2]

What, however, chiefly concerns the critic and student of religions is
to inquire how far the process has been natural, and the efforts of
those who have brought about the union have been honest, and their
motives pure. The Bible pages bear witness, that Israelites too often
tried to make the same fountain give forth sweet waters and bitter, and
to grow thistles and grapes on the same stem, by uniting the cults of
Jehovah and the Baalim. King Solomon's enterprises in the same direction
are more creditable to him as a politician than as a worshipper.[3] In
the history of Christianity one cannot commend the efforts either of the
Gnostics or the neo-Platonists, nor always justify the medieval
missionaries in their methods. Nor can we accurately describe as
successful the ingenuity of Vossius, the Dutch theologian, who,
following the scheme of Euhemerus, discovered the Old Testament
patriarchs in the disguise of the gods of Paganism. Nor, even though
Germany be the land of learning, can the clear-headed scholar agree with
some of her rationalists, who are often busy in the same field of
industry, setting forth wild criticism as "science."

The Kami and the Buddhas.

In Japan, to solve the problem of reconciliation between the ancient
traditions of the divine ancestors and the dogmas of the Indian cult, it
was necessary that some master spirit, profoundly learned in the two
Ways, of the Kami and of the Buddhas, should be bold, and also as it
seems, crafty and unscrupulous. To convert a line of theocratic
emperors, whose authority was derived from their alleged divine origin
and sacerdotal character, into patrons and propagandists of Buddhism,
and to transform indigenous Shint[=o] gods into Buddhas elect, or
Buddhas to come, or Buddhas in a former state of existence, were tasks
that might appall the most prodigious intellect, and even strain the
capacities of what one might imagine to be the universal religion for
all mankind.

Yet from such a task continental Buddhism had not shrunk before and did
not shrink then, nor indeed from it do the insular Japanese sects shrink
now. Indeed, Buddhism is quite ready to adopt, absorb and swallow up
Japanese Christianity. With all encompassing tentacles, and with
colossal powers of digestion and assimilation, Northern Buddhism had
drawn into itself a large part of the Brahmanism out of which it
originally sprang,[4] reversing the old myth of Chronos by swallowing
its parents. It had gathered in, pretty much all that was in the heavens
above and the earth beneath and the waters that were under the earth, in
Nepal, Tibet, China, and Korea. Thoroughly exercised and disciplined, it
was ready to devour and digest all that the imagination of Japan had

We must remember that, at the opening of the ninth century, the Buddhism
rampant in China and indeed throughout Chinese Asia was the Tantra
system of Yoga-chara.[5] This compound of polytheism and pantheism, with
its sensuous paradise, its goddess of mercy and its pantheon of every
sort of worshipable beings, was also equipped with a system of
philosophy by which Buddhism could be adapted to almost every yearning
of human nature in its lowest or its highest form, and by which things
apparently contradictory could be reconciled. Furthermore - and this is
not the least important thing to consider when the work to be done is
for the ordinary man as an individual and for the common people in the
mass - it had also a tremendous apparatus for touching the imagination
and captivating the fancy of the unthinking and the uneducated.

For example, consider the equipment of the Buddhist priests of the ninth
century in the matter of art alone. Shint[=o] knows next to nothing of
art,[6] and indeed one might almost say that it knows little of
civilization. It is like ultra-Puritanic Protestantism and Iconoclasm.
Buddhism, on the contrary, is the mother of art, and art is her
ever-busy child and handmaid. The temples of the Kami were bald and
bare. The Kojiki told nothing of life hereafter, and kept silence on a
hundred points at which human curiosity is sure to be active, and at
which the Yoga system was voluble. Buddhism came with a set of visible
symbols which should attract the eye and fire the imagination, and
within ethical limits, the passions also. It was a mixed and variegated
system, - a resultant of many forces.[7] It came with the thought of
India, the art-influence of Greece, the philosophy of Persia, the
speculations of the Gnostics and, in all probability, with ideas
borrowed indirectly from Nestorian or other forms of Christianity; and
thus furnished, it entered Japan.

The Mission of Art.

Thus far the insular kingdom had known only the monochrome sketches of
the Chinese painters, which could have a meaning for the educated few
alone. The composite Tantra dogmas fed the fancy and stimulated the
imagination, filling them with pictures of life, past, present and
future. "The sketch was replaced by the illumination." Whole schools of
artists, imported from China and Korea, multiplied their works and
attracted the untrained senses of the people, by filling the temples
with a blaze of glory. "This result was sought by a gorgeous but studied
play of gold and color, and a lavish richness of mounting and
accessories, that appear strangely at variance with the begging bowl and
patched garments of primitive Buddhism."[8] The change in the Japanese
temple was as though the gray clouds had been kissed by the sun and made
to laugh rainbows. The country of the Fertile Plain of Sweet Flags was
transformed. It suddenly became the land wherein gods grew not singly
but in whole forests. Like the Shulamite, when introduced among the
jewelled ladies of Solomon's harem, so stood the boor amid the sheen and
gold of the new temples.

"Gold was the one thing essential to the Buddhist altar-piece,
and sometimes, when applied on a black ground, was the only
material used. In all cases it was employed with an unsparing
hand. It appeared in uniform masses, as in the body of the
Buddha or in the golden lakes of the Western Paradise; in minute
diapers upon brocades and clothing, in circlets and undulating
rays, to form the glory surrounding the head of Amitaba; in
raised bosses and rings upon the armlets or necklets of the
Bodhisattvas and Devas, and in a hundred other manners. The
pigments chosen to harmonize with this display were necessarily
body colors of the most pronounced lines, and were untoned by
any trace of chiaroscuro. Such materials as these would surely
try the average artist, but the Oriental painter knew how to
dispose them without risk of crudity or gaudiness, and the
precious metal, however lavishly applied, was distributed over
the picture with a judgment that would make it difficult to
alter or remove any part without detriment to the beauty of the

In our day, Japanese art has won its own place in the world's temple of
beauty. Even those familiar with the master-pieces of Europe do not
hesitate to award to the artists of Nippon a meed of praise which,
within certain limits, is justly applied to them equally with the
masters of the Italian, the Dutch, the Flemish, or the French schools.
It serves our purpose simply to point out that art was a powerful factor
in the religious conquest of the Japanese for the new doctrines of the
Yoga system, which in Japan is called Riy[=o]bu, or Mixed Buddhism.

We say Mixed Buddhism rather than Riy[=o]bu Shint[=o], for Shint[=o] was
less corrupted than swallowed up, while Buddhism suffered one more
degree of mixture and added one more chapter of decay. It increased in
its visible body, while in its mind it became less and less the religion
of Buddha and more and more a thing with the old Shint[=o] heart still
in it, making a strange growth in the eyes of the continental believers.
To the Northern and Southern was now added an Eastern or Japanese

Who was the wonder-worker that annexed the Land of the Gods to Buddhadom
and re-read the Kojiki as a sutra, and all Japanese history and
traditions as only a chapter of the incarnations of Buddha?

K[=o]b[=o] the Wonder Worker.

The Philo and Euhemerus of Japan was the priest Kukai, who was born in
the province of Sanuki, in the year 774. He is better known by his
posthumous title K[=o]b[=o] Daishi, or the Great Teacher who promulgates
the Law. By this name we shall call him. About his birth, life and
death, have multiplied the usual swaddling bands of Japanese legend and
tradition,[10] and to his tomb at the temple on Mount K[=o]-ya, the
Campo Santo of Japanese Buddhism, still gather innumerable pilgrims. The
"hall of ten thousand lamps," each flame emblematic of the Wisdom that
saves, is not, indeed, in these days lighted annually as of old; but the
vulgar yet believe that the great master still lives in his mausoleum,
in a state of profoundly silent meditation. Into the hall of bones near
by, covering a deep pit, the teeth and "Adam's apple" of the cremated
bodies of believers are thrown by their relatives, though the pit is
cleared out every three years. The devotees believe that by thus
disposing of the teeth and "Adam's apple," they obtain the same
spiritual privileges as if they were actually entombed there, that is,
of being born again into the heaven of the Bodhisattva or the Pure Land
of Absolute Bliss, by virtue of the mystic formulas repeated by the
great master in his lifetime.

Let us sketch the life of K[=o]b[=o],

First named Toto-mono, or Treasure, by his parents, who sent him to
Ki[=o]t[=o] to be educated for the priesthood, the youth spent four
years in the study of the Chinese classics. Dissatisfied with the
teachings of Confucius, he became a disciple of a famous Buddhist
priest, named Iwabuchi (Rock-edge or throne). Soon taking upon himself
the vows of the monk, he was first named Kukai, meaning "space and sea,"
or heaven and earth.[11] He overcame the dragons that assaulted him, by
prayers, by spitting at them the rays of the evening star which had
flown from heaven into his mouth and by repeating the mystic formulas
called Dharani.[12] Annoyed by hobgoblins with whom he was obliged to
converse, he got rid of them by surrounding himself with a consecrated
imaginary enclosure into which they were unable to enter against his

We mention these legends only to call the attention to the fact that
they are but copies of those already accepted in China at that time, and
are the logical and natural fruit of the Tantra school at which we have
glanced. In 804, K[=o]b[=o] was appointed to visit the Middle Kingdom as
a government student. By means of his clever pen and calligraphic skill
he won his way into the Chinese capital. He became the favored disciple
of a priest who taught him the mystic doctrines of the Yoga. Having
acquired the whole of the system, and equipped himself with a large
library of Buddhist doctrinal works and still more with every sort of
ecclesiastical furniture and religious goods, he returned to Japan.

Multitudes of wonders are reported about K[=o]b[=o], all of which show
the growth of the Tantra school. It is certain that his erudition was
immense, and that he was probably the most learned man of Japan in that
age, and possibly of any other age. Besides being a Japanese Ezra in
multiplying writings, he is credited with the invention of the
hira-gana, or running script, and if correctly so, he deserves on this
account alone an immortal honor equal to that of Cadmus or Sequoia. The
kana[13] is a syllabary of forty-seven letters, which by diacritical
marks, may be increased to seventy. The kata-kana is the square or print
form, the hira-kana is the round or "grass" character for writing.
Though not as valuable as a true phonetic alphabet, such as the Koreans
and the Cherokees possess, the _i-ro-ha_, or kana script, even though a
syllabary and not an alphabet, was a wonderful aid to popular writing
and instruction.

Evidently the idea of the i-ro-ha, or Japanese ABC, was derived from the
Sanskrit alphabet, or, what some modern Anglo-Indian has called the
Deva-Nagari or the god-alphabet. There is no evidence, however, to show
that K[=o]b[=o] did more than arrange in order forty-seven of the
easiest Chinese signs then used, in such a manner that they conveyed in
a few lines of doggerel the sense of a passage from a sutra in which the
mortality of man and the emptiness of all things are taught, and the
doctrine of Nirvana is suggested.[14] Hokusai, the artist, in a sketch
which embodies the popular idea of this bonze's immense industry,
represents him copying the shastras and sutras. K[=o]b[=o] is on a seat
before a large upright sheet of paper. He holds a brush-pen in his
mouth, and one in each of his hands and feet, all moving at once.[15]
Favorite portions of the Buddhist scriptures were indeed so rapidly
multiplied in Japan in the ninth century, as to suggest the idea, that,
even in this early age, block printing had been imported from China,
whence also afterward, in all probability, it was exported into Europe
before the days of Gutenberg and Coster.[16] The popular imagination,
however, was more easily moved on seeing five brushes kept at work and
all at once by the muscles in the fingers, toes and mouth of one man.
Yet, had his life lasted six hundred years instead of sixty, he could
hardly have graven all the images, scaled all the mountain peaks,

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 14 of 31)