William Elliot Griffis.

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

. (page 15 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 15 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

confounded all the sceptics, wrought all the miracles and performed all
the other feats with which he is popularly credited.[17]

K[=o]b[=o] Irenicon.

K[=o]b[=o] indeed was both the Philo and Euhemerus of Japan, plus a
large amount of priestly cunning and what his enemies insist was
dishonesty and forgery. Soon after his return from China, he went to the
temples of Isé,[18] the most holy place of Shint[=o].[19] Taking a
reverent attitude before the chief shrine, that of Toko Uké Bimé no Kami
or Abundant-Food-Lady-God, or the deified Earth as the producer of food
and the upholder of all things upon its surface, the suppliant waited
patiently while fasting and praying.

In this, K[=o]b[=o] did but follow out the ordinary Shint[=o] plan for
securing god-possession and obtaining revelation; that is, by starving
both the stomach and the brain.[20] After a week's waiting he obtained
the vision. The Food-possessing Goddess revealed to him the yoke (or
Yoga) by which he could harness the native and the imported gods to the
chariot of victorious Buddhism. She manifested herself to him and
delivered the revelation on which his system is founded, and which,
briefly stated, is as follows:

All the Shint[=o] deities are avatars or incarnations of Buddha. They
were manifestations to the Japanese, before Gautama had become the
enlightened one, or the jewel in the lotus, and before the holy wheel of
the law or the sacred shastras and sutras had reached the island empire.
Further more, provision was made for the future gods and deified holy
ones, who were to proceed from the loins of the Mikado, or other
Japanese fathers, according to the saying of Buddha which is thus
recorded in a Japanese popular work:

"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 (Kami), a sage (Confucian teacher), or a
Buddha (Hotoké)."[21]

In a word, the Shint[=o] goddess talked as orthodox (Yoga) Buddhism as
the ancient characters of the Indian, Persian and pre-Islam-Arabic
stories in the Arabian Nights now talk the purest Mohammedanism.[22]
According to the words put into Gautama's mouth at the time of his
death, the Buddha was already to reappear in the particular form and in
all the forms, acceptable to Shint[=o]ists, Confucianists, or Buddhists
of whatever sect.

Descending from the shrine of vision and revelation, with a complete
scheme of reconciliation, with correlated catalogues of Shint[=o] and
Buddhist gods, with liturgies, with lists of old popular festivals newly
named, with the apparatus of art to captivate the senses, K[=o]b[=o]
forthwith baptized each native Shint[=o] deity with a new
Chinese-Buddhistic name. For every Shint[=o] festival he arranged a
corresponding Buddhist's saints' day or gala time. Then, training up a
band of disciples, he sent them forth proclaiming the new irenicon.

The Hindu Yoga Becomes Japanese Riy[=o]bu.

It was just the time for this brilliant and able ecclesiastic to
succeed. The power and personal influence of the Mikado were weakening,
the court swarmed with monks, the rising military classes were already
safely under the control of the shavelings, and the pen of learning had
everywhere proved itself mightier than the sword and muscle.
K[=o]b[=o]'s particular dialectic weapons were those of the Yoga-chara,
or in Japanese, the Shingon Shu, or Sect of the True Word.[23] He, like
his Chinese master, taught that we can attain the state of the
Enlightened or Buddha, while in the present physical body which was born
of our parents.

This branch of Buddhism is said to have been founded in India about A.D.
200, by a saint who made the discovery of an iron pagoda inhabited by
the holy one, Vagrasattva, who communicated the exact doctrine to those
who have handed it down through the Hindoo and Chinese patriarchs. The
books or scriptures of this sect are in three sutras; yet the essential
point in them is the Mandala or the circle of the Two Parts, or in
Japanese Riy[=o]bu. Introduced into China, A.D. 720, it is known as the
Yoga-chara school.

K[=o]b[=o] finding a Chinese worm, made a Japanese dragon, able to
swallow a national religion. In the act of deglutition and the long
process of the digestion of Shint[=o], Japanese Buddhism became
something different from every other form of the faith in Asia. Noted
above all previous developments of Buddhism for its pantheistic
tendencies, the Shingon sect could recognize in any Shint[=o] god,
demi-god, hero, or being, the avatar in a previous stage of existence of
some Buddhist being of corresponding grade.

For example,[24] Amatéras[)u] or Ten-Sh[=o]-Dai-Jin, the sun-goddess,
becomes Dai Nichi Ni[=o]rai or Amida, whose colossal effigies stand in
the bronze images Dai Butsu at Nara, Ki[=o]to and Kamakura. Ojin, the
god of war, became Hachiman Dai Bosatsu, or the great Bodhisattva of the
Eight Banners. Adopted as their patron by the fighting Genji or Minamoto
warriors of mediæval times, the Buddhists could not well afford to have
this popular deity outside their pantheon.

For each of the thirty days of the month, a Bodhisattva, or in Japanese
pronunciation Bosatsu, was appointed. Each of these Bodhisattvas became
a Dai Mi[=o] Jin or Great Enlightened Spirit, and was represented as an
avatar in Japan of Buddha in the previous ages, when the Japanese were
not yet prepared to receive the holy law of Buddhism.

Where there were not enough Dai Mi[=o] Jin already existing in native
traditions to fill out the number required by the new scheme, new titles
were invented. One of these was Ten-jin, Heavenly being or spirit. The
famous statesman and scholar of the tenth century, Sugawara Michizané,
was posthumously named Tenjin, and is even to this day worshipped by
many children of Japan as he was formerly for a thousand years by nearly
all of them, as the divine patron of letters. Kompira, Benten and other
popular deities, often considered as properly belonging to Shint[=o],
"are evidently the offspring of Buddhist priestly ingenuity."[25] Out of
the eight millions or so of native gods, several hundred were catalogued
under the general term Gon-gen, or temporary manifestations of Buddha.
In this list are to be found not only the heroes of local tradition, but
even deified forces of nature, such as wind and fire. The custom of
making gods of great men after their death, thus begun on a large scale
by K[=o]b[=o], has gone on for centuries. Iyéyas[)u], the political
unifier of Japan, shines as a star of the first magnitude in the heavens
of the Riy[=o]bu system, under the mime of T[=o]-sh[=o]-g[=u], or Great
Light of the East. The common people speak of him as Gon-gen Sama, the
latter word being an honorary form of address for all beings from a baby
to a Bosatsu.

In this way, K[=o]b[=o] arranged a sort of clearing-house or joint-stock
company in which the Bodhisattvas, kami and other miscellaneous beings,
in either the native or foreign religion, were mutually interchangeable.
In a large sense, this feat of priestly dexterity was but the repetition
in history, of that of Asanga with the Brahmanism and Buddhism of India
three centuries before. It was this Asanga who wrote the Yoga-chara
Bhumi. The succession of syncretists in India, China and Japan is
Asanga, Hiuki[=o] and K[=o]b[=o].

The Happy Family of Riy[=o]bu.

Nevertheless this attempt at making a happy family and ploughing with an
ox and ass in the same yoke, has not been an unqualified success. It
will sometimes happen that one god escapes the classification made by
the Buddhists and slips into the fold of Shint[=o], or _vice versa_;
while again the label-makers and pasters - as numerous in scholastic
Buddhism as in sectarian Christendom - have hard work to make the labels
stick. A popular Gon-gen or Dai-Mi[=o]-jin, whose name and renown has
for centuries attracted crowds of pilgrims, and yielded fat revenues as
regularly as the autumn harvests, is not readily surrendered by the old
Buddhist proprietors, however cleverly or craftily the bonzes may yield
outward conformity to governmental edicts. On the other hand, the
efforts, both archaeological and practical, which have been made in
recent years by fiercely zealous Shint[=o]ists, savor of the smartness
of New Japan more than they suggest either sincerity or edification. It
often requires the finest tact on the part of both the strenuous
Buddhists and the stalwart purists of Shint[=o], to extricate the
various gods out of the mixture and mess of Riy[=o]bu Shint[=o], and to
keep them from jostling each other.

This reclaiming and kidnapping of gods and transferring them from one
camp to another, has been especially active since 1870, when, under
government auspices, the Riy[=o]bu temples were purged of all Buddhist
idols, furniture and influences. The term Dai Mi[=o] Jin, or Great
Illustrious Spirit, is no longer officially permitted to be used of the
old kami or gods of Shint[=o], who were known to have existed before the
days of K[=o]b[=o]. In some cases these gods have lost much of the
esteem in which they were held for centuries. Especially is this true of
the infamous rebel of the tenth century, Masakado.[26] On the entrance
into Yedo of the Imperial army, in 1868, his idol was torn from its
shrine and hacked to pieces by the patriots. His place as a deity (Kanda
Dai Mi[=o] Jin, or Great Illustrious Spirit of Kanda) was taken by
another deified being, a brother to the aboriginal earth-god who, in the
ages of the Kami, "resigned his throne in favor of the Mikado's
ancestors when they descended from Heaven." The apotheosis of the rebel
Masakado had been resorted to by the Buddhist canonizers because the
unquiet spirit of the dead man troubled the people. This method of
laying a ghost by making a god of him, was for centuries a favorite one
in Japanese Buddhism. Indeed, a large part of the practical and
parochial duties of the bonzes consists in quieting the restless spirits
of the departed.

All Japanese popular religion of the past has been intensely local and
patriotic. The ancient idea that Nippon was the first country created
and the centre of the world, has persisted through the ages, modifying
every imported religion. Hence the noticeable fact in Japanese Buddhism,
of the comparative degradation of the Hindu deities and the exaltation
of those which were native to the soil.

The normal Japanese, be he priest or lay brother, theologian or
statesman, is nothing if not patriotic. Even the Chinese gods and
goddesses which, clothed in Indian drapery and still preserving their
Aryan features, were imported to Japan, could not hold their own in
competition with the popularity of the indigenous inhabitants of the
Japanese pantheon. The normal Japanese eye does not see the ideals of
beauty in the human face and form in common with the Aryan vision.
Benten or Knanon, with the features and drapery of the homelike beauties
of Yamato or Adzuma, have ever been more lovely to the admiring eye of
the Japanese sailor and farmer, than the Aryan features of the idols
imported from India. So also, the worshipper to whom the lovely scenery
of Japan was fresh from the hands of the kami who were so much like
himself, turned naturally in preference, to the "gods many" of his own

Succeeding centuries only made it worse for the imported devas or gods,
while the kami, or the gods sprung from the soil created by Izanami and
Izanagi steadily rose in honor.

Degradation of the Foreign Deities.

For example, the Indian saint Dharma is reputed to have come to the
Dragon-fly Country long before the advent of Buddhism, but the people
were not ready for him or his teachings, and therefore he returned to
India. So at least declares the book entitled San Kai Ri[27] (Mountain,
Sea and Earth), which is a re-reading and explanation of Japanese
mythology and tradition as recorded in the Kojiki, by a Ki[=o]t[=o]
priest of the Shin Shu Sect. Of this Dharma, it is said, that he outdid
the Roman Regulus who suffered involuntary loss of his eyelids at the
hands of the Carthaginians. Dharma cut off his own eyelids, because he
could not keep awake.[28] Throwing the offending flesh upon the ground,
he saw the tea-plant arise to help holy men to keep vigil. Daruma, as
the Japanese spell his name, has a temple in central Japan. It is
related that when Sh[=o]toku, the first patron of Buddhism, was one day
walking abroad he found a poor man dying of hunger, who refused to
answer any questions or give his name. Sh[=o]toku ordered food to be
given him, and wrapped his own mantle round him. Next day the beggar
died, and the prince charitably had him buried on the spot. Shortly
afterward it was observed that the mantle was lying neatly folded up, on
the tomb, which on examination proved to be empty. The supposed dying
beggar was no other than the Indian Saint Dharma, and a pagoda was built
over the grave, in which images of the priest and saint were
enshrined.[29] Yet, alas, to-day Daruma the Hindoo and foreigner,
despite his avatar, his humility, his vigils and his self-mutilation,
has been degraded to be the shop-sign of the tobacconists. Besides being
ruthlessly caricatured, he is usually pictured with a scowl, his lidless
eyes as wide open as those upon a Chinese junk-prow or an Egyptian
coffin-lid. Often even, he has a pipe in his mouth - a comical
anachronism, suggestive to the smoker of the dark ages that knew no
tobacco, before nicotine made the whole world of savage and of civilized
kin. Legless dolls and snow-men are named after this foreigner, whose
name is associated almost entirely with what is ludicrous.

On K[=o]b[=o]'s expounding his scheme to the Mikado, the emperor was so
pleased with his servant's ingenuity, that he gave it the name of
Riy[=o]bu[30] Shint[=o]; that is, the two-fold divine doctrine, double
way of the gods, or amalgamated theology. Henceforth the Japanese could
enter Nirvana or Paradise through a two-leaved gate. As for the people,
they also were pleased, as they usually are when change or reform does
not mean abolition of the old festivals, or of the washings, sousings,
and fun at the tombs of their ancestors in the graveyards, or the
merry-makings, or the pilgrimages,[31] which are usually only other
names for social recreation, and often for sensual debauch. The Yoga had
become a _kubiki_, for Shint[=o] and Buddhism were now harnessed
together, not indeed as true yoke-fellows, but yet joined as inseparably
as two oxen making the same furrow.

Many a miya now became a tera. At first in many edifices, the rites of
Shint[=o] and Buddhism were alternately performed. The Buddhist symbols
might be in the front, and the Shint[=o]ist in the rear of the sacred
hall, or _vice versa_, with a bamboo curtain between; but gradually the
two blended. Instead of austere simplicity, the Shint[=o] interior
contained a museum of idols.

Image carvers had now plenty to do in making, out of camphor or _hinoki_
wood, effigies of such of the eight million or so of kamis as were given
places in the new and enlarged pantheon. The multiplication was always
on the side of Buddhism. Soon, also, the architecture was altered from
the type of the primitive hut, to that of the low Chinese temple with
great sweeping roof, re-curved eaves, many-columned auditorium and
imposing gateway, with lacquer, paint, gilding and ceilings, on which,
in blazing gold and color, were depicted the emblems of the Buddhist
paradise. Many of these still remain even after the national purgation
of 1870, just as the Christian inscriptions survive in the marble
palimpsests of Mahometan mosques, converted from basilicas, at Damascus
or Constantinople. The torii was no longer raised in plain hinoki wood,
but was now constructed of hewn stone, rounded or polished. Sometimes it
was even of bronze with gilded crests and Sanskrit monograms,
surmounted, it may be, with tablets of painted or stained wood, on which
were Chinese letters glittering with gold. This departure from the
primitive idea of using only the natural trunks of trees, "somewhat on
the principle of Exodus, 20:25,"[32] was a radical one in the ninth
century. The elongated barrels with iron hoops, or the riveted
boiler-plate and stove-pipe pattern, in this era of Meiji is a still
more radical and even scandalous innovation.

Shint[=o] Buried in Buddhism.

So complete was the victory of Riy[=o]buism, that for nearly a thousand
years Shint[=o] as a religion, except in a few isolated spots, ceased
from sight and sank to a mere mythology or to the shadow of a mythology.
The very knowledge even of the ancient traditions was lost in the
Buddhaized forms in which the old stories[33] were cast, or in the
omnipresent ritual of the Buddhist tera.

Yet, after all, it is a question as to which suffered most, Buddhism or
Shint[=o]. Who can tell which was the base and which was the true metal
in the alloy that was formed? The San Kai Ri shows how superstitious
manifold became imbedded in Buddhism. It was not alone through the
Shingon sect, which K[=o]b[=o] introduced, that this Yoga or union came.
In the other great sect called the Tendai, and in the later sects, more
especially in that of Nichiren, the same principle of absorption was
followed. These sects also adopted many elements derived from the
god-way and thus became Shint[=o]ized. Indeed, it seems certain that
that vast development of Japanese Buddhism, peculiar to Japan and
unknown to the rest of the Buddhist world, scouted by the Southern
Buddhists as dreadful heresy, and rousing the indignation of students of
early Buddhism, like Max Müller and Professor Whitney, is largely owing
to this attempted digestion of Japanese mythology. The anaconda may
indeed be able, by reason of its marvellously flexible jaws and its
abundant activity of salivary glands, to swallow the calf, and even the
ox; but sometimes the serpent is killed by its own voracity, or at least
made helpless before the destroying hunter. When sweet potatoes and
pumpkins are planted in the same hill, and the cooked product comes on
the table, it is hard to tell whether it is tuber or hollow fruit,
subterranean or superficial growth, that we are eating. So in Riy[=o]bu,
whether it be most _imo_ or _kabocha_ is a fair question. If the
Buddhism in Japan did but add a chapter of decay and degradation to the
religion of the Light of Asia, is not this owing to the act of
K[=o]b[=o] - justified indeed by those who imitated his example, yet
hardly to be called honest? A stroke of ecclesiastical dexterity, it may
have been, but scarcely a lawful example or an illustrious and
commendable specimen of syncretism in religion.

Many students have asked what is the peculiar, the characteristic
difference between the Buddhism of Japan and the other Buddhisms of the
Asian continent. If there be one cause, leading all others, we incline
to believe it is because Japanese Buddhism is not the Buddhism of
Gautama, but is so largely Riy[=o]bu or Mixed. Yet in the alloy, which
ingredient has preserved most of its qualities? Is Japanese Buddhism
really Shint[=o]ized Buddhism, or Buddhaized Shint[=o]? Which is the
parasite and which the parasitized? Is the hermit crab Shint[=o], and
the shell Buddhism, or _vice versa_? About as many corrupt elements from
Shint[=o] entered into the various Buddhist sects as Buddhism gave to

This process of Shint[=o]izing Buddhism or of Buddhaizing
Shint[=o] - that is, of combining Shint[=o] or purely Japanese ideas and
practices with the systems imported from India, went on for five
centuries. The old native habits and mental characteristics were not
eradicated or profoundly modified; they were rather safely preserved in
so-called Buddhism, not indeed as dead flies in amber but as live
creatures, fattening on a body, which, every year, while keeping outward
form and name, was being emptied of its normal and typical life. It is
no gain to pure water to add either microbes or the food which nourishes

Buddhism Writes New Chapters of Decay.

Phenomenally, the victory was that of Buddhism. The mustard-seed has
indeed become a great tree, lodging every fowl of heaven, clean and
unclean; but potentially and in reality, the leavening power, as now
seen, seems to have been that of Shint[=o]. Or, to change metaphor,
since the hermit crab and the shell were separated by law only one
generation ago, in 1870, we shall soon, before many generations, discern
clearly which has the life and which has only the shell.[34]

There are but few literary monuments[35] of Riy[=o]buism, and it has
left few or no marks in the native chronicles, misnamed history, which
utterly omit or ignore so many things interesting to the student and
humanist.[36] Yet to this mixture or amalgamation of Buddhism with
Shint[=o], more probably than to any other direct influence, may also be
ascribed that striking alteration in the system of Chinese ethics or
Confucianism which differentiates the Japanese form from that prevalent
in China. That is, instead of filial piety, the relation of parent and
child, occupying the first place, loyalty, the relation of lord and
retainer, master and servant, became supreme. Although Buddhism made the
Mikado first a King (Tenn[=o]) or Son of Heaven (Ten-Shi), and then a
monk (H[=o]-[=o]), and after his death a Hotoké or Buddhist deity, it
caused him early to abdicate from actual life. Buddhism is thus directly
responsible for the habitual Japanese resignation from active life
almost as soon as it is entered, by men in all classes. Buddhism started
all along and down through the lines of Japanese society the idea of
early retirement from duty; so that men were considered old at forty,
and _hors concours_ before forty-five.[37] Life was condemned as vanity
of vanities before it was mature, and old age a friend that nobody
wished to meet,[38] although Japanese old age is but European prime. In
a measure, Buddhism is thus responsible for the paralysis of Japanese
civilization, which, like oft-tapped maple-trees, began to die at the
top. This was in accordance with its theories and its literature. In the
Bible there is, possibly, one book which is pessimistic in tone,
Ecclesiastes. In the bulky and dropsical canon of Buddhism there is a
whole library of despondency and despair.

Nevertheless, the ethical element held its own in the Japanese mind; and
against the pessimism and puerility of Buddhism and the religious
emptiness of Shint[=o], the bond of Japanese society was sought in the
idea of loyalty. While then, as we repeat, everything that comes to the
Japanese mind suffers as it were "a sea change, into something new and
strange," is it not fair to say that the change made by K[=o]b[=o] was
at the expense of Buddhism as a system, and that the thing that suffered
reversion was the exotic rather than the native plant? For, in the
emergence of this new idea of loyalty as supreme, Shint[=o] and not
Buddhism was the dictator.

Even more after K[=o]b[=o]'s death than during his life, Japan improved
upon her imported faith, and rapidly developed new sects of all degrees
of reputableness and disreputableness. Had K[=o]b[=o] lived on through
the centuries, as the boors still believe;[39] he could not have
stopped, had he so desired, the workings of the leaven he had brought
from China. From the sixth to the twelfth century, was the missionary
age of Japanese Buddhism. Then followed two centuries of amazing
development of doctrine. Novelties in religion blossomed, fruited and
became monuments as permanent as the age-enduring forests Hakoné, or
Nikk[=o]. Gautama himself, were he to return to "red earth" again, could
not recognize his own cult in Japan.

In China to-day Buddhism is in a bad state. One writer calls it, "The
emasculated descendant that now occupies the land with its drone of
priests and its temples, in which scarce a worthy disciple of the
learned patriarchs of ancient days is to be found. Received with open
arms, persecuted, patronized, smiled upon, tolerated, it with the last
phase of its existence, has reached, not the halcyon days of peace and
rest, but its final stage, foreshadowing its decay from rottenness and
corruption."[40] So also, in a like report, agree many witnesses. The
common people of China are to-day Taoists rather than Buddhists.[41]

If this be the position in China, something not very far from it is
found in Japan to-day. Whatever may be the Buddhism of the few learned

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 15 of 31)