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scholars, who have imbibed the critical and scientific spirit of
Christendom, and whatever be the professions and representations of its
earnest adherents and partisans, it is certain that popular Buddhism is
both ethically and vitally in a low state. In outward array the system
is still imposing. There are yet, it may be, millions of stone statues
and whole forests of wayside effigies, outdoors and
unroofed - irreverently called by the Japanese themselves, "wet gods."
Hosts upon hosts of lacquered and gilded images in wood, sheltered under
the temple tiles or shingles, still attract worshippers. Despite
shiploads of copper Buddhas exported as old metal to Europe and America,
and thousands of tons of gods and imps melted into coin or cannon, there
are myriads of metal reminders of those fruits of a religion that once
educated and satisfied; but these are, in the main, no longer to the
natives instruments of inspiration or compellers to enthusiasm. In this
time of practical charity, they are poor substitutes for those hospitals
and orphan asylums which were practically unknown in Japan until the
advent of Christianity.

K[=o]b[=o]'s smart example has been followed only too well by the people
in every part of the country. One has but to read the stacks of books of
local history to see what an amazing proportion of legends, ideas,
superstitions and revelations rests on dreams; how incredibly numerous
are the apparitions; how often the floating images of Buddha are found
on the water; how frequently flowers have rained out of the sky; how
many times the idols have spoken or shot forth their dazzling rays - in a
word; how often art and artifices have become alleged and accepted
reality. Unfortunately, the characteristics of this literature and
undergrowth of idol lore are monotony and lack of originality; for
nearly all are copies of K[=o]b[=o]'s model. His cartoon has been
constantly before the busy weavers of legend.

It may indeed be said, and said truly, that in its multiplication of
sects and in its growth of legend and superstition, Buddhism has but
followed every known religion, including traditional Christianity
itself. Yet popular Buddhism has reached a point which shows, that,
instead of having a self-purgative and self-reforming power, it is
apparently still treading in the steps of the degradation which

The Seven Gods of Good Fortune.

We repeat it, Riy[=o]bu Buddhism is Japanese Buddhism with vengeance. It
is to-day suffering from the effect of its own sins. Its _ingwa_ is
manifest. Take, for example, the little group of divinities known as the
Seven Gods of Good Fortune, which forms a popular appendage to Japanese
Buddhism and which are a direct and logical growth of the work done by
K[=o]b[=o], as shown in his Riy[=o]bu system. Not from foreign writers
and their fancies, nor even from the books which profess to describe
these divinities, do we get such an idea of their real meaning and of
their influence with the people, as we do by observation of every-day
practice, and a study of the idols themselves and of Japanese folk-lore,
popular romance, local history and guidebooks. Those familiar
divinities, indeed, at the present day owe their vitality rather to the
artists than to priests, and, it may be, have received, together with
some rather rude handling, nearly the whole of their extended popularity
and influence from their lay supporters. The Seven Happy Gods of Fortune
form nominally a Buddhist assemblage, and their effigies on the
kami-dana or god-shelf, found in nearly every Japanese house, are
universally visible. The child in Japan is rocked to sleep by the
soothing sound of the lullaby, which is often a prayer to these gods.
Even though it may be with laughing and merriment, that, in their name
the evil gods and imps are exorcised annually on New Year's eve, with
showers of beans which are supposed to be as disagreeable to the
Buddhist demons "as drops of holy water to the Devil," yet few
households are complete without one or more of the images or the
pictures of these favorite deities.

The separate elements of this conglomerate, so typical of Japanese
religion, are from no fewer than four different sources: Brahmanism,
Buddhism, Taoism and Shint[=o]ism. "Thus, Bishamon is the Buddhist
_Vâis'ramana_[42] and the Brahmanic Kuvera; Benten is Sarasvatî, the
wife of Brahmâ; Daikoku is an extremely popularised form of Mahakala,
the black-faced Temple Guardian; Hotéi has Taoist attributes, but is
regarded as an incarnation of Màitreyâ, the Buddhist Messiah;
Fuku-roku-jiu is of purely Taoist origin, and is perhaps a
personification of Lao-Tsze himself; Ju-ró-jin is almost certainly a
duplicate of Fuku-roku-jiu; and, lastly, Ebisu, as the son of Izanagi
and Izanami, is a contribution from the Shint[=o] hero-worship."[43] If
Riy[=o]bu Buddhism be two-fold, here is a texture or amalgam that is
_shi-bu_, four-fold. Let us watch lest _go-bu_, with Christianity mixed
in, be the next result of the process. To play the Japanese game of
go-ban, with Christianity as the fifth counter, and Jesus as a
Palestinian avatar of some Dhyani Buddha, crafty priests in Japan are
even now planning.

This illustration of the Seven Gods of Happiness, whose local
characters, functions and relations have been developed especially
within the last three or four hundred years, is but one of many that
could be adduced, showing what proceeded on a larger scale. The
Riy[=o]bu process made it almost impossible for the average native to
draw the line between history and mythology. It destroyed the boundary
lines, as Pantheism invariably does, between fact and fiction, truth and
falsehood. The Japanese mind, by a natural, possibly by a racial,
tendency, falls easily into Pantheism, which may be called the destroyer
of boundaries and the maker of chaos and ooze. Pretty much all early
Japanese "history" is ooze; yet there are grave and learned men, even in
the Constitutional Japan of the Méiji era - masters in their arts and
professions, graduates of technical and philosophical courses - who
solemnly talk about their "first emperor ascending the throne, B.C.
660," and to whom the dragon-born, early Mikados, and their
fellow-tribesmen, seen through the exaggerated mists of the Kojiki, are
divine personages.

The Gon-gen in the Processions.

While living in Japan between 1870 and 1874, the writer used to enjoy
watching and studying the long processions which celebrated the
foundation of temples, national or local festivals, or the completion of
some great public enterprise, such as the railway between T[=o]kio and
Yokohama. In rich costume, decoration, and representation most of the
cultus-objects were marvels of art and skill. Besides the gala dresses
and uniforms, the fantastic decorations and personal adornments, the
dances which represented the comedies and tragedies of the gods and the
striking scenes in the Kojiki, there wore colossal images of Kami,
Bodhisattvas, Gon-gen, Dai Mi[=o] Jin, and of imps, oni, mythical animal
forms and imaginary monsters.[44] More interesting than anything else,
however, were the male and female figures, set high upon triumphal cars
having many tiers, and arrayed in characteristic primeval, ancient,
medieval, or early modern dress. Some were of scowling, others of benign
visage. In some years, everyone of the eight hundred and eight streets
of Yedo sent its contribution of men, money, decorations, or vehicles.

As seen by four kinds of spectators, the average ignorant native, the
Shint[=o]ist, the learned Buddhist, and the critical historical scholar,
these effigies represented three different characters or creations.
Especially were those divine personages called Gon-gen worth the study
of the foreign observer.

(1) The common boor or streetman saluted, for example, this or that Dai
Mi[=o] Jin, as the great illustrious spirit or god of its particular
district. To this spirit and image he prayed; in his honor he made
offerings; his wrath he feared; and his smile he hoped to win, for the
Gon-gen was a divine being.

(2) To the Shint[=o]ist, who hated Buddhism and the Riy[=o]bu Shint[=o]
which had overlaid his ancestral faith, and who scorned and tabooed this
Chinese term Dai Mi[=o] Jin, this or that image represented a divine
ancestor whose name had in it many Japanese syllables, with no defiling
Chinese sounds, and who was the Kami or patron deity of this or that

(3) To the Buddhist, this or that personage, in his lifetime, in the
early ages of Japanese history, had been an avatar of Buddha who had
appeared in human flesh and brought blessings to the people and
neighborhood; yet the people of the early ages being unprepared to
receive his doctrine or revelation, he had not then revealed or preached
it; but now, as for a thousand years since the time of the illustrious
and saintly K[=o]b[=o], he had his right name and received his just
honors and worship as an avatar of the eternal Buddha. So, although
Buddhist and Shint[=o]ist might quarrel as to his title, and divide,
even to anger, on minor points, they would both agree in letting the
common people take their pleasure, enjoy the festivals and merriment,
and preserve their reverence and worship.

(4) Still another spectator studied with critical interest the swaying
figure high in air. With a taste for archaeology, he admired the
accuracy of the drapery and associations. He was amused, it may be, with
occasional anachronisms as to garments or equipments. He knew that the
original of this personage had been nothing more than a human being, who
might indeed have been conspicuous as a brave soldier in war, or as a
skilful physician who helped to stop the plague, or as a civilizer who
imported new food or improved agriculture.

In a word, had this subject of the ancient Mikado lived in modern
Christendom, he might be honored through the government, patent office,
privy council, the admiralty, the university, or the academy, as the
case or worth might be. He might shine in a plastic representation by
the sculptor or artist, or be known in the popular literature; but he
would never receive religious worship, or aught beyond honor and praise.
In this swamping of history in legend and of fact in dogma, we behold
the fruit of K[=o]b[=o]'s work, Riy[=o]bu Buddhism.

K[=o]b[=o]'s Work Undone.

Buddhism calls itself the jewel in the lotus. Japanese poetry asks of
the dewdrop "why, having the heart of the lotus for its home, does it
pretend to be a gem?" For a thousand years Riy[=o]bu Buddhism was
received as a pure brilliant of the first water, and then the
scholarship of the Shint[=o] revivalists of the eighteenth century
exposed the fraudulent nature of the unrelated parts and declared that
the jewel called Riy[=o]bu was but a craftsman's doublet and should be
split apart. Only a splinter of diamond, they declared, crowned a mass
of paste. Indignation made learning hot, and in 1870 the cement was
liquefied in civil war. The doublet was rent asunder by imperial decree,
as when a lapidist melts the mastic that holds in deception adamant and
glass, while real diamond stands all fire short of the hydro-oxygen
flame. The Riy[=o]bu temples were purged of all Buddhist symbols,
furniture, equipment and personnel, and were made again to assume their
august and austere simplicity. In the eyes of the purely aesthetic
critic, this national purgation was Puritanical iconoclasm; in those of
the priests, cast out to earn rice elsewise and elsewhere, it was
outrage, which in individual instances called for reprisal in blood,
fire and assassination; to the Shint[=o]ist, it was an exhibition of the
righteous judgment of the long-insulted gods; in the ken of the critical
student, it seems very much like historic and poetic justice.

In our day and time, Riy[=o]bu Buddhism furnishes us with a warning,
for, looked at from a purely human point of view, what happened to
Shint[=o] may possibly happen to Japanese Christianity. The successors
of those who, in the ninth century, did not scruple to Buddhaize
Shint[=o], and in later times, even our own, to Shint[=o]ize Buddhism
while holding to Buddha's name and all the revenue possible, will
Buddhaize Christianity if they have power and opportunity; and signs are
not wanting to show that this is upon their programme.

The water of stagnant Buddhism is still a swarming mass, which needs
cleansing to purity by a knowledge of one God who is Light and Love.
Without such knowledge, the manifold changes in Buddhism will but form
fresh chapters of degradation and decay. Holding such knowledge,
Christianity may pass through endless changes, for this is her
capability by Divine power and the authorization of her Founder. The now
Buddhism of our day is endeavoring to save itself through reformation
and progress. In doing so, the danger of the destruction of the system
is great, for thus far change has meant decay.


"To the millions of China, Corea, and Japan, creator and
creation are new and strange terms," - J.H. De Forest.

"The Law of our Lord, the Buddha, is not a natural science or a
religion, but a doctrine of enlightenment; and the object of it
is to give rest to the restless, to point out the Master (the
Inmost Man) to those that are blind and do not perceive their
Original State."

"The Saddharma Pundarika Sutra teaches us how to obtain that
desirable knowledge of the mind as it is in itself [universal
wisdom] ... Mind is the One Reality, and all Scriptures are the
micrographic photographs of its images. He that fully grasps the
Divine Body of Sakyamuni, holds ever, even without the written
Sutra, the inner Saddharma Pundarika in his hand. He ever reads
it mentally, even though he would never read it orally. He is
unified with it though he has no thought about it. He is the
true keeper of the Sutra." - Zitsuzen Ashitsu of the Tendai sect.

"It [Buddhism] is idealistic. Everything is as we think it. The
world is my idea.... Beyond our faith is naught. Hold the
Buddhist to his creed and insist that such logic destroys
itself, and he triumphs smilingly, 'Self-destructive! Of course
it is. All logic is. That is the centre of my philosophy.'"

"It [Buddhism] denounces all desire and offers salvation as the
reward of the murder of our affections, hopes, and aspirations.
It is possible where conscious existence is believed to be the
chief of evils." - George William Knox.

"Swallowing the device of the priests, the people well
satisfied, dance their prayers." - Japanese Proverb.

"The wisdom that is from above is ... without variance, without
hypocrisy." - James.

"The mystery of God, even Christ in whom are all the treasures
of wisdom and knowledge." - Paul.


Chronological Outline.

In sketching the history of the doctrinal developments of Buddhism in
Japan, we note that the system, greatly corrupted from its original
simplicity, was in 552 A.D. already a millennium old. Several distinct
phases of the much-altered faith of Gautama, were introduced into the
islands at various times between the sixth and the ninth century. From
these and from others of native origin have sprung the larger Japanese
sects. Even as late as the seventeenth century, novelties in Buddhism
were imported from China, and the exotics took root in Japanese soil;
but then, with a single exception, only to grow as curiosities in the
garden, rather than as the great forests, which had already sprung from
imported and native specimens.

We may divide the period of the doctrinal development of Buddhism in
Japan into four epochs:

I. The first, from 552 to 805 A.D., will cover the first six sects,
which had for their centre of propagation, Nara, the southern capital.

II. Then follows Riy[=o]bu Buddhism, from the ninth to the twelfth

III. This was succeeded by another explosion of doctrine wholly and
peculiarly Japanese, and by a wide missionary propagation.

IV. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, there is little that
is doctrinally noticeable, until our own time, when the new Buddhism of
to-day claims at least a passing notice.

The Japanese writers of ecclesiastical history classify in three groups
the twelve great sects as the first six, the two mediæval, and the four
modern sects.

In this lecture we shall merely summarize the characteristics of the
first five sects which existed before the opening of the ninth century
but which are not formally extant at the present time, and treat more
fully the purely Japanese developments. The first three sects may be
grouped under the head of the Hinayana, or Smaller Vehicle, as Southern
or primitive orthodox Buddhism is usually called.

Most of the early sects, as will be seen, were founded upon some
particular sutra, or upon selections or collections of sutras. They
correspond to some extent with the manifold sects of Christendom, and
yet this illustration or reference must not be misleading. It is not as
though a new Christian sect, for example, were in A.D. 500 to be formed
wholly on the gospel of Luke, or the book of the Revelation; nor as
though a new sect should now arise in Norway or Tennessee because of a
special emphasis laid on a combination of the epistle to the Corinthians
and the book of Daniel. It is rather as though distinct names and
organizations should be founded upon the writings of Tertullian, of
Augustine, of Luther, or of Calvin, and that such sects should accept
the literary work of these scholars not only as commentaries but as Holy
Scripture itself.

The Buddhist body of scriptures has several times been imported and
printed in Japan, but has never been translated into the vernacular. The
canon[1] is not made up simply of writings purporting to be the words of
Buddha or of the apostles who were his immediate companions or
followers. On the contrary, the canon, as received in Japan, is made up
of books, written for the most part many centuries after the last of the
contemporaries of Gautama had passed away. Not a few of these writings
are the products of the Chinese intellect. Some books held by particular
sects as holy scripture were composed in Japan itself, the very books
themselves being worshipped. Nevertheless those who are apparently
farthest away from primitive Buddhism, claim to understand Buddha most

The Standard Doctrinal Work.

One of the most famous of books, honored especially by several of the
later and larger sects in Japan, and probably the most widely read and
most generally studied book of the canon, is the Saddharma Pundarika.[2]
Professor Kern, who has translated this very rhetorical work into
English, thinks it existed at or some time before 250 A.D., and that in
its most ancient form it dates some centuries earlier, possibly as early
as the opening of the Christian era. It has now twenty-seven chapters,
and may be called the typical scripture of Northern Buddhism. It is
overflowingly full of those sensuous images and descriptions of the
Paradise, in which the imagination of the Japanese Buddhist so revels,
and in it both rhetoric and mathematics run wild. Of this book, "the
cream of the revealed doctrine," we shall hear often again. It is the
standard of orthodoxy in Japanese Buddhism, the real genius of which is
monastic asceticism in morals and philosophical scepticism in religion.

In most of the other sutras the burden of thought is ontology.
Doctrinally, Buddhism seems to be less a religion than a system of
philosophy. Hundreds of volumes in the canon concern themselves almost
wholly with ontological speculations. The Japanese mind,[3] as described
by those who have studied most acutely and profoundly its manifestations
in language and literature, is essentially averse to speculation. Yet
the first forms of Buddhism presented to the Japanese, were highly
metaphysical. The history of thought in Japan, shows that these
abstractions of dogma were not congenial to the islanders. The new faith
won its way among the people by its outward sensuous attractions, and by
appeals to the imagination, the fancy and the emotions; though the men
of culture were led captive by reasoning which they could not answer,
even if they could comprehend it. Though these early forms of dogma and
philosophy no longer survive in Japan, having been eclipsed by more
concrete and sensuous arguments, yet it is necessary to state them in
order to show: first, what Buddhism really is; second, doctrinal
development in the farthest East; and, third, the peculiarities of the
Japanese mind.

In this task, we are happy to be able to rely upon native witness and
confession.[4] The foreigner may easily misrepresent, even when
sincerely inclined to utter only the truth. Each religion, in its theory
at least, must be judged by its ideals, and not by its failures. Its
truth must be stated by its own professors. In the "History of The
Twelve Japanese Sects," by Bunyiu Nanjio, M.A. Oxon., and in "Le
Bouddhisme Japonais," by Ryauon Fujishima, we have the untrammelled
utterances, of nine living lights of the religion of Shaka as it is held
and taught in Dai Nippon. The former scholar is a master of texts, and
the latter of philosophy, each editor excelling in his own department;
and the two books complement each other in value.

Buddhism, being a logical growth out of Brahmanism, used the old sacred
language of India and inherited its vocabulary. In the Tripitaka, that
is, the three book-baskets or boxes, we have the term for canon of
scripture, in the complete collection of which are _sutra_, _vinaya_ and
_abidharma_. We shall see, also, that while Gautama shut out the gods,
his speculative followers who claimed to be his successors, opened the
doors and allowed them to troop in again. The democracy of the
congregation became a hierarchy and the empty swept and garnished house,
a pantheon.

A sutra, from the root _siv_, to sew, means a thread or string, and in
the old Veda religion referred to household rites or practices and the
moral conduct of life; but in Buddhist phraseology it means a body of
doctrine. A shaster or shastra, from the Sanskrit root _ças_, to govern,
relates to discipline. Of those shastras and sutras we must frequently
speak. In India and China some of those sutras are exponents, of schools
of thought or opinion, or of views or methods of looking at things,
rather than of organizations. In Japan these schools of philosophy, in
certain instances, become sects with a formal history.

In China of the present day, according to a Japanese traveller and
author, "the Chinese Buddhists seem ... to unite all different sects, so
as to make one harmonious sect." The chief divisions are those of the
blue robe, who are allied with the Lamaism of Tibet and whose doctrine
is largely "esoteric," and those of the yellow robe, who accept the
three fundamentals of principle, teaching and discipline. Dhyana or
contemplation is their principle; the Kégon or Avatamsaka sutra and the
Hokké or Saddharma Pundarika sutra, etc., form the basis of their
teaching; and the Vinaya of the Four Divisions (Dharmagupta) is their
discipline. On the contrary, in Japan there are vastly greater
diversities of sect, principle, teaching and discipline.

Buddhism as a System of Metaphysics.

The date of the birth of the Buddha in India, accepted by the Japanese
scholars is B.C. 1027 - the day and month being also given with
suspicious accuracy. About nine centuries after Gautama had attained
Nirvana, there were eighteen schools of the Hinayana or the doctrine of
the Smaller Vehicle. Then a shastra or institute of Buddhist ontology in
nine chapters, was composed, the title of which in English, is, Book of
the Treasury of Metaphysics. It had such a powerful influence that it
was called an intelligence-creating, or as we say, an epoch-making book.

This Ku-sha shastra, from the Sanskrit _kosa_, a store, is eclectic, and
contains nine chapters embodying the views of one of the schools, with
selections from those of others. It was translated in A.D. 563, into
Chinese by a Hindu scholar; but about a hundred years later the famous
pilgrim, whom the Japanese call Gen-j[=o], but who is known in Europe as
Hiouen Thsang,[5] made a better translation, while his disciples added

In A.D. 658, two Japanese priests[6] made the sea-journey westward into

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 16 of 31)