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China, as Gen-j[=o] had before made the land pilgrimage into India, and
became pupils of the famous pilgrim. After long study they returned,
bringing the Chinese translation of this shastra into Japan. They did
not form an independent sect; but the doctrines of this shastra, being
eclectic, were studied by all Japanese Buddhist sects. This Ku-sha
scripture is still read in Japan as a general institute of ontology,
especially by advanced students who wish to get a general idea of the
doctrines. It is full of technical terms, and is well named The
Store-house of Metaphysics.

The Ku-sha teaches control of the passions, and the government of
thought. The burden of its philosophy is materialism; that is, the
non-existence of self and the existence of the matter which composes
self, or, as the Japanese writer says: "The reason why all things are so
minutely explained in this shastra is to drive away the idea of self,
and to show the truth in order to make living beings reach Nirvana."
Among the numerous categories, to express which many technical terms are
necessary, are those of "forms," eleven in number, including the five
senses and the six objects of sense; the six kinds of knowledge; the
forty-six mental qualities, grouped under six heads; and the fourteen
conceptions separated from the mind; thus making in all seventy-two
compounded things and three immaterial things. These latter are
"conscious cessation of existence," "unconscious cessation of
existence," and "space."

The Reverend Shuzan Emura, of the Shin-shu sect of Japan, after
specifying these seventy-five Dharmas, or things compounded and things
immaterial, says:[7] "The former include all things that proceed from a
cause. This cause is Karma, to which everything existing is due, Space
and Nirvana alone excepted. Again, of the three immaterial things the
last two are not subjects to be understood by the wisdom not free from
frailty. Therefore the 'conscious cessation of existence' is considered
as being the goal of all effort to him who longs for deliverance from

In a word, this one of the many Buddhisms of Asia is vastly less a
religion, in any real sense of the word, than a system of metaphysics.
However, the doctrine to be mastered is graded in three Yanas or
Vehicles; for there are now, as in the days of Shaka, three classes of
being, graded according to their ability or power to understand "the
truth." These are:

(I.) The Sho-mon or lowest of the disciples of Shaka, or hearers who
meditate on the cause and effect of everything. If acute in
understanding, they become free from confusion after three births; but
if they are dull, they pass sixty kalpas[8] or aeons before they attain
to the state of enlightenment.

(II.) The Engaku or Pratyeka Buddhas, that is, "singly enlightened," or
beings in the middle state, who must extract the seeds or causes of
actions, and must meditate on the twelve chains of causation, or
understand the non-eternity of the world, while gazing upon the falling
flowers or leaves. They attain enlightenment after four births or a
hundred kalpas, according to their ability.

(III.) The Bodhisattvas or Buddhas-elect, who practise the six
perfections (perfect practice of alms-giving, morality, patience,
energy, meditation and wisdom) as preliminaries to Nirvana, which they
reach only after countless kalpas.

These three grades of pupils in the mysteries of Buddha doctrine, are
said to have been ordered by Shaka himself, because understanding human
beings so thoroughly, he knew that one person could not comprehend two
ways or vehicles (Yana) at once. People were taught therefore to
practise anyone of the three vehicles at pleasure.

We shall see how the later radical and democratic Japanese Buddhism
swept away this gradation, and declaring but the one vehicle (éka),
opened the kingdom to all believers.

The second of the early Japanese schools of thought, is the
J[=o]-jitsu,[9] or the sect founded chiefly upon the shastra which means
The Book of the Perfection of the Truth, containing selections from and
explanations of the true meaning of the Tripitaka. This shastra was the
work of a Hindu whose name means Lion-armor, and who lived about nine
centuries after Gautama. Not satisfied with the narrow views of his
teacher, who may have been of the Dharmagupta school (of the four
Disciplines), he made selections of the best and broadest
interpretations then current in the several different schools of the
Smaller Vehicle. The book is eclectic, and attempts to unite all that
was best in each of the Hinayana schools; but certain Chinese teachers
consider that its explanations are applicable to the Great Vehicle also.
Translated into Chinese in 406 A.D., the commentaries upon it soon
numbered hundreds, and it was widely expounded and lectured upon.
Commentaries upon this shastra were also written in Korean by
D[=o]-z[=o]. From the peninsula it was introduced into Japan. This
J[=o]-jitsu doctrine was studied by prince Sh[=o]toku, and promulgated
as a division of the school called San-Ron. The students of the
J[=o]-jitsu school never formed in Japan a distinct organization.

The burden of the teachings of this school is pure nihilism, or the
non-existence of both self and of matter. There is an utter absence of
substantiality in all things. Life itself is a prolonged dream. The
objects about us are mere delusive shadows or mirage, the product of the
imagination alone. The past and the future are without reality, but the
present state of things only stands as if it were real. That is to say:
the true state of things is constantly changing, yet it seems as if the
state of things were existing, even as does a circle of fire seen when a
rope watch is turned round very quickly.

Japanese Pilgrims to China.

The Ris-shu or Vinaya sect is one of purely Chinese origin, and was
founded, or rather re-founded, by the Chinese priest D[=o]sen, who lived
on Mount Shunan early in the seventh century, and claimed to be only
re-proclaiming the rules given by Gautama himself. He was well
acquainted with the Tripitaka and especially versed in the Vinaya or
rules of discipline. His purpose was to unite the teachings of both the
Greater and the Lesser Vehicle in a sutra whose burden should be one of
ethics and not of dogma.

The founder of this sect was greatly honored by the Chinese Emperor.
Furthermore, he was honored in vision by the holy Pindola or
Binzura,[10] who praised the founder as the best man that had
promulgated the discipline since Buddha himself. In later centuries,
successors of the founder compiled commentaries and reproclaimed the
teachings of this sect.

In A.D. 724 two Japanese priests went over to China, and having mastered
the Ris-shu doctrine, received permission to propagate it in Japan. With
eighty-two Chinese priests they returned a few years later, having
attempted, it is said, the journey five times and spent twelve years on
the sea. On their return, they received an imperial invitation to live
in the great monastery at Nara, and soon their teachings exerted a
powerful influence on the court. The emperor, empress and four hundred
persons of note were received into the Buddhist communion by a Chinese
priest of the Ris-shu school in the middle of the eighth century. The
Mikado Sh[=o]-mu resigned his throne and took the vow and robes of a
monk, becoming H[=o]-[=o] or cloistered emperor. Under imperial
direction a great bronze image of the Vairokana Buddha, or Perfection of
Morality, was erected, and terraces, towers, images and all the
paraphernalia of the new kind of Buddhism were prepared. Even the earth
was embroidered, as it were, with sutras and shastras. Symbolical
landscape gardening, which, in its mounds and paths, variously shaped
stones and lanterns, artificial cascades and streamlets, teaches the
holy geography as well as the allegories and hidden truths of Buddhism,
made the city of Nara beautiful to the eyes of faith as well as of

This sect, with its excellence in morality and benevolence, proved
itself a beautifier of human life, of society and of the earth itself.
Its work was an irenicon. It occupied itself exclusively with the higher
ethics, the higher meditations and the higher knowledge. Interdicting
what was evil and prescribing what was good, its precepts varied in
number and rigor according to the status of the disciple, lay or
clerical. It is by the observance of the _sila_, or grades of moral
perfection, that one becomes a Buddha. Besides making so powerful a
conquest at the southern capital, this sect was the one which centuries
afterward built the first Buddhist temple in Yedo. Being ordinary human
mortals, however, both monk and layman occasionally illustrated the
difference between profession and practice.

These three schools or sects, Ku-sha, J[=o]-jitsu, and Ris-shu, may be
grouped under the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle, with more or less
affiliation with Southern Buddhism; the others now to be described were
wholly of the Northern division.

The Hoss[=o]-shu, or the Dharma-lakshana sect, as described by the Rev.
Dai-ryo Takashi of the Shin-gon sect, is the school which studies the
nature of Dharmas or things. The three worlds of desire, form and
formlessness, consist in thought only; and there is nothing outside
thought. Nine centuries after Gautama, Maitreya,[11] or the Buddha of
kindness, came down from the heaven of the Bodhisattva to the
lecture-hall in the kingdom in central India at the request of the
Buddhas elect, and discounted five shastras. After that two Buddhist
fathers who were brothers, composed many more shastras and cleared up
the meaning of the Mah[=a]yan[=a]. In 629 A.D., in his twenty-ninth
year, the famous Chinese pilgrim, Gen-j[=o] (Hiouen-thsang), studied
these shastras and sciences, and returning to China in 645 A.D., began
his great work of translation, at which he continued for nineteen years.
One of his disciples was the author of a hundred commentaries on sutras
and shastras. The doctrines of Gen-j[=o] and his disciples were at four
different times, from 653 to 712 A.D., imported into Japan, and named,
after the monasteries in which they were promulgated, the Northern and
Southern Transmission.

The Middle Path.

The burden of the teachings of this sect is subjective idealism. They
embrace principles enjoining complete indifference to mundane affairs,
and, in fact, thorough personal nullification and the ignoring of all
actions by its disciples. In these teachings, thought only, is real. As
we have already seen with the Ku-sha teaching, human beings are of three
classes, divided according to intellect, into higher, middle and lower,
for whom the systems of teachings are necessarily of as many kinds. The
order of progress with those who give themselves to the study of the
Hoss[=o] tenets, is,[12] first, they know only the existence of things,
then the emptiness of them, and finally they enter the middle path of
"true emptiness and wonderful existence."

From the first, such discipline is long and painful, and ultimate
victory scarcely comes to the ordinary being. The disciple, by training
in thought, by destroying passions and practices, by meditating on the
only knowledge, must pass through three kalpas or aeons. Constantly
meditating, and destroying the two obstacles of passion and cognizable
things, the disciple then obtains four kinds of wisdom and truly attains
perfect enlightenment or Pari-Nirvana.

The San-ron Shu, as the Three-Shastra sect calls itself, is the sect of
the Teachings of Buddha's whole life.[13] Other sects are founded upon
single sutras, a fact which makes the student liable to narrowness of
opinion. The San-ron gives greater breadth of view and catholicity of
opinion. The doctrines of the Greater Vehicle are the principal
teachings of Gautama, and these are thoroughly explained in the three
shastras used by this sect, which, it is claimed, contain Buddha's own
words. The meanings of the titles of the three favorite sutras, are, The
Middle Book, The Hundred, and The Book of Twelve Gates. Other books of
the canon are also studied and valued by this sect, but all of them are
apt to be perused from a particular point of view; i.e., that of
Pyrronism or infinite negation.

There are two lines of the transmission of this doctrine, both of them
through China, though, the introduction to Japan was made from Korea, in
625 A.D. Not to dwell upon the detail of history, the burden of this
sect's teaching, is, infinite negation or absolute nihilism. Truth is
the inconceivable state, or, in the words of the Japanese writer: "The
truth is nothing but the state where thoughts come to an end; the right
meditation is to perceive this truth. He who has obtained this
meditation is called Buddha. This is this doctrine of the San-ron sect."

This sect, by its teachings of the Middle Path, seems to furnish a
bridge from the Hinayana or Southern school, to the Mah[=a]yan[=a] or
Northern school of Buddhism. Part of its work, as set forth by the Rev.
K[=o]-ch[=o] Ogurasu, of the Shin sect, is to defend the authenticity,
genuineness and canonicity of the books which form the Northern body of

In these two sects Hos-s[=o] and San-ron, called those of Middle Path,
and much alike in principle and teaching, the whole end and aim of
mental discipline, is nihilism - in the one case subjective, and in the
other absolute, the end and goal being nothing - this view into the
nature of things being considered the right one.

Is it any wonder that such teachings could in the long run satisfy
neither the trained intellects nor the unthinking common people of
Japan? Is it far from the truth to suspect that, even when accepted by
the Japanese courtiers and nobles, they were received, only too often,
in a Platonic, not to say a Pickwickian, sense? The Japanese is too
polite to say "no" if he can possibly say "yes," even when he does not
mean it; while the common people all over the world, as between
metaphysics and polytheism, choose the latter. Is it any wonder that,
along with this propagation of Nihilism as taught in the cloisters and
the court, history informs us of many scandals and much immorality
between the women of the court and the Buddhist monks?

Such dogmas were not able to live in organized forms, after the next
importations of Buddhism which came in, not partly but wholly, under the
name of the Mah[=a]yan[=a] or Great Vehicle, or Northern Buddhism. By
the new philosophy, more concrete and able to appeal more closely to the
average man, these five schools, which, in their discussions, dealt
almost wholly with _noumena_, were absorbed. As matter of fact, none of
them is now in existence, nor can we trace them, speaking broadly,
beyond the tenth century. Here and there, indeed, may be a temple
bearing the name of one of the sects, or grades of doctrine, and
occasionally an eccentric individual who "witnesses" to the old
metaphysics; but these are but fossils or historical relics, and are
generally regarded as such.

Against such baldness of philosophy not only might the cultivated
Japanese intellect revolt and react, but as yet the common people of
Japan, despite the modern priestly boast of the care of the imperial
rulers for what the bonzes still love to call "the people's religion,"
were but slightly touched by the Indian faith.

The Great Vehicle.

The Kégon-Shu or Avatamsaka-sutra sect, is founded on a certain teaching
which Gautama is said to have promulgated in nine assemblies held at
seven different places during the second week of his enlightenment. This
sutra exists in no fewer than six texts, around each of which has
gathered some interesting mythology. The first two tests were held in
memory and not committed to palm leaves; the second pair are secretly
preserved in the dragon palace of Riu-gu[14] under the sea, and are not
kept by the men of this world. The fifth text of 100,000 verses, was
obtained by a Bodhisattva from the palace of the dragon king of the
world under the sea and transmitted to men in India. The sixth is the
abridged text.

It concerns us to notice that the shorter texts were translated into
Chinese in the fourth century, and that later, other translations were
made - 36,000 verses of the fifth text, 45,000 verses of the sixth text,
etc. When the doctrine of the sect had been perfected by the fifth
patriarch and he lectured on the sutra, rays of white light came from
his mouth, and there rained wonderful heavenly flowers. In A.D. 736 a
Chinese Vinaya teacher or instructor in Buddhist discipline, named
D[=o]-sen, first brought the Kégon scriptures to Japan. Four years later
a Korean priest gave lectures on them in the Golden-Bell Hall of the
Great Eastern Monastery at Nara. He completed his task of expounding the
sixty volumes in three years. Henceforth, lecturing on this sutra became
one of the yearly services of the Eastern Great Monastery.

"The Ké-gon sutra is the original book of Buddha's teachings of his
whole life. All his teachings therefore sprang from this sutra. If we
attribute all the branches to the origin, we may say that there is no
teaching of Buddha for his whole life except this sutra."[15] The title
of the book, when literally translated, is
Great-square-wide-Buddha-flower-adornment-teaching - a title sufficiently
indicative of its rhetoric. The age of hard or bold thinking was giving
way to flowery diction, and the Law was to be made easy through fine

The burden of doctrine is the unconditioned or realistic, pantheism.
Nature absolute, or Buddha-tathata, is the essence of all things.
Essence and form were in their origin combined and identical. Fire and
water, though phenomenally different, are from the point of view of
Buddha-tathata absolutely identical. Matter and thought are one - that is
Buddha-tathata. In teaching, especially the young, it must be remembered
that the mind resembles a fair page upon which the artist might trace a
design, especial care being needed to prevent the impression of evil
thoughts, in order to accomplish which one must completely and always
direct the mind to Buddha.[16] One notable sentence in the text is,
"when one first raises his thoughts toward the perfect knowledge, he at
once becomes fully enlightened."

In some parts of the metaphysical discussions of this sect we are
reminded of European mediaeval scholasticism, especially of that
discussion as to how many angels could dance on the point of a cambric
needle without jostling each other. It says, "Even at the point of one
grain of dust, of immeasurable and unlimited worlds, there are
innumerable Buddhas, who are constantly preaching the Ké-gon ki[=o]
(sutra) throughout the three states of existence, past, present and
future, so that the preaching is not at all to be collected.[17]

A New Chinese Sect.

In its formal organization the Ten-dai sect is of Chinese origin. It is
named after Tien Tai,[18] a mountain in China about fifty miles south of
Ningpo, on which the book which forms the basis of its tenets was
composed by Chi-sha, now canonized as a Dai Shi or Great teacher. Its
special doctrine of completion and suddenness was, however, transmitted
directly from Shaka to Vairokana and thence to Maitreya, so that the
apostolical succession of its orthodoxy cannot be questioned.

The metaphysics of this sect are thought to be the most profound of the
Greater Vehicle, combining into a system the two opposite ideas of being
and not being. The teachers encourage all men, whether quick or slow in
understanding, to exercise the principle of "completion" and
"suddenness," together with four doctrinal divisions, one or all of
which are taught to men according to their ability. The object of the
doctrine is to make men get an excellent understanding, practise good
discipline and attain to the great fruit of Enlightenment or

Out of compassion, Gautama appeared in the world and preached the truth
in several forms, according to the circumstances of time and place.
There are four doctrinal divisions of "completion," "secrecy,"
"meditation," and "moral precept," which are the means of knowing the
principle of "completion." From Gautama, Vairokana and Maitreya the
doctrine passed through more than twenty Buddhas elect, and arrived in
China on the twentieth day of the twelfth month, A.D. 401. The delivery
to disciples was secret, and the term used for this esoteric
transmission means "handed over within the tower."

In A.D. 805, two Japanese pilgrims went to China, and received orthodox
training. With twenty others, they brought the Ten-dai doctrines into
Japan. During this century, other Japanese disciples of the same sect
crossed the seas to study at Mount Tien Tai. On coming back to Japan
they propagated the various shades of doctrine, so that this main sect
has many branches. It was chiefly through these pilgrims from the West
that the Sanskrit letters, writing and literature were imported. In our
day, evidences of Sanskrit learning, long since neglected and forgotten,
are seen chiefly in the graveyards and in charms and amulets.

Although the philosophical doctrines of Ten-dai are much the same as
those of the Ké-gon sect, being based on pantheistic realism, and
teaching that the Buddha-tathata or Nature absolute is the essence of
all things, yet the Ten-dai school has striking and peculiar features of
its own. Instead of taking some particular book or books in the canon,
shastra, or sutra, selection or collection, as a basis, the Chinese monk
Chi-sha first mastered, and then digested the whole canon. Then
selecting certain doctrines for emphasis he supported them by a wide
range of quotation, professing to give the gist of the pure teachings of
Gautama rather than those of his disciples. In practice, however, the
Saddharma Pundarika is the book most honored by this sect; the other
sutras being employed mainly as commentary. Furthermore, this sect makes
as strenuous a claim for the true apostolical succession from the
Founder, as do the other sects.

The teachers of Ten-dai doctrine must fully estimate character and
ability in their pupils, and so apportion instruction. In this respect
and in not a few others, they are like the disciples of Loyola, and have
properly been called the Jesuits of Buddhism. They are ascetics, and
teach that spiritual insight is possible only through prolonged thought.
Their purpose is to recognize the Buddha, in all the forms he has
assumed in order to save mankind. Nevertheless, the highest truths are
incomprehensible except to those who have already attained to
Buddha-hood.[19] In contrast to the Nichirenites, who give an emotional
and ultra-concrete interpretation and expression to the great sutra,
Hokké Ki[=o], the Ten-dai teachers are excessively philosophical and

In its history the Ten-dai sect has followed out its logic. Being
realistic in pantheism, it reverences not only Gautama the historic
Buddha, but also, large numbers of the Hindu deities, the group of idols
called Jiz[=o], the god Fudo, and Kuannon the god or goddess of mercy,
under his or her protean forms. In its early history this sect welcomed
to its pantheon the Shint[=o] gods, who, according to the scheme of
Riy[=o]bu Shint[=o], were declared to be avatars or manifestations of
Buddha. The three sub-sects still differ in their worship of the avatars
selected as supreme deities, but their philosophy enables them to sweep
in the Buddhas of every age and clime, name and nation. Many other
personifications are found honored in the Ten-dai temples. At the
gateways may usually be seen the colossal painted and hideous images of
the two Devas or kings (Ni-O). These worthies are none other than Indra
and Brahma of the old Vedic mythology.

Space and time - which seem never to fail the Buddhists in their
literature - would fail us to describe this sect in full, or to show in
detail its teachings, wherein are wonderful resemblances to European
ideas and facts - in philosophy, to Hegel and Spinoza find in history, to
Jesuitism. Nor can we stay to point out the many instances in which,
invading the domain of politics, the Ten-dai abbots with their armies of
monks, having made their monasteries military arsenals and issuing forth
clad in armor as infantry and cavalry, have turned the scale of battle
or dictated policies to emperors. Like the Praetorian guard of Rome or
the clerical militia in Spain, these men of keen intellect have left
their marks deep upon the social and political history of the country in

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 17 of 31)