William Elliot Griffis.

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which they dwelt. They have understood thoroughly the art of practising
religion for the sake of revenue. To secure their ends, priests have
made partnerships with other sects; in order to hold Shint[=o] shrines,
they have married to secure heirs and make office hereditary; and
finally in the Purification of 1870, when the Riy[=o]bu system was blown
to the winds by the Japanese Government, not a few priests of this sect
became laymen, in order to keep both office and emolument in the
purified Shint[=o] shrines.

The Sect of the True Word.

It is probable that the conquest and obliteration of Shint[=o] might
have been accomplished by some priest or priests of the Ten-dai sect,
had such a genius as K[=o]b[=o] been found in its household; but this
great achievement was reserved for the man who introduced into Japan the
Shin-gon Shu, or Sect of the True Word. The term _gon_ is the equivalent
of Mantra,[20] a Sanskrit term meaning word, but in later use referring
to the mystic salutations addressed to the Buddhist gods. "The doctrine
of this sect is a great secret law. It teaches us that we can attain to
the state of the 'Great Enlightened,' that is the state of 'Buddha,'
while in the present physical body, which was born of our parents (and
which consists of six elements,[21] Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Ether, and
Knowledge), if we follow the three great secret laws, regarding Body,
Speech, and Thought."[22]

The history of the transmission of the doctrine from the greatest of the
spirit-bodied Buddhas to the historic founder, Vagrabodhi, is carefully
given. The latter was a man very learned in regard to many doctrines of
Buddhism and other religious, and was especially well acquainted with
the deepest meaning of the doctrine of this sect, which he taught in
India for a considerable time. The doctrine is recorded in several
sutras, yet the essential point is nothing but the Mandala, or circle of
the two parts, or, in Japanese, Riy[=o]bu.

The great preacher, Vagrabodhi, in 720 A.D., came with his disciples to
the capital of China, and translated the sacred books, seventy-seven in
number. This doctrine is the well-known Yoga-chara, which has been well
set forth by Doctor Edkins in his scholarly volume on Chinese Buddhism.
As "yoga" becomes in plain English "yoke," and as "mantra" is from the
same root as "man" and "mind," we have no difficulty in recognizing the
original meaning of these terms; the one in its nobler significance
referring to union with Buddha or Gnosis, and the other to the thought
taking lofty expression or being debased to hocus-pocus in charm or
amulet. Like the history of so many Sanskrit words as now uttered in
every-day English speech, the story of the word mantra forms a picture
of mental processes and apparently of the degradation of thought, or, as
some will doubtless say, of the decay of religion. The term mantra meant
first, a thought; then thought expressed; then a Vedic hymn or text;
next a spell or charm. Such have been the later associations, in India,
China and Japan with the term mantra.

The burden of the philosophy of the Shin-gon, looked at from one point
of view, is mysticism, and from another, pantheism. One of the forms of
Buddha is the principle of everything. There are ten stages of thought,
and there are two parts, "lengthwise" and "crosswise" or exoteric and
esoteric. Other doctrines of Buddhism represent the first, or exoteric
stage; and those of the Shin-gon or true word, the second, or esoteric.
The primordial principle is identical with that of Maha-Vairokana, one
of the forms[23] of Buddha. The body, the word and the thought are the
three mysteries, which being found in all beings, animate and inanimate,
are to be fully understood only by Buddhas, and not by ordinary men.

To show the actual method of intellectual procedure in order to reach
Buddha-hood, many categories, tables and diagrams are necessary; but the
crowning tenet, most far reaching in its practical influence, is the
teaching that it is possible to reach the state of Buddha-hood in this
present body.

As discipline for the attainment of excellence along the path marked out
in the "Mantra sect," there are three mystic rites: (1) worshipping the
Buddha with the hand in certain positions called signs; (2) repeating
Dharani, or mystic formulas; (3) contemplation.

K[=o]b[=o] himself and all those who imitated him, practised fasting in
order to clear the spiritual eyesight. The thinking-chairs, so
conspicuous in many old monasteries, though warmed at intervals through
the ages by the living bodies of men absorbed in contemplation, are
rarely much worn by the sitters, because almost absolute cessation of
motion characterizes the long and hard thinkers of the Shin-gon
philosophers. The idols in the Shin-gon temples represent many a saint
and disciple, who, by perseverance in what a critic of Buddhism calls
"mind-murder," and the use of mystic finger twistings and magic
formulas, has won either the Nirvana or the penultimate stage of the

In the sermons and discourses of Shin-gon, the subtle points of an
argument are seized and elaborated. These are mystical on the one side,
and pantheistic on the other. It is easily seen how Buddha, being in
Japanese gods as well as men, and no being without Buddha, the way is
made clear for that kind of a marriage between Buddhism and Shint[=o],
in which the two become one, and that one, as to revenue and advantage,

Truth Made Apparent by One's Own Thought.

The Japanese of to-day often speak of these seven religious bodies which
we have enumerated and described, as "the old sects," because much of
the philosophy, and many of the forms and prayers, are common to all,
or, more accurately speaking, are popularly supposed to be; while the
priests, being celibates, refrain from saké, flesh and fish, and from
all intimate relations with women. Yet, although these sects are
considered to be more or less conformable to the canon of the Greater
Vehicle, and while the last three certainly introduce many of its
characteristic features - one sect teaching that Buddha-hood could be
obtained even in the present body of flesh and blood - yet the idea of
Paradise had not been exploited or emphasized. This new gospel was to be
introduced into Japan by the J[=o]-d[=o] Shu or Sect of the Pure Land.

Before detailing the features of J[=o]-d[=o], we call attention to the
fact that in Japan the propagation of the old sects was accompanied by
an excessive use of idols, images, pictures, sutras, shastras and all
the furniture thought necessary in a Buddhist temple. The course of
thought and action in the Orient is in many respects similar to that in
the Occident. In western lands, with the ebb and flow of religious
sentiment, the iconolater has been followed by the iconoclast, and the
overcrowded cathedrals have been purged by the hammer and fire of the
Protestant and Puritan. So in Japan we find analogous, though not
exactly similar, reactions. The rise and prosperity of the believers in
the Zen dogmas, which in their early history used sparingly the eikon,
idol and sutra, give some indication of protest against too much use of
externals in religion. May we call them the Quakers of Japanese
Buddhism? Certainly, theirs was a movement in the direction of

The introduction of the Zen, or contemplative sect, did, in a sense,
both precede and follow that of Shingon. The word Zen is a shortened
form of the term Zenna, which is a transliteration into Chinese of the
Sanskrit word Dhyana, or contemplation. It teaches that the truth is not
in tradition or in books, but in one's self. Emphasis is laid on
introspection rather than on language. "Look carefully within and there
you will find the Buddha," is its chief tenet. In the Zen monasteries,
the chair of contemplation is, or ought to be, always in use.

The Zen Shu movement may be said to have arisen out of a reaction
against the multiplication of idols. It indicated a return to simpler
forms of worship and conduct. Let us inquire how this was.

It may be said that Buddhism, especially Northern Buddhism, is a vast,
complicated system. It has a literature and a sacred canon which one can
think of only in connection with long trains of camels to carry, or
freight trains to transport, or ships a good deal bigger than the
Mayflower to import. Its multitudinous rules and systems of discipline
appall the spirit and weary the flesh even to enumerate them; so that,
from one point of view, the making of new sects is a necessity. These
are labor-saving inventions. They are attempts to reduce the great bulk
of scriptures to manageable proportions. They seek to find, as it were,
the mother-liquor of the great ocean, so as to express the truth in a
crystal. Hence the endeavors to simplify, to condense; here, by a
selection of sutras, rather than the whole collection; there, by
emphasis on a single feature and a determination to put the whole thing
in a form which can be grasped, either by the elect few or by the people
at large.

The Zen sect did this in a more rational way than that set forth as
orthodox by later priestcraft, which taught that to the believer who
simply turned round the revolving library containing the canon, the
merit of having read it all would be imputed. The rin-z[=o][24] found
near the large temples, - the cunning invention of a Chinese priest in
the sixth century, - soon became popular in Japan. The great wooden
book-case turning on a pivot contains 6,771 volumes, that being the
number of canonical volumes enumerated in China and Japan.

The Zen sect teaches that, besides all the doctrines of the Greater and
the Lesser Vehicles, whether hidden or apparent, there is one distinct
line of transmission of a secret doctrine which is not subject to any
utterance at all. According to their tenet of contemplation, one is to
see directly the key to the thought of Buddha by his own thought, thus
freeing himself from the multitude of different doctrines - the number of
which is said to be eighty-four thousand. In fact, Zen Shu or "Dhyana
sect" teaches the short method of making truth apparent by one's own
thought, apart from the writings.

The story of the transmission of the true Zen doctrine is this:

"When the blessed Shaka was at the assembly on Vulture's Peak,
there came the heavenly king, who offered the Buddha a
golden-colored flower and asked him to preach the law. The
Blessed One simply took the flower and held it in his hand, but
said no word. No one in the whole assembly could tell what he
meant. The venerable Mahahasyapa alone smiled. Than the Blessed
One said to him, 'I have the wonderful thought of Nirvana, the
eye of the Right Law, which I shall now give to you.'[25] Thus
was ushered in the doctrine of thought transmitted by thought."

After twenty-eight patriarchs had taught the doctrine of contemplation,
the last came into China in A.D. 520, and tried to teach the Emperor the
secret key of Buddha's thought. This missionary Bodhidharma was the
third son of a king of the Kashis, in Southern India, and the historic
original of the tobacconist's shop-sign in Japan, who is known as
Daruma. The imperial Chinaman was not yet able to understand the secret
key of Buddha's thought. So the Hindu missionary went to the monastery
on Mount Su, where in meditation, he sat down cross-legged with his face
to a wall, for nine years, by which time, says the legend, his legs had
rotted off and he looked like a snow-image. During that period, people
did not know him, and called him simply the Wall-gazing Brahmana.
Afterward he had a number of disciples, but they had different views
that are called the transmissions of the skin, flesh, or bone of the
teacher. Only one of them got the whole body of his teachings. Two great
sects were formed: the Northern, which was undivided, and the Southern,
which branched off into five houses and seven schools. The Northern Sect
was introduced into Japan by a Chinese priest in 729 A.D., while the
Southern was not brought over until the twelfth century. In both it is
taught that perfect tranquillity of body and mind is essential to
salvation. The doctrine is the most sublime one, of thought transmitted
by thought being entirely independent of any letters or words. Another
name for them is, "The Sect whose Mind Assimilates with Buddha," direct
from whom it claims to have received its articles of faith.

Too often this idea of Buddhaship, consisting of absolute freedom from
matter and thought, means practically mind-murder, and the emptiness of
idle reverie.

Contrasting modern reality with their ancient ideal, it must be
confessed that in practice there is not a little letter worship and a
good deal of pedantry; for, in all the teachings of abstract principles
by the different sects, there are endless puns or plays upon words in
the renderings of Chinese characters. This arises from that antithesis
of extreme poverty in sounds with amazing luxuriance in written
expression, which characterizes both the Chinese and Japanese languages.

In the temples we find that the later deities introduced into the
Buddhist pantheon are here also welcome, and that the triads or groups
of three precious ones, the "Buddhist trinity," so-called,[26] are
surrounded by gods of Chinese or Japanese origin. The Zen sect,
according to its professions and early history, ought to be indifferent
to worldly honors and emoluments, and indeed many of its devotees are.
Its history, however, shows how poorly mortals live up to their
principles and practise what they preach. Furthermore, these professors
of peace and of the joys of the inner life in the S[=o]-t[=o] or
sub-sect have made the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth years of Meiji, or
A.D. 1893 and 1894, famous and themselves infamous by their
long-continued and scandalous intestine quarrels. Of the three
sub-sects, those called Rin-zai and S[=o]-t[=o], take their names from
Chinese monks of the ninth century; while the third, O-baku, founded in
Japan in the seventeenth century, is one of the latest importations of
Chinese Buddhistic thought in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Japanese authors usually classify the first six denominations at which
we have glanced, some of which are phases of thought rather than
organizations, as "the ancient sects." Ten-dai and Shin-gon are "the
medieval sects." The remaining four, of which we shall now treat, and
which are more particularly Japanese in spirit and development, are "the
modern sects."


"A drop of spray cast by the infinite
I hung an instant there, and threw my ray
To make the rainbow. A microcosm I
Reflecting all. Then back I fell again,
And though I perished not, I was no more." -
The Pantheist's Epitaph.

"Buddhism is essentially a religion of compromise."

"Where Christianity has One Lord, Buddhism has a dozen."

"I think I may safely challenge the Buddhist priesthood to give
a plain historical account of the Life of Amida, Kwannon,
Dainichi, or any other Mah[=a]y[=a]na Buddha, without being in
serious danger of forfeiting my stakes."

"Christianity openly puts this Absolute Unconditioned Essence in
the forefront of its teaching. In Buddhism this absolute
existence is only put forward, when the logic of circumstances
compels its teachers to have recourse to it." - A. Lloyd, in The
Higher Buddhism in the Light of the Nicene creed.

"Now these six characters, 'Na-mu-A-mi-da-Butsu,' Zend-[=o] has
explained as follows: 'Namn' means [our] following His
behest - and also [His] uttering the Prayer and bestowing [merit]
upon us. 'Amida Butsu' is the practice of this, consequently by
this means a certainty of salvation is attained."

"By reason of the conferring on us sentient creators of this
great goodness and great merit through the utterance of the
Prayer, and the bestowal [by Amida] the evil Karma and [effect
of the] passions accumulated through the long Kalpas, since when
there was no beginning, are in a moment annihilated, and in
consequence, those passions and evil Karma of ours all
disappearing, we live already in the condition of the steadfast,
who do not return [to revolve in the cycle of Birth and
Death]." - Renny[=o] of the Shin sect, 1473.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God." - John.

"The Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness,
neither shadow of turning." - James.


The Western Paradise.

We cannot take space to show how, or how much, or whether at all,
Buddhism was affected by Christianity, though it probably was. Suffice
it to say that the J[=o]-d[=o] Shu, or Sect of the Pure Land, was the
first of the many denominations in Buddhism which definitely and clearly
set forth that especial peculiarity of Northern Buddhism, the Western
Paradise. The school of thought which issued in J[=o]-d[=o] Shu was
founded by the Hindoo, Memio. In A.D. 252 an Indian scholar, learned in
the Tripitaka, came to China, and translated one of the great sutras,
called Amitayus. This sutra gives a history of Tathagata Amitabha,[1]
from the first spiritual impulses which led him to the attainment of
Buddha-hood in remote Kalpas down to the present time, when he dwells in
the Western World, called the Happy, where he receives all living beings
from every direction, helping them to turn away from confusion and to
become enlightened.[2] The apocalyptic twentieth chapter of the Hokké
Ki[=o] is a glorification of the transcendent power of the Tathagatas,
expressed in flamboyant oriental rhetoric.

We have before called attention to the fact that, with the
multiplication of sutras or the Sacred Canon and the vast increase of
the apparatus of Buddhism as well as of the hardships of brain and body
to be undergone in order to be a Buddhist, it was absolutely necessary
that some labor-saving system should be devised by which the burden
could be borne. Now, as a matter of fact, all sects claim to found their
doctrine on Buddha or his work. According to the teaching of certain
sects, the means of salvation are to be found in the study of the whole
canon, and in the practice of asceticism and meditation. On the
contrary, the new lights of Buddhism who came as missionaries into
China, protested against this expenditure of so much mental and physical
energy. One of the first Chinese propagators of the J[=o]-d[=o] doctrine
declared that it was impossible, owing to the decay of religion in his
own age, for anyone to be saved in this way by his own efforts. Hence,
instead of the noble eight-fold path of primitive Buddhism, or of the
complicated system of the later Buddhistic Phariseeism of India, he
substituted for the difficult road to Nirvana, a simple faith in the
all-saving power of Amida. In one of the sutras it is taught, that if a
man keeps in his memory the name of Amida one day, or seven days, the
Buddha together with Buddhas elect, will meet him at the moment of his
death, in order to let him be born in the Pure Land, and that this
matter has been equally approved by all other Buddhas of ten different

One of the sutras, translated in China during the fifth century,
contains the teaching of Buddha, which he delivered to the wife of the
King of Magudha, who on account of the wickedness of her son was feeling
weary of this world. He showed her how she might be born into the Pure
Land. Three paths of good actions were pointed out. Toward the end of
the particular sutra which he advised her to read and recite, Buddha
says: "Let not one's voice cease, but ten times complete the thought,
and repeat the formula, of the adoration of Amida." "This practice,"
adds the Japanese exegete and historian, "is the most excellent of all."

How well this latter teaching is practised may be demonstrated when one
goes into a Buddhist temple of the J[=o]-d[=o] sect in Japan, and hears
the constant refrain, - murmured by the score or more of listeners to the
sermon, or swelling like the roar of the ocean's waves, on festival
days, when thousands sit on the mats beneath the fretted roof to enjoy
the exposition of doctrine - "Namu Amida Butsu" - "Glory to the Eternal

The apostolical succession or transmission through the patriarchs and
apostles of India and China, is well known and clearly stated, withal
duly accredited and embellished with signs and wonders, in the
historical literature of the J[=o]-d[=o] sect. In Buddhism, as in
Christianity, the questions relating to True Churchism, High Churchism,
the succession of the apostles, teachers and rulers, and the validity of
this or that method of ordination, form a large part of the literature
of controversy. Nevertheless, as in the case of many a Christian sect
which calls itself the only true church, the date of the organization of
J[=o]-d[=o] was centuries later than that of the Founder and apostles of
the original faith. Five hundred years after Zen-d[=o] (A.D. 600-650),
the great propagator of the J[=o]-d[=o] philosophy, H[=o]-nen, the
founder of the J[=o]-d[=o] sect, was born; and this phase of organized
Buddhism, like that of Shin Shu and Nichirer Shu, may be classed under
the head of Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.

When only nine years of age, the boy afterward called H[=o]-nen, was
converted by his father's dying words. He went to school in his native
province, but his priest-teacher foreseeing his greatness, sent him to
the monastery of Hiyéizan, near Ki[=o]to. The boy's letter of
introduction contained only these words: "I send you an image of the
Bodhisattva, (Mon-ju) Manjusri." The boy shaved his head and received
the precepts of the Ten-dai sect, but in his eighteenth year, waiving
the prospect of obtaining the headship of the great denomination, he
built a hut in the Black Ravine and there five times read through the
five thousand volumes[4] of the Tripitaka. He did this for the purpose
of finding out, for the ordinary and ignorant people of the present day,
how to escape from misery. He studied Zen-d[=o]'s commentary, and
repeated his examination eight times. At last, he noticed a passage in
it beginning with the words, "Chiefly remember or repeat the name of
Amida with a whole and undivided heart." Then he at once understood the
thought of Zen-d[=o], who taught in his work that whoever at any time
practises to remember Buddha, or calls his name even but once, will gain
the right effect of going to be born in the Pure Land after death. This
Japanese student then abandoned all sorts of practices which he had
hitherto followed for years, and began to repeat the name of Amida
Buddha sixty thousand times a day. This event occurred in A.D. 1175.

H[=o]-nen, Founder of the Pure Land Sect.

This path-finder to the Pure Land, who developed a special doctrine of
salvation, is best known by his posthumous title of H[=o]-nen. During
his lifetime he was very famous and became the spiritual preceptor of
three Mikados. After his death his biography was compiled in forty-eight
volumes by imperial order, and later, three other emperors copied or
republished it. In the history of Japan this sect has been one of the
most influential, especially with the imperial and sh[=o]gunal families.
In Ki[=o]to the magnificent temples and monasteries of Chi[=o]n-in, and
in T[=o]ki[=o] Z[=o]-j[=o]-ji, are the chief seats of the two principal
divisions of this sect. The gorgeous mausoleums, - well known to every
foreign tourist, - at Shiba and Uyéno in T[=o]ki[=o], and the clustered
and matchless splendors of Nikk[=o], belong to this sect, which has been
under the patronage of the illustrious line of the Tokugawa,[5] while
its temples and shrines are numbered by many thousands.

The doctrine of the J[=o]-d[=o], or the Pure Land Sect, is easily
discerned. One of Buddha's disciples said, that in the teachings of the
Master there are two divisions or vehicles. In the Maha-yana also there
are two gates; the Holy path, and the Pure Land. The Smaller Vehicle is
the doctrine by which the immediate disciples of Buddha and those for
five hundred years succeeding, practised the various virtues and
discipline. The gateway of the Maha-yana is also the doctrine, by which
in addition to the trainings mentioned, there are also understood the
three virtues of spiritual body, wisdom and deliverance. The man who is

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 18 of 31)