William Elliot Griffis.

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

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able successfully to complete this course of discipline and practice is
no ordinary person, but is supposed to possess merit produced from good
actions performed in a former state of existence. The doctrine by which
man may do so, is called the gate of the Holy Path.

During the fifteen hundred years after Buddha there were from time to
time, such personages in the world, who attained the end of the Holy
Path; but in these latter days people are more insincere, covetous and
contentious, and the discipline is too hard for degenerate times and
men. The three trainings already spoken of are the correct causes of
deliverance; but if people think them as useless as last year's almanac,
when can they complete their deliverance? H[=o]-nen, deeply meditating
on this, shut up the gate of the Holy Path and opened that of the Pure
Land; for in the former the effective deliverance is expected in this
world by the three trainings of morality, thought and learning, but in
the latter the great fruit of going to be born in the Pure Land after
death, is expected through the sole practice of repeating Buddha's name.

Moreover, it is not easy to accomplish the cause and effect of the Holy
Path, but both those of the doctrine of the Pure Land are very easy to
be completed. The difference is like that between travelling by land and
travelling by water.[6] The doctrines preached by the Buddha are
eighty-four thousand in number; that is to say, he taught one kind of
people one system, that of the Holy Path, and another kind that of the
Pure Land. The Pure Land doctrine of H[=o]-nen was derived from the
sutra preached by the great teacher Shaka.

This simple doctrine of "land travel to Paradise" was one which the
people of Japan could easily understand, and it became amazingly
popular. Salvation along this route is a case of being "carried to the
skies on flowery beds of ease, while others sought to win the prize and
sailed through bloody seas."

Largely through the influence of J[=o]-d[=o] Shu and of those sects most
closely allied to it, the technical terms, peculiar phraseology and
vocabulary of Buddhism became part of the daily speech of the Japanese.
When one studies their language he finds that it is a complicated
organism, including within itself several distinct systems. Just as the
human body harmonizes within itself such vastly differing organized
functions as the osseous, digestive, respiratory, etc., so, embedded in
what is called the Japanese language, there are, also, a Chinese
vocabulary, a polite vernacular, one system of expression for superiors,
another for inferiors, etc. Last of all, there is, besides a peculiar
system of pronunciation taught by the priests, a Buddhist language,
which suggests a firmament of starry and a prairie of flowery metaphors,
with intermediate deeps of space full of figurative expressions.

In our own mother tongue we have something similar. The dialect of
Canaan, the importations of Judaism, the irruptions of Hebraic idioms,
phrases and names into Puritanism, and the ejaculations of the
camp-meeting, which vein and color our English speech, may give some
idea of the variegated strains which make up the Japanese language.
Further, the peculiar nomenclature of the Fifth Monarchy men, is fully
paralleled in the personal names of priests and even of laymen in Japan.

Characteristics of the J[=o]-d[=o] Sect.

H[=o]-nen teaches that the solution of abstract questions and doctrinal
controversies is not needed as means of grace to promote the work of
salvation. Whether the priests and their followers were learned and
devout, or the contrary, mattered little as regards the final result, as
all that is necessary is the continual repetition of the prayer to

It may be added that his followers practise the master's precepts with
emphasis. Their incessant pounding upon wooden fish-drums and
bladder-shaped bells during their public exercises, is as noisy as a
frontier camp-meeting. The rosary is a notable feature in the private
devotions of the Buddhists, but the J[=o]-d[=o] sect makes especial use
of the double rosary, which was invented with the idea of being
manipulated by the left hand only; this gave freedom to the right hand,
"facilitating a happy combination of spiritual and secular duty." At
funerals of believers a particular ceremony was exclusively practised by
this sect, at which the friends of the deceased sat in a circle facing
the priest, making as many repetitions as possible.[7]

In Mohammedan countries, blind men, who cannot look down into the
surrounding gardens or house tops at the pretty women in or on them, but
who have clear and penetrating voices, are often chosen us muezzins to
utter the call to prayer from the minarets. On much the same principle,
in Old Japan, J[=o]-d[=o] priests, blind to metaphysics, but handsome,
elegantly dressed and with fine delivery, went about the streets singing
and intoning prayers, rich presents being made to them, especially by
the ladies. The J[=o]-d[=o] people cultivate art and aesthetic
ornamentation to a notable degree. They also understand the art of
fictitious and sensational miracle-mongering. It is said that Zen-d[=o],
the famous Chinese founder of this Chinese sect, when writing his
commentary, prayed for a wonderful exhibition of supernatural power.
Thereupon, a being arrayed as a priest of dignified presence gave him
instruction on the division of the text in his first volume. Hence
Zen-d[=o] treats his own work as if it were the work of Buddha, and says
that no one is allowed either to add or to take away even a word or
sentence of the book.

The Pure Land is the western world where Amida lives. It is perfectly
pure and free from faults. Those who wish to go thither will certainly
be re-born there, but otherwise they will not. This world, on the
contrary, is the effect of the action of all beings, so that even those
who do not wish to be born here are nevertheless obliged to come. This
world is called the Path of Pain, because it is full of all sorts of
pains, such as birth, old age, disease, death, etc. This is therefore a
world not to be attached to, but to be estranged and separated from. One
who is disgusted with this world, and who is filled with desire for that
world, will after death be born there. Not to doubt about these words of
Buddha, even in the slightest degree, is called deep faith; but if one
entertains the least doubts he will not be born there. Hence the saying:
"In the great sea of the law of Buddha, faith is the only means to

Salvation Through the Merits of Another.

In this absolute trust in the all-saving power of Amida as compared with
the ways promulgated before, we see the emergence of the Buddhist
doctrine of justification by faith, the simplification of theology, and
a revolt against Buddhist scholasticism. The Japanese technical term,
"_tariki_," or relying upon the strength of another, renouncing all idea
of _ji-riki_ or self-power,[8] is the substance of the J[=o]-d[=o]
doctrine; but the expanded term _ta-riki chin no ji-riki_, or
"self-effort depending on another," while expressing the whole dogma, is
rather scornfully applied to the J[=o]-d[=o]ists by the men of the Shin
sect. The invocation of Amida is a meritorious act of the believer, much
repetition being the substance of this combination of personal and
vicarious work.

H[=o]-nen, after making his discovery, believing it possible for all
mankind eventually to attain to perfect Buddhaship, left, as we have
seen, the Ten-dai sect, which represented particularism and laid
emphasis on the idea of the elect. H[=o]-nen taught Buddhist
universalism. Belief and repetition of prayer secure birth into the Pure
Land after the death of the body, and then the soul moves onward toward
the perfection of Buddha-hood.

The Japanese were delighted to have among them a genius who could thus
Japanize Buddhism, and J[=o]-d[=o] doctrine went forth conquering and to
conquer. From the twelfth century, the tendency of Japanese Buddhism is
in the direction of universalism and democracy. In later developments of
J[=o]-d[=o], the pantheistic tendencies are emphasized and the
syncretistic powers are enlarged. While mysticism is a striking feature
of the sect and the attainment of truth is by the grace of Amida, yet
the native Kami of Japan are logically accepted as avatars of Buddha.
History had little or no rights in the case; philosophy was dictator,
and that philosophy was H[=o]-nen's. Those later Chinese deities made by
personifying attributes or abstract ideas, which sprang up after the
introduction of Buddhism into China, are also welcomed into the temples
of this sect. That the common people really believe that they themselves
may attain Buddha-hood at death, and enter the Pure Land, is shown in
the fact that their ordinary expression for the dead saint is Hotoké - a
general term for all the gods that were once human. Some popular
proverbs indicate this in a form that easily lends itself to irreverence
and merriment.

The whole tendency of Japanese Buddhism and its full momentum were now
toward the development of doctrine even to startling proportions.
Instead of the ancient path of asceticism and virtue with agnosticism
and atheism, we see the means of salvation put now, and perhaps too
easily, within the control of all. The pathway to Paradise was made not
only exceedingly plain, but also extremely easy, perhaps even
ridiculously so; while the door was open for an outburst of new and
local doctrines unknown to India, or even to China. The rampant vigor
with which Japanese Buddhism began to absorb everything in heaven, earth
and sea, which it could make a worshipable object or cause to stand as a
Kami or deity to the mind, will be seen as we proceed. The native
proverb, instead of being an irreverent joke, stands for an actual
truth - "Even a sardine's head may become an object of worship."

"Reformed" Buddhism.

We now look at what foreigners call "Reformed" Buddhism, which some even
imagine has been borrowed from Protestant Christianity - notwithstanding
that it is centuries older than the Reformation in Europe.

The Shin Shu or True Sect, though really founded on the J[=o]-d[=o]
doctrines, is separate from the sect of the Pure Land. Yet, besides
being called the Shin Shu, it is also spoken of as the J[=o]-d[=o] Shin
Shu or the True Sect of the Pure Land. It is the extreme form of the
Protestantism of Buddhism. It lays emphasis on the idea of salvation
wholly through the merits of another, but it also paints in richer tints
the sensuous delights of the Western Paradise. As the term Pure Land is
antithetical to that of the Holy Path, so the word Shin, or True,
expresses the contrary of what are termed the "temporary expedients."

While some say that we should practise good works, bring our stock of
merits to maturity, and be born in the Pure Land, others say that we
need only repeat the name of Amida in order to be born in the Pure Land,
by the merit produced from such repetition. These doctrines concerning
repetitions, however, are all considered but "temporary expedients." So
also is the rigid classification, so prominent in "the old sects," of
all beings or pupils into three grades. As in Islam or Calvinism, all
believers stand on a level. To Shin-ran the Radical, the practices even
of J[=o]-d[=o] seemed complicated and difficult, and all that appeared
necessary to him was faith in the desire of Amida to bless and save. To
Shinran,[9] faith was the sole saving act.

To rely upon the power of the Original Prayer of Amitabha Buddha with
the whole heart and give up all idea of _ji-riki_ or self-power, is
called the truth. This truth is the doctrine of this sect of Shin.[10]
In a word, not synergism, not faith _and_ works, but faith only is the
teaching of Shin Shu.

Shinran, the founder of this sect in Japan, was born A.D. 1173 and died
in the year 1262. He was very naturally one who had been first educated
in the J[=o]-d[=o] sect, then the ruling one at the imperial court in
Ki[=o]to. Shall we call him a Japanese Luther, because of his insistence
on salvation by faith only? He is popularly believed to have been
descended from one of the Shint[=o] gods, being on his father's side the
twenty-first in the line of generation. On his mother's side he was of
the lineage of the Minamoto or Genji, a clan sprung from Mikados and
famous during centuries for its victorious warriors. H[=o]-nen was his
teacher, and like his teacher, Shinran studied at the great monastery
near Ki[=o]to, learning first the doctrine of the Tendai, and then, at
the age of twenty-nine, receiving from H[=o]-nen the tenets of the
J[=o]-d[=o] sect. Shortly after, at thirty years of age, he began to
promulgate his doctrines. Then he took a step as new to Buddhism, as was
Luther's union with Katharine von Bora, to the ecclesiasticism of his
time. He married a lady of the imperial court, named Tamayori, who was
the daughter of the Kuambaku or premier.

Shinran thus taught by example, if not formally and by written precept,
that marriage was honorable, and that celibacy was an invention of the
priests not warranted by primitive Buddhism. Penance, fasting,
prescribed diet, pilgrimages, isolation from society whether as hermits
or in the cloister, and generally amulets and charms, are all tabooed by
this sect. Monasteries imposing life-vows are unknown within its pale.
Family life takes the place of monkish seclusion. Devout prayer, purity,
earnestness of life and trust in Buddha himself as the only worker of
perfect righteousness, are insisted upon. Morality is taught to be more
important than orthodoxy.

In practice, the Shin sect even more than the J[=o]-d[=o], teaches that
it is faith in Buddha, which accomplishes the salvation of the believer.
Instead of waiting for death in order to come under the protection of
Amida, the faithful soul is at once received into the care of the
Boundlessly Compassionate. In a word, the Shin sect believes in
instantaneous conversion and sanctification. Between the Roman and the
Reformed soteriology of Christendom, was Melancthonism or the
co[=o]perate union of the divine and the human will. So, the old
Buddhism prior to Shinran taught a phase of synergism, or the union of
faith and works. Shinran, in his "Reformed" Buddhism, taught the
simplicity of faith.

So also _in_ regard to the sacred writings, Shinran opposed the San-ron
school and the three-grade idea. The scriptures of other sects are in
Sanskrit and Chinese, which only the learned are able to read. The
special writings of Shinran are in the vernacular. Three of the sutras,
also, have been translated into Japanese and expressed in the kana
script. Singleness of purpose characterised this sect, which was often
called Monto, or followers of the gate, in reference to its unity of
organization, and the opening of the way to all by Shinran and the
doctrine taught by him. Yet, lest the gate might seem too broad, the
Shin teachers insist that morality is as important as faith, and indeed
the proof of it. The high priests of Shin Shu have ever held a high
position and wielded vast influence in the religious development of the
people. While the temples of other sects are built in sequestered places
among the hills, those of Shin Shu are erected in the heart of cities,
on the main streets, and at the centres of population, - the priests
using every means within their power to induce the people to come to
them. The altars are on an imposing scale of magnificence and gorgeous
detail. No Roman Catholic church or cathedral can outshine the splendor
of these temples, in which the way to the Western Paradise is made so
clear and plain. Another name for the sect is Ikko.

After the death of Shinran, his youngest daughter and one of his
grandsons erected a monastery near his tomb in the eastern suburbs of
Ki[=o]to, to which the Mikado gave the title of Hon-guanji, or Monastery
of the Original Vow. This was in allusion to the vow made by Amida, that
he would not accept Buddhaship except under the condition that salvation
be made attainable for all who should sincerely desire to be born into
his kingdom, and signify their desire by invoking his name ten
times.[11] It is upon the passage in the sutra where this vow is
recorded, that the doctrine of the sect is based. Its central idea is
that man is to be saved by faith in the mercy of the boundlessly
compassionate Amida, and not by works or vain repetitions. Within our
own time, on November 28, 1876, the present reigning Mikado bestowed
upon Shinran the posthumous title Ken-shin Dai-shi, or Great Teacher of
the Revelation of Truth.

The Protestants of Japanese Buddhism.

This is the sect which, being called "Reformed" Buddhism[12] and
resembling Protestantism in so many points, both large and minute,
foreigners think has been borrowed or imitated from European
Protestantism.[13] As matter of fact, the foundation principles of
Shin-Shu are at least six hundred years old. They are perfectly clear in
the writings of the founder,[14] as well as in those of his successor
Renni[=o],[15] who wrote the Ofumi or sacred writings, now daily read by
the disciples of this denomination. With the characteristic object of
reaching the masses, they are written, as we have shown, not in the
mixed Chinese and Japanese characters, but in the common script, or
kana, which all the people of both sexes can read. Within the last two
decades the Shin educators have been the first to organize their schools
of learning on the models of those in Christendom, so that their young
men might be trained to resist Shint[=o] or Christianity, or to measure
the truth in either. Their new temples also show European influence in
architecture and furniture. Liberty of thought and action, and
incoercible desire to be free from governmental, traditional,
ultra-ecclesiastical, or Shint[=o] influence - in a word, protestantism
in its pure sense, is characteristic of the great sect founded by

Indeed the Shin sect, which sprang out of the J[=o]-d[=o], maintains
that it alone professes the true teaching of H[=o]-nen, and that the
J[=o]-d[=o] sect has wandered from the original doctrines of its
founder. Whereas the J[=o]-d[=o] or Pure Land sect believes that Amida
will come to meet the soul of the believer on its separation from the
body, in order to conduct it to Paradise, the Shin or True Sect of the
Pure Land believes in immediate salvation and sanctification. It
preaches that as soon as a man believes in Amida he is taken by him
under him merciful protection. Some might denominate these people the
Methodists of Buddhism.

One good point in their Protestantism is their teaching that morality is
of equal importance with faith. To them Buddha-hood means the perfection
and unlimitedness of wisdom and compassion. "Therefore," writes one,
"knowing the inability of our own power we should believe simply in the
vicarious Power of the Original Prayer. If we do so, we are in
correspondence with the wisdom of the Buddha and share his great
compassion, just as the water of rivers becomes salt as soon as it
enters the sea. For this reason this is called the faith in the Other

To their everlasting honor, also, the Shin believers have probably led
all other Japanese Buddhists in caring for the Eta, even as they
probably excel in preaching the true spiritual democracy of all
believers, yes, even of women.[16] "According to the earlier and general
view of Buddhism, women are condemned, in virtue of the pollution of
their nature, to look forward to rebirth in other forms. By no
possibility can they, in their existence as women, reach the higher
grades of holiness which lead to Nirvana. According to the Shin Shu
system, on the other hand, a believing woman may hope to attain the goal
of the Buddhist at the close of her present life."[17] This doctrine
seems to be founded on that passage in the eleventh chapter of the
Saddharma Pundarika, in which the daughter of S[=a]gara, the
N[=a]ga-king, loses her sex as female and reappears as a Bodhisattva of
male sex.[18]

The Shin sect is the largest in Japan, having more than twice as many
temples as any four of the great sects, and five thousand more than the
So-d[=o] or sub-sect of J[=o]-d[=o], which is the next largest; or, over
nineteen thousand in all. It is also supposed to be one of the richest
and most powerful of all the Japanese sects. In reality, however, it
possesses no fixed property, and is dependent entirely upon the
voluntary contributions of its adherents. To-day, it is probably the
most active of them all in education, learning and missionary operations
in Yezo, China and Korea.

Interesting as is the development of the J[=o]-d[=o] and Shin sects,
which became popular largely through their promulgation of dogmas
founded on the Western Paradise, we must not forget that both of them
preached a new Buddha - not the real figure in history, but an unhistoric
and unreal phantom, the creation and dream of the speculator and
visionary. Amida, the personification of boundless light, is one of the
luxuriant growths of a sickly scholasticism - a hollow abstraction
without life or reality. Amidaism is utterly repudiated by many Japanese
Buddhists, who give no place to his idol on their altars, and reject
utterly the teaching as to Paradise and salvation through the merits of

Yet these two special developments by natives, though embodying
tendencies of the Japanese mind, did not reach the limit to which
Northern Buddhism was to go in those almost incredible lengths, which
prompted Professor Whitney[19] to call it "the high-faluting school,"
and which we have seen in our own time under the cultivation of western

The Nichiren Sect.

The Japanese mind runs to pantheism as naturally as an unpruned
grape-vine runs to fibre and leaves.

When Nichiren, the ultra-patriotic and ultra-democratic bonze, saw the
light in A.D. 1222, he was destined to bring religion not only down to
man, but even down to the beasts and to the mud. He founded the
Saddharma-Pundarika sect, now called Nichiren Shu.

Born at Kominato, near the mouth of Yedo Bay, he became a neophite in
the Shin-gon sect at the age of twelve, and was admitted into the
priesthood when but fifteen years old. Then he adopted his name, which
means Sun-lotus, because, according to a typical dream very common in
Korea and Japan, his mother thought that she had conceived by the sun
entering her body. Through a miracle, he acquired a thorough knowledge
of the whole Buddhist canon, in the course of which he met with words,
which he converted into that formula which is constantly in the mouth of
the members of the Nichiren sect, Namu-my[=o]-ho-ren-gé-ky[=o] - "O, the
Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law."[20] His history, full of
amazing activity and of romantic adventure, is surrounded by a perfect
sunrise splendor, or, shall we say, sunset gorgeousness, of mythology
and fable. The scenes of his life are mostly laid in the region of the
modern T[=o]ki[=o], and to the cultivated traveller, its story lends
fascinating charms to the landscape in the region of Yedo Bay. Nichiren
was a fiery patriot, and ultra-democratic in his sympathies. He was a
radical believer in "Japan for the Japanese." He was an ecclesiastical
_Soshi_. He felt that the developments of Buddhism already made, were
not sufficiently comprehensive, or fully suited to the common people.
So, in A.D. 1282, he founded a new sect which gradually included within
its pantheon all possible Buddhas, and canonized pretty nearly all the
saints, righteous men and favorite heroes known to Dai Nippon. Nichiren
first made Japan the centre of the universe, and then brought religion
down to the lowest. He considered that the period in which he lived was
the latter day of the law, and that all creatures ought to share in the
merit of Buddha-hood. Only the original Buddha is the real moon in the
sky, but all Buddhas of the subordinate states are like the images of
the moon, reflected upon the waters. All these different Buddhas, be
they gods or men, beasts, birds or snakes, are to be honored. Indeed,
they are both honored and worshipped in the Nichiren pantheon. Besides
the historic Buddha, this sect, which is the most idolatrous of all,
admits as objects of its reverence such personages as Nichiren, the
founder; Kato Kiyomasa, the general who led the army of invasion in
Korea and was the persecutor of the Christians; and Shichimen - a word
which means seven points of the compass or seven faces. This Shichimen

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 19 of 31)