William Elliot Griffis.

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Shin and Zen sects. - Nobunaga. - Influence of Buddhism in literature and
education. - The temple school. - The _kana_ writing. - Survey and critique
of Buddhist history in Japan. - Absence of organized charities. - Regard
for animal and disregard for human life. - The Eta. - The Aino. - Attitude
to women. - Nuna and numerics. - Polygamy and concubinage. - Buddhism
compared with Shint[=o]. - Influence upon morals. - The First Cause. - Its
leadership among the sects. - Unreality of Amida Buddha. - Nichiren. - His
life and opinions. - Idols and avatars. - The favorite scripture of the
sect, the Saddharma Pundarika. - Its central dogma, everything in the
universe capable of Buddha-ship. - The Salvation Army of
Buddhism. - K[=o]b[=o]'s leaven working. - Buddhism ceases to be an
intellectual force. - The New Buddhism. - Are the Japanese eager for



The many-sided story of Japanese Christianity. - One hundred years of
intercourse between Japan and Europe. - State of Japan at the
introduction of Portuguese Christianity. - Xavier and Anjiro. - Xavier at
Ki[=o]to and in Bungo. - Nobunaga and the Buddhists. - High-water mark of
Christianity. - Hideyoshi and the invasion of Korea. - Kato and
Konishi. - Persecutions. - Arrival of the Spanish friars. - Their violation
of good faith. - Spirit of the Jesuits and Franciscans. - Crucifixion on
the bamboo cross. - Hidéyori. - Kato Kiyomasa. - The Dutch in the Eastern
seas. - Will Adams. - Iyéyas[)u] suspects designs against the sovereignty
of Japan. - The Christian religion outlawed. - Hidétada follows up the
policy of Iyéyas[)u], excludes aliens, and shuts up the country. - The
uprising of the Christians at Shimabara in 1637. - Christianity buried
from sight. - Character of the missionaries and the form of the faith
introduced by them. - Noble lives and ideals. - The spirit of the
Inquisition in Japan. - Political animus and complexion.



Policy of the Japanese government after the suppression of
Christianity. - Insulation of Japan. - The Hollanders at
Déshima. - Withdrawal of the English. - Relations with Korea. - Policy of
inclusion. - "A society impervious to foreign ideas." - Life within
stunted limits. - Canons of art and literature. - Philosophy made an
engine of government. - Esoteric law. - Social waste of
humanity. - Attempts to break down the wall - External and
internal. - Seekers after God. - The goal of the pilgrims. - The Déshima
Dutchman as pictured by enemies and rivals, _versus_ reality and
truth. - Eager spirits groping after God. - Morning stars of the Japanese
reformation. - Yokoi Héishiro. - The anti-Christian edicts. - The Buddhist
Inquisitors. - The Shin-gaku or New Learning movement. - The story of
nineteenth century Christianity, subterranean and interior before being
phenomenal. - Sabbath-day service on the U.S.S. Mississippi. - The first
missionaries. - Dr. J.C. Hepburn - Healing and the Bible. - Yedo becomes
T[=o]ki[=o]. - Despatch of the Embassy round the world. - Eyes
opened. - The Acts of the Apostles in Japan.




"The investigation of the beginnings of a religion is never the
work of infidels, but of the most reverent and conscientious

"We, the forty million souls of Japan, standing firmly and
persistently upon the basis of international justice, await
still further manifestations as to the morality of
Christianity," - Hiraii, of Japan.

"When the Creator [through intermediaries that were apparently
animals] had finished treating this world of men, the good and
the bad Gods were all mixed together promiscuously, and began
disputing for the possession of this world." - The Aino Story of
the Creation.

"If the Japanese have few beast stories, the Ainos have
_apparently_ no popular tales of heroes ... The Aino mythologies
... lack all connection with morality.... Both lack priests and
prophets.... Both belong to a very primitive stage of mental
development ... Excepting stories ... and a few almost metreless
songs, the Ainos have no other literature at all." - Aino

"I asked the earth, and it answered, 'I am not He;' and
whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea
and the deep and the creeping things that lived, and they
replied, 'We are not thy God; seek higher than we.' ... And I
answered unto all things which stand about the door of my flesh,
'Ye have told me concerning my God, that ye are not he; tell me
something about him.' And with a loud voice they explained, 'It
is He who hath made us!'" - Augustine's Confessions.

"Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the
shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with
night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them
out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name." - Amos.

"That which hath been made was life in Him." - John.


The Morse Lectureship and the Study of Comparative

As a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York,
in the Class of 1877, your servant received and accepted with pleasure
the invitation of the President and Board of Trustees to deliver a
course of lectures upon the religions of Japan. In that country and in
several parts of it, I lived from 1870 to 1874. I was in the service
first of the feudal daimi[=o] of Echizen and then of the national
government of Japan, helping to introduce that system of public schools
which is now the glory of the country. Those four years gave me
opportunities for close and constant observation of the outward side of
the religions of Japan, and facilities for the study of the ideas out of
which worship springs. Since 1867, however, when first as a student in
Rutgers College at New Brunswick, N.J., I met and instructed those
students from the far East, who, at risk of imprisonment and death had
come to America for the culture of Christendom, I have been deeply
interested in the study of the Japanese people and their thoughts.

To attempt a just and impartial survey of the religions of Japan may
seem a task that might well appall even a life-long Oriental scholar.
Yet it may be that an honest purpose, a deep sympathy and a gladly
avowed desire to help the East and the West, the Japanese and the
English-speaking people, to understand each other, are not wholly
useless in a study of religion, but for our purpose of real value. These
lectures are upon the Morse[1] foundation which has these specifications
written out by the founder:

The general subject of the lectures I desire to be: "The
Relation of the Bible to any of the Sciences, as Geography,
Geology, History, and Ethnology, ... and the relation of the
facts and truths contained in the Word of God, to the
principles, methods, and aims of any of the sciences."

Now, among the sciences which we must call to our aid are those of
geography and geology, by which are conditioned history and ethnology of
which we must largely treat; and, most of all, the science of
Comparative Religion.

This last is Christianity's own child. Other sciences, such as geography
and astronomy, may have been born among lands and nations outside of and
even before Christendom. Other sciences, such as geology, may have had
their rise in Christian time and in Christian lands, their foundation
lines laid and their main processes illustrated by Christian men, which
yet cannot be claimed by Christianity as her children bearing her own
likeness and image; but the science of Comparative Religion is the
direct offspring of the religion of Jesus. It is a distinctively
Christian science. "It is so because it is a product of Christian
civilization, and because it finds its impulse in that freedom of
inquiry which Christianity fosters."[2] Christian scholars began the
investigations, formulated the principles, collected the materials and
reared the already splendid fabric of the science of Comparative
Religion, because the spirit of Christ which was in them did signify
this. Jesus bade his disciples search, inquire, discern and compare.
Paul, the greatest of the apostolic Christian college, taught: "Prove
all things; hold fast that which is good." In our day one of Christ's
loving followers[3] expressed the spirit of her Master in her favorite
motto, "Truth for authority, not authority for truth." Well says Dr.
James Legge, a prince among scholars, and translator of the Chinese
classics, who has added several portly volumes to Professor Max Müller's
series of the "Sacred Books of the East," whose face to-day is bronzed
and whose hair is whitened by fifty years of service in southern China
where with his own hands he baptized six hundred Chinamen:[4]

The more that a man possesses the Christian spirit, and is
governed by Christian principle, the more anxious will he be to
do justice to every other system of religion, and to hold his
own without taint or fetter of bigotry.[5]

It was Christianity that, in a country where the religion of Jesus has
fullest liberty, called the Parliament of Religions, and this for
reasons clearly manifest. Only Christians had and have the requisites of
success, viz.: sufficient interest in other men and religions; the
necessary unity of faith and purpose; and above all, the brave and bold
disregard of the consequences. Christianity calls the Parliament of
Religions, following out the Divine audacity of Him who, so often,
confronting worldly wisdom and priestly cunning, said to his disciples,
"Think not, be not anxious, take no heed, be careful for nothing - only
for love and truth. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."

Of all places therefore, the study of comparative religion is most
appropriate in a Christian theological seminary. We must know how our
fellow-men think and believe, in order to help them. It is our duty to
discover the pathways of approach to their minds and hearts. We must
show them, as our brethren and children of the same Heavenly Father, the
common ground on which we all stand. We must point them to the greater
truth in the Bible and in Christ Jesus, and demonstrate wherein both the
divinely inspired library and the truth written in a divine-human life
fulfil that which is lacking in their books and masters.

To know just how to do this is knowledge to be coveted as a most
excellent gift. An understanding of the religion of our fellow-men is
good, both for him who goes as a missionary and for him who at home
prays, "Thy kingdom come."

The theological seminary, which begins the systematic and sympathetic
study of Comparative Religion and fills the chair with a professor who
has a vital as well as academic interest in the welfare of his
fellow-men who as yet know not Jesus as Christ and Lord, is sure to lead
in effective missionary work. The students thus equipped will be
furnished as none others are, to begin at once the campaign of help and
warfare of love.

It may be that insight into and sympathy with the struggles of men who
are groping after God, if haply they may find him, will shorten the
polemic sword of the professional converter whose only purpose is
destructive hostility without tactics or strategy, or whose chief idea
of missionary success is in statistics, in blackening the character of
"the heathen," in sensational letters for home consumption and reports
properly cooked and served for the secretarial and sectarian palates.
Yet, if true in history, Greek, Roman, Japanese, it is also true in the
missionary wars, that "the race that shortens its weapons lengthens its

Apart from the wit or the measure of truth in this sentence quoted, it
is a matter of truth in the generalizations of fact that the figure of
the "sword of the spirit, which is the word of God," used by Paul, and
also the figure of the "word of God, living and active, sharper than any
two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of the soul and
spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and
intents of the heart," of the writer to the Hebrews, had for their
original in iron the victorious _gladium_ of the Roman legionary - a
weapon both short and sharp. We may learn from this substance of fact
behind the shadow of the figure a lesson for our instant application.
The disciplined Romans scorned the long blades of the barbarians, whose
valor so often impetuous was also impotent against discipline. The
Romans measured their blades by inches, not by feet. For ages the
Japanese sword has been famed for its temper more than its weight.[7]
The Christian entering upon his Master's campaigns with as little
impediments of sectarian dogma as possible, should select a weapon that
is short, sure and divinely tempered.

To know exactly the defects of the religion we seek to abolish, modify,
supplement, supplant or fulfil, means wise economy of force. To get at
the secrets of its hold upon the people we hope to convert leads to a
right use of power. In a word, knowledge of the opposing religion, and
especially of alien language, literature and ways of feeling and
thinking, lengthens missionary life. A man who does not know the moulds
of thought of his hearers is like a swordsman trying to fight at long
range but only beating the air. Armed with knowledge and sympathy, the
missionary smites with effect at close quarters. He knows the vital

Let me fortify my own convictions and conclude this preliminary part of
my lectures by quoting again, not from academic authorities, but from
active missionaries who are or have been at the front and in the

The Rev. Samuel Beal, author of "Buddhism in China," said (p. 19) that
"it was plain to him that no real work could be done among the people
[of China and Japan] by missionaries until the system of their belief
was understood."

The Rev. James MacDonald, a veteran missionary in Africa, in the
concluding chapter of his very able work on "Religion and Myth," says:

The Church that first adopts for her intending missionaries the
study of Comparative Religion as a substitute for subjects now
taught will lead the van in the path of true progress.

The People of Japan.

In this faith then, in the spirit of Him who said, "I come not to
destroy but to fulfil," let us cast our eyes upon that part of the world
where lies the empire of Japan with its forty-one millions of souls.
Here we have not a country like India - a vast conglomeration of nations,
languages and religions occupying a peninsula itself like a continent,
whose history consists of a stratification of many civilizations. Nor
have we here a seemingly inert mass of humanity in a political structure
blending democracy and imperialism, as in China, so great in age, area
and numbers as to weary the imagination that strives to grasp the
details. On the contrary, in Dai Nippon, or Great Land of the Sun's
Origin, we have a little country easy of study. In geology it is one of
the youngest of lands. Its known history is comparatively modern. Its
area roughly reckoned as 150,000 square miles, is about that of our
Dakotas or of Great Britain and Ireland. The census completed December
31, 1892, illustrates here, as all over the world, nature's argument
against polygamy. It tells us that the relation between the sexes is,
numerically at least, normal. There were 20,752,366 males and 20,337,574
females, making a population of 41,089,940 souls. All these people are
subjects of the one emperor, and excepting fewer than twenty thousand
savages in the northern islands called Ainos, speak one language and
form substantially one race. Even the Riu Kiu islanders are Japanese in
language, customs and religion. In a word, except in minor differences
appreciable or at least important only to the special student, the
modern Japanese are a homogeneous people.

In origin and formation, this people is a composite of many tribes.
Roughly outlining the ethnology of Japan, we should say that the
aborigines were immigrants from the continent with Malay reinforcement
in the south, Koreans in the centre, and Ainos in the east and north,
with occasional strains of blood at different periods from various parts
of the Asian mainland. In brief, the Japanese are a very mixed race.
Authentic history before the Christian era is unknown. At some point of
time, probably later than A.D. 200, a conquering tribe, one of many from
the Asian mainland, began to be paramount on the main island. About the
fourth century something like historic events and personages begin to be
visible, but no Japanese writings are older than the early part of the
eighth century, though almanacs and means of measuring time are found in
the sixth century. Whatever Japan may be in legend and mythology, she is
in fact and in history younger than Christianity. Her line of rulers, as
alleged in old official documents and ostentatiously reaffirmed in the
first article of the constitution of 1889, to be "unbroken for ages
eternal," is no older than that of the popes. Let us not think of Aryan
or Chinese antiquity when we talk of Japan. Her history as a state began
when the Roman empire fell. The Germanic nations emerged into history
long before the Japanese.

Roughly outlining the political and religious life of the ancient
Japanese, we note that their first system of government was a rude sort
of feudalism imposed by the conquerors and was synchronous with
aboriginal fetichism, nature worship, ancestral sacrifices, sun-worship
and possibly but not probably, a very rude sort of monotheism akin to
the primitive Chinese cultus.[9] Almost contemporary with Buddhism, its
introduction and missionary development, was the struggle for
centralized imperialism borrowed from the Chinese and consolidated in
the period from the seventh to the twelfth century. During most of this
time Shint[=o], or the primitive religion, was overshadowed while the
Confucian ethics were taught. From the twelfth to this nineteenth
century feudalism in politics and Buddhism in religion prevailed, though
Confucianism furnished the social laws or rules of daily conduct. Since
the epochal year of 1868, with imperialism reestablished and the feudal
system abolished, Shint[=o] has had a visible revival, being kept alive
by government patronage. Buddhism, though politically disestablished, is
still the popular religion with recent increase of life,[10] while
Confucianism is decidedly losing force. Christianity has begun its
promising career.

The Amalgam of Religions.

Yet in the imperial and constitutional Japan of our day it is still true
of probably at least thirty-eight millions of Japanese that their
religion is not one, Shint[=o], Confucianism or Buddhism, but an amalgam
of all three. There is not in every-day life that sharp distinction
between these religions which the native or foreign scholar makes, and
which both history and philosophy demand shall be made for the student
at least. Using the technical language of Christian theologians,
Shint[=o] furnishes theology, Confucianism anthropology and Buddhism
soteriology. The average Japanese learns about the gods and draws
inspiration for his patriotism from Shint[=o], maxims for his ethical
and social life from Confucius, and his hope of what he regards as
salvation from Buddhism. Or, as a native scholar, Nobuta Kishimoto,[11]
expresses it,

In Japan these three different systems of religion and morality
are not only living together on friendly terms with one another,
but, in fact, they are blended together in the minds of the
people, who draw necessary nourishment from all of these
sources. One and the same Japanese is both a Shint[=o]ist, a
Confucianist, and a Buddhist. He plays a triple part, so to
speak ... Our religion may be likened to a triangle....
Shint[=o]ism furnishes the object, Confucianism offers the rules
of life, while Buddhism supplies the way of salvation; so you
see we Japanese are eclectic in everything, even in religion.

These three religious systems as at present constituted, are "book
religions." They rest, respectively, upon the Kojiki and other ancient
Japanese literature and the modern commentators; upon the Chinese
classics edited and commented on by Confucius and upon Chu Hi and other
mediaeval scholastics who commented upon Confucius; and upon the
shastras and sutras with which Gautama, the Buddha, had something to do.
Yet in primeval and prehistoric Nippon neither these books nor the
religions growing out of the books were extant. Furthermore, strictly
speaking, it is not with any or all of these three religions that the
Christian missionary comes first, oftenest or longest in contact. In
ancient, in mediaeval, and in modern times the student notices a great
undergrowth of superstition clinging parasitically to all religions,
though formally recognized by none. Whether we call it fetichism,
shamanism, nature worship or heathenism in its myriad forms, it is there
in awful reality. It is as omnipresent, as persistent, as hard to kill
as the scrub bamboo which both efficiently and sufficiently takes the
place of thorns and thistles as the curse of Japanese ground.

The book-religions can be more or less apprehended by those alien to
them, but to fully appreciate the depth, extent, influence and tenacity
of these archaic, unwritten and unformulated beliefs requires residence
upon the soil and life among the devotees. Disowned it may be by the
priests and sages, indignantly disclaimed or secretly approved in part
by the organized religions, this great undergrowth of superstition is as
apparent as the silicious bamboo grass which everywhere conditions and
modifies Japanese agriculture. Such prevalence of mental and spiritual
disease is the sad fact that confronts every lover of his fellow-men.
This paganism is more ancient and universal than any one of the
religions founded on writing or teachers of name and fame. Even the
applied science and the wonderful inventions imported from the West, so
far from eradicating it, only serve as the iron-clad man-of-war in warm
salt water serves the barnacles, furnishing them food and hold.

We propose to give in this our first lecture, a general or bird's-eye
view of this dead level of paganism above which the systems of
Shint[=o], Confucianism and Buddhism tower like mountains. It in by this
omnipresent superstition that the respectable religious have been
conditioned in their history and are modified at present, even as
Christianity has been influenced in its progress by ethnic or local
ideas and temperaments, and will be yet in its course of victory in the
Mikado's empire.

Just as the terms "heathen" (happily no longer, in the Revised Version
of the English Bible) and "pagan" suggest the heath-man of Northern
Europe and the isolated hamlet of the Roman empire, while the cities
were illuminated with Christian truth, so, in the main, the matted
superstitious of Chinese Asia are more suggestive of distances from
books and centres of knowledge, though still sufficiently rooted in the
crowded cities.

One to whom the boundary line between the Creator and his world is
perfectly clear, one who knows the eternal difference between mind and
matter, one born amid the triumphs of science can but faintly realize
the mental condition of the millions of Japan to whom there is no
unifying thought of the Creator-Father. Faith in the unity of law is the
foundation of all science, but the average Asiatic has not this thought
or faith. Appalled at his own insignificance amid the sublime mysteries
and awful immensities of nature, the shadows of his own mind become to
him real existences. As it is affirmed that the human skin, sensitive to
the effects of light, takes the photograph of the tree riven by
lightning, so, on the pagan mind lie in ineffaceable and exaggerated
grotesqueness the scars of impressions left by hereditary teaching, by
natural phenomena and by the memory of events and of landmarks. Out of
the soil of diseased imagination has sprung up a growth as terrible as
the drunkard's phantasies. The earthquake, flood, tidal wave, famine,
withering or devastating wind and poisonous gases, the geological
monsters and ravening bird, beast and fish, have their representatives
or supposed incarnations in mythical phantasms.

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 2 of 31)