William Elliot Griffis.

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

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is the being that appeared to Nichiren as a beautiful woman, but
disappeared from his sight in the form of a snake, twenty feet long,
covered with golden scales and armed with iron teeth. It is now deified
under the name meaning the Great God of the Seven Faces, and is
identified with the Hindoo deity Siva.

Another idol usually seen in the Nichiren temples is Mioken. Under this
name the pole star is worshipped, usually in the form of a Buddha with a
wheel of a Buddha elect. Standing on a tortoise, with a sword in his
right hand, and with the left hand half open - a gesture which symbolizes
the male and female principles in the physical world, and the
intelligence and the law in the spiritual world - Mioken is a striking
figure. Indeed, the list of glorified animals reminds us somewhat of the
ancient beast-worship of Egypt. In the Nichiren hierology, it is as
though the symbolical figures in the Book of Revelation had been deified
and worshipped. It is evident that all the creatures in that Buddhist
chamber of imagery, the Hokké Ki[=o], that could possibly be made into
gods have received apotheosis. The very book itself is also worshipped,
for the Nichirenites are extreme believers in verbal inspiration, and
pay divine honors to each jot and tittle of the sutra, which to them is
a god. They adore also the triad of the three precious ones, the Buddha,
the Rule or Discipline, and the Organization; or, Being, Law, and
Church. The hideous idol, Fudo, "Eleven-faced," "Horse-headed,"
"Thousand-handed," or girt in a robe of fiery flame, is believed by
Buddhists to represent Avalokitesvara; but, in recent times he has been
recognized, detected and recaptured by the Shint[=o]ists as Kotohira.
The goddess Kishi, and that miscellaneous assortment or group known as
the Seven Patrons of Happiness, which form a sort of encyclopaedia or
museum of curiosities derived from the cults of India, China and Japan,
are also components of the amazing menagerie and pantheon of this sect,
in which scholasticism run mad, and emotional kindness to animals become
maudlin, join hands.

The Ultra-realism of Northern Buddhism.

Like most of the other Japanese sects, the Nichirenites claim that their
principles are contained in the Hok-ké-ki[=o], which is considered the
consummate white flower of Buddhist doctrine and literature. This is the
Japanese name for that famous sutra, the Saddharma Pundarika, so often
mentioned in these chapters but a thousand-fold more so in Japanese
literature. The Ten-dai and the Nichiren sects are allied, in that both
lay supreme emphasis upon this sutra; but the former interprets it with
an intellectual, and the latter with an emotional emphasis.
Philosophically, the two bodies have much in common. Outwardly they are
very far apart. One has but to read their favorite scripture, to see the
norm upon which the gorgeous art of Japan has been developed. Probably
no single book in the voluminous canon of the Greater Vehicle gives one
so masterful a key to Japanese Buddhism. Its pages are crowded with
sensuous descriptions of all that is attractive to both the reason and
the understanding. Its descriptions of Paradise are those which would
suit also the realistic Mussulman. Its rhetoric and visions seem to be
those of some oriental De Quincey, who, out of the dreams of an
opium-eater, has made the law-book of a religion. Translated into
matter-of-fact Chinese, none better than Nichiren knew how to present
its realism to his people.

In its ethical standards, which are two, this sect, like most others,
prescribes one course of life for the monk, which is difficult, and
another for the laity, which is easy. The central dogma is that every
part of the universe, including not only gods and men, but animals,
plants and the very mud itself, is capable, by successive
transmigrations, of attaining to Buddhaship. In one sense, Nichirenism
is the transfiguration of atheistic evolution. In its teachings there
are also two forms: the one, largely in symbol, is intended to attract
followers; the other, the pure truth, is employed to convert the
obstinately ignorant, against their wills. As in the history of the
papal organization in Europe, a materialistic interpretation has been
given to the canons of dogma and discipline.

Contrary to the doctrine of those sects which teach the attainment of
salvation solely through the aid of Amida, or Another, the Nichirenites
insist that it is necessary for man to work out his own salvation, by
observing the law, by self-examination, by reflecting on the blessings
vouchsafed to the members of this elect and orthodox sect and by
constant prayer. They consider themselves as in the only true church,
and their succession to the priesthood, the only valid one. The strict
Nichiren churchmen will not have the Shint[=o] gods in their household
shrines, nor will they intermarry among the sects. The Nichirenites are
also very fond of controversy, and their language in speaking of other
creeds and sects is not that characteristic of the gentle Buddha. The
people of this sect are much given to the belief in demoniacal
possession, and a considerable part of the duty and revenue-yielding
business of the Nichiren priests consists in exorcising the foxes,
badgers and other demons, which have possessed subjects who are
generally women at certain stages of illness or convalescence. The
phenomena and pathology of these disorders seem to be allied to those of
hysteria and hypnotism.

This popular sect also makes greatest use of charms, spells and amulets,
lays great store on pilgrimages, and is very fond of noise-making
instruments whether prayer-books or the wooden bells or drums which are
prominent features in their temples and revival meetings. In one sense
it is the Salvation Army of Buddhism, being especially powerful in what
strikes the eye and ear. The Nichirenites have been well called the
Ranters of Buddhism. Their revival meetings make Bedlam seem silent, and
reduce to gentle murmurs the camp-meeting excesses with which we are
familiar in our own country. They are the most sectarian of all sects.
Their vocabulary of Billingsgate and the ribaldry employed by them even
against their Buddhist brethren, cast into the shade those of Christian
sectarians in their fiercest controversies. "A thousand years in the
lowest of the hells is the atonement prescribed by the Nichirenites for
the priests of all other sects." When the Parliament of Religions was
called in Chicago, the successors of Nichiren, with their characteristic
high-church modesty, promptly sent letters to America, warning the world
against all other Japanese Buddhists, and denouncing especially those
coming to speak in the Parliament, as misrepresenting the true doctrines
of Buddha.

Doctrinal Culmination.

When the work of Nichiren had been completed, and his realistic
pantheism had been able to include within its great receiver and
processes of Buddha-making, everything from gods to mud, the circle of
doctrine was complete. K[=o]b[=o]'s leaven had now every possible lump
in which to do its work. All grades of men in Japan, from the most
devout and intellectual to the most ranting and fanatical, could choose
their sect. Yet it may be that Buddhism in Nichiren's day was in danger
of stagnation and formalism, and needed the revival which this fiery
bonze gave it; for, undoubtedly, along with zeal even to bigotry, came
fresh life and power to the religion. This invigoration was followed by
the mighty missionary labors of the last half of the thirteenth century,
which carried Buddhism out to the northern frontier and into Yezo.
Although, from time to time minor sects were formed either limiting or
developing further the principles of the larger parent sects, and
although, even as late as the seventeenth century, a new subsect, the
Oba-ku of Zen Shu, was imported from China, yet no further doctrinal
developments of importance took place; not even in presence of or after
sixteenth century Christianity and seventeenth century Confucianism.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries form the golden age of Japanese

In the sixteenth century, the feudal system had split into fragments and
the normal state of the country was that of civil war. Sect was arrayed
against sect, and the Shin bonzes, especially, formed a great military
body in fortified monasteries.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, came the tremendous
onslaught of Portuguese Christianity. Then followed the militarism and
bloody persecutions of Nobunaga.

In clashing with the new Confucianism of the seventeenth century,
Buddhism utterly weakened as an intellectual power. Though through the
favor of the Yodo sh[=o]guns it recovered lands and wealth, girded
itself anew as the spy, persecutor and professed extirpator of
Christianity, and maintained its popularity with the common people, it
was, during the eighteenth century, among the educated Japanese, as good
as dead. Modern Confucianism and the revival of Chinese learning,
resulted in eighteenth century scepticism and in nineteenth century

The New Buddhism.

In our day and time, Japanese Buddhism, in the presence of aggressive
Christianity, is out of harmony with the times, and the needs of
forty-one millions of awakened and inquiring people; and there are deep
searchings of heart. Politically disestablished and its landed
possessions sequestrated by the government, it has had, since 1868, a
history, first of depression and then of temporary revival. Now, amid
much mechanical and external activity, the employment of the press, the
organization of charity, of summer schools of "theology," and of young
men's and other associations copied from the Christians, it is
endeavoring to keep New Japan within its pale and to dictate the future.
It seeks to utilize the old bottles for the new vintage.

There is, however, a movement discernible which may be called the New
Buddhism, and has not only new wine but new wineskins. It is democratic,
optimistic, empirical or practical; it welcomes women and children; it
is hospitable to science and every form of truth. It is catholic in
spirit and has little if any of the venom of the old Buddhist
controvertists. It is represented by earnest writers who look to natural
and spiritual means, rather than to external and mechanical methods. As
a whole, we may say that Japanese Buddhism is still strong to-day in its
grip upon the people. Though unquestionably moribund, its death will be
delayed. Despite its apparent interest in, and harmony with,
contemporaneous statements of science, it does not hold the men of
thought, or those who long for the spiritual purification and moral
elevation of Japan.

Are the Japanese eager for reform? Do they possess that quality of
emotion in which a tormenting sense of sin, and a burning desire for
self-surrender to holiness, are ever manifest?

Frankly and modestly, we give our opinion. We think not. The average
Japanese man has not come to that self-consciousness, that searching of
heart, that self-seeing of sin in the light of a Holy God's countenance
which the gospel compels. Yet this is exactly what the Japanese need.
Only Christ's gospel can give it.

The average man of culture in Dai Nippon has to-day no religion. He is
waiting for one. What shall be the issue, in the contest between a faith
that knows no personal God, no Creator, no atonement, no gospel of
salvation from sin, and the gospel which bids man seek and know the
great First Cause, as Father and Friend, and proclaims that this
Infinite Friend seeks man to bless him, to bestow upon him pardon and
holiness and to give him earthly happiness and endless life? Between one
religion which teaches personality in God and in man, and another which
offers only a quagmire of impersonality wherein a personal god and an
individual soul exist only as the jack-lights of the marsh, mere
phosphorescent gleams of decay, who can fail to choose? Of the two
faiths, which shall be victor?


"The heart of my country, the power of my country, the Light of
my country, is Buddhism." - Yatsubuchi, of Japan.

"Buddhism was the teacher under whose instruction the Japanese
nation grew up." - Chamberlain.

"Buddhism was the civilizer. It came with the freshness of
religious zeal, and religious zeal was a novelty. It come as the
bearer of civilization and enlightenment."

"Buddhism has had a fair field in Japan, and its outcome has not
been elevating. Its influence has been aesthetic and not
ethical. It added culture and art to Japan, as it brought with
itself the civilization of continental Asia. It gave the arts,
and more, it added the artistic atmosphere.... Reality
disappears. 'This fleeting borrowed world' is all mysterious, a
dream; moonlight is in place of the clear hot sun.... It has so
fitted itself to its surroundings that it seems
indigenous." - George William Knox.

"The Japanese ... are indebted to Buddhism for their present
civilization and culture, their great susceptibility to the
beauties of nature, and the high perfection of several branches
of artistic industry." - Rein.

"We speak of _God_, and the Japanese mind is filled with idols.
We mention _sin_, and he thinks of eating flesh or the killing
of insects. The word _holiness_ reminds him of crowds of
pilgrims flocking to some famous shrine, or of some anchorite
sitting lost in religions abstraction till his legs rot off. He
has much error to unlearn before he can take in the
truth-" - R.E. McAlpine.

"There in a life of study, prayer, and thought,
Kenshin became a saintly priest - not wide
In intellect nor broad in sympathies,
For such things come not from the ascetic life;
But narrow, strong, and deep, and like the stream
That rushes fervid through the narrow path
Between the rooks at Nikk[=o] - so he grasped,
Heart, soul, and strength, the holy Buddha's Law
With no room left for doubt, or sympathy
For other views." - Kenshin's Vision.

"For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the
same, my name is great among the Gentiles; and in every place
incense is offered unto my name, and a pure offering, for my
name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of
hosts." - Malachi.


Missionary Buddhism the Measure of Japan's Civilization.

Broadly speaking, the history of Japanese Buddhism in its missionary
development is the history of Japan. Before Buddhism came, Japan was
pre-historic. We know the country and people through very scanty notices
in the Chinese annals, by pale reflections cast by myths, legends and
poems, and from the relics cast up by the spade and plough. Chinese
civilization had filtered in, though how much or how little we cannot
tell definitely; but since the coming of the Buddhist missionaries in
the sixth century, the landscape and the drama of human life lie before
us in clear detail. Speaking broadly again, it may be said that almost
from the time of its arrival, Buddhism became on its active side the
real religion of Japan - at least, if the word "religion" be used in a
higher sense than that connoted by either Shint[=o] or Confucianism.
Though as a nation the Japanese of the Méiji era are grossly forgetful
of this fact, yet, as Professor Chamberlain says,[1] "All education was
for centuries in Buddhist hands. Buddhism introduced art; introduced
medicine; created the folk-lore of the country; created its dramatic
poetry; deeply influenced politics, and every sphere of social and
intellectual activity; in a word, Buddhism was the teacher under whose
instruction the Japanese nation grew up."

For many centuries all Japanese, except here and there a stern
Shint[=o]ist, or an exceptionally dogmatic Confucian, have acknowledged
these patent facts, and from the emperor to the eta, glorified in them.
It was not until modern Confucian philosophy entered the Mikado's empire
in the seventeenth century, that hostile criticism and polemic tenets
denounced Buddhism, and declared it only fit for savages. This bitter
denunciation of Buddhism at the lips and hands of Japanese who had
become Chinese in mind, was all the more inappropriate, because Buddhism
had for over a thousand years acted as the real purveyor and disperser
of the Confucian ethics and culture in Japan. Such denunciation came
with no better grace from the Yedo Confucianists than from the Shint[=o]
revivalists, like Motoöri, who, while execrating everything Chinese,
failed to remember or impress upon his countrymen the fact, that almost
all which constituted Japanese civilization had been imported from the
Middle Kingdom.

Buddhism, in its purely doctrinal development, seems to be rather a
system of metaphysics than a true religion, being a conglomeration, or
rather perhaps an agglomeration, of all sorts of theories relating to
the universe and its contents. Its doctrinal and metaphysical side,
however, is to be carefully distinguished from its popular and external
features, for in its missionary development Buddhism may be called a
system of national improvement. The history of its propagation, in the
land farthest east from its cradle, is not only the outline of the
history of Japanese civilization, but is nearly the whole of it.

Pre-Buddhistic Japan.

It is not perhaps difficult to reconstruct in imagination the landscape
of Japan in pre-Buddhistic days. Certainly we may, with some accuracy,
draw a contrast between the appearance of the face of the earth then and
now. Supposing that there were as many as a million or two of souls in
the Japanese Archipelago of the sixth century - the same area which in
the nineteenth century contains over forty-one millions - we can imagine
only here and there patches of cultivated fields, or terraced gullies.
There were no roads except paths or trails. The horse was probably yet a
curiosity to the aborigines, though well known to the sons of the gods.
Sheep and goats then, as now, were unknown. The cow and the ox were in
the land, but not numerous.[2] In architecture there was probably little
but the primeval hut. Tools were of the rudest description; yet it is
evident that the primitive Japanese were able to work iron and apply it
to many uses. There were other metals, though the tell-tale etymology of
their names in Japanese metallurgy, as in so many other lines of
industry and articles of daily use, points to a Chinese origin. It is
the almost incredible fact that the Japanese man or woman wore on the
person neither gold nor silver jewelry. In later times, decoration was
added to the sword hilt and pins were thrust in the hair.

Possibly a prejudice against metal touching the skin, such as exists in
Korea, may account for this absence of jewelry, though silver was not
discovered until A.D. 675, or gold until A.D. 749. The primitive
Japanese, however, did wear ornaments of ground and polished stone, and
these so numerously as to compel contrast with the severer tastes of
later ages. Some of these magatama - curved jewels or perforated
cylinders - were made of very hard stone which requires skill to drill,
cut and polish. Among the substances used was jade, a mineral found only
in Cathay.[3] Indeed, we cannot follow the lines of industry and
manufactures, of personal adornment and household decoration, of
scientific terms and expressions, of literary, intellectual and
religious experiment, without continually finding that the Japanese
borrowed from Chinese storehouses. Possibly their debt began at the time
of the alleged conquest of Korea[4] in the third century.

In Japanese life, as it existed before the introduction of Buddhism,
there was, with barbaric simplicity, a measure of culture somewhat
indeed above the level of savagery, but probably very little that could
be appraised beyond that of the Iroquois Indians in the days of their
Confederacy. For though granting that there were many interesting
features of art, industry, erudition and civilization which have been
lost to the historic memory, and that the research of scholars may
hereafter discover many things now in oblivion; yet, on the other hand,
it is certain that much of what has long been supposed to be of
primitive Japanese origin, and existent before the eighth century, has
been more or less infused or enriched with Chinese elements, or has been
imported directly from India, or Persia,[5] or has crystallized into
shape from the mixture of things Buddhistic and primitive Japanese.

Apart from all speculation, we know that in the train of the first
missionaries came artisans, and instructors in every line of human
industry and achievement, and that the importation of the inventions and
appliances of "the West" - the West then being Korea and China, and the
"Far West," India - was proportionately as general, as far-reaching, as
sensational, as electric in its effects upon the Japanese minds, as, in
our day, has been the introduction of the modern civilization of Europe
and the United States.[6]

The Purveyors of Civilization.

The Buddhist missionaries, in their first "enthusiasm of humanity," were
not satisfied to bring in their train, art, medicine, science and
improvements of all sorts, but they themselves, being often learned and
practical men, became personal leaders in the work of civilizing the
country. In travelling up and down the empire to propagate their tenets,
they found out the necessity of better roads, and accordingly, they were
largely instrumental in having them made. They dug wells, established
ferries and built bridges.[7] They opened lines of communication; they
stimulated traffic and the exchange of merchandise; they created the
commerce between Japan and China; and they acted as peacemakers and
mediators in the wars between the Japanese and Koreans. For centuries
they had the monopoly of high learning. In the dark middle ages when
civil war ruled, they were the only scholars, clerks, diplomatists,
mediators and peacemakers.

Japanese diet became something new under the direction of the priests.
The bonzes taught the wickedness of slaughtering domestic animals, and
indeed, the wrong of putting any living thing to death, so that kindness
to animals has become a national trait. To this day it may be said that
Japanese boys and men are, at least within the limits of their light,
more tender and careful with all living creatures than are those of
Christendom.[8] The bonzes improved the daily fare of the people, by
introducing from Korea and China articles of food hitherto unknown. They
brought over new seeds and varieties of vegetables and trees.
Furthermore, necessity being the mother of invention, not a few of the
shorn brethren made up for the prohibition of fish and flesh, by
becoming expert cooks. They so exercised their talents in the culinary
art that their results on the table are proverbial. Especially did they
cultivate mushrooms, which in taste and nourishment are good substitutes
for fish.

The bonzes were lovers of beauty and of symbolism. They planted the
lotus, and the monastery ponds became seats of splendor, and delights to
the eye. Their teachings, metaphysical and mystical, poetical and
historical, scientific and literary, created, it may be said, the
Japanese garden, which to the refined imagination contains far more than
meets the eye of the alien.[9] Indeed, the oriental imitations in earth,
stone, water and verdure, have a language and suggestion far beyond what
the usual parterres and walks, borders and lines, fountains and statuary
of a western garden teach. It may be said that our "language of flowers"
is more luxuriant and eloquent than theirs; yet theirs is very rich
also, besides being more subtle in suggestion. The bonzes instilled
doctrine, not only by sermons, books and the emblems and furniture of
the temples, but they also taught dogma and ethics by the flower-ponds
and plots, by the artificial landscape, and by outdoor symbolism of all
kinds. To Buddhism our thanks are due, for the innumerable miniature
continents, ranges of mountains, geographical outlines and other
horticultural allusions to their holy lands and spiritual history, seen
beside so many houses, temples and monasteries in Japan. In their floral
art, no people excels the Japanese in making leaf and bloom teach
history, religion, philosophy, aesthetics and patriotism.

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 20 of 31)