William Elliot Griffis.

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

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large part of the empire.

Political and Military Influences.

A volume might be written and devoted to Japanese Buddhism as a
political power; for, having quickly obtained intellectual possession of
the court and emperor, it dictated the policies of the rulers. In A.D.
624, it was recognized as a state religion, and the hierarchy of priests
was officially established. At this date there were 46 temples and
monasteries, with 816 monks and 569 nuns. As early as the eighth
century, beginning with Sh[=o]mu, who reigned A.D. 724-728, and who with
his daughter, afterward the female Mikado, became a disciple of Shaka,
the habit of the emperors becoming monks, shaving their heads and
retiring from public life, came in vogue and lasted until near the
nineteenth century. By this means the bonzes were soon enabled to call
Buddhism "the people's religion," and to secure the resources of the
national treasury as an aid to their temple and monastery building, and
for the erection of those images and wayside shrines on which so many
millions of dollars have been lavished. In addition to this subsidized
propaganda, the Buddhist confessor was too often able, by means of the
wife, concubine, or other female member of the household, imperial or
noble, to dictate the imperial policy in accordance with monkish or
priestly ideas. Ugéno D[=o]-ki[=o], a monk, is believed to have aspired
to the throne. Being made premier by the Empress K[=o]-ken, whose
passion for him is the scandal of history, he made no scruple of
extending the power as well as the influence of the Buddhist hierarchy.

Buddhism had also a distinct influence on the military history of the
country,[37] and this was greatest during the civil wars of the rival
Mikados (1336-1392), when the whole country was a camp and two lines of
nominees claimed to be descendants of the sun-goddess. Japan's only
foreign wars have been in the neighboring peninsula of Korea, and
thither the bonzes went with the armies in the expeditions of the early
centuries, and in that great invasion of 1592-1597, which has left a
scar even to this day on the Korean mind. At home, Buddhist priests only
too gladly accompanied the imperial armies of conquest and occupation.
During centuries of activity in the southwest and in the far east and
extreme north, the military brought the outlying portions of the empire,
throughout the whole archipelago, under the sway of the Yamato tribe and
the Mikado's dominion. The shorn clerks not only lived in camp,
ministered to the sick and shrived the dying soldier, but wrote texts
for the banners, furnished the amulets and war cries, and were ever
assistant and valuable in keeping up the temper and morals of the
armies.[38] No sooner was the campaign over and peace had become the
order of the day, than the enthusiastic missionaries began to preach and
to teach in the pacified region. They set up the shrines, anon started
the school and built the temple; usually, indeed, with the aid of the
law and the government, acting as agents of a politico-ecclesiastical
establishment, yet with energy and consecration.

In later feudal days, when the soldier classes obtained the upper hand,
overawed the court and Mikado and gradually supplanted the civil
authority, introducing feudalism and martial law, the bonzes often
represented the popular and democratic side. Protesting against
arbitrary government, they came into collision with the warrior rulers,
so as to be exposed to imprisonment and the sword. Yet even as refugees
and as men to whom the old seats of activity no longer offered success
or comfort, they went off into the distant and outlying provinces,
preaching the old tenets and the new fashions in theology. Thus again
they won hosts of converts, built monasteries, opened fresh paths and
were purveyors of civilization.

The feudal ages in Japan bred the same type of militant priest known in
Europe - the military bishop and the soldier monk. So far from Japan's
being the "Land of Great Peace," and Buddhism's being necessarily gentle
and non-resistant, we find in the chequered history of the island empire
many a bloody battle between the monks on horseback and in armor.[39]
Rival sectarians kept the country disquieted for years. Between
themselves and their favored laymen, and the enemy, consisting of the
rival forces, lay and clerical, in like array, many a bloody battle was

The writer lived for one year in Echizen, which, in the fifteenth
century, was the battle-ground for over fifty years, of warring monks.
The abbot of the Monastery of the Original Vow, of the Shin sect, in
Ki[=o]to, had built before the main edifice a two-storied gate, which
was expected to throw into the shade every other gateway in Japan, and
especially to humble the pride of the monks of the Tendai sect, in
Hiyéizan, The monks of the mountain, swarming down into the capital
city, attacked the gate and monastery of the Shin sect and burned the
former to ashes. The abbot thus driven off by fire, fled northward, and,
joined by a powerful body of adherents, made himself possessor of the
rich provinces of Kaga and Echizen, holding this region for half a
century, until able to rebuild the mighty fortress-monasteries near
Ki[=o]to and at Osaka.

These strongholds of the fighting Shin priests had become so powerful as
arsenals and military headquarters, that in 1570, Nobunaga, skilful
general as he was, and backed by sixty thousand men, was unsuccessful in
his attempt to reduce them. For ten years, the war between Nobunaga and
the Shin sectarians kept the country in disorder. It finally ended in
the conflagration of the great religious fortress at Osaka, and the
retreat of the monks to another part of the country. By their treachery
and incendiarism, the shavelings prevented the soldiers from enjoying
the prizes.

To detail the whole history of the fighting monks would be tedious. They
have had a foothold for many centuries and even to the present time, in
every province except that of Satsuma. There, because they treacherously
aided the great Hidéyoshi to subdue the province, the fiery clansmen,
never during Tokugawa days, permitted a Buddhist priest to come.[40]

Literature, and Education.

In its literary and scholastic development, Japanese Buddhism on its
popular educational side deserves great praise. Although the Buddhist
canon[41] was never translated into the vernacular,[42] and while the
library of native Buddhism, in the way of commentary or general
literature, reflects no special credit upon the priests, yet the
historian must award them high honor, because of the part taken by them
as educators and schoolmasters.[43] Education in ancient and mediaeval
times was, among the laymen, confined almost wholly to the imperial
court, and was considered chiefly to be, either as an adjunct to polite
accomplishments, or as valuable especially in preparing young men for
political office.[44] From the first introduction of letters until well
into the nineteenth century, there was no special provision for
education made by the government, except that, in modern and recent
times in the castle towns of the Daimi[=o]s, there were schools of
Chinese learning for the Samurai. Private schools and school-masters[45]
were also creditably numerous. In original literature, poetry, fiction
and history, as well as in the humbler works of compilation, in the
making of text-books and in descriptive lore, the pens of many priests
have been busy.[46] The earliest biography written in Japan was of
Sh[=o]toku, the great lay patron of Buddhism. In the ages of war the
monastery was the ark of preservation amid a flood of desolation.

The temple schools were early established, and in the course of
centuries became at times almost coextensive with the empire. Besides
the training of the neophytes in the Chinese language and the
vernacular, there were connected with thousands of temples, schools in
which the children, not only of the well-to-do, but largely of the
people, were taught the rudiments of education, chiefly reading and
writing. Most of the libraries of the country were those in monasteries.
Although it is not probable that K[=o]b[=o] invented the Kana or common
script, yet it is reasonably certain that the bonzes[47] were the chief
instrument in the diffusion and popularization of that simple system of
writing, which made it possible to carry literature down into the homes
of the merchant and peasant, and enabled even women and children to
beguile the tedium of their lives. Thus the people expanded their
thoughts through the medium of the written, and later of the printed,
page.[48] Until modern centuries, when the school of painters, which
culminated in Hok[)u]sai and his contemporaries, brought a love of art
down to the lowest classes of the people, the only teacher of pictorial
and sculptural art for the multitude, was Buddhism. So strong is this
popular delight in things artistic that probably, to this passion as
much as to the religious instinct, we owe many of the wayside shrines
and images, the symbolical and beautifully prepared landscapes, and
those stone stairways which slope upward toward the shrines on the
hill-tops. In Japan, art is not a foreign language; it is vernacular.

Thus, while we gladly point out how Buddhism, along the paths of
exploration, commerce, invention, sociology, military and political
influence, education and literature, not only propagated religion, but
civilized Japan,[49] it is but in the interest of fairness and truth
that we point out that wherein the great system was deficient. If we
make comparison with Christendom and the religion of Jesus, it is less
with the purpose of the polemic who must perhaps necessarily disparage,
and more with the idea of making contrast between what we have seen in
Japan and what we have enjoyed as commonplace in the United States and

Things Which Buddhism Left Undone.

In the thirteen hundred years of the life of Buddhism in Japan, what are
the fruits, and what are the failures? Despite its incessant and
multifarious activities, one looks in vain for the hospital, the orphan
asylum, the home for elderly men or women or aged couples, or the asylum
for the insane, and much less, for that vast and complicated system of
organized charities, which, even amid our material greed of gain, make
cities like New York, or London, or Chicago, so beautiful from the point
of view of humanity. Buddhism did indeed teach kindness to animals,
making even the dog, though ownerless and outcast, in a sense sacred.
Because of his faith in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, the
toiling laborer will keep his wheels or his feet from harming the cat or
dog or chicken in the road, even though it be at risk and trouble and
with added labor to himself. The pious will buy the live birds or eels
from the old woman who sits on the bridge, in order to give them life
and liberty again in air or water. The sacred rice is for sale at the
temples, not only to feed but to fatten the holy pigeons.

Yet, while all this care is lavished on animals, the human being
suffers.[50] Buddhism is kind to the brute, and cruel to man. Until the
influx of western ideas in recent years, the hospital and the orphanage
did not exist in Japan, despite the gentleness and tenderness of Shaka,
who, with all his merits, deserted his wife and babe in order to
enlighten mankind.[51] If Buddhism is not directly responsible for the
existence of that class of Japanese pariahs called _hi-nin_, or
not-human, the name and the idea are borrowed from the sutras; while the
execration of all who prepare or sell the flesh of animals is
persistently taught in the sacred books. These unfortunate bearers of
the human image, during twelve hundred years and until the fiat of the
present illustrious emperor made them citizens, were not reckoned in the
census, nor was the land on which they dwelt measured. The imperial
edict which finally elevated the Eta to citizenship, was suggested by
one whose life, though known to men as that of a Confucian, was probably
hid with Christ, Yokoi Héishiro.[52] The emperor Mutsuhito, 123d of the
line of Japan, born on the day when Perry was on the Mississippi and
ready to sail, placed over these outcast people in 1871, the protecting
aegis of the law.[53] Until that time, the people in this unfortunate
class, numbering probably a million, or, as some say, three millions,
were compelled to live outside of the limits of human habitation, having
no lights which society or the law was bound to respect. They were given
food or drink only when benevolence might be roused; but the donor would
never again touch the vessel in which the offering was made. The
Eta,[54] though in individual cases becoming measurably rich, rotted and
starved, and were made the filth, and off-scouring of the earth, because
they were the butchers, the skinners, the leather workers, and thus
handled dead animals, being made also the executioners and buriers of
the dead. After a quarter of a century the citizens, whose ancestry is
not forgotten, suffer social ostracism even more than do the freed
slaves of our country, though between them and the other Japanese there
is no color line, but only the streak of difference which Buddhism
created and has maintained. Nevertheless, let it be said to the eternal
honor of Shin Shu and of some of the minor sects, that they were always
kind and helpful to the Eta.

Furthermore it would be hard to discover Buddhist missionary activities
among the Ainos, or benefits conferred upon them by the disciples of
Gautama. One would suppose that the Buddhists, professing to be
believers in spiritual democracy, would be equally active among all
sorts and conditions of men; but they have not been so. Even in the days
when the regions of the Ebisu or barbarians (Yezo) extended far
southward upon the main island, the missionary bonze was conspicuous by
his absence among these people. It would seem as though the popular
notion that the Ainos are the offspring of dogs, had been fed by
prejudices inculcated by Buddhism. It has been reserved for Christian
aliens to reduce the language of these simple savages to writing, and to
express in it for their spiritual benefit the ideas and literature of a
religion higher than their own, as well as to erect church edifices and
build hospitals.

The Attitude Toward Woman.

In its attitude toward woman, which is perhaps one of the crucial tests
of a religion as well as of a civilization, Buddhism has somewhat to be
praised and much to be blamed for. It is probable that the Japanese
woman owes more to Buddhism than to Confucianism, though relatively her
position was highest under Shint[=o]. In Japan the women are the freest
in Asia, and probably the best treated among any Asiatic nation, but
this is not because of Gautama's teaching.[55] Very early in its history
Japanese Buddhism welcomed womanhood to its fraternity and order,[56]
yet the Japanese _ama, bikuni_, or nun, never became a sister of mercy,
or reached, even within a measurable distance, the dignity of the
Christian lady in the nunnery. In European history the abbess is a
notable figure. She is hardly heard of beyond the Japanese nunnery, even
by the native scholar - except in fiction.

So far as we can see, the religion founded by one who deserted his wife
and babe did nothing to check concubinage or polygamy. It simply allowed
these things, or ameliorated their ancient barbaric conditions through
the law of kindness. Nevertheless, it brought education and culture
within the family as well as within the court. It would be an
interesting question to discuss how far the age of classic vernacular
prose or the early mediaeval literature of romance, which is almost
wholly the creation of woman,[57] is due to Buddhism, or how far the
credit belongs, by induction or reaction, to the Chinese movement in
favor of learning. Certainly, the faith of India touches and feeds the
imagination far more than does that of China. Certainly also, the
animating spirit of most of the popular literature is due to Buddhistic
culture. The Shin sect, which permits the marriage of the priests and
preaches the salvation of woman, probably leads all others in according
honor to her as well as in elevating her social position.

Buddhism, like Roman Catholicism, and as compared to Confucianism which
is protestant and masculine, is feminine in its type. In Japan the place
of the holy Virgin Mary is taken by Kuannon, the goddess of mercy; and
her shrine is one of the most popular of all. Much the same may be said
of Benten, the queen of the heaven and mistress of the seas. The angels
of Buddhism are always feminine, and, as in the unscriptural and pagan
conception of Christian angels, have wings.[58] So also in the legends
of Gautama, in the Buddhist lives of the saints, and in legendary lore
as well as in glyptic and pictorial art, the female being transfigured
in loveliness is a striking figure. Nevertheless, after all is summed up
that can possibly be said in favor of Buddhism, the position it accords
to woman is not only immeasurably beneath that given by Christianity,
but is below that conceded by Shint[=o], which knows not only goddesses
and heroines, but also priestesses and empresses.[59]

According to the popular ethical view as photographed in language,
literature and art, jealousy is always represented by a female demon.
Indeed, most of the tempters, devils, and transformations of humanity
into malign beings, whether pretas, asuras, oni, foxes, badgers, or
cats, are females. As the Chinese ideographs associate all things weak
or vile with women, so the tell-tale words of Japanese daily speech are
but reflections of the dogmas coined in the Buddhist mint. In Japanese,
chastity means not moral cleanliness without regard to sex, but only
womanly duties. For, while the man is allowed a loose foot, the woman is
expected not only to be absolutely spotless, but also never to show any
jealousy, however wide the husband may roam, or however numerous may be
the concubines in his family. In a word, there is the double standard of
morals, not only of priest and laity, but of man and woman. The position
of the Japanese woman even of to-day, despite that eagerness once shown
to educate her - an eagerness which soon cooled in the government
schools, but which keeps an even pulse in the Christian home and
college - is still relatively one of degradation as compared with that of
her sister in Christendom. For this, the mid-Asian religion is not
wholly responsible, yet it is largely so.

Influence on the Japanese Character.

In regard to the influence of Buddhism upon the morals and character of
the Japanese, there is much to be said in praise, and much also in
criticism. It has aided powerfully to educate the people in habits of
gentleness and courtesy, but instead of aspiration and expectancy of
improvement, it has given to them that spirit of hopeless resignation
which is so characteristic of the Japanese masses. Buddhism has so
dominated common popular literature, daily life and speech, that all
their mental procedure and their utterance is cast in the moulds of
Buddhist doctrine. The fatalism of the Moslem world expressed in the
idea of Kismet, has its analogue in the Japanese Ingwa, or "cause and
effect," - the notion of an evolution which is atheistic, but viewed from
the ethical side. This idea of Ingwa is the key to most Japanese novels
as well as dramas of real life.[60] While Buddhism continually preaches
this doctrine of Karma or Ingwa,[61] the law of cause and effect, as
being sufficient to explain all things, it shows its insufficiency and
emptiness by leaving out the great First Cause of all. In a word,
Buddhism is law, but not gospel. It deals much with man, but not with
man's relations with his Creator, whom it utterly ignores. Christianity
comes not to destroy its ethics, beautiful as they are, nor to ignore
its metaphysics; but to fulfil, to give a higher truth, and to reveal a
larger Universe and One who fills it all - not only law, but a Law-giver.


"_Sicut cadaver._"

"Et fiet unum ovile et unus pastor." - Vulgate, John x. 16.

"He (Xavier) has been the moon of that 'Society of Jesus' of
which Ignatius Loyola was the guiding sun." - S.W. Duffield.

"My God I love Thee; not because I hope for Heaven thereby,
Nor yet because, who love Thee not, must, die eternally.
So would I love Thee, dearest Lord, and in Thy praise will sing;
Solely because thou art my God, and my eternal King."
- Hymn attributed to Francis Xavier.

"Half hidden, stretching in a lengthened line
In front of China, which its guide shall be,
Japan abounds in mines of Silver fine,
And shall enlighten'd be by holy faith divine."
- Camoens

"The people of this Iland of Japon are good of nature, curteous
aboue measure, and valiant in warre; their justice is seuerely
executed without any partialitie vpon transgressors of the law.
They are gouerned in great ciuilitie. I meane, not a land better
gouerned in the world by ciuill policie. The people be verie
superstitious in their religion, and are of diuers
opinions." - Will Adams, October 22, 1611.

"A critical history of Japan remains to be written ... We should
know next to nothing of what may be termed the Catholic episode
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had we access to
none but the official Japanese sources. How can we trust those
sources when they deal with times yet more remote?" - Chamberlain.

"The annals of the primitive Church furnish no instances of
sacrifice or heroic constancy, in the Coliseum or the Roman
arenas, that were not paralleled on the dry river-beds or
execution-grounds of Japan."

"They ... rest from their labors; and their works do follow
them. " - Revelation.


Darkest Japan.

The story of the first introduction and propagation of Roman
Christianity in Japan, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
has been told by many writers, both old and new, and in many languages.
Recent research upon the soil,[1] both natives and foreigners making
contributions, has illustrated the subject afresh. Relics and memorials
found in various churches, monasteries and palaces, on both sides of the
Pacific and the Atlantic, have cast new light upon the fascinating
theme. Both Christian and non-Christian Japanese of to-day, in their
travels in the Philippines, China, Formosa, Mexico, Spain, Portugal and
Italy, being keenly alert for memorials of their countrymen, have met
with interesting trovers. The descendants of the Japanese martyrs and
confessors now recognize their own ancestors, in the picture galleries
of Italian nobles, and in Christian churches see lettered tombs bearing
familiar names, or in western museums discern far-eastern works of art
brought over as presents or curiosities, centuries ago.

Roughly speaking, Japanese Christianity lasted phenomenally nearly a
century, or more exactly from 1542 to 1637, During this time, embassies
or missions crossed the seas not only of Chinese and Peninsular Asia,
circumnavigating Africa and thus reaching Europe, but also sailed across
the Pacific, and visited papal Christendom by way of Mexico and the
Atlantic Ocean.

This century of Southern Christianity and of commerce with Europe
enabled Japan, which had previously been almost unheard of, except
through the vague accounts of Marco Polo and the semi-mythical stories
by way of China, to leave a conspicuous mark, first upon the countries
of southern Europe, and later upon Holland and England. As in European
literature Cathay became China, and Zipango or Xipangu was recognized as
Japan, so also the curiosities, the artistic fabrics, the strange things
from the ends of the earth, soon became familiar in Europe. Besides the
traffic in mercantile commodities, there were exchanges of words. The
languages of Europe were enriched by Japanese terms, such as soy, moxa,
goban, japan (lacquer or varnish), etc., while the tongue of Nippon
received an infusion of new terms,[2] and a notable list of inventions
was imported from Europe.

We shall merely outline, with critical commentary, the facts of history
which have been so often told, but which in our day have received
luminous illustration. We shall endeavor to treat the general phenomena,
causes and results of Christianity in Japan in the same judicial spirit

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 22 of 31)