William Elliot Griffis.

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Shint[=o]. These are referred to in the revised codes of ceremonial law
set forth by imperial authority early in the tenth century. Probably by
the twelfth century the pure rites of the god-way were celebrated, and
the unmixed traditions maintained, in families and temples, so few as to
be counted on the fingers. The ancient language in which the archaic
forms had been preserved was so nearly lost and buried, that out of the
ooze of centuries of oblivion, it had to be rescued by the skilled
divers of the seventeenth century. Mabuchi, Motöri and the other
revivalists of pure Shint[=o], like the plungers after orient pearls,
persevered until they had first recovered much that had been supposed
irretrievably lost. These scholars deciphered and interpreted the
ancient scriptures, poetry, prose, history, law and ritual, and once
more set forth the ancient faith, as they believed, in its purity.

Whether, however, men can exactly reproduce and think for themselves the
thoughts of others who have been dead for a millennium, is an open
question. The new system is apt to be transparent. Just as it is nearly
impossible for us to restore the religious life, thoughts and orthodoxy
of the men who lived before the flood, so in the writings of the
revivalists of pure Shint[=o] we detect the thoughts of Dutchmen, of
Chinese, and of very modern Japanese. Unconsciously, those who would
breathe into the dry bones of dead Shint[=o] the breath of the
nineteenth century, find themselves compelled to use an oxygen and
nitrogen generator made in Holland and mounted with Chinese apparatus;
withal, lacquered and decorated with the art of to-day. To change from
metaphor to matter of fact, modern "pure Shint[=o]" is mainly a mass of
speculation and philosophy, with a tendency of which the ancient god-way
knew nothing.

The Modern Revivalists of Kami no Michi.

Passing by further mention of the fifteen or more corrupt sects of
Shint[=o]ists, we name with honor the native scholars of the
seventeenth century, who followed the illustrious example of Iyéyas[)u],
the political unifier of Japan. They ransacked the country and purchased
from temples, mansions and farmhouses, old manuscripts and books, and
forming libraries began anew the study of ancient language and history.
Kéichu (1640-1701), a Buddhist priest, explored and illumined the poems
of the Many[=o]shu. Kada Adzumar[=o], born in 1669 near Ki[=o]to, the
son of a shrine-keeper at Inari, attempted the mastery of the whole
archaic native language and literature. He made a grand beginning. He is
unquestionably the founder of the school of Pure Shint[=o]. He died in
1736. His successor and pupil was Mabuchi (1697-1769), who claimed
direct descent from that god which in the form of a colossal crow had
guided the first chief of the Yamato tribe as he led his invaders
through the country to found the line of Mikados. After Mabuchi came
Motoöri (1730-1801) a remarkable scholar and critic, who, with erudition
and acuteness, analyzed the ancient literature and showed what were
Chinese or imported elements and what was of native origin. He
summarized the principles of the ancient religion, reasserted and
illuminated with amazing learning and voluminous commentary the archaic
documents, expounded and defended the ancient cosmogony, and in the
usual style of Japanese polemics preached anew the doctrines of
Shint[=o]. With wonderful naïveté and enthusiasm, Motoöri taught that
Japan was the first part of the earth created, and that it is therefore
The Land of the Gods, the Country of the Holy Spirits. The stars were
created from the muck which fell from the spear of Izanagi as he thrust
it into the warm earth, while the other countries were formed by the
spontaneous consolidation of the foam of the sea. Morals were invented
by the Chinese because they were an immoral people, but in Japan there
is no necessity for any system of morals, as every Japanese acts aright
if he only consults his own heart. The duty of a good Japanese consists
in obeying the Mikado, without questioning whether his commands are
right or wrong. The Mikado is god and vicar of all the gods, hence
government and religion are the same, the Mikado being the centre of
Church and State, which are one. Did the foreign nations know their duty
they would at once hasten to pay tribute to the Son of Heaven in

It is needless here to dwell upon the tremendous power of Shint[=o] as a
political system, especially when wedded with the forces, generated in
the minds of the educated Japanese by modern Confucianism. The Chinese
ethical system, expanded into a philosophy as fascinating as the English
materialistic school of to-day, entered Japan contemporaneously with the
revival of the Way of the Gods and of native learning. In full rampancy
of their vigor, in the seventeenth century these two systems began that
generation of national energy, which in the eighteenth century was
consolidated and which in the nineteenth century, though unknown and
unsuspected by Europeans or Americans, was all ready for phenomenal
manifestation and tremendous eruption, even while Perry's fleet was
bearing the olive branch to Japan. As we all know, this consolidation of
forces from the inside, on meeting, not with collision but with union,
the exterior forces of western civilization, formed a resultant in the
energies which have made New Japan.

The Great Purification of 1870.

In 1870, with the Sh[=o]gun of Yedo deposed, the dual system abolished,
feudalism in its last gasp and Shint[=o] in full political power, with
the ancient council of the gods (Jin Gi Kuan) once more established, and
purified Shint[=o] again the religion of state, thousands of Riy[=o]bu
Shint[=o] temples were at once purged of all their Buddhist ornaments,
furniture, ritual, and everything that might remind the Japanese of
foreign elements. Then began, logically and actually, the persecution of
those Christians, who through all the centuries of repression and
prohibition had continued their existence, and kept their faith however
mixed and clouded. Theoretically, ancient belief was re-established, yet
it was both physically and morally impossible to return wholly to the
baldness and austere simplicity of those early ages, in which art and
literature were unknown. For a while it seemed as though the miracle
would be performed, of turning back the dial of the ages and of plunging
Japan into the fountain of her own youth. Propaganda was instituted, and
the attempts made to convert all the Japanese to Shint[=o] tenets and
practice were for a while more lively than edifying; but the scheme was
on the whole a splendid failure, and bitter disappointment succeeded the
first exultation of victory. Confronted by modern problems of society
and government, the Mikado's ministers found themselves unable, if
indeed willing, to entomb politics in religion, as in the ancient ages.
For a little while, in 1868, the Jin Gi Kuan, or Council of the Gods of
Heaven and Earth, held equal authority with the Dai J[=o] Kuan, or Great
Council of the Government. Pretty soon the first step downward was
taken, and from a supreme council it was made one of the ten departments
of the government. In less than a year followed another retrograde
movement and the department was called a board. Finally, in 1877, the
board became a bureau. Now, it is hard to tell what rank the Shint[=o]
cultus occupies in the government, except as a system of guardianship
over the imperial tombs, a mode of official etiquette, and as one of the
acknowledged religions of the country.

Nevertheless, as an element in that amalgam of religions which forms the
creed of most Japanese, Shint[=o] is a living force, and shares with
Buddhism the arena against advancing Christianity, still supplying much
of the spring and motive to patriotism.

The Shint[=o] lecturers with unblushing plagiarism rifled the
storehouses of Chinese ethics. They enforced their lessons from the
Confucian classics. Indeed, most of their homiletical and illustrative
material is still derived directly therefrom. Their three main official
theses and commandments were:

1. Thou shalt honor the Gods and love thy country.

2. Thou shalt clearly understand the principles of Heaven, and
the duty of man.

3. Thou shalt revere the Emperor as thy sovereign and obey the
will of his Court.

For nearly twenty years this deliverance of the Japanese Government,
which still finds its strongest support in the national traditions and
the reverence of the people for the throne, sufficed for the necessities
of the case. Then the copious infusion of foreign ideas, the
disintegration of the old framework of society, and the weakening of the
old ties of obedience and loyalty, with the flood of shallow knowledge
and education which gave especially children and young people just
enough of foreign ideas to make them dangerous, brought about a
condition of affairs which alarmed the conservative and patriotic. Like
fungus upon a dead tree strange growths had appeared, among others that
of a class of violently patriotic and half-educated young men and boys,
called _Soshí_. These hot-headed youths took it upon themselves to
dictate national policy to cabinet ministers, and to reconstruct
society, religion and politics. Something like a mania broke out all
over the country which, in certain respects, reminds us of the
Children's Crusade, that once afflicted Europe and the children
themselves. Even Christianity did not escape the craze for
reconstruction. Some of the young believers and pupils of the
missionaries seemed determined to make Christianity all over so as to
suit themselves. This phase of brain-swelling is not yet wholly over.
One could not tell but that something like the Tai Ping rebellion, which
disturbed and devastated China, might break out.

These portentous signs on the social horizon called forth, in 1892, from
the government an Imperial Rescript, which required that the emperor's
photograph be exhibited in every school, and saluted by all teachers and
scholars whatever their religious tenets and scruples might be. Most
Christians as well as Buddhists, saw nothing in this at which to
scruple. A few, however, finding in it an offence to conscience,
resigned their positions. They considered the mandate an unwarrantable
interference with their rights as conferred by the constitution of 1889,
which in theory is the gift of the emperor to his people.

The radical Shint[=o]ist, to this day, believes that all political
rights which Japanese enjoy or can enjoy are by virtue of the Mikado's
grace and benevolence. It is certain that all Japanese, whatever may be
their religious convictions, consider that the constitution depends for
its safeguards and its validity largely upon the oath which the Mikado
swore at the shrine of his heavenly ancestors, that he would himself be
obedient to it and preserve its provisions inviolate. For this solemn
ceremony a special norito or liturgy was composed and recited.

Summary of Shint[=o].

Of Shint[=o] as a system we have long ago given our opinion. In its
higher forms, "Shint[=o] is simply a cultured and intellectual atheism;
in its lower forms it is blind obedience to governmental and priestly
dictates." "Shint[=o]," says Mr. Ernest Satow, "as expounded by Motoöri
is nothing more than an engine for reducing the people to a condition of
mental slavery." Japan being a country of very striking natural
phenomena, the very soil and air lend themselves to support in the
native mind this system of worship of heroes and of the forces of
nature. In spite, however, of the conservative power of the ancestral
influences, the patriotic incentives and the easy morals of Shint[=o]
under which lying and licentiousness shelter themselves, it is doubtful
whether with the pressure of Buddhism, and the spread of popular
education and Christianity, Shint[=o] can retain its hold upon the
Japanese people. Yet although this is our opinion, it is but fair, and
it is our duty, to judge every religion by its ideals and not by its
failings. The ideal of Shint[=o] is to make people pure and clean in all
their personal and household arrangements; it is to help them to live
simply, honestly and with mutual good will; it is to make the Japanese
love their country, honor their imperial house and obey their emperor.
Narrow and local as this religion is, it has had grand exemplars in
noble lives and winning characters.

So far as Shint[=o] is a religion, Christianity meets it not as
destroyer but fulfiller, for it too believes that cleanliness is not
only next to godliness but a part of it. Jesus as perfect man and
patriot, Captain of our salvation and Prince of peace, would not destroy
the Yamato damashii - the spirit of unconquerable Japan - but rather
enlarge, broaden, and deepen it, making it love for all humanity.
Reverence for ancestral virtue and example, so far from being weakened,
is strengthened, and as for devotion to king and ruler, law and society,
Christianity lends nobler motives and grander sanctions, while
showing clearly, not indeed the way of the eight million or more gods,
but the way to God - the one living, only and true, even through Him who
said "I am the Way."


"Things being investigated, knowledge became complete; knowledge
being complete, thoughts were sincere; thoughts being sincere,
hearts were rectified; hearts being rectified, persons were
cultivated; persons being cultivated, families were regulated;
families being regulated, states were rightly governed; states
being rightly governed, the whole nation was made tranquil and

"When you know a thing to hold that you know it; and when you do
not know a thing to allow that you do not know it; this is

"Old age sometimes becomes second childhood; why should not
filial piety become parental love?"

"The superior man accords with the course of the mean. Though he
may be all unknown, unregarded by the world, he feels no regret.
He is only the sage who is able for this." - Sayings of

"There is, in a word, no bringing down of God to men in
Confucianism in order to lift them up to Him. Their moral
shortcomings, when brought home to them, may produce a feeling
of shame, but hardly a conviction of guilt." - James Legge.

"Do not to others what you would not have them do to you." - The
Silver Rule.

"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye
even so to them." - The Golden Rule.

"In respect to revenging injury done to master or father, it is
granted by the wise and virtuous (Confucius) that you and the
injurer cannot live together under the canopy of
heaven." - Legacy of Iyéyas[)u], Cap. iii, Lowder's translation.

"But I say unto you forgive your enemies." - Jesus.

"Thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer, thy name is from
everlasting." - Isaiah.


Confucius a Historical Character.

If the greatness of a teacher is to be determined by the number of his
disciples, or to be measured by the extent and diversity of his
influence, then the foremost place among all the teachers of mankind
must be awarded to The Master Kung (or Confucius, as the Jesuit scholars
of the seventeenth century Latinized the name). Certainly, he of all
truly historic personages is to-day, and for twenty-three centuries has
been, honored by the largest number of followers.

Of the many systems of religion in the world, but few are based upon the
teachings of one person. The reputed founders of some of them are not
known in history with any certainty, and of others - as in the case of
Buddhism - have become almost as shadows among a great throng of
imaginary Buddhas or other beings which have sprung from the fancies of
the brain and become incorporated into the systems, although the
original teachers may indeed have been historical.

Confucius is a clear and distinct historic person. His parentage, place
of birth, public life, offices, work and teaching, are well known and
properly authenticated. He used the pen freely, and not only compiled,
edited and transmitted the writings of his predecessors, but composed an
historical and interpretative book. He originated nothing, however, but
on the contrary disowned any purpose of introducing new ideas, or of
expressing thoughts of his own not based upon or in perfect harmony with
the teaching of the ancients. He was not an original thinker. He was a
compiler, an editor, a defender and reproclaimer of the ancient
religion, and an exemplar of the wisdom and writings of the Chinese
fathers. He felt that his duty was exactly that which some Christian
theologians of to-day conscientiously feel to be theirs - to receive
intact a certain "deposit" or "system" and, adding nothing to it, simply
to teach, illuminate, defend, enforce and strongly maintain it as "the
truth." He gloried in absolute freedom from all novelty, anticipating in
this respect a certain illustrious American who made it a matter for
boasting, that his school had never originated a new idea.[1] Whether or
not the Master Kung did nevertheless, either consciously or
unconsciously, modify the ancient system by abbreviating or enlarging
it, we cannot now inquire.

Confucius wan born into the world in the year 551 B.C., during that
wonderful century of religious revival which saw the birth of Ezra,
Gautama, and Lao Tsze, and in boyhood he displayed an unusually sedate
temperament which made him seem to be what we would now call an
"old-fashioned child." The period during which he lived was that of
feudal China. From the ago of twenty-two, while holding an office in the
state of Lu within the modern province of Shan-Tung, he gathered around
him young men as pupils with whom, like Socrates, he conversed in
question and answer. He made the teachings of the ancients the subjects
of his research, and he was at all times a diligent student of the
primeval records. These sacred books are called King, or Ki[=o] in
Japanese, and are: Shu King, a collection of historic documents; Shih
King, or Book of Odes; Hsiao King, or Classic of Filial Piety, and Yi
King, or Book of Changes.[2] This division of the old sacred canon,
resembles the Christian or non-Jewish arrangement of the Old Testament
scriptures in the four parts of Law, History, Poetry and Prophesy,
though in the Chinese we have History, Poetry, Ethics and Divination.[3]

His own table-talk, conversations, discussions and notes were compiled
by his pupils, and are preserved in the work entitled in English, "The
Confucian Analects," which is one of the four books constituting the
most sacred portion of Chinese philosophy and instruction. He also wrote
a work named "Spring and Autumn, or Chronicles of his Native State of Lu
from 722 B.C., to 481[4] B.C." He "changed his world," as the Buddhists
say, in the year 478 B.C., having lived seventy-three years.

Primitive Chinese Faith.

The pre-Confucian or primitive faith was monotheistic, the forefathers
of the Chinese nation having been believers in one Supreme Spiritual
Being. There is an almost universal agreement among scholars in
translating the term "Shang Ti" as God, and in reading from these
classics that the forefathers "in the ceremonies at the altars of Heaven
and earth ... served God." Concurrently with the worship of one Supreme
God there was also a belief in subordinate spirits and in the idea of
revelation or the communication of God with men. This restricted worship
of God was accompanied by reverence for ancestors and the honoring of
spirits by prayers and sacrifices, which resulted, however, neither in
deification nor polytheism. But, as the European mediæval schoolmen have
done with the Bible, so, after the death of Confucius the Chinese
scholastics by metaphysical reasoning and commentary, created systems of
interpretation which greatly altered the apparent form and contents of
his own and of the ancient texts. Thus, the original monotheism of the
pre-Confucian documents has been completely obscured by the later webs
of sophistry which have been woven about the original scriptures. The
ancient simplicity of doctrine has been lost in the mountains of
commentary which were piled upon the primitive texts. Throughout the
centuries, the Confucian system has been conditioned and greatly
modified by Taoism, Buddhism and the speculations of the Chinese wise

Confucius, however, did not change or seriously modify the ancient
religion except that, as is more than probable, he may have laid
unnecessary emphasis upon social and political duties, and may not have
been sufficiently interested in the honor to be paid to Shang Ti or God.
He practically ignored the God-ward side of man's duties. His teachings
relate chiefly to duties between man and man, to propriety and
etiquette, and to ceremony and usage. He said that "To give one's self
to the duties due to men and while respecting spiritual beings to keep
aloof from them, may be called wisdom."[5]

We think that Confucius cut the tap-root of all true progress, and
therefore is largely responsible for the arrested development of China.
He avoided the personal term, God (Ti), and instead, made use of the
abstract term, Heaven (Tien). His teaching, which is so often quoted by
Japanese gentlemen, was, "Honor the Gods and keep them far from you."
His image stands in thousands of temples and in every school, in China,
but he is only revered and never deified.

China has for ages suffered from agnosticism; for no normal Confucianist
can love God, though he may learn to reverence him. The Emperor
periodically worships for his people, at the great marble altar to
Heaven in Peking, with vast holocausts, and the prayers which are
offered may possibly amount to this: "Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name." But there, as it seems to a Christian, Chinese
imperial worship stops. The people at large, cut off by this restricted
worship from direct access to God, have wandered away into every sort of
polytheism and idolatry, while the religion of the educated Chinese is a
mediæval philosophy based upon Confucianism, of which we shall speak

The Confucian system as a religion, like a giant with a child's head, is
exaggerated on its moral and ceremonial side as compared with its
spiritual development. Some deny that it is a religion at all, and call
it only a code. However, let us examine the Confucian ethics which
formed the basis and norm of all government in the family and nation,
and are summed up in the doctrine of the "Five Relations." These are:
Sovereign and Minister; Father and Son; Husband and Wife; Elder Brother
and Younger Brother; and Friends. The relation being stated, the
correlative duty arises at once. It may perhaps be truly said by
Christians that Confucius might have made a religion of his system of
ethics, by adding a sixth and supreme relation - that between God and
man. This he declined to do, and so left his people without any
aspiration toward the Infinite. By setting before them only a finite
goal he sapped the principles of progress.[6]

Vicissitudes of Confucianism.

After the death of Confucius (478 B.C.) the teachings of the great
master were neglected, but still later they were re-enforced and
expounded in the time (372-289 B.C.) of Meng Ko, or Mencius (as the name
has been Latinized) who was likewise a native of the State of Lu. At one
time a Chinese Emperor attempted in vain to destroy not only the
writings of Confucius but also the ancient classics. Taoism increased as
a power in the religion of China, especially after the fall of its
feudal system. The doctrine of ancestral worship as commended by the
sage had in it much of good, both for kings and nobles. The common
people, however, found that Taoism was more satisfying. About the
beginning of the Christian era Buddhism entered the Middle Kingdom, and,
rapidly becoming popular, supplied needs for which simple Confucianism
was not adequate. It may be said that in the sixth century - which
concerns us especially - although Confucianism continued to be highly
esteemed, Buddhism had become supreme in China - that venerable State
which is the mother of civilization in all Asia cast of the Ganges, and
the Middle Kingdom among pupil nations.

Confucianism overflowed from China into Korea, where to this day it is

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 8 of 31)