The Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Meiji
William Elliot Griffis author
NORTHERN BUDDHISM IN ITS DOCTRINAL EVOLUTIONS
In sketching the history of the doctrinal developments of Buddhism in Japan, we note that the system, greatly corrupted from its original simplicity, was in 552 A.D. already a millennium old. Several distinct phases of the much-altered faith of Gautama, were introduced into the islands at various times between the sixth and the ninth century. From these and from others of native origin have sprung the larger Japanese sects. Even as late as the seventeenth century, novelties in Buddhism were imported from China, and the exotics took root in Japanese soil; but then, with a single exception, only to grow as curiosities in the garden, rather than as the great forests, which had already sprung from imported and native specimens.
We may divide the period of the doctrinal development of Buddhism in Japan into four epochs:
I. The first, from 552 to 805 A.D., will cover the first six sects, which had for their centre of propagation, Nara, the southern capital.
II. Then follows Riy[=o]bu Buddhism, from the ninth to the twelfth centuries.
III. This was succeeded by another explosion of doctrine wholly and peculiarly Japanese, and by a wide missionary propagation.
IV. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, there is little that is doctrinally noticeable, until our own time, when the new Buddhism of to-day claims at least a passing notice.
The Japanese writers of ecclesiastical history classify in three groups the twelve great sects as the first six, the two mediæval, and the four modern sects.
In this lecture we shall merely summarize the characteristics of the first five sects which existed before the opening of the ninth century but which are not formally extant at the present time, and treat more fully the purely Japanese developments. The first three sects may be grouped under the head of the Hinayana, or Smaller Vehicle, as Southern or primitive orthodox Buddhism is usually called.
Most of the early sects, as will be seen, were founded upon some particular sutra, or upon selections or collections of sutras. They correspond to some extent with the manifold sects of Christendom, and yet this illustration or reference must not be misleading. It is not as though a new Christian sect, for example, were in A.D. 500 to be formed wholly on the gospel of Luke, or the book of the Revelation; nor as though a new sect should now arise in Norway or Tennessee because of a special emphasis laid on a combination of the epistle to the Corinthians and the book of Daniel. It is rather as though distinct names and organizations should be founded upon the writings of Tertullian, of Augustine, of Luther, or of Calvin, and that such sects should accept the literary work of these scholars not only as commentaries but as Holy Scripture itself.
The Buddhist body of scriptures has several times been imported and printed in Japan, but has never been translated into the vernacular. The canon1 is not made up simply of writings purporting to be the words of Buddha or of the apostles who were his immediate companions or followers. On the contrary, the canon, as received in Japan, is made up of books, written for the most part many centuries after the last of the contemporaries of Gautama had passed away. Not a few of these writings are the products of the Chinese intellect. Some books held by particular sects as holy scripture were composed in Japan itself, the very books themselves being worshipped. Nevertheless those who are apparently farthest away from primitive Buddhism, claim to understand Buddha most clearly.
The Standard Doctrinal Work.
One of the most famous of books, honored especially by several of the later and larger sects in Japan, and probably the most widely read and most generally studied book of the canon, is the Saddharma Pundarika.2 Professor Kern, who has translated this very rhetorical work into English, thinks it existed at or some time before 250 A.D., and that in its most ancient form it dates some centuries earlier, possibly as early as the opening of the Christian era. It has now twenty-seven chapters, and may be called the typical scripture of Northern Buddhism. It is overflowingly full of those sensuous images and descriptions of the Paradise, in which the imagination of the Japanese Buddhist so revels, and in it both rhetoric and mathematics run wild. Of this book, "the cream of the revealed doctrine," we shall hear often again. It is the standard of orthodoxy in Japanese Buddhism, the real genius of which is monastic asceticism in morals and philosophical scepticism in religion.
In most of the other sutras the burden of thought is ontology. Doctrinally, Buddhism seems to be less a religion than a system of philosophy. Hundreds of volumes in the canon concern themselves almost wholly with ontological speculations. The Japanese mind,3 as described by those who have studied most acutely and profoundly its manifestations in language and literature, is essentially averse to speculation. Yet the first forms of Buddhism presented to the Japanese, were highly metaphysical. The history of thought in Japan, shows that these abstractions of dogma were not congenial to the islanders. The new faith won its way among the people by its outward sensuous attractions, and by appeals to the imagination, the fancy and the emotions; though the men of culture were led captive by reasoning which they could not answer, even if they could comprehend it. Though these early forms of dogma and philosophy no longer survive in Japan, having been eclipsed by more concrete and sensuous arguments, yet it is necessary to state them in order to show: first, what Buddhism really is; second, doctrinal development in the farthest East; and, third, the peculiarities of the Japanese mind.
In this task, we are happy to be able to rely upon native witness and confession.4 The foreigner may easily misrepresent, even when sincerely inclined to utter only the truth. Each religion, in its theory at least, must be judged by its ideals, and not by its failures. Its truth must be stated by its own professors. In the "History of The Twelve Japanese Sects," by Bunyiu Nanjio, M.A. Oxon., and in "Le Bouddhisme Japonais," by Ryauon Fujishima, we have the untrammelled utterances, of nine living lights of the religion of Shaka as it is held and taught in Dai Nippon. The former scholar is a master of texts, and the latter of philosophy, each editor excelling in his own department; and the two books complement each other in value.
Buddhism, being a logical growth out of Brahmanism, used the old sacred language of India and inherited its vocabulary. In the Tripitaka, that is, the three book-baskets or boxes, we have the term for canon of scripture, in the complete collection of which are sutra, vinaya and abidharma. We shall see, also, that while Gautama shut out the gods, his speculative followers who claimed to be his successors, opened the doors and allowed them to troop in again. The democracy of the congregation became a hierarchy and the empty swept and garnished house, a pantheon.
A sutra, from the root siv, to sew, means a thread or string, and in the old Veda religion referred to household rites or practices and the moral conduct of life; but in Buddhist phraseology it means a body of doctrine. A shaster or shastra, from the Sanskrit root ças, to govern, relates to discipline. Of those shastras and sutras we must frequently speak. In India and China some of those sutras are exponents, of schools of thought or opinion, or of views or methods of looking at things, rather than of organizations. In Japan these schools of philosophy, in certain instances, become sects with a formal history.
In China of the present day, according to a Japanese traveller and author, "the Chinese Buddhists seem ... to unite all different sects, so as to make one harmonious sect." The chief divisions are those of the blue robe, who are allied with the Lamaism of Tibet and whose doctrine is largely "esoteric," and those of the yellow robe, who accept the three fundamentals of principle, teaching and discipline. Dhyana or contemplation is their principle; the Kégon or Avatamsaka sutra and the Hokké or Saddharma Pundarika sutra, etc., form the basis of their teaching; and the Vinaya of the Four Divisions (Dharmagupta) is their discipline. On the contrary, in Japan there are vastly greater diversities of sect, principle, teaching and discipline.
Buddhism as a System of Metaphysics.
The date of the birth of the Buddha in India, accepted by the Japanese scholars is B.C. 1027—the day and month being also given with suspicious accuracy. About nine centuries after Gautama had attained Nirvana, there were eighteen schools of the Hinayana or the doctrine of the Smaller Vehicle. Then a shastra or institute of Buddhist ontology in nine chapters, was composed, the title of which in English, is, Book of the Treasury of Metaphysics. It had such a powerful influence that it was called an intelligence-creating, or as we say, an epoch-making book.
This Ku-sha shastra, from the Sanskrit kosa, a store, is eclectic, and contains nine chapters embodying the views of one of the schools, with selections from those of others. It was translated in A.D. 563, into Chinese by a Hindu scholar; but about a hundred years later the famous pilgrim, whom the Japanese call Gen-j[=o], but who is known in Europe as Hiouen Thsang,5 made a better translation, while his disciples added commentaries.
In A.D. 658, two Japanese priests6 made the sea-journey westward into China, as Gen-j[=o] had before made the land pilgrimage into India, and became pupils of the famous pilgrim. After long study they returned, bringing the Chinese translation of this shastra into Japan. They did not form an independent sect; but the doctrines of this shastra, being eclectic, were studied by all Japanese Buddhist sects. This Ku-sha scripture is still read in Japan as a general institute of ontology, especially by advanced students who wish to get a general idea of the doctrines. It is full of technical terms, and is well named The Store-house of Metaphysics.
The Ku-sha teaches control of the passions, and the government of thought. The burden of its philosophy is materialism; that is, the non-existence of self and the existence of the matter which composes self, or, as the Japanese writer says: "The reason why all things are so minutely explained in this shastra is to drive away the idea of self, and to show the truth in order to make living beings reach Nirvana." Among the numerous categories, to express which many technical terms are necessary, are those of "forms," eleven in number, including the five senses and the six objects of sense; the six kinds of knowledge; the forty-six mental qualities, grouped under six heads; and the fourteen conceptions separated from the mind; thus making in all seventy-two compounded things and three immaterial things. These latter are "conscious cessation of existence," "unconscious cessation of existence," and "space."
The Reverend Shuzan Emura, of the Shin-shu sect of Japan, after specifying these seventy-five Dharmas, or things compounded and things immaterial, says:7 "The former include all things that proceed from a cause. This cause is Karma, to which everything existing is due, Space and Nirvana alone excepted. Again, of the three immaterial things the last two are not subjects to be understood by the wisdom not free from frailty. Therefore the 'conscious cessation of existence' is considered as being the goal of all effort to him who longs for deliverance from misery."
In a word, this one of the many Buddhisms of Asia is vastly less a religion, in any real sense of the word, than a system of metaphysics. However, the doctrine to be mastered is graded in three Yanas or Vehicles; for there are now, as in the days of Shaka, three classes of being, graded according to their ability or power to understand "the truth." These are:
(I.) The Sho-mon or lowest of the disciples of Shaka, or hearers who meditate on the cause and effect of everything. If acute in understanding, they become free from confusion after three births; but if they are dull, they pass sixty kalpas8 or aeons before they attain to the state of enlightenment.
(II.) The Engaku or Pratyeka Buddhas, that is, "singly enlightened," or beings in the middle state, who must extract the seeds or causes of actions, and must meditate on the twelve chains of causation, or understand the non-eternity of the world, while gazing upon the falling flowers or leaves. They attain enlightenment after four births or a hundred kalpas, according to their ability.
(III.) The Bodhisattvas or Buddhas-elect, who practise the six perfections (perfect practice of alms-giving, morality, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom) as preliminaries to Nirvana, which they reach only after countless kalpas.
These three grades of pupils in the mysteries of Buddha doctrine, are said to have been ordered by Shaka himself, because understanding human beings so thoroughly, he knew that one person could not comprehend two ways or vehicles (Yana) at once. People were taught therefore to practise anyone of the three vehicles at pleasure.
We shall see how the later radical and democratic Japanese Buddhism swept away this gradation, and declaring but the one vehicle (éka), opened the kingdom to all believers.
The second of the early Japanese schools of thought, is the J[=o]-jitsu,9 or the sect founded chiefly upon the shastra which means The Book of the Perfection of the Truth, containing selections from and explanations of the true meaning of the Tripitaka. This shastra was the work of a Hindu whose name means Lion-armor, and who lived about nine centuries after Gautama. Not satisfied with the narrow views of his teacher, who may have been of the Dharmagupta school (of the four Disciplines), he made selections of the best and broadest interpretations then current in the several different schools of the Smaller Vehicle. The book is eclectic, and attempts to unite all that was best in each of the Hinayana schools; but certain Chinese teachers consider that its explanations are applicable to the Great Vehicle also. Translated into Chinese in 406 A.D., the commentaries upon it soon numbered hundreds, and it was widely expounded and lectured upon. Commentaries upon this shastra were also written in Korean by D[=o]-z[=o]. From the peninsula it was introduced into Japan. This J[=o]-jitsu doctrine was studied by prince Sh[=o]toku, and promulgated as a division of the school called San-Ron. The students of the J[=o]-jitsu school never formed in Japan a distinct organization.
The burden of the teachings of this school is pure nihilism, or the non-existence of both self and of matter. There is an utter absence of substantiality in all things. Life itself is a prolonged dream. The objects about us are mere delusive shadows or mirage, the product of the imagination alone. The past and the future are without reality, but the present state of things only stands as if it were real. That is to say: the true state of things is constantly changing, yet it seems as if the state of things were existing, even as does a circle of fire seen when a rope watch is turned round very quickly.
Japanese Pilgrims to China.
The Ris-shu or Vinaya sect is one of purely Chinese origin, and was founded, or rather re-founded, by the Chinese priest D[=o]sen, who lived on Mount Shunan early in the seventh century, and claimed to be only re-proclaiming the rules given by Gautama himself. He was well acquainted with the Tripitaka and especially versed in the Vinaya or rules of discipline. His purpose was to unite the teachings of both the Greater and the Lesser Vehicle in a sutra whose burden should be one of ethics and not of dogma.
The founder of this sect was greatly honored by the Chinese Emperor. Furthermore, he was honored in vision by the holy Pindola or Binzura,10 who praised the founder as the best man that had promulgated the discipline since Buddha himself. In later centuries, successors of the founder compiled commentaries and reproclaimed the teachings of this sect.
In A.D. 724 two Japanese priests went over to China, and having mastered the Ris-shu doctrine, received permission to propagate it in Japan. With eighty-two Chinese priests they returned a few years later, having attempted, it is said, the journey five times and spent twelve years on the sea. On their return, they received an imperial invitation to live in the great monastery at Nara, and soon their teachings exerted a powerful influence on the court. The emperor, empress and four hundred persons of note were received into the Buddhist communion by a Chinese priest of the Ris-shu school in the middle of the eighth century. The Mikado Sh[=o]-mu resigned his throne and took the vow and robes of a monk, becoming H[=o]-[=o] or cloistered emperor. Under imperial direction a great bronze image of the Vairokana Buddha, or Perfection of Morality, was erected, and terraces, towers, images and all the paraphernalia of the new kind of Buddhism were prepared. Even the earth was embroidered, as it were, with sutras and shastras. Symbolical landscape gardening, which, in its mounds and paths, variously shaped stones and lanterns, artificial cascades and streamlets, teaches the holy geography as well as the allegories and hidden truths of Buddhism, made the city of Nara beautiful to the eyes of faith as well as of sight.
This sect, with its excellence in morality and benevolence, proved itself a beautifier of human life, of society and of the earth itself. Its work was an irenicon. It occupied itself exclusively with the higher ethics, the higher meditations and the higher knowledge. Interdicting what was evil and prescribing what was good, its precepts varied in number and rigor according to the status of the disciple, lay or clerical. It is by the observance of the sila, or grades of moral perfection, that one becomes a Buddha. Besides making so powerful a conquest at the southern capital, this sect was the one which centuries afterward built the first Buddhist temple in Yedo. Being ordinary human mortals, however, both monk and layman occasionally illustrated the difference between profession and practice.
These three schools or sects, Ku-sha, J[=o]-jitsu, and Ris-shu, may be grouped under the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle, with more or less affiliation with Southern Buddhism; the others now to be described were wholly of the Northern division.
The Hoss[=o]-shu, or the Dharma-lakshana sect, as described by the Rev. Dai-ryo Takashi of the Shin-gon sect, is the school which studies the nature of Dharmas or things. The three worlds of desire, form and formlessness, consist in thought only; and there is nothing outside thought. Nine centuries after Gautama, Maitreya,11 or the Buddha of kindness, came down from the heaven of the Bodhisattva to the lecture-hall in the kingdom in central India at the request of the Buddhas elect, and discounted five shastras. After that two Buddhist fathers who were brothers, composed many more shastras and cleared up the meaning of the Mah[=a]yan[=a]. In 629 A.D., in his twenty-ninth year, the famous Chinese pilgrim, Gen-j[=o] (Hiouen-thsang), studied these shastras and sciences, and returning to China in 645 A.D., began his great work of translation, at which he continued for nineteen years. One of his disciples was the author of a hundred commentaries on sutras and shastras. The doctrines of Gen-j[=o] and his disciples were at four different times, from 653 to 712 A.D., imported into Japan, and named, after the monasteries in which they were promulgated, the Northern and Southern Transmission.
The Middle Path.
The burden of the teachings of this sect is subjective idealism. They embrace principles enjoining complete indifference to mundane affairs, and, in fact, thorough personal nullification and the ignoring of all actions by its disciples. In these teachings, thought only, is real. As we have already seen with the Ku-sha teaching, human beings are of three classes, divided according to intellect, into higher, middle and lower, for whom the systems of teachings are necessarily of as many kinds. The order of progress with those who give themselves to the study of the Hoss[=o] tenets, is,12 first, they know only the existence of things, then the emptiness of them, and finally they enter the middle path of "true emptiness and wonderful existence."
From the first, such discipline is long and painful, and ultimate victory scarcely comes to the ordinary being. The disciple, by training in thought, by destroying passions and practices, by meditating on the only knowledge, must pass through three kalpas or aeons. Constantly meditating, and destroying the two obstacles of passion and cognizable things, the disciple then obtains four kinds of wisdom and truly attains perfect enlightenment or Pari-Nirvana.
The San-ron Shu, as the Three-Shastra sect calls itself, is the sect of the Teachings of Buddha's whole life.13 Other sects are founded upon single sutras, a fact which makes the student liable to narrowness of opinion. The San-ron gives greater breadth of view and catholicity of opinion. The doctrines of the Greater Vehicle are the principal teachings of Gautama, and these are thoroughly explained in the three shastras used by this sect, which, it is claimed, contain Buddha's own words. The meanings of the titles of the three favorite sutras, are, The Middle Book, The Hundred, and The Book of Twelve Gates. Other books of the canon are also studied and valued by this sect, but all of them are apt to be perused from a particular point of view; i.e., that of Pyrronism or infinite negation.
There are two lines of the transmission of this doctrine, both of them through China, though, the introduction to Japan was made from Korea, in 625 A.D. Not to dwell upon the detail of history, the burden of this sect's teaching, is, infinite negation or absolute nihilism. Truth is the inconceivable state, or, in the words of the Japanese writer: "The truth is nothing but the state where thoughts come to an end; the right meditation is to perceive this truth. He who has obtained this meditation is called Buddha. This is this doctrine of the San-ron sect."
This sect, by its teachings of the Middle Path, seems to furnish a bridge from the Hinayana or Southern school, to the Mah[=a]yan[=a] or Northern school of Buddhism. Part of its work, as set forth by the Rev. K[=o]-ch[=o] Ogurasu, of the Shin sect, is to defend the authenticity, genuineness and canonicity of the books which form the Northern body of scriptures.
In these two sects Hos-s[=o] and San-ron, called those of Middle Path, and much alike in principle and teaching, the whole end and aim of mental discipline, is nihilism—in the one case subjective, and in the other absolute, the end and goal being nothing—this view into the nature of things being considered the right one.
Is it any wonder that such teachings could in the long run satisfy neither the trained intellects nor the unthinking common people of Japan? Is it far from the truth to suspect that, even when accepted by the Japanese courtiers and nobles, they were received, only too often, in a Platonic, not to say a Pickwickian, sense? The Japanese is too polite to say "no" if he can possibly say "yes," even when he does not mean it; while the common people all over the world, as between metaphysics and polytheism, choose the latter. Is it any wonder that, along with this propagation of Nihilism as taught in the cloisters and the court, history informs us of many scandals and much immorality between the women of the court and the Buddhist monks?
Such dogmas were not able to live in organized forms, after the next importations of Buddhism which came in, not partly but wholly, under the name of the Mah[=a]yan[=a] or Great Vehicle, or Northern Buddhism. By the new philosophy, more concrete and able to appeal more closely to the average man, these five schools, which, in their discussions, dealt almost wholly with noumena, were absorbed. As matter of fact, none of them is now in existence, nor can we trace them, speaking broadly, beyond the tenth century. Here and there, indeed, may be a temple bearing the name of one of the sects, or grades of doctrine, and occasionally an eccentric individual who "witnesses" to the old metaphysics; but these are but fossils or historical relics, and are generally regarded as such.
Against such baldness of philosophy not only might the cultivated Japanese intellect revolt and react, but as yet the common people of Japan, despite the modern priestly boast of the care of the imperial rulers for what the bonzes still love to call "the people's religion," were but slightly touched by the Indian faith.
The Great Vehicle.
The Kégon-Shu or Avatamsaka-sutra sect, is founded on a certain teaching which Gautama is said to have promulgated in nine assemblies held at seven different places during the second week of his enlightenment. This sutra exists in no fewer than six texts, around each of which has gathered some interesting mythology. The first two tests were held in memory and not committed to palm leaves; the second pair are secretly preserved in the dragon palace of Riu-gu14 under the sea, and are not kept by the men of this world. The fifth text of 100,000 verses, was obtained by a Bodhisattva from the palace of the dragon king of the world under the sea and transmitted to men in India. The sixth is the abridged text.
It concerns us to notice that the shorter texts were translated into Chinese in the fourth century, and that later, other translations were made—36,000 verses of the fifth text, 45,000 verses of the sixth text, etc. When the doctrine of the sect had been perfected by the fifth patriarch and he lectured on the sutra, rays of white light came from his mouth, and there rained wonderful heavenly flowers. In A.D. 736 a Chinese Vinaya teacher or instructor in Buddhist discipline, named D[=o]-sen, first brought the Kégon scriptures to Japan. Four years later a Korean priest gave lectures on them in the Golden-Bell Hall of the Great Eastern Monastery at Nara. He completed his task of expounding the sixty volumes in three years. Henceforth, lecturing on this sutra became one of the yearly services of the Eastern Great Monastery.
"The Ké-gon sutra is the original book of Buddha's teachings of his whole life. All his teachings therefore sprang from this sutra. If we attribute all the branches to the origin, we may say that there is no teaching of Buddha for his whole life except this sutra."15 The title of the book, when literally translated, is Great-square-wide-Buddha-flower-adornment-teaching—a title sufficiently indicative of its rhetoric. The age of hard or bold thinking was giving way to flowery diction, and the Law was to be made easy through fine writing.
The burden of doctrine is the unconditioned or realistic, pantheism. Nature absolute, or Buddha-tathata, is the essence of all things. Essence and form were in their origin combined and identical. Fire and water, though phenomenally different, are from the point of view of Buddha-tathata absolutely identical. Matter and thought are one—that is Buddha-tathata. In teaching, especially the young, it must be remembered that the mind resembles a fair page upon which the artist might trace a design, especial care being needed to prevent the impression of evil thoughts, in order to accomplish which one must completely and always direct the mind to Buddha.16 One notable sentence in the text is, "when one first raises his thoughts toward the perfect knowledge, he at once becomes fully enlightened."
In some parts of the metaphysical discussions of this sect we are reminded of European mediaeval scholasticism, especially of that discussion as to how many angels could dance on the point of a cambric needle without jostling each other. It says, "Even at the point of one grain of dust, of immeasurable and unlimited worlds, there are innumerable Buddhas, who are constantly preaching the Ké-gon ki[=o] (sutra) throughout the three states of existence, past, present and future, so that the preaching is not at all to be collected.17
A New Chinese Sect.
In its formal organization the Ten-dai sect is of Chinese origin. It is named after Tien Tai,18 a mountain in China about fifty miles south of Ningpo, on which the book which forms the basis of its tenets was composed by Chi-sha, now canonized as a Dai Shi or Great teacher. Its special doctrine of completion and suddenness was, however, transmitted directly from Shaka to Vairokana and thence to Maitreya, so that the apostolical succession of its orthodoxy cannot be questioned.
The metaphysics of this sect are thought to be the most profound of the Greater Vehicle, combining into a system the two opposite ideas of being and not being. The teachers encourage all men, whether quick or slow in understanding, to exercise the principle of "completion" and "suddenness," together with four doctrinal divisions, one or all of which are taught to men according to their ability. The object of the doctrine is to make men get an excellent understanding, practise good discipline and attain to the great fruit of Enlightenment or Buddha-hood.
Out of compassion, Gautama appeared in the world and preached the truth in several forms, according to the circumstances of time and place. There are four doctrinal divisions of "completion," "secrecy," "meditation," and "moral precept," which are the means of knowing the principle of "completion." From Gautama, Vairokana and Maitreya the doctrine passed through more than twenty Buddhas elect, and arrived in China on the twentieth day of the twelfth month, A.D. 401. The delivery to disciples was secret, and the term used for this esoteric transmission means "handed over within the tower."
In A.D. 805, two Japanese pilgrims went to China, and received orthodox training. With twenty others, they brought the Ten-dai doctrines into Japan. During this century, other Japanese disciples of the same sect crossed the seas to study at Mount Tien Tai. On coming back to Japan they propagated the various shades of doctrine, so that this main sect has many branches. It was chiefly through these pilgrims from the West that the Sanskrit letters, writing and literature were imported. In our day, evidences of Sanskrit learning, long since neglected and forgotten, are seen chiefly in the graveyards and in charms and amulets.
Although the philosophical doctrines of Ten-dai are much the same as those of the Ké-gon sect, being based on pantheistic realism, and teaching that the Buddha-tathata or Nature absolute is the essence of all things, yet the Ten-dai school has striking and peculiar features of its own. Instead of taking some particular book or books in the canon, shastra, or sutra, selection or collection, as a basis, the Chinese monk Chi-sha first mastered, and then digested the whole canon. Then selecting certain doctrines for emphasis he supported them by a wide range of quotation, professing to give the gist of the pure teachings of Gautama rather than those of his disciples. In practice, however, the Saddharma Pundarika is the book most honored by this sect; the other sutras being employed mainly as commentary. Furthermore, this sect makes as strenuous a claim for the true apostolical succession from the Founder, as do the other sects.
The teachers of Ten-dai doctrine must fully estimate character and ability in their pupils, and so apportion instruction. In this respect and in not a few others, they are like the disciples of Loyola, and have properly been called the Jesuits of Buddhism. They are ascetics, and teach that spiritual insight is possible only through prolonged thought. Their purpose is to recognize the Buddha, in all the forms he has assumed in order to save mankind. Nevertheless, the highest truths are incomprehensible except to those who have already attained to Buddha-hood.19 In contrast to the Nichirenites, who give an emotional and ultra-concrete interpretation and expression to the great sutra, Hokké Ki[=o], the Ten-dai teachers are excessively philosophical and intellectual.
In its history the Ten-dai sect has followed out its logic. Being realistic in pantheism, it reverences not only Gautama the historic Buddha, but also, large numbers of the Hindu deities, the group of idols called Jiz[=o], the god Fudo, and Kuannon the god or goddess of mercy, under his or her protean forms. In its early history this sect welcomed to its pantheon the Shint[=o] gods, who, according to the scheme of Riy[=o]bu Shint[=o], were declared to be avatars or manifestations of Buddha. The three sub-sects still differ in their worship of the avatars selected as supreme deities, but their philosophy enables them to sweep in the Buddhas of every age and clime, name and nation. Many other personifications are found honored in the Ten-dai temples. At the gateways may usually be seen the colossal painted and hideous images of the two Devas or kings (Ni-O). These worthies are none other than Indra and Brahma of the old Vedic mythology.
Space and time—which seem never to fail the Buddhists in their literature—would fail us to describe this sect in full, or to show in detail its teachings, wherein are wonderful resemblances to European ideas and facts—in philosophy, to Hegel and Spinoza find in history, to Jesuitism. Nor can we stay to point out the many instances in which, invading the domain of politics, the Ten-dai abbots with their armies of monks, having made their monasteries military arsenals and issuing forth clad in armor as infantry and cavalry, have turned the scale of battle or dictated policies to emperors. Like the Praetorian guard of Rome or the clerical militia in Spain, these men of keen intellect have left their marks deep upon the social and political history of the country in which they dwelt. They have understood thoroughly the art of practising religion for the sake of revenue. To secure their ends, priests have made partnerships with other sects; in order to hold Shint[=o] shrines, they have married to secure heirs and make office hereditary; and finally in the Purification of 1870, when the Riy[=o]bu system was blown to the winds by the Japanese Government, not a few priests of this sect became laymen, in order to keep both office and emolument in the purified Shint[=o] shrines.
The Sect of the True Word.
It is probable that the conquest and obliteration of Shint[=o] might have been accomplished by some priest or priests of the Ten-dai sect, had such a genius as K[=o]b[=o] been found in its household; but this great achievement was reserved for the man who introduced into Japan the Shin-gon Shu, or Sect of the True Word. The term gon is the equivalent of Mantra,20 a Sanskrit term meaning word, but in later use referring to the mystic salutations addressed to the Buddhist gods. "The doctrine of this sect is a great secret law. It teaches us that we can attain to the state of the 'Great Enlightened,' that is the state of 'Buddha,' while in the present physical body, which was born of our parents (and which consists of six elements,21 Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Ether, and Knowledge), if we follow the three great secret laws, regarding Body, Speech, and Thought."22
The history of the transmission of the doctrine from the greatest of the spirit-bodied Buddhas to the historic founder, Vagrabodhi, is carefully given. The latter was a man very learned in regard to many doctrines of Buddhism and other religious, and was especially well acquainted with the deepest meaning of the doctrine of this sect, which he taught in India for a considerable time. The doctrine is recorded in several sutras, yet the essential point is nothing but the Mandala, or circle of the two parts, or, in Japanese, Riy[=o]bu.
The great preacher, Vagrabodhi, in 720 A.D., came with his disciples to the capital of China, and translated the sacred books, seventy-seven in number. This doctrine is the well-known Yoga-chara, which has been well set forth by Doctor Edkins in his scholarly volume on Chinese Buddhism. As "yoga" becomes in plain English "yoke," and as "mantra" is from the same root as "man" and "mind," we have no difficulty in recognizing the original meaning of these terms; the one in its nobler significance referring to union with Buddha or Gnosis, and the other to the thought taking lofty expression or being debased to hocus-pocus in charm or amulet. Like the history of so many Sanskrit words as now uttered in every-day English speech, the story of the word mantra forms a picture of mental processes and apparently of the degradation of thought, or, as some will doubtless say, of the decay of religion. The term mantra meant first, a thought; then thought expressed; then a Vedic hymn or text; next a spell or charm. Such have been the later associations, in India, China and Japan with the term mantra.
The burden of the philosophy of the Shin-gon, looked at from one point of view, is mysticism, and from another, pantheism. One of the forms of Buddha is the principle of everything. There are ten stages of thought, and there are two parts, "lengthwise" and "crosswise" or exoteric and esoteric. Other doctrines of Buddhism represent the first, or exoteric stage; and those of the Shin-gon or true word, the second, or esoteric. The primordial principle is identical with that of Maha-Vairokana, one of the forms23 of Buddha. The body, the word and the thought are the three mysteries, which being found in all beings, animate and inanimate, are to be fully understood only by Buddhas, and not by ordinary men.
To show the actual method of intellectual procedure in order to reach Buddha-hood, many categories, tables and diagrams are necessary; but the crowning tenet, most far reaching in its practical influence, is the teaching that it is possible to reach the state of Buddha-hood in this present body.
As discipline for the attainment of excellence along the path marked out in the "Mantra sect," there are three mystic rites: (1) worshipping the Buddha with the hand in certain positions called signs; (2) repeating Dharani, or mystic formulas; (3) contemplation.
K[=o]b[=o] himself and all those who imitated him, practised fasting in order to clear the spiritual eyesight. The thinking-chairs, so conspicuous in many old monasteries, though warmed at intervals through the ages by the living bodies of men absorbed in contemplation, are rarely much worn by the sitters, because almost absolute cessation of motion characterizes the long and hard thinkers of the Shin-gon philosophers. The idols in the Shin-gon temples represent many a saint and disciple, who, by perseverance in what a critic of Buddhism calls "mind-murder," and the use of mystic finger twistings and magic formulas, has won either the Nirvana or the penultimate stage of the Bodhisattva.
In the sermons and discourses of Shin-gon, the subtle points of an argument are seized and elaborated. These are mystical on the one side, and pantheistic on the other. It is easily seen how Buddha, being in Japanese gods as well as men, and no being without Buddha, the way is made clear for that kind of a marriage between Buddhism and Shint[=o], in which the two become one, and that one, as to revenue and advantage, Buddhism.
Truth Made Apparent by One's Own Thought.
The Japanese of to-day often speak of these seven religious bodies which we have enumerated and described, as "the old sects," because much of the philosophy, and many of the forms and prayers, are common to all, or, more accurately speaking, are popularly supposed to be; while the priests, being celibates, refrain from saké, flesh and fish, and from all intimate relations with women. Yet, although these sects are considered to be more or less conformable to the canon of the Greater Vehicle, and while the last three certainly introduce many of its characteristic features—one sect teaching that Buddha-hood could be obtained even in the present body of flesh and blood—yet the idea of Paradise had not been exploited or emphasized. This new gospel was to be introduced into Japan by the J[=o]-d[=o] Shu or Sect of the Pure Land.
Before detailing the features of J[=o]-d[=o], we call attention to the fact that in Japan the propagation of the old sects was accompanied by an excessive use of idols, images, pictures, sutras, shastras and all the furniture thought necessary in a Buddhist temple. The course of thought and action in the Orient is in many respects similar to that in the Occident. In western lands, with the ebb and flow of religious sentiment, the iconolater has been followed by the iconoclast, and the overcrowded cathedrals have been purged by the hammer and fire of the Protestant and Puritan. So in Japan we find analogous, though not exactly similar, reactions. The rise and prosperity of the believers in the Zen dogmas, which in their early history used sparingly the eikon, idol and sutra, give some indication of protest against too much use of externals in religion. May we call them the Quakers of Japanese Buddhism? Certainly, theirs was a movement in the direction of simplicity.
The introduction of the Zen, or contemplative sect, did, in a sense, both precede and follow that of Shingon. The word Zen is a shortened form of the term Zenna, which is a transliteration into Chinese of the Sanskrit word Dhyana, or contemplation. It teaches that the truth is not in tradition or in books, but in one's self. Emphasis is laid on introspection rather than on language. "Look carefully within and there you will find the Buddha," is its chief tenet. In the Zen monasteries, the chair of contemplation is, or ought to be, always in use.
The Zen Shu movement may be said to have arisen out of a reaction against the multiplication of idols. It indicated a return to simpler forms of worship and conduct. Let us inquire how this was.
It may be said that Buddhism, especially Northern Buddhism, is a vast, complicated system. It has a literature and a sacred canon which one can think of only in connection with long trains of camels to carry, or freight trains to transport, or ships a good deal bigger than the Mayflower to import. Its multitudinous rules and systems of discipline appall the spirit and weary the flesh even to enumerate them; so that, from one point of view, the making of new sects is a necessity. These are labor-saving inventions. They are attempts to reduce the great bulk of scriptures to manageable proportions. They seek to find, as it were, the mother-liquor of the great ocean, so as to express the truth in a crystal. Hence the endeavors to simplify, to condense; here, by a selection of sutras, rather than the whole collection; there, by emphasis on a single feature and a determination to put the whole thing in a form which can be grasped, either by the elect few or by the people at large.
The Zen sect did this in a more rational way than that set forth as orthodox by later priestcraft, which taught that to the believer who simply turned round the revolving library containing the canon, the merit of having read it all would be imputed. The rin-z[=o]24 found near the large temples,—the cunning invention of a Chinese priest in the sixth century,—soon became popular in Japan. The great wooden book-case turning on a pivot contains 6,771 volumes, that being the number of canonical volumes enumerated in China and Japan.
The Zen sect teaches that, besides all the doctrines of the Greater and the Lesser Vehicles, whether hidden or apparent, there is one distinct line of transmission of a secret doctrine which is not subject to any utterance at all. According to their tenet of contemplation, one is to see directly the key to the thought of Buddha by his own thought, thus freeing himself from the multitude of different doctrines—the number of which is said to be eighty-four thousand. In fact, Zen Shu or "Dhyana sect" teaches the short method of making truth apparent by one's own thought, apart from the writings.
The story of the transmission of the true Zen doctrine is this:
"When the blessed Shaka was at the assembly on Vulture's Peak, there came the heavenly king, who offered the Buddha a golden-colored flower and asked him to preach the law. The Blessed One simply took the flower and held it in his hand, but said no word. No one in the whole assembly could tell what he meant. The venerable Mahahasyapa alone smiled. Than the Blessed One said to him, 'I have the wonderful thought of Nirvana, the eye of the Right Law, which I shall now give to you.'25 Thus was ushered in the doctrine of thought transmitted by thought."
After twenty-eight patriarchs had taught the doctrine of contemplation, the last came into China in A.D. 520, and tried to teach the Emperor the secret key of Buddha's thought. This missionary Bodhidharma was the third son of a king of the Kashis, in Southern India, and the historic original of the tobacconist's shop-sign in Japan, who is known as Daruma. The imperial Chinaman was not yet able to understand the secret key of Buddha's thought. So the Hindu missionary went to the monastery on Mount Su, where in meditation, he sat down cross-legged with his face to a wall, for nine years, by which time, says the legend, his legs had rotted off and he looked like a snow-image. During that period, people did not know him, and called him simply the Wall-gazing Brahmana. Afterward he had a number of disciples, but they had different views that are called the transmissions of the skin, flesh, or bone of the teacher. Only one of them got the whole body of his teachings. Two great sects were formed: the Northern, which was undivided, and the Southern, which branched off into five houses and seven schools. The Northern Sect was introduced into Japan by a Chinese priest in 729 A.D., while the Southern was not brought over until the twelfth century. In both it is taught that perfect tranquillity of body and mind is essential to salvation. The doctrine is the most sublime one, of thought transmitted by thought being entirely independent of any letters or words. Another name for them is, "The Sect whose Mind Assimilates with Buddha," direct from whom it claims to have received its articles of faith.
Too often this idea of Buddhaship, consisting of absolute freedom from matter and thought, means practically mind-murder, and the emptiness of idle reverie.
Contrasting modern reality with their ancient ideal, it must be confessed that in practice there is not a little letter worship and a good deal of pedantry; for, in all the teachings of abstract principles by the different sects, there are endless puns or plays upon words in the renderings of Chinese characters. This arises from that antithesis of extreme poverty in sounds with amazing luxuriance in written expression, which characterizes both the Chinese and Japanese languages.
In the temples we find that the later deities introduced into the Buddhist pantheon are here also welcome, and that the triads or groups of three precious ones, the "Buddhist trinity," so-called,26 are surrounded by gods of Chinese or Japanese origin. The Zen sect, according to its professions and early history, ought to be indifferent to worldly honors and emoluments, and indeed many of its devotees are. Its history, however, shows how poorly mortals live up to their principles and practise what they preach. Furthermore, these professors of peace and of the joys of the inner life in the S[=o]-t[=o] or sub-sect have made the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth years of Meiji, or A.D. 1893 and 1894, famous and themselves infamous by their long-continued and scandalous intestine quarrels. Of the three sub-sects, those called Rin-zai and S[=o]-t[=o], take their names from Chinese monks of the ninth century; while the third, O-baku, founded in Japan in the seventeenth century, is one of the latest importations of Chinese Buddhistic thought in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Japanese authors usually classify the first six denominations at which we have glanced, some of which are phases of thought rather than organizations, as "the ancient sects." Ten-dai and Shin-gon are "the medieval sects." The remaining four, of which we shall now treat, and which are more particularly Japanese in spirit and development, are "the modern sects."
"Buddhism is essentially a religion of compromise."
"Where Christianity has One Lord, Buddhism has a dozen."
"I think I may safely challenge the Buddhist priesthood to give a plain historical account of the Life of Amida, Kwannon, Dainichi, or any other Mah[=a]y[=a]na Buddha, without being in serious danger of forfeiting my stakes."
"Christianity openly puts this Absolute Unconditioned Essence in the forefront of its teaching. In Buddhism this absolute existence is only put forward, when the logic of circumstances compels its teachers to have recourse to it."—A. Lloyd, in The Higher Buddhism in the Light of the Nicene creed.
"Now these six characters, 'Na-mu-A-mi-da-Butsu,' Zend-[=o] has explained as follows: 'Namn' means [our] following His behest—and also [His] uttering the Prayer and bestowing [merit] upon us. 'Amida Butsu' is the practice of this, consequently by this means a certainty of salvation is attained."
"By reason of the conferring on us sentient creators of this great goodness and great merit through the utterance of the Prayer, and the bestowal [by Amida] the evil Karma and [effect of the] passions accumulated through the long Kalpas, since when there was no beginning, are in a moment annihilated, and in consequence, those passions and evil Karma of ours all disappearing, we live already in the condition of the steadfast, who do not return [to revolve in the cycle of Birth and Death]."—Renny[=o] of the Shin sect, 1473.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."—John.
"The Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."—James.