The Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Meiji
William Elliot Griffis author
JAPANESE BUDDHISM IN ITS MISSIONARY DEVELOPMENT
Missionary Buddhism the Measure of Japan's Civilization.
Broadly speaking, the history of Japanese Buddhism in its missionary development is the history of Japan. Before Buddhism came, Japan was pre-historic. We know the country and people through very scanty notices in the Chinese annals, by pale reflections cast by myths, legends and poems, and from the relics cast up by the spade and plough. Chinese civilization had filtered in, though how much or how little we cannot tell definitely; but since the coming of the Buddhist missionaries in the sixth century, the landscape and the drama of human life lie before us in clear detail. Speaking broadly again, it may be said that almost from the time of its arrival, Buddhism became on its active side the real religion of Japan—at least, if the word "religion" be used in a higher sense than that connoted by either Shint[=o] or Confucianism. Though as a nation the Japanese of the Méiji era are grossly forgetful of this fact, yet, as Professor Chamberlain says,1 "All education was for centuries in Buddhist hands. Buddhism introduced art; introduced medicine; created the folk-lore of the country; created its dramatic poetry; deeply influenced politics, and every sphere of social and intellectual activity; in a word, Buddhism was the teacher under whose instruction the Japanese nation grew up."
For many centuries all Japanese, except here and there a stern Shint[=o]ist, or an exceptionally dogmatic Confucian, have acknowledged these patent facts, and from the emperor to the eta, glorified in them. It was not until modern Confucian philosophy entered the Mikado's empire in the seventeenth century, that hostile criticism and polemic tenets denounced Buddhism, and declared it only fit for savages. This bitter denunciation of Buddhism at the lips and hands of Japanese who had become Chinese in mind, was all the more inappropriate, because Buddhism had for over a thousand years acted as the real purveyor and disperser of the Confucian ethics and culture in Japan. Such denunciation came with no better grace from the Yedo Confucianists than from the Shint[=o] revivalists, like Motoöri, who, while execrating everything Chinese, failed to remember or impress upon his countrymen the fact, that almost all which constituted Japanese civilization had been imported from the Middle Kingdom.
Buddhism, in its purely doctrinal development, seems to be rather a system of metaphysics than a true religion, being a conglomeration, or rather perhaps an agglomeration, of all sorts of theories relating to the universe and its contents. Its doctrinal and metaphysical side, however, is to be carefully distinguished from its popular and external features, for in its missionary development Buddhism may be called a system of national improvement. The history of its propagation, in the land farthest east from its cradle, is not only the outline of the history of Japanese civilization, but is nearly the whole of it.
It is not perhaps difficult to reconstruct in imagination the landscape of Japan in pre-Buddhistic days. Certainly we may, with some accuracy, draw a contrast between the appearance of the face of the earth then and now. Supposing that there were as many as a million or two of souls in the Japanese Archipelago of the sixth century—the same area which in the nineteenth century contains over forty-one millions—we can imagine only here and there patches of cultivated fields, or terraced gullies. There were no roads except paths or trails. The horse was probably yet a curiosity to the aborigines, though well known to the sons of the gods. Sheep and goats then, as now, were unknown. The cow and the ox were in the land, but not numerous.2 In architecture there was probably little but the primeval hut. Tools were of the rudest description; yet it is evident that the primitive Japanese were able to work iron and apply it to many uses. There were other metals, though the tell-tale etymology of their names in Japanese metallurgy, as in so many other lines of industry and articles of daily use, points to a Chinese origin. It is the almost incredible fact that the Japanese man or woman wore on the person neither gold nor silver jewelry. In later times, decoration was added to the sword hilt and pins were thrust in the hair.
Possibly a prejudice against metal touching the skin, such as exists in Korea, may account for this absence of jewelry, though silver was not discovered until A.D. 675, or gold until A.D. 749. The primitive Japanese, however, did wear ornaments of ground and polished stone, and these so numerously as to compel contrast with the severer tastes of later ages. Some of these magatama—curved jewels or perforated cylinders—were made of very hard stone which requires skill to drill, cut and polish. Among the substances used was jade, a mineral found only in Cathay.3 Indeed, we cannot follow the lines of industry and manufactures, of personal adornment and household decoration, of scientific terms and expressions, of literary, intellectual and religious experiment, without continually finding that the Japanese borrowed from Chinese storehouses. Possibly their debt began at the time of the alleged conquest of Korea4 in the third century.
In Japanese life, as it existed before the introduction of Buddhism, there was, with barbaric simplicity, a measure of culture somewhat indeed above the level of savagery, but probably very little that could be appraised beyond that of the Iroquois Indians in the days of their Confederacy. For though granting that there were many interesting features of art, industry, erudition and civilization which have been lost to the historic memory, and that the research of scholars may hereafter discover many things now in oblivion; yet, on the other hand, it is certain that much of what has long been supposed to be of primitive Japanese origin, and existent before the eighth century, has been more or less infused or enriched with Chinese elements, or has been imported directly from India, or Persia,5 or has crystallized into shape from the mixture of things Buddhistic and primitive Japanese.
Apart from all speculation, we know that in the train of the first missionaries came artisans, and instructors in every line of human industry and achievement, and that the importation of the inventions and appliances of "the West"—the West then being Korea and China, and the "Far West," India—was proportionately as general, as far-reaching, as sensational, as electric in its effects upon the Japanese minds, as, in our day, has been the introduction of the modern civilization of Europe and the United States.6
The Purveyors of Civilization.
The Buddhist missionaries, in their first "enthusiasm of humanity," were not satisfied to bring in their train, art, medicine, science and improvements of all sorts, but they themselves, being often learned and practical men, became personal leaders in the work of civilizing the country. In travelling up and down the empire to propagate their tenets, they found out the necessity of better roads, and accordingly, they were largely instrumental in having them made. They dug wells, established ferries and built bridges.7 They opened lines of communication; they stimulated traffic and the exchange of merchandise; they created the commerce between Japan and China; and they acted as peacemakers and mediators in the wars between the Japanese and Koreans. For centuries they had the monopoly of high learning. In the dark middle ages when civil war ruled, they were the only scholars, clerks, diplomatists, mediators and peacemakers.
Japanese diet became something new under the direction of the priests. The bonzes taught the wickedness of slaughtering domestic animals, and indeed, the wrong of putting any living thing to death, so that kindness to animals has become a national trait. To this day it may be said that Japanese boys and men are, at least within the limits of their light, more tender and careful with all living creatures than are those of Christendom.8 The bonzes improved the daily fare of the people, by introducing from Korea and China articles of food hitherto unknown. They brought over new seeds and varieties of vegetables and trees. Furthermore, necessity being the mother of invention, not a few of the shorn brethren made up for the prohibition of fish and flesh, by becoming expert cooks. They so exercised their talents in the culinary art that their results on the table are proverbial. Especially did they cultivate mushrooms, which in taste and nourishment are good substitutes for fish.
The bonzes were lovers of beauty and of symbolism. They planted the lotus, and the monastery ponds became seats of splendor, and delights to the eye. Their teachings, metaphysical and mystical, poetical and historical, scientific and literary, created, it may be said, the Japanese garden, which to the refined imagination contains far more than meets the eye of the alien.9 Indeed, the oriental imitations in earth, stone, water and verdure, have a language and suggestion far beyond what the usual parterres and walks, borders and lines, fountains and statuary of a western garden teach. It may be said that our "language of flowers" is more luxuriant and eloquent than theirs; yet theirs is very rich also, besides being more subtle in suggestion. The bonzes instilled doctrine, not only by sermons, books and the emblems and furniture of the temples, but they also taught dogma and ethics by the flower-ponds and plots, by the artificial landscape, and by outdoor symbolism of all kinds. To Buddhism our thanks are due, for the innumerable miniature continents, ranges of mountains, geographical outlines and other horticultural allusions to their holy lands and spiritual history, seen beside so many houses, temples and monasteries in Japan. In their floral art, no people excels the Japanese in making leaf and bloom teach history, religion, philosophy, aesthetics and patriotism.
Not only around the human habitation,10 but within it, the new religion brought a marvellous change. Instead of the hut, the dwelling-house grew to spacious and comfortable proportions, every part of the Japanese house to-day showing to the cultured student, especially to one familiar with the ancient poetry, the lines of its origin and development, and in the larger dwellings expressing a wealth of suggestion and meaning. The oratory and the kami-dana or shelf holding the gods, became features in the humblest dwelling. Among the well-to-do there were of course the gilded ancestral tablets and the worship of progenitors, in special rooms, with imposing ritual and equipment, with which Buddhism did not interfere; but on the shelf over the door of nearly every house in the land, along with the emblems of the kami, stood images representing the avatars of Buddha.11 There, the light ever burned, and there, offerings of food and drink were thrice daily made. Though the family worship might vary in its length and variety of ceremony, yet even in the home where no regular system was followed, the burning lights and the stated offering made, called the mind up to thoughts higher than the mere level of providing for daily wants. The visitation of the priests in time of sorrow, or of joy, or for friendly converse, made religion sweetly human.12
Outwardly the Buddhist architecture made a profound change in the landscape. With a settled religion requiring gorgeous ceremonial, the chanting of liturgies by large bodies of priests and the formation of monasteries as centres of literary and religious activity, there were required stability and permanence in the imperial court itself. While, therefore, the humble village temples arose all over the country, there were early erected, in the place where the court and emperor dwelt, impressive religious edifices.13 The custom of migration ceased, and a fixed spot selected as the capital, remained such for a number of generations, until finally Héian-j[)o] or the place of peace, later called Ki[=o]to, became the "Blossom Capital" and the Sacred City for a thousand years. At Nara, where flourished the first six sects introduced from Korea, were built vast monasteries, temples and images, and thence the influence of civilisation and art radiated. From the first, forgetting its primitive democracy and purely moral claims, Buddhism lusted for power in the State. As early as A.D. 624, various grades were assigned to the priesthood by the government.14 The sects eagerly sought and laid great stress upon imperial favor. To this day they keenly enjoy the canonization of their great teachers by letters patent from the Throne.
Ministers of Art.
On the establishment of the imperial capital, at Ki[=o]to, toward the end of the eighth century, we find still further development and enlargement of those latent artistic impulses with which the Heavenly Father endowed his Japanese child. That capacity for beauty, both in appreciation and expression, which in our day makes the land of dainty decoration the resort of all those who would study oriental art in unique fulness and decorative art in its only living school—a school founded on the harmonious marriage of the people and the nature of the country—is discernible from quite early ages. The people seem to have responded gladly to the calls for gifts and labor. The direction from which it is supposed all evils are likely to come is the northeast; this special point of the compass being in pan-Asian spiritual geography the focus of all malign influences. Accordingly, the Mikado Kwammu, in A.D. 788, built on the highest mountain called Hiyéi a superb temple and monastery, giving it in charge of the Ten-dai sect, that there should ever be a bulwark against the evil that might otherwise swoop upon the city. Here, as on castellated walls, should stand the watchman, who, by the recitation of the sacred liturgies, would keep watch and ward. In course of time this great mountain became a city of three thousand edifices and ten thousand monks, from which the droning of litanies and the chanting of prayers ascended daily, and where the chief industries were, the counting of beads on rosaries and the burning of incense before the altars. This was in the long bright day of a prosperity which has been nourished by vast sums obtained from the government and nobles. One notes the contrast at the end of our century, when "disestablished" as a religion and its bonzes reduced to beggary, Hiyéi-san is used as the site of a Summer School of Christian Theology.
Along with the blossoming of the lotus in every part of the empire, bloomed the grander flowers of sculpture, of painting and of temple architecture. It was because of the carpenter's craft in building temples that he won his name of Dai-ku, or the great workman. The artificers of the sunny islands cultivated an ambition, not only to equal but to excel, their continental brethren of the saw and hammer. Yet the carpenter was only the leader of great hosts of artisans that were encouraged, of craftsmen that were educated and of industries that were called into being by the spread of Buddhism.15 It was not enough that village temples and town monasteries should be built, under an impulse that meant volumes for the development of the country. The ambitious leaders chose sightly spots on mountains whence were lovely vistas of scenery, on which to erect temples and monasteries, while it seemed to be their further ambition to allow no mountain peak to be inaccessible. With armies of workmen, supported by the contributions of the faithful who had been aroused to enthusiasm by the preaching of the bonzes, great swaths were cut in the forest; abundant timber was felled; rocky plateaus were levelled; and elegant monastic edifices were reared, soon to be filled with eager students, and young men in training for the priesthood.
Whether the pilgrimage16 be of Shint[=o] or of Buddhist origin, or simply a contrivance of human nature to break the monotony of life, we need not discuss. It is certain that if the custom be indigenous, the imported faith adopted, absorbed and enlarged it. The peregrinations made to the great temples and to the mountain tops, being meritorious performances, soon filled the roads with more or less devout travellers. In thus finding vent for their piety, the pilgrims mingled sanctification with recreation, enjoying healthful holidays, and creating trade with varied business, commercial and commissarial activities, while enlarging also their ideas and learning something of geography. Thus, in the course of time, it has come to pass that Japan is a country of which almost every square mile is known, while it is well threaded with paths, banded with roads, and supplied to a remarkable extent with handy volumes of description and of local history.17 Her people being well educated in their own lore and local traditions, possessed also a voluminous literature of guidebooks and cyclopedias of information. The devotees were, withal, well instructed and versed in a code of politeness and courtesy, as pilgrimage and travel became settled habits of a life. As a further result, the national tongue became remarkably homogeneous. Broadly speaking, it may be said that the Japanese language, unlike the Chinese in this as it is in almost every other point, has very little dialectic variation.18 Except in some few remote eddies lying outside the general currents, there is a uniform national speech. This is largely owing to that annual movement of pilgrims in the summer months especially, habitual during many centuries.
Buddhism coming to Japan by means of the Great Vehicle, or with the features of the Northern development, was the fertile mother of art. In the exterior equipment of the temple, instead of the Shint[=o] thatch, the tera or Buddhist edifice called for tiles on its sweeping roof, with ornamental terra-cotta at the end of its imposing roof-ridge, or for sheets of copper soon to be made verdant, then sombre and then sable by age and atmosphere. Outwardly the edifice required the application of paint and lacquer in rich tints, its recurved roof-edges gladly welcoming the crest and monogram of the feudal prince, and its railings and stairways accepting willingly the bronze caps and ornaments. In front of its main edifice was the imposing gateway with proportions almost as massive as the temple itself, with prodigal wealth of curiously fitted and richly carved, painted and gilded supports and morticings, with all the fancies and adornments of the carpenter's art, and having as its frontlet and blazon the splendidly gilt name, style or title. Often these were impressive to eye and mind, to an extent which the terse Chinese or curt monosyllables could scarcely suggest to an alien.19 The number, forms and positions of the various parts of the temple easily lent themselves to the expression of the elaborate symbolism of the India faith.
Resemblances between Buddhism and Christianity.
Within the sacred edifice everything to strike the senses was lavishly displayed. The passion of the East, as opposed to Greek simplicity, is for decoration; yet in Japan, decorative art, though sometimes bursting out in wild profusion or running to unbridled lengths, was in the main a regulated mass of splendor in which harmony ruled. Differing though the Buddhist sects do in their temple furniture and altar decorations, they are, most of them, so elaborately full in their equipment as to suggest repeatedly the similarity between the Roman Catholic organization, altars, vestments and ritual, and those of Buddhism, and remarks on this point seem almost commonplace. Almost everything in Roman Catholicism is found in Buddhism,20 and one may even say, vice versa, at least in things exterior. We take the liberty of transcribing here a passage from the chapter entitled "Christianity and Foreigners" in The Mikado's Empire, written twenty years ago.
"Furthermore, the transition from the religion of India to that of Rome was extremely easy. The very idols of Buddha served, after a little alteration with the chisel, for images of Christ. The Buddhist saints were easily transformed into the Twelve Apostles. The Cross took the place of the torii. It was emblazoned on the helmets and banners of the warriors, and embroidered on their breasts. The Japanese soldiers went forth to battle like Christian crusaders. In the roadside shrine Kuanon, the Goddess of Mercy, made way for the Virgin, the mother of God. Buddhism was beaten with its own weapons. Its own artillery was turned against it. Nearly all the Christian churches were native temples, sprinkled and purified. The same bell, whose boom had so often quivered the air announcing the orisons and matins of paganism, was again blessed and sprinkled, and called the same hearers to mass and confession; the same lavatory that fronted the temple served for holy water or baptismal font; the same censer that swung before Amida could be refilled to waft Christian incense; the new convert could use unchanged his old beads, bells, candles, incense, and all the paraphernalia of his old faith in celebration of the new.
"Almost everything that is distinctive in the Roman form of Christianity is to be found in Buddhism: images, pictures, lights, altars, incense, vestments, masses, beads, wayside shrines, monasteries, nunneries, celibacy, fastings, vigils, retreats, pilgrimages, mendicant vows, shorn heads, orders, habits, uniforms, nuns, convents, purgatory, saintly and priestly intercession, indulgences, works of supererogation, pope, archbishops, abbots, abbesses, monks, neophytes, relics and relic-worship, exclusive burial-ground, etc., etc., etc."21
Nevertheless, these resemblances are almost wholly superficial, and have little or nothing to do with genuine religion. Such matters are of aesthetic and of commercial, rather than of spiritual, interest. They concern priestcraft and vulgar superstition rather than truth and righteousness. "In point of dogma a whole world of thought separates Buddhism from every form of Christianity. Knowledge, enlightenment, is the condition of Buddhistic grace, not faith. Self-perfectionment is the means of salvation, not the vicarious sufferings of a Redeemer. Not eternal life is the end and active participation in unceasing prayer and praise, but absorption into Nirvana (Jap. Nehan), practical annihilation."22 At certain points, the metaphysic of Buddhism is so closely like that of Christian theology, that a connection on reciprocal exchange of ideas is not only possible but probable. In their highest thinking,23 the sincere Christian and Buddhist approach each other in their search after truth.
The key-word of Buddhism is Ingwa, which means law or fate, the chain of cause and effect in which man is found, atheistic "evolution applied to ethics," the grinding machinery of a universe in which is no Creator-Father, no love, pity or heart. If the cry of the human spirit has compelled the makers of Buddhist theology to furnish a goddess of mercy, it is but one subordinate being among many. If a boundlessly compassionate Amida is thought out, it is an imaginary being. The symbol of Buddhism is the wheel of the law, which revolves as mercilessly as ceaselessly.24
The key-word of Christianity is love, and its message is grace. Its symbol is the cross, and its sacrament the supper, in token of the infinite love of the Father who wrote his revelation in a human life. The resemblances between the religions of Gautama and of Jesus, are purely superficial. They appear to the outward man. The inward man cannot, even from Darien peaks of observation or in his scrutiny de profundis, discover any vital or historical connection between the two faiths, Christianity and Buddhism. In his theology the Christian says God is all; but the Buddhist says All is god. Buddhism says destroy the passions: Christianity says control them. The Buddhist's watchword is Nirvana. The Christian's is Eternal Life in Christ Jesus.25
The Temples and Their Symbolism.
In the vast airy halls of a Buddhist temple one will often see columns made of whole tree-trunks, sheeted with gold and supporting massive ceilings which are empanelled and gorgeous with every hue and tint known to the palette. Besides the coloring, carving and gilding, the rich symbolism strikes the eye and touches the imagination. It is a pleasing study for one familiar with the background and world of Buddhism, to note their revelation and expression in art, as well as to discern what the varying sects accept or reject. There is the lotus, in leaf, bud, flower and calyx;26 the diamond in every form, real and imaginary, with the vagra or emblem of conquest; while on the altars, beside the central image, be it that of Shaka or of Amida, are Bodhisattvas or Buddhas by brevet, beings in every state of existence, as well as deities of many names and forms. Abstract ideas and attributes are expressed in the art language not only of Japan, Korea and China, but also in that of India and even of Persia and Greece,27 until one wonders how an Aryan religion, like Buddhism, could have so conquered and unified the many nations of Chinese Asia. He wonders, indeed, until he remembers how it has itself been transformed and changed in popular substance, from lofty metaphysics and ethics into pantheism for the shorn, and into polytheism for the unshorn.
Looking at early Japanese pictures with the eye of the historian, as well as of the connoisseur of art, one will see that the first real school of Japanese art was Buddhistic. The modern school of pictorial art, named from the monkish phrase, Ukioyé—pictures of the Passing World—is indeed very interesting to the western student, because it seems to be more in touch with the human nature of the whole world, as distinct from what is local, Chinese, or sectarian. Yet, casting a glance back of the mediaeval Kano, Chinese and Yamato-Tosa styles, he finds that Buddhism gave Japan her first examples of and stimulus to pictorial art.28 He sees further that instead of the monochrome of Chinese exotic art, or the first rude attempts of the native pencil, Buddhism began Japanese sculpture, carving and nearly every other form of plastic or pictorial representation, in which are all the elements of Northern Buddhism, as so lavishly represented, for example, in that great sutra which is the book, par excellence, of Japanese Buddhism, the Saddharma Pundarika.
Turning from text to art, we behold the golden lakes of joy, the mountain of gems, the floating female angels with their marvellous drapery and lovely faces, the gentle benignity of the goddesses of mercy, the rays of light and the glory streaming from face and head of the holy ones, the splendors of costume, the varied beauties of the lotus, the hosts of ministering intelligences, the luxuriant symbolism, the purple clouds, the wheel of the law, the swastika29 or double cross, and the vagra,30 or diamond trefoil. All that color, perfume, sensuous delights, art and luxury can suggest, are here, together with all the various orders of beings that inhabit the Buddhist universe; and these are set forth in their fulness and detail. In the six conditions of sentient existence are devas or gods, men, asuras or monsters, pretas or demons, beasts, and beings in hell. In portraying these, the artists and sculptors do not always slavishly follow tradition or uniformity. The critical eye notes nearly as much genius, wit and variety as in the mediaeval cathedral architecture of Europe. Probably the most popular groups of idols are those of the seven or the thirty-three Kuannon, of the six Jizo31 or compassionate helpers, and of the sixteen or the five hundred Rakan32 or circles of primitive disciples of Gautama. The angelic beings and sweetly singing birds of Paradise are also favorite subjects of the artists.
One who has lived alongside the great temples; who knows the daily routine and sees what powerful engines of popular instruction they are; who has been present at the great festivals and looked upon the mighty kitchens and refectories in operation; and who has gone in and out among their monasteries and examined their records, their genealogies and their relics, can see how powerfully Buddhism has moulded the whole life of the people through long ages. The village temple is often the epitome and repository of the social life of the people now living, and of the story of their ancestors for generations upon generations past. It is the historico-genealogical society, the museum, the repository of documents and trophies, the place of national thanksgiving and praise, of public sorrow and farewell, a place of rendezvous and separation, the starting-point of procession, and the centre of festival and joy; and thus it is linked with the life of the people.
In other respects, also, the temple is like the old village cathedral of mediaeval Europe. It is in many sects the centre of popular pleasure of all sorts, both reputable and disreputable. Not only shops and bazaars, fairs and markets, games and sports, cluster around it, but also curiosities and works of popular art, the relics of war, and the trophies of travel and adventure. Except that Buddhism—outside of India—never had the unity of European Christianity, the Buddhist temple is the mirror and encyclopaedia both of history and of contemporary life. As fame and renown are necessary for the glory of the place or the structure, favorite gods, or rather their idols, are frequently carried about on "starring" tours. At the opening to public view of some famous image or relic, a great festival or revival called Kai-ch[=o] is held, which becomes a scene of trade and merry-making like that of the mediaeval fair or kermis in Europe. The far-oriental is able as skilfully as his western confrère, to mix business and religion and to suppose that gain is godliness. Further, the manufacture of legend becomes a thriving industry; while the not-infrequent sensation of a popular miracle is manipulated by the bonzes—for priestcraft in all ages and climes is akin throughout the world. It is no wonder that some honest Japanese, incensed at the shams utilized by the religious, has struck out like coin the proverb that rings true—"Good doctrine needs no miracle."
The Bell and the Cemetery.
The Buddhist missionaries, and especially the founders of temples, thoroughly understood the power of natural beauty to humble, inspire and soothe the soul of man. The instinctive love of the Japanese people for fine scenery, was made an ally of faith. The sites for temples were chosen with reference to their imposing surroundings or impressive vistas. Whether as spark-arresters and protectives against fire, or to compel reverent awe, the loftiest evergreen trees are planted around the sacred structure. These "trees of Jehovah" are compellers to reverence. The alien's hat comes off instinctively—though it may be less convenient to shed boots than sandals—as he enters the sacred structure.
The great tongueless bell is another striking accessory to the temple services. Near at hand stands the belfry out of which boom forth tidings of the hours. In the flow of time and years, the note of the bell becomes more significant, and in old age solemn, making in the lapse of centuries an educating power in seriousness. "As sad as a temple bell" is the coinage of popular speech. Many of the inscriptions, though with less of sunny hope and joy than even Christian grave-stones bear, are yet mournfully beautiful.33 They preach Buddhism in its reality. Whereas, the general associations of the Christian spire and belfry, apart from the note of time, are those of joy, invitation and good news, those of the tongueless and log-struck bells of Buddhism are sombre and saddening. "As merry as a marriage bell," could never be said of the boom from a Buddhist temple, even though it pour waves of sound through sunny leagues. There is a vast difference between the peal and play of the chimes of Europe and the liquid melody which floods the landscape of Chinese Asia. The one music, high in air, seems ever to tell of faith, triumph and aspiration; the other in minor notes, from bells hung low on yokes, perpetually echoes the pessimism of despair, the folly of living and the joy that anticipates its end.
Above all, the temple holds and governs the cemetery34 as well as the cradle; while from it emanate influences that enwrap and surround the villager, from birth to death. Since the outlawry of Christianity, and especially since the division of the empire into Buddhist parishes, the bonzes have had the oversight of birth, death, marriage and divorce. Particularly tenacious, in common with priestcraft all over the world, is their clutch upon what they call "consecrated ground." In a large sense Japan is still, what China has always been, a country governed by the graveyard. These cities of the dead are usually kept in attractive order and made beautiful with flowers in memoriam. The study of epitaphs and mortuary architecture, though not without elements bordering on the ludicrous, is enjoyed by the thoughtful student.35
In every community the inhabitants are enrolled at birth at the local temple, whose priests are the authorized religious teachers, and are always expected to take charge of the funerals of those whose names are thus enrolled. So long as an individual remains in the region of the family temple, the tie which binds him to it is exceedingly difficult to break; but if he moves away he is no longer bound by this tie. This explains the fact, so often observed by missionaries, that the membership of Christian churches is made up almost entirely of people who have come from other localities. In the city of Osaka, for instance, it is a very rare thing to find a native Osakan in any of the churches. The same is true in all parts of the country. So long as a Japanese remains in the neighborhood of his family temple it is almost impossible to get him to break the temple tie and join a Christian church; but when he moves to another place he is free to do as he likes.36
This statement of a resident in modern Japan will long remain true for a 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 fought.
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 canon41 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-masters45 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 bonzes47 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 Europe.
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.
"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."
"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.