So also the Buddhist doctrine of Nirvana, or the attainment of a sinless state of existence, has grown out of the idea of final union of the individual soul with the Universal Soul, which is also inculcated in the Upanishads. Yet, as we shall see, the Buddhists were, in the eyes of the Brahmans, atheists, because in the ken of these new levellers gods and men were put on the same plane. Brahmanism has never forgiven Buddhism for ignoring the gods, and the Hindoos finally drove out the followers of Gautama from India. It eventuated that after a millenium or so of Buddhism in India, the old gods, Brahma, Indra, etc., which at first had been shut out from the ken of the people, by Gautama, found their places again in the popular faith of the Buddhists, who believed that the gods as well as men, were all progressing toward the blessed Nirvana—that sinless life and holy calm, which is the Buddhist's heaven and salvation.
It is certainly very curious, and in a sense amusing, to find flourishing in far-off Japan the old gods of India, that one would suppose to have been utterly dead and left behind in oblivion. As acknowledged devas or kings and bodhisattvas or soon-to-be Buddhas, not a few once defunct Hindu gods, utterly unknown to early Buddhism, have forced their way into the company of the elect. Though most of them have not gained the popularity of the indigenous deities of Nippon, they yet attract many worshippers. They remind one that amid the coming of the sons of Elohim before Jehovah, "the satan" came also.
From another point of view Buddhism was a new religion; for it swept away and out of the field of its vision the whole of the World or Universal Soul theory. "It proclaimed a salvation which each man could gain for himself and by himself, in this world during this life, without the least reference to God, or to gods, either great or small." "It placed the first importance on knowledge; but it was no longer a knowledge of God, it was a clear perception of the real nature as they supposed it to be of men and things." In a word, Gautama never reached the idea of a personal self-existent God, though toward that truth he groped. He was satisfied too soon. His followers were even more easily satisfied with abstractions. When Gautama saw the power over the human heart of inward culture and of love to others, he obtained peace, he rested on certainty, he became the Buddha, that is, the enlightened. Perhaps he was not the first Buddhist. It may be that the historical Gautama, if so he is worthy to be called, merely made the sect or the new religion famous. Hardly a religion in the full sense of the word, Buddhism did not assume the role of theology, but sought only to know men and things. In one sense Buddhism is atheism, or rather, atheistic humanism. In one sense, also, the solution of the mystery of God, of life, and of the universe, which Gautama and his followers attained, was one of skepticism rather than of faith. Buddhism is, relatively, a very modern religion; it is one of the new faiths. Is it paradoxical to say that the Buddhists are "religious atheists?"
The Buddhist Millennium in India.
Let us now look at the life of the Founder. Day after day, the pure-souled teacher attracted new disciples while he with alms-bowl went around as mendicant and teacher. Salvation merely by self-control, and love without any rites, ceremonies, charms, priestly powers, gods or miracles, formed the burden of his teachings. "Thousands of people left their homes, embraced the holy order and became monks, ignoring caste, and relinquishing all worldly goods except the bare necessaries of life, which they possessed and enjoyed in common." Probably the first monastic system of the world, was that of the Indian Buddhists.
The Buddha preached the good news during forty-five years. After his death, five hundred of his followers assembled at Rajagriha and chanted together the teachings of Gautama, to fix them in memory. A hundred years later, in 377 B.C., came the great schism among the Buddhists, out of which grew the divisions known as Northern and Southern Buddhism. There was disagreement on ten points. A second council was therefore called, and the disputed points determined to the satisfaction of one side. Thereupon the seceders went away in large numbers, and the differences were never healed; on the contrary, they have widened in the course of ages.
The separatists began what may be called the Northern Buddhisms of Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. The orthodox or Southern Buddhists are those of Ceylon, Burma and Siam. The original canon of Southern Buddhism is in Pali; that of Northern Buddhism is in Sanskrit. The one is comparatively small and simple; the other amazingly varied and voluminous. The canon of Southern scripture is called the Hinayana, the Little or Smaller Vehicle; the canon of Northern Buddhism is named the Mahayana or Great Vehicle. Possibly, also, besides the Southern and Northern Buddhisms, the Buddhism of Japan may be treated by itself and named Eastern Buddhism.
In the great council called in 242 B.C., by King Asoka, who may be termed the Constantine of Buddhism, the sacred texts were again chanted. It was not until the year 88 B.C. in Ceylon, six hundred years after Gautama, that the three Pitakas, Boxes or Baskets, were committed to writing in the Pali language. In a word, Buddhism knows nothing of sacred documents or a canon of scripture contemporary with its first disciples.
The splendid Buddhist age of India lasted nearly a thousand years, and was one of superb triumphs in civilization. It was an age of spiritual emancipation, of freedom from idol worship, of nobler humanity and of peace. It was followed by the Puranic epoch and the dark ages. Then Buddhism was, as some say, "driven out" from the land of its birth, finding new expansion in Eastern and Northern Asia, and again, a still more surprising development in the ultima-Thule of the Asiatic continent, Japan. There is now no Buddhism in India proper, the faith being represented only in Ceylon and possibly also on the main land, by the sect of the Jains, and peradventure in Persia by Babism which contains elements from three religions. Like Christianity, Buddhism was "driven out" of its old home to bless other nations of the world. It is probably far nearer the truth to say that Buddhism was never expelled from India, but rather that it died by disintegration and relapse. It had become Brahmanism again. The old gods and the old idol-worship came back. It is in Japan that the ends of the earth, eastern and western civilization, and the freest and fullest or at least the latest developments of Christianity and of Buddhism, have met.
In its transfer to distant lands and its developments throughout Eastern Asia, the faith which had originated in India suffered many changes. Dividing into two great branches, it became a notably different religion according as it moved along the southern, the northern, or the eastern channel. By the vehicle of the Pali language it was carried to Ceylon, Siam, Burma, Cambodia and the islands of the south; that is, to southern or peninsular and insular Asia. Here there is little evidence of any striking departure from the doctrines of the Pali Pitakas; and, as Southern Buddhism does not greatly concern us in speaking of the religions of Japan, we may pass it by. For although the books and writings belonging to Southern Buddhism, and comprehended under the formula of the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle, have been studied in China, Korea and Japan, yet they have had comparatively little influence upon doctrinal, ritualistic, or missionary development in Chinese Asia.
Astonishingly different has been the case with the Northern Buddhisms which are those of Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, China, Korea and Japan. As luxuriant as the evolutions of political and dogmatic Christianity and as radical in their departures from the primitive simplicity of the faith, have been these forms of Buddhist doctrine, ritual and organization. We cannot now dwell upon the wonderful details of the vast and complicated system, differing so much in various countries. We pass by, or only glance at, the philosophy of the Punjaub; the metaphysics of Nepal—with its developments into what some writers consider to be a close approach to monotheism, and others, indeed, monotheism itself; the system of Lamaism in Tibet, which has paralleled so closely the development of the papal hierarchy; the possibly two thousand years' growth and decay of Chinese Buddhism; the varieties of the Buddhism of Mongolia—almost swamped in the Shamanistic superstitions of these dwellers on the plains; the astonishing success, quick ripening, decay, and almost utter annihilation, among the learned and governing classes, of Korean Buddhism; and study in detail only Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.
We shall in this lecture attempt but two things:
I. A summary of the process of thought by which the chief features of the Northern Buddhisms came into view.
II. An outline of the story of Japanese Buddhism during the first three centuries of its existence.
The Development of Northern Buddhism
Leaving the early Buddha legends and the solid ground of history, the makers of the newer Buddhist doctrines in Nepal occupied themselves with developing the theory of Buddhahood and of the Buddhas; for we must ever remember that Buddha is not a proper name, but a common adjective meaning enlightened, from the root to know, perceive, etc. They made constant and marvellous additions to the primitive doctrine, giving it a momentum which gathered force as the centuries went on; and, as propaganda, it moved against the sun.
This development theory ran along the line of personification. Not being satisfied with "the wheel of the law," it personified both the hub and the spokes. It began with the spirit of kindness out of which all human virtues rise, and by the power of which the Buddhist organization will conquer all sin and unbelief and become victorious throughout the world. This personification is called the Maitreya Buddha, the unconquerable one, or the future Buddha of benevolence, the Buddha who is yet to come. Here was a tremendous and revolutionary movement in the new faith, the beginning of a long process. It was as though the Christians had taken the particular attributes, justice, mercy, etc., of God and, after personifying each one, deified it, thus multiplying gods.
What was the soil for the new sowing, and what was the harvest to be reaped in due time?
With many thousands of India Buddhists whose minds were already steeped in Brahministic philosophy and mythology, who were more given to speculation and dreaming than to self-control and moral culture, and who mourned for the dead gods of Hinduism, the soil was already prepared for a growth wholly abnormal to true Buddhism, but altogether in keeping with the older Brahministic philosophies from which these dreamers had been but partially converted to Buddhism.
The seed is found in the doctrine which already forms part of the system of the Little Vehicle, when it tells of the personal Buddhas and the Buddhas elect, or future Buddhas. In the Jataka stories, or Birth tales, "the Buddha elect" is the title given to each of the beings, man, angel, or animal, who is held to be a Bodhisattva, or the future Buddha in one of his former births. The title Bodhisattva is the name given to a being whose Karma will produce other beings in a continually ascending scale of goodness until it becomes vested in a Buddha. Or, in the more common use of the word, a Bodhisattva (Japanese bosatsu) is a being whose essence has become intelligence, and who will have to pass through human existence once more only before entering Nirvana.
In Southern Buddhist temples, the pure white image of Maitreya is sometimes found beside the idol representing Gautama or the historical Buddha. While in Southern Buddhism the idea of this possibility of development seems to have been little seized upon and followed up, in Northern Buddhism as early as 400 A.D. the worship of two Buddhas elect named Manjusri and Avalokitesvara, or personified Wisdom and Power, had already become general. Manjusri, the Great Being or "Prince Royal," is the personification of wisdom, and especially of the mystic religious insight which has produced the Great Vehicle or canon of Northern Buddhism; or, as a Japanese author says, the third collection of the Tripitaka was that made by Manjusri and Maitreya. Avalokitesvara, the Lord of View or All-sided One, is the personification of power, the merciful protector and preserver of the world and of men. Both are frequently and voluminously mentioned in the Saddharma Pundarika, in which the good law is made plain by flowers of rhetoric, and of which we shall have occasion frequently to speak. Manjusri is the mythical author of this influential work, the twenty-fourth chapter being devoted to a glorification of the character, the power, and the advantages to be derived from the worship of Avalokitesvara.
The Creation of Gods.
Possibly the name of Manjusri may be derived from that of the Indian mendicant, the traditional introducer of Buddhism and its accompanying civilization into Nepal. The Tibetans identify him with the minister of a great King Strongstun, who lived in the seventh century of our era and who was the great patron of Buddhism into Tibet. He is the founder of that school of thought which ended in the Great Vehicle,—the literature of Northern Buddhism. From Nepal to Japan, in the books of the Northern Buddhists there is certainly much confusion between the metaphysical being and the legendary civilizer and teacher of Nepal. The other name, Avalokitesvara, which means the Lord of View, "the lord who looks down from on high," instead of being a purely metaphysical invention, may he only an adaptation of one epithet of Shiva, which meant Master of View.
Later and by degrees the attributes were separated and each one was personified. For example, the power of Avalokitesvara was separated from his protecting care and providence. His power was personified as the bearer of the thunder-bolt, or the lightning-handed one; and this new personification added to the two other Buddhas elect, made a triad, the first in Northern Buddhism. In this triad, the thunder-bolt holder was Vagrapani; Manjusri was the deified teacher; and Avalokitesvara was the Spirit of the Buddhas present in the church. Before many centuries had elapsed, these imaginary beings, with a few others, had become gods to whom men prayed; and thus Buddhism became a religion with some kind of theism,—which Gautama had expressly renounced.
If any one wants proof of this reversion into the old religions of India, he has only to notice that the name, given to the new god made by personification of the attribute of power, Vagrapani, or Vadjradhara, or the bearer of the thunder-bolt, had formerly been used as an epithet of the old fire-god of the Vedas, Indra.
It were tedious to recount all the steps in the further development of Northern Buddhism. Suffice it to say, that out of ideas and principles set forth in the earlier Buddhism, and under the generating force reborn from old Brahminism, the Dhyani Buddhas (that is the Buddhas evolved out of the mind in mystic trance) were given their elect Buddhas; and so three sets of five were co-ordinated. That is, first, five pre-penultimate Buddhas; then their Bodhisattvas or penultimate Buddhas; and then the ultimate or human Buddhas, of which Gautama was one. Or, first abstraction; then pre-human effluence; then emanation.
All this multiplication of beings is unknown to Southern Buddhism, unknown to the Saddharma Pundarika, and very probably unknown also to the Chinese pilgrims who visited India in the fifth and seventh centuries. Professor Rhys Davids, in his compact little manual of Buddhism, says:
"Among those hypothetical beings—the creations of a sickly scholasticism, hollow abstractions without life or reality—the fourth Amitabha, 'Immeasurable Light,' whose Bodhisatwa is Avalokitesvara, and whose emanation is Gautama, occupies of course the highest and most important rank. Surrounded by innumerable Bodhisatwas, he sits enthroned under a Bo-tree in Sukhavati, i.e., the Blissful, a paradise of heavenly joys, whose description occupies whole tedious books of the so-called Great Vehicle. By this theory, each of the five Buddhas has become three, and the fourth of these five sets of three is the second Buddhist Trinity, the belief in which must have arisen after the seventh century of our era."
Buddhism has been called the light of Asia, and Gautama its illuminator; but certainly the light has not been pure, nor the products of its illumination wholesome. Pardon an illustration. In Christian churches and cathedrals of Europe, there is still a great prejudice against the use of pipes, and of gas made from coal, because of the machinery and of the impure emanations. The prejudice is a wholesome one; for we all know that most of the elements forming common illuminating gas are worthless except to convey the very small amount of light-giving material, and that these elements in combustion vitiate the air and give off deleterious products which corrode, tarnish and destroy. Now though Buddhist doctrine may have been the light of India, yet to reach the Northern and Eastern nations of Asia it had, apparently, to be adulterated for conveyance, as much as is the illuminating gas in our cities. From the first, Northern Buddhism showed a wonderful affinity, not only for Brahministic superstitions and speculations, but for almost everything else with which it came in contact in countries beyond India. Instead of combating, it absorbed. It adapted itself to circumstances, and finding certain beliefs prevalent among the people, it imbibed them, and thus gained by accretion until its bulk, both of beliefs and of disciples, was in the inverse ratio of its purity. Even to-day, the occult theosophy of "Isis Unveiled," and of the school of writers such as Blavatsky, Olcott, etc., seems to be a perfectly logical product of the Northern Buddhisms, and may be called one of them; yet it is simply a repetition of what took place centuries ago. Most of the primitive beliefs and superstitions of Nepal and Tibet were absorbed in the ever hungry and devouring system of Buddhistic scholasticism.
The Making of a Pantheon.
Let us glance again at this Nepal Buddhism. In the tenth century we find what at first seems to be a growth out of Polytheism into Monotheism, for a new Being, to whom the attributes of infinity, self-existence and omniscience are ascribed, is invented and named Adi-Buddha, or the primordial Buddha. According to the speculations of the thinkers, he had evolved himself out of the five Dhyani-Buddhas by the exercise of the five meditations, while each of these had evolved out of itself by wisdom and contemplation, the corresponding Buddhas elect. Again, each of the latter evolved out of his own essence a material world,—our present world being the fourth of these, that is of Avaloki. One almost might consider that this setting forth of the primordial Buddha was real Monotheism; but on looking more carefully one sees that it is as little real Monotheism as was possible in the system of Gnosticism. Indeed the force of evolution could not stop here; for, since even this primordial Buddha rested upon Ossa of hypothesis piled upon Pelion of hypothesis, there must be other hypotheses yet to come, and so the Tantra system, a compound of old Brahminism with the magic and witchcraft and Shamanism of Northern Asia burst into view. As this was to travel into Japan and be hailed as purest Buddhism, let us note how this tenth century Tantra system grew up. To see this clearly, is to look upon the parable of the man with the unclean spirit being acted out on a vast scale in history.
In the sixth century of our era, one Asanga, or Asamga, wrote the Shastra, called the Shastra Yoga-chara Bhumi. With great dexterity he erected a sort of clearing-house for both the corrupt Brahminism and corrupt Buddhism of his day, and exchanging and rearranging the gods and devils in both systems, he represented them as worshippers and supporters of the Buddha and Avalokitesvara. In such a system, the old primitive Buddhism of the noble eight-fold path of self-conquest and pure morals was utterly lost. Instead of that, the worshipper gave his whole powers to obtaining occult potencies by means of magic phrases and magic circles. Then grew up whole forests of monasteries and temples, with an outburst of devilish art representing many-headed and many-eyed and many-handed idols on the walls, on books, on the roadside, with manifold charms and phrases the endless repetitions of which were supposed to have efficacy with the hypothetical being who filled the heavens. That was the age of idols for China as well as for India; and the old Chinese house, once empty, swept and garnished by Confucianism, was now filled with a mob of unclean spirits each worse than the first. With more courageous logic than the more matter-of-fact Chinese, the Tibetan erected his prayer-mills and let the winds of heaven and the flowing waters continually multiply his prayers and holy syllables. And these inventions were duly imported into Japan, and even now are far from being absent.
Passing over for the present the history of Buddhism in China, suffice it to say that the Buddhism which entered Japan from Korea in the sixth century, was not the simple atheism touched with morality, the bald skepticism or benevolent agnosticism of Gautama, but a religion already over a thousand years old. It was the system of the Northern Buddhists. These, dissatisfied, or unsatisfied, with absorption into a passionless state through self-sacrifice and moral discipline, had evolved a philosophy of religion in which were gods, idols and an apparatus of conversion utterly unknown to the primitive faith.
Buddhism Already Corrupted when brought to Japan.
This sixth century Buddhism in Japan was not the army with banners, which was introduced still later with the luxuriances of the fully developed system, its paradise wonderfully like Mohammed's and its over-populated pantheon. It was, however, ready with the necessary machinery, both material and mental, to make conquest of a people which had not only religious aspirations, but also latent aesthetic possibilities of a high order. As in its course through China this Northern Buddhism had acted as an all-powerful absorbent of local beliefs and superstitions, so in Japan it was destined to make a more remarkable record, and, not only to absorb local ideas but actually to cause the indigenous religion to disappear.
Let us inquire who were the people to whom Buddhism, when already possessed of a millenium of history, entered its Ultima Thule in Eastern Asia. At what stage of mutual growth did Buddhism and the Japanese meet each other?
Instead of the forty millions of thoroughly homogeneous people in Japan—according to the census of December 31, 1892—all being loyal subjects of one Emperor, we must think of possibly a million of hunters, fishermen and farmers in more or less warring clans or tribes. These were made up of the various migrations from the main land and the drift of humanity brought by the ocean currents from the south; Ainos, Koreans, Tartars and Chinese, with probably some Malay and Nigrito stock. In the central part of Hondo, the main island, the Yamato tribe dominated, its chief being styled Sumeru-mikoto, or Mikado. To the south and southwest, the Mikado's power was only more or less felt, for the Yamato men had a long struggle in securing supremacy. Northward and eastward lay great stretches of land, inhabited by unsubdued and uncivilized native tribes of continental and most probably of Korean origin, and thus more or less closely akin to the Yamato men. Still northward roamed the Ainos, a race whose ancestral seats may have been in far-off Dravidian India. Despite the constant conflicts between the Yamato people who had agriculture and the beginnings of government, law and literature, and their less civilized neighbors, the tendency to amalgamation was already strong. The problem of the statesman, was to extend the sway of the Mikado over the whole Archipelago.
Shintō was, in its formation, made use of as an engine to conquer, unify and civilize all the tribes. In one sense, this conquest of men having lower forms of faith, by believers in the Kami no Michi, or Way of the Gods, was analogous to the Aryan conquest of India and the Dravidians. However this may be, the energy and valor displayed in these early ages formed the ideal of Yamato Damashii (The Spirit of unconquerable Japan), which has so powerfully influenced the modern Japanese. We shall see, also, how grandly Buddhism also came to be a powerful force in the unification of the Japanese people. At first, the new faith would be rejected as an alien invader, stigmatized as a foreign religion, and, as such, sure to invoke the wrath of the native gods. Then later, its superiority to the indigenous cult would be seen both by the wise and the practically minded, and it would be welcomed and enjoyed.
The Inviting Field.
Never had a new religion a more inviting field or one more sure of success, than had Buddhism on stepping from the Land of Morning Dawn to the Land of the Rising Sun. Coming as a gorgeous, dazzling and disciplined array of all that could touch the imagination, stimulate the intellect and move the heart of the Japanese, it was irresistible. For the making of a nation, Shintō was as a donkey engine, compared to the system of furnaces, boilers, shaft and propeller of a ten-thousand-ton steel cruiser, moved by the energies of a million years of sunbeam force condensed into coal and released again through transmigration by fire.
All accounts in the vernacular Japanese agree, that their Butsu-dō or Buddhism was imported from Korea. In the sixteenth year of Keitai, the twenty-seventh Mikado (of the list made centuries after, and the eleventh after the impossible line of the long-lived or mythical Mikados), A.D. 534, it is said that a man from China brought with him an image of Buddha into Yamato, and setting it up in a thatched cottage worshipped it. The people called it "foreign-country god." Visitors discussed with him the religion of Shaka, as the Japanese call Shakyamuni, and some little knowledge of Buddhism was gained, but no notable progress was made until A.D. 552, which is generally accepted and celebrated as the year of the introduction of the faith into Japan. Then a king of Hiaksai in Korea, sent over to the court and to the Mikado golden images of the Buddha and of the triad of "precious ones," with Sutras and sacred books. These holy relics are believed to be still preserved in the famous temple of Zenkōji, belonging to the temple of the Tendai Sect at Nagano in Northern Japan, this shrine being dedicated to Amida and his two followers Kwannon (Avalokitesvara) and Dai-sei-shi (Mahastanaprapta). This group of idols, as the custodian of the shrine will tell you, was made by Shaka himself out of gold, found at the base of the tree which grows at the centre of the universe. After remaining in Korea for eleven hundred and twelve years, it was brought to Japan. Mighty is the stream of pilgrims which continually sets toward the holy place. A common proverb declares that even a cow can find her way thither.
In A.D. 572 and again in 584, new images, sutras and teachers came over from another part of Korea. The Mikado called a council to determine what should be done with the idols, to the worship of which he was himself inclined; but a majority were against the idea of insulting the native gods by receiving the presents and thus introducing a foreign religion. The minister of state, however, one Soga no Iname, expressed himself in favor of Buddhism, and put the images in his country house which he converted into a temple. When, soon after, the land was afflicted with a pestilence, the opponents of the new faith attributed it to the wrath of the gods at the hospitality given to the new idols. War broke out, fighting took place, and the Buddhist temple was burned and the idols thrown into the river, near Osaka. Great portents followed, and the enemies of Buddhism were, it is said, burned up by flames descending from heaven.
The tide then turned in favor of the Indian faith, and Soga rebuilt his temple. Priests and missionaries were invited to come over from Korea, being gladly furnished by the allies of Japan from the state of Shinra, and Buddhism again flourished at the court, but not yet among the people. Once more, fighting broke out; and again the temple of the alien gods was destroyed, only to be rebuilt again. The chief champion of Buddhism was the son of a Mikado, best known by his posthumous title, Shōtoku, who all his life was a vigorous defender and propagator of the new faith. Through his influence, or very probably through the efforts of the Korean missionaries, the devastating war between the Japanese and Koreans was ended. In the peace which followed, notable progress was made through the vigor of the missionaries encouraged by the regent Shōtoku, so that at his death in the year A.D. 621, there were forty-six temples, and thirteen hundred and eighty-five priests, monks and nuns in Japan. Many of the most famous temples, which are now full of wealth and renown, trace their foundations to this era of Shōtoku and of his aunt, the Empress Suiko (A.D. 593-628), who were friendly to the new religion. Shōtoku may be almost called the founder of Japanese Buddhism. Although a layman, he is canonized and stands unique in the Pantheon of Eastern Buddhism, his image being prominently visible in thousands of Japanese temples.
Legend, in no country more luxurious than in Japan, tells us that the exotic religion made no progress until Amida, the boundlessly Merciful One, assuming the shape of a concubine of the imperial prince who afterward became the Mikado Yome, gave birth to Shōtoku, who was himself Kwannon or the goddess of mercy in human form; and that when he grew up, he took to wife an incarnation of the Buddha elect, Mahastana-prapta, or in Japanese Dai-sei-shi, whose idol is honored at Zenkōji.
The New Faith Becomes Popular.
Then Buddhism became popular, passing out from the narrow circle of the court to be welcomed by the people. In A.D. 623, monks came over directly from China, and we find mentioned two sects, the Sanron and the Jōjitsu, which are no longer extant in Japan. In about A.D. 650 the fame of Yuan Chang (Hiouen Thsang) the Chinese pilgrim to India, or the holy land, reached-Japan; and his illustrious example was enthusiastically followed. History now frequently repeated itself. The Japanese monk, Dōshō, crossed the seas to China to gaze upon the face and become the pupil of that illustrious Chinese pilgrim, who had seen Buddha Land. Later on, other monks crossed to the land of Sinim, until we find that in this and succeeding centuries, hundreds of Japanese in their frail junks, braved the dangers of the stormy ocean, in order to study Sanskrit, to read the old scriptures, to meet the new lights of learning or revelation, and to become versed in the latest fashions of religion. We find the pilgrims returning and founding new sects or sub-sects, and stimulating by their enthusiasm the monks and the home missionaries. In the year A.D. 700 the custom of cremation was introduced. This wrought not only a profound change in customs, but also became the seed of a rich crop of superstitions; since out of the cremated bodies of the saints came forth the shari or, in Sanskrit, sarira. These hard substances or pellets, preserved in crystal cabinets, are treated as holy gems or relics. Thus venerated, they become the nuclei of cycles of fairy lore.
In A.D. 710, the great monastery at Nara was founded; and here we must notice or at least glance at the great throng of civilizing influences that came in with Buddhism, and at the great army of artists, artisans and skilled men and women of every sort of trade and craft. We note that with the building of this great Nara monastery came another proof of improvement and the added element of stability in Japanese civilization. The ancient dread which the Japanese had, of living in any place where a person had died was passing away. The nomad life was being given up. The successor of a dead Mikado was no longer compelled to build himself a new capital. The traveller in Japan, familiar with the ancient poetry of the Manyō-shu, finds no fewer than fifty-eight sites as the early homes of the Japanese monarchy. Once occupying the proud position of imperial capitals, they are now for the most part mere hamlets, oftentimes mere names, with no visible indication of former human habitation; while the old rivers or streams once gay with barges filled with silken-robed lords and ladies, have dried up to mere washerwomen's runnels. For the first time after the building of this Buddhist monastery, the capital remained permanent, Nara being the imperial residence during seventy-five years. Then beautiful Kiōto was chosen, and remained the residence of successive generations of emperors until 1868. In A.D. 735, we read of the Kegon sect. Two years later a large monastery, with a seven-storied pagoda alongside of it, was ordered to be built in every province. These, with the temples and their surroundings, and with the wayside shrines beginning to spring up like exotic flowers, made a striking alteration in the landscape of Japan. The Buddhist scriptures were numerously copied and circulated among the learned class, yet neither now nor ever, except here and there in fragments, were they found among the people. For, although the Buddhist canon has been repeatedly imported, copied by the pen and in modern times printed, yet no Japanese translation has ever been made. The methods of Buddhism in regard to the circulation of the scriptures are those, not of Protestantism but of Roman Catholicism.
In the same year, the Mikado called for contributions from all the people for the building of a colossal image of the Buddha, which was to be of bronze and gilded. Yet, fearing that the Shintō gods might be offended, a skilful priest named Giyoku,—probably the same man who introduced the potter's wheel into Japan,—was sent to the shrine of the Sun-goddess in Ise to present her with a shari or relic of the Buddha, and find out how she would regard his project. After seven days and nights of waiting, the chapel doors flew open and the loud-voiced oracle was interpreted in a favorable sense. The night following the return of the priest, the Mikado dreamed that the sun-goddess appeared to him in her own form and said "The sun is Birushana" (Vairokana). This meant that the chief deity of the Japanese proclaimed herself an avatar or incarnation of one of the old Hindu gods. She also approved the project of the image; and in this same year, 759, native gold was found in Japan, which sufficed for the gilding of the great idol that, after eleven hundred years and many vicissitudes, still stands, the glory of a multitude of pilgrims.
In A.D. 754 a famous priest, who introduced the new Ritsu Sect, was able to convert the Mikado and obtain four hundred converts in the imperial court. Thirteen years later, another tremendous triumph of Buddhism was scored and a deadly blow at Shintō was struck. The Buddhist priests persuaded the Mikados to abandon their ancient title of Sumeru and adopt that of Tennŏ; (Heavenly King or Tenshi) Son of Heaven, after the Chinese fashion. At the same time it was taught that the emperor could gain great merit and sooner become a Buddha, by retiring from the active cares of the throne and becoming a monk, with the title of Hō-ō, or Cloistered Emperor. This innovation had far-reaching consequences, profoundly altering the status of the Mikado, giving sensualism on the one hand and priestcraft on the other, their coveted opportunity, changing the ruler of the nation from an active statesman into a recluse and the recluse into a pious monk, or a licentious devotee, as the case might be. It paved the way for the usurpation of the government by the unscrupulous soldier, "the man on horseback," who was destined to rule Japan for seven hundred years, while the throne and its occupant were in the shadow. One of a thousand proofs of the progress of the propaganda scheme is seen in the removal of the Shintō temple which had stood at Nikkō, and the erection in its place of a Buddhist temple. In A.D. 805 the famous Tendai, and in 806 the powerful Shingon Sect were introduced. All was now ready in Japan for the growth not only of one new Buddhism, but of several varieties among the Northern Buddhisms which so arouse the astonishment of those who study the simple Pali scriptures that contain the story of Gautama, and who know only the southern phase of the faith, that is to Asia, relatively, what Christianity is to Europe. We say relatively, for while Buddhism made Chinese Asia gentle in manners and kind to animals, it covered the land with temples, monasteries and images; on the other hand the religion of Jesus filled Europe not only with churches, abbeys, monasteries and nunneries, but also with hospitals, orphan asylums, lighthouses, schools and colleges. Between the fruits of Christendom and Buddhadom, let the world judge.
Survey and Summary.
To sum up: Buddhism is the humanitarian's, and also the skeptic's, solution of the problem of the universe. Its three great distinguishing characteristics are atheism, metempsychosis and absence of caste. It was in its origin pure democracy. As against despotic priesthood and oppressive hierarchy, it was congregational. Theoretically it is so yet, though far from being so practically. It is certainly sacerdotal and aristocratic in organization. As in any other system which has so vast a hierarchy with so many grades of honor and authority, its theory of democracy is now a memory. First preached in a land accursed by caste and under spiritual and secular oppressions, it acknowledged no caste, but declared all men equally sinful and miserable, and all equally capable of being freed from sin and misery through Buddhahood, that is, knowledge or enlightenment.
The three-fold principle laid down by Gautama, and now in dogma, literature, art and worship, a triad or formal trinity, is, Buddha, the attainment of Buddha-hood, or perfect enlightenment, through meditation and benevolence; Karma, the law of cause and effect; and Dharma, discipline or order; or, the Lord, the Law and the Church. Paying no attention to questions of cosmogony or theogony, the universe is accepted as an ultimate fact. Matter is eternal. Creation exists but not a Creator. All is god, but God is left out of consideration. The gods are even less than Buddhas. Humanity is glorified and the stress of all teaching is upon this life. In a word: a sinless life, attainable by man, through his own exertions in this world, above all the powers or beings of the universe, is the essence of original Buddhism. Original Nirvana meant death which ends all, extinction of existence.
Gautama's immediate purpose was to emancipate himself and his followers from the fetters of Brahminism. He tried to leave the world of Hindu philosophy behind him and to escape from it.
Did he succeed? Partially.
Buddha hoped also to rise above the superstitions of the common people, but in this he was again only partially successful. "The clouds returned after the rain." The old dead gods of Brahminism came back under new names and forms. The malarial exhalations of corrupt Brahmanistic philosophy, continually poisoned the atmosphere which Buddha's disciples breathed. Still worse, as his religion transmigrated into other lands, it became itself a history of transformation, until to-day no religion on earth seems to be such a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria. Polytheism is rampant over the greater part of the Buddhist world to-day. In the larger portion of Chinese Asia, pantheism dominates the mind. In modern Babism,—a mixture of Mohammedanism, Christianity and Buddhism,—there are streaks of dualism. If Monotheism has ever dawned on the Buddhist world, it has been in fitful pulses as in auroral flashes, soon to leave darkness darker.
For us is this lesson: Buddhism, brought face to face with the problem of the world's evil and possible improvement, evades it; begs the whole question at the outset; prays: "Deliver us from existence. Save us from life and give us as little as possible of it." Christianity faces the problem and flinches not; orders advance all along the line of endeavor and prays: "Deliver us from evil;" and is ever of good cheer, because Captain and leader says: "I have overcome the world." Go, win it for me. "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
CHAPTER VII - RIYŌBU, OR MIXED BUDDHISM
"All things are nothing but mind."
"The doctrines of Buddhism have no fixed forms."
"There is nothing in things themselves that enables us to distinguish in them either good or evil, right or wrong. It is but man's fancy that weighs their merits and causes him to choose one and reject the other."
"Non-individuality is the general principle of Buddhism."—Outlines of the Mahāyāna.
"It (Shintō) was smothered before reaching maturity, but Buddhism and Confucianism had to disguise and change in order to enter Japan."
"Life has a limited span and naught may avail to extend it. This is manifested by the impermanence of human beings. But yet whenever necessary I will hereafter make my appearance from time to time as a god, a sage, or a Buddha."—Last words of Shaka the Buddha, in Japanese biography.
"It is our opinion that Buddhism cannot long hold its ground, and that Christianity must finally prevail throughout all Japan.... Now, when Buddhism and Christianity are in conflict for the ascendency, this indifference of the Japanese people to the difference of sects is a great disadvantage to Buddhism. That they should worship Jesus Christ with the same mind as they do Inari or Miōjin is not at all inconsistent in their estimation or contrary to their custom."—Fukuzawa, of Tōkiō.
"How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him."—Elijah.
"Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?"—Jesus.
"Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?"—James.
"What concord hath Christ with Belial?"—Paul.
CHAPTER VII - RIYŌBU, OR MIXED BUDDHISM
Syncretism in Religion.
Two centuries and a half of Buddhism in Japan, showed the leaders and teachers of the Indian faith that complete victory over the whole nation was yet very far off. The court had indeed been invaded and won. Even the Mikado, the ecclesiastical head of Shintō, and the incarnation and vicar of the heavenly gods, had not only embraced Buddhism, but in many instances had shorn the hair and taken the vows of the monk. Yet the people clung tenaciously to their old traditions, customs and worship; for their gods were like themselves and indeed were of themselves, since Shintō is only a transfiguration of Japanese life. In the Japanese of those days we can trace the same traits which we behold in the modern son of Nippon, especially his intense patriotism and his warlike tendencies. To convert these people to the peaceful dogmas of Siddartha and to make them good Buddhists, something more than teaching and ritual was necessary. It was indispensable that there should be complete substitution, all along the ruts and paths of national habit, and especially that the names of the gods and the festivals should be Buddhaized.
Popular customs are nearly immortal and ineradicable. Though wars may come, dynasties rise and fall, and convulsions in nature take place, yet the people's manners and amusements are very slow in changing. If, in the history of Christianity, the European missionaries found it necessary in order to make conquest of our pagan forefathers, to baptize and re-name without radically changing old notions and habits, so did it seem equally indispensable that in Japan there should be some system of reconciliation of the old and the new, some theological revolution, which should either fulfil, absorb, or destroy Shintō.
In the histories of religions in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Europe, we are familiar with efforts at syncretism. We have seen how Philo attempted to unite Hebrew righteousness and Greek beauty, and to harmonize Moses and Plato. We know of Euhemerus, who thought he read in the old mythologies not only the outlines of real history, but the hieroglyphics of legend and tradition, truth and revelation. Students of Church history are well aware that this principle of interpretation was followed only too generously by Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Chrysostom and others of the Church Fathers. Indeed, it would be hard to find in any of the great religions of the world an utter absence of syncretism, or the union of apparently hostile religious ideas. In the Thousand and One Nights, we have an example in popular literature. We see that the ancient men of India, Persia and pre-Mohammedan Arabia now act and talk as orthodox Mussulmans. In matters pertaining to art and furniture, the statue of Jupiter in Rome serves for St. Peter, and in Japan that of the Virgin and child for the Buddha and his mother.
What, however, chiefly concerns the critic and student of religions is to inquire how far the process has been natural, and the efforts of those who have brought about the union have been honest, and their motives pure. The Bible pages bear witness, that Israelites too often tried to make the same fountain give forth sweet waters and bitter, and to grow thistles and grapes on the same stem, by uniting the cults of Jehovah and the Baalim. King Solomon's enterprises in the same direction are more creditable to him as a politician than as a worshipper. In the history of Christianity one cannot commend the efforts either of the Gnostics or the neo-Platonists, nor always justify the medieval missionaries in their methods. Nor can we accurately describe as successful the ingenuity of Vossius, the Dutch theologian, who, following the scheme of Euhemerus, discovered the Old Testament patriarchs in the disguise of the gods of Paganism. Nor, even though Germany be the land of learning, can the clear-headed scholar agree with some of her rationalists, who are often busy in the same field of industry, setting forth wild criticism as "science."
The Kami and the Buddhas.
In Japan, to solve the problem of reconciliation between the ancient traditions of the divine ancestors and the dogmas of the Indian cult, it was necessary that some master spirit, profoundly learned in the two Ways, of the Kami and of the Buddhas, should be bold, and also as it seems, crafty and unscrupulous. To convert a line of theocratic emperors, whose authority was derived from their alleged divine origin and sacerdotal character, into patrons and propagandists of Buddhism, and to transform indigenous Shintō gods into Buddhas elect, or Buddhas to come, or Buddhas in a former state of existence, were tasks that might appall the most prodigious intellect, and even strain the capacities of what one might imagine to be the universal religion for all mankind.
Yet from such a task continental Buddhism had not shrunk before and did not shrink then, nor indeed from it do the insular Japanese sects shrink now. Indeed, Buddhism is quite ready to adopt, absorb and swallow up Japanese Christianity. With all encompassing tentacles, and with colossal powers of digestion and assimilation, Northern Buddhism had drawn into itself a large part of the Brahmanism out of which it originally sprang, reversing the old myth of Chronos by swallowing its parents. It had gathered in, pretty much all that was in the heavens above and the earth beneath and the waters that were under the earth, in Nepal, Tibet, China, and Korea. Thoroughly exercised and disciplined, it was ready to devour and digest all that the imagination of Japan had conceived.
We must remember that, at the opening of the ninth century, the Buddhism rampant in China and indeed throughout Chinese Asia was the Tantra system of Yoga-chara. This compound of polytheism and pantheism, with its sensuous paradise, its goddess of mercy and its pantheon of every sort of worshipable beings, was also equipped with a system of philosophy by which Buddhism could be adapted to almost every yearning of human nature in its lowest or its highest form, and by which things apparently contradictory could be reconciled. Furthermore—and this is not the least important thing to consider when the work to be done is for the ordinary man as an individual and for the common people in the mass—it had also a tremendous apparatus for touching the imagination and captivating the fancy of the unthinking and the uneducated.
For example, consider the equipment of the Buddhist priests of the ninth century in the matter of art alone. Shintō knows next to nothing of art, and indeed one might almost say that it knows little of civilization. It is like ultra-Puritanic Protestantism and Iconoclasm. Buddhism, on the contrary, is the mother of art, and art is her ever-busy child and handmaid. The temples of the Kami were bald and bare. The Kojiki told nothing of life hereafter, and kept silence on a hundred points at which human curiosity is sure to be active, and at which the Yoga system was voluble. Buddhism came with a set of visible symbols which should attract the eye and fire the imagination, and within ethical limits, the passions also. It was a mixed and variegated system,—a resultant of many forces. It came with the thought of India, the art-influence of Greece, the philosophy of Persia, the speculations of the Gnostics and, in all probability, with ideas borrowed indirectly from Nestorian or other forms of Christianity; and thus furnished, it entered Japan.
The Mission of Art.
Thus far the insular kingdom had known only the monochrome sketches of the Chinese painters, which could have a meaning for the educated few alone. The composite Tantra dogmas fed the fancy and stimulated the imagination, filling them with pictures of life, past, present and future. "The sketch was replaced by the illumination." Whole schools of artists, imported from China and Korea, multiplied their works and attracted the untrained senses of the people, by filling the temples with a blaze of glory. "This result was sought by a gorgeous but studied play of gold and color, and a lavish richness of mounting and accessories, that appear strangely at variance with the begging bowl and patched garments of primitive Buddhism." The change in the Japanese temple was as though the gray clouds had been kissed by the sun and made to laugh rainbows. The country of the Fertile Plain of Sweet Flags was transformed. It suddenly became the land wherein gods grew not singly but in whole forests. Like the Shulamite, when introduced among the jewelled ladies of Solomon's harem, so stood the boor amid the sheen and gold of the new temples.
"Gold was the one thing essential to the Buddhist altar-piece, and sometimes, when applied on a black ground, was the only material used. In all cases it was employed with an unsparing hand. It appeared in uniform masses, as in the body of the Buddha or in the golden lakes of the Western Paradise; in minute diapers upon brocades and clothing, in circlets and undulating rays, to form the glory surrounding the head of Amitaba; in raised bosses and rings upon the armlets or necklets of the Bodhisattvas and Devas, and in a hundred other manners. The pigments chosen to harmonize with this display were necessarily body colors of the most pronounced lines, and were untoned by any trace of chiaroscuro. Such materials as these would surely try the average artist, but the Oriental painter knew how to dispose them without risk of crudity or gaudiness, and the precious metal, however lavishly applied, was distributed over the picture with a judgment that would make it difficult to alter or remove any part without detriment to the beauty of the work."
In our day, Japanese art has won its own place in the world's temple of beauty. Even those familiar with the master-pieces of Europe do not hesitate to award to the artists of Nippon a meed of praise which, within certain limits, is justly applied to them equally with the masters of the Italian, the Dutch, the Flemish, or the French schools. It serves our purpose simply to point out that art was a powerful factor in the religious conquest of the Japanese for the new doctrines of the Yoga system, which in Japan is called Riyōbu, or Mixed Buddhism.
We say Mixed Buddhism rather than Riyōbu Shintō, for Shintō was less corrupted than swallowed up, while Buddhism suffered one more degree of mixture and added one more chapter of decay. It increased in its visible body, while in its mind it became less and less the religion of Buddha and more and more a thing with the old Shintō heart still in it, making a strange growth in the eyes of the continental believers. To the Northern and Southern was now added an Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.
Who was the wonder-worker that annexed the Land of the Gods to Buddhadom and re-read the Kojiki as a sutra, and all Japanese history and traditions as only a chapter of the incarnations of Buddha?
Kōbō the Wonder Worker.
The Philo and Euhemerus of Japan was the priest Kukai, who was born in the province of Sanuki, in the year 774. He is better known by his posthumous title Kōbō Daishi, or the Great Teacher who promulgates the Law. By this name we shall call him. About his birth, life and death, have multiplied the usual swaddling bands of Japanese legend and tradition, and to his tomb at the temple on Mount Kō-ya, the Campo Santo of Japanese Buddhism, still gather innumerable pilgrims. The "hall of ten thousand lamps," each flame emblematic of the Wisdom that saves, is not, indeed, in these days lighted annually as of old; but the vulgar yet believe that the great master still lives in his mausoleum, in a state of profoundly silent meditation. Into the hall of bones near by, covering a deep pit, the teeth and "Adam's apple" of the cremated bodies of believers are thrown by their relatives, though the pit is cleared out every three years. The devotees believe that by thus disposing of the teeth and "Adam's apple," they obtain the same spiritual privileges as if they were actually entombed there, that is, of being born again into the heaven of the Bodhisattva or the Pure Land of Absolute Bliss, by virtue of the mystic formulas repeated by the great master in his lifetime.
Let us sketch the life of Kōbō,
First named Toto-mono, or Treasure, by his parents, who sent him to Kiōtō to be educated for the priesthood, the youth spent four years in the study of the Chinese classics. Dissatisfied with the teachings of Confucius, he became a disciple of a famous Buddhist priest, named Iwabuchi (Rock-edge or throne). Soon taking upon himself the vows of the monk, he was first named Kukai, meaning "space and sea," or heaven and earth. He overcame the dragons that assaulted him, by prayers, by spitting at them the rays of the evening star which had flown from heaven into his mouth and by repeating the mystic formulas called Dharani. Annoyed by hobgoblins with whom he was obliged to converse, he got rid of them by surrounding himself with a consecrated imaginary enclosure into which they were unable to enter against his will.
We mention these legends only to call the attention to the fact that they are but copies of those already accepted in China at that time, and are the logical and natural fruit of the Tantra school at which we have glanced. In 804, Kōbō was appointed to visit the Middle Kingdom as a government student. By means of his clever pen and calligraphic skill he won his way into the Chinese capital. He became the favored disciple of a priest who taught him the mystic doctrines of the Yoga. Having acquired the whole of the system, and equipped himself with a large library of Buddhist doctrinal works and still more with every sort of ecclesiastical furniture and religious goods, he returned to Japan.
Multitudes of wonders are reported about Kōbō, all of which show the growth of the Tantra school. It is certain that his erudition was immense, and that he was probably the most learned man of Japan in that age, and possibly of any other age. Besides being a Japanese Ezra in multiplying writings, he is credited with the invention of the hira-gana, or running script, and if correctly so, he deserves on this account alone an immortal honor equal to that of Cadmus or Sequoia. The kana is a syllabary of forty-seven letters, which by diacritical marks, may be increased to seventy. The kata-kana is the square or print form, the hira-kana is the round or "grass" character for writing. Though not as valuable as a true phonetic alphabet, such as the Koreans and the Cherokees possess, the i-ro-ha, or kana script, even though a syllabary and not an alphabet, was a wonderful aid to popular writing and instruction.
Evidently the idea of the i-ro-ha, or Japanese ABC, was derived from the Sanskrit alphabet, or, what some modern Anglo-Indian has called the Deva-Nagari or the god-alphabet. There is no evidence, however, to show that Kōbō did more than arrange in order forty-seven of the easiest Chinese signs then used, in such a manner that they conveyed in a few lines of doggerel the sense of a passage from a sutra in which the mortality of man and the emptiness of all things are taught, and the doctrine of Nirvana is suggested. Hokusai, the artist, in a sketch which embodies the popular idea of this bonze's immense industry, represents him copying the shastras and sutras. Kōbō is on a seat before a large upright sheet of paper. He holds a brush-pen in his mouth, and one in each of his hands and feet, all moving at once. Favorite portions of the Buddhist scriptures were indeed so rapidly multiplied in Japan in the ninth century, as to suggest the idea, that, even in this early age, block printing had been imported from China, whence also afterward, in all probability, it was exported into Europe before the days of Gutenberg and Coster. The popular imagination, however, was more easily moved on seeing five brushes kept at work and all at once by the muscles in the fingers, toes and mouth of one man. Yet, had his life lasted six hundred years instead of sixty, he could hardly have graven all the images, scaled all the mountain peaks, confounded all the sceptics, wrought all the miracles and performed all the other feats with which he is popularly credited.
Kōbō indeed was both the Philo and Euhemerus of Japan, plus a large amount of priestly cunning and what his enemies insist was dishonesty and forgery. Soon after his return from China, he went to the temples of Ise, the most holy place of Shintō. Taking a reverent attitude before the chief shrine, that of Toko Uke Bime no Kami or Abundant-Food-Lady-God, or the deified Earth as the producer of food and the upholder of all things upon its surface, the suppliant waited patiently while fasting and praying.
In this, Kōbō did but follow out the ordinary Shintō plan for securing god-possession and obtaining revelation; that is, by starving both the stomach and the brain. After a week's waiting he obtained the vision. The Food-possessing Goddess revealed to him the yoke (or Yoga) by which he could harness the native and the imported gods to the chariot of victorious Buddhism. She manifested herself to him and delivered the revelation on which his system is founded, and which, briefly stated, is as follows:
All the Shintō deities are avatars or incarnations of Buddha. They were manifestations to the Japanese, before Gautama had become the enlightened one, or the jewel in the lotus, and before the holy wheel of the law or the sacred shastras and sutras had reached the island empire. Further more, provision was made for the future gods and deified holy ones, who were to proceed from the loins of the Mikado, or other Japanese fathers, according to the saying of Buddha which is thus recorded in a Japanese popular work:
"Life has a limited span, and naught may avail to extend it. This is manifested by the impermanence of human beings, but yet, whenever necessary, I will hereafter make my appearance from time to time as a god (Kami), a sage (Confucian teacher), or a Buddha (Hotoke)."
In a word, the Shintō goddess talked as orthodox (Yoga) Buddhism as the ancient characters of the Indian, Persian and pre-Islam-Arabic stories in the Arabian Nights now talk the purest Mohammedanism. According to the words put into Gautama's mouth at the time of his death, the Buddha was already to reappear in the particular form and in all the forms, acceptable to Shintōists, Confucianists, or Buddhists of whatever sect.
Descending from the shrine of vision and revelation, with a complete scheme of reconciliation, with correlated catalogues of Shintō and Buddhist gods, with liturgies, with lists of old popular festivals newly named, with the apparatus of art to captivate the senses, Kōbō forthwith baptized each native Shintō deity with a new Chinese-Buddhistic name. For every Shintō festival he arranged a corresponding Buddhist's saints' day or gala time. Then, training up a band of disciples, he sent them forth proclaiming the new irenicon.
The Hindu Yoga Becomes Japanese Riyōbu.
It was just the time for this brilliant and able ecclesiastic to succeed. The power and personal influence of the Mikado were weakening, the court swarmed with monks, the rising military classes were already safely under the control of the shavelings, and the pen of learning had everywhere proved itself mightier than the sword and muscle. Kōbō's particular dialectic weapons were those of the Yoga-chara, or in Japanese, the Shingon Shu, or Sect of the True Word. He, like his Chinese master, taught that we can attain the state of the Enlightened or Buddha, while in the present physical body which was born of our parents.
This branch of Buddhism is said to have been founded in India about A.D. 200, by a saint who made the discovery of an iron pagoda inhabited by the holy one, Vagrasattva, who communicated the exact doctrine to those who have handed it down through the Hindoo and Chinese patriarchs. The books or scriptures of this sect are in three sutras; yet the essential point in them is the Mandala or the circle of the Two Parts, or in Japanese Riyōbu. Introduced into China, A.D. 720, it is known as the Yoga-chara school.
Kōbō finding a Chinese worm, made a Japanese dragon, able to swallow a national religion. In the act of deglutition and the long process of the digestion of Shintō, Japanese Buddhism became something different from every other form of the faith in Asia. Noted above all previous developments of Buddhism for its pantheistic tendencies, the Shingon sect could recognize in any Shintō god, demi-god, hero, or being, the avatar in a previous stage of existence of some Buddhist being of corresponding grade.
For example, Amaterasŭ or Ten-Shō-Dai-Jin, the sun-goddess, becomes Dai Nichi Niōrai or Amida, whose colossal effigies stand in the bronze images Dai Butsu at Nara, Kiōto and Kamakura. Ojin, the god of war, became Hachiman Dai Bosatsu, or the great Bodhisattva of the Eight Banners. Adopted as their patron by the fighting Genji or Minamoto warriors of mediaeval times, the Buddhists could not well afford to have this popular deity outside their pantheon.
For each of the thirty days of the month, a Bodhisattva, or in Japanese pronunciation Bosatsu, was appointed. Each of these Bodhisattvas became a Dai Miō Jin or Great Enlightened Spirit, and was represented as an avatar in Japan of Buddha in the previous ages, when the Japanese were not yet prepared to receive the holy law of Buddhism.
Where there were not enough Dai Miō Jin already existing in native traditions to fill out the number required by the new scheme, new titles were invented. One of these was Ten-jin, Heavenly being or spirit. The famous statesman and scholar of the tenth century, Sugawara Michizane, was posthumously named Tenjin, and is even to this day worshipped by many children of Japan as he was formerly for a thousand years by nearly all of them, as the divine patron of letters. Kompira, Benten and other popular deities, often considered as properly belonging to Shintō, "are evidently the offspring of Buddhist priestly ingenuity." Out of the eight millions or so of native gods, several hundred were catalogued under the general term Gon-gen, or temporary manifestations of Buddha. In this list are to be found not only the heroes of local tradition, but even deified forces of nature, such as wind and fire. The custom of making gods of great men after their death, thus begun on a large scale by Kōbō, has gone on for centuries. Iyeyasŭ, the political unifier of Japan, shines as a star of the first magnitude in the heavens of the Riyōbu system, under the mime of Tō-shō-gū, or Great Light of the East. The common people speak of him as Gon-gen Sama, the latter word being an honorary form of address for all beings from a baby to a Bosatsu.
In this way, Kōbō arranged a sort of clearing-house or joint-stock company in which the Bodhisattvas, kami and other miscellaneous beings, in either the native or foreign religion, were mutually interchangeable. In a large sense, this feat of priestly dexterity was but the repetition in history, of that of Asanga with the Brahmanism and Buddhism of India three centuries before. It was this Asanga who wrote the Yoga-chara Bhumi. The succession of syncretists in India, China and Japan is Asanga, Hiukiō and Kōbō.
The Happy Family of Riyōbu.
Nevertheless this attempt at making a happy family and ploughing with an ox and ass in the same yoke, has not been an unqualified success. It will sometimes happen that one god escapes the classification made by the Buddhists and slips into the fold of Shintō, or vice versa; while again the label-makers and pasters—as numerous in scholastic Buddhism as in sectarian Christendom—have hard work to make the labels stick. A popular Gon-gen or Dai-Miō-jin, whose name and renown has for centuries attracted crowds of pilgrims, and yielded fat revenues as regularly as the autumn harvests, is not readily surrendered by the old Buddhist proprietors, however cleverly or craftily the bonzes may yield outward conformity to governmental edicts. On the other hand, the efforts, both archaeological and practical, which have been made in recent years by fiercely zealous Shintōists, savor of the smartness of New Japan more than they suggest either sincerity or edification. It often requires the finest tact on the part of both the strenuous Buddhists and the stalwart purists of Shintō, to extricate the various gods out of the mixture and mess of Riyōbu Shintō, and to keep them from jostling each other.
This reclaiming and kidnapping of gods and transferring them from one camp to another, has been especially active since 1870, when, under government auspices, the Riyōbu temples were purged of all Buddhist idols, furniture and influences. The term Dai Miō Jin, or Great Illustrious Spirit, is no longer officially permitted to be used of the old kami or gods of Shintō, who were known to have existed before the days of Kōbō. In some cases these gods have lost much of the esteem in which they were held for centuries. Especially is this true of the infamous rebel of the tenth century, Masakado. On the entrance into Yedo of the Imperial army, in 1868, his idol was torn from its shrine and hacked to pieces by the patriots. His place as a deity (Kanda Dai Miō Jin, or Great Illustrious Spirit of Kanda) was taken by another deified being, a brother to the aboriginal earth-god who, in the ages of the Kami, "resigned his throne in favor of the Mikado's ancestors when they descended from Heaven." The apotheosis of the rebel Masakado had been resorted to by the Buddhist canonizers because the unquiet spirit of the dead man troubled the people. This method of laying a ghost by making a god of him, was for centuries a favorite one in Japanese Buddhism. Indeed, a large part of the practical and parochial duties of the bonzes consists in quieting the restless spirits of the departed.
All Japanese popular religion of the past has been intensely local and patriotic. The ancient idea that Nippon was the first country created and the centre of the world, has persisted through the ages, modifying every imported religion. Hence the noticeable fact in Japanese Buddhism, of the comparative degradation of the Hindu deities and the exaltation of those which were native to the soil.
The normal Japanese, be he priest or lay brother, theologian or statesman, is nothing if not patriotic. Even the Chinese gods and goddesses which, clothed in Indian drapery and still preserving their Aryan features, were imported to Japan, could not hold their own in competition with the popularity of the indigenous inhabitants of the Japanese pantheon. The normal Japanese eye does not see the ideals of beauty in the human face and form in common with the Aryan vision. Benten or Knanon, with the features and drapery of the homelike beauties of Yamato or Adzuma, have ever been more lovely to the admiring eye of the Japanese sailor and farmer, than the Aryan features of the idols imported from India. So also, the worshipper to whom the lovely scenery of Japan was fresh from the hands of the kami who were so much like himself, turned naturally in preference, to the "gods many" of his own land.
Succeeding centuries only made it worse for the imported devas or gods, while the kami, or the gods sprung from the soil created by Izanami and Izanagi steadily rose in honor.
Degradation of the Foreign Deities.
For example, the Indian saint Dharma is reputed to have come to the Dragon-fly Country long before the advent of Buddhism, but the people were not ready for him or his teachings, and therefore he returned to India. So at least declares the book entitled San Kai Ri (Mountain, Sea and Earth), which is a re-reading and explanation of Japanese mythology and tradition as recorded in the Kojiki, by a Kiōtō priest of the Shin Shu Sect. Of this Dharma, it is said, that he outdid the Roman Regulus who suffered involuntary loss of his eyelids at the hands of the Carthaginians. Dharma cut off his own eyelids, because he could not keep awake. Throwing the offending flesh upon the ground, he saw the tea-plant arise to help holy men to keep vigil. Daruma, as the Japanese spell his name, has a temple in central Japan. It is related that when Shōtoku, the first patron of Buddhism, was one day walking abroad he found a poor man dying of hunger, who refused to answer any questions or give his name. Shōtoku ordered food to be given him, and wrapped his own mantle round him. Next day the beggar died, and the prince charitably had him buried on the spot. Shortly afterward it was observed that the mantle was lying neatly folded up, on the tomb, which on examination proved to be empty. The supposed dying beggar was no other than the Indian Saint Dharma, and a pagoda was built over the grave, in which images of the priest and saint were enshrined. Yet, alas, to-day Daruma the Hindoo and foreigner, despite his avatar, his humility, his vigils and his self-mutilation, has been degraded to be the shop-sign of the tobacconists. Besides being ruthlessly caricatured, he is usually pictured with a scowl, his lidless eyes as wide open as those upon a Chinese junk-prow or an Egyptian coffin-lid. Often even, he has a pipe in his mouth—a comical anachronism, suggestive to the smoker of the dark ages that knew no tobacco, before nicotine made the whole world of savage and of civilized kin. Legless dolls and snow-men are named after this foreigner, whose name is associated almost entirely with what is ludicrous.
On Kōbō's expounding his scheme to the Mikado, the emperor was so pleased with his servant's ingenuity, that he gave it the name of Riyōbu Shintō; that is, the two-fold divine doctrine, double way of the gods, or amalgamated theology. Henceforth the Japanese could enter Nirvana or Paradise through a two-leaved gate. As for the people, they also were pleased, as they usually are when change or reform does not mean abolition of the old festivals, or of the washings, sousings, and fun at the tombs of their ancestors in the graveyards, or the merry-makings, or the pilgrimages, which are usually only other names for social recreation, and often for sensual debauch. The Yoga had become a kubiki, for Shintō and Buddhism were now harnessed together, not indeed as true yoke-fellows, but yet joined as inseparably as two oxen making the same furrow.
Many a miya now became a tera. At first in many edifices, the rites of Shintō and Buddhism were alternately performed. The Buddhist symbols might be in the front, and the Shintōist in the rear of the sacred hall, or vice versa, with a bamboo curtain between; but gradually the two blended. Instead of austere simplicity, the Shintō interior contained a museum of idols.
Image carvers had now plenty to do in making, out of camphor or hinoki wood, effigies of such of the eight million or so of kamis as were given places in the new and enlarged pantheon. The multiplication was always on the side of Buddhism. Soon, also, the architecture was altered from the type of the primitive hut, to that of the low Chinese temple with great sweeping roof, re-curved eaves, many-columned auditorium and imposing gateway, with lacquer, paint, gilding and ceilings, on which, in blazing gold and color, were depicted the emblems of the Buddhist paradise. Many of these still remain even after the national purgation of 1870, just as the Christian inscriptions survive in the marble palimpsests of Mahometan mosques, converted from basilicas, at Damascus or Constantinople. The torii was no longer raised in plain hinoki wood, but was now constructed of hewn stone, rounded or polished. Sometimes it was even of bronze with gilded crests and Sanskrit monograms, surmounted, it may be, with tablets of painted or stained wood, on which were Chinese letters glittering with gold. This departure from the primitive idea of using only the natural trunks of trees, "somewhat on the principle of Exodus, 20:25," was a radical one in the ninth century. The elongated barrels with iron hoops, or the riveted boiler-plate and stove-pipe pattern, in this era of Meiji is a still more radical and even scandalous innovation.
Shintō Buried in Buddhism.
So complete was the victory of Riyōbuism, that for nearly a thousand years Shintō as a religion, except in a few isolated spots, ceased from sight and sank to a mere mythology or to the shadow of a mythology. The very knowledge even of the ancient traditions was lost in the Buddhaized forms in which the old stories were cast, or in the omnipresent ritual of the Buddhist tera.
Yet, after all, it is a question as to which suffered most, Buddhism or Shintō. Who can tell which was the base and which was the true metal in the alloy that was formed? The San Kai Ri shows how superstitious manifold became imbedded in Buddhism. It was not alone through the Shingon sect, which Kōbō introduced, that this Yoga or union came. In the other great sect called the Tendai, and in the later sects, more especially in that of Nichiren, the same principle of absorption was followed. These sects also adopted many elements derived from the god-way and thus became Shintōized. Indeed, it seems certain that that vast development of Japanese Buddhism, peculiar to Japan and unknown to the rest of the Buddhist world, scouted by the Southern Buddhists as dreadful heresy, and rousing the indignation of students of early Buddhism, like Max Mueller and Professor Whitney, is largely owing to this attempted digestion of Japanese mythology. The anaconda may indeed be able, by reason of its marvellously flexible jaws and its abundant activity of salivary glands, to swallow the calf, and even the ox; but sometimes the serpent is killed by its own voracity, or at least made helpless before the destroying hunter. When sweet potatoes and pumpkins are planted in the same hill, and the cooked product comes on the table, it is hard to tell whether it is tuber or hollow fruit, subterranean or superficial growth, that we are eating. So in Riyōbu, whether it be most imo or kabocha is a fair question. If the Buddhism in Japan did but add a chapter of decay and degradation to the religion of the Light of Asia, is not this owing to the act of Kōbō—justified indeed by those who imitated his example, yet hardly to be called honest? A stroke of ecclesiastical dexterity, it may have been, but scarcely a lawful example or an illustrious and commendable specimen of syncretism in religion.
Many students have asked what is the peculiar, the characteristic difference between the Buddhism of Japan and the other Buddhisms of the Asian continent. If there be one cause, leading all others, we incline to believe it is because Japanese Buddhism is not the Buddhism of Gautama, but is so largely Riyōbu or Mixed. Yet in the alloy, which ingredient has preserved most of its qualities? Is Japanese Buddhism really Shintōized Buddhism, or Buddhaized Shintō? Which is the parasite and which the parasitized? Is the hermit crab Shintō, and the shell Buddhism, or vice versa? About as many corrupt elements from Shintō entered into the various Buddhist sects as Buddhism gave to Shintō.
This process of Shintōizing Buddhism or of Buddhaizing Shintō—that is, of combining Shintō or purely Japanese ideas and practices with the systems imported from India, went on for five centuries. The old native habits and mental characteristics were not eradicated or profoundly modified; they were rather safely preserved in so-called Buddhism, not indeed as dead flies in amber but as live creatures, fattening on a body, which, every year, while keeping outward form and name, was being emptied of its normal and typical life. It is no gain to pure water to add either microbes or the food which nourishes them.
Buddhism Writes New Chapters of Decay.
Phenomenally, the victory was that of Buddhism. The mustard-seed has indeed become a great tree, lodging every fowl of heaven, clean and unclean; but potentially and in reality, the leavening power, as now seen, seems to have been that of Shintō. Or, to change metaphor, since the hermit crab and the shell were separated by law only one generation ago, in 1870, we shall soon, before many generations, discern clearly which has the life and which has only the shell.
There are but few literary monuments of Riyōbuism, and it has left few or no marks in the native chronicles, misnamed history, which utterly omit or ignore so many things interesting to the student and humanist. Yet to this mixture or amalgamation of Buddhism with Shintō, more probably than to any other direct influence, may also be ascribed that striking alteration in the system of Chinese ethics or Confucianism which differentiates the Japanese form from that prevalent in China. That is, instead of filial piety, the relation of parent and child, occupying the first place, loyalty, the relation of lord and retainer, master and servant, became supreme. Although Buddhism made the Mikado first a King (Tennō) or Son of Heaven (Ten-Shi), and then a monk (Hō-ō), and after his death a Hotoke or Buddhist deity, it caused him early to abdicate from actual life. Buddhism is thus directly responsible for the habitual Japanese resignation from active life almost as soon as it is entered, by men in all classes. Buddhism started all along and down through the lines of Japanese society the idea of early retirement from duty; so that men were considered old at forty, and hors concours before forty-five. Life was condemned as vanity of vanities before it was mature, and old age a friend that nobody wished to meet, although Japanese old age is but European prime. In a measure, Buddhism is thus responsible for the paralysis of Japanese civilization, which, like oft-tapped maple-trees, began to die at the top. This was in accordance with its theories and its literature. In the Bible there is, possibly, one book which is pessimistic in tone, Ecclesiastes. In the bulky and dropsical canon of Buddhism there is a whole library of despondency and despair.
Nevertheless, the ethical element held its own in the Japanese mind; and against the pessimism and puerility of Buddhism and the religious emptiness of Shintō, the bond of Japanese society was sought in the idea of loyalty. While then, as we repeat, everything that comes to the Japanese mind suffers as it were "a sea change, into something new and strange," is it not fair to say that the change made by Kōbō was at the expense of Buddhism as a system, and that the thing that suffered reversion was the exotic rather than the native plant? For, in the emergence of this new idea of loyalty as supreme, Shintō and not Buddhism was the dictator.
Even more after Kōbō's death than during his life, Japan improved upon her imported faith, and rapidly developed new sects of all degrees of reputableness and disreputableness. Had Kōbō lived on through the centuries, as the boors still believe; he could not have stopped, had he so desired, the workings of the leaven he had brought from China. From the sixth to the twelfth century, was the missionary age of Japanese Buddhism. Then followed two centuries of amazing development of doctrine. Novelties in religion blossomed, fruited and became monuments as permanent as the age-enduring forests Hakone, or Nikkō. Gautama himself, were he to return to "red earth" again, could not recognize his own cult in Japan.
In China to-day Buddhism is in a bad state. One writer calls it, "The emasculated descendant that now occupies the land with its drone of priests and its temples, in which scarce a worthy disciple of the learned patriarchs of ancient days is to be found. Received with open arms, persecuted, patronized, smiled upon, tolerated, it with the last phase of its existence, has reached, not the halcyon days of peace and rest, but its final stage, foreshadowing its decay from rottenness and corruption." So also, in a like report, agree many witnesses. The common people of China are to-day Taoists rather than Buddhists.
If this be the position in China, something not very far from it is found in Japan to-day. Whatever may be the Buddhism of the few learned scholars, who have imbibed the critical and scientific spirit of Christendom, and whatever be the professions and representations of its earnest adherents and partisans, it is certain that popular Buddhism is both ethically and vitally in a low state. In outward array the system is still imposing. There are yet, it may be, millions of stone statues and whole forests of wayside effigies, outdoors and unroofed—irreverently called by the Japanese themselves, "wet gods." Hosts upon hosts of lacquered and gilded images in wood, sheltered under the temple tiles or shingles, still attract worshippers. Despite shiploads of copper Buddhas exported as old metal to Europe and America, and thousands of tons of gods and imps melted into coin or cannon, there are myriads of metal reminders of those fruits of a religion that once educated and satisfied; but these are, in the main, no longer to the natives instruments of inspiration or compellers to enthusiasm. In this time of practical charity, they are poor substitutes for those hospitals and orphan asylums which were practically unknown in Japan until the advent of Christianity.
Kōbō's smart example has been followed only too well by the people in every part of the country. One has but to read the stacks of books of local history to see what an amazing proportion of legends, ideas, superstitions and revelations rests on dreams; how incredibly numerous are the apparitions; how often the floating images of Buddha are found on the water; how frequently flowers have rained out of the sky; how many times the idols have spoken or shot forth their dazzling rays—in a word; how often art and artifices have become alleged and accepted reality. Unfortunately, the characteristics of this literature and undergrowth of idol lore are monotony and lack of originality; for nearly all are copies of Kōbō's model. His cartoon has been constantly before the busy weavers of legend.
It may indeed be said, and said truly, that in its multiplication of sects and in its growth of legend and superstition, Buddhism has but followed every known religion, including traditional Christianity itself. Yet popular Buddhism has reached a point which shows, that, instead of having a self-purgative and self-reforming power, it is apparently still treading in the steps of the degradation which Kōbōbegan.
The Seven Gods of Good Fortune.
We repeat it, Riyōbu Buddhism is Japanese Buddhism with vengeance. It is to-day suffering from the effect of its own sins. Its ingwa is manifest. Take, for example, the little group of divinities known as the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, which forms a popular appendage to Japanese Buddhism and which are a direct and logical growth of the work done by Kōbō, as shown in his Riyōbu system. Not from foreign writers and their fancies, nor even from the books which profess to describe these divinities, do we get such an idea of their real meaning and of their influence with the people, as we do by observation of every-day practice, and a study of the idols themselves and of Japanese folk-lore, popular romance, local history and guidebooks. Those familiar divinities, indeed, at the present day owe their vitality rather to the artists than to priests, and, it may be, have received, together with some rather rude handling, nearly the whole of their extended popularity and influence from their lay supporters. The Seven Happy Gods of Fortune form nominally a Buddhist assemblage, and their effigies on the kami-dana or god-shelf, found in nearly every Japanese house, are universally visible. The child in Japan is rocked to sleep by the soothing sound of the lullaby, which is often a prayer to these gods. Even though it may be with laughing and merriment, that, in their name the evil gods and imps are exorcised annually on New Year's eve, with showers of beans which are supposed to be as disagreeable to the Buddhist demons "as drops of holy water to the Devil," yet few households are complete without one or more of the images or the pictures of these favorite deities.
The separate elements of this conglomerate, so typical of Japanese religion, are from no fewer than four different sources: Brahmanism, Buddhism, Taoism and Shintōism. "Thus, Bishamon is the Buddhist Vais'ramana and the Brahmanic Kuvera; Benten is Sarasvati, the wife of Brahma; Daikoku is an extremely popularised form of Mahakala, the black-faced Temple Guardian; Hotei has Taoist attributes, but is regarded as an incarnation of Maitreya, the Buddhist Messiah; Fuku-roku-jiu is of purely Taoist origin, and is perhaps a personification of Lao-Tsze himself; Ju-ro-jin is almost certainly a duplicate of Fuku-roku-jiu; and, lastly, Ebisu, as the son of Izanagi and Izanami, is a contribution from the Shintō hero-worship." If Riyōbu Buddhism be two-fold, here is a texture or amalgam that is shi-bu, four-fold. Let us watch lest go-bu, with Christianity mixed in, be the next result of the process. To play the Japanese game of go-ban, with Christianity as the fifth counter, and Jesus as a Palestinian avatar of some Dhyani Buddha, crafty priests in Japan are even now planning.
This illustration of the Seven Gods of Happiness, whose local characters, functions and relations have been developed especially within the last three or four hundred years, is but one of many that could be adduced, showing what proceeded on a larger scale. The Riyōbu process made it almost impossible for the average native to draw the line between history and mythology. It destroyed the boundary lines, as Pantheism invariably does, between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood. The Japanese mind, by a natural, possibly by a racial, tendency, falls easily into Pantheism, which may be called the destroyer of boundaries and the maker of chaos and ooze. Pretty much all early Japanese "history" is ooze; yet there are grave and learned men, even in the Constitutional Japan of the Meiji era—masters in their arts and professions, graduates of technical and philosophical courses—who solemnly talk about their "first emperor ascending the throne, B.C. 660," and to whom the dragon-born, early Mikados, and their fellow-tribesmen, seen through the exaggerated mists of the Kojiki, are divine personages.
The Gon-gen in the Processions.
While living in Japan between 1870 and 1874, the writer used to enjoy watching and studying the long processions which celebrated the foundation of temples, national or local festivals, or the completion of some great public enterprise, such as the railway between Tōkio and Yokohama. In rich costume, decoration, and representation most of the cultus-objects were marvels of art and skill. Besides the gala dresses and uniforms, the fantastic decorations and personal adornments, the dances which represented the comedies and tragedies of the gods and the striking scenes in the Kojiki, there wore colossal images of Kami, Bodhisattvas, Gon-gen, Dai Miō Jin, and of imps, oni, mythical animal forms and imaginary monsters. More interesting than anything else, however, were the male and female figures, set high upon triumphal cars having many tiers, and arrayed in characteristic primeval, ancient, medieval, or early modern dress. Some were of scowling, others of benign visage. In some years, everyone of the eight hundred and eight streets of Yedo sent its contribution of men, money, decorations, or vehicles.