INTRODUCTIONNOT many years ago there was on exhibition in an art gallery of Tokyo a remarkable picture. The picture was not exactly a masterpiece, but its subject matter was exceedingly suggestive. In the center stood a child, and grouped around it were four men, each beckoning it to follow. On the face of the child was an expression of bewilderment, of apparent perplexity as to what it should do. The child was meant to represent Japan, and the four men represented a Shintō priest, Confucius, Gautama Buddha and Jesus. The average visitor to the gallery gave this picture little more than a passing glance, but to the student of modern Japan it was of deep interest.
If there is anything characteristic of the life of the rising generation in Japan, especially of its thought-life and the realm of things spiritual, it is bewilderment and confusion; for Japan is the meeting place of four great religions, viz., Shintō, Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity, not to mention other thought and life currents which have been pouring into this land from all parts of the world during the last fifty or sixty years. It is not strange that the youth of Japan especially should be like the child in the picture - confused and perplexed as to whom or what they should follow. On the one hand are the voices and beckonings of the past - the thought-currents and life habits and customs of their fathers. These they would follow instinctively. But on the other hand they hear the persistent callings of the new and more alluring voices of the present and the future, wooings of western life and civilization. These seem to promise more than the old, but threaten if followed unreservedly to make too great the chasm between the Japanese people of to-day and past generations.
There is, of course, no insuperable difficulty in readjusting the old habits and customs to fit in with the new in the realm of the physical, though even here it is not as simple as it might seem to the outsider. To stand, for instance, at a modern railway station and listen to the clatter of the wooden clogs as the crowds hurry up and down the stairs suggests very forcibly that one is hearing something of the "clash of civilizations." Or to see aëroplanes and dirigibles speeding over paddy fields in which poor peasants are using implements as primitive as those used by Abraham makes one feel that modern Japan has still great chasms to bridge in even the physical realm. And even where they are being bridged the limited resources of the country tends to make the economic readjustments a very painful process. But, after all, it is in the realm of the spirit, in the higher and deeper sentiments and feelings, that the real difficulty of readjustment lies for the present generation. And what adds to the difficulty is the fact that among the so-called leaders in the thought-life of the nation there are so very few who really understand the nature of the forces that are at work. On the one hand are the old-fashioned leaders, who would keep the rising generation bound down to the things of the past. On the other hand are the apostles of the new, who apparently think that they have done all that is required of them when they have doled out to their followers the contents of the latest book that has appeared. Those who are successfully bridging the chasm between the old and the new are few indeed, and it is no wonder that there should be so much confusion in the thought-life of modern Japan.
But it is not so much the general thought-life of Japan that we wish to consider here as it is the more distinctively religious life of the nation, if it is possible to separate this from the general. The picture, we said, represented four great religions as aspiring to give leadership to young Japan. This is hardly accurate, for as a matter of fact the three old religions of Japan are not separate and distinct from one another. Shintō, as we shall show in Chapter III, though the native religion of old Japan, was virtually incorporated into Buddhism about a thousand years ago, and while it was officially separated from the latter in the modern period it is impossible to draw any clear line between the two. And Confucianism really never existed as an independent religion in Japan, but was fostered largely by Buddhist leaders as a part of their own system. It is true that the Neo-Confucianism of the Tokugawa period had a measure of independence and even opposed Buddhism to some extent, but even this was introduced and propagated first by Buddhists and was itself as much Buddhism as Confucianism. As a matter of fact the three old religions of Japan have interpenetrated each other so completely that the average Japanese for centuries has regarded himself as more or less of an adherent of all three. It is Buddhism, however, which has supplied the matrix which holds the various elements together and so it may be said to represent all three in one. It has so completely adapted itself to things Japanese and incorporated everything that it found in its way that one can be a good Buddhist and not be disloyal to anything for which the other two ever stood.
When it comes, however, to the fourth religion, the religion of Jesus Christ, the matter is very different, for no Japanese Christian in good and regular standing would regard himself as anything but a Christian, though he would insist that as such he can retain all that is good in the other three and all that is essential to make one a true and loyal citizen of the empire. And on the other hand few good Shintōists, Confucianists or Buddhists would pretend to be also good Christians, for it was the fashion for almost three centuries to look upon Christianity as an enemy of things Japanese; and so the line between it and the old religions is drawn rather sharply. It would therefore be more correct to say that in the realm of religion there are two that aspire to guide the spiritual destiny of this great nation.
One naturally wonders whom of these spiritual guides the child of Japan will follow. There was a time a few years ago - and it is not altogether past now - when it almost looked as if the expression on the child's face was changing from one of confusion and bewilderment to one of indifference. Japan had followed the old guide for many centuries, sometimes very eagerly and at times only from afar. But during the last fifty years or so, as the rising tide of intelligence has made it impossible for many to rest content with the beliefs and practices of the past, there developed a surprising indifference to the old religious ideals, and in fact an indifference to religion as such. But no one familiar with human nature or human history can regard this save as a passing phase, for man is "incurably religious" and even a Comte must have at least a "Religion of Humanity," though he may regard the historic religions as phases of life which the race should outgrow as it advances. There are abundant signs that this indifference to religion so characteristic of young Japan a few years ago was only a temporary phenomenon. There is now again a remarkable interest in spiritual things, though it is perhaps too early to say to whom on the whole Japan will turn for leadership.
There are those who hold that Japan will neither follow her old religious guides nor turn to the old religion of the West newly introduced, but that there will have to be a New Religion if her allegiance is to be won. This new religion may borrow some things from the old but not exclusively from any one of them or all of them. It will have to be a sort of syncretism made up from the best elements that can be gotten together, no matter from where they come. Just as in other spheres Japan has borrowed the best that could be found and adapted these things to her needs; so she must do in religious matters. One can only smile at the ignorance of the nature of religion and religious history which underlies this view, for while it is quite possible for a New Religion to arise, it is rather certain that it will not come into existence as a result of a few wise heads getting together and saying to one another, "Come now, let us tear down our old religions and from the best fragments let us build up something new which will fit our case better."
Then again there are those who would seek to harmonize the claims of the existing religions by emphasizing the thought that all religions are but different forms of one and the same phenomenon, and that therefore at bottom they are essentially the same. And since all religions are made of essentially the same stuff, there ought to be no insuperable obstacle in fusing them into one grand whole; if not into an organic union, then at least into one great coöperative enterprise for promoting righteousness and peace.
In so far as these broad-minded leaders would do away with the bitter jealousies and strifes between the existing religions, one cannot but have profound respect for their good intentions; but when their efforts are based on the assumption that all religions are essentially one in their great fundamentals and differ only on minor points or expression, one can only pity their lack of understanding. Of course, there is a sense in which all historical religions may be said to be but different forms of Religion, i.e. different aspects of one and the same reality, but this is true only in such a general sense that the statement is practically meaningless. The very fact that it is almost impossible to make a definition of religion which is anything but an empty generalization which includes all only because it includes really nothing very vital of any, should be sufficient proof. Even in such advanced religions as Buddhism and Christianity the radical differences in fundamentals ought to be apparent to any one who is at all familiar with their central teachings. It is inconceivable that the two could ever be merged into one without one or the other giving up some of its essential characteristics. Of course, it is quite possible that Buddhism would be willing to compromise with Christianity and seek to absorb it just as it has done with other religions with which it has come into contact, but that is only possible because Japanese Buddhism really stands for nothing definite and is made up of the most glaring contradictions in even fundamentals. It is impossible to think that intelligent Christians would be willing to be merged into a system which would both affirm and deny at one and the same time everything vital for which they stood. Not only does Christianity differ from Buddhism in the answers which it makes to the great problems of life, but because of this difference the atmosphere in which Christians live their daily life and do the work of the world is not that of the typical Buddhist. This will appear as we proceed with our study of Japanese Buddhism in these pages. Here we simply wish to state that those who regard Buddhism and Christianity as in substantial agreement on the fundamentals of religion may be nearer the truth than the old-fashioned polemists who conveniently marked all religions other than their own as false, but they are not very much nearer.
Now in the third place there are representatives of the old religions of Japan who, realizing that their religion has lost a good deal of ground in recent years, nevertheless believe that the situation can be redeemed by making certain reforms and so winning back the affection of the people. Thus there are signs on all hands of a certain kind of vitality both in Shintō and in some of the more progressive sects of Buddhism. These reforms, however, are little more than patching up a few glaring defects of the old by borrowing certain strong points from Christianity, and they do not go deep enough to make the old religions adequate for modern conditions. In fact many an adherent of the old is apparently fearful that the great days of his faith are past forever and that the future is very uncertain. That is, there is no very widespread confidence on the part of the adherents of the old in the future of their own religion.
And finally there are the representatives of Christianity who believe that the future belongs largely to them. In fact that is one of the great characteristics of Japanese Christians which distinguishes them from the followers of the old faiths, they have confidence in the future of their own religion. The child Japan, they believe, will follow Jesus Christ as its guide, and it is this faith that is overcoming the difficulties in the way. The measure of success which Christianity is having in Japan justifies this belief, but at the same time there is also good reason to believe that the victory will not be an easy one. The old religions of Japan are not, as some seem to think, about ready to give up the field. Though it is true that they do not have the hold on the hearts of the people they once had, this does not mean that Christianity therefore has an easy task. When the late Bishop Honda of the Japanese Methodist Church was once asked what he thought of the great motto, "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation," he replied very modestly, "It is a good motto, a very good motto for this generation; and I think it will be a good motto for the next generation too."
The view that the religions of the Orient are one and all like tottering castles of antiquity which will soon crumble to dust betrays a rather shallow knowledge of the real nature of religion. It seems to regard religion as an external something, a garment which can be cast off as the style changes. As a matter of fact nothing changes as slowly as a nation's religion and religious customs. Japan, e.g., has changed its army and navy from a medieval type to one thoroughly modern and strictly up-to-date, within the space of a few decades. Her educational system, her transportation facilities and industrial enterprises have likewise been revolutionized within that period. But with her religion the matter stands quite different. A Constantine may make Christianity the state religion overnight, and Japanese officials once thought of doing the same, but that would be only changing a name. For the thought-life of a nation and the spirit of a people to be made Christian even to the extent to which this has been accomplished in some of our western nations (there is, of course, no such thing as a Christian nation anywhere), will take decades and perhaps centuries. Whatever one may think of the place which the old religions of Japan, and Buddhism in particular, will occupy in the future of this people's life, they are forces with which one must reckon. The influence of a stream is determined not only by the direction in which the water is flowing at any one point and by the speed and volume of water, but also by the drift it scatters in its way. And so even if Buddhism should be a dried-up stream, as many seem to think, the river bed which it has made through Japanese life and the bowlders it has left all over these island fields will determine to a greater or lesser degree the direction and speed of the new currents of life which are flowing into this land from other sources.
But, as we said, it is as yet too early to say to whom Japan will turn for leadership, and it is really not our purpose to discuss this in these pages. Our object is rather to understand better the history and spirit of the old religions, especially Buddhism, and from this obtain, perhaps, a better insight into the present situation and the line of its probable development. We shall confine ourselves almost exclusively to a study of Buddhism, which we regard as the dominant religious force of Japan. Shintō and Confucianism we shall touch upon only here and there, for as we have intimated above both of these are really embodied in the term Buddhism as we know that religion in Japan.
But to understand Japanese Buddhism even in its main outline is not a simple matter. It is not only that in Japan Buddhism has taken up into itself everything which it found in its way, which makes it difficult for the student, but because it had a history of a thousand years before it reached these shores, and during those long centuries it had been winning its victories by this same method of compromise. That is, when Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the sixth century it had passed northwestward from India into the lands east of the Caspian Sea and then turned towards the east, spreading gradually through China and Korea, and all the time gathering up into itself, like a rolling snowball, all that it found on its way. For example, its canonical writings by this time had assumed the dimension of a good- sized library containing upward of 5000 books. The contents of these books, written during a period of a thousand years and by peoples of various stages of civilization, are naturally very varied and often flatly contradictory even in matters fundamental. It is not strange, then, that a leading authority on Buddhism, in trying to define what the religion is, could only say that it is the religion founded by the Buddha. Even this was saying too much, for the Buddhism of China and Japan has perhaps more in it that is contradictory to the religion of the Buddha than what is in agreement with it. In fact Northern Buddhism, considered from almost any standpoint one cares to take, embraces a wider latitude of teachings and practices than any other religious system. Even in regard to its inner spirit and life, which is the true measure of any religion, Buddhism presents a bewildering spectacle. It is more like a junk shop where one can find almost anything - good, bad and indifferent. There is little that has ever entered the heart or mind of man which does not find its counterpart in Buddhism somewhere.
To determine, then, what Buddhism is as a whole, or even what Japanese Buddhism is, may seem like undertaking the impossible. We know how difficult it is to say just what are the essentials of Christianity and perhaps few would agree entirely; but, after all, in Christianity there are a few great outstanding ideas and ideals which would generally be recognized as fundamentals. For example, the belief in a personal God, the Heavenly Father, the belief in Jesus Christ as being in some way the relevation of God's love to man and in the Christlike life as being the Christian's ideal, and finally the great hope that this type of life is one which shall be conserved beyond the grave and the wreck of time, - these are among the great essentials to which all Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, conservative or liberal, ancient or modern, would cling. But in Buddhism, whether we take the religion as a whole, or simply as we find it in Japan, there are radical differences in even such fundamentals of religion. But this will appear as we proceed with our study. We simply mention it here to indicate how very difficult is our task of trying to understand Japanese Buddhism.
Now in order to have, as it were, a norm by which to measure Japanese Buddhism, it becomes necessary to give at least a general outline of the religion of the founder and a brief sketch of its development into what we call Mahāyāna Buddhism. This shall occupy us in our first two chapters. But before we come to that we must here make a few remarks in order to orient ourselves in Buddhism as a whole.
Ordinarily we divide Buddhism into two great divisions, viz., Southern Buddhism and Northern Buddhism. By the former is meant roughly the Buddhism of Ceylon, Burma, Siam, and French Indo-China; India, the birthplace of the religion, having given up its allegiance to the World-Honored One since about the twelfth century, though, of course, the religious life in India to this day shows his influence. By Northern Buddhism we mean the Buddhism of China (i.e. Greater China, including Tibet, East Turkestan, Mongolia and Manchuria), Korea, Japan and the lands on the slopes of the Himalaya Mountains, especially Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. The Buddhists of Java and Sumatra, though geographically belonging to Southern Buddhism, in point of historic connection and general type should be classed with Northern Buddhism. This geographical division is therefore very inaccurate and should not be regarded as of much value.
Another way of dividing Buddhism is the classification into Hīnayāna, or Little Vehicle, and Mahāyāna, or Great Vehicle; the former corresponding roughly to Southern Buddhism and the latter to Northern Buddhism, though Northern Buddhism has in its voluminous canon also practically all the teachings found in the Hīnayāna school. We shall explain the meaning of this division more fully in Chapter IV; only here it should be said that Hīnayāna Buddhism is roughly speaking the Buddhism of the Pali scriptures, which have preserved on the whole the purest form of the religion of the founder. Mahāyāna represents in general an expanded and developed Buddhism which in many respects, even in things fundamental, is often radically different from original Buddhism. We do not mean to say that Northern Buddhism has not much in it that goes back to the teachings of the founder and, perhaps, even some things of his life and teachings which are not preserved in the Pali literature; but there is in it so much that is different and even radically opposed to what seems to have been the main thought and life of Gautama's religion that we are ready to accept this time-honored division of Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna.
These great differences in Buddhism are, of course, the result of the growth and expansion which this religion underwent in the course of its history as it marched northward and eastward through China, Korea and Japan. Orthodox Buddhists hold that both these great forms of their religion, in spite of the most glaring contradictions, are the teaching of the master, and they resort to the most elaborate schemes of harmonization to get rid of the obvious difficulties. But modern scholars are seeing more and more clearly that it is impossible that even the main points of Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna Buddhism could have all come from the same mind. It seems rather certain, as we have said, that the Pali scriptures of the south contain on the whole the purest form of the teaching of the Buddha, though they too show a considerable development. Whereas the scriptures of Northern Buddhism, which are written parts in Sanskrit and in a mixed dialect of Sanskrit and Middle Indian, or the Gāthā dialect, parts in Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and Japanese, contain not only what is found in the Pali scriptures but a great deal more. It is this extra material which leads the Mahāyāna Buddhists to make the claim that their teachings are superior to the Hīnayāna and that they represent the full mind of the master; but to the unbiased scholar it is rather an evidence of extra Buddhist elements which came in as Buddhism readjusted itself to meet the attacks of a revived Brahmanism and as it spread into other countries and tried to absorb the native cults which it met in its way.
It is the northern stream, i.e. Mahāyāna Buddhism, that is of interest for our present purpose, for it is this stream which ultimately reached Japan in the middle of the sixth century. But that we may understand more clearly the significance of this northern stream, it becomes necessary, as we said above, to take at least a bird's-eye view of the main points of primitive Buddhism and its development. What, then, was the religion of the Buddha? For only as we answer this question at least approximately can we fully appreciate Northern Buddhism and especially its furthest development in the Buddhism of Japan, which in some of its branches seems Buddhist only in name. This we take up in Chapter I.