CHAPTER IV. THE BUDDHIST CANON AS KNOWN IN JAPAN
THE Christian Bible is a collection of books, sixty-six in all; the Buddhist Bible as known in Japan is a good-sized library. It is the boast of Buddhist priests that their sacred Canon contains no less than 6771 books. This may be an over-statement of the facts, but still is it true that the Canon of Northern Buddhism does contain upwards of 5000 books, which according to Nanjo Catalogue of the Chinese Tripitaka represent 1662 different works. Edkins in his "Chinese Buddhism" makes the statement that the Buddhist scriptures in some of the standard Chinese versions are about 700 times as large as the New Testament, and as Japanese Buddhists include books not found in the Chinese collections their scriptures are even more voluminous. The Pali Canon of Southern Buddhism, made known to Western students through the splendid efforts of the Pali Text Society, is only about twice as large as the English Bible. A simple calculation would show then that the Northern Canon is about one hundred times larger than this Pali Canon. When it is remembered that even this comparatively small Bible of southern Buddhists is still very little known by Western students, though the great bulk of the scholarly work done on Buddhism has been done on the Buddhism of the South, it will not seem strange to say that the huge Northern Canon is practically an unknown library to all but a handful of scholars. It will take the untiring efforts of several generations of students before even the more valuable of these numerous books can be made accessible to scholars not familiar with the puzzling Chinese characters. The Sacred Books of the East series edited by Max Mueller contains a few translations and represents a noble beginning, but it is a pity that the work has not been carried further.Strictly speaking, of course, there is really no such thing as a Canon of Northern Buddhism, for the line between books included and those excluded is not drawn very clearly. In fact, some of the books included are mere names and are no longer extant, whereas there are books used in Japan by the various sects which are not ordinarily included in the Canon, but which for all practical purposes have supplanted the canonical writings. Throughout the history of Northern Buddhism the Canon has constantly been changing; old books once included have disappeared and new ones have taken their place. This comes very clearly to light from a study of the introduction to Nanjō's Catalogue referred to above. A few facts about the thirteen existing catalogues of the Chinese Canon or Canons may be summarized as follows:
The oldest catalogue in existence dates from about 520 A.D. It mentions 2213 works, of which 276 can be identified with those in existence at the present day.
The second oldest catalogue (594 A.D.) mentions 2257 distinct works in 5310 books. This does not mean, however, that these were all in existence at that time, for some were known only as names.
The third catalogue (597 A.D.) gives 1076 different works in 3325 books as admitted to the Canon at that time. Perhaps the reason why two lists published so closely together should differ so widely in the number of books given is because the third catalogue includes only the books then positively known to be extant, while the second catalogue includes all books once recognized as canonical though many had been lost.
The fourth catalogue (602 A.D.) mentions 2109 works in 5058 books.
The fifth catalogue (664 A.D.) gives 2487 works in 8476 books, but of the works actually in existence at that time only 799 are mentioned. These comprised 3364 books and made 45,626 leaves.
The sixth catalogue (664 A.D.?) gives 1620 works in 5552 books.
The seventh catalogue (695 A.D.) mentions 3616 works in 8521 books. Besides these, it says, there were 859 works in 3882 books admitted to the Canon at that time. It also gives a list of 228 works in 419 books as spurious writings.
The eighth catalogue (730 A.D.) is perhaps the best one in existence. It gives the names of 2278 different works in 7046 books. It states, however, that of these, 1148 works in 1980 books were missing at the time and were known only from references. This catalogue gives also a list of 41 other catalogues, the great majority of which were no longer in existence. This eighth catalogue itself comprised 20 books.
The ninth catalogue (730 A.D.) is an abridged reproduction of the last part of the eighth catalogue.
The tenth catalogue (730 A.D.) enumerates 163 translations in 645 books made in China between 664-730 A.D.
The eleventh catalogue (1285- 1287 A.D.) gives 1440 works in 5586 books.
The twelfth catalogue (completed in 1360 A.D.) was based entirely upon the eleventh.
The thirteenth catalogue (1368- 1398 A.D.) was originally a catalogue of the Canon of southern China published in Nanking, but is now used also for the edition published at Peking 1403-1424 A.D., with 41 works added later. This thirteenth catalogue forms the basis of Nanjō "Catalogue of the Buddhist Tripitaka" which he compiled by order of the Secretary of State for India and which was published in English by the Oxford University Press in 1883. Nanjō gives the names of 1662 works in Chinese, in Sanskrit (when it is originally a Sanskrit work and the name is known), and in English. He also adds a few explanatory notes to each work listed and gives such data as the name of the author, translator, dates, size of the scripture, etc. This catalogue is a large-sized volume. When the mere names of the books in the Canon of Northern Buddhism make a large volume, the reader may imagine how bulky the Canon itself is.
From the above summary, then, it should be clear, as we have said, that strictly speaking there is no such thing as a real Canon of Northern Buddhism. It would almost seem as if at times any book produced by Buddhists was given a place within its wide bounds, and the only reason that in the modern period the Canon has become more or less fixed is because Chinese Buddhism has decayed and ceased to produce any literature of value. In Japan, where Buddhism continued in vitality longer, books of value were produced later, and, as stated above, there is a tendency to give these a place among the sacred scriptures of Buddhism even though they may not be included in what is technically regarded as the Canon.
The standard edition of the Canon as held in Japan to-day is probably the one published by a group of Japanese scholars in 1885 and is known as The Official Canon of Japan (Dai Nippon Katei Daizōkyō). It is a rather critical work carried out by men who have bad some training in modern methods of criticism, though it should not be supposed that it will satisfy the scholar of the future. It is based upon four older editions published in Korea and China from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. These are the following: (1) The Kōraibon, published in Korea at the beginning of the eleventh century and containing 1521 different works in 6467 (or 6589) books. A copy of this was brought to Japan between 1469-86 and is in the possession of the Zōjōji of Shiba Park, Tōkyō. Only two volumes are missing from the original collection. (2) The Minzō (Chinese, Min Tsan) edition of the sixteenth century, consisting of 1662 works. This edition is very widely circulated both in China and Japan, and a copy of what is essentially the same is to be found in the India office in London. (3) The Sōzō edition, which appeared in China in 1239 and which contains 1421 works in 5714 (or 5916) books. This was brought to Japan in 1275 and is to be found at the Zōjōji in Tōkyō. (4) The Genzō edition, which appeared in China at the end of the thirteenth century and which consists of 5397 books.
The first copy of this standard edition of the Japanese Canon to be sent abroad was sent to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, where Western students have access to it; but as it is written in the difficult Chinese characters it is not very likely that its contents will become public property very soon. Even in the university libraries of Japan these sacred books have a forbidding air about them and none but a few students of oriental philosophy ever look into them. A few copies are finding their way into the older Buddhist lands of Asia and there among the more zealous disciples of the Buddha they may be read with interest, but for the average modern student in the Orient the majority of these books have only an antiquarian interest. A few of the books, as we shall see later, still exercise an influence over certain sections of Japanese society, and these may be said to constitute the real Bible of Japanese Buddhism.
From what we have said thus far it is already clear that there is an enormous difference between the scriptures of Northern Buddhism and those of Southern Buddhism preserved best in the Pali Canon. At least there is the obvious difference in size. But the difference is more fundamental than simply that of size; it pertains to the content equally well. The Northern Canon contains practically all that is found in the Pali Canon, but it also contains a great many treasures and a great deal of rubbish peculiar to itself. The Pali Canon was, of course, a growth and represents several centuries of development. That is, it is not simply the teachings of the Buddha and his immediate disciples handed down from generation to generation, but it is the expression of the religious experience of several centuries, guided more or less by the original impress communicated by Gautama. The Northern Canon, however, is more than the evolution of a few centuries of Indian thought; it is really a library of books written during a period extending over many centuries and by people of varying civilizations on subjects as varied as are the interests and whims of humanity. The oldest of these books date probably from about the middle of the third century B.C., while the last ones were added as late as the fourteenth century. Their contents vary all the way from the most profound speculations as to the nature of the Absolute to the most childish twaddle about the trivial things of life. One critic speaks of the Northern Canon as a house in which nothing old and worn out has ever been thrown away, though many new things have been added from time to time. The reverent Buddhist, however, sees in this bewildering variety a wise provision for the varied needs of humanity. He says the Buddhist Bible is like a well-stocked apothecary shop, and the wise druggist knows to which of the countless bottles and cases he is to turn for the specific disease he is called upon to help.
As a result of this conglomeration of books written over a period of many centuries and by thinkers of different civilizations, it is not surprising to find the most flagrantly contradictory teachings and practices represented. We speak of the differences among Christians, and an Abelard was able to write his Sic et non of the Catholic Church, but these differences are rather small when compared with what we find in these scriptures of Northern Buddhism. The differences and contradictions extend to the very fundamentals of fundamentals. In fact, there is as much agreement between the varied systems of religion, and philosophy which have occupied the hearts and minds of men in the West during the past 2500 years as there is in the teachings of Northern Buddhism. There is nothing that has ever entered the heart or mind of man which does not find its counterpart somewhere in these Buddhist scriptures.
And yet in spite of these glaring contradictions in the Buddhist Bible in both essentials and non-essentials, all Buddhists claim to follow the teachings of the founder Gautama, though it should be added that at least one sect in Japan, the Shin Sect, does not lay very much stress upon this point.
As we have already intimated in Chapter I, the Southern Buddhists do not find very much difficulty in tracing their central teachings back to the founder; for it is probably correct that the Pali Canon contains the core of Gautama's teachings, though, as we have said above, it also represents several centuries of development. But when we come to the Northern Canon the problem is quite different. To say with some modern Buddhist apologists that Mahāyāna Buddhism is simply the developed form of what was really contained in germ in Gautama's teachings, is to say that a system may develop to a point where it is practically the exact opposite of what it was at the beginning. That there is a historical connection between Southern and Northern Buddhism is beyond doubt, as we have shown in Chapter I, and in that sense the latter is, of course, a development of the former. But the development was in some points so revolutionary that often the new remained Buddhist only in name. Original Buddhism, as we saw in Chapter I, was itself a development of Brahmanism, whose fundamental ideas about the Absolute and the human soul it rejected, though other teachings of Brahmanism, such as the doctrine of Karma and Transmigration, it accepted. Some 500 years later, however, Buddhism had developed (or degenerated, if one speaks from the standpoint of Gautama's views) to the point where it affirmed again these very conceptions which it originally either denied or ignored as idle speculations. In short, the old theories about God, the soul and the future life reasserted themselves, and they have always played a rather vital part in at least some of the sects of Northern Buddhism, as we shall see in the succeeding chapters. To this change in fundamentals were added from time to time many minor things; so that gradually the sacred Canon gathered up into itself, like a rolling snowball, everything which Buddhism found on its way through central and eastern Asia.
Of course, few Buddhists will admit that there is such a radical difference between the teachings of the founder and the later doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism. They either hold, as stated above, that Mahāyāna Buddhism differs from the teachings of the founder only as the full-grown plant differs from the seed, or else they resort to the convenient theory, long held by Northern Buddhists; namely, that the founder taught all these varied and apparently contradictory doctrines, but that some of them must be regarded as provisional and accommodated teachings, while others are the undiluted and perfect truths.
The Buddhist Canon as a whole is therefore divided by Northern Buddhists into two great divisions. These are the Little Vehicle (Sansk., Hīnayāna, Japanese, Shōjō) and the Great Vehicle (Sansk., Mahāyāna, Japanese, Daijō). Many Japanese writers make three divisions, namely, adding the Provisional Mahāyāna (Japanese, Gondaijō). A few writers even speak of five Vehicles and, in a less technical sense, it is sometimes said that there are as many Vehicles of salvation as there are differences between the various living beings to be saved. Ordinarily, however, the division of the Buddhist Canon into Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna is the accepted division. These terms were invented by Mahāyāna Buddhists and bear on their face a record of the controversy which raged during the early centuries of the Christian era over the very question as to what were the real teachings of the founder. The second half of the two words, viz. yāna, means Vehicle, a vehicle of salvation which carries men safely across this life into the next and better life. Hīnayāna means Little Vehicle and is really a term of contempt. The name indicates the nature of the teachings which this vehicle of salvation contains, namely, the Little Teachings, or the undeveloped and provisional doctrines. Mahāyāna, on the other hand, means Great Vehicle and is a term of boastful superiority. It contains the Great Teachings, the full and perfect doctrines which the master is supposed to have taught after his disciples had been prepared for them through their knowledge of the Hīnayāna. We shall state a little later how this theory was worked out in greater detail by the founder of the T'ien T'ai Sect in China in what is known as the Five Periods of Gautama's ministry.
Now each of these two great divisions of the Canon - Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna - is subdivided into three divisions called Pitakas, Baskets (Japanese, Zō). Some say that the divisions were called Pitakas because when scholars classified the sacred scriptures the books were put into baskets. A better explanation is to see in this term rather the idea of how the scriptures were handed down from one generation to another. In the Orient it is a common custom to have workmen stationed in a line who hand from man to man a series of baskets filled with something to be removed from one place to another. (It is something like a bucket line in a fire drill.) So we are to understand by this term Pitaka a long line of teachers who have handed down to generation after generation the teachings of the founder of Buddhism.The three Pitakas, or Tri-pitaka, are the following:
|1.||Sūtra-pitaka (Japanese, Kyōzō).|
|2.||Vinaya-pitaka (Japanese, Ritsuzō).|
|3.||Abhidharma-pitaka (Japanese, Ronzō).|
The Sūtra-pitaka contains teachings in the form of collected sayings, dialogues between the Buddha and his disciples and sermons with stories and parables which relate and illustrate the things which happened at that time.
The Vinaya-pitaka contains the precepts and rules given by the master for the instruction of those who have given themselves to the following of the doctrine. It is a sort of Set of Rules for the brotherhood of the elect.
The Abhidharma-pitaka is a collection of treatises and commentaries and contains often the most profound philosophical discussions on points growing out of the teachings contained in the Sūtra-pitaka. The contents of this third division are not regarded as the Buddha's own words, but as explanations of his teachings presented from the standpoint of psychology and philosophy.
It is needless to say that this classification is rather elastic; for the Vinaya-pitaka sometimes contains sermons and discourses, and the Sūtra-pitaka often has in it discourses on points of discipline, while both of these divisions frequently have the characteristics of the third division. In fact, this threefold division, while fairly accurate for the Pali Canon, really breaks down entirely when applied to the Northern Canon, for the simple reason that many of the leading sātras, though put into the mouth of the Buddha, are no more his teachings than is the whole Abhidharmapitaka. The classification should therefore not be taken too seriously and should be regarded as one of those convenient expedients of the human mind by which a bewildering multiplicity is reduced to a unity by simply affixing a label.
This gives us, then, a double Tri-pitaka for the Buddhist Canon taken as a whole; namely, a Hīnayāna Tri-pitaka and a Mahāyāna Tri-pitaka. The relative sizes of the two may be seen by a reference to Nanjō's Catalogue of the canonical writings to which we have referred above. Nanjō's divisions are a little different from what we have just given, but they are enough alike to throw a little light on the subject. He makes four Pitakas instead of three, adding the so-called Samyutka-pitaka, i.e. Mixed Works. The 1662 works enumerated by him are classified as follows:
|I. Mahāyāna sūtras||Numbers||1-541|
|II. Hīnayāna sūtras||Numbers||542-781|
|III. Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna sū- tras which were added to the Canon 960-1368 A.D.||Numbers||782-1081|
|I. Mahāyāna vinayas||Numbers||1082-1106|
|II. Hīnayāna vinayas||Numbers||1107-1166|
|I. Mahāyāna abhidharmas||Numbers||1167-1260|
|II. Hīnayāna abhidharmas||Numbers||1261-1297|
|III. Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna abhidharmas which were added to the Canon 960- 1368 A.D.||Numbers||1298-1320|
|D. Samyukta-pitaka - Mixed Works|
|I. Works of Hindu teachings||Numbers||1321-1467|
|II. Early Chinese works||Numbers||1468-1621|
|III. Chinese works added to the Canon 1368-1644 A.D.||Numbers||1622-1657|
|IV. Works missing in the Northern Chinese collection and taken from the Southern Chinese||Numbers||1658-1662|
Nanjō's classification of the Canon is based largely upon the older classifications made by Chinese scholars and therefore should not be regarded as a real critical analysis. It is but one way among others. For example, a handbook on Buddhism published in Tōkyō a few years ago makes the following sweeping classification, using the books in the Canon rather than the different works as the units of division:
|A. Mahāyāna sūtras||2883 books|
|B. Hīnayāna sūtras||680 books|
|C. Mahāyāna abhidharmas||555 books|
|D. Hīnayāna abhidharmas||695 books|
|E. Hīnayāna vinayas||441 books|
Now according to the orthodox section of the Mahāyāna school the Canon with these divisions of Mahāyāna and Hinayana and the subdivisions of Sūtra, Vinaya, and Abhidharma was fixed in the main the year after Gautama's death at a great council of his disciples gathered at Rajagriha. It is of course quite probable that, as Buddhist tradition claims, a council was held by the Buddha's disciples soon after his death; but it is utterly out of the question that the Canon should have been fixed then and there in anything like its present form. Not even in the more simple form as preserved in the Pali Scriptures could it have been finished at such an early date; for as it appears now the Pali Canon is really only the Canon of one of the sects of early Buddhism and has on the face of it traces of later dates. And as for the Northern Canon, or rather series of Canons, one has but to look at the thirteen Chinese catalogues mentioned above to see how absurd such a claim is.
It is doubtful whether or not any part of the Canon was committed to writing immediately after Gautama's death. The Pali Canon, e.g. was not fixed on the written page until the first century B.C. Great portions of the Northern Canon, even great sections of the sūtra division, could not possibly have been fixed in their present form before the beginning of the Christian era. But while this is true, we do not mean to say that no books in the Canon were fixed at an early date. Even if they were not written down immediately after Gautama's death it seems quite likely that sections of the Vinaya-pitaka were fixed more or less definitely at the Rajagriha Council or soon after. At any rate, the core of these Monks' Rules, it would seem, must have taken shape almost from the beginning.
If, then, portions of the Canon were fixed before they were committed to writing, may it not be that the Pali Canon was fixed long before it was committed to the written page in the first century before Christ? And is it not therefore the oldest and most authoritative Canon of primitive Buddhism in existence, and so should be made the norm by which Buddhism as a whole is to be measured? We may admit that the Pali Canon was fixed, at least by one sect, before it was committed to writing. We may also admit that it contains the main teachings of Gautama, though it has in it more than simply the teachings of the founder. And still further, we must admit that, taken as a whole, the Pali Canon comes much nearer representing the teachings of original Buddhism than do the Northern Canons taken as wholes. But this does not mean that it should be taken as the only source for Gautama's teachings, nor should it be assumed that those portions of the Northern Canon which are essentially the same as portions of the Pali Canon, e.g. the four Nikāyas (Agamas) were taken from the latter. In fact, it seems quite likely that some of the Sanskrit scriptures of the Northern Canon and some of the Pali scriptures go back to an older redaction in Magadhi, the language of Magadha which S'akyamuni probably used. So it is quite possible that the Northern Canon has in it books just as authoritative as those found in the Pali, and, perhaps, even something of the founder's teachings not found in the latter. Of the old redaction in Magadhi we have only a few traces in the Pali Canon and in the edict of Bairat issued by King Asoka in the third century B.C. The following is a diagram of the probable relationship of the various redactions of the Canon of Buddhism:
It may be said that if we have no traces of Buddhist scriptures older than the third century B.C. and if even the Pali Canon was not committed to writing until the first century B.C., then we are indeed far removed from the possibility of having any of the real words of the founder of Buddhism. It is true that Buddhism cannot lay any claim to have worked its way back to the historic Buddha and his sayings as Christian scholars have done in the case of their Master; but we should not forget that even if the transmission of the Buddha's teachings was by word of mouth rather than through the written page, there is still the possibility of having a rather accurate transmission. This is made possible by the form in which the teachings of Gautama's day were usually cast, namely, a style which to the Western mind seems like a weary repetition, but which made it comparatively easy to be remembered. Another factor which made for accuracy of transmission is the phenomenal power of memory of the Oriental mind. The whole system of education in the East has been for centuries a system of committing to memory what others have said. It is astonishing how much the human mind can retain when trained from youth on in this way. It is said that even today there are men in India who can, e.g., recite the whole Rig-Veda - 1028 songs, many of them rather long - without a single slip. So it is not at all unlikely that we have in the Pali Canon and in some of the scriptures of the Northern Canon something of the real teachings of the founder and sometimes his actual phraseology. But after this has been said, it is none the less absurd to hold with some Buddhists of Japan that the entire Sūtra-pitaka and Vinaya-pitaka, especially of the Mahāyāna school, go back that far. Even King Asoka, in the third century B.C., apparently, knew nothing of the threefold division of the sacred scriptures; and, as we have said in Chapter I, the whole system of Mahāyāna Buddhism had not been born in his day. The most that we can say is that there were only tendencies pointing in that direction. In short, then, we may grant to the Buddhists of China and Japan that in their voluminous Canon they have as truly the teachings of the founder as do the Buddhists of the South, and they may even have some things of the master's teachings not found in the Pali Canon, but we cannot admit that the scriptures which they usually regard as the very words of S'akyamuni's deepest teachings, namely, the distinctively Mahāyāna scriptures, are such. Many of the most popular books in Japan cannot go farther back than the beginning of the Christian era.
The sweeping division of the Buddhist Canon into a Hinayana Tri-pitaka and a Mahāyāna Tri-pitaka did not overcome all the glaring contradictions found in the Northern Canon. In the last half of the sixth century A.D., the learned Chinese priest Chi K'ai, founder of the great T'ien T'ai Sect, worked out an elaborate scheme of harmonization. He divided Gautama's teachings into five great periods, and into these he tried to fit the various scriptures by arranging and rearranging them back and forth until he had cleared away, as he thought, all the difficulties and contradictions. Briefly stated the scheme was as follows:
|1.||The first period of the Buddha's long ministry extended over a space of only two or three weeks following immediately upon the hour when the Great Enlightenment had dawned upon him. In this first period he preached the undiluted and perfect truth as he saw it in his Buddhahood. His audience were not the ordinary people of India, but the innumerable Bodhisattvas, gods and heavenly beings. This period is called in Japanese the Kegon period and the teachings are recorded in the famous Kegonkyō (Buddhavatamsaka-Mahāvaipulya-sātra) which has been used, perhaps, as widely by Buddhist scholars in Japan as any other scripture.|
|2.||When the Buddha realized that his exalted teachings were beyond the capacity of the average human being, he began to dilute his teachings, as it were, and accommodated them to the understanding of the common man. It was during this period that he taught the Four Noble Truths about suffering and salvation from suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path. To know these truths and to follow this path led to the Arhat state which is the goal of Hīnayāna teachings. This second period extended over twelve years, and the teachings are to be found in the ordinary Hinayāna scriptures.|
|3.||But when the master perceived that his disciples took this accommodated teaching of the Hīnayāna scriptures as the full truth, he began to show them that he had yet many things to say unto them and that what he had taught them thus far was only preparatory to the higher truth. He now began to teach them the way of true enlightenment, the enlightenment not of the Arhat who seeks only his own salvation, but that of the Bodhisattva who is interested also in the salvation of others. This period is called the Hōdō period and lasted eight years. The teachings of this period are recorded in the ordinary Mahāyāna scriptures.|
|4.||4. Now when the disciples heard these lofty teachings of the third period they felt that they were too high for the average man and that for him the Hīnayāna doctrines were|
|better suited. Only the one destined to be a Bodhisattva, they felt, could comprehend the profound truths of the Mahāyāna teaching. The Buddha thereupon showed them that nothing hindered even the average man from becoming a follower of Mahāyāna truth and attaining true enlightenment. The disciples were thus led to see that there was no chasm between the Hīnayāna and the Mahāyāna, but that the former was really a vehicle for the first part of the journey and from it the passenger could transfer to the latter and continue his journey till he arrived at his true destination. This fourth period is called the Hannya period and extended over twenty-two years of the master's long ministry. The leading scripture containing the teachings of this period is the voluminous Mahāpragnāpāramitā-sūtra which teaches the deep Mahāyāna doctrines in simplicity.|
|5.||Finally when the Buddha reached the advanced age of seventy-two, he began to preach the deepest and highest truths of all, namely; that all sentient beings are able to attain Buddhahood and enjoy the blessings of Nirvāna. For this purpose he had left his heavenly home and endured hardships during many incarnations that he might lead all living beings into the bliss of Nirvāna. These teachings are contained in the famous Lotus Scripture, Saddharma- Pundarīka-sūtra (Myōhō Renge-kyō, or Hokkekyō). In this closing period the Buddha preached also the teachings of the Paradise Scripture (Mahāparinirvāna-sūtra (Nehankyō), in which he showed that all beings, animate and inanimate, have the nature of Buddha and so can attain Buddhahood. This period is called the Nehan or Hokke period and extended over eight years.|
According to the Amida sects of Japan, to this last period also belong the teachings of the famous Paradise or Amida scriptures; namely, The Larger Sukhāvatā-vyūha (Daimuryō- jukyō), The Smaller Sukhāvatā-vyūha (Amidakyō), and Amitā-yur-dhyāna-sūtra (Kwammuryōjukyō). These scriptures teach the great doctrine of salvation through faith in the Buddha Amida, who has prepared for those who trust in him his Western Paradise.
Thus far Chi K'ai's classification of the founder's teachings. It was undoubtedly an ingenious piece of work and would do credit to some of our modern harmonists. For a period of about one thousand years it allayed the doubts of the skeptics and gave authority to the most contradictory teachings found in the sacred scriptures. Just as men used various means of transportation, so in religion there are various ways of salvation. The founder of Buddhism knew all these ways and taught them all, and the pious Buddhist must recognize in this a wise provision for the varied needs of humanity; yea, a provision for the needs of all beings, for the Buddha heart seeks to save all. But in the eighteenth century, when in Japan the Neo-Confucian and Neo-Shintō movement began to make itself felt, the Buddhists, too, began to question the explanation of the Five Periods. As we stated in the last chapter, a man by the name of Tominaga began to advance views which were calculated to upset this convenient solution offered by Chi K'ai. Tominaga's contention, in short, was that the scriptures which Chi K'ai assigned to the first, fourth, and fifth periods of Gautama's ministry were in reality the products of later centuries, and that his real teachings were contained in the Hinayana Tri-pitaka. Though these views attracted comparatively little attention at the time, they did mark the beginning of that Higher Criticism among Japanese Buddhists which is finding more and more champions as the years go on, and which some day ought to help solve the great problems which the Canon of Northern Buddhism presents.The following is a brief summary of the stage which the controversy between conservative and liberal Buddhists has reached on this question:
|1.||The conservative position as represented by one of the leading Buddhist scholars of the day, Dr. Inouye Enryō.|
|2.||And now let us give a brief statement of the liberal wing as represented by Nukariya Kaifu, a learned priest of the Zen Sect.|
This, then, is in short the attitude of the conservative and liberal wings among modern Buddhists toward the problem of the relation between Hānayāna and Mahāyāna Buddhism. The conservative wing holds that both Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna are in substance the very teachings of the master himself, i.e. essentially the position held by Chi K'ai; whereas the liberal wing recognizes the fact that Mahāyāna Buddhism is a much later development and is only the teaching of the Buddha in the sense that it developed historically from primitive Buddhism. The majority of Western scholars who are in a position to have an intelligent opinion on this vexed problem side with the liberal wing; but they would go a step farther and say that Mahayana is not simply a developed form of Buddhism, but that it also has in it much which is not strictly Buddhistic. It has historical connection with primitive Buddhism, but it also has vital connections with other systems and streams of life, so that in many of its phases it is Buddhist only in name.
But the problems which confront the scholar who attempts to trace the historical development of Buddhism and unravel the many strands - Buddhist and non-Buddhist - which go to make up the Canon of Northern Buddhism are so stupendous that it may take centuries before even an outline of a satisfactory solution will be worked out. No one set of scholars, whether Oriental or Occidental, is sufficient for the task. It is like digging a long tunnel in which the work must be carried on from both ends. The Western scholar must dig through Greek, Roman and Near-Eastern civilizations, while the Oriental scholar will have to try to meet this tunnel from his end through Indian, Japanese and Chinese civilizations. The center of the tunnel is in the life and civilization of the people which once occupied Central Asia - that part of the world about which we know least. In fact, it seems very doubtful as to whether we shall ever know enough to pierce this great terra incognita in which lie hidden the secrets of those centuries of Buddhist history during which the Mahāyāna school came into being.
But this search is a fascinating work and one which has many interesting and valuable by-products; for even if we fail in our main problem of discovering a historical connection between Buddhism and Western thought, or of showing that there was no such connection, we shall at least be able to show on a very large scale that the human race is one in its needs and in its attempts to meet these needs. If East is East and West is West and never the twain have met historically (i.e. in ancient times), it does not follow that "never the twain shall meet." The more we know of the thoughtlife of the East the more do we see the kinship of all races; and this, we hold, will be one of the by-products of the scholar's work who is trying to unravel the many strands that go to make up Buddhism. A second by-product will be a deeper appreciation of the Christian religion. "What can they know of England who only England know?" So it is with religion; it is impossible to have a keen appreciation and full understanding of Christianity unless one sees it in the light of the world's other great religions. It is high time that Western scholars take a wider outlook upon the world, and through a knowledge of Oriental thought help lay the foundations for that sympathy for Asia's millions which alone can make the inevitable meeting of East and West a blessing rather than a curse. But this is a digression and we must return to the subject in hand.
While theoretically all Japanese Buddhists regard the Canon as sacred and as embodying the teachings of the founder, in practice the different sects manifest rather divergent tendencies in their attitude toward the scriptures. As may be seen from what has been said above, the Bible of Northern Buddhists is entirely too voluminous to be used as a whole in a practical way. Even the Christian Bible is too large for most Christians and many portions of it remain closed books; and how could a Buddhist be expected to make use of his big Bible with its more than 5000 books? There are in general three different attitudes taken by the Japanese sects. At one extreme are sects like the old Sanron and the Tendai which make a pretense of using all the scriptures, regarding each scripture as having its own peculiar function. At the other extreme is the Rinzai branch of the Zen Sect which holds that no scripture can be really a vehicle of truth, for truth cannot be transmitted by the written page but must be communicated from heart to heart, or must be discovered in one's own heart through silent meditation. The sacred scriptures are only the footprints on the sands of time made by the wise men of the past who walked in the way of the truth. Between these two positions are to be found the majority of the sects which for practical purposes make a selection of one or more books from the Canon and make these their Authoritative or Basal Scriptures and the ones to be specially used by the adherents of the sect. Thus we have, e.g., the Amida sects selecting as their Authoritative Scriptures the three Amida books; namely, the Daimuryōjukyō, the Amidakyō and the Kwammuryōjukyō. The Shingon and Nichiren sects regard as specially sacred the famous Lotus Scripture, though each of these add several other books as Basal Scriptures. The old Kegon Sect was founded on the Kegonkyō, the Sanron Sect on three scriptures. An so it is with other sects, each regarding certain scriptures as specially valuable and authoritative for the teachings of the sect, without, however, denying thereby the teachings of other scriptures in the Canon which may seem quite contradictory. As we have said before, the average Buddhist philosopher is exceedingly tolerant of other views and regards even direct opposites as but two sides of the same shield.
It might be interesting to know how the Tendai Sect, which theoretically claims that every scripture has each its special place, succeeds in making a practical use of them. There are two sides to the answer; one a bright side and the other a dark side. As a matter of history the Tendai Sect of Japan has furnished practically all the great men who founded the sects which arose after the ninth century. This is due directly to the fact that Tendai teachers have always encouraged a wide study of all the scriptures. Of course, the result of this was disruption, but still it also meant a broader development of Buddhism as a whole. The dark side of the picture is the way the Tendai Sect ministers to the spiritual needs of the common people. Only the scholarly priest had access to the wealth of scriptures; the common man could not do anything with them even if he had access to them. To begin with, very few of the scriptures, until very recently, have been translated into the language of the people, though Buddhism has been in Japan some thirteen centuries. The texts are in difficult Chinese which only an educated Japanese can read. Rather than translate all these writings the clever priests have resorted to much more simple methods of giving their followers the benefits of their contents. Among other things they have introduced from China a Chinese invention of the sixth century, namely, the huge revolving bookcase in which the sacred scriptures are placed, and the turning of the case by the pious ignorant believer becomes a popular substitute for the reading of its contents. The believer is told that "it is impossible for any one to read all the Buddhist scriptures as their number is so great; namely, 6771 books. Therefore if any one turns this case three times around he shall have as much merit as he who reads the books through. Moreover to such a one is promised long life, prosperity, and protection from all misfortune." We might add for the reader's edification that our first introduction to the Buddhist Bible of Japan was of this nature, but unfortunately the only profit we gained by this method of reading was simply an appreciation of the weight of these many books, for it takes quite an effort to make such a huge case revolve even with the assistance of the attendant. His profit was more substantial than our own in the form of a few coins which we gave him for his assistance in enabling us to master these sacred scriptures so easily.
Another method in use in the Tendai Sect is what a visitor to the famous Tennōji in Osaka, e.g., may see. The priests, eight or ten in number sitting in a row, read the scriptures by simply letting the pages glide through the fingers so that each reader can finish a set of ten books every two or three minutes.
But even the sects which choose only a few scriptures from the voluminous Canon do not always succeed in making these the common possession of their adherents. The number of Japanese homes which have Buddhist scriptures is very small, and still fewer are the homes where the scriptures are read. The scriptures are considered too profound in their content to be understood by the masses, and these are taught to worship blindly the books rather than to know what these books have to say. This is especially true of such a sect as the Nichiren. It has as its chief scripture one of the loftiest in the entire Canon, and if its contents were really known by the people, it would have a profound influence on their lives, but the average disciple of Nichiren is taught a superstitious reverence of the book and nothing more. The prayer, Namu MyōhŌ Rengē-kyō, "Hail Thou Scripture of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law," is on every disciple's lips, but what that Wonderful Law might be, few indeed have the slightest idea.
This superstitious reverence for the sacred scriptures as such, irrespective of knowing their contents, has found expression in many ways. For example, it has always been regarded as a work of great merit to be engaged in copying the scriptures, and at times even emperors and princes have labored faithfully in the capacity of scribes of the sacred law. There are some manuscripts in existence written in human blood, the zealous scribe thus literally pouring out his lifeblood for the transmission of the holy text. In China it was regarded as a meritorious work to pick up any piece of paper on which anything was written, for the writing might be words from the scriptures. In the face of such reverence among pious Buddhists for the very paper and ink with which their scriptures are written, it becomes clear at once that the Christian worker who comes to these people with a "Thus saith the Bible," thinking that therefore he will be heard, will be sadly disappointed. Unless he can show from the contents of his Bible that it is the word of the Lord, his mere dogmatic claim that it is such will not go very far. With the advance of education this line of approach is being made more easy, for it is, after all, only the ignorant who are held by their reverence for their scriptures without knowing what these contain. The more progressive Buddhists are trying now to give the people access to the best parts of the Canon. They are publishing in attractive form, and in Japanese, either whole books or selections from a number of the best books. Such selections are grouped topically and even the uneducated can thus get some firsthand knowledge of the teachings of Buddhism. Then in addition to this the leading sects are publishing in Japanese what might be called Sectarian Bibles, i.e. each sect is publishing its own Basal or Authoritative Scriptures in very attractive bindings. Some of these have had a rather phenomenal success. Thus, e.g., the volume issued by the Shingon Sect passed through forty-five reprints in four years, and the Zen Bible through eighteen in about the same length of time. Just how successful this undertaking will be, remains to be seen. Thus far the average Japanese, however much he may have absorbed from the semi-Buddhistic atmosphere in which he lives, knows very little indeed of what Buddhism stands for in general or what the various sects stand for in particular. So much is this the case that the foreign student of the history or philosophy of Buddhism will often seek in vain to find out much from the average man he meets, and even among the priests there are very few who seem to have a grasp of the subject. Still fewer are those who have any definite conviction as to Buddhism's mission to modern Japan. This condition, we believe, is largely due to the fact that Buddhism has no Bible in any real sense, for however much truth those thousands of pages of the Canon may contain, it is so covered up with the rubbish of centuries that it is impossible to extricate it and make it a living force to-day. Nothing will give a Christian a deeper appreciation of the value of his Bible and the marvelous Providence which has kept it so pure and so "practically small" as a study of the clumsy Buddhist Bible. He will thank God as never before for this Book of Books.