CHAPTER V. OUTLINE OF MAIN DOCTRINES OF JAPANESE BUDDHISMIN giving an outline of the main doctrines of Japanese Buddhism one is naturally tempted to follow the general divisions into which the fundamentals of Christianity are usually divided by modern writers on Systematic Theology. This has the great advantage of enabling the reader to constitute a comparison between the main teachings of the two religions, and for this reason we shall not depart entirely from such a course of procedure in this chapter. But to be true to the subject in hand, we must depart from this course at least at the beginning and deal first with subjects which are very fundamental but which in books on Systematic Theology are usually left to works on philosophy and psychology.
A. Summary Statement of Teachings
Perhaps the most concise expression of the essence of Buddhist teachings is the pregnant phrase, "Tenmei Kaigo." "Turning from error and opening understanding." Man is in error and ignorance and he must turn from this and open his understanding. The whole mode of the Buddhist salvation is expressed primarily in terms of right thinking rather than in terms of right moral purpose, and the great obstacle in man's way is error rather than sin. Enlightenment is the great word of Buddhism, and Enlightenment means to know the truth. We do not mean to say that Buddhism does not also have a good deal to say about sin and righteous conduct but only that these are secondary.
To the pregnant expression given above are sometimes added two other expressions, and all three taken together give a comprehensive summary of Buddhist doctrines. The complete statement is, "Tenmei kaigo, riku tokuraku, shiaku shuzen.""Turning from error and opening understanding, escaping from suffering and obtaining bliss, ceasing from evil and doing good." All living beings have beclouded the reason of things and so through error they commit evil deeds and in consequence are doomed to suffer. Through the teachings of Buddhism man is to learn the truth. This will show him what is the right, and by obedience to the right he escapes from suffering and enters bliss. Or to put it in Western thought, man is to think the truth, do the good and feel the beautiful. This, in short, is the general summary of Buddhist teachings, and when given in this general form there would seem to be little difference between Buddhism and Christian thought. But when we come to inquire into what is meant by the true, the good and the beautiful, we shall find great differences between Buddhist and Christian thought and also between the different schools and sects of Buddhism.
B. Theory of Knowledge
The first step in the exposition of Buddhist doctrines must necessarily be in the line of a few remarks on the problem of knowledge. This problem is, of course, important in any system of thought, but in Buddhist philosophy it is peculiarly so, and it is quite impossible to make any headway in our understanding of it unless we ever bear in mind what Buddhists mean by knowledge and truth.
As the expression, "Turning from error and opening understanding" implies, all human knowledge may be divided into two great divisions; namely, Error and Truth. Such a division is, however, too clear-cut, for there is much of our knowledge which can be called neither pure truth nor absolute error; and so Buddhists usually divide knowledge into three divisions; namely, Illusion, Relative Truth and Absolute Truth. Or in case we divide knowledge into Error and Truth, Truth itself is divided into two divisions; namely, Relative or Accommodated Truth and Perfect or Absolute Truth. All human knowledge, then, is either Illusion, Relatively True, or Absolute Truth. An ancient and popular illustration of this threefold division is that of a piece of rope seen in the twilight. Seeing its general shape, one may take it for a snake (Illusion). One may see that it is a rope and not think any further as to its constituent elements (Relative Truth). Or one may know that it is a rope made of grass, i.e. understand its real make-up (Absolute Truth). The knowledge of the average man is largely illusion and error. He holds a naïve realistic view and thinks that everything is in reality just what it appears to be. Relative or Accommodated Truth is a step towards perfect knowledge or Absolute Truth. This kind of knowledge penetrates somewhat into the reality of things, but it does not see things in their real essence. To this class of knowledge belongs practically all our so-called knowledge of the phenomenal world and the things we deal with in our practical life. In our practical life, e.g., we make distinctions between things. We say this is good and that is bad, this is beautiful and that ugly, this is large and that small, this is light and that heavy, etc. All these distinctions have a practical value, and such knowledge is to be regarded as knowledge when contrasted with error; but, after all, this is only relative knowledge. These distinctions which we make in the world of phenomena may seem important and real, but in the last analysis they are not what they seem. They are mere appearances of a reality in which these distinctions have no real meaning. The wise man must go beyond this sort of knowledge of reality, he must attain perfect knowledge of the Absolute Truth and see things as they really are. He must get back of the appearances to the things themselves. He must know not merely the phenomena but the noumena, or rather the Noumenon, Das Ding an Sich" of Kant.
The Western student of philosophy is, of course, quite familiar with Kant's epoch-making work on this problem of human knowledge. He knows what a great contribution Kant made when he showed that in all our thinking the thinking subject contributes something to the object perceived so that what we know seems a sort of "construct" composed of the object known and the knowing subject. That is, knowledge is not a mere impress of the object on the thinking subject, or a mere writing on an empty tablet, but the thinking subject is active rather than passive in the process. So much of Kant's theory of knowledge must be accepted as valid. But when Kant proceeded to show how our knowledge is a knowledge not of things as they really are in themselves but only as they appear (with the implication that appearance does not give us reality), we cannot follow Kant. And especially when Kant tries to draw a line between what he calls the Empirical Ego and the Transcendental or Ontological Ego, and says that we know the former but not the latter, we must reject his epistemology at this point altogether. The self knows nothing better than the self of self-consciousness, and if this is not the real self, or the noumenal ego, then there is no noumenal ego, nor has Kant even the right to express the judgment that the empirical ego is not the noumenal ego.
Now Buddhism makes this same distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal world and says that all our ordinary knowledge is only of the phenomenal world and so is only relatively true. The knowledge of the noumenal world is possible only to the one who has reached perfect enlightenment, i.e. to one who has attained Buddhahood. He who has attained this stage is able to see that the distinctions which the ordinary man makes between things have no real existence in being but are due to the unenlightened mind. Not that existence is absolutely void, but that the phenomenal world appears to us as it does because we are what we are, rather than because it is so in itself. The enlightened one knows that the complex and multiplicity of the phenomenal world is really a simplicity and Oneness of Being. On the high plane of Absolute Truth one enters the "Dharma of non-duality" where all distinctions and antitheses are absorbed in a higher synthesis, where one can see the "identity of differences" and the "indifference of opposites." (And we might also add, one enters the realm of Fichte's Absolute in which, as Hegel put it, one is in "the night in which all cows are black.") Even the distinction between error and truth disappears, "because," says a modern exponent, "those who have entered a meditation in which there is no sense-impression, no cogitation, are free from ignorance as well as from enlightenment. This holds true with all the other dualistic categories." When one has entered this stage, one has entered the Nirvāna of true Buddhahood, the heaven in which even the distinction between existence and nonexistence has no meaning.
According to the orthodox Buddhist theory of knowledge, then, all ordinary human knowledge deals but with the phenomenal world and not with reality itself. This knowledge of the phenomenal world is "Hōben," Accommodated Truth, i.e. it is the truth accommodated to meet the needs of unenlightened minds. There is an Absolute Truth and a perfect knowledge, but only for the fully enlightened, i.e. for those who have attained Buddhahood.
If it be asked on what grounds Buddhism makes the assertion that there is an Absolute Truth for the enlightened mind, the answer is that this must be taken on the authority of those who have attained Buddhahood. Manifestly to make the statement that our knowledge is only relative and of the phenomenal world, implies a knowledge of the real or noumenal world; and this judgment that our knowledge is relative but that there is an Absolute Truth, can therefore not be made by ordinary man as a matter of knowledge but must be accepted on faith. That is, the ordinary Buddhist accepts on faith this theory of truth that what the unenlightened mind regards as true, is true only relatively and that the Buddha knows reality as it is in itself. The Buddhist theory of truth is, then, in the last analysis a "credo ut intelligam."
Of course, even Christian epistemology would not claim that human knowledge is perfect knowledge of the truth, and would say that only God can know the truth perfectly.
That is, Christian epistemology also may speak of human knowledge as relative, but not relative in the Buddhist sense. It is relative in the sense that it is fragmentary and not complete, but not that it is wholly erroneous when compared with perfect truth. In the words of Paul, "We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away." That is, our partial knowledge is the real stepping stone to the full truth, and it is true knowledge as far as it goes. A Buddhist illustration will bring out the difference between the two views of truth; namely, the illustration of the shield. The shield seen from one side seems convex in shape, and from the opposite side, concave. To say that the shield is convex in shape, is a true statement. But the Buddhist would say that it is only relatively true, because one can say from the opposite point of view that it is concave in shape. "Therefore," proceeds Buddhist epistemology, "the shield is both convex and concave, and because these are opposites, it is neither the one nor the other, and so its real nature can not be known." Christian epistemology would say that the shield as we see it is convex. This may be only a partial view of the object. If it is also concave when seen from the other side, then the two appearances must be harmonized so as to do justice to all the facts known about the shield. They cannot be harmonized, as Buddhist epistemology tries to harmonize them; namely, by saying that we really know nothing about the object we call a shield. But if our knowledge of an object contains contradictions, we must proceed upon the basis of the knowledge we have till we clear these away. At any rate we must trust our knowledge of things as true knowledge even though we admit that it is not perfect, and that only the absolute mind can know the full truth.
The Buddhist theory of knowledge is, however, not adequately understood until one gets the Buddhist explanation of the origin of ignorance, or the theory of Nescience. All human knowledge is really a Nescience. If the phenomenal world does not represent the noumenal world, how is it that the phenomenal world appears at all? Either it appears without a cause, or if it has a cause, the cause is present in the phenomena in some way, and to that extent at least the noumenal world can be known through the phenomenal world, one should think. That the phenomenal world does appear to us no one can deny without ending in absolute skepticism. The question is, why does it appear and to what does it appear?
The orthodox Buddhist reply to this question is the socalled theory of Nescience. The phenomenal world as known to man has no existence as such; and if by existence we mean the things that appear to us, Buddhism holds that existence is void. It is, however, not void in the sense that nothing at all exists, but only in the sense that nothing really exists in the way in which it appears to us to exist. That is, Buddhism asserts the reality of a noumenal world, and the true Mahāyāna school even affirms the presence of the noumenal in the phenomenal, but denies that the phenomenal world is in reality such as it appears to us. It appears so to us only because of our ignorance. "Everything that is subject to the law of birth and death exists only (i.e. in the way it appears to exist) because of ignorance and Karma."
But how does ignorance arise, and by what process do we come to look upon things as we do? The first answer to this question is that our present state of ignorance arose, according to the law of cause and effect, from past states of error and illusions, and our present state, by the same law, will give rise to future states of ignorance. Our past states of ignorance were produced by the law of Karma from states of ignorance still further back, and so this chain of ignorance stretches backwards into an indefinite past, just as it will stretch forwards into an indefinite future unless it is broken by the "gospel of enlightenment."
It is possible to distinguish twelve links in this Chain of Ignorance, the so-called Twelve Links of Cause and Circumstance (Jūni inen). These links give us one form of the Buddhist conception of the nature of man. If the reader does not clearly understand just what they mean - and we venture to think that he will not - he should remember that it is due to the fact that Western psychology does not recognize such divisions, and also because it is impossible to get English terms to convey the exact meaning of the oriental originals. The following are the twelve links (Nidana):
|1.||Ignorance - the error of lusts and desire in a previous life.|
|2.||Latent Impressions - the deeds of good and evil of a previous life.|
|3.||Thought Substance - the beginning of the psychic aspect of the uterine life.|
|4.||Name and Form - the physical beginnings of the uterine life.|
|5.||The Six Roots - the development of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and will during the uterine life.|
|6.||Contact - the Six Roots of number five come into contact after birth with the Six Dusts, i.e. the physical environment.|
|7.||Sensation - the feeling of pain and pleasure arising from the organs of sense.|
|8.||Desire - the lust of the flesh.|
|9.||Clinging to Existence - the passion and pride of life which drives man on to actions which produce a new Karma of good or evil.|
|10.||Becoming - the completion of Karma in the present life.|
|11.||Birth - the new life which shall be born in the future as a result of the deeds done in the present life.|
|12.||Decrepitude and Death - the pain, trouble, sorrow, old age and death in the future.|
Numbers 1 and 2 refer to the lusts and actions of the previous life. Numbers 3-10 refer to the present life beginning with the beginnings of the uterine life and ending with death. Numbers 11-12 refer to the birth, pain, sorrow and death in the next incarnation. Death at the end of our present life means only the continuation of the Karmachain (unless it is broken by the gospel of Buddha) in which, in the future as in the past, the above twelve links are discernible. The twelve links become, each in turn, the effect of a preceding cause and the cause of a succeeding effect.
Some writers leave the explanation of the origin of ignorance with this description of the various links in the Karma-chain, though Ignorance constitutes the first link in the chain and so leaves the explanation just where it began. But if it be asked, How explain the origin of the first link? the reply is that it arose from preceding links ad infinitum. And if the question is pushed still further, the reply is that the very question as to the origin of ignorance is ignorance itself, and how can one demand that a rational answer be given as to the origin of the irrational; or still better, why explain the origin of that which really does not exist? for on the high plane of true enlightenment one can see that ignorance has no real existence.
Some Buddhists, however, recognize the fact that such answers are either quibbling with words or that it is reasoning in a circle, and so they meet the question as to the origin of ignorance with the bold assertion that the irrational is an original element of existence. That is, some hold that it is coeternal with the rational (a sort of dualism), or that it is inherent in the Absolute and arises spontaneously. Ignorance, which is really synonymous with consciousness - for without consciousness there would be no ignorance - is caused by "the waves of mentation which are ever stirring up the ocean of eternal tranquillity." What causes these "waves of mentation," no one can say beyond that it is a part of the eternal nature of things as they appear to ignorant man.
Ignorance, then, is the real source of the phenomenal world as it appears to us, since it is the first link in the Karma-chain by which the Absolute individualizes itself and becomes conscious in man. Man's finite mind, in turn, gives rise to the phenomenal world as known to the common man. "Things are fundamentally and in themselves nonexistent; only through the law of cause and circumstance have they come to be." "All things are the product of circumstance. Apart from the law of cause and circumstance all things are invisible." From the standpoint of Absolute Truth ignorance has no real existence and therefore the phenomenal world as it appears to man has no such existence; for, as we have said, from this high plane even the difference between truth and error, being and nonbeing have no meaning. The Enlightened One has reached the "Dharma of non-duality" in which there is an "identity of differences" and an "indifference of opposites." C. Buddhist World Views
Upon the Buddhist theory of knowledge is naturally built the Buddhist world view; or rather, world views, for there are three more or less distinct ones. These are the Hīnayāna, the Provisional Mahāyāna, and the True Mahāyāna. From the standpoint of the Mahāyāna school the other two are only relatively true and so correspond to the second division of human knowledge mentioned above, i.e. Relative Truth. The world view of the ignorant masses corresponds to the first division; namely, Illusion; whereas the True Mahāyāna world view corresponds to Absolute Truth.
Both the Hīnayāna and the Provisional Mahāyāna, we said, are regarded by Mahāyāna Buddhists as relatively true. They are said to be two extremes, and the truth lies in the middle, the Middle Path of Mahāyāna. We shall state briefly what these two extremes are and then what the true Middle Path is.
1. Hīnayāna World View . - The Hīnayāna view is more or less a realistic world view. It does not, of course, accept the naïve realism of the unenlightened masses who hold that the world is just what it appears to be and that there is no mystery about it. It approaches the problem with a critical spirit and by an analytical method it seeks to penetrate into the inner nature of existence. To begin with, it divides reality into two great spheres; namely, the phenomenal and the noumenal, or Nirvāna, spheres. The phenomenal sphere it divides into two subdivisions; namely, the physical and the psychic. It treats the phenomenal sphere as having a real objective existence but as being in a constant flux and therefore lacking the element of permanency. Of the Nirvāna sphere it has little to say except that it is void of everything found in the phenomenal sphere. The Nirvāna sphere cannot therefore be known through the phenomenal sphere, for there is no real connection between them. The object of Hīnayāna philosophy is to free man from the wanderings of the phenomenal world into the Nirvāna sphere by showing him what is the real nature of his life and the whole realm of phenomena.
Thus Hīnayāna philosophy proceeds further to analyze the things which make up the world of phenomena. The analysis begins with man himself, for he is the best example of the two aspects of existence; namely, mind and matter. Man is shown to be made up of the so-called five Skandhas - Form, Feeling, Notion, Predisposition and Discrimination. Of these five Skandhas, the first is physical and the remaining four are psychical. The physical aspect of man is then divided into the Five Indriyās (Jap. Gokon), i.e. the five organs of sense, and into the five Ālambanas (Jap. Goriki), the five senses as distinguished from the organs as such. The psychic elements are divided into two groups, the first three constituting one group and the fourth standing by itself. The fourth, i.e. Discrimination, is said to be the Mental King, and the other three; namely, Feeling, Notion and Predisposition, are spoken of as servants of the Mental King. Sometimes the analysis is carried still further and the upshot is that by this division of the psychic and physical of man's life, Hīnayāna Buddhism tries to account for the phenomena of our mental life, and reaches the startling conclusion that the self of self-consciousness is but an illusion and is simply the product of this aggregate of Skandhas.
The world without, Hīnayāna seeks to understand by the same analytical process. Thus it holds that matter in general is made up of minute particles, which correspond very much to the atoms of modern science. These minute particles are composed of the four Great Kinds (Jap. Shidaishu, or Shidai); namely, Earth (Solids), Water (Liquids), Fire (Heat) and Wind (Movability). These four great elements, or natures, remain ever the same, and by combining in different degrees, constitute the various kinds of atoms; and these, in turn, compose the things which make up the phenomenal world.
While Hīnayāna asserts the reality of both the psychic and the physical aspects of existence, it shows a monistic tendency in that it regards the four Great Kinds, which make up the physical world, as qualities rather than elements, and holds that if the process of division were carried far enough (some say, seven raised to the seventh power in the case of an atom) matter would change into spirit. The real dualism in Hīnayāna philosophy is the dualism of the phenomenal and Nirvāna spheres. It asserts the reality of both, though it has little or nothing to say of the latter.
2. Provisional Mahāyāna World View . - The Provisional Mahāyāna world view also begins by speaking of the two great spheres of existence, i.e. the phenomenal and the noumenal. But where Hīnayāna philosophy divides the phenomenal sphere into two subdivisions and speaks of both as real, Provisional Mahāyāna denies the reality of the outside world and holds it to be the product of impure thought. The outside world exists only in the mind and has no objective existence. "In Buddhism the mind is made the source from which all laws (phenomena) come." "Mind takes the form of hell, devils, brutes, heavenly beings; in fact all that has shape and form is the product of mind." Starting with the analysis of the nature of man advanced by the Hīnayāna school, Provisional Mahāyāna speculation goes a step further and not only declares the self of self-consciousness to have no real existence, but also tries to show how this illusion arises in the mind and how the mind produces the illusions of the outside world and everything that appears in consciousness.
A great deal of Buddhist literature seems to give expression to this world view, and Western writers usually take this as the real Buddhist position. Everything is regarded as mere illusion and as devoid of reality. As we said above, even the self is said to be non-existent and an illusion. One might well ask how this can be; for if the self, too, is an illusion, it must be an illusion to something, and at least that Something must exist. A Something does exist according to the Provisional Māhāyan school; namely, the noumenal world, but of this really nothing can be affirmed. The one thing that can be done is to destroy the errors and illusions of the phenomenal world. That is, progress in truth is achieved only by destroying error. Thus, e.g. the old Sanron Sect, which is the best representative of this school in Japan, held that all advance in truth is made through a denial of all affirmations. "Add a negation and you clear away all illusion, you destroy and deny thus every error and misconception. If, e.g. you hold to the principle of birth, clear it away with the idea of death; and if you hold to death as a principle, destroy it with the principle of birth. If you hold to a non-death non-birth principle, destroy it with the non-non-birth non-non-death principle and so on and on. Since we have relative and finite minds we must clear away everything; for, after all, not one thing in our minds is real." Thus negation follows upon negation ad infinitum.
3. Mahāyāna World View . - But this world view which denies the reality of the outside world is regarded by the True Mahāyāna school as an extreme view. The view is correct in so far as it seeks to destroy all illusions but not in making the phenomenal world an absolute void. Mahāyāna holds that the phenomenal world is real because it is identical with the noumenal world. That is, the noumenal world is in the phenomenal world and the phenomenal rests upon the noumenal. But this does not mean that reality is as it appears to the unenlightened mind. The Mahāyāna school also says that the phenomenal world as it appears to the average man is a shadow world and has no existence as such. Even the self known in self-consciousness has no real existence in the way it appears to exist, but it is not an absolute void. It has no individual and distinct existence as it appears to have when we are conscious of the difference between the ego and the non-ego, but it, like all phenomena, is a manifestation of the Noumenon (Shinnyō) concerning whose real nature no definite assertion can be made. That is, Mahāyāna holds that there is a noumenal world and that the noumenal is present in the phenomenal world, but the phenomenal world does not reveal to the unenlightened mind the real nature of the noumenal world. This assertion, as we said above, manifestly cannot be made by man as he is, but must be accepted on faith in the authority of the Buddha, or Buddhas, who alone know what is the nature of real existence. For any but the Enlightened the nature of real existence is incomprehensible.
"The essence of all things is incomprehensible. To attempt to realize their essence is as vain as to make real one's dreams which come to nothing the moment one awakes."
"In trying to understand the various worlds, one finds that they are like flames, shadow-pictures, sounds, dreams, visions or specters."
"Zengen said to the Buddha, 'Thou hast taught that all things are without reality, being like dreams, sounds, shadows, flames or visions, and that their real nature or individuality is neutral. How is it, then, that there are such differences as the laws of good and evil, sensuous and supersensuous, determined and free?' To this the Buddha replied, 'O Zengen, the common man knows not that his thoughts are like dreams, like shadows, like visions and specters. That is why he clings to what are mere shadows and does deeds of good and evil, happiness and misfortune in his body, words and will. In reality there are no such differences even though it may seem that there are.'"
But when it is said that the differences which the common man makes have no real existence, it is not meant that existence is altogether void. Back of the apparent plurality of the phenomenal world is the all-inclusive Oneness of the Real World. Back of change and the temporal is the changeless and eternal. This is spoken of as the Substance of the Universe and is conceived of as a unity which includes all dualities; namely, the "Dharma of non-duality"; it is the Spiritual True Likeness (Shin Shinnyō).
"Shin Shinnyō is that which underlies the two worlds of matter and mind. It is boundless as to space and endless as to time. It is constant as to past, present and future. Extending into the Ten Worlds, it is unlimited, and the whole universe is but the manifestation of it."
"Shin Shinnyō is the body of law which underlies the entire universe. This is the so-called Spiritual Essence which is neither born nor perishes. The apparent differences in the world are but the product of impure thought. Outside the mind there are no real differences. Therefore the real essence of the universe is not to be expressed in words, nor can it be reduced to any fixed formula. It is incomprehensible and ultimately it is a Oneness in which there is neither change nor difference. It is indestructible and because it is a Oneness it is called Shinnyō."
"Whatever exists is evolved from the One Body of Shinnyō's Law-nature (Shinnyō Hōjō no Ittai) by the law of cause and effect, and therefore everything is substantially one and the same."
"Shin Shinnyō is that which is the essence of all things and principles; it is the ideal changeless and imperishable. The distinctions and differences in things are but the product of our illusory ideas, and these differences do not exist apart from the mind. Therefore the laws of all things are originally and in their real essence identical, changeless, without real differences and imperishable when all explanations, nomenclatures and thought are subtracted from them. And because they are all one Mind they are called Shinnyō."
This third view of what constitutes the essence of reality - and as we have said, this is the orthodox view of the Mahāyāna school to which most Japanese sects belong - holds, then, in short, that while for practical purposes in our state of ignorance we may say that there are real differences (Sabetsu) in things, in reality Existence is a oneness or a sameness (Byōdō) concerning which no further assertion can be made. Even the statement that the universe is Being would be too specific and must be balanced by the conception of Non-Being, if one would keep in the Middle Path. "We cannot say," writes a modern Buddhist, "that things either are or that they are not. If we ask whether things are fixed in their Being or fixed in their Non-Being, we can give no positive answer to either question. We can only say that things are, or that they are not, or that they are midway between Being and Non-Being." If this seems strange to the reader, let him remember that our own Hegel has tried to show that the essence of Being is Being plus Non-Being, whatever that may mean.
But the Mahāyāna Buddhist, too, recognizes that, after all, we live in a world where differences seem very real and where we must treat them as real in spite of their supposedly metaphysical identity. And so if we would make progress in our understanding, we must leave this problem of the ulitmate nature of reality and this high plane of the "Dharma of non-duality" and come down to the world as it is, or at any rate as it appears to be. We shall, however, not leave the above theories of knowledge and theories of the essence of reality too far behind, for they crop out in almost every problem that is discussed. In fact, we must remember that all exposition and explanation belong to the realm of Relative or Accommodated Truth and not to the realm of Absolute Truth. And so when we expound certain definite views regarding the cosmos, God, man, salvation etc., we must always be ready to add at the end that these are views expressed in terms of Accommodated Truth. This is exceedingly maddening to the average Western mind, for just when one thinks that one has finally reached solid ground as to what Buddhism really teaches on this or that point, one must be prepared to have the foundation knocked from under this stately mansion of knowledge by the consciousness that these ideas are expressed, but in the concepts of Accommodated Truth and therefore are not really true. And we should add here that it is this theory of truth which makes Buddhist teachings so inconsistent when taken as a whole, and so tolerant of views which may be the direct opposite. For if in the last analysis all differences are really a sameness, then it would be folly to insist very much on any view. All contradictions are but opposite sides of the same thing whose real nature transcends the power of finite mind to comprehend. Therefore, as we said, Buddhism is very tolerant; at least this is true of Buddhist philosophers.
D. The Pluralistic World of Experience
If the universe is Sameness from the standpoint of Absolute Truth, from the standpoint of Accommodated Truth it is a universe of Differences. The world of experience is a pluralistic world even though the last word of speculative thought may be a monism of one sort or another. Now this pluralistic world Buddhism divides in many ways, and in these divisions all schools agree in general. That is, the distinctions between Hīnayāna, Provisional Mahāyāna and True Mahāyāna do not have much meaning here. The differences are rather sectarian and pertain more to the religious application of the teachings than otherwise.
1. The Two Spheres . - First of all Buddhism divides all existence into the two great spheres mentioned above; namely, the phenomenal sphere and the noumenal sphere. This has already been discussed, and we mention it here simply because even this distinction belongs to the realm of Accommodated Truth and not to the realm of Absolute Truth.
2. The Three Worlds . - The second great division which Buddhism makes is what is called in Japanese, Sanse, Three Worlds, i.e. the Past, the Present and the Future. In western thought we are, of course, familiar with this division of time, but in Buddhist thought it is not so much a division of time as a division of the Causal Nexus which runs through all things. The Past world caused the Present world and the Present world becomes in turn the cause of the Future world. There is really nothing in the Present which was not in the Past, and there will be nothing in the Future which is not in the Present, so that the Past cause may be seen in the Present effect and the Future inferred from the Present cause. The universe is really a closed system and it repeats its perpetual rounds in strict conformity to the law of cause and effect.
3. The Timeless, Boundless Cosmos . - According to Buddhist cosmology the cosmos had no real beginning and has no end in time. It has always existed and it always will exist. It passes, however, through various stages as time goes on. Four stages are recognized; namely, (1) Completion, (2) Inhabitation, (3) Destruction and (4) Voidness. In the state of Completion the world is being formed from the great Void and prepared for living beings. In the state of Inhabitation it is filled with all manner of living beings. In the third state, the state of Destruction, the cosmos is disintegrating and preparing to enter the fourth state, the state of Voidness. This last state is, however, not an absolute void nor does this state continue forever, for after an immeasurable length of time the cosmos will again form from out this void and enter once more upon the first of the above mentioned states, and so a new cycle begins. One such cycle follows upon another in endless succession. Each stage in a cycle is millions of years in length, so that a single cycle is immeasurably long. And when it is said that such cycles follow each other in endless succession it becomes clear that this is simply an attempt to express in finite terms the infinity of Time. The cause of the destruction of the cosmos in the third state is said to be a destructive fire which breaks out and consumes everything with a fervent heat. The cause which reforms the cosmos in the first state is a cool wind which arises spontaneously and blows across the hot waste. Lest the reader take this too literally let him be reminded that this Wind is really the "Wind of Ignorance" which stirs up the "waves of mentation" on the "Ocean of Eternal Tranquillity." That is, the origin of the cosmos is really due to ignorance which spontaneously springs up in the Absolute and causes it to individualize and objectify itself. When this ignorance has been destroyed or exhausted the cosmos disappears again in the great void of Perfect Tranquillity.
The universe is not only timeless but also boundless as to space. The cosmos spoken of above is the cosmos known to man. But this is only one among numberless worlds. Thus Buddhist speculation says that "a thousand such worlds make a 'group of Lesser Thousand Worlds,' a thousand such groups make one group of 'Middle Thousand Worlds,' and a thousand groups of 'Middle Thousand Worlds' constitute a group of 'Larger Thousand Worlds.' And finally one such group makes one of the so-called 'Three Thousand Greatest Thousand Worlds.'" All these worlds pass through the four stages of Completion, Inhabitation, Destruction and Voidness mentioned above. Thus the universe is infinite both in Time and Space. Let the reader, however, be reminded again not to take this too literally, for space and time are regarded as but the laws of thought, and everything which appears in space and time as but the product of unenlightened minds.
4. The Three Realms . - We said that the second stage of each world is the state of Inhabitation, i.e. the state when a world is inhabited by living beings. These living beings Buddhism divides roughly into three great classes or realms; namely, the so-called Sankai, Three Realms (Sk. Trailokya). These are the Realm of Desire (Yokukai, Sk. Kāmadhātu), the Realm of Color or Pure Form (Shikikai, Sk. Rūpadhātu) and the Realm of No-Color or Formlessness (Mushikikai, Sk. Arūpadhatu). The first is called the Realm of Desire because all beings in this realm, or state, are subject to the bondages of sexual desires, eating, drinking, sleeping, and all that goes with physical existence. The Realm of Color, or Pure Form, is a kind of ethereal world. The beings in this realm are free from the ordinary lusts of the flesh, but their state is still a sort of bodily existence; namely, a bodily existence of a refined and etherealized substance. The Realm of No-Color, or Formlessness, is the realm of pure spirits. The beings in that realm have neither matter nor form. In fact, the highest beings in this realm are not only free from bodily existence, but their state is even more refined than spirit find reaches almost the vanishing point, for they are said to have entered the heaven of No-Thought and No-Non-Thought. What this means is that such beings have reached the borderland of the phenomenal world where it recedes, as it were, into the noumenal world and so eludes our grasp; for as we have repeatedly said, our knowledge is but a knowledge of the phenomenal world and not of the noumenal world. Our knowledge can therefore reach up to the very threshold of the noumenal world but it cannot go beyond.
5. The Six Ways . - Another division of phenomenal existence which covers the same range of beings as the Three Realms but in greater detail is what is known as the Six Ways (Rokudū, Sk. Gāti). The Six Ways are really six great classes of beings. Within these great divisions there are many subdivisions and grades. In fact, one is very much reminded of the Monadology of Leibniz which arranged all beings in an ascending or descending scale, so that no two were exactly alike - all being of the same essence but in different degrees. It is exceedingly important to understand this Buddhist "scale of beings," for it is but another way of stating the two great doctrines of Indian thought which have been the common property of Hinduism and Buddhism; namely, the doctrine of Karma and its corollary, the doctrine of Transmigration. Without a knowledge of this "scale of beings" it is also impossible to understand the absence in Buddhism of a clear line between God and man on the one hand, and between man and other creatures on the other hand. The ease, therefore, with which men are exalted into gods, and gods made to appear as men or lower beings, will be understood only after one gets clearly fixed in one's mind at least the main outline of the doctrine of the Six Ways. The following are the Six Ways given in an ascending scale: (1) Hell (Jigoku, Sk. Nāraka or Noraya), (2) Hungry Spirits (Gaki, Sk. Pretas), (3) Beasts (Chikushō), (4) Fighting and Bloodshed (Shura Sk. Asuras), (5) Man (Ningen) and (6) Heavenly Beings (Tenjō, Sk. Dēvas).
These Six Ways, or Realms of Beings, are localized with reference to Mt. Sumēru (Jap. Shumisen) regarded as the center of every world. Hell is located many leagues below this central mountain. It has eight great subdivisions located one below the other and each of these has four gates with four antechambers at each gate, thus making really a total of one hundred thirty-six hells. These are all hot hells, but there are also eight great divisions of a cold hell. The picture which Buddhism gives of the lot of the beings in these various hells surpasses the imagination of Western readers even though they may be steeped in Dante Inferno.
The Realm of Hungry Spirits has two great divisions; one being located under Mt. Sumēru but above Hell, and the other above the surface of the earth in the air near the base of the mountain. The characteristics of beings in this realm are greed and passion which exist in various degrees.
The Realm of Beasts has also two main divisions; one being in the "great sea" and the other on land around the base of Mt. Sumēru. Folly and passion are the characteristics of beings in this realm and their variety is as great as the number of living beings in the waters and on land, with man excluded.
The Realm of Fighting and Bloodshed has again two main divisions, one being in the sea and the other on land. Pride, strife and cruelty are the characteristics of beings in this realm. Some Japanese Buddhists omit this fourth realm, for it is not quite clear just what is really meant by it. The beings in it seem to be a sort of hybrid between beasts and man.
When we come to the fifth way or realm; namely, the Realm of Man, we come to an existence which has two sides to it. On the one hand human life is a life of sorrow and suffering, and on the other hand it is a life of joy and happiness. As compared with the four lower realms it is highly to be desired, but still it is not an existence in which one should care to remain forever. Sorrow and suffering outweigh the happy side, and all pleasures in this life are fleeting.
The last and highest of the Six Ways is the Way or Realm of Heavenly Beings. This is the great realm into which Buddhist speculation places all the gods and superhuman beings of Brahmanism and other religions, i.e. beings that are superior to man but which have not entered the Buddhist Nirvāna. The Realm of Heavenly Beings has numerous divisions, heaven rising above heaven in endless numbers. They are divided into three great groups, the first group being the heavens of the Realm of Desire, the second, the heavens of the Realm of Form, and the third, the heavens of the Realm of Formlessness. These are located one above the other and separated by immense distances. The lower heavens of the Realm of Desire are located on the upper slopes and top of Mt. Sumēru, while the upper heavens of this lower group are located hundreds of thousands of leagues above this central mountain, whose own height is said to be 84,000 yodjanas above the surface of the ocean and whose depth extends an equal distance downwards. As the upper groups of heavens are separated by immeasurable distances from this lower group, it follows that they extend upward into infinite space. As the heights of these numerous heavens vary, so does the length of life in them vary. In the lowest of the heavens of the Realm of Desire, e.g. life lasts 500 years, but twenty-four hours in this heaven are equal in length to fifty years on earth. In the highest of this lower group life lasts 16,000 years, but twenty-four hours are equal to 1600 years on earth. In the heavens of the Realm of Form and the Realm of Formlessness life can only be measured by Kalpas, and a Kalpa may be measured in years by adding from seventeen to ninety ciphers to the figure one. The following outline may give the reader a glimpse of this immense structure of oriental imagination. We give both the Japanese and Sanskrit terms, and, where possible, the meaning in English.Tenjō (Dēvas), Heavenly Beings.
|1. Roku Yokuten (6 Dēvalōkas), Six Heavens of Desire.|
|2. Shizen (4 Dhyānas), Four Meditation Regions.|
|3. Shimushiki (Arūpadhatu), Four Formlessness Regions.|
6. The Four Holies. - Now Buddhism offers a salvation from this "dread cycle of existence" by opening unto all beings a way of escape. This way is the way of the Four Holies (Shisei). These are the four great stages of enlightenment, beginning with those who hear the law of Buddha and ending with those who have fully attained Perfect Enlightenment, or Buddhahood. These four stages are the following: (1) Hearers (Jap. Shōmon, Sk. Srāvaka), (2) Enlightened One (Jap. Enkaku, Sk. Pratyēka Buddha), (3) Bodhisattva (Jap. Bosatsu, Sk. Bodhisattva), (4) Buddha (Jap. Butsu, Sk. Buddha). There are several degrees in each of these four stages of holiness, as may be seen at a glance from the following outline:
|Four Holies (Shisei)||1. Shōmon (Srāvaka)||a. Sudako (Srotāpanna), a beginner in the way of Enlightenment. |
b. Sudagon (Skridagamin), one who returns but once to the Three Worlds.
c. Anagon (Anagamin), no return to the Three Worlds.
d. Arakan, or Rakan (Arhat), a true saint, free from evil and one who has attained the first stage of Buddhahood.
|2. Enkaku (Pratyēka Buddha||One who has broken the twelve links in the arma Chain. |
The state is also called Dokugaku, Self Buddha) enlightenment. This enlightenment is still shallow and this kind of Buddha, like the Arhat, seeks salvation only for himself.
|3. Bosatsu (Bodhisattva)|
The Bodhisattva makes four great vows and practices the six virtues (Pāramitās)
a. To save all beings. b. To destroy all passions. c. To know and teach others all laws. d. To lead others to understand all Buddha's ways.
a. Almsgiving and teaching the ignorant. b. Keeping the Commandments. c. Patience and Long-suffering. d. Diligence (in fulfilling the vows). e. Meditation. f. Wisdom (for self and others).
|4. Butsu (Buddha)||a. Ōjin Butsu (Nirmanakāya), Buddha in human form like the historic Buddha S'akyamuni b. Hoshin Butsu (Sambhogakāya), Buddha as an ideal person or the personification of virtue and wisdom such as the Buddha Amitābha. c. Hōshin Butsu (Dharmakāya), Buddha as the Absolute or the Noumenon that underlies all phenominal existence.|
To appreciate the respective values of these different stages of holiness the following section from the Sūtra of the Forty-two Sections should be read:
"The Buddha said, 'It is better to feed one good man than to feed one hundred bad men. It is better to feed one who observes the Five Precepts of Buddha than to feed one thousand good men. It is better to feed one Srotāpanna than to feed ten thousand of those who observe the Five Precepts of Buddha. It is better to feed one Skridagamin than to feed one million Srotāpanna. It is better to feed one Anagamin than to feed ten millions of Skridagamin. It is better to feed one Arhat than to feed one hundred millions of Anagamins. It is better to feed one Pratyēka Buddha than to feed one billion of Arhats. It is better to feed one of the Buddhas, either of the present, or of the past, or of the future, than to feed ten billions of Pratyēka Buddhas. It is better to feed one who is above knowledge, one sidedness, discipline and enlightenment than to feed one hundred billions of Buddhas of the past, present, or future.'"
7. The Ten Worlds. - The Four Holies and the Six Ways are sometimes placed together in one great scale of beings known as the Ten Worlds (Jūkai). This gives us the most comprehensive classification, as it includes all beings both within the Three Realms and above the Three Realms. The following diagram illustrates the matter at a glance:
|The Ten Worlds||1. Hell. |
2. Hungry Spirits.
4. Fighting and Bloodshed.
6. Heavenly Beings.
|The Six Ways, or the Three Realms. |
The World of Ignorance.
|7. Srāvaka. |
8. Pratyēka Buddha.
|The Four Hollies, or Above the Three Realms. |
The World of Enlightenment.
As we said above, it is not necessary that the reader master all the details of these various ways in which Buddhists divide the phenomenal world, but it is exceedingly worth while to keep these things before one in a general way and to remember that all these grades of beings, from the lowest hell to the highest heaven, yea to the Buddhas who are above the highest heaven, are all bound together by the law of Karma into a sort of monistic whole. This should be remembered whether one discusses the Buddhist God-idea, the nature of man, the way of salvation, the future life, or any other cardinal doctrine. It affects the way of approach to all of these and explains why the clear lines we draw in Western thought between God and man, truth and error, right and wrong, etc. do not usually obtain in Buddhism. And especially should the reader remember that this whole scheme of graded beings is but a presentation of things as they appear from the standpoint of Accommodated Truth, and not as they really are when seen from the high plane of Absolute Truth; for from this standpoint these differences have no real meaning. They are but ripples caused by the Wind of Ignorance on the Ocean of Sameness. Even the beings of the lowest hell are substantially one with the beings of the highest realms, for "in every passion there is a Buddha," and "in every living being dwells the essence of Buddha."
We have now reached the point where we can take up more specifically what from a Western standpoint would be regarded as the cardinal doctrines of religion. The first of these is naturally the doctrine of God.
E. The God-idea of Japanese Buddhism
What is really the conception of the Divine held by Japanese Buddhists? The answer is a very complex one.
In our first chapter we discussed briefly what seems to have been S'akyamuni's teaching on this point. We saw that he regarded the speculations about the Brahman as an idle waste of time, and on the other hand, the numerous gods of the common people he robbed of their glory either by ignoring them altogether, or by assigning them a much lower place than that of one who like himself had attained enlightenment; for the gods too, according to S'akyamuni, were still subject to the laws of birth and death and the dread cycle of existence which is incurably evil. In our second chapter we saw how the idea of a Supreme Being reasserted itself in Buddhism as it spread through northwest India and then into China, and that S'akyamuni himself was exalted into a being like God, or at least was regarded as a special manifestation of the Supreme Being. We saw how Buddhism in its onward march gathered up into itself practically everything with which it came in contact, so that by the time it reached Japan it had assumed a complexity rather difficult to analyze. As was the case with other cardinal doctrines, so its God-idea was no longer one God-idea but many, ranging all the way from a low animistic nature cult through ancestor worship and various stages of polytheism to a philosophical monism which in some branches was atheistic, in others semi-theistic, and in still others pantheistic. And what Buddhism was in China before it reached Japan, it has been and is to-day in Japan, only that here it has added to itself the legends and myths of the primitive Shintō which saw in every phenomenon a special god and regarded particularly the Imperial family as the descendants of the gods and as worthy to become gods after death. Thus it is clear that if one would set forth the conception which Japanese Buddhists have of the Divine, no clear-cut presentation need be expected, and it is no wonder that there is such a divergence of opinion among writers on Buddhism as to just what is the Buddhist conception of God.
But while it is difficult to make a clear-cut presentation of the subject we shall try to analyze in a measure at least this maze of contradictory ideas. To begin with, we must again refer the reader to the scheme of gradation of beings which we have given above. There are ten great realms of living beings in the Buddhist universe, and man finds himself near the middle of this scale. That is, he is superior to some and inferior to others. Those above man, though differing from one another in excellence, may be regarded as gods. And as all beings are bound together by a universal causal nexus, so that the higher may return to the lower and the lower to the higher stages of existence, the boundary between the human and the divine or any other stage naturally disappears. Thus men can become gods and gods become men. And still further must it be remembered that all these graded realms of beings are superior or inferior only as seen from the standpoint of unenlightened man, but that from the standpoint of true enlightenment these differences have no meaning; for all are mere manifestations of what is essentially one and the same reality. This one reality is the Absolute of Buddhist philosophy. Western writers usually speak of the Buddhist conception of the Absolute as being a pantheistic conception and say that Buddhism as a religion is pantheism. Perhaps Pantheism is the best word we can use in English to designate the Buddhist God-idea, but only so because it is a very vague term open to an almost indefinite number of shades of meaning. As a matter of fact, Buddhist philosophers do not use the term. The Ultimate of Buddhist thought is not All- God, but a Oneness which transcends the categories of all being as known to man. The Absolute is really the Great Unknowable, and the agnostic attitude is the proper one for all true Buddhist philosophers.
But while the agnostic attitude is regarded as the most profound and should issue logically in silence on this great problem, few Buddhists are consistent on this point and, like Herbert Spencer, have a good deal to say about the Great Unknowable. What they have to say differs rather widely, for with some the conception of the Divine is practically atheism, i.e. the God-idea ends in zero, with others the conception is not far removed from theism, and with still others, who represent the majority, the conception fluctuates between atheism and theism, so that it may be designated by the vague term pantheism. The conception held by the general run of believers is incurably polytheistic, for polytheism is not, as some suppose, inconsistent with pantheism, but its necessary complement. That is, polytheism and pantheism are but two sides of one and the same shield; the former being the pluralistic view of everyday experience, and the latter the monistic view of the speculative thinker.
If then we speak of the God-idea as held by Japanese Buddhists, it depends largely upon what Buddhists we are talking about. The uneducated classes in all sects are poly- theists, and the philosophers are usually monists of one sort or another, varying, as we have just said, all the way from atheism to a semi-theism. We shall take up the philosophic views first and then the popular ideas.
While for the sake of convenience we shall discuss the God-idea of the thinking classes under the three heads of Atheism, Theism and Pantheism, we do not wish to give the impression that these are clear divisions, or that they are held so in actual practice. There are two reasons why these divisions cannot be clear-cut. The first reason is that all three have in the religious life of the average adherent an undergrowth of polytheistic nature worship with a strong admixture of ancestor worship which ever grows up and chokes any clear distinctions which the philosophers might seek to make. The second reason is that Atheism, Pantheism and Theism, in the very nature of the case, cannot be marked off clearly one from the other. For example, if in Theism one lays great stress on what in Western thought is called the Immanence of God, one is not far removed from Pantheism, and the lower end of Pantheism which denies consciousness to the One-All is not far from Atheism. It is best then to think of the Buddhist God-idea as a tree whose stem is pantheistic, with atheistic branches on its shady side and semi-theistic branches on the sunny side. Or to use the Hegelian mode of thought, Atheism might be regarded as the thesis of original Buddhism and the Buddhism of those Japanese and Chinese sects which have kept nearest to the teachings of the founder. Theism is the antithesis posited by the worshippers of Amida, and Pantheism is the synthesis of the two, and stands for Buddhism as a whole; for not only the sects which stand avowedly for the pantheistic conception, but even the atheistic and semi-theistic sects would not object to being classed as pantheists. It is the glory of Buddhism, and always has been, that it is comprehensive in its thought, and what can be more comprehensive than the vague Pantheism which allows both Atheism and Theism as equally true; or as the Buddhist would say, two opposite sides of the same shield?
1. Atheistic Buddhism. - It may seem a contradiction in terms to speak of an atheistic God-idea, but the student of Buddhism should not be too sensitive about using contradictory terms if he would advance in his understanding of its mysteries. Even an atheistic Buddhist will call his philosophy of life a religion, though according to our Western mode of thought a religion without a god would hardly be regarded as religion. It can at least be a religion of humanity as we Westerners have been taught by Comte and his followers; and in reality atheistic Buddhism is far more than this, for while the God-idea does seem to end almost in zero, the Buddhist of this type gives at least a passive worship to the mystery of the unknowable Absolute.
Atheistic Buddhism finds its best representative among Japanese Buddhists in the three branches of the Zen Sect; namely, the Rinzai, Sōtō and Obaku sects. It is the boast of the Zen Sect that it is nearest to the teachings of the founder of Buddhism. It often calls itself the Buddha Heart Sect. The student of primitive Buddhism must admit that the Zen, both in theory and in practice, is far nearer the religion of the founder than are the other Chinese and Japanese sects. As we said in our first chapter, Gautama may not have been an out-and-out atheist but he certainly had very little to say about God. If he did not deny the existence of the gods of the common people, he robbed them of the glory they once had. And so these true modern followers of Gautama may not deny the existence of beings higher than ordinary man - beings which the ignorant may fear and worship as gods - but such beings would not be regarded as gods or as God, worthy to be worshipped. And just as Gautama held that through self-discipline man can attain enlightenment and Buddhahood which is higher than all the gods, so the Zen philosopher of to-day holds that man can, in his own strength through self-discipline, attain unto the highest condition of existence. If the reader will again consult the chart of the Ten Worlds given above, he will see that above man is the realm of heavenly beings with grades upon grades. The Zen philosopher may not deny the existence of these beings, but they are not gods to him. Above the realm of these heavenly beings are the Four Holies, each of which represents higher and higher stages of enlightenment and all of them are far above the realms of heavenly beings, which latter still belong to the realm of individual existence with all its limitations. And furthermore, all of these grades of beings with their differences are in the last analysis but the product of impure thought and so have no real existence outside the mind of the thinker. He who has entered the highest meditation of Zen thought, "the white silence of truth," will see that these differences do not exist and that all individuality is swallowed up in the ocean of the Eternal.
But what about the Four Holies and especially the highest of these, the Buddha state? If the Zen philosopher ignores or denies the existence of God or the gods, is not Buddhahood itself, which man may attain, the God of Zen teaching? If the Zen philosopher believes in a god at all, we might say it is Buddha. But then the question arises as to what is meant by Buddha. Is Buddha regarded as a personal being, and does he exist now as a personal being?
The historic Buddha Gautama existed as an individual human being (or what appears so from the standpoint of Accommodated Truth). But when that historic being attained enlightenment and entered into Nirvāna he became free from the bondages of individual existence. He passed out from the Three Worlds and so ceased to exist in the sense that one can predicate anything of his state of being. Or it may be said that he entered a state which transcends all the categories of beings known to man. Therefore if anything is asserted about him, it must be in the form of negating any particularization, and the wisest attitude is one of silence. Buddha is certainly not a personal being, not a personal God; nor can one assert anything about him. The Zen Sect thus consistently lays great stress on meditation which should lead to silence, not only of words, but also of thought of all particulars. The true Zen student seeks to enter a Holy Vacancy in which no thought of individual being appears. Even to say that Zen teaches atheism in regard to the God-idea is not quite accurate, for that would be asserting something definite inasmuch as every negation is really an affirmation.
It might be asked, then, whether the Zen philosopher teaches that all existence is God, and that the God-idea is an idea which includes everything. To this the answer is that the words "all existence" represent to the person who uses them something definite, i.e. a summary of all individual beings. But all so-called individual beings have merely a phenomenal existence; and so it cannot be said that the Ultimate of Zen philosophy is the One-All, for the All itself does not exist in the sense in which the mind predicates existence of anything. Thus the height of Zen philosophy does not only deny the existence of God and gods, but it refuses to assert the opposite, or to make a synthesis of the two and assert Pantheism. The consistent Zen philosopher passes through Atheism and Pantheism into absolute Agnosticism which ends consistently in silence. If this silence is broken at all, it is to assert merely the existence of the Great Unknowable towards which the philosopher may take an attitude of reverence and even worship it with a passive spirit, but this can hardly be compared with the conscious fellowship which the Christian has in his experience of God.
Sometimes it is claimed that the Zen believer experiences that mystical communion with the Divine which Christian mystics claim to have, and this may be so; but when this is a real communion of the soul with God it transcends what Zen theology holds to be true. The true Communion in Zen teaching is the communion of self with self, for there is no Divine with which to commune except within the heart of him who communes. That is, the real God of Zen is man's own heart - the heart freed from the distractions of particular thought. This God may be called the Higher Self, and this may be identified with the Universal Self which constitutes the core of all existence; but such language is really too definite and savors too much of philosophic theism to be quite true to orthodox Zen thought, though some moderns writing for Western eyes are inclined sometimes to use such phraseology. The weight of Zen thought is against the conception of God as a Personal Spirit transcending the universe though immanent in it; and in fact it recognizes "no God except such as man can and has become by the attainment of Buddhahood"; and the Buddha state, as we have said, is not that of personality but transcends the categories of all beings.
2. Theistic Buddhism. - Theistic Buddhism finds its best representative among Japanese Buddhists in the four Amida sects; namely, the great Jōdo and Shin sects and the two small Yūdzū Nembutsu and Ji sects. Let us, however, state at the outset that strictly speaking we cannot call these sects theistic, for they make some allowances for other gods or Buddhas beside Amida, and in the last analysis, as we shall see, they really deny the personality of God as the Absolute, and, like all Mahāyāna sects, hold that the Absolute is neither personal nor impersonal but transcends human knowledge.
But while the Amidaists make room for other Buddhas and gods, on the whole the Buddha Amida occupies such a unique place, and his name is on the lips of his followers so much that we speak of the Amida sects as theistic, or at least semi-theistic sects. They hold that to worship Amida is sufficient, for he embraces all others; he is, as it were, the pleroma of the God-head. Some moderns, influenced by Christian thought, speak of Amida as the Creator and the Father, and ascribe to him practically all the attributes which a Christian would ascribe unto God. And even in some of the older canonical scriptures we find, e.g., such sentences as this, "Buddha (Amida) said, 'My mercy towards all ye heaven and earth-born creatures is deeper than the love of parents towards their children.'" And in the famous Lotus scripture we read, "Now are the Three Worlds mine and all living beings in the same are indeed my children.
But great and many are their afflictions and it is I alone that can save them." The Nirvāna sūtra speaks in much the same strain when it says, "If a man have seven children and one of these be ill, his love though equal towards all, will go out in a special way to this one. Thus it is with the love of the Nyōrai; though it is equal towards all beings, it hovers in a special manner over those who are in sin." These may not be exactly characteristic thoughts of Amida Buddhism, but there is enough of this element in it to make one feel that it is indeed an approach to the Christian conception of God. This will come more clearly to light in what we have to say under the heading of Salvation, and has also been touched upon in Chapter III, in the section on the Shin Sect.
In our second chapter we spoke of the beginnings of the Amitābha (Amida) faith. We saw how early in the Christian era this Buddha was known to Asvaghosha and Nāgārjuna, though they saw him only "as through a glass darkly." By the beginning of the fifth century Kumārajīva seemed to have had a clearer conception of him as the supreme Personal God. But the name which is great among the Amida sects is that of Zendō who lived at Sin-an-fu, China, in the first half of the seventh century. In 635 A.D. there arrived in the same city the Nestorian mission under Olopun, which must have been rather successful, as may be inferred from the celebrated memorial stone, the Nestorian Monument, erected in 781 A.D. Is it stretching the imagination to suppose that Zendō may have been influenced by the Christian conception of God, taught by these Nestorian missionaries? Not that the Amida doctrine is a Christian product pure and simple, for as we showed in Chapter II, it may have had its origin in purely Indian or Persian thought, but it does seem possible, if not probable, that Nestorian Christianity in China strengthened this theistic tendency in Buddhism of singling out one of the many Buddhas and making him the one and only Buddha. All the more does this theory seem plausible when it is remembered that Zendō's teachings were regarded by other Buddhists as heretical doctrines. Zendō's teachings were taken to Japan, where they were spread by Genshin and others till finally they were crystallized in the formation of the Amida sects mentioned above. These have perpetuated and developed the Amida doctrine and made it the common possession of millions of Japanese Buddhists; namely, four sects with a total of more than 28,000 temples, or about three-sevenths of the whole.
As we have stated above, the God-idea in Amida Buddhism is not strictly a theistic idea. On the one hand, the Amidaist makes room for other gods or Buddhas beside Amida; and on the other hand, the Amida philosopher really denies that Amida as the Absolute is personal. First let us give a few characteristic quotations from Amida theologians to show how Amida must share his glory with others even though he occupies the central place. "The Gods, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are numberless," says a recent theologian of the Shin Sect, "but since all these are branch bodies of Amida they are ultimately contained in the six characters Na-mu A-mi-da Butsu (I worship Thee Thou Buddha of Boundless Life and Light). For this reason it is sufficient to worship the one Buddha Amida and not necessary to worship these many deities separately. Rennyō says, `As the body called Namu Amida Butsu includes all Gods, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and everything good and every good work, what is the use of worrying your mind about various works and things good?'" But to make sure of being comprehensive the writer goes on to say that the good Amidaist "worships the deities worshiped by others. Every God and Buddha worshiped by man deserves reverence and worship. Speaking from the standpoint of human expediency, reverence and worship must not be neglected, and much less should the believer in the Nyōrai (i. e., Amida) neglect this duty of mankind." Speaking on this same point another writer says, "Not even in dreams should one make light of any of the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, nor should one despise or reject any god and his ways. Though through the ages and the various stages of life we have practiced many good things by the boundless help of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we still cannot escape mortality through our own efforts; but having been urged on in past existences by all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas we have now come under the benefit of the gracious vow of Amida. To speak evil of any of the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, not knowing their benevolence, is indeed to show the deepest ingratitude."
But the Amida doctrine breaks down as a theistic conception also for the reason that no Buddhist philosopher is willing to think of the Ultimate in terms of personality. Amida is spoken of as a personal being, but the term Personal is what Buddhist philosophers of all schools would consider as an accommodation of language when used of the Ultimate. Even in the West it is a common objection to the doctrine of a Personal God to say that personality implies limitation, and that therefore God as the Absolute cannot be personal. The Buddhist philosopher raises the same objection and says that if Amida is spoken of as personal, it is only by way of accommodation to suit the doctrine to the intelligence of the average man who cannot think in the concepts of philosophy. The Christian theist admits, of course, that God as the Absolute necessarily transcends man's comprehension, but he holds that the term Personality represents the highest conception which can be held of God, so that we must think of God either as personal or as sub-personal. Super-personal concepts are beyond us. The Buddhist philosopher, regarding the idea of Personality as inadequate to express the nature of God, rejects it and without realizing it lapses into the sub-personal. Instead of getting an idea more adequate than the conception of a perfect Personality he either gets one less so, or the concept ends in the zero of Agnosticism, or in the confusion of Pantheism.
But to understand more clearly in just what sense these semi-theistic sects regard Amida as a personal Buddha, we must take up at this point what is known as the doctrine of the Three Bodies of Buddha (Sanshin, Sk. Trikāya). This doctrine is not peculiar to the Amida Buddhists, but it throws special light upon the God-idea as held by these sects. If the reader will again consult the chart of the Ten Worlds, he will find that the tenth, or the highest, is the Buddha World. Now Buddha may be thought of in three different ways, and these three ways are the so-called Three Bodies of Buddha. These are: (a) The Law Body of Buddha (Sk. Dharmakāāya, Jap. Hosshin Butsu), (b) The Compensation Body of Buddha (Sk. Sambhogakāya, Jap. Hōshin Butsu), and (c) The Accommodated Body of Buddha (Sk. Nirmanakāya, Jap. Ojin Butsu).
The first of these three, or the Law Body of Buddha, means Buddha conceived of as the embodiment of Law. It is Buddha regarded as the essence or underlying substance of the universe, or Buddha as the Noumenon back of the phenomenal world. Or if the doctrine be stated in the language of modern thought, it is almost synonymous with the Laws of Nature conceived of as metaphysical entities and constituting a monistic whole of which nature is a visible and pluralistic expression.
"Buddha makes Law his body."
"The realm of Law is the Nyōrai and this is the true body of Buddha."
"The Law Body is the Law without birth and without death. It exists neither in the past nor in the future, for it transcends time."
The Law Body of Buddha, then, means Buddha conceived of as the Absolute and the underlying substance or essence of all reality, and as such Buddha is not a personal being.
The second way in which Buddha may be thought of is what is called the Compensation Body of Buddha. The meaning of this conception is rather difficult to state clearly, but in it lies the key to the understanding of theistic Buddhism and the explanation of what is meant by the so-called personal Buddha, or God, Amida. We have already said above that according to Buddhist philosophy the Absolute as such is not personal, but personality is something which is evolved in the process of phenomenal existence and, like all phenomena, personality cannot be a permanent state of being. In other words, there was a time when the Buddha Amida did not exist as Amida, and likewise it is impossible to affirm that Amida is a personal being now. He is spoken of as personal simply because this is a practical conception for the religious needs of the average man.
According to the Buddhist cosmogony this universe has always existed very much as it exists to-day; at least the essence of the universe has always existed. The material of the universe at times is organized and at times is in a state of chaos, so that chaos and order follow each other at great intervals. Thus there have been millions of universes and millions of states of chaos or voids, and in the future there will be millions of universes alternating with millions of periods of chaos and void. Where in Christian thought we say, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," the Buddhist would say, "In the beginning was the substance of the universe, or the Law Body of Buddha." In the course of time, namely ten Kalpas ago, there was a Buddha in this world whose name was the Buddha of Perfect Freedom. This Buddha had a disciple, Hōzō Bosatsu, who, casting away his kingly rank, became zealous in religion. He took pity on all living creatures and made a vow that he would not enter the bliss of Buddhahood until he had prepared a way of salvation for all beings. When he had fulfilled his vow he attained perfection and became the Buddha Amida. That is, the Buddha Amida was first the man Hōzō Bosatsu. The latter, as a resultant of his good works and the fulfillment of his vow to save all living beings, obtained the Compensation Body and became Amida. Hōzō Bosatsu as a man was, of course, a personal being, and as Amida he became the embodiment of mercy and wisdom. Amida may therefore be regarded as the ideal personification of mercy and wisdom, but not as a personal being whose characteristics are mercy and wisdom. And he is not the Eternal Personal God, but only man become God. In the words of Professor T. Inouye, "Buddhism knows of no God except such a one as man can and has become by the attainment of Buddhahood." And as Amida is not God from the beginning, but only one who has attained Buddhahood, it is not surprising that Amida philosophers deny that Amida has any personal existence now. He is spoken of in personal terms simply by way of accommodation of language and not because he is personal.
Amida, then, is an example of the second sense in which the term Buddha is used; namely, the Compensation Body of Buddha, or the Body of Reward for good works achieved by a human being who as such was personal, but who as Amida is not a real personal being but only the personification of the qualities of mercy and wisdom; for when Hōzō Bosatsu really entered into Buddhahood he, as an individual being, was merged in Buddha as the Absolute, which is neither personal nor impersonal.
"Mercy is the Nyōrai and the Nyōrai is Mercy."
The third way in which Buddha may be thought of is what is called the Accommodated Body of Buddha. This means Buddha regarded as a historical personage, such, e.g. as S'akyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. Such Buddhas have existed by the thousands and millions in the past cycles of time. They are said to be as numerous as the grains of sand on the sacred Ganges. "Buddha's body (i.e. the Law Body of Buddha) fills the ends of the universe. It is revealed to all living beings everywhere and always in a manner suited to meet the needs of life to which it appears" (i.e. the Accommodated Body of Buddha). "The so-called gods," says Rennyō, "are but the transformations of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. But since it is difficult for men in this world to approach the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, deity is revealed by accommodation as gods (i.e. the popular gods of Shintō and polytheistic Buddhism). Thus connection with mankind is made and man is brought finally into Buddhism."
The historical being whom we know as Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was therefore not the manifestation of the Eternal Personal God, but simply one of the many forms of individual existence, and he no more truly represented the nature of the Ultimate than did the inanimate ground of India on which he walked. For neither the personal nor the impersonal represents the essence of reality; both are but different expressions of one and the same Whole.
From the above it must be clear, then, that when we speak of theistic Buddhism and call Amida a personal God we are using language in a very loose sense. While the average Amidaist prays to Amida and speaks of him in personal terms, the Amida philosopher looks upon him as merely the personification of a principle, or the idea of mercy and wisdom. In Christian language we say, "God is love." If by this we meant that God is simply the personification of love and not that love is the expression of a real personal being, we would have a parallel case with the Buddhist idea of Amida as the embodiment of Mercy.
Of the Three Bodies of Buddha mentioned above the Law Body is the most ultimate, and in so far as the Amidaists recognize this they agree with all the Mahāyāna sects that, while for practical purposes they may make room for the idea of a personal god or of personal gods, the ultimate as such cannot be said to be personal. It is the Great Unknowable concerning which no affirmation can be made.
3. Pantheistic Buddhism. - Pantheistic Buddhism finds its best representative in such sects as the Tendai and Shingon. It asserts the reality of the Divine and so is perhaps a little more positive in its God-idea than are the sects which we have designated as atheistic. In the second place pantheistic sects see the divine in everything, and so differ somewhat from the so-called theistic sects which tend to see the divine primarily in the Buddha Amida. The pantheistic God-idea is the true philosophic basis for the polytheism of the common believer who is to be found in every sect. Even if in the pantheistic sects there are some gods who seem to occupy a peculiar preëminence, and the Buddha Vairochana, e.g., is spoken of as the Supreme Buddha, the lesser gods and Buddhas will be considered as so many manifestations of these supreme beings, and these supreme beings will not be regarded as having an independent personal existence but only as existing in the various lesser beings. And not only are the gods of polytheistic Buddhism the manifestation of the divine, but all things are equally its manifestation. "In every living being dwells the essence of Buddha."
It was this pantheistic basis of Buddhism which enabled Kōbō Daishi and the men of his day to bring into the already overstocked Buddhist pantheon the myriads of gods of the old Shintō, and form what is known as the Two-Sided Shintō. Every popular god of the native Shintō could easily be regarded as but the Japanese form of Buddhist deities or as new manifestations of the Divine, which is infinite in its modes of existence and manifestations.
Under theistic Buddhism we spoke of the Three Bodies of Buddha, and said that the first of these, the Law Body of Buddha, is regarded by all Mahāyāna sects as the deepest reality and the underlying essence of all things. Both the so-called atheistic and theistic branches hold this view. Pantheistic Buddhism, too, recognizes this threefold distinction and makes the Law Body the deepest reality. It is simply more insistent in its religious application of the idea upon making all individual beings, especially the gods of the common people, the real manifestation of this ultimate divine reality. Or to put it the other way around, the ultimate reality has no existence except as it exists in individual beings. All things are not merely the manifestation of the Divine but they are the Divine. While there may be forms and manifestations of the Divine unknown to man, the phenomenal world with its gods many and Buddhas many is the Divine. The Accommodated Bodies of Buddha are the Law Body and the Law Body is in the Accommodated Body. The phenomena are the Noumenon, and the Noumenon is in the phenomena.
If, then, there appear personal beings in the phenomenal world, the essence of reality is personal to that extent, but the Infinite is personal only as it is personal in the finite, or God is personal only in so far as he is personal in human beings and in the gods of popular polytheism. But inas- much as the personality of each human being and these popular gods is regarded as but a temporary state brought about by certain conditions which are constantly changing, God is not permanently personal in any one being. The Divine is permanently personal in finite beings only in so far as it has always manifested itself in them and probably always will. The Great Ocean of Reality is ever breaking up into waves. No wave, however, is permanent, but soon sinks back again into the waveless depths. In the same way the Divine ever wells up into personal beings, but none endure as such, and soon sink back into the depth of Being which is neither personal nor impersonal.
The God-idea, then, of pantheistic Buddhism is that God is personal in finite personal beings and impersonal in finite impersonal beings; the latter are as truly the essence of the Divine as the former. To the question as to whether God is personal, the reply would be both Yes and No. That is why we said at the beginning of the section on the Godidea that Pantheism is the synthesis of the thesis Atheism and the antithesis Theism, including both and being neither. Speaking in the figure of a shield, Pantheism is the main body of the shield. Atheism is the smooth and barren concave surface, while the convex surface represents the theistic phase. The convex surface faces the foe of practical life and it may have on it one central decoration (Semi-theism), or it may be decorated with many symbols (Polytheism). Whether they be many or only one they are, after all, only surface decorations. The surface decorations may be the picture of those who have attained Buddhahood and so are an encouragement to the one who bears it, but they can be hardly more than that; for again let us remember that Buddhism really knows of no personal God except such as man can himself become, i.e. the Divine is only such as is within man.
4. Polytheistic Buddhism. - While philosophic Buddhism is monistic with a strong bent towards agnosticism, popular Buddhism is pluralistic and realistic. The average Buddhist believer is incurably polytheistic, and the philosophical dis- tinctions between atheism, theism and pantheism, which we have made above, do not mean much to him, for these monistic concepts are beyond the uneducated masses. They are at best mere shadowy backgrounds of the picture, the foreground is occupied by gods innumerable. Just as in the political life of Japan there has always been but one dynasty and one emperor recognized but kept far removed from the common people by the various ranks of officials who acted as intermediaries, so in the religious life of Japan the monistic Absolute was too far removed from the needs of practical life and the realistic gods of popular polytheism have functioned instead.
We give here a list of the more popular deities. Some of them are of Indian or Chinese origin gradually taken on by popular Buddhism; others came from Shintō and are regarded as Shintō deities but are worshiped by most Buddhists, and still others are a mixture of Indian, Chinese and Japanese elements. The order is alphabetical rather than according to importance.
Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, the leading Shintō deity, but as ancestress of the Imperial family is worshiped by Buddhists and Shintōists alike. Other names under which this goddess is known are Daijingu, Shimmei and Ten-Shōkō- Daijin.
Amida, worshiped by the masses as a god or a Buddha among many Buddhas rather than as the one and only Buddha of theistic philosophy.
Atago, a Shintō deity worshiped as the god who protects against fire.
Benten, or Benzaiten, one of the seven deities of good luck. The other six are Bishamon, Daikoku, Ebisu, Fukurokuju, Hōtei, and Jurojin. Benten may be known by the serpent or dragon as her symbol.
Binzuru, a God of Healing, is very popular with the ignorant classes and his image is frequently adorned with hood, bib and mittens. The famous image at the Asakusa Kwannon temple touched by all who have pain is a real spreader of disease, but so strong is the faith in its healing power that the more enlightened official world has not dared to forbid the practice.
Bishamon, one of the seven deities of Luck, also a god of War, and so is represented with armor, spear and toy pagoda.
Daikoku, one of the seven deities of Luck, especially the God of Wealth, usually seated on bales of rice, the main item of wealth in old Japan.
Dainichi Nyōryai, worshiped as the God of Wisdom and Purity rather than as the Eternal Buddha of philosophic Buddhism.
Daiseishi, usually associated with Amida and Kwannon.
Ebisu, one of the seven deities of Luck and usually represented with a fishing-rod and a tai fish. He is the special patron of honest labor.
Emma-O, the ruler of the Buddhist hells.
Fudo, probably a God of Wisdom, which characteristic is represented by flames. This symbol has led many to worship him as God of Fire.
Fugen, a special patron of those who practice a certain ecstatic meditation. His image is frequently associated with that of S'akyamuni.
Gongen, a general term for Shintō deities regarded as temporary manifestations of Buddhas; frequently, however, this term is applied to Ieyasu.
Hachiman, the God of War.
Inari, the Goddess of the Rice, symbolized by her servant the fox whom many regard as the goddess herself.
Izanagi and Izanami, the Creator and Creatress of Japan.
Jizo, the very popular deity of those who are in trouble, especially the patron of travelers, pregnant women and little children. The images of this popular deity are perhaps more numerous than any other. It may be recognized by the staff in one hand and the jewel in the other, and especially by the pebbles heaped upon it by the numerous devotees.
Kishi Bojin, like Jizo, a protector of little children.
Kompira, a deity held in special regard by seamen and travelers.
Koshin, a deification of the day of the monkey in the calendar and symbolized by three monkeys, i.e. the blind monkey, the deaf monkey and the dumb monkey.
Kwannon, the God or Goddess of Mercy. The full name is Kwanzeon Dai Bosatsu, and the original Sanskrit word Avalōkitēsvara means The-One-Who-Looks-Down-from- Above. Perhaps no deity plays a bigger rôle in popular Buddhism, and the famous Asakusa Kwannon temple in Tōkyō is the most frequented spot in all Japan, though it must be admitted that in recent years the crowds are drawn, perhaps, more by the "movies" which flank two sides of the temple grounds than by the temple itself.
Miroku, the Buddhist Messiah, for whom the pious still wait.
Monju, an apotheosis of wisdom and usually associated with the images of S'akyamuni.
Ni-O, the two Dōva kings, Indra and Brahma, who stand guard at temple gates to keep away the demons.
Onamuji, or Okuni-nushi, the deity who gave his throne to the ancestors of the Imperial Family.
Sengen, the Goddess of Mt. Fuji, the sacred mountain and pride of Japan.
Shaka, i.e. S'akyamuni, worshiped by the masses as a god or Buddha among other gods and Buddhas. By some he is worshiped simply as the founder of Buddhism, while by others he is regarded as the incarnation of the Eternal Buddha.
Shi-Tennō, Four Heavenly Kings who protect the devotee from demons, each guarding one quarter of the compass.
Suitengu, a sea-god.
Susa-no-Ō, brother of Amaterasu, and regarded as God of the Sea, or God of the Moon.
Tenjin, an apotheosis of the great Sugawara-no-Michizane. He is worshiped as the God of Calligraphy.
Tōshōgu, an apotheosis of Ieyasu and worshiped as the Illuminator of the East.
Toyo-Uke-Bime, or Uke-Mochi-no-Kami, Goddess of Food or Goddess of the Earth.
Yakushi Nyōrai, the Divine Healer.
These are among the more popular deities worshiped by the masses and to them might be added a long list of other Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, angels and saints which receive more or less worship as superhuman beings. In fact, the making of gods is not altogether a lost art even in modern Japan, as may be seen from the fact that the late Emperor Meiji Tennō and Admiral Tōgo are being rapidly enshrined in the hearts of the common people as superhuman beings. This may seem strange to the Western mind, but it is a very natural process from the Buddhist or Shintō standpoint which refuses to make a clear-cut distinction between the human and the divine.
As we have said above, these realistic gods of popular polytheism play a far more important part in the life of the average Buddhist adherent than do the abstract monistic conceptions of Mahāyāna philosophy. In fact, even to the Buddhist philosopher this realistic polytheism is not altogether disagreeable and supplies more of a content to his monistic abstractions than is usually realized; for the gods of polytheism may be regarded as temporary beings like man himself which are personal now but have no ultimate existence as personal beings, they may be regarded as subject to and manifestations of the one Supreme Being (Semitheism), or they may be regarded as mere parts of the pantheistic whole into which they, like man, are ultimately absorbed. But as we have said, the most congenial philosophic background of polytheism is pantheism. Or to put it the other way around, polytheism is the popular aspect of the philosopher's pantheism. Thus polytheism is not a coördinate division with atheism, theism and pantheism, but it is the popular complement of these, especially of the latter.
As we have already said, Buddhism was polytheistic before it reached Japan, but it became even more so after it absorbed the innumerable gods (Yaoyorozu no kamigami, Eight hundred myriads of gods) of the native Shintō. If the resultant of the union between Buddhism and Shintō is strongly Buddhistic on the philosophical side, on its popular religious side it often seems more Shintōistic. The truth is that Buddhism in Japan could win its place only by giving to the popular Shintō gods a conspicuous place in its pantheon, and while the Buddhist philosopher has reduced these gods to mere manifestations of the older Buddhist deities, to the average Japanese believer they have more or less kept their former place. This alone can explain the fact that even to this day, after thirteen centuries of Buddhist history in this land, the small shrines to Shintō deities exist by the tens of thousands, and the greater Shintō deities such as Amaterasu, Hachiman, Inari occupy a prominent place in Japanese religious life. In spite of the separation of Shintō from Buddhism made in the Meiji era, the people in general do not give their allegiance exclusively to one or the other, but regard themselves as being Shintōists and Buddhists at one and the same time.
And now let us refer for a moment to the Chart of the Ten Buddhist Worlds and see how this gradation of beings, which is essentially Indian in origin, was well adapted to absorb the Shintō cosmology. This scale of beings fixes man near the center, and provides for four grades below him and for five grades above. The grade immediately above man is the Realm of Heavenly Beings, or the Realm of the Gods. Now Shintō had no scale like this, but it, too, believed in beings lower than man and beings higher than man. The beings higher than man were the gods; in fact, the very word for God in Japanese probably meant originally simply that which is "above" or "superior." It is a rather striking fact that the realms below man in the Buddhist scale were not enriched from the Shintō cosmology. There was comparatively little of the horrible demonology of India, China and Korea in primitive Shintō. There was much of spirits and ghosts and some of these were more or less malicious, but on the whole, Shintō had little of the horrors of hell and demonology which we find in other Asiatic religions. It was rich in deities - nature deities, personifications of abstractions, apotheoses of great ancestors and heroes etc. - and these "eight hundred myriads of gods" were added to the ever-growing pantheon of popular Buddhism. And there they have remained down to our enlightened day, so that in the life of the common people they play a bigger rôle than do the abstract speculations of the Buddhist philosopher.
The God-idea, then, in Japanese Buddhism is, as we said at the beginning of this section, an exceedingly complex one. It varies all the way from a low animistic conception up through ancestor worship and a variegated polytheism until it reaches, in the minds of the philosophers and better educated classes, a monistic form which leans to atheism on one side and to semi-theism on the other, but whose real core is best expressed by the vague pantheism. And all three philosophic conceptions are in the last analysis undermined by an agnosticism which makes every assertion about the nature of the divine futile, and seeks to remind us that all human knowledge is but seeing things from the standpoint of Accommodated Truth, and not as things really are.
But we cannot close the remarks on the God-idea in Japanese Buddhism without adding a few words by way of supplement. There is among educated Japanese quite a large number of those who would class themselves as Buddhists, but who know little or nothing of the specific teachings of Buddhist philosophy, and yet whose general intelligence forbids them to believe in the polytheistic ideas of the uneducated masses. It seems safe to say that many of these have at least a vague belief in a Personal God who is the Great Intelligence which controls this universe of ours, and who is the Moral Power which in some way will reward the righteous and punish the wicked, both in this life and in the life to come. And there are still more whose conception is less theistic but rather neo-pantheistic. They draw their inspiration from modern science, which in its most reverent moods recognizes dimly an eternal mysterious life or energy permeating all things. This neo-pantheism differs from the old Oriental pantheism in that it puts a greater value upon the physical universe. For while the older pantheism always held that the pluralistic world of experience is the manifestation of the One-All, it nevertheless regarded this manifestation as inherently evil and as something to be avoided. These neo-pantheists, or spiritual monists, are reverent towards the physical world and see in it the mysterious workings of an all-pervasive energy, or life. We might say they are disciples of Spinoza and our pantheistic poets rather than of the old Oriental school. Their God-idea is almost theistic, with all the emphasis placed on the immanence of God, ignoring that God also transcends his universe. This belief may not be strong enough always to restrain such men from sin and to lead them in the paths of righteousness and peace, but it is there. It is from the ranks of such men that Christianity makes its converts, for they are the ones who have breathed most deeply the modern Western atmosphere which, though it contains much that is evil, also contains much that is Christian.
F. Man and His Condition
1. The Nature of Man. - In Christian thought there is a clear distinction between God and man on the one hand, and between man and the lower beings on the other hand. It is true that the distinction between man and the rest of nature has been somewhat obliterated in modern thought by certain schools of philosophy, and no thinkers in the West would deny that man is linked closely with nature, at least on one side. But after this has been granted, Western thought still maintains that man is a unique being in nature and that there is a wide gap between him and other animals; at least, man has within him capacities which, when developed, make of him a decidedly higher order of being. In Buddhism these lines of demarcation between God and man on the one side, and between man and lower beings on the other side, are not so clear. As we have repeatedly said, man is placed somewhere about the center in the scale of beings which inhabit the Buddhist universe. The Ten Realms of beings into which the universe is divided merge one into the other so that the lower constantly becomes the higher, and the higher degenerates into the lower. Man's good Karma leads him to birth into a heavenly realm, or if his evil Karma preponderates, he is born into a state lower than the human. Thus a being which now is human may, in the next incarnation, be either a god or an animal or demon.
But what is the origin of man according to Buddhism? In Genesis we read that God created man in his own image. However modern thought in the Christian world has changed the formulation of this idea, the Christian of to-day believes as firmly as the Old Testament writers that God was prior to man and in some way created man, either outright or through a slow evolutionary process. And he also believes that man is created in God's image, i.e. man, like God, is a rational personal being. Buddhism does not posit a Personal God prior to the universe, nor does Buddhist thought hold that God has created man. It rather holds that where man thinks of the Divine in terms of a personal being he is creating God in his own image. The universe has always been, and man, or beings like him, have always been. And such beings probably always will be as long as the monistic whole breaks up into the pluralism of individual beings. Ever since the wind of primordial Ignorance has broken up the ocean of Sameness into the waves of individual beings, man has existed, and human beings will continue to come and go as long as the waves of mentation disturb the eternal Calm. Man is, then, not the creation of an all wise and loving God, but, like all individual existence, is an accident of primordial Ignorance which, when once it begins to function, works on and on by the law of Karma unceasingly, or till it is exhausted.
The inner constitution of man and the way in which the law of Karma works is explained by the doctrine of the Twelve Links in the Karma-chain. This has already been given above in the section on the Theory of Knowledge. This is exceedingly difficult for the Western mind to understand, largely, however, because Western psychology realizes too clearly that the self is a unity which cannot be understood by such an analytic process and by what is essentially a mechanistic conception.
It is commonly held that Buddhism denies the reality of the self or the soul. This is true in that Buddhism refuses to hold that the ego is a permanent reality, but not in the sense that Buddhism denies the reality of the psychic in human nature. In fact, Buddhism regards the psychic as the deepest reality in human nature. The self in the Western sense Buddhism would call the Provisional Self, and would regard it as a resultant of the physical organism of the body. This, however, does not mean that the physical organism, or matter, is regarded as the deepest reality; it is itself the product of a deeper reality, which deeper reality is to be thought of more in terms of the psychic nature of man than in terms of the physical. This psychic reality is something like the Will of Schopenhauer's philosophy. It is that blind "will-to-be" which gives rise to individual beings, and especially to such beings as man, who is self-conscious and who therefore thinks that the self of self-consciousness is a permanent reality. It is not a permanent reality but only a fleeting phase of the chain of life which has as its permanent element, or core, only this psychic power, or this blind "will-to-be." It is, then, neither the self of self-consciousness, nor the physical organism, that gives rise to this self that is the permanent reality in human nature, but it is that mysterious "will-to-be" that gives rise to both the physical organism and the self of self-consciousness. This mysterious energy, strange to say, continues to "will-to-be" as long as it is ignorant of the nature of true being, and especially, ignorant of the nature of the self of self-consciousness. That is why man is born again and again into this world, and only when the blind energy which makes up the real core of his being has been enlightened will it be free from individualizing itself in human beings. Thus according to Buddhism the real source of man, as well as the source of all individual existence, is that ignorance which somehow enters reality and makes the eternal Oneness form itself into individual beings. The first link in the chain of Karma is the link of Ignorance.
This is the philosophical explanation which Buddhism makes of the origin and inner constitution of man. It is, perhaps, needless to say that the common Buddhist knows nothing about this doctrine except that he believes in the transmigration of the soul. That is, he believes that the present generation of human beings upon the earth has existed before, either as human beings, or as lower or higher forms of beings. Even this conception is not held consistently, for the average Buddhist in Japan makes some room for the Shintō explanation; namely, that the people of Japan are really the descendants of the Imperial Family, and that their ancestry goes back to the gods of heaven and earth. This is at least the orthodox Japanese doctrine which no Buddhist dared challenge in the past. The educated classes of to-day in the Buddhist fold, who are ignorant of the Buddhist explanation and to whom the Shintō explanation is too childish, naturally accept, in a vague way at least, the Western naturalistic explanation of man's origin; namely, that Nature, spelled with a capital, has somehow produced man and made him as he is. For practical purposes, they would say, we must treat the self as real, but just what the self is or what becomes of it need not concern the practical man. Religion, this type of Buddhist would say, should seek more to develop strong men who are able to do the work of the world than spend its time in speculating about the nature of the self or its final destiny.
2. Man's Condition. - As man finds himself near the center of the scale of living beings his condition is better than that of beings lower down in the scale, and worse than that of those above him. His is an existence of joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. On the whole, however, the dark side of life overbalances the bright side, for all pleasures are fleeting and end in sorrow; all youth and strength end in old age, weakness and death. In our first chapter we spoke of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and we saw that the first of these is the truth that life is essentially sorrow and suffering. We repeat this truth here, for Japanese Buddhism, though much less pessimistic than Indian Buddhism, after all, accepts this estimate of life as substantially correct.
"Now this is the Noble Truth as to suffering. Birth is attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is painful, death is painful. Union with the unpleasant is painful, painful is separation from the pleasant; and any craving unsatisfied, that, too, is painful."
This thought has become the possession of the whole Buddhist world and has cast a shadow over the life of Asia which is broken only occasionally by the rays of hope of a more optimistic world view. Japan is least pessimistic of the nations of the Orient, but even happy Japan, of whom one of its ancient poets (Hitomaru) wrote, " Japan is not a land where men need pray, for 'tis itself divine," is deeply imbued with the idea of the vanity of life and the transitoriness of all pleasure. The following passages taken from the sacred scriptures are characteristic:
"Water flows on but does not always overflow, fire burns brightly but soon dies down, the sun rises but only to sink in the west, the moon waxes but soon wanes again. Less permanent than all these is the glory and power of man."
"In this world every one who has been born returns unto death, and even an endless life must come to an end. The prosperous must some day be ruined, and those who meet must part again. Youth does not last long, and sickness overtakes those with rosy cheeks. Manifold sufferings encompass life and continue without ceasing. In the Three Worlds all things are transient, and there is no pleasure in the things that are."
"There are four things in this world that are transient; namely, stability which is really instability, fortune which ends in poverty, meeting which ends in separation, and health which ends in death."
"The flower of youth fades with the speed of a galloping steed."
"Like the ox whose every step brings him that much nearer to the slaughter is the life of man; for every day brings him that much nearer the grave."
"Man's life in this world is like the flash of lightning." The Buddhist would agree with the heathen earldorman of Northumbria when he compared human life with a sparrow flying by chance into the light and warmth of the banquet hall and then passing out again into the cold and the dark. However pleasant it may be, it cannot last long, and this fact mars the pleasure while it lasts, not to mention the fact that for most men suffering and sorrow far outweigh the bright side of life.
Christianity, too, has a great deal to say about the vanity of life as lived by the average man. It, too, holds that the ordinary pleasures of life are short and that there is much sorrow and suffering for all, but Christianity speaks of the vanity of life in contrast with the abiding realities of the spiritual world. It does not regard human life as incurably evil as Buddhism does; for, after all, "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Man is not to cut the ties which bind him to life in order to escape from evil, as in Buddhism, but by God's grace he is to triumph over the evils and difficulties, and transmute them into higher values and victory. Paul's philosophy of suffering in the eighth chapter of Romans could not have been written by a Buddhist.
3. The Cause of Life's Evils. - What is the cause of the sorrow and suffering in human life according to Buddhism?
We have seen above that the very origin of man is due to the primordial Ignorance, or that blind desire for individual existence which somehow is inherent in the universe. Naturally this blind desire constitutes the core of man's being, and so is the seat of his sorrows and sufferings. The second of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism given in Chapter I is the truth about the origin of suffering, and it is formulated as follows:
"Now this is the Noble Truth as to the origin of suffering. Verily; it is the craving thirst that causes the renewal of becomings, that is accompanied by sensual delights, and seeks satisfaction, now here and now there - that is to say, the craving for the gratification of the senses, or the craving for a future life, or the craving for prosperity."
In short, then, it is the desire for the pleasures of life, the desire for self-assertion, which causes the sufferings of life. And why is it that man desires the things which, though they are pleasant, always end in disappointment and suffering? It is because man is ignorant. Ignorance is the first link in the Karma-chain. It gives rise to the formation of the individual, till in the eighth link of the Karmachain we reach Desire, i.e. the lust of the flesh. This Desire leads to a clinging to existence and a passion for the things that cannot permanently satisfy. This, in turn, leads to rebirth into this world of evil, and so the Wheel of Life keeps repeating its endless revolutions.
In Buddhism, therefore, it is not so much that "the wages of sin is death" as that the wages of ignorance is suffering. Man's state is not so much a state of sin as one of ignorance. It is true that Buddhism uses the word Sin, but hardly with the import which it has in Christian thought, for without the Christian conception of God the Christian idea of sin is unintelligible. In fact, it is more accurate to say that Buddhism speaks of Evil rather than of Sin. And Evil is rather an effect than a cause; namely, the effect produced by ignorance or error. In the practical ethics of Buddhism the conception of sin seems to find a place, but hardly in the connection concerning which we are speaking now. It is better to say that Buddhism makes no distinction between sin and evil. That is, if Job is afflicted above his neighbors, it is because he is the greater sinner, and those "eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell" were deeper sinners than their neighbors and deserved the punishment.
This is a natural answer for Buddhism to make, and follows directly from its cardinal doctrine of Karma. The evils of human life belong to the state of human beings, and only that being is born into the human state which deserved to be there, or rather, which through the inexorable workings of the law of Karma has caused itself to be born into that state. That is, the character of one's environment corresponds to the nature of one's being, and vice versa; so that an evil being is in an evil environment, and a good being in a good environment. This harmony between being and environment is known as the Two Fruits of Shōhō and Ihō. The evils of life are the fruits of past deeds, which past deeds may be called sins, or acts of ignorance; and the sins, or acts of ignorance, of the present life may be regarded as the cause of present and future evils.
Sin, then, in Buddhism is not to be regarded as a moral affront to God, but rather as a foolish act which necessarily brings the one who commits it a present or future evil. No true Buddhist could have written the fifty-first Psalm and especially not the words, "Against thee, thee only have I sinned." Sin is essentially folly, for what sane man would do that which is sure to bring evil upon himself? The real trouble with man is that he is ignorant, rather than that he is in moral rebellion against God's will; he needs a renewal of mind rather than a change of heart. This is why the Buddhist gospel of salvation is presented as an Enlightenment of the mind rather than a Regeneration of the heart; and the whole teaching of Buddhism is cast in the form of right thinking rather than right moral purpose. Man is to be saved from evil rather than from sin, and sin as the cause of evil is ignorance rather than wrong moral purpose. Men are not sinners so much as fools, and Buddhism seeks to make of them sages rather than saints. But this brings us to a new subject; namely, the subject of Salvation in Japanese Buddhism.
The subject of Salvation naturally falls into two general divisions; namely, the Essence and Goal of Salvation, and the Way or Means of Salvation. Of course, it is impossible to keep these two aspects entirely separate in one's presentation of the matter, for the essence and goal of salvation are in part the way and means. Thus, e.g. it may be said that in Buddhism the essence and goal of salvation is Enlightenment, and that the way and means to achieve this is through Enlightenment. It is also difficult to say which of these two aspects should be taken up first, but it seems best to state first what Japanese Buddhism means by Salvation, and then show what it regards as the Way to attain this.
1. The Essence and Goal of Salvation. - The essence and goal of the salvation offered by Buddhism is expressed most generally by that mystifying word Nirvāna (Jap. Nehan). Salvation is to enter Nirvāna.
But what is meant by entering Nirvāna?
The meaning of this word, even in primitive Buddhism, has led to much discussion among scholars. It used to be maintained that Nirvāna means a cessation of being, extinction, or total annihilation. Salvation therefore meant an "escape" from life - life which is incurably evil. In recent years, however, there has been a reaction against this interpretation, and Nirvāna is taken to mean not only an "escape" from evil, but also an "entrance" into a life of bliss. But whether that life of bliss is to continue beyond physical death is not always so clear. That question in primitive Buddhism, as we pointed out in Chapter I, was put among the Great Indeterminates. At any rate, it seems true that if the founder of Buddhism believed in the continuation of the Arhat beyond death, he hesitated to say anything very definite as to the nature of such a life. But as we pointed out in Chapter II, when primitive Buddhism began to develop into Mahāyāna Buddhism, the doctrine of a future life of bliss began to assert itself in one way or another. In Chinese Buddhism the chief function of the Buddhist priests seems to have centered about funerals and matters relating to the world to come. And in Japan, too, both in popular and philosophical Buddhism, salvation means not merely an "escape" from the dread cycle of existence, but often the "entrance" into a present and future life of positive content. Thus we have as one of the great summaries of Buddhist doctrine the pregnant phrase, "Riku Tokuraku," "Escaping from Suffering and Obtaining Bliss." That is, salvation is both an "escape" and an "entrance."
It is true that some philosophers say that "obtaining bliss" simply means the "escape from suffering" and not the obtaining of a positive good, but the majority of Japanese Buddhists would hold that "obtaining bliss" does mean the entrance into an existence of real content. There are various ways of interpreting the meaning of this "content," as we shall see. But first let us show from the very process by which the Buddhist obtains Buddhahood that salvation means an "entrance" into something good as well as an "escape" from evil.
We must again refer to the Buddhist chart of the Ten Worlds. The Human World is placed fifth from the bottom. Above the Human World is the Realm of Heavenly Beings, and above this are the Four Holies, the highest of which being Buddhahood, or the Buddha World. Now salvation consists in passing out of the Human World into the worlds above the human. Thus salvation is naturally a matter of degrees and is only perfect when one has entered into the highest of the Ten Worlds; namely into the Buddha World. This passage from the lower worlds into the higher worlds is naturally both an "escape" from evil and an "entrance" into bliss. Thus when man passes into the world above him he escapes from the sufferings and limitations characteristic of the Human Sphere and becomes a sharer of the bliss characteristic of his new environment. But as the Realm of Heavenly Beings still belongs to the Six Ways or the Three Worlds in which the law of Karma is operative, beings in this heavenly world are in danger of falling back into the human and lower worlds. Therefore entrance into the world of heavenly beings is not true salvation, however desirable it may be when compared with human life. Buddhism offers a full salvation, and so it must save man out of this realm of heavenly beings. Other religions, the Buddhist would say, may accomplish this limited salvation, but only Buddhism brings man the complete salvation; it offers salvation into the Four Holies, yea, into the Holiest of Holies, the Buddha state.
The lowest of the Four Holies is the Hearer, State (Srāvaka, Jap. Shōmon), and this has four grades. To enter the lowest of these four grades is to enter the Fellowship of the Saints. He who has entered the second grade is subject to return but once more to the Six Ways or the Three Worlds where the law of Karma reigns. He who has entered the third grade is certain of ultimately obtaining absolute salvation. And to enter the fourth grade is to be free from evil, and such a one has really reached the first stage of true Buddhahood.
The second of the Four Holies is the Pratyēka Buddha State (Jap. Enkaku). He who has entered this state has broken the twelve links of the Karma-chain, and thus has escaped from the dread Wheel of Life and entered the beginnings of true enlightenment. Of course, such enlightenment as compared with that of the perfect Buddha is still very shallow. Nirvāna to such a one is void of all passions and sufferings and is filled with the bliss of knowledge.
But a fuller salvation than that of the Pratyēka Buddhais that of the Bodhisattva (Jap. Bosatsu). The one who has attained this lofty degree of salvation has not only escaped himself from the evils of life and entered bliss, but such a one finds the bliss of salvation to consist in helping others to escape from the Wheel of Life and enter a life of positive bliss. A Bodhisattva returns into the human world again and again, not because he is bound to the Wheel of Life and so is dragged down, but because he is bound by the law of love and sympathy for suffering humanity. That is, Nirvāna to a Bodhisattva is not an extinction or total annihilation, but it is a great work of annihilating the passions and sufferings in the lives of others. This he does by practicing the Six Virtues of almsgiving and teaching, keeping the commandments, patience and longsuffering, diligence, meditation and wisdom in fulfillment of his Four Great Vows to save all beings, to destroy all passions, to know and teach others all laws and to lead others to understand the ways of Buddha however lofty. With these characteristics it is not strange that popular polytheistic Buddhism gets its leading deities from the ranks of the Bodhisattvas.
The fourth of the Four Holies is the Buddha State. When the Bodhisattva has finished his noble work of providing a way of salvation for others, then, and only then, does he enter the bliss of true Buddhahood. Through his good work of saving others he has justified to himself the right of entering into the highest bliss, into the perfect rest and peace, into real Nirvāna.
Now from all this it is clear, as we said above, that Nirvāna, in Japanese Buddhism at least, is both an "escape" from the lower stages of existence and an "entrance" into higher stages until the highest of all, the Buddha State, is reached. Salvation is indeed a Riku Tokuraku, "An Escape from Evil and an Obtaining of Bliss."
But while it is clear that Nirvāna is an escape from, or an annihilation of, the lower and an entrance into the higher, it is not yet clear from what has been said as to what is the condition of one who has entered into the highest state. What is the condition of one who has obtained the complete salvation which Buddhism offers?
The answer to this question is that it is Buddhahood. But then what is really meant by Buddhahood? This, as the reader will observe, is bringing the subject back to what we have already discussed in the section on the God-idea. Without repeating in full what we said there, let us state briefly the substance in its bearing upon the matter in hand.
We saw that the God-idea in Buddhist philosophy falls under three general heads; namely, Atheism, Theism or Semitheism, and Pantheism. The perfect salvation which Japanese Buddhism offers to all beings may likewise be divided into three kinds; for in Buddhism as in all religions the God-idea conditions the idea of salvation, and vice versa. It is a real case of "we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is."
To the Buddhist whose God-idea ends practically in zero, Nirvāna also approaches the vanishing point. But just as no Buddhist in Japan would say that existence is absolutely void but that the essence of existence is a Something which transcends the categories of all beings known to man, so Nirvāna, or the perfect Buddha State, is not a condition of absolute void but a state which transcends the categories of human life. It is a total annihilation of everything which makes up this present phenomenal world, but it is not therefore an absolute void. To describe such a state would be to limit it, and its very essence is that it is an existence which is no longer bound by the limitations of life as we know it. Not only should we not think of Nirvāna as simply a higher and loftier life of the self - for that would still be thinking of it in definite terms - but we are not to think of it in terms of any form of existence. Nirvāna is the state which transcends all existence known to us; yea, it is even beyond the dualism of being and nonbeing. It is the "Dharma of non-duality, because those who have entered a meditation in which there is no sense- impression, no cogitation, are free from ignorance as well as from enlightenment. This holds true with all other dualistic categories." Thus what the highest stage of salvation means transcends all knowledge, and the wise philosopher will make no affirmation about it. This is one answer to the question as to what is meant by Nirvāna, or the essence and goal of salvation.
To the Buddhist philosopher whose God-idea is more or less theistic, Nirvāna has a more or less positive and definite content. The Amidaist has his paradise. Paradise is the abode of Amida and all who have become like Amida; namely, all who have attained Buddhahood. Of course, in the popular presentation of this Paradise doctrine we often find very realistic pictures, but even to the educated Buddhist Amida's Western Paradise stands for something real and is conceived of in terms of our higher psychic life. Thus "Nirvāna is the abode of all those who see the reality of all principles.""Nirvāna is the name we apply to the region of all the Buddhas who have cut out all passions from their lives." It is probably true that to some intelligent Amidaists salvation and Nirvāna mean something not so very different from what salvation and heaven mean to an educated Christian. It is a life of conquest over sin and evil and a fellowship with Amida and the saints. The following quotation from a letter of an old woman illustrates this nobler type of Buddhist believers: "I am old and I am a woman, and it is not expected that a woman will know much of such subjects, but I will tell you what thoughts I have. I am weak and sinful, and have no hope in myself; my hope is all in Amida Buddha. I believe him to be the Supreme Being. Because of the wickedness of man, and because of human sorrow, Amida Buddha became incarnate and came to earth to deliver man; and my hope and the world's hope is to be found only in his suffering love. He has entered humanity to save it; and he alone can save. He constantly watches over and helps all who trust in him. I am not in a hurry to die, but I am ready when my time comes; and I trust that through the gracious love of Amida Buddha I shall then enter into the future life which I believe to be a state of conscious existence, and where I shall be free from sorrow. I believe that he hears prayer, and that he has guided me thus far, and my hope is only in his suffering love."
Another pious believer in Amida writing from her deathbed to her friends expresses herself as follows: "I have been ailing for several days past, and, believing my sickness to be a messenger of death, I am filled with joy, trusting myself entirely to His mercies. . . . The manifestation of the Tathāgata (Amida) is the earnest and pledge to us of our entrance into Paradise. Why should we doubt? . . . Should my sickness change for the worse, I shall never see you again in this life. But I shall, of a certainty, see once more, in the Pure Land, all those who are partakers with me in the faith that I have in Amida."
These are indeed noble utterances, and the faith that permeates them seems to be a real faith in a living God whose salvation alone can satisfy the heart of man. But after we have said this we must add that the doctrine of Amida's salvation and his Western Paradise, after all, breaks down lamentably in the case of the Amidaists themselves. We shall state later how it breaks down in its popular form; here we shall indicate how it breaks down philosophically. As we said above, the God-idea and the idea of salvation are inextricably connected in any advanced religion. Now in the section on the Theistic God-idea we have already shown that though Amida is popularly regarded as a personal being, his existence as a personal being is denied by the philosophers; not only by the exceptional philosopher, but practically by every philosopher of the Amida sects themselves. He is regarded as but the personification of the ideal, the ideal of mercy and wisdom. He is not really a personal being existing now. The conception of Amida as a personal being is said to be but an accommodation of language. From the standpoint of real truth Amida vanishes into the thin mist of the Absolute concerning which nothing can be affirmed, for it transcends the categories of human knowledge. And what is true of Amida is equally true of his so-called Western Paradise which is popularly said to be "ten trillion worlds" away. The Amida philosopher not only denies the materialistic aspects of Paradise, so dear to the common believer, but he denies also the higher aspects conceived in terms of our higher and spiritual life. To him the conception of Paradise, like that of Amida, is only an accommodation of language. Nirvāna is to him, as it is to the atheistic Buddhist, a great void. Of course, he would not say that it is an absolute void, but that it is a state which transcends all categories of human thought. Yea, even to say that it is "a state which transcends all categories of human thought," is really saying too much. As a result of this agnostic spirit which ever flows as an undercurrent of Buddhist thought there is much less of the joy of a real salvation from life's sin and sorrows, and much less of the hope of a conquering life and an eternal fellowship with God than one would expect among Amida Buddhists. The two letters quoted above, with their note of joy and confidence, are the exception rather than the rule.
And now what must we say as to the meaning of salvation and Nirvāna to the pantheistic Buddhist? He, too, would say that salvation, or Nirvāna, is a progressive "escape" from evil and an "entrance" into a higher and higher good. He differs from the semi-theistic Buddhist in that where the former ordinarily thinks of Nirvāna as a fellowship of the Buddhas, the latter conceives of Nirv¯na rather as a merging of the individual with the All-inclusive Buddha.
Salvation consists in knowing that Buddha is in all and all are in Buddha. But just what that state is in which the saved are merged with the Divine is not very clear. In fact, the pantheistic philosopher will give essentially the same answer which has already been given above as representing the atheistic and semi-theistic philosophers. As the true essence of the Divine-All transcends all human knowledge it is impossible to state in human language what is the condition of those who have attained perfect salvation. It is, of course, a freedom from the suffering inherent in all individual existence. It is a rest and peace which is void of all that characterizes our present life, but it is not therefore an absolute void. Only in negative terms can one speak of it at all, i.e. a negation of all that might be affirmed of life as we know it.
Thus we see that while to the question as to what is meant by Nirv¯na or salvation, in Japanese Buddhism, several answers may be given; they merge in the last analysis into the same answer. They all agree that it is an "escape from evil and an obtaining of bliss," but what that highest bliss may be is impossible to say. This answer, as we have stated in other connections, grows logically from the Buddhist theory of knowledge which claims that all human knowledge is relative and of the shadow world.
"All things are unstable, for this is the law of life and death. When life and death are completely done away, extinction is happiness."
"The great and wide expanse of space is called empty space. The peace of Nirv¯na is like this empty space, being an immense void. In this place lives no ruler, nor is it the abode of the ego."
"Life, death, and Nirv¯na are nothing but dreams that have passed; for there is no beginning and no end, there is no coming and no going."
But while the meaning of Nirv¯na and salvation in philosophical Buddhism vanishes into thin mist, it is quite the opposite in popular Buddhism. Here it is often crudely realistic. The common man knows comparatively little of the meaning of the Four Holies and less of the ultimate goal to which the Four Holies are supposed to lead. To him salvation is primarily a present concrete good and a shadowy hope of a future life of happiness. The meaning of this "present good" differs, of course, very widely. To some, though it must be confessed that their number is not very large, the meaning may not be so very different from what it is to the average Christian. These "more noble" ones seek earnestly to conquer the lower passion and to walk in the path of righteousness and truth to the extent of their ability. And salvation beyond the present life they would think of in terms of our present higher life and a fellowship with Buddha and the saints. The passages quoted from the letters of two Buddhist women throw light on the faith of this nobler type. There are others who would have less to say about the help of Buddha and their hope of a better future, but to whom salvation means something real in the form of a higher ethical life lived in obedience to the commandments and maxims of Buddhism. That is, there are devout people in all the sects to whom Buddha's salvation is something real and rather noble.
There is, however, a darker side to the picture. Just as the God-idea as held by the general run of believers is incurably polytheistic and often revoltingly crude, so the conception of salvation is on an exceedingly low plane. It is real enough. Yea, just because philosophical Buddhism has lost itself in the clouds of abstract speculations and has not been faithful in proclaiming the higher life in comprehensible terms, the common man has been left to himself, and thus he thinks of salvation largely in terms of life on the lowest plane. He has made gods a little higher (and sometimes a little lower) than himself, and the salvation which such gods offer is naturally in harmony with their nature. Thus the common man turns to one or the other of the gods in the crowded pantheon and expects from each the help for which the deity has special qualification to bestow. To the various gods of Luck the worshiper turns for good luck in various fields. Binzuru's images are worn smooth by the touch of the thousands and tens of thousands who rub the various parts of the god's anatomy, and then the corresponding part of their own in the hope that they might be healed of their physcial infirmities. Jizo is implored by the childless for an offspring and by bereaved mothers to be merciful to their little ones whom death has snatched from their arms, and protect them from the hag on the banks of the Buddhist Styx. Or the traveler starting on a journey looks to him or to Kompira for protection and guidance. When a house is built the deities of the Four Regions must be consulted and satisfied if the future occupant is to be happy and prosperous. In war, prayers for victory are offered to Hachiman and to the spirits of departed heroes. The peaceful peasant turns to the Inari shrines for a good rice crop; the man of the sea looks upon Kompira as patron. And whatever may be needed by those in need may be obtained from the all-compassionate Kwannon whose images with many hands inspires the worshiper with the faith that he that asketh shall receive. When the various deities have done their part in giving what man needs for this life and in protecting him from bad luck and all sorts of misfortunes, then there are other gods and Buddhas who will help him in the life beyond. Emma-O, the regent of the Buddhist hell, is appeased and implored to be merciful to those under his dominion. Amida, who has prepared his Western Paradise, which each devotee fills with whatever suits his fancy, is expected by many to care for all who call upon his name.
But in all the helps which the various deities render to mankind there is a surprising absence of the higher aspects of life. Salvation as a conquest over sin and a growth in righteousness is a conception not generally shared by the great mass of those who call themselves Buddhists. In fact, it is not difficult to show that popular Buddhism is often responsible for keeping the people bound with the fetters of sin and ignorance. If anyone doubts this statement, let him visit some of the most popular centers of Buddhism and look around with open eyes. Not only are the temples frequently surrounded with the most vulgar sort of amusements and shows, but where these religious pilgrims gather in large numbers the brothels are not far away. At great religious festivals the religious element is usually so completely overshadowed by the frivolous, the superstitious and the immoral that their effect upon the participants is that of a grand spree and debauch. Whatever may be said about the lofty teachings of Buddhism as to salvation and Nirvāna, it must be admitted by the unbiased observer that Buddhism, in the lives of the great majority of its adherents, is often a real hindrance to the higher life. If the religion of the Buddha ever was a power unto salvation to Japan's millions, it cannot be said to fill such a function to-day, at least not on a very large scale.
2. The Way of Salvation. - If the essence and goal of salvation in Buddhism is an "escape from evil and an entrance into a life of bliss," and if the cause of evil and the hindrance to entrance into the life of bliss is Ignorance, then it follows that the Way of Salvation must be a way which leads away from Ignorance into Knowledge. Thus we have the great summary of the Buddhist mode of salvation, Tenmei Kaigo, "Turning from Error and Opening Understanding." Man is saved by knowing the truth, the Truth of Buddhism.
But what is that saving truth which man must know and which Buddhism offers him? This is a question which has a very complex answer.
There is at least one school which holds that this saving truth consists in "breaking error," i.e. truth has no positive content, and the spirit of truth is the spirit which denies all things, for this world is a shadow world and therefore must be destroyed by a process of negations. Light, this school would say, is not a positive reality, but simply the absence of darkness.
But just as we saw in the preceding section that the essence of salvation in Japanese Buddhism has ordinarily a rather positive content, so the way of salvation is usually not simply a "breaking of error" but also a real "opening of the understanding." The way, however, in which this breaking of error and opening of the understanding is to be achieved varied somewhat in the different sects.
It is customary to divide these various ways into two great divisions. These divisions correspond roughly to the two great divisions known in Christian thought as the Way of the Law and the Way of Grace; or the Way of Good Works and the Way of Faith. There are several ways in which the chief aspects of these two great divisions are expressed. Thus the Way of the Law is called the Holy Way Division (Jap. Shōdōmon), or Self-reliance (Jap. Jiriki, literally meaning Self-strength). In less technical language it is called the Way of Hardships (Jap. Nangyōdō). On the other hand, the doctrine of the Way of Grace is called the Pure Land Division (Jap. Jōdomon) from the fact that it teaches a salvation in Paradise which is not prepared or earned by the believer, but by Amida. In contrast with the way of Self-reliance it is called Reliance upon Another (Jap. Tariki, literally meaning Another's Strength), and in contrast with the Way of Hardships it is called the Easy Way (Igyōdō).
a. The Way of the Law. - The first of these two great ways of salvation; namely, the Way of the Law of Selfreliance, is, as we saw in Chapter I, the way proclaimed by primitive Buddhism. It recognized apparently no salvation except such as man can work out for himself through perfect obedience of the law and through a strict walking in the Holy Way of self-discipline. This one must do in one's own strength and without trust in the assistance of another. The majority of Japanese sects are usually classified as teachers of this rigid way, and at least one sect; namely, the great Zen Sect, really carries this doctrine into practice. As we saw in the section on the God-idea, the Zen Sect is practically atheistic, and, of course, the logical corollary of atheism is that man cannot look to God for help, but that he must save himself. Every man is the sole architect of his own future, and whatsoever he sows that shall he also reap. Not even a heavenly being can intervene and save man from the inexorable workings of the law of Karma. He must save himself by his own wisdom and good deeds. "A good cause brings forth good fruit and an evil cause brings forth evil fruit." This is an inexorable law and is called Jigyō jitoku, "Self-do self-get." The good cause which bears good fruit is the walking in the way of self-discipline and knowledge of the truth about life. "Self-denial, constancy and wisdom constitute the way of deliverance." "O monks, if you have wisdom you will not cling to worldliness. Wherefore examine yourselves constantly that you lose not wisdom; for this according to my teaching is the way of deliverance. If any one loses wisdom, he is no longer in the way, nor a white-robed man, but only a nameless one. True wisdom is a strong ship which carries us across the sea of old age, sickness and death. And again, wisdom is the great light which illumines the outer darkness; it is an effective medicine for all patients, and a sharp ax to cut down the trees of passion."
But while one branch of Buddhism teaches a rather rigid doctrine of salvation through one's own strength, there is usually some room left for the doctrine that help may come from another. Even the architect of his own future can receive suggestions from another as to how to build that future. Gautama himself, though he spurned the assistance of the gods of the people and trusted not in the unknowable God of the philosophers, felt that the way of salvation which he had achieved would at least show the way unto others, and so be a real help. In fact, he gave his life to the task of showing others his way of salvation and preached it as the way in which all the Buddhas before him had walked. And so among Japanese Buddhists who hold the doctrine of salvation through self-reliance, there is at least the recognition of the possibility of one man helping another to the extent of showing him the right way. It is true that the Zen Sect goes so far as to say that truth cannot be transmitted by the written or spoken word but must be transmitted from heart to heart, or rather, must be discovered by each one within his own heart; and yet even the strictest Zen philosopher thinks it possible to help his fellow man at least to the extent of telling him that he must and can help himself. And then in practical life the Zen teacher lays a great deal of stress on the ethical principle of benevolence which naturally implies the possibility of man receiving help from another, even though that other be only a man.
Then besides the Zen Sect there are other great sects which are said to teach this doctrine of "Help Thyself," but which make equal room for the opposite truth; namely, that help may come from another. Practically every one of the great Japanese sects makes room for the Bodhisattva ideal (a main characteristic of Mahāyāna Buddhism); and what is a Bodhisattva but one who has not only achieved his own salvation but is willing to return to the Three Worlds again and again in order to help others attain that same state. Even when the doctrine of "Help Thyself" is held in the most extreme form it is usually accompanied by the doctrine that in the last analysis everything has, as the core of its real being, the Buddha nature, and so the most depraved may have a hope of ultimate deliverance from the bondages of existence even though there is no immediate prospect of entrance into a positive salvation.
b. The Way of Grace. - The second great Way of Salvation taught by Japanese Buddhism is the Way of Grace, or salvation through the Strength of Another. The best representatives of this way are the Amida sects, especially the Shin Sect. We saw in the section on the God-idea that the Amida sects are at least semi-theistic, and it is natural that with such a God-idea these sects should recognize more clearly the principle of Divine Grace in human life than is done by the atheistic and pantheistic sects. In fact, these Amida sects not only recognize this principle, but they seem to carry it to an extreme in their popular presentation of the matter. They do not deny that salvation through one's own strength is possible - it is possible for the few strong men, and especially was it possible for strong men back in the golden age of humanity - but the great mass of mankind, especially in these degenerate days, need help from Another and can be saved only through the grace of Amida who has worked out a way of salvation for all living beings through his vicarious sufferings and hardships. It is not that S'akyamuni has shown in his life the way in which man should walk in order to attain enlightenment and so freedom from the evils of existence, but rather that Hāzā Bosatsu who became the Buddha Amida made a great vow that he would not enter the full bliss of Buddhahood until he had prepared a way of salvation for all living beings. This way being prepared it remains only for sinful and ignorant humanity to appropriate the heavenly good and enter Paradise through faith in the great name of Amida.
"Every one, who through the might of Buddha's Great Vow hears his name and desires to be born into Paradise, shall enter that land and never return" (that is, he shall never be born again into this world of evil).
"I have reached the time of my final doctrine. There are millions of men who are trying to master the doctrine, giving themselves to various religious practices; but there is not a single one who has attained. These are my final teachings. I say this is an evil world of Five Impurities and only one gate stands ajar; namely, the gate that leads to Paradise."
"For men of this world there is no other gate which leads from this life of sorrow than the gate which opens on the way that leads to the West." (That is, the way to Amida's Western Paradise.) "All living beings, who rejoice at hearing the sacred Name (i.e., Amida) and who practice with singleness of heart the religious requirements and pray to be born into that Land, shall obtain such birth and shall sit upon thrones incorruptible."
The way of escape, then, from this world of evil is possible because Amida has prepared such a way. He has prepared a heavenly home for sinful and suffering humanity, and by his grace he leads man to this home. No matter how low man has sunk he is still worthy of being saved through this way of grace. "When I look at men," says one of the scriptures, "though I realize that they are sunk in the passions of avarice, anger and ignorance, I see in every one the wisdom of Buddha, the eyes of Buddha, and the body of Buddha. O Good Generation, every man, though sunk in passion, has within him the undefiled image of the Nyōrai, and, equipped with virtue, he is not different from myself. This image is like pure gold which cannot lose its nature even though buried out of sight and lost to knowledge for many years."
Not only do the Amida sects preach this doctrine of salvation through the Strength of Another, but we might say that all popular Buddhism, in one way or another, holds that man receives aid and salvation from the gods, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Each one of these many deities has his own peculiar function as a helper of man, for what is the use of deities if they cannot help man in the hour of need? The way of the Law and Self-discipline is largely confined to the better educated classes. The masses, whether Amidaists or not, as a rule expect their gods to take care of them. The gods, of course, must be propitiated through various rites and ceremonies, and to that extent man must earn their help and protection.
We said above that the salvation prepared by Amida needs only to be appropriated by man to receive the full benefit; but how is man to appropriate it? By faith and faith alone, say the true Amidaists. It is sometimes customary among believers in Amida to divide Buddhism as a whole into two great divisions, and to say that one teaches that man is saved through philosophical wisdom, and the other that man is saved solely through faith. Such a clearcut division is a little arbitrary; for in a true sense Buddhism as a whole is a faith, and the very foundation of its theories of knowledge, as we saw above, is a "credo ut intelligam." Then also the formula which the Buddhists of all sects use is a formula of faith; namely, "I take refuge in Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood." There are many passages in the various scriptures which show that faith plays an important part in the way of salvation. The following are but a few examples:
"A man without hands can receive nothing even though he should come to a mountain of treasures; neither can the man who has not the hands of faith obtain anything even though he should meet the Three Treasures" (i.e. Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood).
"Faith is the key to the understanding and knowledge of Buddha."
"The good root is righteous faith."
"Only by faith can one venture out upon the great ocean of Buddha's law."
"Faith is the crown of every deed and the basis of every virtue."
"Faith is the chief treasure in the treasury."
The Nirvāna scripture, speaking of the relation between knowledge and faith, says they are complementary. "Faith without knowledge leads to the conceit of ignorance, and knowledge without faith begets a stony heart. Therefore only as these two are well blended do they become the basis of good deeds."
But after we have said that faith is recognized by all sects as important, it is true that faith in the sense of trust is par excellence the characteristic of that mode of salvation which puts its confidence in the mercy of Amida. There are some Amidaists who rely still in part on the fruits of their own good deeds, but at least one sect, the Shin, claims to appropriate the heavenly good offered by Amida solely by accepting it in simple faith and trust, for through this act of faith the believer is said to be made one with Amida. "The man who relies upon Amida is said to have become merged with Namu Amida Butsu and thinks himself under his protection." And with this thought passes away all worry of sin and good works to counterbalance evil deeds.
Not only is the heavenly good offered by Amida to the believer appropriated by faith, but faith itself is said to be the gift of Amida. In the words of a recent writer on this point, "Faith is the gift of Another because it is not a faith which is fixed through the believer's own efforts, but entirely through the influence of the great, merciful heart of Amida. This faith is wrought through the enlightened vow of Amida, and to fill the believer's heart with faith is Amida's desire."
So far is this principle of grace carried in its popular presentation that the hearer is told that to repeat but once or a few times the prayer, Namu Amida Butsu, is sufficient to insure him birth into the Western Paradise. Some Amidaists are still too conscious of the old Karma doctrine to admit that a deathbed repentance can lead to immediate birth into Paradise. They hold that a deathbed repentance and faith in Amida will ultimately lead to birth into Paradise. Such a man's lotus, to use the Buddhist terminology, will some day, perhaps tens of thousands of years later, open up and he will thus be born into Amida's Paradise. As a rule, however, the Amida believer is taught that he will enter Paradise immediately after death and that even now he is in Paradise, for he lives in the assurance of the great hope.
Good works, the careful Amidaist says, are necessary as signs of the believer's salvation, and they should be done out of gratitude for the gift of Amida's grace. Good works are not causes of salvation but rather effects of salvation.
But there is another side to this beautiful doctrine of salvation through faith in Amida's saving grace. In practice this doctrine is often an antinomianism of the worst type. In fact, the Amidaists sometimes boast that their doctrine of grace is more lofty than the Christian doctrine because Christians seem to pay a good deal of attention to moral conduct, after all, while Amida saves every one no matter how vile. As one Christian critic who is well acquainted with the practical workings of Buddhism puts it, where the Christian doctrine teaches that man is saved from sin, i.e. from its guilt, pollution and power, the doctrine of these followers of Amida is that man is saved in sin. He is saved from the evils of existence into the Western Paradise just as he is. He may do anything he pleases, for nothing can separate him from the bliss of Paradise, not even sin. A recent Buddhist writer, speaking on the believer's life lived in gratitude for Amida's salvation, expresses himself as follows: "When we pursue our daily duties and work cheerfully and assiduously, even though we indulge in lies and sharp practices, we help spread the way of Buddha, and so even our lies and sharp practices become expressions of gratitude." To such an extreme has this doctrine of grace been carried that the indifference of the Amidaists to selfculture in the past gave rise to the jibe, "Zenshū zeni nashi, Monto mono wo shirazu," "The Zen followers have no money, the Monto (Shin) followers have no knowledge."
But not only is this doctrine of salvation through the grace of Amida much abused in its popular presentation, and often leads to a mere superstitious repetition of the prayer Namu Amida Butsu without working a change of heart or enlightening the mind; in the last analysis it also breaks down philosophically. We have already seen in the section on the God-idea that Amida is, after all, only such a "god as man can and has become." The so-called vicarious savior in Amida Buddhism is not God come in the flesh, but man through his own strength become a god. Hōzō Bosatsu was first an ordinary man and then became the Buddha Amida. Perhaps this would not be such a serious defect to many minds, for it would mean that a man has demonstrated the possibility of becoming god, and such a one could really help other men to escape from the evils of this world into the bliss of another world. But there is another weakness in this Buddhist savior-idea. The man Hōzō Bosatsu has not a shred of historicity about him, but is a mere fiction of the fertile imagination. And further, Amida, according to the Amidaists themselves, has no real personal existence but is only the personification of the idea of mercy and wisdom. Thus the savior in Amidaism is reduced to a mere savior-idea, and this idea has no real ontological reference. And if there is really no Amida and no savior, then what becomes of the Savior-idea? Those modern psychologists who hold that an idea is as good as the reality for which it stands as long as the idea functions, may be quite right. But the question is, How long will an idea function if those who hold it do not believe that it stands for a reality? Obviously it will not function long or very vigorously. If my creditor thinks that the check I hand him is worth five dollars, then it is worth five dollars to him and to me; but unless I have a deposit with the bank on which I give him the check, and unless the bank has back of the checks it issues some value equal to five dollars, then the man is a fool to accept my check. And so if back of the Savior-idea and the God-idea in Amida Buddhism there is no real God and Savior (as the Amidaists themselves admit that there is not), then it would not be strange if the savior-idea should cease to function effectively as the believer is educated in the teachings of his own religion. And that is exactly what happens in nine cases out of ten. For the ignorant Buddhist the savior-idea functions, yea functions too realistically, but for the enlightened Buddhist it, too, becomes but one of those ideas with which to allure the common herd but which must not be taken too seriously. Salvation through faith in Amida's grace is to him but an accommodation of language, and does not represent anything really true.
Thus in spite of the strong resemblance between Christianity and Amida Buddhism in this doctrine of salvation there is this radical difference; that the Christian Savioridea has its ontological reference in the historic personality of Jesus Christ, while the Buddhist idea has confessedly no such reference. "The inexhaustible fountain of religious strength," writes Cumont in his little volume on Mithras, "which flowed from the doctrine of the Passion and Crucifixion of the Son of God never flowed for the disciples of Mithras." The same may be said with equal truth about the savior in Amida Buddhism; no real "fountain of religious strength" has ever flowed or can ever flow from him, for he confessedly never existed.
The two great divisions in Buddhist doctrine of Salvation through Man's Own Strength and Salvation through the Strength of Another, after all, merge into one, and we must say that Buddhism knows no way of salvation except such as man has worked out for himself. God cannot save man, for in the last analysis there is no real God in Buddhism except the unknowable and indifferent Absolute. And thus once more we see things vanishing into thin mist, and what to the common man may seem very real, to the educated Buddhist it belongs to the uncertainty of all human knowledge.
3. The Extent and Speed of Salvation . - There are some aspects of the Way of Salvation which are not brought out clearly in the above discussion but which are rather important from the Buddhist point of view. These aspects pertain to the extent and what we might call the Speed of the process of salvation.
As to the extent of salvation Buddhists are usually universalists. In fact, not only shall all mankind be saved ultimately, but everything that lives and moves shall share in this universal salvation. If it is possible for an evil man by the law of Karma to be born into a state lower than the human state, then it is also possible by the operation of the same law for beings in the lower states to be born into higher and higher states until finally they enter Buddhahood. Thus we read in the Paradise sutra, "In every living being dwells the essence of Buddha," and therefore, "everything that has a heart can surely attain Buddhahood."
This doctrine of universal salvation rests on slightly different bases in the different sects, as might be expected. The pantheistic Buddhists find the ground of their belief in the thought that since every individual existence is a part of the Great-All, there can be no permanent separation or loss; or still better, the thought of separation and loss is but error, and in reality does not exist. The Amidaist, on the other hand, finds his hope of a universal salvation in the thought of Amida's boundless mercy. So great is this mercy that it cannot fail to save all that lives and moves. "The Buddha heart is great mercy. With this absolute mercy which is not bound by circumstances it saves all living beings."
As to the speed with which the salvation of any being is to be accomplished Buddhists differ rather widely. The older Buddhists, conscious of the workings of the inexorable law of Karma, usually held that the process by which a being is to pass through the various grades of existence until it reaches the highest state of Buddhahood is a very long and gradual process. Thus Gautama is said to have lived through many incarnations before he finally attained enlightenment. But as Buddhism developed, and especially after it reached the northern peoples, Buddhists became impatient with this slow process and in one way or another developed a way by which salvation can be attained speedily. Thus we have in Japanese and Chinese Buddhism the two ways known as the Gradual Way and the Abrupt Way. These two ways are really subdivisions of each of the two great ways mentioned above; namely, the Way of Self-reliance and the Way of Reliance on the Strength of Another. That is, the goal in either of these two ways may be reached either Gradually or Abruptly.
To reach the goal gradually in the Way of Self-reliance is called Lengthwise-going-out (Jap.Shu-shutsu). That is, the way of deliverance from the Three Worlds is the long route of the path of self-discipline extending through many incarnations until, after grades upon grades of existence have been passed, the final goal is reached at last. The old Sanron and Hossō sects taught this gradual way.
To reach the goal abruptly in the Way of Self-reliance is called Lengthwise-passing-over (Jap.Shu-chō). That is, the long way which leads from the lower to the higher stages of existence is passed over rapidly. It is not necessary to go through many rebirths and so ascend gradually in the scale of beings, but the believer, having as it were the right password or the key of wisdom which unlocks all doors, can pass through gate after gate in rapid succession and reach the highest goal speedily. The nature of this password or key differs in different sects. To some it is a magic word or sign. To others it is a knowledge of the mystery of all being, a correct philosophic insight. To still others it is right conduct, or both correct knowledge and conduct.
But whatever the key may be, one who possesses it can attain the highest salvation even in this life. To this group belong such sects as the Kegon, Tendai, Shingon and Zen.
To reach the goal gradually in the Way of Reliance on the Strength of Another is called Crosswise-going-out (Jap.Wō- shutsu). That is, the one who attains salvation by this path goes through the long scale of beings which separates him from the final goal, by gradual stages. His final salvation is certain because Another (Amida) has prepared for him his Western Paradise; but he must pass through many rebirths before he can be born into Paradise. This differs from the gradual way in the Path of self-reliance in that the goal and the power to reach the goal depend not upon the believer, but upon Another. Some Amidaists walk by this way.
To reach the goal abruptly in the Way of Reliance on the Strength of Another is called Crosswise-passing-over (Jap. Wō-chō). That is, the believer passes freely over all the stages of existence which separate him from his goal because he is carried by another's power. It is not necessary to stop along the way, for Amida has cleared away all difficulties. This abrupt way differs from the abrupt way in the Path of Self-reliance in that the believer has nothing to do but to trust and believe. He need not have the key of knowledge nor the password of mystery to allow him to pass on. Sufficient for him is the hand of faith and simple trust in Amida; yea, Amida carries him like a ship across the ocean of life into his haven of rest and peace. Among the Amida sects the Shin regards itself as being the true representative of this way of salvation. All other ways are regarded as provisional ways. They are not wrong ways, for just as all roads lead to Rome, so all ways of salvation lead finally to Amida's Paradise, but it is better to go by the short and easy way provided for sinful humanity.
Practically all Japanese sects would take an equally liberal view of the ways of salvation. Each sect will maintain that its way is the best way, but would not insist that it is the only way. Buddhism is usually very charitable towards the teachings of others, for it teaches that all rivers finally flow into the ocean. However dirty, or crooked, or sluggish the stream may be, it reaches the ocean at last and in its depths all waters are purified.
H. Things to Come
In the Buddhist doctrine of universal salvation we have in part the answer as to what Buddhism teaches about the Things to Come. Not only is all mankind ultimately to be saved, but everything that lives is to be delivered from the bondages of individual existence into the bliss of the All- One. But when shall this consummation be reached, and what shall be the intermediary process?
To begin with, for ages to come life will go on very much as it is. The great majority of beings shall be born again and again into the Six Ways, i.e. they shall be born as human beings, or into the realm of heavenly beings (not the Buddhist heaven), if their good Karma outweighs their evil Karma; but if the evil outweighs the good, then their birth will be in the lower realms; namely Fighting and Bloodshed, the Realm of Beasts, Hungry Spirits, or Hell. From this dread cycle of the Six Ways it is hard to escape and, if measured by human life, this condition of things seems almost a permanent one. "A blind turtle and a floating tree are more likely to meet and see each other than ignorant and stupid humanity is to obtain the body of a man." And if the chances for man are so meager, then what must be the chances of beings lower in the scale of existence! Obviously the situation looks rather gloomy in spite of the hope of a universal salvation.
But the Buddhist speculative thinker is not daunted by time. In fact, he loves to dwell upon the endlessness of time and express this in finite terms. Thus while the present state of affairs may seem to be an endless state, it will some day be followed by another situation. First there is to come a golden age for humanity when there shall appear the Buddha of the Future, the Buddha Maitreya (Jap. Miroku). When he shall appear then life will be long and pleasant, and many shall there be who will hear the gospel of Buddha and enter from this world of evil into the bliss of Buddhahood.
And when shall that be?
To this there have been several answers. Some have held that Maitreya has already appeared, and that the rise of Mahāy¯na Buddhism marked the beginning of this glorious age. The great Nichiren held that he was the herald of that golden age, and that the darkness of the age into which he was born was to be followed by the dawn. But by most thinkers this golden age is placed in the distant future.
In the section on the Buddhist cosmology we spoke of the four stages through which the universe is said to pass; namely, the stages of Completion, Inhabitation, Destruction and Voidness. The universe is now in the state of Inhabitation. Now the length of each stage is said to be twenty Decreasing-increasing Æons. These æons are called thus because in each æon life is very long at the beginning and gradually decreases until the life of man is only ten years long. Then it begins to lengthen very gradually, until finally human life is 84,000 years in duration. The actual length of such an æon can, therefore, not be expressed in years for the rate of change is not known. We are, however, told that when Maitreya will appear human life shall be 80,000 years in length, and this shall be 5,670,000,000 years after the day of S'akyamuni who lived about 2500 years ago. Maitreya is thus to appear before the end of the present æon, i.e. when life is only 80,000 years in duration and not yet 84,000 years as it is to be at the end of this present æon.
When Maitreya shall appear with a body 320 feet in height (this is indicative of what will be the size of the human body in that age), then shall the trees on the earth be like golden dragons with flowers shaped like dragons, and in the midst of this splendor he shall proclaim the sacred Law three times. The first time he proclaims the Law there shall be 9,600,000,000 human beings who shall hear the Law and so enter the first stage of enlightenment, becoming Arakans, and 360,000 heavenly beings who shall hear the law and so enter the perfect enlightenment of the Bodhisattva. The second time the Law is proclaimed there shall be 9,400,000,000 human beings attaining the Arakan stage and 6,400,000,000 angelic beings attaining perfect enlightenment. The third time there shall be respectively 9,200,000,000 and 3,400,000,000 attaining the higher life. From this it may be seen what a glorious age that will be. Truly it will be a day when the knowledge of the sacred Law shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
This is, however, not the consummation of all things; it is only the consummation of one Decreasing-increasing Æon. It is the tenth such æon in the stage of Inhabitation which is the second of the four stages through which the universe is said to pass. This tenth æon is therefore to be followed by ten more æons of equal length before the stage of Inhabitation shall come to an end. During each of these æons to come there shall be Buddhas to proclaim the sacred Law, just as before Maitreya and S'akyamuni there were many Buddhas.
Now when the second great stage has come to an end then the universe will pass into the third stage, the stage of Destruction. In this stage there will be no living beings but all things will gradually be dissolved and then the universe will reach its fourth stage. The fourth stage is the great Void. In this stage all individual beings, whether material or spiritual, shall have returned into the void from which they originally came. In this void there shall be neither being nor non-being, neither truth nor error, for all things shall have become a Oneness which transcends all our dualistic categories.
But we have not yet reached the end of all things; it is only the end of the first chapter. After all things have passed into the great Void and have remained there through twenty Decreasing-increasing Æons then shall the second chapter begin. That is, the universe will again enter the first of the four stages and this will be followed by the second, third and fourth. Thus Completion, Inhabitation, Destruction and Voidness shall follow each other in endless succession. The ocean of eternal Oneness shall again break up into the waves of individuation through the wind of ignorance which somehow or other begins to blow over the surface of the great Calm. With the appearance of the Many from the womb of the One shall come again all the anguish and suffering inherent in individual existence. Among these individual beings there shall arise again those who will attain perfect enlightenment, and who will show others how to return to the All from which they came. Beyond this Buddhist speculation does not feel called upon to go. And we, too, will stop at this point with this chapter, only reminding the reader once more that all that has been said by way of explaining Buddhist doctrines belongs to the realm of Accommodated Truth, and not Absolute Truth, and therefore must not be taken too literally or seriously.