CHAPTER VII. THE PLACE OF BUDDHISM IN JAPANESE LIFE - PAST, PRESENT AND FUTUREA. The Influence in the Past
AN interesting but exceedingly difficult problem is the one as to what place Buddhism has had in the life of the Japanese people. The answer to this question is peculiarly difficult because Buddhism is not and has not been the sole religion of Japan, but during the greater part of its long history in this land it has been closely bound up with Shintō and Confucianism; so that even to-day, though it is officially separated from Shintō, a great many Japanese are Shintōists, Confucianists and Buddhists at one and the same time. Some writers speak of Shintō as the root, Confucianism as the branches and leaves, and Buddhism as the flowers and fruit of the tree of Japanese civilization. This conception is not altogether wrong, for it is true that historically Shintō comes first, and that in organizing legal and educational institutions Confucianism has played a prominent part, and that finally the chief contribution of Buddhism lies in the realm of art, philosophy and religion. But since art, philosophy and religion are not only the flower and fruit of a civilization but also in turn become the root and branches of the succeeding stages, Buddhism from the ninth century on has been a real part of the roots, branches, leaves, flowers and fruit of the Japanese tree of life. That is, its influence has been so profound that there is no aspect of Japanese life which has not been greatly modified by it. This influence cannot be measured by enumerating simply the major points, though this is all that we can do here, but so farreaching has it been that one can see it also in countless minor ways which apparently have little to do with religion as such.
Among the major contributions which Buddhism made to Japanese life we must place first and foremost the fact that it has been a vehicle of the higher civilization of the continent. This was true not only during its beginnings in this land when it so obviously was the means of bringing in the wealth of Korean and Chinese culture, but down to the Tokugawa period the Buddhist monks and priests continued to be the chief means by which Japan kept in touch with the rest of the world. The point cannot be overstated, for just as truly as Christian missionaries from Europe and America have been the apostles of a superior civilization to the backward nations of the world, so have the Buddhists often been to Japan the messengers of progress and light. In a real sense has Buddhism been the "Light of Asia," and perhaps no part of Asia has received as much through it as has Japan. In saying this we do not wish to imply that Japan would have remained in darkness if it had not been for the religion of the Buddha. It is naturally impossible to say just what would have taken its place. Perhaps Shintō, though a very primitive religion, would have developed into a higher, and on the whole, a more satisfactory religion. Nor do we wish to imply that Buddhism is not to-day an actual hindrance to the coming of the "Greater Light," the "Light of the World." But the history of Japan having been what it was, it is correct to say that Buddhism has been a determining factor, and that the sources of Japanese culture have been either directly or indirectly mainly Buddhist.
As Buddhism was both a vehicle of a higher civilization and itself the expression of such a civilization naturally its influence on the intellectual life of the nation was incalculable. Shintō was the religion of an immature people, Buddhism a philosophy of life as worked out by a profoundly meditative and speculative India. Thus the first really deep-going influence which Buddhism exerted upon Japan was that it led the people to think more profoundly upon the problems of human life. This intellectual stimulus extended in all directions. First of all it affected the native religion, and Shintō was raised from a jumble of contradictory legends and myths into what was at least the semblance of a reasoned philosophy of life. The various legends were systematized and built up into a more or less connected whole. The Japanese began to work out a connected account of the past and wrote the first history of their race. It is true that the Kojiki and Nihongi are not real histories, but they are attempts to weld together in some way the traditions of the past into a historic narrative. Then further, this intellectual stimulus soon showed itself in its effect upon the language. With the coming of Buddhism the Japanese language was raised into a real medium of education and culture. A very large per cent of the present vocabulary came either directly from Buddhism or was added from the Chinese to give an adequate expression of the new ideas which came in the train of the new religion. The spread of the art of reading and writing, and thus education in general, was largely due to the influence of the Buddhists. Buddhism taught Japan the elements of logic, psychology, natural sciences as then known in India and China and the subtleties of philosophy and metaphysical speculations. The first sects introduced laid special stress on dialectics and psychological analysis, and this certainly had a great deal to do with sharpening the intellectual powers of the people. And what was true in the early days remained true for centuries; namely, that whatever the Japanese knew of philosophy and science they owed largely to Buddhism. This intellectual development accounts for the fact that when Western culture came to Japan in the modern period the Japanese were able to assimilate it in such a surprisingly short time, and that to-day there are Japanese scholars in every field of learning who can hold their own with the scholars of any nation. In short, Japan has been a cultured nation for centuries and she owes to Buddhism a great debt for the major part of this culture.
Now this spread of general culture and this development of the intellectual powers of the people naturally had a profound effect on every phase of life. Thus e.g., in the political world it helped create a new Japan. When Buddhism reached these shores, as we saw in Chapter III, Japan was not yet a real nation. It was rather a land inhabited by various tribes with the tribe in the Kyōtō-Osaka region gradually gaining the ascendancy. Buddhism enlarged the horizon of the people with its constant emphasis on universals, so that the tribe-idea naturally had to give way to the national ideal. It is true, as we said above, that the organization of the political institutions came from Confucianism, but it came largely through the Buddhist missionaries and educators. And again it is true that Shintō has been the political weapon through which patriotism was cultivated and the various tribes subdued and unified, but, after all, it was a Shintō profoundly modified by Buddhism, and it was the Buddhist philosopher who laid the real foundations of the Japanese state by inspiring the early historians to build up the myths and legends of prehistoric times into a more or less concatenated whole. Even to this day the Japanese state has for one of its main pillars the legendary history of the Kojiki and Nihongi which, in an indirect way at least, owe their very existence to the impact of Buddhist culture upon early Japan. Then further, the part which Buddhist monks and priests played in the actual political development of the nation through the centuries is beyond measure. It is true that this was far from being a noble part in all cases. In fact there were times when the rulers of the nation were little more than mere puppets of ambitious priests who shielded themselves behind the sacred mantle or the hallowed walls of a powerful monastery. What we wish to point out, however, is that whether for good or evil the part which Buddhism has played in the political life of Japan has been not only an indirect influence but often a very direct and decisive one.
But not to claim for Buddhism too much either of good or evil in a field usually claimed for Shintō and Confucianism, let us come to the sphere in which the influence of this religion is self-evident, we mean the field of art, philosophy and religion.
In the field of art it is more correct to say that Buddhism created certain branches of Japanese art than simply that it influenced them. Thus Japanese architecture, sculpture and painting are what they are because Buddhism has made them so. Music and poetry have also been influenced, though perhaps to a lesser degree.
If in the field of architecture we were to remove from these pine-clad hills and valleys the Buddhist temples, monasteries and flights of stone steps leading up to them, very little of grandeur or beauty would remain. The average Japanese house seems to be a development of the primeval hut and as a work of architecture it cannot claim a very high place. What makes it attractive is not any architectural feature but rather the cleanliness, neatness and simplicity of the interior; or it may be its picturesque environment. The Shintō shrine, too, cannot be said to rank very high, though the shrine entrance, the Torii, may be regarded as a real work of art. But it is really only when we come to Buddhist buildings that Japanese architecture can make any claims. We are not saying that these measure up to the architectural monuments of the West, but only that whatever there is in Japan that merits any attention along this line belongs to Buddhism.
In the field of sculpture Japan is relatively much richer, and this is almost purely the product of Buddhism. What existed of this art before the introduction of Buddhism may be classed with the crude clay figures produced by most primitive peoples. It is surprising in what a short time really world masterpieces in bronze, clay and wood were produced. As we saw in Chapter III, within a hundred years after Buddhism had reached these shores, the Buddhist sculptors were doing wonders. The world's largest bronze statue belongs to Japanese Buddhism of the eighth century. It is true that this does not rank so very high as a work of art, but there are many smaller relics of that period which do rank high. And not only during that first period did the Buddhist sculptor carve his ideals in wood and bronze, but all down through the centuries he dominated this art. The thousands and tens of thousands of images and statues which are to be found in temples, temple grounds, along the highways and byways, in cities, towns and villages, in valleys, on hills, mountain sides and mountain peaks, - all these are the handiwork of the Buddhist artists. And not only is the Buddhist pilgrim surrounded on his journey through life by the symbols of the things invisible, but when he is dead and buried Buddhist art in stone and bronze marks his resting place and "implores the passing tribute of a sigh."
And if Buddhist ideals have guided the chisel and the knife, they have also inspired the pencil and the brush. Here the influence, though perhaps less evident to the casual student, is equally striking. In a land of such natural beauty as Japan one would naturally expect the painter to be inspired largely by his wonderful environment, but instead of that, practically all the older schools of painters were inspired by Indian and Chinese masterpieces introduced by Buddhism. Thus one student of the subject says that "it may safely be asserted that not one in twenty of the productions of these painters, who to the present day are considered to represent the true genius of Japanese art, was inspired by the works of nature as seen in their own beautiful country." In fact the very neglect of perspective in landscape paintings and the "impossible mountains" in these are well-known characteristics. It may be that the very exquisiteness of the scenery in Japan has made the artist despair of ever producing it on canvas, and so instead he seeks only to suggest it, leaving everything but a few bold strokes marking the outline to be supplied by the imagination. The oldest Japanese painting, dating as it is believed from the seventh century, is a mural decoration in Hōryūji, a Buddhist temple near Nara. Practically all the leading schools down to the present day had their birth in a Buddhist atmosphere. Thus the great painters, Chō Densu and Jōsetsu, the most famous names in the most glorious period of Japanese painting, were Buddhist priests. The great men who succeeded them and founded independent schools, all kept true to the old traditions and preferred the models introduced from China by the Buddhist monks from century to century to the infinitely more perfect models which nature itself supplies to every artist in Japan. Thus while Buddhism has created and nurtured the art of painting in Japan, it may also be said to have hindered the highest development in that it has imposed a slavish adherence to classic Buddhist models, and only occasionally have artists been able to break away from this tyranny, and paint as they really saw with their own eyes.
The influence of Buddhism on music, the most subtle of the arts, it would be difficult for any one not a real student of oriental music to estimate. And for a Westerner the subject is practically impossible, for there is nothing among things oriental which seems more weird. It takes years for one whose ears are attuned to the harmonies of our Western masters to be willing to admit that Japan has anything worthy of the name. It often seems more like the twang of loosely strung chords terribly out of tune. One of the best authorities on the subject of the scale in Japanese music says that it consists "of five notes of the harmonic minor scale, the fourth and the seventh being omitted, because, as there are five recognized colors, five planets, five elements, five viscera and so on, there must also be five notes in music." Being written in the minor key its dominant note is that of melancholy and despair, and not that of joy and victory. Because of this, Japanese music, whether influenced by Buddhism or not, is after all a real expression of that pessimistic philosophy of life of which Buddhism is the best formulation. As one's understanding of this philosophy of life grows, one's ears also become more sympathetic with the music of it, and especially do one's ears respond to the one distinctively Buddhist instrument of Japan, namely, to the rich, mellow tones of the temple bell. In the words of Captain Brinkley, "The suspended bell of Japan gives forth a voice of the most exquisite sweetness and harmony - a voice that enhances the lovely landscapes and seascapes, across which the sweet solemn notes come floating on Autumn evenings, and in the stillness of Summer's noonday hazes. The song of the bell can never be forgotten by those that have once heard it. Their notes seem to have been born amid the eternal restfulness of the Buddhist paradise, and to have gathered, on their way to human ears, echoes of the sadness that prepares the soul for Nirvāna,"
Japanese poetry, to continue the Hegelian order of the arts, also shows the influence of Buddhism. It may be difficult to prove that the form of poetry has been much influenced but its contents reflects every aspect of Buddhist thoughts and ideals. This is peculiarly true of the short stanzas called Tanka, consisting of not more than five lines and thirty-one syllables, and still more of the Hokku, consisting of only seventeen syllables. These short poems are really more like epigrams and so are apt vehicles of sentiments too deep for thought, or ideals too lofty for many words. The favorite subject matter of these short poems are "the flowers, the birds, the snow, the moon, the falling leaves in autumn the mist on the mountains . . . and the shortness of human life," but the point of view from which these are treated is usually the Buddhist. Thus the favorite cherry blossom is the symbol of the brave knight who does not cleave selfishly to this life; the moon is the symbol of the change to which all things are subject, the falling leaves in Autumn point the way of all life, and the shortness of human life is, of course, an ever-recurrent note in Buddhism; and the short stanza is especially well suited to give expression to a sigh over life's fleetingness. Even the subject of love is dealt with in Japanese poetry from the standpoint of the Buddhist doctrine of Karma. Thus lovers imagine themselves to be destined for each other because in their Karma preëxistence they had loved; and the conjoint suicides so popular in this land are often inspired by the thought that the law of Karma will bring the lovers together in a future existence under more favorable conditions than the present.
Then a form of poetry which is distinctively Buddhist is the Wasan or Buddhist hymn. Though the Wasan is not ordinarily ranked very high as literature, occasionally these hymns rise to high levels and compare not unfavorably with our Christian hymns and songs.
But if the influence of Buddhism on Japanese life has been strong in the field of art, it has been perhaps even greater in the realm of philosophy and religion. It is true, of course, that it had to divide the field with Shintō and Confucianism, but largely on terms laid down by itself. In fact, it is very doubtful whether Shintō would have survived at all if it had been opposed by Buddhism, and not incorporated into it; for Shintō was entirely too primitive to have satisfied much longer the growing intelligence of the Japanese. Buddhism's victory might have been delayed but it would have been inevitable. And Confucianism, too, gained its hold in Japan largely because Buddhists propagated it. It was fostered by them because it supplemented the Buddhist teachings, especially in the field of practical ethics. Thus, as we have said, both Shintō and Confucianism had their place in Japanese life largely on terms laid down by Buddhism. This, of course, in turn affected Buddhism and made it quite different in Japan from what it was in other lands. But still the genius of the religion of the Japanese people, especially in its higher intellectual and philosophical aspects, has been for centuries and still is to-day, more Buddhist than anything else.
What, then, are the chief contributions to the distinctively religious life of Japan which Buddhism has made?
First of all, Buddhism elevated and enlarged the conception of the Divine. Shintō was a rather puerile animism and crude polytheism, and the Japanese had not yet advanced to the idea of the universal or the monistic whole. The elements of monism or monotheism found in present- day Shintō were not there when Buddhism first reached these shores; for, as we have said above, not until Buddhism had made itself felt was there even an attempt made to build up the various legends and myths of the native religion into a connected and reasoned whole. But it is the very breath of the philosophy of Mahāyāna Buddhism to reduce the plurality of being to an all-embracing Divine Whole, and to regard the myriads of gods and individual beings as in some way the expression of the All-One. It is true, of course, that in popular Buddhism the gods of polytheistic Shintō and other cults have always played a prominent part; and, on the other hand, it is true that the conception of the Divine All in philosophic Buddhism frequently faded away into thin mist or the "Unknowable" of agnosticism; but even so, it must be admitted that Buddhism did give the Japanese a loftier conception of the ultimate source of all reality than Shintō had. In fact, as we have seen, Amida Buddhism in particular entertained a conception of the Divine which did not differ very far from the Christian conception of God.
Secondly, Buddhism greatly enlarged the conception of man's destiny. The early Shintō ideal went very little beyond the conception of man as a creature of sense-experience. The gods were implored or propitiated in order that they might bestow upon the suppliant what he wanted for a prosperous and happy existence. And the happiness of existence lay not so much in the realm of an enriched personality, as in the realm of those things which satisfy the desires of the senses. What lay beyond the realm of sense or the point in time when the sense organs are dissolved in death, did not concern the early Shintōist so much. Buddhism, however, taught Japan that man's present life is but a moment of his existence and that the real life is more than the life of the body. In spite of the doctrine of the non- reality of the self, Buddhism has impressed, through its doctrine of Karma, the thought of the far-reaching effects of the psychic forces in human life. It taught the Japanese to think of all things sub specie œternitatis and to regard especially the individual human life in its relationship to the past and the future. Thus it both minimized and magnified the place of man in the universe. It minimized man in that it exhibited him as but a fragment of the Whole. But it also magnified human life in that it showed that however small this fragment might be its destiny is wrapped up with the destiny of the Great All. To be sure, Buddhism did not always have a very clear idea as to what this destiny might be, and often it seemed to be the destiny of Vacuity, but occasionally at least it held out to man a hope of a future life which was truly inspiring. And even in quarters where the hope of a larger future was not emphasized, or where it was left among the great uncertainties, the emphasis which such Buddhist thinkers placed on self-culture carried with it by way of implication the thought of a higher destiny; for what would self-culture mean if at the end of the road lay no real positive goal? That is, the schools in Japanese Buddhism which apparently denied the future life, after all, held out some sort of desired future to the individual and so ennobled the conception of man's destiny.
A third great contribution which Buddhism made to the religious life of Japan is the conception, or conceptions, regarding the way by which man can reach his higher destiny. Whatever have been the perversions of these conceptions - and they have been gross and many in popular Buddhism - the higher Buddhism has always insisted that it must be by way of obedience to the truth. Man must know the truth, and the truth shall set him free from the bondages of his little self into the liberty of the greater Something. The doctrine of Karma, which runs all through Buddhist thought, on its better side means that this universe is under law. To know this law is to know the truth, and to obey the truth is to become superior to the law, or rather to direct the operations of the inexorable law in such a way as to bring man into a better and fuller life. Even the schools which teach the doctrine of salvation through faith in Amida do not deny the necessity of obedience to the law of Karma, only they hold that the obedience was rendered once and for all by Amida. Thus as we have said, whatever perversions there have been in popular Buddhism, and whatever superstitious practices of magic the ignorant masses may indulge in, the higher side of Buddhism has always stood for the conception of a universe of rational laws which man must obey if he would advance into a larger and nobler life.
This thought of obedience to the truth naturally leads us to the moral and ethical side of the religious life. We saw in the preceding chapter what the moral ideals of Buddhism are. There may be nothing distinctive in these ethical teachings when compared with the ethics of other advanced religions. But when seen in the light of Shintō ethics - if it is possible to speak of such a thing - it will be realized what a great contribution Buddhism has made. And when it is further remembered that Buddhist priests were largely the medium through which Confucian ethics were made known in this land, we will have to say that practically all the moral training which the people of Japan have had up to the modern period they owe either directly or indirectly to Buddhism.
Not only did Buddhism influence the thought side of religion and the practical working out of this in ethical conduct, but also in the less important side of the outer trappings of religion did it exert a great influence. One reason why Buddhism appealed to the ancient Japanese was the fact that it had much more elaborate and impressive outward settings than their native religion had. It brought with it images, statues, pictures, bells, incense and all that goes to make an impressive ritual; and, in the course of time, it developed in Japan a complex ecclesiastical machinery. So rich in these outward things is Buddhism that even a Roman Catholic might feel perfectly at home in these surroundings. A few years ago a writer in one of the leading Christian papers made a comparison between Buddhism and Catholicism, and he showed over thirty points in which the two were in agreement in these externals of religion. It is not strange that when Xavier and his fellow workers came to Japan they were regarded at first by the Buddhist priests as but one more sect of their own religion.
Such, then, are some of the main influences which Buddhism has exerted upon the life of the people of Japan. In some fields these have been so determining that of the major Asiatic states Japan is most Buddhist, and certainly in no other land has Buddhism so much to its credit. It has been the dominant religion in this land for about a thousand years, and during that time Buddhism has developed aspects which make it more nearly an adequate religion for an advanced people than the forms it has taken in other Asiatic countries. That is to say, Buddhism has not only exerted a great influence on Japan, but the Japanese genius has also in turn impressed itself upon Buddhism.
But after we have said this much about the influence which the religion of Buddha has exerted upon Japanese life in the past, we must now come to the question as to what place it has in present-day Japan, and then the still more difficult question as to what its place will probably be in the future, for no one is more ready to admit than educated Buddhists themselves that a new day has arisen for the old religions of this people, and that, though the past may have belonged to Buddhism, the present and especially the future are problematic.
B. The Place of Buddhism in Present-day Japan
The Japanese saying that "what goes before becomes master" gives us in part the clue to this question. The fact that Buddhism has dominated the life of Japan in the past means that the present, too, belongs largely to it in spite of the outward appearances to the contrary; for as has been pointed out in the introductory remarks, a nation cannot suddenly cast off its old religions as a worn-out garment; and even this rising generation of Japanese, which laughs at the superstitions and beliefs of its fathers and glibly denies that it is Buddhist, after all, breathes the Buddhist atmosphere much more than it realizes. By this we do not mean to say that Buddhism has not lost much ground in the modern period and that there are not forces at work now which seem destined ultimately to undermine the old foundations of the religion of the Buddha in this land. We simply wish to express it as our conviction that present-day Japan still belongs largely to the religion of the Buddha; or if not to the religion which the Buddha proclaimed, at least to the religious complex which looks to him as its founder.
Perhaps the simplest way to answer this question as to what place Buddhism has in modern Japan is to ask the reader to keep in mind what we have said in the preceding section as to its place in the past and here show simply to what extent Buddhism has lost this place.
We have already given in the latter part of Chapter III a partial statement of the situation, and what we give here is to be regarded as supplementary. The great fact to remember is that the whole movement, which prepared the way for the Restoration in 1868 and all that this implied and brought with it, was from the beginning not a movement of the Buddhists but rather of the Neo-Confucianists and Neo-Shintōists. To be sure, both Neo-Confucianism and Neo-Shintō owed much to Buddhism, but when these reached the self-conscious stage they drew their main strength from the spirit of opposition to the latter. It is not strange, therefore, that when this movement was crowned with success Buddhism was disestablished as a state religion and the Buddhist priests, who for centuries had basked in the sunshine of Government favor, were thrown out into the cold and forced to shift for themselves. Not only was Buddhism disestablished as a state religion, but there was even an attempt made to suppress it altogether. Many temples were denuded of their precious statues and decorations, the priests were evicted and forbidden to propagate their teachings. These drastic and high-handed measures were, of course, doomed to fail, for Japan was too thoroughly devoted to its past. After a few years of mild persecution the priests were allowed to keep their ecclesiastical organization and propagate their views, but they were compelled to stand on their own feet and to work under certain limitations.
This apparent hard fate was, however, not an unmixed evil, for it served to waken at least the leaders from the lethargy which had befallen not only them but the whole Buddhist world of Japan. Early in the seventies signs of new life began to manifest themselves, and a spirit of union among the various sects arose. This was further quickened by the impact of Western civilization which from that time on poured into Japan. At first this influx was met with a spirit of opposition by the old-time leaders. Not only did they stand against Christianity but also against Western science and philosophy. Especially was this true in the early eighties, when the Japanese official world seemed to swallow wholesale everything that came from abroad. But as the Buddhist leaders became better acquainted with Western thought, and especially when they perceived that in the West itself there was a keen conflict between the newer philosophies based upon Darwinian evolution and Christianity they soon sought to form an alliance with Western science and use it as their chief weapon against the religion of the West. As the time went on this union between progressive Buddhists and certain schools of Western philosophy became closer and closer and the teachings of Buddhism were restated in such a way as to appear that parts of the Kantian philosophy, the Hegelian dialectics, Spencerian agnosticism, etc., were but Western forms of the cardinal elements of Buddhism. In short, the progressive Buddhist used from Western philosophy and science what suited his purpose to fight the religion of the West.
Towards the end of the eighties and early in the nineties came the reaction against everything Western, and the conservative Buddhists sought to profit by this. They were loudest among those who pointed out the self-sufficiency of everything Japanese. Did not Buddhist thought antedate the highest development of Western science and philosophy by centuries? Why, then, should Japan learn from the West? So strong was this movement for exalting everything Japanese that some Buddhists were quite ready to forget their differences with the Shintōists and Confucianists at whose hands they had suffered so recently, and unite with them in one "Great Way" of things Japanese. The motto of a leading Buddhist, "Defense of the country and love for the truth," crystallizes this spirit in a sentence. For a while the conservatives had their way but Japan had, after all, put too much of the new wine into the old wine skins. They had to burst; or rather some of them have burst and others will do so as the new wine continues to ferment. Not only is this true in the general field of education and politics but also in the field of religion. The students who studied abroad in the eighties and nineties are now the leaders in the thought life of Japan. They are imbued with the scientific spirit and devoted to the historicocritical method. The Neo-Confucianists and Neo-Shintōists had begun to use this method and this had led to the Restoration and an attack upon Buddhism as a foreign religion. But now this deadly weapon, in a more perfect form, is being used by the more advanced Buddhists themselves and the results are beginning to show. Just what the results will be in the long run is hard to tell, but the first effect of a wide application of this method is bound to give a tremendous shock to the ordinary claims of Japanese Buddhists. It is bound to show that the whole fabric of Japanese Buddhism cannot possibly stand as a consistent whole, and certainly not as all being either the direct or indirect teaching of the founder of Buddhism. It is nine tenths historical development, and in many of its cardinal points this development runs counter to the teachings of S'akyamuni. To be sure, these views are not very widespread yet and the great masses of the uneducated do not question the authority of the priests, but every year's work of Japan's great educational system is bound to help undermine the present basis of Buddhism in Japan.
While the advanced Buddhist scholars are occupied with the perplexing problems raised by modern thought and methods, the common Buddhist is left to go his own way. On the one hand he is being taught in the public schools the new learning of the West, and on the other hand the great hordes of ignorant priests seek to continue to rivet upon him all the superstitions and worn-out forms of the past.
Very little has been done by Buddhists to bridge effectively the chasm between the old and the new. The result is disastrous. The old women in the country and some of the old men are still earnest followers of things as they were. The younger generation, though nominally Buddhist, is utterly ignorant of and indifferent to the religion of their fathers. The interest they have in the temples of their neighborhood does not usually extend beyond the occasional festival and street fair held in the temple precincts. And, of course, as all men must die, and the priests have the monopoly on funerals, even the indifferent youth of to-day must occasionally have their attention directed to things which transcend temporal interests. This indifference to Buddhism so characteristic of the rising generation does not mean that there is not still a strong unconscious influence exerted by it upon young Japan, but only that young Japan does not consciously and with zeal identify itself with the religion of the Buddha. Rather is the present generation, especially the illiterate class, turning to the old religion of Japan, i.e. Shintō in the form of such new sects as Tenrikyō, which counts its adherents by the hundreds of thousands. It is true, of course, that Tenrikyō and the other popular Shintō sects are as much Buddhism as Shintō, but they regard themselves as pure Shintō and rather emphasize their difference from Buddhism. At any rate, they are forces which in an increasing manner Buddhism must reckon with if it would continue its sway over the hearts of the people.
This is beginning to be recognized by the more progressive priests. Not only are they being stung into activity by their enthusiastic Shintō rivals but also by the growing influence of Christianity, from which latter they borrow various methods of propaganda. Thus at last Buddhists are really making an effort to make their sacred scriptures accessible to the common reader. The leading sects are circulating what might be called "Sectarian Bibles"; namely, volumes bound in convenient form which contain the chief scriptures of the sect with standard commentaries on the same. One of these published first in 1911 passed through 45 reprints in three years. Biographies of Buddhist saints, catechisms, expositions of Buddhist philosophies, essays and sermons on various moral and religious topics are appearing in greater number from year to year. Monthly magazines are issued by all the leading sects and through these a rather large section of the more intelligent public is reached. Then further, Buddhists are organizing themselves into various societies and organizations. Thus we find Young Men's Buddhist Associations, Women's Buddhist Societies, Buddhist Sunday Schools and similar organizations patterned after Christian models. Thus one branch of the Shin Sect, the Higashi Honkwanji, claims to have over 100,000 children enrolled in 680 Sunday Schools. Even the popular summer schools and Chautauquas have their counterpart in modern Buddhism. Street preaching and special "evangelistic" campaigns are not unheard of. An increasing number of temples are holding regular preaching services several times a month and really are trying to instruct the people. This revival is strongest among the Zen, Nichiren and Shin sects, though the Jōdo and Shingon are also being affected, and it is not wholly absent from the Tendai. The awakening in the Zen Sect seems more of the nature of a "thing fashionable," whereas in the Nichiren and Shin sects it seems to have a genuine religious basis. Especially in the latter is it sufficiently religious and vigorous to lead to a missionary propaganda extending to outlying portions of the empire, to China and even to the Japanese settlers in Western lands.
Another symptom of new life is seen in that movement among the so-called Neo-Buddhists which is looking towards the union of all the sects; a union which if it stops short of actual organic oneness, should at least result in one great coöperative enterprise which it is hoped by its promoters will make the religion of the Buddha once more a living force in the life of Japan. This, like most of these newer activities, draws its chief inspiration from the union movements in Christian circles, though it also owes something to those more enlightened leaders who are pointing out that the numerous divisions of the past have lost their raison d'être. A beautiful white brick structure in the grounds of the famous Asakusa Temple in Tōkyō is a monument to these would-be reformers, but any one visiting those grounds will usually find the doors of this architectural gem closed, while the filthy old Kwannon temple close by with its well-worn idols and fortune-telling priests seems as popular as ever. If it has lost its hold on the hearts of the people at all, it is because adjacent to the temple grounds is Tōkyō's center for the "movies" which offer to modern Japan far greater attractions than the simple side shows of popular temples. As the crowds surge back and forth between the old temple and the "movies" they pass in front of the union preaching hall of the Neo-Buddhists, but it hardly receives even a glance from these pleasure-seeking pilgrims, and one wonders whether this is not very much the attitude of the rising generation towards all these efforts among Buddhist reformers. At any rate, is it true that thus far they have not succeeded in raising up a body of intelligent followers conscious of their mission as a constructive force in the life of modern Japan. Rather is it true, as one of the older Buddhist scholars has recently said, that these Neo-Buddhists and would-be reformers are loud in what they are going to do, but thus far they have only torn down the old, and have accomplished nothing along constructive lines. It still remains true in spite of all these activities that the average Buddhist believer belongs to the most ignorant sections of society, and that he is also shockingly ignorant even in matters of the religion he professes.
When, therefore, one would measure in a few words the place which Buddhism occupies in the life of modern Japan, the conclusion seems inevitable that while its hold on the ignorant masses is still very strong, especially in the more backward parts of the empire, it does not occupy a very conspicuous place among the forces which are making for progress. No one in Japan would think of looking to the Buddhists for leadership. As a matter of fact Buddhist priests, with a few exceptions, are notoriously behind "in education, character, morals and influence." That is, they are unfit as leaders, not only in secular matters, but also in things which make for individual and social uprightness. One cannot but be impressed with the contrast between the present-day situation and the early days of Buddhism in Japan when the Buddhist priests and monks were the apostles of the superior civilization of China, or the days of the great religious awakening in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when Japan had religious leaders of real power and influence. To-day the leadership is in other hands. The apostles of the new civilization of the West are, as a rule, those on whom Buddhism has the lightest hold, and the leaders in the realm of things spiritual are decidedly those who have drunk most deeply from the fountains of Christianity. Almost every movement of any consequence in Japan to-day which is making for individual and social righteousness has Christian men and women as its leaders. The best that can be said for the Buddhists is that they occasionally attempt to imitate these movements, but an imitation is seldom equal to the real thing. The truth of the matter is that the great days of Buddhism in Japan, the days when its power and influence counted for progress, lie in the distant past. The present, and even more the future, belong to others. But this brings us to the third aspect of our subject, viz., the question as to what place Buddhism will probably occupy in the future in Japanese life.
C. The Place of Buddhism in the Future
Just what place Buddhism will occupy in the future is even more difficult to determine than what place it holds to-day. We shall try to answer the question more from the standpoint of its adequacy as a religion of the future than speculating as to what place it will really hold. Only the future can answer the latter question, for it does not at all follow that though Buddhism is inadequate as a religion, it may not dominate the life of Japan for decades and even centuries. We can only point out why it is not an adequate religion for the highest development of Japanese life.
One of the striking differences between Japanese Buddhists and Japanese Christians is their attitude towards the future. It would be difficult to find a real Christian in Japan who does not hope and believe that Japan will some day be a Christian land. However small the mustard seed may be it will some day grow into a large plant and give shelter. The leaven will ultimately leaven the whole lump. In short, the Christians of Japan have absolute confidence in the future of their religion, and it is this faith that overcomes the world.
Among Japanese Buddhists it would be difficult to find such confidence in their own future. There are many Buddhist parents to-day who, though clinging to their old faith, have little hope that their children will do the same. They vaguely feel that "the old order changeth, yielding place to" what they know not. This lack of confidence has been increased in recent years by the discovery that those very sects which have shown the most marked symptoms of revival have been almost made bankrupt by the dishonesty of their leaders. And rightly does the anxious believer conclude that "if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"
It is, of course, true that some Buddhists have confidence in the future of their religion, but it is not a widespread characteristic. In fact, even the optimists hope for little more than that the future will be as the past in which Buddhism divided the field with others and by clever compromises maintained its dominance. There is a growing number among the liberals who would unite Buddhism with other religions and make one new and all-inclusive system. That is, they are not looking for a reformed Buddhism, a Neo- Buddhism, but for a new religion in which the Buddhist elements shall be, perhaps, the most prominent.
But if Japanese Buddhists themselves have little confidence in the future of their own religion, there are good reasons for it. A statement of these reasons is virtually an answer to the question, What are the great defects in Japanese Buddhism which make it inadequate as the religion of the future? Before answering this most interesting of all questions from our own Christian standpoint, we shall give what is at least a partial answer made not long ago by one of Japan's most enlightened thinkers; namely, Professor Inouye Tetsujiro of the Tōkyō Imperial University. Writing on the subject of Religious Reform in Japan, and especially on the need of reform in Buddhism, this learned author points out what he considers the great defects in this religion.
The first outstanding defect is the character of the priests. "Buddhist priests, in spite of a few notable and brilliant exceptions, which however only serve to make the general darkness more visible, are behind the rest of the world in education, character, morals and influence; and though Christian rivalry has stirred some of them to emulation in educational and charitable enterprises of recent years, these works of charity have been far from vigorous." That this adverse judgment is not an overstatement of the case is clear to any careful student. In fact many Japanese writers express themselves with less restraint when dealing with this subject. One naturally wonders what future a religion can have when its leaders are behind those whom they seek to lead.
The second reform needed according to Professor Inouye is the abolishing of idols, and the substitution of the Japanese language for the unintelligible Sanskrit and Chinese in the Buddhist ritual and scriptures. Idols may have had their place in the past, says this critic, but the modern Japanese ought to be beyond these crude representations of the Divine. And equally important is "the abolition of the practice of reading and chanting the sūtras in a language which, practically, neither the priests nor the congregation understand." It is true that modern Japan should be beyond these crutches of religion, but popular Buddhism is still so bound up with idolatry that the abolition of idols would mean to many the giving up of their gods. Not that the idols should not be abolished, but that it must be accompanied by a constructive work. The substitution of Japanese for the unintelligible Chinese is finally being tried, but Japanese Buddhism has a long way to go before it can make up for the neglect in the past.
The third great defect pointed out by Professor Inouye is even more serious, and if the reform suggested by him were carried out, it would not leave enough of the Buddhist elements in the reformed religion to enable even a Bodhisattva to recognize it as Buddhism. The proposal is so naïve that we must give the full text on this point. "The pessimism of India, which is of the essence of Japanese Buddhism, is not suited to our needs. Pessimism is the creed of a decaying nationality in the hour of adversity, when this world looks dark and life has no hope to offer us. Then in despair, we turn from this miserable world, and seek comfort in the hope of something better after death. In ancient India pessimism was perhaps natural, but pessimism can never raise a nation to a higher life, and what Japan, with its new hopes and aspirations, requires is a religion of hope, full of noble ideals and aspirations. Buddhism must shed its pessimism or lose its hold on the people." This may not be a new estimate of the spirit of Buddhism but it is a true one. It is in the last analysis a philosophy of defeat, and therefore cannot satisfy the "hopes and aspirations" of an awakened nation. But when the suggestion is made that "Buddhism must shed its pessimism or lose its hold on the people," one wonders how a professor of philosophy in a great university could think out anything so naïve. For Buddhism to "shed its pessimism" is not like a snake shedding its skin but rather like shedding its backbone. It is like the night shedding its darkness, for just as the night ceases to be night when the darkness is gone, so Buddhism without its pessimistic spirit would no longer be Buddhism. To be sure, the night sheds some of its darkness when the moon shines with its light borrowed from the sovereign of eternal day, and so Buddhism, in the future, may illumine its pessimism by borrowing elements of "hope and aspirations" from sources other than its own. But for it really to "shed its pessimism" and for it to become "a religion of hope, full of noble ideals and aspirations" seems impossible without becoming a religion fundamentally different from what it is and has been.
It is true, of course, that Japanese Buddhism has tried to shed the pessimistic philosophy of India, and in the development of Amidaism with its semi-theistic God-idea it has in a measure laid hold on elements of hope and aspiration; but, after all, this reaching out for the living God has always been hindered by the agnostic philosopher who reduces Amida and his salvation to mere ideals which have no real ontological reference. And furthermore, just in proportion as Buddhism has succeeded in shedding its pessimism it has departed from the religion of the founder. If it is ever to shed its pessimism entirely, and become truly a religion of hope and aspiration suited for an awakened people, it will have to cease being Buddhism in its cardinal elements, whatever name may be attached to it. Of course the Buddhist might say that such a change would be a "developed Buddhism." That might be so, but would it not be more correct to say that it would be a new religion rather than a "developed Buddhism"? The generic elements of a religion may undergo some outward changes, and the religion remain essentially the same, but for a religion to abandon its generic elements and build itself upon others is really to become a new religion even though the old name be continued.
The fourth reform suggested by the above-mentioned critic is equally sweeping and would leave very little of the old if carried out. To give his own words, "There are countless superstitions in Buddhism, practices and doctrines which the ignorant accept blindly and the educated laugh at. We will take but one instance, that of Shumisen, the fabulous mountain which Buddhist cosmology places at the center of the world. We might mention others, transmigration, the six spheres of sentient existence, Paradise, Hades, the innumerable Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The world has progressed since the days of S'akyamuni, still more so perhaps since the days when the Mahāyāna sūtras were written. Can we of the Meiji period (this was written at the close of the Meiji era), with our modern education in the principles of science, be expected to accept these antiquated superstitions?"
The fifth defect in Japanese Buddhism pointed out by Professor Inouye refers to Buddhist ethics. He points out that the ethical ideals of Buddhism are those held in India over two thousand years ago, "and the men who live by them unfit themselves to become the ethical teachers of a modern, commercial and industrial generation of men. Japan wants a system of religious morals, but it must be one suited to her present needs. Buddhists may yet be the moral teachers of this nation, if they will bring their ethical system into harmony with present-day needs." But, as has already been pointed out in Chapter VI, the philosophical basis of Buddhist ethics is inadequate for a real vital moral life. On the one hand the spirit of agnosticism which is the dominant current in all Buddhist thought forever cuts the nerve of any vigorous morality in that it makes good and evil, right and wrong but mere "practical differences" which, however, have no basis in reality. A mere "practical difference" which is not a real difference is in the last analysis vicious and anything but practical in the long run. It may be practical for me to lie, and tell the truth at another time, but unless my truthfulness is based on something more firm than on what seems merely practical it will fail to be even that, for surely no one could be expected to put much confidence in my words if convenience, or the merely practical, were the measure of my veracity. And further, Buddhist psychology runs absolutely counter to the higher ethical ideals, as we also pointed out in Chapter VI. Buddhist psychology has ever asserted that the self has no real existence and it has contented itself with a "provisional self," and yet Buddhist ethics claims as its highest goal the "intellectual and moral development of the personality." Surely for one to strive to achieve a goal which one knows to be an illusion is the grossest sort of folly. It is no wonder if the followers of such an ideal should be found rather indifferent in their pursuit. No, if Buddhists would "bring their ethical system into harmony with present-day needs," as Professor Inouye suggests, they will have to do more than make simply a few alterations here and there. They will have to change above all else the basis of their ethical system.
Surely if Buddhism is what the above-mentioned critic says it is, and if it has these great defects, there is not only a need of reform, but there is need of a revolution in the very fundamentals; and this when accomplished would mean practically a new religion, no matter what its name might be. Can this change be made, and has modern Buddhism sufficient vitality to attempt the undertaking? It is one thing to recognize the defects, but quite another to overcome them. If Japan needs, e.g. "a system of religious morals" suited to her present needs, and Buddhism has not such a system, can it set to work to evolve one? Can it create a vital ethical system which will give the coming generation that moral stamina so much needed? Can this be done by a religion which has never given the human personality its proper place and whose spirit of pessimism forever cuts the nerve of aspiration and achievement?
But these defects in Japanese Buddhism pointed out above are not the only ones which in our judgment prevent it from being an adequate religion. When we say this we are not contradicting what we have said in the beginning of this chapter where we have spoken of the many things Buddhism contributed to Japanese civilization. At this point we are measuring Buddhism by Christian standards and not by Shintō or Confucian.
The most fundamental defect in Buddhism as we see it, and a defect which has almost endless ramifications and accounts largely for its spirit of pessimism and other defects mentioned above, is the Buddhist conception of truth. Not to repeat here what we said in Chapter V on this subject, but simply to point out again in a few words the baneful and blighting effect which such a thoroughgoing agnostic philosophy has upon life and how it cuts the very nerve of all truth. For it must be remembered that while Buddhism has much to say theoretically about truth, i.e. Absolute Truth as known by the Enlightened One, it regards all truth known to man and even all explanations of the Absolute Truth as not differing essentially from error. However profoundly an explanation has been worked out and the student is given to feel that now at last he has something which he may regard as really true, at the end of the explanation usually comes the agnostic touch reminding one that the truth explained is only an "accommodation to human ignorance" and that real truth cannot be known.
It is this essentially agnostic attitude which in the first place accounts for the conglomerate nature of Buddhism as a philosophy or a practical religion in which the nobler elements are so often buried by the accumulated rubbish of passing centuries. It accounts for the fact that in Buddhism can be found every shade of thought common to man, and why the most contradictory doctrines and practices can exist side by side without any one thinking it strange. Contradictions become but two sides of the same thing, and from this viewpoint a system with the greatest contradictions is ipse facto the most comprehensive statement of the full truth. Thus it is the boast of Buddhism that its philosophy is much more profound than that of Christianity because where the latter teaches certain definite views as true, Buddhism teaches both these views and their opposites and every shade between. And so if it be asked what Buddhism teaches on this or that point, it can be said that it teaches almost anything you please. Or to put it in the true Buddhist way, Buddhism teaches This from one point of view and the Opposite from the opposite point of view. (And since both are equally true or good there is good reason for following neither very seriously.)
But if it be asked, Which is the true Buddhist point of view? the answer is that Buddhism views truth from every angle and so gets an infinite variety in its statements of the truth. Thus it is customary to speak of the 84,000 doctrines of Buddhism. Are then these various statements of the truth taken together to be regarded as the full statement of the truth and all to be regarded as true? Yes and No, is the reply, for this again depends upon what point of view you take of the matter. And so the dialectics goes on ad infinitum, and the upshot of the matter is that he who has gone furthest in the search of truth knows best that he really knows nothing. It is this agnosticism among the thinkers in Buddhism which begets in their ignorant followers often the most astounding credulity and superstitions, for the heart of man demands something to which it can cling. If the leaders hold out nothing positive to which the mind can cling, then the ignorant follower invents something, and usually something crude.
The reader may feel that we have overstated the case, but to show that we have not we refer him to Chapter V, in which we have given an outline of Buddhist teachings on the main points of religion. Not to repeat what was said there, we simply point out how great is the variety of answers given to the central question in religion. Can any Japanese Buddhist say, e.g. what is the answer which his religion makes to the great questions about God? The best he can do is to say that Japanese Buddhism presents a bewildering variety in its conceptions of the Divine. These conceptions range all the way from the "Unknowable Absolute" of the philosopher to the crude and extremely realistic gods of popular polytheism. As polytheism becomes a reasoned belief it changes in some sects into a semi-theism; in others it dwindles into what is virtually atheism, but in most cases it becomes what we describe by the vague term of Pantheism. But all of these fade, in the last analysis, into the conception of the Divine as the "Great Unknown."
The most satisfactory God-idea in Japanese Buddhism is that held by the Amida sects. It approaches in the minds of some writers the monotheistic conception. But even here there is nothing very positive, for as we have shown in Chapter V, the answer to the question as to whether Amida is a personal being or not depends upon the "point of view." In one sense Amida is said to be personal, but in what is apparently regarded a higher sense he is not personal. The believer may take his choice and answer the question by either Yes or No, for whether Amida is personal, or whether he has any real existence is really beyond the power of man to know. Or to put it in the strictly Buddhist fashion, Practically Amida should be regarded as a personal god, though from the standpoint of "Absolute Truth" he cannot be said to be personal or have any real existence.
But why Amida should be regarded as a personal God "practically" when in reality he is not personal may not seem clear to the reader. The Buddhist answer to such an objection would be that it is an idea which is suited to man's need and so to that extent it should be accepted as true even though it is not really true. But whether such a "practical" idea will continue to function "practically" when it is known to be not "really true," we leave for the Buddhist psychologist to answer to his own satisfaction. We have, however, our own suspicions that "practical" ideas which are not "really true," found so frequently in Buddhist thought, account for the fact that Buddhism is losing its hold on an awakened people, and that the average Japanese of to-day is not overzealous about the things of God. And it is also perhaps no wonder that some of the Neo-Buddhists would eliminate everything pertaining to the Divine from their religion and build up something like Comte's religion of Humanity which is made by man, for man and leaves man worshiping himself.
If the conception of the Divine in Japanese Buddhism is inadequate, no less is this the case with the Buddhist view of man and his destiny. On the one hand Buddhism apparently denies the very existence of the self, regarding it as but an epiphenomenon resulting from the play and interplay of the Karma-energy, which latter eludes any possibility of a consistent conception, and on the other hand Buddhist ethics teaches that the development of the personality is the highest aim of life. In fact some sects hold out to the believer a very realistic picture of the future life in which man is apparently to enjoy all that he loves in this life. Amida's Paradise is indeed a very concrete heaven to the average believer. But as the believer grows in intelligence and begins to delve in the deeper teachings of his sect his vision of Paradise begins to fade. He learns that for "practical" purposes he should act and live as if the achievement of an enriched personality were the goal of all our striving and the one value which abides the wreck of time, but in reality personality and all individuality cannot be a permanent state. Just as the idea of a personal God is regarded as being only "practically" true, but not "really" true, so it is with the human personality. Both ideas are to be accepted as "provisionally" true because they function practically, but they are not to be regarded as actually true.
Again do we raise the query: If the achievement of an ideal personality is only an "idea of an ideal," and in reality there is no such thing as personality, or no permanence to an "achieved ideal personality," how long will such an idea function practically? Why should man strive to achieve an enriched personality when this lofty goal confessedly has no existence? Nothing can be "practically" true which is not really true. Thus again we see how the Buddhist agnostic attitude cuts the very nerve of human achievement.
But what are we to say to some of our modern Buddhists who would eliminate the idea of the Divine and the problem of human destiny in the larger sense from religion altogether and reduce religion to a mere matter of present human relationships? To sum up the position of these men in a few words: Let the modern man give up his quest for the Divine and the problems which deal with man's relationship to the "unseen world," and let him confine his strivings to the things of the present and to the destiny of the nation or the race rather than to the destiny of individual personalities. Let Buddhism become simply a moral philosophy. Japan needs "a system of religious morals." That is, she needs a system of morals which has the religious spirit, for during the Meiji era a system of morals, devoid of the religious tone, has been tried and found wanting. So the religious tone or flavor must be brought back into ethics, but brought back without any entangling alliances with ideas regarding the Divine or man's relationship to the Divine. For has not the highest philosophy of Buddhism held for centuries that all such speculations really lead only to the abyss of the "Unknowable Absolute"? Let the modern Japanese confine his activities to the cultivation of a "practical moral life," and especially let him confine himself to such "practical moral principles" which will fit him to live among a "modern, commercial and industrial generation of men." While he may have a certain reverence for the "Mystery of Reality" which lies hidden in the "bosom of the Absolute," he should not worry his mind about the real nature of that reality or what will become of him when the time comes for him to sink back again into the unfathomable One-All.
This is in short what some of our enlightened Buddhists are advocating. We realize, of course, that in this they are not very different from some of our Western moralists who would have a moral philosophy with the religious flavor but with the heart of religion left out. And it is also true that such a step would be rather in harmony with the spirit of the founder of Buddhism. Gautama, too, felt that the one thing needful was for man to walk in the path of practical ethics - an ethics with a religious flavor but with God left out. The goal, however, at which the founder's ethics aimed was quite different from the goal which these moderns have in view. For him this ethical path was a way out of this world of evil, while to these later Buddhists the walking in the path of practical ethics is a means by which man may become master of his environment and so satisfy his present desires. But both agree in that they regard the deeper religious question, namely, the question of God, as impractical. That is, both seek to build up a practical ethics without a true religious basis.
One wonders how any one with a glimpse of psychology could be so short-sighted. The core of morality must always be the achievement of a moral or ideal personality. And if this is so, then the question as to the final value of such an "achieved personality" or the conservation of such values cannot be avoided. And in answering this question it is impossible to avoid the further question as to whether personality has a place in the universe, not only as goal but also as source, i.e. the question as to whether there is a Personal God and man's relationship to Him.
Furthermore, the futility of trying to build up a vital ethics without a true religious basis ought to be evident to these Neo-Buddhists from Buddhist history itself. The very fact that Gautama left the great religious questions about God and the soul unanswered resulted, as we have seen in the preceding pages, in his followers trying to answer these questions for themselves. And the answers given in the course of the centuries were so varied that the religion of Gautama became one great jumble of contradictions which have buried the "practical ethics" of the Middle Path. The lesson from Buddhist history is unmistakable. The heart of man demands an answer to the question about God and man's relationship to Him. The answer which agnosticism makes and which Buddhist philosophy has tried to make will not permanently satisfy, and man will continue to demand some answer more positive. This is the meaning of the prevalence of polytheism all through Buddhist history, and it is also the meaning of the nobler answer to the great question which we have in the semi-theism of the Amida sects. The "practical ethics" without a true religious basis has not satisfied men in the past, and it cannot satisfy them in the future. And if modern Buddhists ignore this lesson of history, they will find that Japanese Buddhism will continue to be grossly polytheistic and that their proposed "practical ethics" will be swamped by the superstitions of credulity, just as Gautama's "practical ethics" were.
We repeat, the great question about God and man's relation to Him must be answered. The Amidaists have caught a glimpse of this great truth and that is why on the whole Amidaism has been and is to-day the most vital religious force in Japanese Buddhism; but it, too, is inadequate, for the agnostic philosopher has also cut the roots of this promising tree of life. We have seen how again and again this brightest star of hope and aspiration in Buddhism appears only to disappear again in the mists of doubt and despair which continually rise from the fathomless depths of Oriental agnosticism. It is because of this recurrent note of skepticism all through Buddhist history that it has been a philosophy of "pessimism and defeat" and not a religion "of hope and aspiration." For Buddhism to now rise up and cast off its pessimism, as Professor Inouye suggests, is impossible unless it can somehow or other lay hold on the Living God.
But can Buddhism do this? Can it lay hold on a faith in God the Heavenly Father? No, it cannot and at the same time remain true to its generic elements, for it was founded on the thought of man's inability to know the "Unknowable Absolute," and through all the centuries, in spite of the various counter currents in the Buddhist stream of life, this has been the dominant current; this has been the generic element of Buddhism, North and South, Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna.
If Japanese Buddhism cannot lay hold on the Living God without undergoing a radical change in its fundamentals, it does not follow that Japanese Buddhists cannot fling away their pessimism and lay hold on Him and so find satisfaction for their hopes and aspirations. That this is possible is best shown by what is taking place to-day in Japan. But this is another story; it is the story of Christianity in this land. Of this story only the first chapter is history; the remainder is written in the hearts of the rising generation and will be written in the lives of the generations to come,
"For the old order changeth yielding place to the new, And God fulfills himself in many ways."