CHAPTER V.RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
IN view of the endless field of inquiry which the varying and conflicting definitions of religion will open, I shall start in the present lecture with my own rough notions of religion, which are put forth not for general acceptance, but solely to delimit the sphere of my discourse. What man believes concerning his existence beyond this life, be it in the future or in the past, constitutes his faith, and what he does as corollaries of his faith-especially in the act of worship -constitutes his religion. If his belief is contradicted by positive science, it is called superstition. A man may have some faith, with which, however, he may mix more superstition. Rarely do we meet one who is wholly and only superstitious, for his superstition is usually a more or less logical inference of his faith. Superstitions do not stand on their own feet, for they have no feet of their own; hence, in order to stand at all, they must borrow the pedestal of faith. And the very reason why superstitions are so general and hard to fight is, because they are not "a lie which is all a lie" but "a lie which is part a truth." I have omitted from my concept of religion the belief in an infinite God, or in divine revelation,-doctrines usually considered to be necessary postulates of a religious faith.
In the sense I have above indicated, the Japanese are by nature a highly religious people. In a previous lecture, I dilated at some length on the artistic temperament of our people. The sense of beauty extended horizontally generates art, and the same sense projected upwards paints and carves a religion. When I speak of my people as deeply imbued with a religious sentiment, please note that I lay particular stress on the term sentiment. They are sentimental and artistic, and among their higher sentiments and elevated tastes are a religious taste and sentiment. This is far from saying that they are so swayed by religion that their very sentiments and tastes are governed by it. Our zeal will not manifest itself in the same manner as it does among the Jews and the Spaniards, the Hindus or the Arabs. We are too matter- of-fact in our every-day life to become zealots; but should persecutions arise, martyrdom would be hailed in heroism rather than in faith, and death courted as an honourable exit from this life rather than as an entrance to the next.
Being largely of the nature of sentiment, the creed of the Japanese is incapable of concise statement. There are religions, more properly religious systems, whose articles of faith are reduced to clear-cut phrases in black and white, on vellum and bound with gilt-edge, still leaving ample room for divines to dispute about them. Can any articles of faith make up a religion? Certainly a cut- and-dried theology is not faith. Are there not in the very nature of a religious faith mystery and vagueness, or is this only so in the primitive forms of belief?
The Japanese conception of religion is clear in spots, but generally vague. It begins in instinct, gains volume by sentiment, and grows in strength by emotion. "First guessed by faint auroral flushes sent along the wavering vista of his dream," the Japanese draws nearer to his theme of the hereafter, not by power of intellect but by intensifying his emotions and calling for aid upon his personal sensibilities. The race feels deep down in its consciousness that sublunary existence is not the whole of life. Indeed, this belief is so ingrained in us that it has become a mental habit which asks for no demonstration-a subconscious faith which no materialism can destroy.
It is true we have failed to formulate the immortality of the soul in terms of philosophy or science. Nevertheless, instinctively do we believe-be it only in that impersonal way which in the Buddhist philosophy is known as Karma-that the dead are alive, and that the living are not mere dust destined to return to dust; but because we have not elucidated this faith into a rigid doctrine, we are said to be irreligious, and we ourselves not only admit the charge, but the so-called advanced thinkers among us rather pride themselves upon it,-hence the impression that agnosticism is the prevailing attitude of the educated Japanese mind. Ask the most advanced "agnostic" among us if he entertains no belief in a future life. His characteristic reply will be, "I do not know," by which he means, "I cannot prove it." But watch him as he stands by his parents' tomb, or as he throws the clod into the grave at the funeral of his friend; his inborn faith crops out in words or deeds, attesting that in the night "the stars shine through his cypress-trees," and that he "looks to see the breaking day across the mournful marbles play." The most scientific will not dream of peeping into the tomb of his father or "botanising upon his mother's grave." Nor is it only in hours of sorrow that his faith gleams through the darkness. At times of rejoicing his mind fondly turns to the absent from earth, and hears their glad response to his joy. He feels his life bound to all life, past, present, or future. He believes as Savage did, that he had his birth when the stars were born in the dim æons of the past, and that his cradle was rocked by cosmic forces.
Of the many religious systems which either sprouted in Japanese soil or were transplanted therein, three attained national importance. These are Shinto, Buddhism, and, later, Christianity. I exclude Confucianism from the list of religions, since it is silent on the question of life beyond this world. As to Taoism, it found only a very small following. Zoroaster and Mohammed found none.
In the present lecture, I shall occupy myself mainly-almost exclusively-with Shinto; first, because it is a cult strictly native to the race, and secondly, because it is so little known outside of Japan. As for Buddhism, I have had occasion to speak of its introduction and progress in Japan, and of its great social and political importance. As a religious system it transcends the boundaries of Japan, and I take it for granted that you are familiar with its general features; therefore I shall only call your attention to one or two phases of its doctrines which are of special interest to Westerners.
Of Christianity, too, I have had occasion to speak;-how it was first introduced and how it was practically eradicated. Between Christianity as propagated by the immediate followers of Xavier, and Christianity as taught anew by Protestant missionaries, there is no historical continuity in our land. Even at present Christianity is only tolerated in Japan, and not publicly recognised as are Shinto and Buddhism. The Imperial Constitution, however, secures religious freedom to all, and no believer in any religion is molested in the observance of his faith. At the present time, while I am giving these lectures in America, there is a significant project afloat at home. The Vice-minister of Home Affairs, by conviction a faithful Buddhist, and a man of large heart and of wide outlook, has launched the idea-which he wishes to materialise into a legal or administrative measure-of bestowing upon Christianity government recognition, and, by thus elevating its worldly status, to win for it an equal place in the respect of the nation.
The importance of Shinto is due primarily to the fact that it is in its essence strictly indigenous, and that it comprehends more than a religious faith, as this is usually understood. Shinto may be called a compact bundle of the primitive instincts of our race. All religion is conservative; but in the case of Shinto, this loyalty to the past has more truly than in the religious life of ancient Rome, so philosophically depicted by Mr. Jesse B. Carter, "developed from the status of an accidental attribute into that of an essential quality, and became by degrees almost the sum-total of religion." Koku-fu, the old custom of the land, has as much power as the mos majorum among the Romans, and Shinto is the most faithful guardian and guard of our ancient traditions, keeping intact even their defunct doctrines and effete usages-not always in the cold scientific spirit of preservation, but often enough in reactionary zeal against modern progress.
Another reason for the importance of Shinto lies in the fact of its being the religion of the reigning house. Its tenets run through all the chief rites and rituals of the Court. It was, indeed, in earliest times the act of government itself. To govern and to worship are etymologically synonymous-Matsurigoto meaning either. Numerically, too, Shinto assumes vast importance, not that it has a large following, for it is impossible to count the number of its adherents, but because of some sixteen thousand shrines, great and small, national and local, and because of some fifteen thousand ministrants distributed throughout the country under a dozen or more sects.
The name Shinto, literally the Way of the Gods, or the divine doctrine, is in its derivation Chinese, and was first applied in Japan, in an historical compilation of 720 A.D., to the native cult, in contradistinction to Buddhism and Confucianism; but the term itself is of a much older date. In the broad sense of the ways of heaven or of nature, or in its more restricted moral significance of the righteous path, or in the philosophical meaning of a divine dispensation, it was used by Confucius himself thirteen centuries before its adoption amongst us. Prior to the introduction of this appellation, our simple faith was known as Kami-Nagara, a word which defies exact translation, since the first of the component terms, Kami, commonly rendered god or deity, fails to convey the meaning originally attached to it; and as to the second term, Nagara, which literally consists of naku and aru, "to be and not to be," and which can be approximately rendered "being like gods" or "being in a state of godhood," implies the original innocence of man. For though human life is generally conceived as a struggle between the dual natures of good and evil, between "the good which I would and which I do not, and the evil which I would not and which I practise," as Saint Paul complained, godlike (Kami-Nagara) partakers of the divine nature differ from ordinary mortals in that they cannot forsake the path of wisdom and righteousness as long as they keep true to their own nature. To borrow the ancient Japanese words, men and women are hiko and himé,-literally, sons and daughters of light. The focus of the Shinto faith lies in the doctrine of Kami. This term has no exact equivalent in English. As far as I can translate it, it lies between super-man and superhuman being. Every creature, at the instant of departure from this life, is freed from the trammels which the flesh imposes upon the spirit, and thereupon attains an existence which is superior to that of the ordinary mortal, but which is still not quite divine. If I do not err, Kami is the quintessence of all being-animate or inanimate, as I shall have repeated occasion to testify. Shinto is hylozoism or rather panpsychism, Kami, being the psyche, which manifests itself in every form and force of nature.
Shinto has no sympathy with the doctrine of original sin and, therefore, with the fall of man. It has implicit faith in the innate purity of the human soul. Like George Fox, it believes in the existence of the inner light, the divine seed, but not going farther or deeper, it stops where Matthew Arnold stops, by teaching that sweetness and light are not only a normal but an ideal condition to strive after. In fact, Shinto did not teach us to pray for forgiveness of sins, but for the sweet things of this life, for happiness but not for blessedness. The Hebrew conception of sin hardly exists. Evil is identified with defilement, something foreign to the soul; for as to the soul itself, it cannot partake of evil. Light cannot lose its native purity, however far it may be deflected in its course by an opaque barrier or refracted by a prism; but its real nature remains unchanged, intact. So with the children of the gods-reminding us of the words of St. John: "Whoever is begotten of God, doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God."
Emphasise as best he may the diviner element in our nature, the most consistent Shintoist cannot be blind to its weaker side, and the deeper he probes into his own heart, the clearer grows his discovery how far short of godlike purity his thought and practice fall. Like the old Stoic, he may mentally deny the existence of sin, but from personal experience he is forced to admit its reality. He may refuse to dub it a sin; he may call it an impurity. Whatever the nomenclature, he cannot escape the uncomfortable feeling of a child who has told a story. As there is no third party,-say a wrathful god to propitiate, or a redeemer to atone, and as the evil in his mind is only an accident, so to speak,-the problem which lies before him is easy of solution. He can of his own accord blow it off (harai) like dust, or wash it off (misogi) like a stain, and regain purity. A hymn says:
"Pure be heaven, Pure be earth, Pure be within, without, And the six roots."By the six roots are meant the five organs of sense and the heart as the organ of feeling. A religion which takes such slight cognisance of the gravity of evil and sin, and which accepts the facts of mortal life as divinely ordered, can easily dispense with any elaborate theology or a stringent moral code. A groaning Hebraism is out of the question, but a smiling Hellenism is in place. There is self- contentment in Shinto. How can it be otherwise when death itself is conceived of as deification, and when nature-all its destructive forces not excluded-is thought to be working for us?
That the dead are alive somehow and somewhere, is the strongest faith of our people, and as long as science does not prove such a belief to be contrary to its discoveries and teachings, ancestor- worship is not to be deemed a superstition. Illatively of this belief, we revere and venerate their memory. We do not carve their images as idols; we do not carry their remains as charms. Their words of wisdom we hoard in the secret chambers of our heart; and their good deeds done in the body we bear in reverent remembrance. Maeterlinck is teaching this skeptical generation that the dead are not gone as long as we think of them, and that as oft as we remember them, they rise from their graves. Our custom of observing the anniversaries of the day upon which our dead left us, instead of their birthdays, should meet with approval from the Belgian idealist.
There are a few phases of our ancestor-worship the significance of which is little regarded by the West. Christian Europe would be scandalised to be told that its religion is ancestor-worship, and yet between Christianity and the cult of forebears, there is a strong link of human interest, which fondly traces one's existence to his parents and thence again to their progenitors, and so leads ever upward, ascending from generation to generation, only to find rest in accepting as its ultimate source the Ancient of Days.
I am far from identifying the Shinto with the Christian or Jewish faith, but the idea of ancestor- worship, if consistently practised, will approach the Christian doctrine of immortality, and the Jewish conception of monotheism. Even if Shinto fails to grasp the belief in a spiritual Father, it can be seen what a force it must have accumulated by constant recurrence to the dead and the past. To quote Schiller,-"Didst thou wish for an immortal life? Live in the Whole! And if thou stay'st long in it, it will stay." With the thought oft intent upon those who preceded us and living with them in long-past years, one attains something of past eternity and of previous existence-and so, dwelling in contemplation or veneration of the "Whole of existence," he comes to a foretaste of future immortality.
When Christ, wishing to lay stress on their duty to the living, enjoined His disciples to "Let the dead bury their dead," He did not intend to discourage a reverence for ancestors, for in His eyes there could be no dead to be buried.
Our veneration of the dead (whatever its origin) is something far removed from the primitive fear of ghosts. Neither is it a peculiar weakness of the East; for the West shares the same feeling, and however feeble an influence at present, you must admit that the ideal of Anglo-Saxon knighthood, Sir Galahad, the purest character in English literature, is represented as having his thought constantly fixed on his ancestor and the spirit of Joseph of Arimathea as ever guarding and guiding him.
There stands on the Kudan Hill in Tokyo a shrine dedicated to the memory of those who have died for the country. The living have consecrated this ground to the dead. Here are inscribed on sacred rolls the names of those who fell on the battle-field,-from the humblest foot-soldier to the greatest commander. Here they are, as it were, canonised, deified. They are immortalised and elevated in the holy of holies of the nation's memory.
Some of you may have seen and heard, as I have seen and heard, a widow leading her child there and reverentially instructing it that its father's spirit surely, though invisibly, dwells in this place. More than this!-I have heard her say, "Look well! He is there. Do you not see him?"
We may characterise Shinto as a religion of suggestion by introspection. Instead of formulating a creed, it leaves to each worshipper the formulation of his own creed and so has this advantage, that no obstacle is placed in the way of individual interpretation. From the field that lies before him, limitless and unlimited, each may cull whatever flower his fancy loves and carry it in his bosom; hence there is no danger of believing by proxy.
Shinto only furnishes a condition for worship, and displays extraordinary simplicity in the furnishings of its shrines. These are the plainest of wooden structures, of an ancient form of architecture, unpainted and undecorated, usually in the shade of cryptomeria groves-groves which as Bryant sings "were God's first temples." The silent trees at once whisper of the crowding millenniums that have flown in mutest throng. The worshipper feels his life but a moment in the endless horologue of the universe, but not the less an integral part of the vast scheme, which without him would be incomplete. A real Shintoist should feel at once his greatness and his littleness, that he is but a fleeting shadow and yet not the less a god.
Nothing is more striking or more disappointing to the tourist in Japan than to visit the great temple at Yamada in Isé, the temple of the sun- goddess, who is reputed to be the ancestress of our royal family. As an American tourist once said: "There is nothing to see in Yamada, and what there is to see, is not to be seen." It may be interesting in this connection to cite an English authority on the history of Greek art, who told me that without a visit to the court of a Shinto shrine one cannot clearly understand an ancient Greek temple-ground.
Teaching the worshipper not to rely upon visible objects of worship, but to place himself in surroundings conducive to contemplation, an ancient Shinto oracle says, "When the sky is clear and the wind hums in the fir trees, 't is the heart of a god who thus reveals himself." This sounds like panentheism, yet so far removed is it from panentheism that it can at best be called pantheism. An old Buddhist poet put into verse the sentiment aroused by a visit to Isé:
"I know not who dwelleth in these precincts, But my eyes overflow with tears of gratitude."As you enter a shrine, you see scarcely any instrument of worship, a mirror being the chief object to attract notice. "Behold thy image," the oracle seems to whisper as you stand before the shrine, "Behold thy own image as reflected in the mirror, and know for thyself how it fares with thee!" Thus left to contemplate nature and to reflect upon self, one comes to a monistic conception of the universe and of life. "There are moments in life," says Schiller, "when we feel like pressing to our bosom every stone, every far-off distant star, every worm, and every conceivable higher spirit,-to embrace the entire universe like our loved one. . . . Then does the whole creation melt into a personality."
In this exalted, spiritual mood, Schiller is a Shintoist at his best; or, with a fifteenth century countryman of his, Nicholas of Cusa, he would find in all forms of existence "a divine grain of seed which carries within it the original patterns of all things." Shintoists believe with Nicholas that in all that is, God (Kami) is omnipresent; but I doubt whether they could follow him in the next assertion, "All that is, is in God." I doubt, indeed, whether they could even say, "All that is, is God." In the cosmogonic myth of Shinto, which I casually mentioned when speaking of the early times of our history, you must have noticed that it owns no creator-no creatio ex nihilo; for whatever was produced, be it an island or a plant, a worm or a star, it was generated. All things are begotten of gods, not made. The world and all therein is, partakes, therefore, of the same nature as the procreator. Not only the flower but the crannied wall, not only the sea but its denizens, and the pebbles on its beach, are our brothers and sisters, and therefore equally Kami. In this hylopathic plan, little distinction is recognised between natura naturata and natura naturens.
Shinto is a religion without a founder, without theology, and without scriptures. The absence of the first deprives it of that ardent, personal affection and fidelity found in the great religions, though the deficiency is made up in a measure, as in Greek and Roman mythologies, by distributing reverence among a host of deities and by including our own ancestors among them. We speak of the eighty myriad deities of the Shinto pantheon, and they range from the most insignificant gods whom pious spinsters respect as the spirits of sewing-needles or those to whom kitchen maids do homage as residing in the furnace, up to those that roar in thunder or shine in lightning or ride upon the whirlwind; from those who make love in the budding flower or in the tender evening star, up to those who illumine the world in the moon and the sun. Thus Shinto is the most polytheistic of polytheisms and its popular pantheon is filled with gods that dwell in or preside over every object and phenomenon of which you can think, and is farther replenished by additions of apotheosised men. The Shinto heaven is peopled with all the personified forces of nature; the Shinto shrine is a repository of every sacred memory. A remarkable feature of these Kami is that only a few of them have any definite shape ascribed to them. I have spoken above of the god of the hearth; but it (the sex being uncertain, I use the neuter pro- noun) is possessed of no form, animate or inanimate, animal or anthropomorphic. The hearth itself is not for one moment considered divine. It is not a fetich. O-Kamado-san, like Vesta, represents the power and action of the fireplace. The god's existence is made manifest only through what the hearth does. It is a power but not a thing, any more than is the thing "hearth" the power "god."
The absence of theology deprives Shinto of any discussion concerning the hypostasis of belief. It gives no clue to a rational interpretation of the universe.
The absence of scriptures deprives Shinto of final authority regarding ethical mandates. In a meagre way compensation is made for this by myths, legends, and tales, not always instinct with a moral-very often gross and sometimes more obscene than the baldest stories of the Old Testament.
For want of a creed its votaries have no moral code to follow. Yet, as I said at the beginning of the present lecture, in the definition of religion, a faith does not deserve the name of religion unless it manifests itself in conduct conformable to that faith, and particularly in the act of worship. In the case of Shinto, minute rites and ritual are dictated, the chief burden of which is purification by one means or another.
Concerning the daily conduct of private individuals little is taught. Scarcely any form of prayer is prescribed. In fact, even upon the occasion of festivals, so-called prayers (norito) contain little supplication, consisting largely of adoration and thanksgiving. Very rightly has Mr. Aston called Shinto a religion of gratitude and love. If supplication is made, it is not for our own daily bread, but for an abundant harvest for the nation, or, if it is for forgiveness of trespasses, it is not for our individual wrong-doing, but for the sins of the people. Thus without a visible communion of saints, the consciousness of national coherence is ever kept prominent. As to the individual, the sum and substance of moral injunction amount to this: "Be pure in heart and body!" In other words, be true and genuine in heart, and clean in body. Harbour no thought of evil and thou art a god, and keep thy body as a temple meet for him to dwell in. Says a famous poem of the saintly Michizane:
"The god blesseth Not him who prayeth, But him whose heart strayeth Not from the way of Makoto."The peculiarly Japanese term Makoto, usually translated "truth" or "faithfulness," covers the whole ground or the very essence of morals, literally meaning the thing itself, reminding one of the Kantian das Ding an sich. Makoto signifies reality or truth, which implies that the real is the true and the true is the real, a proposition almost Hegelian.
The subjectivity of Shinto morality finds frequent expression in the oracles of many gods, for instance, the god of Fujiyama enjoins upon his worshippers the following:
"Ye men of mine shun desire. If you shun desire you will ascend to a level with the gods. Every little yielding to anxiety is a step away from the natural heart of man. If one leaves the natural heart of man he becomes a beast. That men should be made so, is to me intolerable pain and unending sorrow."Here is another oracle, given in a dream to an emperor:-"It is the upright heart of all men which is identical with the highest of the high and therefore the god of gods. There is no room in heaven and earth for the false and crooked person."
Still another:-"If we keep unperverted the human heart, which is like unto heaven and received from earth, that is God. The gods have their abode in the heart."
As long as we shut our eyes by deliberate exercise of will or by self-deception to that persistent fact of evil so stubbornly present with us, the complete identification of human nature with divine may be accepted as indisputable, and pregnant with highest moral consequences. With Goethe, a Shintoist could say, "The more thou feelest to be a man, the nearer thou art to the gods." But herein lies the weakness inherent in Shinto. If the real and the true are identified or, at least, convertible terms, there is no room left for ideals. Whatever is, is true, and therefore right. A life, however gross, if only real, is a true life, and there is in it no condemnation. So Shinto could not escape the weakness common to all forms of naturalism, and nowhere is this more manifest, to my mind, than in its alliance with principalities and powers that be. Because it glorifies the real, it deifies mortals, and by so doing, helps to excuse and even to exalt their frailties.
Moses, lifted high above his people and invested with authority almost divine, still points above and warns them to refrain from idolatry. If we turn from the grim height of Sinai and the desert of Arabia, to the City of the Seven Hills on the smiling banks of the Tiber, we see Augustus, the sole lord of the world, making himself a divine object for supreme reverence. Then, later on in history, we come across another similar contrast. Cromwell, seated upon the throne previously occupied by the Stuarts, the absolute ruler of the British realm, still points upward and tells his countrymen to worship not him, the Huntington squire, but Him before whom he himself is but a worm of the dust. Iyeyasu, a contemporary of Cromwell, with powers unbounded, has divine homage paid to his person and his corpse. Neither Moses nor Cromwell dared usurp the divine throne. Augustus and Iyeyasu robbed their god of his thunder.
The people whose gods are inferior to mortal sovereigns can never aspire high. To the last they are of the earth earthy. As long as they cling to earth, however high they may lift their head for a time in the struggle for life or for space, they cannot win in the higher spiritual race, which after all decides the fate of nations.
Naturalism teaches us to be true to nature. No endeavour is exacted to conquer natural impulses unless they are followed to an extent subversive of their purpose. Whatever restraint we have put upon vices, or whatever encouragement we have given to virtues, has largely come from sources other than Shinto.
Whether or not you adopt the epi-phenomenon theory of consciousness, you cannot deny the fact of Belial in our nature, so intertwined with the very fibre of our being as to set at defiance any effort to separate it as mere dust or stain. It seems to me that the weakness of Shinto as a religion lies in the non-recognition of human frailty, of sin. The awful sense of condemnation which torment Bunyan's Christian and all other seekers with the soul-rending cry, "How can I flee from the wrath to come?" assumes with the Shintoist a far lighter strain, "Is this good to be preferred to that good?" The dilemma in the one case lies between eternal salvation and eternal damnation, between heaven and hell; whereas in the other it is a choice between two benefactions of different degrees, between this and that sunny spot in the groves of paradise.
The mental and spiritual pendulum of Shinto does not swing wide. The fact that Shinto fails to take lofty spiritual flight has resulted in its forming close relations with temporal concerns, and its teachings are almost altogether practical, all of the sects enforcing personal cleanliness and diligence in daily occupation, and some of them requiring as religious duties mountain-climbing and abdominal respiration.
As to the reverence it inculcates for whatever is above ourselves,-the love of the land where our gods abide and forefathers repose, the veneration of whatever is old, and respect and affection for nature and all its single objects,-no religion surpasses ours. Its animism has endowed the very stones with sentient life, drawing from us a feeling of affection. Its pantheism and polytheism have peopled the air, land, and water, with beings that call forth our respect. This attitude toward nature instils into our mind the love of the land, the instinct of patriotism. Thus from being a worship of nature, Shinto becomes an ethnic religion. It is national in its concepts and precepts. Its patriotism, therefore, may easily fall into Chauvinism. Its loyalty can degenerate into servile obedience. It can readily be made a political engine in the hands of the unscrupulous;-as such it can indeed be made a powerful one; but, as I have intimated, as a moral or a religious factor, it is and has been but a feeble motive force.
Its child-like naïveté, its very jejuneness, its easy-going ethics, verging on moral indifference, handicapped Shinto in coping with Buddhism and Confucianism, when they entered our country in the early centuries of our history. The backing of the Court and its claim to nativity could not brook the overwhelming tide of these alien teachings. "After terrible struggles," says Professor Kumé, one of our foremost historical critics, "between the three systems of teaching, especially between Shinto and Buddhism, peace was finally established, whereby the sphere was virtually divided among the three. Shinto received the dominion of public ceremonies, Buddhism of religion, and Confucianism of ethics."
The yearnings, intellectual and spiritual, which Shinto could not meet, were more fully satisfied by Confucianism and Buddhism. You may remember that Chinese studies were introduced into Japan in the middle of the third century A.D., and that the seed, falling upon fertile ground, was sprouting and growing with unusual rapidity and vitality when Buddhism reached the land.
The introduction of Buddhism into Japan dates back to the middle of the sixth century. Its missionary operations ever since the time of King Asoka (250 B.C.) had been reaping considerable fruit in the southern part of Asia, and extended by way of Bactria as far as Syria and Egypt, and even into Greece and Macedonia. By 67 A.D. it found its way to China, being brought thither by Chinese emissaries, who had been despatched westward in search of a new religion which, prophecy had declared, would be started about that time,-a prophecy which might have referred to Christianity, as far as time was concerned.
It is well to bear in mind that Buddhism is divided into two great branches, the Northern and the Southern, more divergent than the Protestant and the Roman Catholic faiths. The Southern branch, called also the "Lesser Vehicle," accepted in Ceylon and Siam, is a purer form and simpler in doctrine. The Northern, called the "Greater Vehicle" (Mahā Yāna in Sanskrit or Daijo in Japanese), has deviated widely from the original teachings of Sakya Muni, the founder. It has gained not only in intellectual volume, in theology and philosophy, but also in accretions of foreign matter, absorbing the teachings and legends and gods of alien and hostile religions. It was this Northern form of Buddhism that passed from China to Japan via Korea. It came just at the time when the country was eager to learn from abroad. On its arrival, it found the ground already occupied by Confucianism, which counted among its adherents the members of the Court and the learned of the land. Naturally it was met by opposition from them; but, at the same time, it was among them that the new tenets won their first votaries.
The Chinese ideograms, which were made familiar through Confucianism, were a ready instrument in the hands of Buddhists for the extension of their doctrines, and, endowed with erudition and deep insight and large experience in propagandism, they may well be said to have created a new era in the history of the Sunrise Kingdom. The metaphysical queries with which Shinto could ill cope and which were stimulated by Confucianism could now be answered. The educational value of Buddhism in Japan cannot be overestimated. It did not stop in its activities with things spiritual. Its influence penetrated and permeated all the ramifications of our national life. It touched the very fountains of thought and set a-flowing new currents of ideas. It sobered the light-hearted nature- worshippers. It furnished a deeper interpretation of ancestor-worship. It created new notions of nature and life. It invented a new vocabulary. It gave rise to new arts, trades, and crafts. It initiated a new polity of government. It changed the whole social structure. Indeed, there was nothing that was not impregnated with the doctrines of Gautama.
All this astonishing work was primarily due to the conquest made by Buddhism in the conversion, during the latter part of the sixth century, of the Prince Imperial and Regent of the Crown. A man of the highest character and of unlimited ability, who combined in his person all the sagacity of a statesman and all the virtues of a saint-a savant and an artist-Shotoku Daishi took under his patronage the native followers and foreign teachers of the new faith. A unique figure in the annals of our country, his contributions to our civilisation were incalculable. Upon the principles of Gautama's teaching, yet without infraction to the traditions of his race, he framed a constitution -the so-called Constitution of Seventeen Articles -for the governance of the nation. He established different institutions of charity, such as monasteries, orphanages, dispensaries, hospitals; he built many temples, some of which are still standing as marvellous monuments of architecture, having weathered the storms of time for well-nigh fifteen centuries.
Under his Imperial patronage the new religion steadily gained in numbers and influence, contributing, as it made its own progress, to that of culture in general. But, very soon after the death of this Prince, it began to be disturbed by sectarian differences of opinion.
Among the founders of sects, two names are worthy of special mention, Saicho (otherwise Dengyo) and Kukai (canonised as Kobo Daishi), founders respectively of the two strong sects of Tendai (Heavenly Command), and Shingon (True Word). Both belonged to the early part of the ninth century.
Though both of these saints studied in China and the fundamentals of their sects were brought thence, they not only admitted the incult into their faith but absorbed Shinto gods into their pantheon. That is to say, they "Buddhified" the old Kami.
The goddess of the sun, for instance, who occupied the highest position in the Shinto pantheon, was interpreted as an avatar of Buddhist existence, and the lesser gods shared the same fate of adoption. There was not a legend, not a rite of Shinto origin, which could not find its counterpart or parallel in the all-embracing system of Buddhism.
In short, Shinto was swallowed up in the new faith, though it has never admitted that it lost its own identity, but has always claimed a nominal independence side by side with Buddhism. It has kept, as it were, the names of its gods and the framework of its ritual, yet without power or life. It has barely continued its hold upon the people by its traditions and prestige. Like the condominium of England and Egypt in the Sudan, the two faiths were allied in the spiritual domination of Japan; allied-but how unequally! The alliance lasted throughout centuries with a separate field allotted to each, as I have said before. Adjustment was made between them, so as to leave little cause for quarrel. Each had its own temples-the Buddhists delighting in grand and ornate architecture of Hindu origin, gaudy in colour and filled with mystic symbols of worship.
Very few Shinto shrines retained their original integrity; for the greater part the two religions mixed and mingled. Buddhist deities found lodgment side by side with Shinto gods under the same shelter. In private households you still see a miniature Buddhist shrine, and close by it a shelf provided with a few instruments of Shinto cult. When a birth occurs in the family, the babe is taken to a Shinto shrine for consecration and blessing; but when there is a death, the funeral is often conducted by a Buddhist priest. Shinto festivals are occasions of joy and rejoicing, of thanksgiving and merry-making. Buddhist festivals are usually suggestive of sin and of sorrow, of sober thoughts and sombre musings.
The final and practical identity of all religions has been expressed in a well-known verse:-
"Be it crystal of snow-flake frail, Be it globule of hoary hail, Be it the form of thick-ribbed ice,- If but the sun's warm rays upon them fall, They melt and merge in one element all."Thus in closest ties united, the two faiths had spent centuries together, when, with the Restoration of the Imperial power in 1868, Shinto resumed its ancient dignity, and, like a prodigal suddenly awakened to the consciousness that he had been joined to an unworthy mate, the native faith left the spouse of alien origin; but the separation is still largely on legal paper only. The offspring of a long union is not easily to be disowned and the populace continue to worship the Kami and the Buddha with equal reverence and fervour. As ecclesiastical institutions they are both equally recognised by the Government.
The fact that there are only about 72,000 Buddhist temples, as against some 162,000 Shinto shrines, might seem to place Buddhism in a subordinate position; but the former are, on the average, much larger and more costly, and they accommodate a far larger priesthood, the Buddhist clergy numbering over fifty thousand and the Shinto priests only fifteen thousand. In erudition and in character, the Buddhist priests are decidedly superior to their Shinto compeers. Concerning the number of their respective followers, in neither case can any statistics be given. Both may reckon the whole Japanese population as their constituency; but as far as open confession and earnest attendance to religious duties are concerned, the Buddhists excel the Shintoists. For instance, no Shinto sect can vie with the Hokkei, or the followers of that commanding figure of religious history, Nichiren, in keeping alive the fire of enthusiasm; or with the Shin sect, which, of the twelve main sects of Japan, is numerically the strongest. The popularity of the Shin and some other sects is due chiefly to their tact and talent in adapting their teachings to the mental capacity of the populace. "Look at the people and preach accordingly," is a guiding principle of their homiletics. Not only the sermons but the doctrines, and, I dare say, the preachers themselves, have come to stoop down to the level of the masses. Hence, modern Buddhism, at least in Japan, has two aspects. In one it caters to the men of the street; in the other, it illuminates a saint and a scholar. While it demonstrates to the instructed the vanity of belief in personal immortality, it depicts in glaring colours for the ignorant a gory hell. While it expounds to the learned that there is no supernatural being, it paints for the canaille a land peopled with every conceivable form of existence. While for the vulgar it indulges in "pious frauds and holy shifts," it opens to the enlightened all the resources of intellect. Buddhism for the populace has in too many instances deterioriated into nonsense, barely kept up by cheap incense. But Buddhism for the initiated, Higher Buddhism, is something vastly different. To convey its main beliefs in terms of Occidental philosophy or theology, is a task of surpassing difficulty, as a great many of its concepts hardly fit into Western categories.
The most original and authentic exposition of the teaching of Sakya Muni is embodied in the following sentences, which he uttered as he came down from a mount of meditation:
"There are two extremes which he who has renounced the world ought not to follow,-habitual devotion, on the one hand, to sensual pleasures, which is degrading, vulgar, ignoble, unprofitable, fit only for the worldly-minded; and habitual devotion, on the other hand, to self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, unprofitable. There is a middle path discovered by the Tathagata (Buddha), a path which opens the eyes and bestows understanding, which leads to peace, to insight, to the higher wisdom, to Nirvana. Verily!
it is this noble (Aryan) Eight-fold Path (ariyo attangiko maggo); that is to say, Right Views, Right Aspirations (or Resolves), Right Speech, Right Conduct (or Work), Right Livelihood, Right Effort (or Training), Right Mindfulness, and Right Rapture."This first public utterance of Gautama, delivered in Pali to his five former associates in Benares, is known as the Bana, and sounds simple enough at first hearing. The instant we inquire what is meant by the noble Eight-fold Path, we are struck at once by the recondite meanings attached to each of these categories. Indeed, the use of the mere adjective "Aryan," or "noble," as applied to wisdom, calls forth our admiration for the grandeur of his thought. It is not an ethnic distinction but indicates a grade of wisdom-not man's wisdom, not his intellect, but a wisdom prolific of more wisdom. The term "right" (samma), which modifies all the Eight-fold Path, may be interpreted in a narrow, bigoted sense or in a broad, loving sense. For instance, Right Views may be interpreted, as Sir Monier Williams seems inclined to do, as belief in Buddha and his doctrine; Right Resolve, according to him, means abandoning one's wife and family, and Right Speech, mere recitation of Buddha's doctrine; Right Livelihood, living by alms; Right Work, the exercise of a monk. Sir Monier's book is often misleading, always bent upon depreciation of Buddhism, and cannot be trusted as a fair presentation. The Right Views (samma ditthi) include Right Views regarding existence, whether it is permanent or transient, whether it is a being or a becoming, and other like searching questions. Of Right Mindedness (sati), four sublime states are recounted; namely, those of Love, of Sorrow at the sorrow of others, of Joy with those who rejoice, and of calm Equanimity in one's own joys and sorrows.
Under Right Conduct (kammanto) the power of love is portrayed and its exercise enjoined, forming a fit parallel to the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. It says
"All the means that can be used as bases for doing right are not worth the sixteenth part of the emancipation of heart through love. Love takes them all up into itself, outshining them in radiance and glory.
Just as whatsoever stars there be, their radiance avails not the sixteenth part of the radiance of the moon, Love takes them all up into itself, outshining them in radiance and glory.
Just as in the last month of the rains, at harvest time, the sun, mounting up on high into the clear and cloudless sky, overwhelms all darkness in the realms of space, and shines forth in radiance and glory;- just as in the night, when the dawn is breaking, the Morning Star shines out in radiance and glory;- just so all the means that can be used as helps towards doing right avail not the sixteenth part of the emancipation of heart through love!" Or, under the head of Right Rapture (samahdi), is described the beatitude of one who has attained to Nirvana-that state of spiritual exaltation where no evil can touch or harm him. It is a state of rapture and joy, and not of unfeeling indifference, as it is sometimes supposed to be.
"Blessed are we who hate not those who hate us; Who among men full of hate, continue void of hate. Blessed are we who dwell in health among the ailing; Who among men weary and sick, continue well. Blessed are we who dwell free from care among the care-worn; Who among men full of worries, continue calm. Blessed indeed are we who have no hindrances; Who shall become feeders on joy, like the gods in their shining splendour."Were we to search among the voluminous literature of Buddhism, we should often come across words and thoughts, parables and incidents, with which the Gospels have made us familiar,-so much so, that not a few suspect a strong influence of Buddhism upon early Christianity.
But this is too large a theme for me to take up now. Whether the origins of the two religions- now called the religion of the East and the religion of the West-be one or two, if we divest both of their wrappage, we shall come to know how nearly allied in many particulars they are. Though at the foot of the hill the ways are far apart, as we ascend higher and higher, the nearer approach our paths, until they meet at the summit, to share the view of the plains below from the height of the same divine wisdom. On this height in the fulness of time may be brought into common brotherhood, the philosophers of the North and the seers of the South, the thinkers of the West, and the wise men of the East,-and God shall be glorified by all His children. The hour is coming when neither on the mountains of Samaria nor in the city of Jerusalem,-not alone in the Orient, neither in the Occident,-but in spirit and in truth, wherever men come together in brotherly love, shall they worship the same Father.