INTRODUCTION. The Development of Religion in Japan

"THE Religion of Japan" was proposed as the topic of these lectures by the Committee under whose auspices they are given, a topic which suggests various questions. For one may ask, What is the religion of Japan? Is it Shinto? It only can claim to be a native product and to be representative therefore of the native genius. It arose in remote antiquity; in the beginning of the times which we may term historical it was made the theoretical basis of the Imperial power, and, after an eclipse for a thousand years, in our own day it is the form in which the national feeling manifests itself. But, nevertheless, the interest in Shinto is chiefly archæological, for to the majority of the people its teaching is unknown, while the Government has disclaimed religious significance for its rites and has announced that they are merely a form for state ceremonials.

Or shall we take Buddhism as our text? We may well do so if we consider influence in the past and actual possession in the present. Its temples are the most imposing structures in the towns and villages, its priests are seen in every street, it enrolls the nation as its parishioners, and its presence is as manifest as is that of Christianity among ourselves. In the past it brought civilisation to Japan and its impress is profound on all the higher activities of life, while for centuries it held the allegiance of the strongest men in literature, in society, and in the state. Yet it is essentially a foreign religion, and though it has been modified in Japan its thorough exposition would require a description of its origin and career in India and China. Its scriptures for the greater part are in a foreign tongue, Chinese, having never been translated into the vernacular, and its most common phrases are mispronounced Sanskrit, not understood by the people. Moreover, though its vitality is by no means lost, yet it no longer commands the assent of intelligent men, and for three centuries its influence has waned until now it is tolerated chiefly as the belief of the ignorant and the lowly.

Or, once more, shall we turn from the multitude to the highly critical minority and ask after the religion of scholars and gentlemen? Once it was Buddhism, but for three hundred years it has been Confucianism in its religious and philosophical forms. Confucianism has influenced profoundly also the life of the people, giving it ideals and forms for the social relations, and constituting the accepted ethical system. Hence if one were to ask after the system which for three hundred years has exercised the most powerful influence in forming the Japan which now is, one would answer, the teachings of Confucius as set forth by the Chinese philosophers of the twelfth century A.D. But Confucianism never became the religion of the multitude, and in the modern era its philosophy has given way to the learning of the West.

Already it is apparent that the religion of Japan is not expressed fully in any particular system, a fact which becomes clearer as we discover that none of the three religions has remained pure. Buddhism took up Shinto into itself, and both were more or less changed by the process; and later, Confucianism assumed its final form immediately under Buddhist influence, an influence none the less direct because the indebtedness was repudiated. But still more, the three have entered. into the religious consciousness with little discrimination, the people being won finally to Buddhism when they were told that their native gods were incarnations of Buddha, so that it became easy for a man to honour at once Confucius, Buddha, and the national divinities. For, fortunately, it is characteristic of human nature that men may embrace simultaneously antagonistic systems without suffering from their divergence. Thus the religion of the Japanese is not to be found by a study of the systems, as given in the sacred books, for it is at once more and less than they.

Thus we distinguish religion from religions, and we must seek the "religion of Japan" neither in Buddhism, nor in Shinto, nor yet in Confucianism, though these afford our material for study, and without them we cannot know it. Let us attempt, then, to indicate the meaning we shall attach to the term.

Here we are at once on debated ground. The term belongs to the long list of common words which everyone understands, but which no one can define. Every writer on the philosophy of religion frames his own description, but none satisfies any other. In so long a list one would suppose that all tastes could be satisfied, but since it is better to be out of the world than out of the fashion, I, too, shall accept none of those offered, but shall make a definition of my own. If it helps no one else, it will at least indicate the sense in which the word religion will be used in these lectures.

Negatively, then, the study of religion is not exhausted by the investigation of rites and dogmas. These are its manifestation and its explanation, but not itself. We are all familiar with the distinction: we know an orthodoxy which is lifeless, and a formal ritualism which is cold and hollow, while, on the other hand, we sometimes recognise a radiant piety which is neither versed in doctrine nor observant of rites. For religion essentially has to do with the feelings which, indeed, are the ultimate factors in our consciousness, and need no explanation and ask no leave for their being. In a rough fashion we have already laid out our subject: religion is in our feelings, or, more precisely, in our emotions; rites manifest and excite them, and theology is at once their explanation and the delimitation of their object; thus, in a true system, the three are in harmony. But how seldom is religion thus wholly true! Theology does not precisely set forth the real object of adoration, nor is it in precise harmony with the rites, and men strive more or less successfully to overcome the divergence. In extreme instances it may be necessary to overthrow theology and ceremonial to save religion. The three are in unstable equilibrium, for rites and theology will vary from many causes quite disconnected with the emotions. Especially is theology subject to such changes, through controversies, and alterations in the general world view; and rites are sometimes instituted because of feelings quite distinguishable from the religious, and preserved through the notion of their inherent sacredness long after all life has departed from them.

But, manifestly, we must not carry our separation too far, as if man were divided into separate faculties, for there is no change in his theology which does not affect his emotions, so it be a real change and not merely a difference in words and propositions. So, too, the rites must impart their effect, and with their changes our consciousness will change, making it impossible to preserve precisely the identical religion under varying forms. Further, we may not separate our religious from our other feelings too sharply, as we have no separate apparatus, intellectual or emotional, for religion, but it is ourselves functioning in a certain way. Hence it is not surprising that we often suppose ourselves religious when we are merely æsthetic, or sympathetic. Finally, we cannot keep our theology separate from our ordinary stock of knowledge, for the whole will ultimately affect the part, and, if we resist, there ensues a conflict between theology and science, with possibly disastrous effects for the one, the other, or both.

We repeat these commonplaces to emphasise the fact that religion is not something apart. It is of our common nature, needing no particular defence or explanation, a response to our environment as truly natural as is reason. Man reacts upon his environment instinctively, and these reactions are revealed in his consciousness, and we attempt to set them forth in our science. Hence we are not to look for the origin of religion to some other cause: it is not the result of ignorance, nor of fear, nor from our desire to know causes; nor from special errors of the senses, as in the appearance of ghosts and the deceptions of magic; nor in errors of the reason, as in theories of animism and spiritism; nor in especial insight, as in hypnotic phenomena and the mysteries of second sight; nor in theories of the unity of man and the world and the conception of the all-pervading Infinite in the finite. Some of these are associated with some forms of religion, some of them are attempted explanations of the objects of religion, but none of them, nor all of them, constitute its cause. That, let me repeat, is in our nature as men, our response instinctively to our environment.

Objectively, then, religion is the response of man's nature to certain stimuli, and, subjectively, it is a state of emotion. The definition of the object is theology, and the description of the feelings is the description of religion. The two, as we have seen, are intimately interwoven, and, ideally, should be in complete accord; but the history of theology is the story of man's attempt after such agreement, and alas! of his failures. This, however, is true of all human effort, of science and philosophy no less than of theology. For reason is of nature, and the history of thought is the story of failures, though through failures also of success, and theology is only one manifestation of this instinct after knowledge, without special immunity or privilege. The two cannot be widely separated, for much which is termed science is equally theology, and theology is largely compounded of philosophy and science. But as these may not be too widely separated, so man must be considered throughout as one. His religion is merely he, and, as he deteriorates or develops, it, too, changes likewise. His environment, his special stock of information, his peculiarities of mental structure, his aptitudes, his associations, all influence his religion, so that it cannot be understood if it be considered separately and apart. For all these and more constitute himself, and religion is simply he functioning in a certain way, we repeat.

Let me be dogmatic, and without attempting here to justify my statement, put it forth for what it is worth. Our feelings of awe or reverence, and of dependence constitute religion. From awe comes adoration and self-devotion; from dependence come offerings and petitions. Theology sets forth the object of our worship and of our dependence, while rites stimulate devotion and obtain the granting of our petitions. Now religion develops as a higher object takes the place of a lower, and as our feelings correspondingly are ennobled. Thus, in using the term "development," I am not seeking analogies from biology or other of the natural sciences. Man's biological development was substantially complete before the period in which our investigation begins, and the study of history is not aided by transferring alien formulæ to its sphere. But neither does development as here used come under the general definition of evolution. If for it we may take Prof. Joseph Le Conte's statement - "Evolution is continuous and progressive change, according to certain laws, and by means of resident forces". - then our treatment is not included in it. For the development of religion in Japan was neither continuous nor by resident forces. Its advances were in periods widely separated, and they were in large measure caused by contact with foreign peoples and civilisations, as seems to be the all but universal law of historical progress. We would justify the term "development" only on the most general grounds, and we use it because beneath the changing forms we seem to be able to trace an expansion and ennobling of the religious consciousness.

The purpose of these lectures is not, therefore, to add to our knowledge of the facts by collecting hitherto unknown specimens of the religious beliefs and practices of the Japanese, nor even to set forth the systems which successively have expressed the nation's faith, but to show how the religious feelings have been excited, and how in the course of the ages they have changed and progressed.