LECTURE IV. Developments of Buddhism. Salvation by Faith. Supernatural Religion.BUT if we exaggerate, the world revenges itself upon the super-world. The worship of the Absolute requires quiet, leisure, and contemplation. Gautama in the beginning put away the activities of his state and family never again to resume them, and Buddhism has consistently insisted upon flight from the world. Its method forbids occupation, toil, the activities of life; for the world is evil through and through and must be renounced, and this not in theory only but in practice. Yet Gautama turned from asceticism as a failure - a failure in its principle and in its results. Thus he accepted in the beginning of his career the "deer park," which became his abode in the rainy season, for the super-nature still finds its support in nature, and the man of the world endows establishments for religion, vicariously sharing in their benefits. Monks were forbidden all industry, and were made dependent upon free-will offerings. Even in our earliest sources a gift brought merit to the giver, and before long such gifts assumed transcendent importance - better a gift of a trifle to a monk than a fortune to the vulgar sick and poor. So was it preeminently in Japan. The Government in the seventh century endowed the temples, and great nobles and emperors vied with each other in gifts. Hence as early as the eighth century there are loud complaints of the wealth and luxury of the orders, and of the added burdens laid upon the laity; for the possessions of the orders were freed from all burdens, and in their vast extent became a grievous evils..
Thus the world came back and took possession of the order devoted to the super-world. For not only did the desire for merit stimulate gifts, but the religious emotions gave wide field for their employment. The emotions of reverence and dependence, called first into activity by nature, are fostered by art, for they are akin to the æsthetic feelings. Hence come groves and temples and gardens, and pictures and images, and elaborate vestments and rituals, and elaborate ornaments costly and magnificent. The wealth of the Japanese artistic temperament poured itself out upon the adornment of its religion, so that art and religion seemed one - a unity fostered by the mystic worship of the Absolute, with its conception of illusion and its mysterious glimpses of the real world behind the veil of sense.
Still other elements entered in. It was the Court which first welcomed Buddhism, and the conversion of the nation began with its chiefs. The Church of the powerful, the wealthy, and the aristocratic became powerful, wealthy, and aristocratic. Heads of the great families became abbots, and emperors retired into monasteries. The "merit" gained through thus becoming "religious" influenced the imagination, already before the close of the Nihongi we see how powerfully. Other motives also operated - the influence of the world corrupting "other-worldly" religion. For surely no corruption is greater than this, the admission on false pretences of that which has been formally expelled. The world had been cast out and repudiated, but wealth, power, the gratification of the senses, the longing for a luxurious life of retiracy, and the example of the aristocracy led to the adoption of a religious life from irreligious motives, and the abode of monks became the home of worldliness.
The condition is reflected in the literature of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It shows a civilisation effeminate, luxurious, immoral, without earnestness or purpose, religious certainly, but with a religion which was in part of superstition, in part of satiety, and in part of æsthetics. The intelligence of the nation is turned to art, and the control of affairs slips from the enervated grasp of the Emperor and of his nobles. In the twelfth century the long peace broke up, and there ensued five centuries of bitter strife. The religious orders participated in it. The head of a great sect, the Shin-shu, became the baron of one of the greatest provinces for a century. Monasteries became citadels, and the armed monks of Hieisan overawed the capital, while later the knights of the Church militant defied the arms of one of Japan's greatest generals for ten years. Thus the Church became a part of the world, and the world with its ambitions and pleasures drove out the super-world and its aspirations. Sect struggled against sect and Buddhist persecuted Buddhist, repeating point by point the history of religious establishments in other lands. It is not surprising that ultimately the Buddhists extirpated the Christians, the Christian orders themselves being soldiers of the world, who, having converted the Japanese barons, sought the conversion of their subjects by force. The Buddhist monks knew well how to enlist the secular arm in their defence, and needed no lessons in warfare. But how strange the anomaly! The followers, of the "Enlightened Teacher" of forgiveness and mercy in bloody conflict with the missionaries of the "Prince of Peace"! There was nothing to choose between them - in ferocity or in apostasy from the principles they professed. Ultimately, under the Tokugawa family, the state asserted its thorough-going supremacy, and reduced the Buddhist faith to a condition of subserviency. Simultaneously it ceased to be the religion of "gentlemen," and became the refuge and the comfort of the aged and the lowly. In our day, finally disestablished, it is dependent wholly upon the sympathy and the offerings of the people, and its revival is a revival of religion and not of worldly activities and interests.
Buddhism, however, cannot remain content with the aristocratic allegiance of the few. It is eminently a missionary religion, both by the example and precept of its founder, and his spirit still inspires its most faithful members. But the religion of the Absolute is ill-adapted to the popular comprehension. A saving knowledge of its infinite abstruseness can be attained only by the elect, and by them only through much sacrifice and labour. Aware of the difficulties of the way, and of the attenuated atmosphere breathed by those who have accomplished the journey and dwell in the presence of the beatific vision, those who have thus "attained" are least of all inclined to attempt the impracticable task of exciting the multitude to the same attempt. Therefore missionary activity must content itself on lower planes. For just as it is impracticable for all men and women to enter the orders - for how then would the great multitude be fed? - and as the laity who work may obtain an inferior merit by feeding the religious who worship, so the common man who cannot worship the Absolute may nevertheless be led gently in the upward direction by teachings adapted to his low estate and humble condition.
As we have already seen, the Mahâyâna recognises five stages in Buddha's own teaching, and five corresponding periods in the development of doctrine in the Church. Only in the fulness of time was the whole truth made known, but meanwhile Gautama accommodated his words to the capacity of his hearers. Thus may his followers also, and hence there grows up a system called by the Buddhists "ho-ben," where symbol is put for idea, and the abstract truth is rendered in the concrete forms of the imagination. Thus for the Shin-gon sect Dai Nichi may be the most abstract of all ideas, surrounded by the ideas which represent the highest genera, while to the populace Dai Nichi may be the sun, more or less clearly identified with the Sun-goddess of the Shinto faith, and surrounded with planets. The esoteric teaching may have to do with self-identification with the Absolute, while the popular preacher talks of a materialistic Hell and Heaven, and even adorns his temple with realistic pictures of the torments of the damned and the bliss of the redeemed. He holds thus for himself the kernel of his system, but he suits it to the people's needs by wrapping it in husks. It becomes then ultimately difficult to be sure what is intended even by the higher doctrine unless one passes through all the stages and observes truth from the point of the highest attainment.
Eventually such a system threw a shadow of insincerity over the whole doctrine. This doubt found expression in many popular sayings:
"Just as the seller of sweets blows a flute and sings a song, not for the sake of the tune or song but only that he may sell his wares, do the monks preach doctrine, not because it is true but only that they may lead
to virtue. . . . Just as the nurse tells her charge that there is a dragon in the garden, only that the child may fear to venture near the edge of the veranda, so do the priests talk of the torments of Hell," until at last
"Swallowing the device of the Priests Well satisfied they dance their prayers.".
When once this is understood, naturally the teaching function of the monks is at an end, and the people no longer throng their preaching-halls. The intelligence of Japan in fact has broken once for all with the system, save indeed here and there the earnest mind which is really in earnest in its search for the Absolute, or some faithful student who holds fast in reverence to the traditions of the past.
Were the worship of the Absolute on the one hand, and "ho-ben" on the other, the whole of any religion, it could not long maintain itself with the multitude. But the resources of supernatural religion are ample. In Buddhism another development is of profound significance and interest. As we have seen, in the construction of the world behind the world man may rely chiefly upon concepts, or chiefly upon the images of the imagination. In Buddhism the metaphysical sects rely upon the former and use the latter by way of accommodation, while the popular sects, as always, rely upon the latter as expressive of the truth. A basis is found for the second in Gautama's teaching, as he takes over from the earlier tradition the notion of transmigration with its scenery and misery. He teaches his disciples to flee existence because it is an everlasting round of changing misery, and he forbids suicide because that is merely a change in existence and not its extinction. Now could one find an existence which is eternal and happy, evidently the necessity of extinction would cease, and such salvation is offered to humanity in the teachings of the sects of the Pure Land.
The sects of the Pure Land take as their scriptures three books, the large and the small Sukhâvatî-vyûhas,. and the Amitâyur-dhyâna-sûtra, which are held to be from the last years of Buddha's life, containing his final teaching. Their contradictions to his earlier teaching are admitted and insisted upon, but in the larger and the smaller Sukhâwatî there is also an important divergence. The "larger" still demands "a stock of merit" from us as essential to salvation, while the "smaller" declares that salvation is not a "reward and result of good works performed in this present life." Here in the fullest sense faith is made the way of salvation, and that not in ourselves, as Buddha in his final words exhorted, but in "the power of another."
Gautama, the historic Buddha, is the speaker in these Sûtras, but he points away from himself to another, Amitâbha, who lived "in an innumerable, and more than innumerable, enormous, immeasurable, and incomprehensible kalpa before now." Not yet a Buddha for five kalpas, he "concentrated the perfection of all the excellences and good qualities of the Buddha countries, such as had never been known before in the ten quarters of the whole world, more excellent and more perfect than any, and composed the most excellent prayer.".
Now this prayer consisted of a series of aspirations, forty-six in number, all terminating with the vow: "May I not obtain the highest knowledge" if the aspiration be not realised. These aspirations have to do with the perfection of Amitâbha's land, and with the salvation of all those who put their trust in him. The most important are the eighteenth, the nineteenth, and the twentieth. In these it is declared that all who put their trust in him shall be saved.
To the description of this paradise in the West,. Amitâbha's land, large parts of the two books and of the Meditation on Buddha Amitayus are devoted. This last Sûtra exhorts to the profound contemplation of Amitâbha and his paradise, and sums it up in the exclamation: "Even the hearing of the name of this Bodhisattva will enable one to obtain immeasurable happiness. How much more, then, will the diligent contemplation of him!".
Brought to Japan in the eleventh century of our era, this doctrine obtained wide influence and underwent a certain development. It was carried to its logical conclusion in the great denomination called Shin, "True," and also Hongwanji, the temple of the "original vow," and Monto and Ikku, "only," because it trusts only in Amitâbha.
It is from a synopsis of the doctrines of the sect issued by its chief authorities and from the writings of one of its greatest representatives that the following brief account is given. It thus accounts for its own divergence from the other sects of the Mahâyâna:
There are various ways of attaining salvation - that is, of the passing over of the sea of existence to peace and safety beyond. The chief of these are four, namely: the methods of the "lengthwise passing out" and "crosswise passing over," and "sidewise passing out" and "sidewise crossing over," and these "passing out" and "passing over," "lengthwise" and "sidewise," have to do with the difficulty and ease of attainment. Now our sect teaches the way of the "sidewise crossing over.". The contrast between the two may be set forth by an illustration: the ways of the "lengthwise and sidewise passing out" belong to the sects of the Pure Path. Those who follow it are like travellers far from home, whose path lies across mountains and plains and rivers, difficult, long, and full of dangers, so that only the favoured shall succeed, while our denomination is of the Pure Land, and its methods like that of the traveller who finds a well equipped boat waiting to carry him to his destination, with favourable sea and wind, so that in peace and without labour he reaches his desired haven. And we differ from the other sects of the Pure Land in this, that we offer an immediate salvation, not after death but now, for he who puts his faith in Amida with unfaltering heart shall at once enter into peace and find salvation.Not only is the distinction between the sects of the Pure Land and the Pure Path one of relative difficulty and ease, but of possibility and impossibility. For there is now no salvation by works. At the time when Buddha was on earth there were the law, the witness, and attainment, but after five hundred years attainment disappeared and there remained only the law and the witness; and then after a thousand years more the witness disappears and there remains only the law, but without power for obedience. How then shall men in these latter days find salvation by the Pure Path? For that is to seek snow in summer or fruit in winter, and the proof is seen in the monks themselves. They style themselves abbots. Externally they exhibit worth and goodness, internally they are full of covetousness and sordidness. They wear silks and satins, they sit on hair rugs luxuriously, they delude men, they deceive themselves. They forsake the world and are much more worldly than ever. They drink wine, they eat flesh. They love their wives, they love their children. If they are not employed with one thing, they are with another. What leisure have they for meditation? Of inordinate lust, greedy for gain, they envy the worthy, they revile the good. Even if they set impetuously about the performance of religious duties, they lack the virtue of continuance. Nor can they concentrate their minds, for if they are not occupied with one thing they are with another. Thus we note the various Buddhist virtues denied to the monks, and it is therefore proved that in these days though the law remains there is no "practice" and still less "witness" of attainment.
Hence our only hope is faith:
"We are truly like this, unenlightened we are subject to the evil of Birth and Death; for long kalpas we revolve, floating and sinking; there seems no means of escape. But He, Amida Buddha, long kalpas ago, putting forth a heart of great compassion, planning through five kalpas, having accomplished the long kalpas, perfected his vow. He said: 'If any living beings of the ten regions who with sincerity, having faith and joy and ardent desire to be born into My Country, call my name to remembrance ten times, should not be born there, I shall not accept Enlightenment.' 'If there are any living beings of the ten regions - be they householders or homeless, breakers of the Prohibitions, or without the Prohibitions, having wives or not having wives, having children or not having children, whether or not drinking wine or eating flesh, whether they be husbandmen or merchants, if only they put forth the believing heart and take refuge in the vow of Amida Buddha, they will throw out the radiance of Buddha.' "But this faith itself is not of our own power, for to put forth faith by our own power is "like a picture drawn on water." Our faith itself then is not of ourselves, but by "the power of another" - that is, of Amida, and such faith is "like the diamond." Buddha, i. e. Amida, confers this believing heart on all men and hence all we need is the knowledge and a joyful response. We are not to suppose that even prayer to Buddha avails, or the repetition of his name, for this too is salvation by works, for true salvation is by his power only; and this once accepted, we thenceforth repeat his name and the formula taught us, Namu Amida Butsu, from gratitude. Thus it follows that the truth has to do not with our relations and acts in this world, but with faith and doubt in our minds, and faith assured, nothing matters.
"Our sect terms the attaining the rest of the heart the True System; the observance of the relations of life the Popular System. Our sect has granted the permission to marry. Hence the five relations of life necessarily exist. Where the five relations exist, the duties involved in them must be observed. Thus the Sovereign who installs his royal consort and partakes of his royal viands, attains salvation. The commoner who possesses a wife and eats flesh attains salvation. Although the sins of the unenlightened are many, if they are contrasted with the power of the Vow they are as a millet seed to the ocean. The eating of flesh, the having wives, are nothing to speak of. A stone is by nature heavy; if cast into the water it sinks, but if placed in a boat it floats. The sins of the unenlightened are heavy; if cast on the three worlds they assuredly sink, but if placed on the ship of the Vow they are light."Hence there is no merit in good deeds, for our best are full of "leaks" and in Amida's land there "are no leaks," and imperfection cannot inherit perfection.
Hence there is no essential difference between the clergy and the laity, the former being merely the guides and instructors of the latter, and like them permitted the whole round of the human activities. So, too, war itself is not forbidden; for the soldier may follow his calling without fear, and death in battle will be but entrance into the eternal life, only one is to be faithful in all the relations of life and ever to call Amida's name to remembrance out of thankfulness.
With this accommodation of Buddhism to the actual facts of life, and the full permission of all the activities and relationships and pleasures of life, comes also a transformation of the eschatology. It is no longer a Nirvana which is sought, and still less absorption in the Absolute, but a continued and sensuous existence in a Western Paradise, where there shall be no more sorrow nor suffering nor death nor labour, but an eternal satisfaction of all needs, and a complete understanding of all mysteries. Each will attain the happiness and enlightenment of a Buddha.
Naturally enough such a teaching excited extreme opposition. By a pun upon the word the other sects called the sect not "true," but "new," and charged it with antinomianism, denominating it "ludicrously filthy." In popular estimation, also, it was esteemed ignorant, and with a certain reason, since why should profound study be necessary since shortly we shall know all? And for these reasons it was even denied the name Buddhist; and, finally, its teaching that the vilest criminal might be saved by faith excited the scorn of Confucianists.
The adherents of this sect are for the most part from the lowly and ignorant, and from them it calls forth an earnestness which is unparalleled in the other denominations. In our own day it remains the largest and the most influential, the most zealous, and, unburdened by a cosmology or a philosophy, most able to adapt itself to modern conditions. Judging the sect by the standards of the Hînâyâna, or of the Mahâyâna, or of our modern students who reconstruct the primitive teaching, we must indeed deny to the doctrine the name Buddhist, or possibly, better, we may regard it as the extremest possible development of the Buddhist presuppositions. For these it still retains. It too recognises the world as transient, and transmigration as the miserable lot of man. It too holds to an undeviating law of cause and effect, which determines absolutely one's lot in each existence, so completely that there is left no place for prayer. We may not escape our fate in the smallest particular, for that is settled unchangeably by karma, but none the less we are saved now in a peace the world can never take away, and after death in Heaven. It too admits a way of salvation by laborious self-control and self-mastery. But from these presuppositions it draws conclusions precisely opposed to those taught in the Little Vehicle. Instead of proclaiming flight from the world and the religious life as the only way of escape, its rigorous interpretation of these terms of salvation condemns all who follow them, and reduces man to helplessness, or to salvation by the "power of another," the exaltation of the "law" bringing about its annulment.
Nor is it difficult to account for the acceptance of the fabulous Amida as source of salvation. Neither his existence nor his vows are proved, but only asserted and taken for granted. We wonder that a great system of religion may come into existence, build innumerable temples, maintain a hierarchy, and be taken as ex. pressive of absolute truth by millions and for centuries without any evidence offered that its foundations exist other than in the fancy. But Amida himself is a part of the greater scheme of the Mahâyâna. It determined culture and it permeated all knowledge. Unchallenged it furnished the atmosphere and a large measure of the material of learning. Not yet was criticism prepared to discuss it. When now the methods of salvation by contemplation and philosophy broke down, and when men professing to leave the world became more worldly than before, the inherent desire for salvation turned to faith for its refuge. The fable of Amida offered ready resource. Adopted without criticism, it became the symbol and form of a great religious fact, the satisfaction of man's deep religious need. Forever does man seek that which, greater than himself he may adore, a greater than himself on which he may depend. The Shin sect in Japan bears testimony to this truth of man's nature and position. After all, his successive attempts in religion are like his successive attempts in science, neither more puerile nor more false. Certain needs imperatively demand satisfaction, and through them he comes to interpret the universe. Given an interpretation which fairly answers his need, he is content, and to it he clings. Thus in science also does the hypothesis which for the time works gain acceptance, and the scientific student, notwithstanding theoretical doubts and questionings, clings to it until by and by an hypothesis appears which better satisfies his demands and more efficiently works. Equally does man's nature demand religious satisfaction, and it accepts this teaching and that, clings to this name or that, as the craving is satisfied and the teaching works. Nor will he, nor should he, renounce what he thus has, save as he finds the higher name and the sounder doctrine which better meets his craving and bears better fruit. The religions of the earth, however expressed, in parable and myth and fable, and however venerable, yet do not depend on these, but upon the nature of man, the nature which knows itself as dependent, and which goes forth in reverence and adoration.
Yet though thus we would justify Shin-shu, still in it Buddhism has come full cycle, denying all which its founder taught and affirming what he denied. The presuppositions, which he accepted uncritically from the popular cosmology, have their full revenge, destroying his positive doctrine. He taught salvation in Nirvana; the Shin-shu authorities put it in the Western Paradise. He taught flight from the world as necessary; they permit all human relationships and activities - even war. He forbade faith, even in himself; they proclaim salvation by faith alone. He refused homage to God and belief in a soul, but they have again a god, Amida, and an immortal soul. Even his name is forgotten, and his historic title is applied to another, so that in the Shin temples there is no image of Gautama but of Amida alone, and in the prayers and teachings of sect there is no mention of him. The line which connects modern Buddhism with the historic founder is cut completely, and in his place is the fable of one who has never visited our earth. Yet, after all, have the sectaries of the Pure Land forfeited their right to a share in the Buddhist name? Are they separated from the founder of the religion in his intent and purpose? If Buddhism consists of positive doctrine, in theology or in ethics, if its essence is to be found in a cosmology or in the denial of a metaphysics, if its historic continuity depends upon the preservation of the story of its founder, or in the knowledge of his name, or in the worship of his person, then indeed these sects have denied the faith. But if the essential thing in Buddhism is the loving heart which seeks to bestow salvation, and if in Gautama's temptation the truth which stands forth is really the root of the matter, viz., that his "attainment" was not for himself but for the salvation of humanity, then may the followers of the Shin sect claim to be his brethren of the spirit. For in this spirit they too share in larger measure than others who are truer to the letter. He gave himself for the world and its salvation, and they believe in a virtue, not their own, which is able to save to the uttermost. His method and his doctrine they repudiate, but in his heart they put their trust. His name perishes, but his will works on, for to them, as to him, the greatest thing in the world is not metaphysics, nor asceticism, nor rites and ceremonies, but self-sacrificing love.
In the thirteenth century another important sect arose in protest against the doctrines of the Shin-shu. Its founder, Nichiren, when a youth, "observed some children dragging about an image of Sakya-muni, which they were using as a plaything. Shocked at such strange profanity, he remonstrated," and was told that since the founder of Shin-shu "had demonstrated the futility of all Buddhas except Amida, they did not seem to have any further use for the image of Sakya-muni, and so had allowed the children to play with it." He was a member of the Tendai sect, and, starting now on a career of reform, he made its scriptures, the Saddharma-Pundarîka, the basis of his own teaching. In this Lotus of the True Law Buddha is called by divine names. He is the God of gods, the Father of the world, the Self-born one, the Chief and Saviour of all, eternal, almighty, all-wise. He is elsewhere referred to as the cause of existence, the "Supreme Nature of the First Cause.". The true Buddha, the Nichiren-shu teaches, "is the source of all phenomenal existence, and in whom all phenomenal existence has its being. The imperfect Buddhism therefore teaches a chain of cause and effect; true Buddhism teaches us that the first link in this chain of cause and effect is the Buddha of Original Enlightenment, of whom the historical Sakya-muni and the rest are but the transient reflection.".
The approach to the belief in a creator-God is manifest; the world no longer appears as self-existent, nor as an illusion produced by ignorance, but as caused by him.
As has been pointed out by another, the Mahâyâna is Buddhist gnosticism. Had gnosticism triumphed in the Christian Church, and in place of the historic Christ had Æons many and various been worshipped, in place of the New Testament had differing documents been substituted as authoritative in different sects, the result would have been the same. In this, then, we may note as a profound difference, that in the West the historic continuity has been preserved, and with it the person, work, and teaching of the Christ have remained known and are confessed to be supreme.
One hesitates to forecast the future of Buddhism in Japan. It has met too many vicissitudes, endured too many transformations, and entered too deeply into the life of the nation to be lightly overthrown. During the Tokugawa regime, it was at once pampered and rendered powerless, while educated men forsook it for philosophic Confucianism. At the restoration of the Imperial rule in 1868 it was disestablished, and its leaders lost hope for a time. Now it has adjusted itself to the new conditions, and while it can never expect to hold its old position, it has regained a degree of religious confidence and zeal. Especially does the Shin sect attempt to accommodate itself to the new conditions, sending its priests abroad to study, seeking to fit its doctrines to the new learning, and beginning missionary enterprises in foreign lands. It adopts the methods of Christian missions, and exhibits signs of new life. Whether the new wine can be poured into the old bottles, who can tell? The enterprise does not seem hopeful, and yet vast is the power of organised religion, and the services rendered by the faith to Japan in the past may still make possible for it a career in the years to come.