LECTURE VI. Confucianism as a World System. Ethical Religion.BOTH in China and in Japan the separation between religion and ethics seemed complete. Shinto, as formulated in the eighth century, is without an ethical code, and Buddhism supplied only rules for men who chose the religious life. Confucianism therefore was the system which made rules at once for the polity of the state and for the order of society. This separation between religion and ethics is represented in Chinese by the ordinary native classification. Thus Taoism, Buddhism, and, of later years, Christianity are put in one class, and Confucianism in another, a division which commends itself not only to the Chinese scholars but also to foreigners.. In Japan Shinto has patriotism for its substance, furnishing the motive power to the national ethics; and Buddhism, in the Shin sect, has found a way through the doctrine of faith for the thorough-going adoption of the Chinese teaching of the five relations. Yet here too, evidently, the distinction between religion and ethics is clearly developed.
From this point of view religion has to do with our relationships with the unseen world, with spirits, with gods and with Heaven. Worship is its chief attribute, and ethics finds a place in religion only in a subordinate capacity. Ethics may be regarded, indeed, as the code set forth by invisible powers for the government of their realm, as a set of rules let down out of the supernatural world into the natural world, to be disobeyed only under the penalty of a divine punishment, ritual obedience being as important or more important than moral rectitude. Yet even so the separation between religion and ethics is still made, the supreme duty being owed to God, and only a secondary duty to man. Judged now by such a standard, Confucianism is not a religion. Its ethics is not the code promulgated by a supreme deity, nor are its moral sanctions in the punishments and rewards of a future life. Worship is not placed first and there is no duty towards God recognised. Confucianism indeed recognises a supreme ruler, Shang-ti. The Emperor worships him with the offerings of spring and autumn, but beyond this he has no part in the system. Confucius refers to him only in a single passage and that by reference to an ancient system without deduction or command of any kind. Certain of our modern scholars, on what seems to us the smallest evidence, assert that the Chinese were originally monotheistic, and that Confucius fell away from this earlier and purer faith.." But, however that may be, it is certain that Confucius himself was not a worshipper of God as creator and ruler of the universe. The greatest commentator on Confucius, Chu Hi, expressly denies the existence of a supreme ruler in the sense of a heavenly emperor, with ministers of the left and right in association with himself.
As thus Confucius refers to Shang-ti without denying his existence or inculcating his worship, so also he accepts the prevalent belief in deities and demons. As in antiquity he found precedents, he tells his disciples that deities and demons are to be worshipped but that they are to be kept at a distance.. His attitude was not that of an agnostic, but of the man who, knowing a higher and greater truth, is indifferent to the less. For the followers of Confucius, man is greater than the gods or demons; or, if he be not greater, he at least is independent of them, as they are unable to conquer his determined mind.. For Confucius, nature is the supreme being, not possessed by a spirit nor originated and ruled over by a god, but in and of itself possessing powers and values.
The followers of Confucius in Japan, true to the essential teaching of their great Master, recognise rites and ceremonies and prayers and all forms of priestly interposition as superstitious. "When punished by Heaven," said Confucius, "there is no place for prayers,". and a great representative of Confucianism in Japan teaches us with the utmost frankness that it is only righteousness, and humanity, and truth which appeal to Heaven and win success.. At the most, Confucian worship is an act of grateful remembrance and service. The bowing before the tablet of the Sage involves no more than the lifting of the hat as we stand before a tomb of a hero of the past. To call this reverence by the term which we use for the worship of the Supreme Deity is to confound things which essentially differ.
Confucius taught and very greatly promoted the worship of ancestors, his own practice illustrating his doctrine. This is indeed the very centre of the religion of the multitudes in China, but, none the less, regarding the immortality of the soul, Confucius's generations to come.. It was left to Buddhism to set forth in vivid colours the terrors of a judgment day and to invoke the powers of fear and hope as inducements to a religious life.
Surely it is not surprising that Confucianism has been termed non-religious. Without a Creator, with only a reference to a Supreme Ruler; without a doctrine of heaven, hell, or immortality; without a conception of sin against God; without a felt need for rites, ceremonies, sacraments, hymns, prayers, and priests; without even so much as a cosmology or a mythology or an ontology, it seems devoid of all contents and characteristics to which the term religious belongs.
Yet none the less Confucianism is a religion. It is not a collection of rules nor a mere system of ethics. If by ethics we mean in this connection the recognition of the rules of the social life, as something formed, let us say, by mutual consent, as in the theory of Hobbes, or imposed upon men by the arbitrary will of a despot, or even by the action of the majority of the people; or if we mean by ethics something which, thus formed through the will of men, may be amended or rescinded or changed, then emphatically Confucianism is not a system of ethics. It does not thus conceive man in his relationship to men and nature. Nor is it concerned with the visible world after all as the chief and eternal sphere. Behind the world it too places the super-world; yet not as distinct from the world, but manifested in and through it. The real world is like the blue sky which remains unchanged though the storm-clouds completely cover its face. Let the mists and storms disappear and heaven remains unchanging as before. So too has heaven the same relationship to all, without distinction of great or small, of near or distant, of high or low. Go whither we may, its arch is still above us; do as we will, it still looks down upon us. It is far beyond our reach: would we injure it, we cannot; would we cause it pain, we cannot; would we benefit or help it, we cannot. As thus heaven bounds the visible world, so does the spiritual Heaven bound and fill all things, visible and invisible, material, mental: earth, sky, heavenly bodies, animals, birds, plants, men.. These are all upon the surface of that unchanging and infinite and eternal Power which is not ourselves, and yet constitutes the very essence of our being. From this essential being, the spiritual Heaven, every trace of the physical shall be removed. It may be described best by negatives. It is not a God - that is, an individual like a man; it is not material, it is not dynamic, it is not like our passions, nor like our knowledge, nor like our spirit or mind or soul; it cannot be described in terms of cause and effect; it preceded even the negative and positive principles by whose interaction the universe has been formed. Formless, from it has come all form; powerless, from it has come all power; it remains through all change changeless, and yet is norm and governor of all. This supreme, which we cannot yet call object, nameless and adjectiveless, may yet best be described by that which stirs in the soul of man as righteousness.. Righteousness is its essence, and as it develops it reveals itself in the five virtues, practised in the five relationships. Its true nature is to be discovered only in the period of perfect development, when it is embodied in the phenomenal world, in the well ordered state, the well ordered family, and the well ordered life. Hence ethics, far from being ephemeral or of the will of man, is the best conceivable expression of the inner nature of the universe itself. It is deepest in ourselves and constitutes our own truest being.
We have therefore the two great elements of that fashion of religion called by Tiele "theanthropic.". Freed completely from all theocratic elements, in no wise corresponding to the forms of supernatural religion which are dependent upon the sensuous imagination, it is a clear representative of that class which conceives of the supreme as immanent, and of salvation as the recognition of the unity of the infinite with the self. All religion may be well brought under these two great divisions: the religion of men who conceive of God, themselves, and the world as distinct and separate, with an intercourse between God and man which may culminate in an admittance to the very presence of God himself, seated upon his throne; and the religion of men who conceive of God under the forms of thought as an all-embracing Infinite or Absolute in which all things live and move and have their being, and in which we find salvation as we come to recognise that our essential being is not in our changing ego of present consciousness, but is in our unity with the universal It.
These two types of religion may be divided in another way, with a classification that cuts across both. For example, we may have in the theocratic religion the conception of a God in whom power is supreme, and who chiefly desires from his worshippers, through sacrifice, praise, and prayer, the recognition of his overwhelming might. With him service of our fellow men is acceptable only because it is rendered consciously as the doing of his will. Or we may have the conception of God as the ruler of supreme righteousness, who desires from his people not sacrifice nor praise, but purity in the inward parts, and a ministering life to fellow men. So likewise in religions of the theanthropic type, the thought of the Infinite may centre in pure being, substance, essence, or power, and salvation may be obtained through meditation, contemplation, asceticism, or metaphysical abstraction; or, on the contrary, this all-embracing Supreme, the object of our reverence, may be set forth not in terms of metaphysics but in those of ethics.. In Confucianism we have such an ethical religion of the theanthropic type. In it there are at once veneration, worship, dependence, service, and salvation. Yet the invisible on which the visible depends is not something abstract but embodied, and the worship is not formal but practical. The holy man is an incarnation of righteousness in the service of humanity.
As in all theanthropie religions, so with the Confucianists study and reflection hold large place. It is true that the way of righteousness is not apart from the ignorant and humble; though they know not the truth yet they may practise it, but in its fulness there is salvation only for him who both knows and acts.. Yet vain is learning for the man whose knowledge is merely theoretical. To know a multitude of books and yet not to embody the truth in life is to be a learned fool, a student merely of the eye and ear, a dealer in verbal refinements, a man who prates much of the Sages but could never recognise one in life.. To know truth is to know it primarily in ourselves, never as something apart from us, for the temple of God is the heart of man.. There is no such thing as true study apart from life, nor is it possible for a man to say that he has no time for investigating and for this study, for learning is precisely a matter of every-day life. If we do not know this, we do not know at all as we ought to know. As we know the taste of wine by tasting it, and the colours of the spectrum by seeing them, and the sounds of the musical scale by hearing them, so do we know the five relationships as we exercise the five virtues in the actual life of man.. There is nothing apart from it, but Heaven covers all and embraces all, and when once it is recognised and our place in it is known, then there comes to the soul perfect peace; rising up, lying down, sleeping, waking, toiling, playing, living, dying, all is well.. The outward circumstances of life, like the inward hopes and fears, our transient disappointments and successes, our loves and our hates, are all embodied within this truth; and when we are in harmony with it nothing can henceforth disturb us. This is all which is meant by paradise, and salvation, and escape from hell, which are symbols of the priest who appeals to the ignorant, but they have no place in the relations of the man of purity and thought.
As we take this Confucian system, thus set forth, and compare it with the sayings of Confucius, it is plain that much has been read into his words. He, indeed, regards Heaven as Providence and virtue as the essential nature of man. He is confident of his own destiny because it has been shaped by Heaven. "Heaven," he says, "is to use Confucius as an alarm bell". - that is, to arouse the sinners to repentance. And when his disciples would dissuade him from an errand involving danger, he will not listen to them, confident in the protection of Heaven.. He also feels that Heaven afflicts him in the death of his well- beloved disciple, and he cries, "Heaven is destroying me!". It is plain that Confucius lived in a world instinct with righteousness, which responded to the righteousness in his own soul, and which brought affliction upon sinners. Both he and Mencius teach that when there are calamities in the empire the rulers are to examine themselves, and in later Confucianism this element is brought into great prominence. Just as the parent feels the misdeeds of his son, and as the sorrow in the parent's heart may cause disease in his body, so is it with our great parent the Heaven and the earth. When men are rebellious and guilty, the Heaven responds in sorrow, and earthquakes, shooting-stars, comets, eclipses, unnatural rain, and drought manifest its suffering. Heaven is not a dead, unfeeling thing, and it is the dread of such false belief which causes a protest against Western science. The scholars of the West are wise indeed in measurements and outward appearances, but they do not know the heart of Heaven. They are like children who would measure the features of a parent's face, but cannot understand the parent's mind. The reverent soul is ever mindful of the unseen, and stands in awe before it, and worships in its presence, and listens for the indication of its will..
Surely the men who stood thus reverent, worship. ful, and obedient in the presence of a nature whose essence is righteousness and whose Heaven is a Providence instinct with feeling, cannot be denied the term religious. We greatly mistake if we suppose that a mere system of ethical rules has satisfied the religious natures of the scholars of the Far East for the last thousand years. For this system here described has been predominant in China since the twelfth century of our era, and, introduced into Japan in the seventeenth century, it quickly made conquest of the intellect of the nation. Within this system there were varying schools, varying as to the ontology and the interpretations of the Master, but all agreeing in this, that righteousness is supreme and that conduct constitutes all of life.
This interpretation of Confucius was the established orthodox doctrine in Japan during the Tokugawa period. It was taught in the great schools and other systems were forbidden. Thus it became the accepted training for gentlemen. Rivalling it in influence, however, was a thoroughly idealistic system taught in the first place by a writer of the seventeenth century, the so-called Omi Seijin. He insists upon the intuitions of the mind as the source of knowledge. This comes to us not from the world around us, nor from books, but from our own souls. The very essence of truth is the knowledge that I am one with the universe and the gods. Clearly perceiving this truth and acting in accordance with it is obedience to the Way. Such obedience is like the great sea, and the various relations to our fellows are like vessels with which we dip out the water; big or small, round or square, so the water shapes itself, but it is all alike the water of the great sea. This Way dwells in the universe as the spirit dwells in man. It has no beginning nor end. There is neither time nor being without it, and man is its image. For him the Way is the pivot of his existence. The learning of the Sages indeed may bring this intuitive knowledge into consciousness, but their intuitions after all are not other than our own.. For truth is in all with only distinctions which are immaterial. It is like the great highway where there are men and women, old and young, weak and strong, not indeed of equal strength, but on the same path and travelling to the same goal. The clear perception of this Way includes all blessedness. It is long life and wealth and peace, for if the heart be at rest, outward circumstances matter not. An evil heart includes all curses. Even without outward sorrow there is no peace, and all sights and sounds are painful.
Learning is disregard of self, obedience to the Way, and the observance of the five relations. Its eyeball is humility. False learning is proud, envious, selfseeking. It has nothing to do with obedience, so that the more one has the worse he is; whereas humble folk, who obey but cannot read, are learned with the heart reading which conforms to the heart of the Sages. Man's true self is far beneath his changing self of act and thought and desire and will. Let this deeper self be nourished, and there shall be no failure, and at death man returns to the all-pervading spirit as the vapour in the sky melts away, as a drop mingles with the sea, as fire disappears in fire.
This religion in both schools tended to quietism. Not only was the deeper self recognised as far beneath all conscious activity, nourished in quietness and in darkness, but, influenced by the Zen sect, much was made of meditation and contemplation. No great purpose animated its followers. There was no vision of a kingdom of God to be established here on earth. Confucianism forever directed its gaze to the past, and the most it could recommend was a return to propriety. Hence it brought forth no ideals of liberty or of progress, and if even an approximation to the old golden age of Yao and Shun could not be attained, there was an explanation in the decrees of fate.
The charm of the system was in its world view. As in Hinduism and in other thorough-going philosophical systems, after long study a point is reached whence the universe is seen evolving according to a single principle. Almost nothing has greater fascination for the intellect than this. When now such a view can lead the individual to trust and to the recognition that his own true self is one with the universal principle, and that all differences and distinctions are relatively illusory, he finds a peace which is deep and abiding.
But such attainment is indeed difficult. In these systems it is much easier to be orthodox in doctrine than in spirit. Hence there are constant complaints of multitudes of scholars who are merely learned in the outward appearances, but who have never submitted themselves to the fundamental truth. Besides, the profounder the principle the more difficult it is to attain agreement concerning it. Discussion becomes more and more refined and the points at issue more and more intangible. By and by there arise men who reject the principle itself in the interests of the practical life. So was it in Confucianism.
"The Way of the Sages is readily understood and easily followed and obeyed. Hence it is thoroughly obeyed, and brings forth great virtues, and there are many who follow it. So Mencius compared it to the great highway and said: 'It is not difficult to understand it, and I grieve that men go not therein.' But the later scholars introduced their discussions, making
it difficult, too high, too distant, hard to be understood and obeyed. In this they differed from the original teaching of Confucius and Mencius.Moreover, Confucianism in this developed system was no doubt indebted to both Buddhism and Taoism, and the criticism which describes it as departing from the Way of the Sages is justified. A whole school arose which charged the philosophers of the eleventh century with substituting alien systems for fundamental truth. The watchword of this new school was Back to Confucius! They would discriminate his teaching even from the words of Mencius, and of the great commentators, still more from the doctrines of the alien faiths.. Though these critics were never given positions in the schools, yet their words were not without effect, so that when modern learning at the time of the Reformation was introduced into Japan and freedom of thought and expression was given to the learned world, it appeared that the "Way of the Learned Men" - that is to say, the orthodox doctrine - had few sincere followers remaining.
"With the Sages filial obedience, reverence, loyalty, and truth were the foundation, and learning was secondary. Their easy method was like the highway, even the fool might readily know and follow it. Thus is there progress and a gradual advance toward perfection. But the philosophers of the Sung dynasty, with their 'limitless and great limit,' put progress in knowledge as the first thing, and made the purification of the heart through contemplation the foundation of right conduct, and set forth fine, complicated literary discussions as the foundation of learning. This is what I mean by 'too high and too distant and too difficult.' This is to put that which is useless and difficult before the virtues. It is too profound, too minute in analysis, and in the end misses the plain and chief meaning. In this philosophy differs from the Way of the Sages.".
Religion of this type appeals, as we have seen, to the few. Exalted as it is, and profound as is the truth which it inculcates, it forms no organisation and is unable therefore to maintain itself. For religion as for man's other activities organisation is essential. Thus before the Buddhist Church the unorganised Shinto faith could not stand. Even when the Buddhist doctrine had lost its vitality, the organisation carried the teaching with itself. First therefore was doctrine; then second, it was embodied in the organisation; and third, the organisation carried the doctrine from which it had sprung, like the hero bearing his decrepit parent from the flames. Such an ecclesiastical organisation holds fast its formulæ. The interests of association, the sacredness of worshipping memories, the power of property, unite in maintaining forms and teachings which have long since lost their vital power.
But in Confucianism, when the philosophy of the Chinese scholastics was ignored in the schools, no organisation remained and it perished, leaving "not a wrack behind."
In these lectures from time to time mention has been made of ancestor worship. As we have seen, it was not original with the Japanese, having no place in early Shinto. Only by a strange inconsistency, properly speaking, can Buddhism admit it, for in Southern Buddhism there is no soul, and in Northern Buddhism the soul is absorbed in the Absolute. The good enter Nirvana, or the Absolute, or are fixed in the Western Paradise. It would be only the imperfect and evil who continue in connection with the living, and they perhaps in brutal or even devilish form. The incongruity of ancestor worship is apparent. In the teachings of Confucius also the problem of conscious immortality is left unsolved, yet the more ancient ancestor worship of the Chinese asserted itself and Confucius yielded willingly to its influence. The patriarchal form of society in China was well adapted for its preservation, since in the family are centred all the elements of the social life.
Transplanted into Japan, the forms of ancestor worship were adopted, but the substance was changed. The common people, it is true, can believe that on the anniversary of the dead the spirits of the departed are present in a quasi-physical fashion, a belief not different from that of the peasantry in China. But apart from this superstition an important and beneficial influence has been exerted by ancestor worship. There is a firm reliance upon a transmitted virtue, the heroes and martyrs acting in the struggles of the living. Patriots feel themselves one with innumerable multitudes who have loyally lived and served. The feeling is perhaps rendered intelligible to us by the use of the familiar words of the St. James version of the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.". The philosopher, so frequently quoted in these pages, compares his oneness with the generations to the reflection of the moon on the face of the flowing water. As we look upon the moon and think of the things of old, we seem to see the reflection of the forms and faces of the past. Though it says not a word, yet it speaks; if we forget, it recalls the ages (see p. 185) gone by, for all the men of the past, the present, and the future are like the flowing water, and on them all the same eternal truth looks down.. The meaning of a spiritual ancestry he explains in another passage, where one of his disciples, lamenting the death of a noble woman, who slew herself and left no child, cried, "The heroic woman has no seed!" But he replies: "Not so, not having seed is still to have seed. Fidelity makes the nature of benevolence and righteousness its seed, and this is Heaven's Nature.". Thus the example of the hero begets heroes, and the family of heroes is preserved. To be childless in the body is to beget multitudes who are children of the spirit. This is the inner meaning of the Japanese worship of the dead, and of the ascription of victory to the virtues of the ancestors of the Imperial house..
We have concluded our survey of religion in Japan. In the beginning the simple-hearted people, living in the present, were stirred to worship by the presence of the wonderful and the mysterious. In the tangible, the visible, and the audible, they discovered something intangible, invisible, and inaudible, which they had no words to express and no logic to define. By and by, as reason awoke, they attempted to narrate, to define, and to explain, but their explanations were meagre and their definitions inadequate. While still undeveloped, there was brought to them the civilisation of the continent, with its splendours, its philosophy, its science, and its religion. The people responded to this foreign influence, and found their own tiny world expanding vastly in time and space, while behind the visible world the unseen universe, after which they had dimly felt, seemed to stand forth in form and substance. The thought of India, changed in its long migrations through Thibet and China, became their own. The worship of rock and tree, and mountain and sun, and ocean and heaven, was absorbed in the worship of the Absolute and the Eternal. Their feelings of awe and dependence were heightened, and their religion took on loftier forms of worship and profounder modes of thought.
But this religion could not maintain itself in its purity. It exalted the supernature above nature, and the Absolute above the concrete. Nature reasserted herself, the world cast out came back again, and religion, glorified in its worship and in its forms, was debased in its substance. Only the meditative and contemplative elect, the very few, could appreciate its inner meaning. Hence its usage was adapted to the weak comprehension of the multitude in symbols and parables and allegories, which, disguised as truth, were employed for the education of the masses. Room was thus made for falsehood and superstition, and the admission of charms and debasing rites.
Meanwhile, earnest men, recognising the impossibility of salvation through the way of philosophical thought and religious asceticism and contemplation, found a means of salvation in faith. Through the original vow of the fabled Amitâbha and his fictitious Paradise in the West, an appeal was made to the religious instincts and aspirations of the multitude, so that Buddhism entered upon a new career of development and conquest.
In neither form did religion furnish the rules of conduct for the ordinary life. Simultaneously with the introduction of the Hindu faith, Confucianism was brought in to teach men how to live from day to day in their ordinary relationships. It proclaimed the great truth that each man was to stand in his lot and fulfil its duties. It exalted human nature and the life of every day, and declared that eternal righteousness could be found only in the particular and the concrete. By and by the fundamental contradiction between this system and Buddhism was discovered in China and thence imported into Japan. Henceforth the religion of gentlemen was to be the reformed Confucianism, while Buddhism was left for the comfort of the ignorant and lowly.
In Confucianism the religion of the Far East reached its highest point. Behind the temporal it was conscious of the Eternal. In the midst of change it could find the changeless. All nature was bound together with a golden chain of life, and man in his spiritual and moral nature was its representative. Man's spirit answered to the great principle of the universe, "as the reflection in the quiet pool answers to the light of the moon.". This eternal, changeless principle, without name or definition, was not conceived as pure being or as substance, but it was described as righteousness. This at once constitutes the inner nature of man and the inner nature of the world in which man dwells. Itself forever the same, so that in the ages of the Sages it was intuitively perceived, it yet finds its application in every time and place. We are its incarnations, and where we recognise this truth and realise it in our own lives, we have everlasting peace. As the highest is righteousness, its realisation is not in contemplation nor its understanding through metaphysics. It is known in conduct, and its realisation is in the social relationships.
Thus did man in Japan pass through successive stages from the recognition of that which is immediately perceptible as the highest and noblest, to the apprehension of ideas conceived only by the mind as constituting the Absolute, and finally to the worship of benevolence, righteousness, and truth, made known to us through conscience, and realised in the family, in society, and the state.
What may be the future of religion in Japan one may not attempt to foretell. A group of young men sets forth the Asiatic ideal, and would find the future of Japan in a return to the worship of the Absolute. Another group, more influential, set forth a glorified Bushido, the ethics of the gentleman, as the hope of salvation. Both schools recognise, however, that in the modern world the conditions do not obtain which made for these forms of religion in the past. A third group, holding fast to what they conceive as best in the religions of days gone by, seek to combine with it the noblest truth of our modern science, philosophy, and religion.. Certain it is that Japan henceforth will be chiefly under the influence of modern ways of thought and life. It will not return to India and to China, but it turns to Europe and the United States. As in the past it adopted and transformed the civilisation of Asia, so will it be with the new enlightenment. And of this new enlightenment Christianity is a part.
Its influence already stirs Japan, and the future is with it, but how changed by its new environment and how absorbed by the Japanese spirit, who can know? Yet this we know, that under its differing forms humanity still is one, and truth, which knows no race or place, remains the same.
Japan, China, India, Europe, how different has been the history of religion! And yet, as we trace its slow development in any one of these diverging lines, the words of the ancient Oriental sage haunt the memory:
"As in water face answereth to face, So the heart of man to man.".