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Pre-Buddhistic India.

“Life is a dream is what the pilgrim learns,
Nor asks for more, but straightway home returns.”
-­Japanese medieval lyric drama.

“The purpose of Buddha’s preaching was to bring into light the permanent truth, to reveal the root of all suffering and thus to lead all sentient beings into the perfect emancipation from all passions.”-­Outlines of the Mahayana.

“Buddhism will stand forth as the embodiment of the eternal verity that as a man sows he will reap, associated with the duties of mastery over self and kindness to all men, and quickened into a popular religion by the example of a noble and beautiful life.”-­Dharmapala of Ceylon.

“Buddhism teaches the right path of cause and effect, and nothing which can supersede the idea of cause and effect will be accepted and believed. Buddha himself cannot contradict this law which is the Buddha, of Buddhas, and no omnipotent power except this law is believed to be existent in the universe.

“Buddhism does not quarrel with other religions about the truth
... Buddhism is truth common to every religion regardless of the
outside garment.”-­Horin Toki, of Japan.

“Death we can face; but knowing, as some of us do, what is human
life, which of us is it that without shuddering could (if we
were summoned) face the hour of birth?” -De Quinccy.

The prayer of Buddhism, “Deliver us from existence.”
The prayer of the Christian, “Deliver us from evil.”

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the

“I am come that they might have life and that they might have it
more abundantly.”-­Jesus.

Does the name of Gautama, the Buddha, stand for a sun-myth or for a historic personage? One set of scholars and writers, represented by Professor Kern, of Leyden, thinks the Buddha a mythical personage. Another school, represented by Professor T. Rhys Davids, declares that he lived in human flesh and breathed the air of earth. We accept the historical view as best explaining the facts.

In order to understand a religion, in its origin at least, we must know some of the conditions out of which it arose. Buddhism is one of the protestantisms of the world. Yet, is not every religion, in one sense, protestant? Is it not a protest against something to which it opposes a difference? Every new religion, like a growing plant, ignores or rejects certain elements in the soil out of which it springs. It takes up and assimilates, also, other elements not used before, in order to produce a flower or fruit different from other growths out of the same soil. Yet whether the new religion be considered as a development, fulfilment, or protest, we must know its historical perspective or background. To understand the origin of Buddhism, one of the best preparations is to read the history of India and especially of the thought of her many generations; for the landmarks of the civilizations of India, as a Hindu may proudly say, are its mighty literatures. At these let us glance.

The age of the Védas extends from the year 2000 to 1400 B.C., and the history of this early India is wonderfully like that of America. During this era, the Hindus, one of the seven Aryan tribes of which the Persian, Greek, Latin, Celtic, Sclav and Teutonic form the other six, descending from the mid-Asian plateau, settled the Punjab in Northwest India. They drove the dark-skinned aborigines before them and reclaimed forest and swamp to civilization, making the land of the seven rivers bright with agriculture and brilliant with cities. This was the glorious heroic age of joyous life and conquest, when men who believed in a Heavenly Father made the first epoch of Hindu history.

Then followed the epic age, 1400-1000 B.C., when the area of civilization was extended still farther down the Ganges Valley, the splendor of wealth, learning, military prowess and social life excelling that of the ancestral seats in the Punjab. Amid differences of wars and diplomacy with rivalries and jealousies, a common sacred language, literature and religion with similar social and religious institutions, united the various nations together. In this time the old Védas were compiled into bodies or collections, and the Brahmanas and the Upanishads, besides the great epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were composed.

The next, or rationalistic epoch, covers the period from 1000 B.C. to 320 B.C., when the Hindu expansion had covered all India, that is, the peninsula from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. Then, all India, including Ceylon, was Hinduized, though in differing degrees; the purest Aryan civilization being in the north, the less pure in the Ganges Valley and south and east, while the least Aryan and more Dravidian was in Bengal, Orissa, and India south of the Kistna River.

This story of the spread of Hindu civilization is a brilliant one, and seems as wonderful as the later European conquest of the land, and of the other “Indians” of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Beside the conquests in material civilization of these our fellow-Aryans (who were the real Indians, and who spoke the language which is the common ancestor of our own and of most European tongues), what impresses us most of all, in these Aryans, is their intellectual energy. The Hindus of the rationalistic age made original discoveries. They invented grammar, geometry, arithmetic, decimal notation, and they elaborated astronomy, medicine, mental philosophy and logic (with syllogism) before these sciences were known or perfected in Greece. In the seventh century before Christ, Kapila taught a system of philosophy, of which that of the Europeans, Schopenhaur and Hartmann, seems largely a reproduction.

Following this agnostic scheme of thought, came, several centuries later, the dualistic Yoga system in which the chief feature is the conception of Deity as a means of final emancipation of the human soul from further transmigration, and of union with the Universal Spirit or World Soul. There is, however, perhaps no sadder chapter in the history of human thought than the story of the later degeneration of the Yoga system into one of bloody and cruel rites in India, and of superstition in China.

Still other systems followed: one by Gautama, of the same clan or family of the later Buddha, who develops inference by the construction of syllogism; while Kanada follows the atomic philosophy in which the atoms are eternal, but the aggregates perishable by disintegration.

Against these schools, which seemed to be dangerous “new departures,” orthodox Hindus, anxious for their ancient beliefs and practices as laid down in the Védas, started fresh systems of philosophy, avowedly more in consonances with their ancestral faith. One system insisted on the primitive Vedic ritual, and another laid emphasis on the belief in a Universal Soul first inculcated in the Upanishads.

Conditions out of which Buddhism Arose.

Whatever we may think of these schools of philosophy, or the connection with or indebtedness of Gautama, the Buddha, to them, they reveal to us the conceptions which his contemporaries had of the universe and the beings inhabiting it. These were honest human attempts to find God. In them the various beings or six conditions of sentient existence are devas or gods; men; asuras or monsters; pretas or demons; animals; and beings in hell. Furthermore, these schools of Hindu philosophy show us the conditions out of which Buddhism arose, furnish us with its terminology and technical phrases, reveal to us what the reformer proposed to himself to do, and, what is perhaps still more important, show us the types to which Buddhism in its degeneration and degradation reverted. The strange far-off oriental words which today scholars discuss, theosophists manipulate, and charlatans employ as catchpennies were common words in the every-day speech of the Hindu people, two or three thousand years ago.

Glancing rapidly at the condition of religion in the era ushering in the birth of Buddha, we note that the old joyousness of life manifested in the Vedic hymns is past, their fervor and glow are gone. In the morning of Hindu life there was no caste, no fixed priesthood, and no idols; but as wealth, civilization, easy and settled life succeeded, the taste for pompous sacrifices conducted by an hereditary priestly caste increased. Greater importance was laid upon the detail of the ceremonies, the attention of the worshipper being turned from the deities “to the minutiae of rites, the erection of altars, the fixing of the proper astronomical moments for lighting the fire, the correct pronunciation of prayers, and to the various requisite acts accompanying a sacrifice." In the chapter of decay which time wrote and literature reflects, we find “grotesque reasons given for every minute rite, dogmatic explanation of texts, penances for every breach of form and rule, and elaborate directions for every act and moment of the worshipper.”

The literature shows a degree of credulity and submission on the part of the people and of absolute power on the part of the priests, which reminds us of the Middle Ages in Europe. The old inspiring wars with the aborigines are over. The time of bearing a noble creed, meaning culture and civilization as against savagery and idolatry, is past, and only intestine quarrels and local strife have succeeded. The age of creative literature is over, and commentators, critics and grammarians have succeeded. Still more startling are the facts disclosed by literary history. The liquid poetry has become frozen prose; the old flaming fuel of genius is now slag and ashes. We see Hindus doing exactly what Jewish rabbis, and after them Christian schoolmen and dogma-makers, did with the old Hebrew poems and prophecies. Construing literally the prayers, songs and hopes of an earlier age, they rebuild the letter of the text into creeds and systems, and erect an amazing edifice of steel-framed and stone-cased tradition, to challenge which is taught to be heresy and impiety. The poetical similes used in the Rig Védas have been transformed into mythological tales. In the change of language the Védas themselves are unreadable, except by the priests, who fatten on popular beliefs in the transmigration of souls and in the power of priestcraft to make that transmigration blissful-­provided liberal gifts are duly forthcoming. Idolatry and witchcraft are rampant. Some saviour, some light was needed.

Buddhism a Logical Product of Hindu Thought.

At such a time, probably 557 B.C., was born Shaka, of the Muni clan, at Kapilavastu, one hundred miles northeast of Benares. We pass over the details of the life of him called Prince, Lord, Lion of the Tribe of Shaka, and Saviour; of his desertion of wife and child, called the first Great Renunciation; of his struggles to obtain peace; of his enlightenment or Buddhahood; of his second or Greater Renunciation; of merit on account of austerities; and give the story told in a mountain of books in various tongues, but condensed in a paragraph by Romesh Chunder Dutt.

“At an early age, Prince Gautama left his royal home, and his wife, and new-born child, and became a wanderer and a mendicant, to seek a way of salvation for man. Hindu rites, accompanied by the slaughter of innocent victims, repelled his feelings. Hindu philosophy afforded him no remedy, and Hindu penances and mortifications proved unavailing after he had practised them for years. At last, by severe contemplation, he discovered the long coveted truth; a holy and calm life, and benevolence and love toward all living creatures seemed to him the essence of religion. Self-culture and universal love-­this was his discovery-­this is the essence of Buddhism."

From one point of view Buddhism was the logical continuance of Aryan Hindoo philosophy; from another point of view it was a new departure. The leading idea in the Upanishads is that the object of the wise man should be to know, inwardly and consciously, the Great Soul of all; and by this knowledge his individual soul would become united to the Supreme Being, the true and absolute self. This was the highest point reached in the old Indian philosophy before Buddha was born.

So, looking at Buddhism in the perspective of Hindu history and thought, we may say that it is doubtful whether Gautama intended to found a new religion. As, humanly speaking, Saul of Tarsus saved Christianity from being a Jewish sect and made it universal, so Gautama extricated the new enthusiasm of humanity from the priests. He made Aryan religion the property of all India. What had been a rare monopoly as narrow as Judaism, he made the inheritance of all Asia. Gautama was a protestant and a reformer, not an agnostic or skeptic. It is more probable that he meant to shake off Brahmanism and to restore the pure and original form of the Aryan religion of the Védas, as far as it was possible to do so. In one sense, Buddhism was a revolt against hereditary and sacerdotal privilege-­an attack of the people against priestcraft. The Buddha and his disciples were levellers. In a different age and clime, but along a similar path, they did a work analogous to that of the so-called Anabaptists in Europe and Independents in England, centuries later.

It is certain, however, that Buddhism has grown logically out of ancient Hinduism. In its monastic feature-­one of its most striking characteristics-­we see only the concentration and reduction to system, of the old life of the ascetics and religious mendicants recognized and respected by Hinduism. For centuries the Buddhist monks and nuns were regarded in India as only a new sect of ascetics, among many others which flourished in the land.

The Buddhist doctrine of karma, or in Japanese, ingwa, of cause and effect, whereby it is taught that each effect in this life springs from a cause in some previous incarnation, and that each act in this life bears its fruit in the next, has grown directly out of the Hindu idea of the transmigration of souls. This idea is first inculcated in the Upanishads, and is recognized in Hindu systems of philosophy.

So also the Buddhist doctrine of Nirvana, or the attainment of a sinless state of existence, has grown out of the idea of final union of the individual soul with the Universal Soul, which is also inculcated in the Upanishads. Yet, as we shall see, the Buddhists were, in the eyes of the Brahmáns, atheists, because in the ken of these new levellers gods and men were put on the same plane. Brahmanism has never forgiven Buddhism for ignoring the gods, and the Hindoos finally drove out the followers of Gautama from India. It eventuated that after a millénium or so of Buddhism in India, the old gods, Brahma, Indra, etc., which at first had been shut out from the ken of the people, by Gautama, found their places again in the popular faith of the Buddhists, who believed that the gods as well as men, were all progressing toward the blessed Nirvana-­that sinless life and holy calm, which is the Buddhist’s heaven and salvation.

It is certainly very curious, and in a sense amusing, to find flourishing in far-off Japan the old gods of India, that one would suppose to have been utterly dead and left behind in oblivion. As acknowledged devas or kings and bodhisattvas or soon-to-be Buddhas, not a few once defunct Hindu gods, utterly unknown to early Buddhism, have forced their way into the company of the elect. Though most of them have not gained the popularity of the indigenous deities of Nippon, they yet attract many worshippers. They remind one that amid the coming of the sons of Elohim before Jéhovah, “the satán” came also.

From another point of view Buddhism was a new religion; for it swept away and out of the field of its vision the whole of the World or Universal Soul theory. “It proclaimed a salvation which each man could gain for himself and by himself, in this world during this life, without the least reference to God, or to gods, either great or small.” “It placed the first importance on knowledge; but it was no longer a knowledge of God, it was a clear perception of the real nature as they supposed it to be of men and things.” In a word, Gautama never reached the idea of a personal self-existent God, though toward that truth he groped. He was satisfied too soon. His followers were even more easily satisfied with abstractions. When Gautama saw the power over the human heart of inward culture and of love to others, he obtained peace, he rested on certainty, he became the Buddha, that is, the enlightened. Perhaps he was not the first Buddhist. It may be that the historical Gautama, if so he is worthy to be called, merely made the sect or the new religion famous. Hardly a religion in the full sense of the word, Buddhism did not assume the rôle of theology, but sought only to know men and things. In one sense Buddhism is atheism, or rather, atheistic humanism. In one sense, also, the solution of the mystery of God, of life, and of the universe, which Gautama and his followers attained, was one of skepticism rather than of faith. Buddhism is, relatively, a very modern religion; it is one of the new faiths. Is it paradoxical to say that the Buddhists are “religious atheists?”

The Buddhist Millennium in India.

Let us now look at the life of the Founder. Day after day, the pure-souled teacher attracted new disciples while he with alms-bowl went around as mendicant and teacher. Salvation merely by self-control, and love without any rites, ceremonies, charms, priestly powers, gods or miracles, formed the burden of his teachings. “Thousands of people left their homes, embraced the holy order and became monks, ignoring caste, and relinquishing all worldly goods except the bare necessaries of life, which they possessed and enjoyed in common.” Probably the first monastic system of the world, was that of the Indian Buddhists.

The Buddha preached the good news during forty-five years. After his death, five hundred of his followers assembled at Rajagriha and chanted together the teachings of Gautama, to fix them in memory. A hundred years later, in 377 B.C., came the great schism among the Buddhists, out of which grew the divisions known as Northern and Southern Buddhism. There was disagreement on ten points. A second council was therefore called, and the disputed points determined to the satisfaction of one side. Thereupon the seceders went away in large numbers, and the differences were never healed; on the contrary, they have widened in the course of ages.

The separatists began what may be called the Northern Buddhisms of Népal, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. The orthodox or Southern Buddhists are those of Ceylon, Burma and Siam. The original canon of Southern Buddhism is in Pali; that of Northern Buddhism is in Sanskrit. The one is comparatively small and simple; the other amazingly varied and voluminous. The canon of Southern scripture is called the Hinayana, the Little or Smaller Vehicle; the canon of Northern Buddhism is named the Mahayana or Great Vehicle. Possibly, also, besides the Southern and Northern Buddhisms, the Buddhism of Japan may be treated by itself and named Eastern Buddhism.

In the great council called in 242 B.C., by King Asoka, who may be termed the Constantine of Buddhism, the sacred texts were again chanted. It was not until the year 88 B.C. in Ceylon, six hundred years after Gautama, that the three Pitakas, Boxes or Baskets, were committed to writing in the Pali language. In a word, Buddhism knows nothing of sacred documents or a canon of scripture contemporary with its first disciples.

The splendid Buddhist age of India lasted nearly a thousand years, and was one of superb triumphs in civilization. It was an age of spiritual emancipation, of freedom from idol worship, of nobler humanity and of peace. It was followed by the Puranic epoch and the dark ages. Then Buddhism was, as some say, “driven out” from the land of its birth, finding new expansion in Eastern and Northern Asia, and again, a still more surprising development in the ultima-Thule of the Asiatic continent, Japan. There is now no Buddhism in India proper, the faith being represented only in Ceylon and possibly also on the main land, by the sect of the Jaïns, and peradventure in Persia by Babism which contains elements from three religions. Like Christianity, Buddhism was “driven out” of its old home to bless other nations of the world. It is probably far nearer the truth to say that Buddhism was never expelled from India, but rather that it died by disintegration and relapse. It had become Brahmanism again. The old gods and the old idol-worship came back. It is in Japan that the ends of the earth, eastern and western civilization, and the freest and fullest or at least the latest developments of Christianity and of Buddhism, have met.

In its transfer to distant lands and its developments throughout Eastern Asia, the faith which had originated in India suffered many changes. Dividing into two great branches, it became a notably different religion according as it moved along the southern, the northern, or the eastern channel. By the vehicle of the Pali language it was carried to Ceylon, Siam, Burma, Cambodia and the islands of the south; that is, to southern or peninsular and insular Asia. Here there is little evidence of any striking departure from the doctrines of the Pali Pitakas; and, as Southern Buddhism does not greatly concern us in speaking of the religions of Japan, we may pass it by. For although the books and writings belonging to Southern Buddhism, and comprehended under the formula of the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle, have been studied in China, Korea and Japan, yet they have had comparatively little influence upon doctrinal, ritualistic, or missionary development in Chinese Asia.

Astonishingly different has been the case with the Northern Buddhisms which are those of Népal, Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, China, Korea and Japan. As luxuriant as the evolutions of political and dogmatic Christianity and as radical in their departures from the primitive simplicity of the faith, have been these forms of Buddhist doctrine, ritual and organization. We cannot now dwell upon the wonderful details of the vast and complicated system, differing so much in various countries. We pass by, or only glance at, the philosophy of the Punjaub; the metaphysics of Népal-­with its developments into what some writers consider to be a close approach to monotheism, and others, indeed, monotheism itself; the system of Lamaism in Tibet, which has paralleled so closely the development of the papal hierarchy; the possibly two thousand years’ growth and decay of Chinese Buddhism; the varieties of the Buddhism of Mongolia-­almost swamped in the Shamanistic superstitions of these dwellers on the plains; the astonishing success, quick ripening, decay, and almost utter annihilation, among the learned and governing classes, of Korean Buddhism; and study in detail only Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.

We shall in this lecture attempt but two things:

I. A summary of the process of thought by which the chief features of the Northern Buddhisms came into view.

II. An outline of the story of Japanese Buddhism during the first three centuries of its existence.

The Development of Northern Buddhism

Leaving the early Buddha legends and the solid ground of history, the makers of the newer Buddhist doctrines in Népal occupied themselves with developing the theory of Buddhahood and of the Buddhas; for we must ever remember that Buddha is not a proper name, but a common adjective meaning enlightened, from the root to know, perceive, etc. They made constant and marvellous additions to the primitive doctrine, giving it a momentum which gathered force as the centuries went on; and, as propaganda, it moved against the sun.

This development theory ran along the line of personification. Not being satisfied with “the wheel of the law,” it personified both the hub and the spokes. It began with the spirit of kindness out of which all human virtues rise, and by the power of which the Buddhist organization will conquer all sin and unbelief and become victorious throughout the world. This personification is called the Maitreya Buddha, the unconquerable one, or the future Buddha of benevolence, the Buddha who is yet to come. Here was a tremendous and revolutionary movement in the new faith, the beginning of a long process. It was as though the Christians had taken the particular attributes, justice, mercy, etc., of God and, after personifying each one, deified it, thus multiplying gods.

What was the soil for the new sowing, and what was the harvest to be reaped in due time?

With many thousands of India Buddhists whose minds were already steeped in Brahministic philosophy and mythology, who were more given to speculation and dreaming than to self-control and moral culture, and who mourned for the dead gods of Hinduism, the soil was already prepared for a growth wholly abnormal to true Buddhism, but altogether in keeping with the older Brahministic philosophies from which these dreamers had been but partially converted to Buddhism.

The seed is found in the doctrine which already forms part of the system of the Little Vehicle, when it tells of the personal Buddhas and the Buddhas elect, or future Buddhas. In the Jataka stories, or Birth tales, “the Buddha elect” is the title given to each of the beings, man, angel, or animal, who is held to be a Bodhisattva, or the future Buddha in one of his former births. The title Bodhisattva is the name given to a being whose Karma will produce other beings in a continually ascending scale of goodness until it becomes vested in a Buddha. Or, in the more common use of the word, a Bodhisattva (Japanese bosatsu) is a being whose essence has become intelligence, and who will have to pass through human existence once more only before entering Nirvana.

In Southern Buddhist temples, the pure white image of Maitreya is sometimes found beside the idol representing Gautama or the historical Buddha. While in Southern Buddhism the idea of this possibility of development seems to have been little seized upon and followed up, in Northern Buddhism as early as 400 A.D. the worship of two Buddhas elect named Manjusri and Avalokitesvara, or personified Wisdom and Power, had already become general. Manjusri, the Great Being or “Prince Royal,” is the personification of wisdom, and especially of the mystic religious insight which has produced the Great Vehicle or canon of Northern Buddhism; or, as a Japanese author says, the third collection of the Tripitaka was that made by Manjusri and Maitreya. Avalokitesvara, the Lord of View or All-sided One, is the personification of power, the merciful protector and preserver of the world and of men. Both are frequently and voluminously mentioned in the Saddharma Pundarika, in which the good law is made plain by flowers of rhetoric, and of which we shall have occasion frequently to speak. Manjusri is the mythical author of this influential work, the twenty-fourth chapter being devoted to a glorification of the character, the power, and the advantages to be derived from the worship of Avalokitesvara.

The Creation of Gods.

Possibly the name of Manjusri may be derived from that of the Indian mendicant, the traditional introducer of Buddhism and its accompanying civilization into Népal. The Tibetans identify him with the minister of a great King Strongstun, who lived in the seventh century of our era and who was the great patron of Buddhism into Tibet. He is the founder of that school of thought which ended in the Great Vehicle,-­the literature of Northern Buddhism. From Népal to Japan, in the books of the Northern Buddhists there is certainly much confusion between the metaphysical being and the legendary civilizer and teacher of Népal. The other name, Avalokitesvara, which means the Lord of View, “the lord who looks down from on high,” instead of being a purely metaphysical invention, may he only an adaptation of one epithet of Shiva, which meant Master of View.

Later and by degrees the attributes were separated and each one was personified. For example, the power of Avalokitesvara was separated from his protecting care and providence. His power was personified as the bearer of the thunder-bolt, or the lightning-handed one; and this new personification added to the two other Buddhas elect, made a triad, the first in Northern Buddhism. In this triad, the thunder-bolt holder was Vagrapani; Manjusri was the deified teacher; and Avalokitesvara was the Spirit of the Buddhas present in the church. Before many centuries had elapsed, these imaginary beings, with a few others, had become gods to whom men prayed; and thus Buddhism became a religion with some kind of theism,-­which Gautama had expressly renounced.

If any one wants proof of this reversion into the old religions of India, he has only to notice that the name, given to the new god made by personification of the attribute of power, Vagrapani, or Vadjradhara, or the bearer of the thunder-bolt, had formerly been used as an epithet of the old fire-god of the Védas, Indra.

It were tedious to recount all the steps in the further development of Northern Buddhism. Suffice it to say, that out of ideas and principles set forth in the earlier Buddhism, and under the generating force reborn from old Brahminism, the Dhyani Buddhas (that is the Buddhas evolved out of the mind in mystic trance) were given their elect Buddhas; and so three sets of five were co-ordinated. That is, first, five pre-penultimate Buddhas; then their Bodhisattvas or penultimate Buddhas; and then the ultimate or human Buddhas, of which Gautama was one. Or, first abstraction; then pre-human effluence; then emanation.

All this multiplication of beings is unknown to Southern Buddhism, unknown to the Saddharma Pundarika, and very probably unknown also to the Chinese pilgrims who visited India in the fifth and seventh centuries. Professor Rhys Davids, in his compact little manual of Buddhism, says:

“Among those hypothetical beings-­the creations of a sickly scholasticism, hollow abstractions without life or reality-­the fourth Amitabha, ‘Immeasurable Light,’ whose Bodhisatwa is Avalokitesvara, and whose emanation is Gautama, occupies of course the highest and most important rank. Surrounded by innumerable Bodhisatwas, he sits enthroned under a Bo-tree in Sukhavati, i.e., the Blissful, a paradise of heavenly joys, whose description occupies whole tedious books of the so-called Great Vehicle. By this theory, each of the five Buddhas has become three, and the fourth of these five sets of three is the second Buddhist Trinity, the belief in which must have arisen after the seventh century of our era.”

Buddhism has been called the light of Asia, and Gautama its illuminator; but certainly the light has not been pure, nor the products of its illumination wholesome. Pardon an illustration. In Christian churches and cathedrals of Europe, there is still a great prejudice against the use of pipes, and of gas made from coal, because of the machinery and of the impure emanations. The prejudice is a wholesome one; for we all know that most of the elements forming common illuminating gas are worthless except to convey the very small amount of light-giving material, and that these elements in combustion vitiate the air and give off deleterious products which corrode, tarnish and destroy. Now though Buddhist doctrine may have been the light of India, yet to reach the Northern and Eastern nations of Asia it had, apparently, to be adulterated for conveyance, as much as is the illuminating gas in our cities. From the first, Northern Buddhism showed a wonderful affinity, not only for Brahministic superstitions and speculations, but for almost everything else with which it came in contact in countries beyond India. Instead of combating, it absorbed. It adapted itself to circumstances, and finding certain beliefs prevalent among the people, it imbibed them, and thus gained by accretion until its bulk, both of beliefs and of disciples, was in the inverse ratio of its purity. Even to-day, the occult theosophy of “Isis Unveiled,” and of the school of writers such as Blavatsky, Olcott, etc., seems to be a perfectly logical product of the Northern Buddhisms, and may be called one of them; yet it is simply a repetition of what took place centuries ago. Most of the primitive beliefs and superstitions of Népal and Tibet were absorbed in the ever hungry and devouring system of Buddhistic scholasticism.

The Making of a Pantheon.

Let us glance again at this Népal Buddhism. In the tenth century we find what at first seems to be a growth out of Polytheism into Monotheism, for a new Being, to whom the attributes of infinity, self-existence and omniscience are ascribed, is invented and named Adi-Buddha, or the primordial Buddha. According to the speculations of the thinkers, he had evolved himself out of the five Dhyani-Buddhas by the exercise of the five meditations, while each of these had evolved out of itself by wisdom and contemplation, the corresponding Buddhas elect. Again, each of the latter evolved out of his own essence a material world,-­our present world being the fourth of these, that is of Avaloki. One almost might consider that this setting forth of the primordial Buddha was real Monotheism; but on looking more carefully one sees that it is as little real Monotheism as was possible in the system of Gnosticism. Indeed the force of evolution could not stop here; for, since even this primordial Buddha rested upon Ossa of hypothesis piled upon Pelion of hypothesis, there must be other hypotheses yet to come, and so the Tantra system, a compound of old Brahminism with the magic and witchcraft and Shamanism of Northern Asia burst into view. As this was to travel into Japan and be hailed as purest Buddhism, let us note how this tenth century Tantra system grew up. To see this clearly, is to look upon the parable of the man with the unclean spirit being acted out on a vast scale in history.

In the sixth century of our era, one Asanga, or Asamga, wrote the Shastra, called the Shastra Yoga-chara Bhumi. With great dexterity he erected a sort of clearing-house for both the corrupt Brahminism and corrupt Buddhism of his day, and exchanging and rearranging the gods and devils in both systems, he represented them as worshippers and supporters of the Buddha and Avalokitesvara. In such a system, the old primitive Buddhism of the noble eight-fold path of self-conquest and pure morals was utterly lost. Instead of that, the worshipper gave his whole powers to obtaining occult potencies by means of magic phrases and magic circles. Then grew up whole forests of monasteries and temples, with an outburst of devilish art representing many-headed and many-eyed and many-handed idols on the walls, on books, on the roadside, with manifold charms and phrases the endless repetitions of which were supposed to have efficacy with the hypothetical being who filled the heavens. That was the age of idols for China as well as for India; and the old Chinese house, once empty, swept and garnished by Confucianism, was now filled with a mob of unclean spirits each worse than the first. With more courageous logic than the more matter-of-fact Chinese, the Tibetan erected his prayer-mills and let the winds of heaven and the flowing waters continually multiply his prayers and holy syllables. And these inventions were duly imported into Japan, and even now are far from being absent.

Passing over for the present the history of Buddhism in China, suffice it to say that the Buddhism which entered Japan from Korea in the sixth century, was not the simple atheism touched with morality, the bald skepticism or benevolent agnosticism of Gautama, but a religion already over a thousand years old. It was the system of the Northern Buddhists. These, dissatisfied, or unsatisfied, with absorption into a passionless state through self-sacrifice and moral discipline, had evolved a philosophy of religion in which were gods, idols and an apparatus of conversion utterly unknown to the primitive faith.

Buddhism Already Corrupted when brought to Japan.

This sixth century Buddhism in Japan was not the army with banners, which was introduced still later with the luxuriances of the fully developed system, its paradise wonderfully like Mohammed’s and its over-populated pantheon. It was, however, ready with the necessary machinery, both material and mental, to make conquest of a people which had not only religious aspirations, but also latent aesthetic possibilities of a high order. As in its course through China this Northern Buddhism had acted as an all-powerful absorbent of local beliefs and superstitions, so in Japan it was destined to make a more remarkable record, and, not only to absorb local ideas but actually to cause the indigenous religion to disappear.

Let us inquire who were the people to whom Buddhism, when already possessed of a millénium of history, entered its Ultima Thule in Eastern Asia. At what stage of mutual growth did Buddhism and the Japanese meet each other?

Instead of the forty millions of thoroughly homogeneous people in Japan-­according to the census of December 31, 1892-­all being loyal subjects of one Emperor, we must think of possibly a million of hunters, fishermen and farmers in more or less warring clans or tribes. These were made up of the various migrations from the main land and the drift of humanity brought by the ocean currents from the south; Ainos, Koreans, Tartars and Chinese, with probably some Malay and Nigrito stock. In the central part of Hondo, the main island, the Yamato tribe dominated, its chief being styled Sumeru-mikoto, or Mikado. To the south and southwest, the Mikado’s power was only more or less felt, for the Yamato men had a long struggle in securing supremacy. Northward and eastward lay great stretches of land, inhabited by unsubdued and uncivilized native tribes of continental and most probably of Korean origin, and thus more or less closely akin to the Yamato men. Still northward roamed the Ainos, a race whose ancestral seats may have been in far-off Dravidian India. Despite the constant conflicts between the Yamato people who had agriculture and the beginnings of government, law and literature, and their less civilized neighbors, the tendency to amalgamation was already strong. The problem of the statesman, was to extend the sway of the Mikado over the whole Archipelago.

Shinto was, in its formation, made use of as an engine to conquer, unify and civilize all the tribes. In one sense, this conquest of men having lower forms of faith, by believers in the Kami no Michi, or Way of the Gods, was analogous to the Aryan conquest of India and the Dravidians. However this may be, the energy and valor displayed in these early ages formed the ideal of Yamato Damashii (The Spirit of unconquerable Japan), which has so powerfully influenced the modern Japanese. We shall see, also, how grandly Buddhism also came to be a powerful force in the unification of the Japanese people. At first, the new faith would be rejected as an alien invader, stigmatized as a foreign religion, and, as such, sure to invoke the wrath of the native gods. Then later, its superiority to the indigenous cult would be seen both by the wise and the practically minded, and it would be welcomed and enjoyed.

The Inviting Field.

Never had a new religion a more inviting field or one more sure of success, than had Buddhism on stepping from the Land of Morning Dawn to the Land of the Rising Sun. Coming as a gorgeous, dazzling and disciplined array of all that could touch the imagination, stimulate the intellect and move the heart of the Japanese, it was irresistible. For the making of a nation, Shinto was as a donkey engine, compared to the system of furnaces, boilers, shaft and propeller of a ten-thousand-ton steel cruiser, moved by the energies of a million years of sunbeam force condensed into coal and released again through transmigration by fire.

All accounts in the vernacular Japanese agree, that their Butsu-do or Buddhism was imported from Korea. In the sixteenth year of Keitai, the twenty-seventh Mikado (of the list made centuries after, and the eleventh after the impossible line of the long-lived or mythical Mikados), A.D. 534, it is said that a man from China brought with him an image of Buddha into Yamato, and setting it up in a thatched cottage worshipped it. The people called it “foreign-country god.” Visitors discussed with him the religion of Shaka, as the Japanese call Shakyamuni, and some little knowledge of Buddhism was gained, but no notable progress was made until A.D. 552, which is generally accepted and celebrated as the year of the introduction of the faith into Japan. Then a king of Hiaksai in Korea, sent over to the court and to the Mikado golden images of the Buddha and of the triad of “precious ones,” with Sutras and sacred books. These holy relics are believed to be still preserved in the famous temple of Zenkoji, belonging to the temple of the Tendai Sect at Nagano in Northern Japan, this shrine being dedicated to Amida and his two followers Kwannon (Avalokitesvara) and Dai-sei-shi (Mahastanaprapta). This group of idols, as the custodian of the shrine will tell you, was made by Shaka himself out of gold, found at the base of the tree which grows at the centre of the universe. After remaining in Korea for eleven hundred and twelve years, it was brought to Japan. Mighty is the stream of pilgrims which continually sets toward the holy place. A common proverb declares that even a cow can find her way thither.

In A.D. 572 and again in 584, new images, sutras and teachers came over from another part of Korea. The Mikado called a council to determine what should be done with the idols, to the worship of which he was himself inclined; but a majority were against the idea of insulting the native gods by receiving the presents and thus introducing a foreign religion. The minister of state, however, one Soga no Iname, expressed himself in favor of Buddhism, and put the images in his country house which he converted into a temple. When, soon after, the land was afflicted with a pestilence, the opponents of the new faith attributed it to the wrath of the gods at the hospitality given to the new idols. War broke out, fighting took place, and the Buddhist temple was burned and the idols thrown into the river, near Osaka. Great portents followed, and the enemies of Buddhism were, it is said, burned up by flames descending from heaven.

The tide then turned in favor of the Indian faith, and Soga rebuilt his temple. Priests and missionaries were invited to come over from Korea, being gladly furnished by the allies of Japan from the state of Shinra, and Buddhism again flourished at the court, but not yet among the people. Once more, fighting broke out; and again the temple of the alien gods was destroyed, only to be rebuilt again. The chief champion of Buddhism was the son of a Mikado, best known by his posthumous title, Shotoku, who all his life was a vigorous defender and propagator of the new faith. Through his influence, or very probably through the efforts of the Korean missionaries, the devastating war between the Japanese and Koreans was ended. In the peace which followed, notable progress was made through the vigor of the missionaries encouraged by the regent Shotoku, so that at his death in the year A.D. 621, there were forty-six temples, and thirteen hundred and eighty-five priests, monks and nuns in Japan. Many of the most famous temples, which are now full of wealth and renown, trace their foundations to this era of Shotoku and of his aunt, the Empress Suiko (A.D. 593-628), who were friendly to the new religion. Shotoku may be almost called the founder of Japanese Buddhism. Although a layman, he is canonized and stands unique in the Pantheon of Eastern Buddhism, his image being prominently visible in thousands of Japanese temples.

Legend, in no country more luxurious than in Japan, tells us that the exotic religion made no progress until Amida, the boundlessly Merciful One, assuming the shape of a concubine of the imperial prince who afterward became the Mikado Yome, gave birth to Shotoku, who was himself Kwannon or the goddess of mercy in human form; and that when he grew up, he took to wife an incarnation of the Buddha elect, Mahastana-prapta, or in Japanese Dai-sei-shi, whose idol is honored at Zenkoji.

The New Faith Becomes Popular.

Then Buddhism became popular, passing out from the narrow circle of the court to be welcomed by the people. In A.D. 623, monks came over directly from China, and we find mentioned two sects, the Sanron and the Jojitsu, which are no longer extant in Japan. In about A.D. 650 the fame of Yuan Chang (Hiouen Thsang) the Chinese pilgrim to India, or the holy land, reached-Japan; and his illustrious example was enthusiastically followed. History now frequently repeated itself. The Japanese monk, Dosho, crossed the seas to China to gaze upon the face and become the pupil of that illustrious Chinese pilgrim, who had seen Buddha Land. Later on, other monks crossed to the land of Sinim, until we find that in this and succeeding centuries, hundreds of Japanese in their frail junks, braved the dangers of the stormy ocean, in order to study Sanskrit, to read the old scriptures, to meet the new lights of learning or revelation, and to become versed in the latest fashions of religion. We find the pilgrims returning and founding new sects or sub-sects, and stimulating by their enthusiasm the monks and the home missionaries. In the year A.D. 700 the custom of cremation was introduced. This wrought not only a profound change in customs, but also became the seed of a rich crop of superstitions; since out of the cremated bodies of the saints came forth the shari or, in Sanskrit, sarira. These hard substances or pellets, preserved in crystal cabinets, are treated as holy gems or relics. Thus venerated, they become the nuclei of cycles of fairy lore.

In A.D. 710, the great monastery at Nara was founded; and here we must notice or at least glance at the great throng of civilizing influences that came in with Buddhism, and at the great army of artists, artisans and skilled men and women of every sort of trade and craft. We note that with the building of this great Nara monastery came another proof of improvement and the added element of stability in Japanese civilization. The ancient dread which the Japanese had, of living in any place where a person had died was passing away. The nomad life was being given up. The successor of a dead Mikado was no longer compelled to build himself a new capital. The traveller in Japan, familiar with the ancient poetry of the Manyo-shu, finds no fewer than fifty-eight sites as the early homes of the Japanese monarchy. Once occupying the proud position of imperial capitals, they are now for the most part mere hamlets, oftentimes mere names, with no visible indication of former human habitation; while the old rivers or streams once gay with barges filled with silken-robed lords and ladies, have dried up to mere washerwomen’s runnels. For the first time after the building of this Buddhist monastery, the capital remained permanent, Nara being the imperial residence during seventy-five years. Then beautiful Kioto was chosen, and remained the residence of successive generations of emperors until 1868. In A.D. 735, we read of the Kegon sect. Two years later a large monastery, with a seven-storied pagoda alongside of it, was ordered to be built in every province. These, with the temples and their surroundings, and with the wayside shrines beginning to spring up like exotic flowers, made a striking alteration in the landscape of Japan. The Buddhist scriptures were numerously copied and circulated among the learned class, yet neither now nor ever, except here and there in fragments, were they found among the people. For, although the Buddhist canon has been repeatedly imported, copied by the pen and in modern times printed, yet no Japanese translation has ever been made. The methods of Buddhism in regard to the circulation of the scriptures are those, not of Protestantism but of Roman Catholicism.

In the same year, the Mikado called for contributions from all the people for the building of a colossal image of the Buddha, which was to be of bronze and gilded. Yet, fearing that the Shinto gods might be offended, a skilful priest named Giyoku,-­probably the same man who introduced the potter’s wheel into Japan,-­was sent to the shrine of the Sun-goddess in Ise to present her with a shari or relic of the Buddha, and find out how she would regard his project. After seven days and nights of waiting, the chapel doors flew open and the loud-voiced oracle was interpreted in a favorable sense. The night following the return of the priest, the Mikado dreamed that the sun-goddess appeared to him in her own form and said “The sun is Birushana” (Vairokana). This meant that the chief deity of the Japanese proclaimed herself an avatar or incarnation of one of the old Hindu gods. She also approved the project of the image; and in this same year, 759, native gold was found in Japan, which sufficed for the gilding of the great idol that, after eleven hundred years and many vicissitudes, still stands, the glory of a multitude of pilgrims.

In A.D. 754 a famous priest, who introduced the new Ritsu Sect, was able to convert the Mikado and obtain four hundred converts in the imperial court. Thirteen years later, another tremendous triumph of Buddhism was scored and a deadly blow at Shinto was struck. The Buddhist priests persuaded the Mikados to abandon their ancient title of Sumeru and adopt that of Tenn[)o]; (Heavenly King or Tenshi) Son of Heaven, after the Chinese fashion. At the same time it was taught that the emperor could gain great merit and sooner become a Buddha, by retiring from the active cares of the throne and becoming a monk, with the title of Ho-o, or Cloistered Emperor. This innovation had far-reaching consequences, profoundly altering the status of the Mikado, giving sensualism on the one hand and priestcraft on the other, their coveted opportunity, changing the ruler of the nation from an active statesman into a recluse and the recluse into a pious monk, or a licentious devotee, as the case might be. It paved the way for the usurpation of the government by the unscrupulous soldier, “the man on horseback,” who was destined to rule Japan for seven hundred years, while the throne and its occupant were in the shadow. One of a thousand proofs of the progress of the propaganda scheme is seen in the removal of the Shinto temple which had stood at Nikko, and the erection in its place of a Buddhist temple. In A.D. 805 the famous Tendai, and in 806 the powerful Shingon Sect were introduced. All was now ready in Japan for the growth not only of one new Buddhism, but of several varieties among the Northern Buddhisms which so arouse the astonishment of those who study the simple Pali scriptures that contain the story of Gautama, and who know only the southern phase of the faith, that is to Asia, relatively, what Christianity is to Europe. We say relatively, for while Buddhism made Chinese Asia gentle in manners and kind to animals, it covered the land with temples, monasteries and images; on the other hand the religion of Jesus filled Europe not only with churches, abbeys, monasteries and nunneries, but also with hospitals, orphan asylums, lighthouses, schools and colleges. Between the fruits of Christendom and Buddhadom, let the world judge.

Survey and Summary.

To sum up: Buddhism is the humanitarian’s, and also the skeptic’s, solution of the problem of the universe. Its three great distinguishing characteristics are atheism, metempsychosis and absence of caste. It was in its origin pure democracy. As against despotic priesthood and oppressive hierarchy, it was congregational. Theoretically it is so yet, though far from being so practically. It is certainly sacerdotal and aristocratic in organization. As in any other system which has so vast a hierarchy with so many grades of honor and authority, its theory of democracy is now a memory. First preached in a land accursed by caste and under spiritual and secular oppressions, it acknowledged no caste, but declared all men equally sinful and miserable, and all equally capable of being freed from sin and misery through Buddhahood, that is, knowledge or enlightenment.

The three-fold principle laid down by Gautama, and now in dogma, literature, art and worship, a triad or formal trinity, is, Buddha, the attainment of Buddha-hood, or perfect enlightenment, through meditation and benevolence; Karma, the law of cause and effect; and Dharma, discipline or order; or, the Lord, the Law and the Church. Paying no attention to questions of cosmogony or theogony, the universe is accepted as an ultimate fact. Matter is eternal. Creation exists but not a Creator. All is god, but God is left out of consideration. The gods are even less than Buddhas. Humanity is glorified and the stress of all teaching is upon this life. In a word: a sinless life, attainable by man, through his own exertions in this world, above all the powers or beings of the universe, is the essence of original Buddhism. Original Nirvana meant death which ends all, extinction of existence.

Gautama’s immediate purpose was to emancipate himself and his followers from the fetters of Brahminism. He tried to leave the world of Hindu philosophy behind him and to escape from it.

Did he succeed? Partially.

Buddha hoped also to rise above the superstitions of the common people, but in this he was again only partially successful. “The clouds returned after the rain.” The old dead gods of Brahminism came back under new names and forms. The malarial exhalations of corrupt Brahmanistic philosophy, continually poisoned the atmosphere which Buddha’s disciples breathed. Still worse, as his religion transmigrated into other lands, it became itself a history of transformation, until to-day no religion on earth seems to be such a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria. Polytheism is rampant over the greater part of the Buddhist world to-day. In the larger portion of Chinese Asia, pantheism dominates the mind. In modern Babism,-­a mixture of Mohammedanism, Christianity and Buddhism,-­there are streaks of dualism. If Monotheism has ever dawned on the Buddhist world, it has been in fitful pulses as in auroral flashes, soon to leave darkness darker.

For us is this lesson: Buddhism, brought face to face with the problem of the world’s evil and possible improvement, evades it; begs the whole question at the outset; prays: “Deliver us from existence. Save us from life and give us as little as possible of it.” Christianity faces the problem and flinches not; orders advance all along the line of endeavor and prays: “Deliver us from evil;” and is ever of good cheer, because Captain and leader says: “I have overcome the world.” Go, win it for me. “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”