Read CHAPTER VII - RIYOBU, OR MIXED BUDDHISM of The Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Meiji, free online book, by William Elliot Griffis, on

Syncretism in Religion.

“All things are nothing but mind.”

“The doctrines of Buddhism have no fixed forms.”

“There is nothing in things themselves that enables us to distinguish in them either good or evil, right or wrong. It is but man’s fancy that weighs their merits and causes him to choose one and reject the other.”

“Non-individuality is the general principle of
Buddhism.”-­Outlines of the Mah[=a]y[=a]na.

“It (Shinto) was smothered before reaching maturity, but
Buddhism and Confucianism had to disguise and change in order to
enter Japan.”

“Life has a limited span and naught may avail to extend it. This is manifested by the impermanence of human beings. But yet whenever necessary I will hereafter make my appearance from time to time as a god, a sage, or a Buddha.”-­Last words of Shaka the Buddha, in Japanese biography.

“It is our opinion that Buddhism cannot long hold its ground, and that Christianity must finally prevail throughout all Japan.... Now, when Buddhism and Christianity are in conflict for the ascendency, this indifference of the Japanese people to the difference of sects is a great disadvantage to Buddhism. That they should worship Jesus Christ with the same mind as they do Inari or Miojin is not at all inconsistent in their estimation or contrary to their custom.”-­Fukuzawa, of Tokio.

“How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God,
follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”-­Elijah.

“Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?”-­Jesus.

“Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and

“What concord hath Christ with Belial?”-­Paul.

Two centuries and a half of Buddhism in Japan, showed the leaders and teachers of the Indian faith that complete victory over the whole nation was yet very far off. The court had indeed been invaded and won. Even the Mikado, the ecclesiastical head of Shinto, and the incarnation and vicar of the heavenly gods, had not only embraced Buddhism, but in many instances had shorn the hair and taken the vows of the monk. Yet the people clung tenaciously to their old traditions, customs and worship; for their gods were like themselves and indeed were of themselves, since Shinto is only a transfiguration of Japanese life. In the Japanese of those days we can trace the same traits which we behold in the modern son of Nippon, especially his intense patriotism and his warlike tendencies. To convert these people to the peaceful dogmas of Siddartha and to make them good Buddhists, something more than teaching and ritual was necessary. It was indispensable that there should be complete substitution, all along the ruts and paths of national habit, and especially that the names of the gods and the festivals should be Buddhaized.

Popular customs are nearly immortal and ineradicable. Though wars may come, dynasties rise and fall, and convulsions in nature take place, yet the people’s manners and amusements are very slow in changing. If, in the history of Christianity, the European missionaries found it necessary in order to make conquest of our pagan forefathers, to baptize and re-name without radically changing old notions and habits, so did it seem equally indispensable that in Japan there should be some system of reconciliation of the old and the new, some theological revolution, which should either fulfil, absorb, or destroy Shinto.

In the histories of religions in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Europe, we are familiar with efforts at syncretism. We have seen how Philo attempted to unite Hebrew righteousness and Greek beauty, and to harmonize Moses and Plato. We know of Euhemerus, who thought he read in the old mythologies not only the outlines of real history, but the hieroglyphics of legend and tradition, truth and revelation. Students of Church history are well aware that this principle of interpretation was followed only too generously by Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Chrysostom and others of the Church Fathers. Indeed, it would be hard to find in any of the great religions of the world an utter absence of syncretism, or the union of apparently hostile religious ideas. In the Thousand and One Nights, we have an example in popular literature. We see that the ancient men of India, Persia and pre-Mohammedan Arabia now act and talk as orthodox Mussulmans. In matters pertaining to art and furniture, the statue of Jupiter in Rome serves for St. Peter, and in Japan that of the Virgin and child for the Buddha and his mother.

What, however, chiefly concerns the critic and student of religions is to inquire how far the process has been natural, and the efforts of those who have brought about the union have been honest, and their motives pure. The Bible pages bear witness, that Israelites too often tried to make the same fountain give forth sweet waters and bitter, and to grow thistles and grapes on the same stem, by uniting the cults of Jéhovah and the Baalim. King Solomon’s enterprises in the same direction are more creditable to him as a politician than as a worshipper. In the history of Christianity one cannot commend the efforts either of the Gnostics or the neo-Platonists, nor always justify the medieval missionaries in their methods. Nor can we accurately describe as successful the ingenuity of Vossius, the Dutch theologian, who, following the scheme of Euhemerus, discovered the Old Testament patriarchs in the disguise of the gods of Paganism. Nor, even though Germany be the land of learning, can the clear-headed scholar agree with some of her rationalists, who are often busy in the same field of industry, setting forth wild criticism as “science.”

The Kami and the Buddhas.

In Japan, to solve the problem of reconciliation between the ancient traditions of the divine ancestors and the dogmas of the Indian cult, it was necessary that some master spirit, profoundly learned in the two Ways, of the Kami and of the Buddhas, should be bold, and also as it seems, crafty and unscrupulous. To convert a line of theocratic emperors, whose authority was derived from their alleged divine origin and sacerdotal character, into patrons and propagandists of Buddhism, and to transform indigenous Shinto gods into Buddhas elect, or Buddhas to come, or Buddhas in a former state of existence, were tasks that might appall the most prodigious intellect, and even strain the capacities of what one might imagine to be the universal religion for all mankind.

Yet from such a task continental Buddhism had not shrunk before and did not shrink then, nor indeed from it do the insular Japanese sects shrink now. Indeed, Buddhism is quite ready to adopt, absorb and swallow up Japanese Christianity. With all encompassing tentacles, and with colossal powers of digestion and assimilation, Northern Buddhism had drawn into itself a large part of the Brahmanism out of which it originally sprang, reversing the old myth of Chronos by swallowing its parents. It had gathered in, pretty much all that was in the heavens above and the earth beneath and the waters that were under the earth, in Népal, Tibet, China, and Korea. Thoroughly exercised and disciplined, it was ready to devour and digest all that the imagination of Japan had conceived.

We must remember that, at the opening of the ninth century, the Buddhism rampant in China and indeed throughout Chinese Asia was the Tantra system of Yoga-chara. This compound of polytheism and pantheism, with its sensuous paradise, its goddess of mercy and its pantheon of every sort of worshipable beings, was also equipped with a system of philosophy by which Buddhism could be adapted to almost every yearning of human nature in its lowest or its highest form, and by which things apparently contradictory could be reconciled. Furthermore-­and this is not the least important thing to consider when the work to be done is for the ordinary man as an individual and for the common people in the mass-­it had also a tremendous apparatus for touching the imagination and captivating the fancy of the unthinking and the uneducated.

For example, consider the equipment of the Buddhist priests of the ninth century in the matter of art alone. Shinto knows next to nothing of art, and indeed one might almost say that it knows little of civilization. It is like ultra-Puritanic Protestantism and Iconoclasm. Buddhism, on the contrary, is the mother of art, and art is her ever-busy child and handmaid. The temples of the Kami were bald and bare. The Kojiki told nothing of life hereafter, and kept silence on a hundred points at which human curiosity is sure to be active, and at which the Yoga system was voluble. Buddhism came with a set of visible symbols which should attract the eye and fire the imagination, and within ethical limits, the passions also. It was a mixed and variegated system,-­a resultant of many forces. It came with the thought of India, the art-influence of Greece, the philosophy of Persia, the speculations of the Gnostics and, in all probability, with ideas borrowed indirectly from Nestorian or other forms of Christianity; and thus furnished, it entered Japan.

The Mission of Art.

Thus far the insular kingdom had known only the monochrome sketches of the Chinese painters, which could have a meaning for the educated few alone. The composite Tantra dogmas fed the fancy and stimulated the imagination, filling them with pictures of life, past, present and future. “The sketch was replaced by the illumination.” Whole schools of artists, imported from China and Korea, multiplied their works and attracted the untrained senses of the people, by filling the temples with a blaze of glory. “This result was sought by a gorgeous but studied play of gold and color, and a lavish richness of mounting and accessories, that appear strangely at variance with the begging bowl and patched garments of primitive Buddhism." The change in the Japanese temple was as though the gray clouds had been kissed by the sun and made to laugh rainbows. The country of the Fertile Plain of Sweet Flags was transformed. It suddenly became the land wherein gods grew not singly but in whole forests. Like the Shulamite, when introduced among the jewelled ladies of Solomon’s harem, so stood the boor amid the sheen and gold of the new temples.

“Gold was the one thing essential to the Buddhist altar-piece, and sometimes, when applied on a black ground, was the only material used. In all cases it was employed with an unsparing hand. It appeared in uniform masses, as in the body of the Buddha or in the golden lakes of the Western Paradise; in minute diapers upon brocades and clothing, in circlets and undulating rays, to form the glory surrounding the head of Amitaba; in raised bosses and rings upon the armlets or necklets of the Bodhisattvas and Devas, and in a hundred other manners. The pigments chosen to harmonize with this display were necessarily body colors of the most pronounced lines, and were untoned by any trace of chiaroscuro. Such materials as these would surely try the average artist, but the Oriental painter knew how to dispose them without risk of crudity or gaudiness, and the precious metal, however lavishly applied, was distributed over the picture with a judgment that would make it difficult to alter or remove any part without detriment to the beauty of the work."

In our day, Japanese art has won its own place in the world’s temple of beauty. Even those familiar with the master-pieces of Europe do not hesitate to award to the artists of Nippon a meed of praise which, within certain limits, is justly applied to them equally with the masters of the Italian, the Dutch, the Flemish, or the French schools. It serves our purpose simply to point out that art was a powerful factor in the religious conquest of the Japanese for the new doctrines of the Yoga system, which in Japan is called Riyobu, or Mixed Buddhism.

We say Mixed Buddhism rather than Riyobu Shinto, for Shinto was less corrupted than swallowed up, while Buddhism suffered one more degree of mixture and added one more chapter of decay. It increased in its visible body, while in its mind it became less and less the religion of Buddha and more and more a thing with the old Shinto heart still in it, making a strange growth in the eyes of the continental believers. To the Northern and Southern was now added an Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.

Who was the wonder-worker that annexed the Land of the Gods to Buddhadom and re-read the Kojiki as a sutra, and all Japanese history and traditions as only a chapter of the incarnations of Buddha?

Kobo the Wonder Worker.

The Philo and Euhemerus of Japan was the priest Kukai, who was born in the province of Sanuki, in the year 774. He is better known by his posthumous title Kobo Daishi, or the Great Teacher who promulgates the Law. By this name we shall call him. About his birth, life and death, have multiplied the usual swaddling bands of Japanese legend and tradition, and to his tomb at the temple on Mount Ko-ya, the Campo Santo of Japanese Buddhism, still gather innumerable pilgrims. The “hall of ten thousand lamps,” each flame emblematic of the Wisdom that saves, is not, indeed, in these days lighted annually as of old; but the vulgar yet believe that the great master still lives in his mausoleum, in a state of profoundly silent meditation. Into the hall of bones near by, covering a deep pit, the teeth and “Adam’s apple” of the cremated bodies of believers are thrown by their relatives, though the pit is cleared out every three years. The devotees believe that by thus disposing of the teeth and “Adam’s apple,” they obtain the same spiritual privileges as if they were actually entombed there, that is, of being born again into the heaven of the Bodhisattva or the Pure Land of Absolute Bliss, by virtue of the mystic formulas repeated by the great master in his lifetime.

Let us sketch the life of Kobo,

First named Toto-mono, or Treasure, by his parents, who sent him to Kioto to be educated for the priesthood, the youth spent four years in the study of the Chinese classics. Dissatisfied with the teachings of Confucius, he became a disciple of a famous Buddhist priest, named Iwabuchi (Rock-edge or throne). Soon taking upon himself the vows of the monk, he was first named Kukai, meaning “space and sea,” or heaven and earth. He overcame the dragons that assaulted him, by prayers, by spitting at them the rays of the evening star which had flown from heaven into his mouth and by repeating the mystic formulas called Dharani. Annoyed by hobgoblins with whom he was obliged to converse, he got rid of them by surrounding himself with a consecrated imaginary enclosure into which they were unable to enter against his will.

We mention these legends only to call the attention to the fact that they are but copies of those already accepted in China at that time, and are the logical and natural fruit of the Tantra school at which we have glanced. In 804, Kobo was appointed to visit the Middle Kingdom as a government student. By means of his clever pen and calligraphic skill he won his way into the Chinese capital. He became the favored disciple of a priest who taught him the mystic doctrines of the Yoga. Having acquired the whole of the system, and equipped himself with a large library of Buddhist doctrinal works and still more with every sort of ecclesiastical furniture and religious goods, he returned to Japan.

Multitudes of wonders are reported about Kobo, all of which show the growth of the Tantra school. It is certain that his erudition was immense, and that he was probably the most learned man of Japan in that age, and possibly of any other age. Besides being a Japanese Ezra in multiplying writings, he is credited with the invention of the hira-gana, or running script, and if correctly so, he deserves on this account alone an immortal honor equal to that of Cadmus or Sequoia. The kana is a syllabary of forty-seven letters, which by diacritical marks, may be increased to seventy. The kata-kana is the square or print form, the hira-kana is the round or “grass” character for writing. Though not as valuable as a true phonetic alphabet, such as the Koreans and the Cherokees possess, the i-ro-ha, or kana script, even though a syllabary and not an alphabet, was a wonderful aid to popular writing and instruction.

Evidently the idea of the i-ro-ha, or Japanese ABC, was derived from the Sanskrit alphabet, or, what some modern Anglo-Indian has called the Deva-Nagari or the god-alphabet. There is no evidence, however, to show that Kobo did more than arrange in order forty-seven of the easiest Chinese signs then used, in such a manner that they conveyed in a few lines of doggerel the sense of a passage from a sutra in which the mortality of man and the emptiness of all things are taught, and the doctrine of Nirvana is suggested. Hokusai, the artist, in a sketch which embodies the popular idea of this bonze’s immense industry, represents him copying the shastras and sutras. Kobo is on a seat before a large upright sheet of paper. He holds a brush-pen in his mouth, and one in each of his hands and feet, all moving at once. Favorite portions of the Buddhist scriptures were indeed so rapidly multiplied in Japan in the ninth century, as to suggest the idea, that, even in this early age, block printing had been imported from China, whence also afterward, in all probability, it was exported into Europe before the days of Gutenberg and Coster. The popular imagination, however, was more easily moved on seeing five brushes kept at work and all at once by the muscles in the fingers, toes and mouth of one man. Yet, had his life lasted six hundred years instead of sixty, he could hardly have graven all the images, scaled all the mountain peaks, confounded all the sceptics, wrought all the miracles and performed all the other feats with which he is popularly credited.

Kobo Irenicon.

Kobo indeed was both the Philo and Euhemerus of Japan, plus a large amount of priestly cunning and what his enemies insist was dishonesty and forgery. Soon after his return from China, he went to the temples of Ise, the most holy place of Shinto. Taking a reverent attitude before the chief shrine, that of Toko Uke Bime no Kami or Abundant-Food-Lady-God, or the deified Earth as the producer of food and the upholder of all things upon its surface, the suppliant waited patiently while fasting and praying.

In this, Kobo did but follow out the ordinary Shinto plan for securing god-possession and obtaining revelation; that is, by starving both the stomach and the brain. After a week’s waiting he obtained the vision. The Food-possessing Goddess revealed to him the yoke (or Yoga) by which he could harness the native and the imported gods to the chariot of victorious Buddhism. She manifested herself to him and delivered the revelation on which his system is founded, and which, briefly stated, is as follows:

All the Shinto deities are avatars or incarnations of Buddha. They were manifestations to the Japanese, before Gautama had become the enlightened one, or the jewel in the lotus, and before the holy wheel of the law or the sacred shastras and sutras had reached the island empire. Further more, provision was made for the future gods and deified holy ones, who were to proceed from the loins of the Mikado, or other Japanese fathers, according to the saying of Buddha which is thus recorded in a Japanese popular work:

“Life has a limited span, and naught may avail to extend it. This is manifested by the impermanence of human beings, but yet, whenever necessary, I will hereafter make my appearance from time to time as a god (Kami), a sage (Confucian teacher), or a Buddha (Hotoke)."

In a word, the Shinto goddess talked as orthodox (Yoga) Buddhism as the ancient characters of the Indian, Persian and pre-Islam-Arabic stories in the Arabian Nights now talk the purest Mohammedanism. According to the words put into Gautama’s mouth at the time of his death, the Buddha was already to reappear in the particular form and in all the forms, acceptable to Shintoists, Confucianists, or Buddhists of whatever sect.

Descending from the shrine of vision and revelation, with a complete scheme of reconciliation, with correlated catalogues of Shinto and Buddhist gods, with liturgies, with lists of old popular festivals newly named, with the apparatus of art to captivate the senses, Kobo forthwith baptized each native Shinto deity with a new Chinese-Buddhistic name. For every Shinto festival he arranged a corresponding Buddhist’s saints’ day or gala time. Then, training up a band of disciples, he sent them forth proclaiming the new irenicon.

The Hindu Yoga Becomes Japanese Riyobu.

It was just the time for this brilliant and able ecclesiastic to succeed. The power and personal influence of the Mikado were weakening, the court swarmed with monks, the rising military classes were already safely under the control of the shavelings, and the pen of learning had everywhere proved itself mightier than the sword and muscle. Kobo’s particular dialectic weapons were those of the Yoga-chara, or in Japanese, the Shingon Shu, or Sect of the True Word. He, like his Chinese master, taught that we can attain the state of the Enlightened or Buddha, while in the present physical body which was born of our parents.

This branch of Buddhism is said to have been founded in India about A.D. 200, by a saint who made the discovery of an iron pagoda inhabited by the holy one, Vagrasattva, who communicated the exact doctrine to those who have handed it down through the Hindoo and Chinese patriarchs. The books or scriptures of this sect are in three sutras; yet the essential point in them is the Mandala or the circle of the Two Parts, or in Japanese Riyobu. Introduced into China, A.D. 720, it is known as the Yoga-chara school.

Kobo finding a Chinese worm, made a Japanese dragon, able to swallow a national religion. In the act of deglutition and the long process of the digestion of Shinto, Japanese Buddhism became something different from every other form of the faith in Asia. Noted above all previous developments of Buddhism for its pantheistic tendencies, the Shingon sect could recognize in any Shinto god, demi-god, hero, or being, the avatar in a previous stage of existence of some Buddhist being of corresponding grade.

For example, Amateras[)u] or Ten-Sho-Dai-Jin, the sun-goddess, becomes Dai Nichi Niorai or Amida, whose colossal effigies stand in the bronze images Dai Butsu at Nara, Kioto and Kamakura. Ojin, the god of war, became Hachiman Dai Bosatsu, or the great Bodhisattva of the Eight Banners. Adopted as their patron by the fighting Genji or Minamoto warriors of mediaeval times, the Buddhists could not well afford to have this popular deity outside their pantheon.

For each of the thirty days of the month, a Bodhisattva, or in Japanese pronunciation Bosatsu, was appointed. Each of these Bodhisattvas became a Dai Mio Jin or Great Enlightened Spirit, and was represented as an avatar in Japan of Buddha in the previous ages, when the Japanese were not yet prepared to receive the holy law of Buddhism.

Where there were not enough Dai Mio Jin already existing in native traditions to fill out the number required by the new scheme, new titles were invented. One of these was Ten-jin, Heavenly being or spirit. The famous statesman and scholar of the tenth century, Sugawara Michizane, was posthumously named Tenjin, and is even to this day worshipped by many children of Japan as he was formerly for a thousand years by nearly all of them, as the divine patron of letters. Kompira, Benten and other popular deities, often considered as properly belonging to Shinto, “are evidently the offspring of Buddhist priestly ingenuity." Out of the eight millions or so of native gods, several hundred were catalogued under the general term Gon-gen, or temporary manifestations of Buddha. In this list are to be found not only the heroes of local tradition, but even deified forces of nature, such as wind and fire. The custom of making gods of great men after their death, thus begun on a large scale by Kobo, has gone on for centuries. Iyeyas[)u], the political unifier of Japan, shines as a star of the first magnitude in the heavens of the Riyobu system, under the mime of To-sho-g[=u], or Great Light of the East. The common people speak of him as Gon-gen Sama, the latter word being an honorary form of address for all beings from a baby to a Bosatsu.

In this way, Kobo arranged a sort of clearing-house or joint-stock company in which the Bodhisattvas, kami and other miscellaneous beings, in either the native or foreign religion, were mutually interchangeable. In a large sense, this feat of priestly dexterity was but the repetition in history, of that of Asanga with the Brahmanism and Buddhism of India three centuries before. It was this Asanga who wrote the Yoga-chara Bhumi. The succession of syncretists in India, China and Japan is Asanga, Hiukio and Kobo.

The Happy Family of Riyobu.

Nevertheless this attempt at making a happy family and ploughing with an ox and ass in the same yoke, has not been an unqualified success. It will sometimes happen that one god escapes the classification made by the Buddhists and slips into the fold of Shinto, or vice versa; while again the label-makers and pasters-­as numerous in scholastic Buddhism as in sectarian Christendom-­have hard work to make the labels stick. A popular Gon-gen or Dai-Mio-jin, whose name and renown has for centuries attracted crowds of pilgrims, and yielded fat revenues as regularly as the autumn harvests, is not readily surrendered by the old Buddhist proprietors, however cleverly or craftily the bonzes may yield outward conformity to governmental edicts. On the other hand, the efforts, both archaeological and practical, which have been made in recent years by fiercely zealous Shintoists, savor of the smartness of New Japan more than they suggest either sincerity or edification. It often requires the finest tact on the part of both the strenuous Buddhists and the stalwart purists of Shinto, to extricate the various gods out of the mixture and mess of Riyobu Shinto, and to keep them from jostling each other.

This reclaiming and kidnapping of gods and transferring them from one camp to another, has been especially active since 1870, when, under government auspices, the Riyobu temples were purged of all Buddhist idols, furniture and influences. The term Dai Mio Jin, or Great Illustrious Spirit, is no longer officially permitted to be used of the old kami or gods of Shinto, who were known to have existed before the days of Kobo. In some cases these gods have lost much of the esteem in which they were held for centuries. Especially is this true of the infamous rebel of the tenth century, Masakado. On the entrance into Yedo of the Imperial army, in 1868, his idol was torn from its shrine and hacked to pieces by the patriots. His place as a deity (Kanda Dai Mio Jin, or Great Illustrious Spirit of Kanda) was taken by another deified being, a brother to the aboriginal earth-god who, in the ages of the Kami, “resigned his throne in favor of the Mikado’s ancestors when they descended from Heaven.” The apotheosis of the rebel Masakado had been resorted to by the Buddhist canonizers because the unquiet spirit of the dead man troubled the people. This method of laying a ghost by making a god of him, was for centuries a favorite one in Japanese Buddhism. Indeed, a large part of the practical and parochial duties of the bonzes consists in quieting the restless spirits of the departed.

All Japanese popular religion of the past has been intensely local and patriotic. The ancient idea that Nippon was the first country created and the centre of the world, has persisted through the ages, modifying every imported religion. Hence the noticeable fact in Japanese Buddhism, of the comparative degradation of the Hindu deities and the exaltation of those which were native to the soil.

The normal Japanese, be he priest or lay brother, theologian or statesman, is nothing if not patriotic. Even the Chinese gods and goddesses which, clothed in Indian drapery and still preserving their Aryan features, were imported to Japan, could not hold their own in competition with the popularity of the indigenous inhabitants of the Japanese pantheon. The normal Japanese eye does not see the ideals of beauty in the human face and form in common with the Aryan vision. Benten or Knanon, with the features and drapery of the homelike beauties of Yamato or Adzuma, have ever been more lovely to the admiring eye of the Japanese sailor and farmer, than the Aryan features of the idols imported from India. So also, the worshipper to whom the lovely scenery of Japan was fresh from the hands of the kami who were so much like himself, turned naturally in preference, to the “gods many” of his own land.

Succeeding centuries only made it worse for the imported devas or gods, while the kami, or the gods sprung from the soil created by Izanami and Izanagi steadily rose in honor.

Degradation of the Foreign Deities.

For example, the Indian saint Dharma is reputed to have come to the Dragon-fly Country long before the advent of Buddhism, but the people were not ready for him or his teachings, and therefore he returned to India. So at least declares the book entitled San Kai Ri (Mountain, Sea and Earth), which is a re-reading and explanation of Japanese mythology and tradition as recorded in the Kojiki, by a Kioto priest of the Shin Shu Sect. Of this Dharma, it is said, that he outdid the Roman Regulus who suffered involuntary loss of his eyelids at the hands of the Carthaginians. Dharma cut off his own eyelids, because he could not keep awake. Throwing the offending flesh upon the ground, he saw the tea-plant arise to help holy men to keep vigil. Daruma, as the Japanese spell his name, has a temple in central Japan. It is related that when Shotoku, the first patron of Buddhism, was one day walking abroad he found a poor man dying of hunger, who refused to answer any questions or give his name. Shotoku ordered food to be given him, and wrapped his own mantle round him. Next day the beggar died, and the prince charitably had him buried on the spot. Shortly afterward it was observed that the mantle was lying neatly folded up, on the tomb, which on examination proved to be empty. The supposed dying beggar was no other than the Indian Saint Dharma, and a pagoda was built over the grave, in which images of the priest and saint were enshrined. Yet, alas, to-day Daruma the Hindoo and foreigner, despite his avatar, his humility, his vigils and his self-mutilation, has been degraded to be the shop-sign of the tobacconists. Besides being ruthlessly caricatured, he is usually pictured with a scowl, his lidless eyes as wide open as those upon a Chinese junk-prow or an Egyptian coffin-lid. Often even, he has a pipe in his mouth-­a comical anachronism, suggestive to the smoker of the dark ages that knew no tobacco, before nicotine made the whole world of savage and of civilized kin. Legless dolls and snow-men are named after this foreigner, whose name is associated almost entirely with what is ludicrous.

On Kobo’s expounding his scheme to the Mikado, the emperor was so pleased with his servant’s ingenuity, that he gave it the name of Riyobu Shinto; that is, the two-fold divine doctrine, double way of the gods, or amalgamated theology. Henceforth the Japanese could enter Nirvana or Paradise through a two-leaved gate. As for the people, they also were pleased, as they usually are when change or reform does not mean abolition of the old festivals, or of the washings, sousings, and fun at the tombs of their ancestors in the graveyards, or the merry-makings, or the pilgrimages, which are usually only other names for social recreation, and often for sensual debauch. The Yoga had become a kubiki, for Shinto and Buddhism were now harnessed together, not indeed as true yoke-fellows, but yet joined as inseparably as two oxen making the same furrow.

Many a miya now became a tera. At first in many edifices, the rites of Shinto and Buddhism were alternately performed. The Buddhist symbols might be in the front, and the Shintoist in the rear of the sacred hall, or vice versa, with a bamboo curtain between; but gradually the two blended. Instead of austere simplicity, the Shinto interior contained a museum of idols.

Image carvers had now plenty to do in making, out of camphor or hinoki wood, effigies of such of the eight million or so of kamis as were given places in the new and enlarged pantheon. The multiplication was always on the side of Buddhism. Soon, also, the architecture was altered from the type of the primitive hut, to that of the low Chinese temple with great sweeping roof, re-curved eaves, many-columned auditorium and imposing gateway, with lacquer, paint, gilding and ceilings, on which, in blazing gold and color, were depicted the emblems of the Buddhist paradise. Many of these still remain even after the national purgation of 1870, just as the Christian inscriptions survive in the marble palimpsests of Mahometan mosques, converted from basílicas, at Damascus or Constantinople. The torii was no longer raised in plain hinoki wood, but was now constructed of hewn stone, rounded or polished. Sometimes it was even of bronze with gilded crests and Sanskrit monograms, surmounted, it may be, with tablets of painted or stained wood, on which were Chinese letters glittering with gold. This departure from the primitive idea of using only the natural trunks of trees, “somewhat on the principle of Exodus, 20:25," was a radical one in the ninth century. The elongated barrels with iron hoops, or the riveted boiler-plate and stove-pipe pattern, in this era of Meiji is a still more radical and even scandalous innovation.

Shinto Buried in Buddhism.

So complete was the victory of Riyobuism, that for nearly a thousand years Shinto as a religion, except in a few isolated spots, ceased from sight and sank to a mere mythology or to the shadow of a mythology. The very knowledge even of the ancient traditions was lost in the Buddhaized forms in which the old stories were cast, or in the omnipresent ritual of the Buddhist tera.

Yet, after all, it is a question as to which suffered most, Buddhism or Shinto. Who can tell which was the base and which was the true metal in the alloy that was formed? The San Kai Ri shows how superstitious manifold became imbedded in Buddhism. It was not alone through the Shingon sect, which Kobo introduced, that this Yoga or union came. In the other great sect called the Tendai, and in the later sects, more especially in that of Nichiren, the same principle of absorption was followed. These sects also adopted many elements derived from the god-way and thus became Shintoized. Indeed, it seems certain that that vast development of Japanese Buddhism, peculiar to Japan and unknown to the rest of the Buddhist world, scouted by the Southern Buddhists as dreadful heresy, and rousing the indignation of students of early Buddhism, like Max Mueller and Professor Whitney, is largely owing to this attempted digestion of Japanese mythology. The anaconda may indeed be able, by reason of its marvellously flexible jaws and its abundant activity of salivary glands, to swallow the calf, and even the ox; but sometimes the serpent is killed by its own voracity, or at least made helpless before the destroying hunter. When sweet potatoes and pumpkins are planted in the same hill, and the cooked product comes on the table, it is hard to tell whether it is tuber or hollow fruit, subterranean or superficial growth, that we are eating. So in Riyobu, whether it be most imo or kabocha is a fair question. If the Buddhism in Japan did but add a chapter of decay and degradation to the religion of the Light of Asia, is not this owing to the act of Kobo-­justified indeed by those who imitated his example, yet hardly to be called honest? A stroke of ecclesiastical dexterity, it may have been, but scarcely a lawful example or an illustrious and commendable specimen of syncretism in religion.

Many students have asked what is the peculiar, the characteristic difference between the Buddhism of Japan and the other Buddhisms of the Asian continent. If there be one cause, leading all others, we incline to believe it is because Japanese Buddhism is not the Buddhism of Gautama, but is so largely Riyobu or Mixed. Yet in the alloy, which ingredient has preserved most of its qualities? Is Japanese Buddhism really Shintoized Buddhism, or Buddhaized Shinto? Which is the parasite and which the parasitized? Is the hermit crab Shinto, and the shell Buddhism, or vice versa? About as many corrupt elements from Shinto entered into the various Buddhist sects as Buddhism gave to Shinto.

This process of Shintoizing Buddhism or of Buddhaizing Shinto-­that is, of combining Shinto or purely Japanese ideas and practices with the systems imported from India, went on for five centuries. The old native habits and mental characteristics were not eradicated or profoundly modified; they were rather safely preserved in so-called Buddhism, not indeed as dead flies in amber but as live creatures, fattening on a body, which, every year, while keeping outward form and name, was being emptied of its normal and typical life. It is no gain to pure water to add either microbes or the food which nourishes them.

Buddhism Writes New Chapters of Decay.

Phenomenally, the victory was that of Buddhism. The mustard-seed has indeed become a great tree, lodging every fowl of heaven, clean and unclean; but potentially and in reality, the leavening power, as now seen, seems to have been that of Shinto. Or, to change metaphor, since the hermit crab and the shell were separated by law only one generation ago, in 1870, we shall soon, before many generations, discern clearly which has the life and which has only the shell.

There are but few literary monuments of Riyobuism, and it has left few or no marks in the native chronicles, misnamed history, which utterly omit or ignore so many things interesting to the student and humanist. Yet to this mixture or amalgamation of Buddhism with Shinto, more probably than to any other direct influence, may also be ascribed that striking alteration in the system of Chinese ethics or Confucianism which differentiates the Japanese form from that prevalent in China. That is, instead of filial piety, the relation of parent and child, occupying the first place, loyalty, the relation of lord and retainer, master and servant, became supreme. Although Buddhism made the Mikado first a King (Tenno) or Son of Heaven (Ten-Shi), and then a monk (Ho-o), and after his death a Hotoke or Buddhist deity, it caused him early to abdicate from actual life. Buddhism is thus directly responsible for the habitual Japanese resignation from active life almost as soon as it is entered, by men in all classes. Buddhism started all along and down through the lines of Japanese society the idea of early retirement from duty; so that men were considered old at forty, and hors concours before forty-five. Life was condemned as vanity of vanities before it was mature, and old age a friend that nobody wished to meet, although Japanese old age is but European prime. In a measure, Buddhism is thus responsible for the paralysis of Japanese civilization, which, like oft-tapped maple-trees, began to die at the top. This was in accordance with its theories and its literature. In the Bible there is, possibly, one book which is pessimistic in tone, Ecclesiastes. In the bulky and dropsical canon of Buddhism there is a whole library of despondency and despair.

Nevertheless, the ethical element held its own in the Japanese mind; and against the pessimism and puerility of Buddhism and the religious emptiness of Shinto, the bond of Japanese society was sought in the idea of loyalty. While then, as we repeat, everything that comes to the Japanese mind suffers as it were “a sea change, into something new and strange,” is it not fair to say that the change made by Kobo was at the expense of Buddhism as a system, and that the thing that suffered reversion was the exotic rather than the native plant? For, in the emergence of this new idea of loyalty as supreme, Shinto and not Buddhism was the dictator.

Even more after Kobo’s death than during his life, Japan improved upon her imported faith, and rapidly developed new sects of all degrees of reputableness and disreputableness. Had Kobo lived on through the centuries, as the boors still believe; he could not have stopped, had he so desired, the workings of the leaven he had brought from China. From the sixth to the twelfth century, was the missionary age of Japanese Buddhism. Then followed two centuries of amazing development of doctrine. Novelties in religion blossomed, fruited and became monuments as permanent as the age-enduring forests Hakone, or Nikko. Gautama himself, were he to return to “red earth” again, could not recognize his own cult in Japan.

In China to-day Buddhism is in a bad state. One writer calls it, “The emasculated descendant that now occupies the land with its drone of priests and its temples, in which scarce a worthy disciple of the learned patriarchs of ancient days is to be found. Received with open arms, persecuted, patronized, smiled upon, tolerated, it with the last phase of its existence, has reached, not the halcyon days of peace and rest, but its final stage, foreshadowing its decay from rottenness and corruption." So also, in a like report, agree many witnesses. The common people of China are to-day Taoists rather than Buddhists.

If this be the position in China, something not very far from it is found in Japan to-day. Whatever may be the Buddhism of the few learned scholars, who have imbibed the critical and scientific spirit of Christendom, and whatever be the professions and representations of its earnest adherents and partisans, it is certain that popular Buddhism is both ethically and vitally in a low state. In outward array the system is still imposing. There are yet, it may be, millions of stone statues and whole forests of wayside effigies, outdoors and unroofed-­irreverently called by the Japanese themselves, “wet gods.” Hosts upon hosts of lacquered and gilded images in wood, sheltered under the temple tiles or shingles, still attract worshippers. Despite shiploads of copper Buddhas exported as old metal to Europe and America, and thousands of tons of gods and imps melted into coin or cannon, there are myriads of metal reminders of those fruits of a religion that once educated and satisfied; but these are, in the main, no longer to the natives instruments of inspiration or compellers to enthusiasm. In this time of practical charity, they are poor substitutes for those hospitals and orphan asylums which were practically unknown in Japan until the advent of Christianity.

Kobo’s smart example has been followed only too well by the people in every part of the country. One has but to read the stacks of books of local history to see what an amazing proportion of legends, ideas, superstitions and revelations rests on dreams; how incredibly numerous are the apparitions; how often the floating images of Buddha are found on the water; how frequently flowers have rained out of the sky; how many times the idols have spoken or shot forth their dazzling rays-­in a word; how often art and artifices have become alleged and accepted reality. Unfortunately, the characteristics of this literature and undergrowth of idol lore are monotony and lack of originality; for nearly all are copies of Kobo’s model. His cartoon has been constantly before the busy weavers of legend.

It may indeed be said, and said truly, that in its multiplication of sects and in its growth of legend and superstition, Buddhism has but followed every known religion, including traditional Christianity itself. Yet popular Buddhism has reached a point which shows, that, instead of having a self-purgative and self-reforming power, it is apparently still treading in the steps of the degradation which Kobobegan.

The Seven Gods of Good Fortune.

We repeat it, Riyobu Buddhism is Japanese Buddhism with vengeance. It is to-day suffering from the effect of its own sins. Its ingwa is manifest. Take, for example, the little group of divinities known as the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, which forms a popular appendage to Japanese Buddhism and which are a direct and logical growth of the work done by Kobo, as shown in his Riyobu system. Not from foreign writers and their fancies, nor even from the books which profess to describe these divinities, do we get such an idea of their real meaning and of their influence with the people, as we do by observation of every-day practice, and a study of the idols themselves and of Japanese folk-lore, popular romance, local history and guidebooks. Those familiar divinities, indeed, at the present day owe their vitality rather to the artists than to priests, and, it may be, have received, together with some rather rude handling, nearly the whole of their extended popularity and influence from their lay supporters. The Seven Happy Gods of Fortune form nominally a Buddhist assemblage, and their effigies on the kami-dana or god-shelf, found in nearly every Japanese house, are universally visible. The child in Japan is rocked to sleep by the soothing sound of the lullaby, which is often a prayer to these gods. Even though it may be with laughing and merriment, that, in their name the evil gods and imps are exorcised annually on New Year’s eve, with showers of beans which are supposed to be as disagreeable to the Buddhist demons “as drops of holy water to the Devil,” yet few households are complete without one or more of the images or the pictures of these favorite deities.

The separate elements of this conglomerate, so typical of Japanese religion, are from no fewer than four different sources: Brahmanism, Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism. “Thus, Bishamon is the Buddhist Vais’ramana and the Brahmanic Kuvera; Benten is Sarasvati, the wife of Brahma; Daikoku is an extremely popularised form of Mahakala, the black-faced Temple Guardian; Hotei has Taoist attributes, but is regarded as an incarnation of Maitreya, the Buddhist Messiah; Fuku-roku-jiu is of purely Taoist origin, and is perhaps a personification of Lao-Tsze himself; Ju-ro-jin is almost certainly a duplicate of Fuku-roku-jiu; and, lastly, Ebisu, as the son of Izanagi and Izanami, is a contribution from the Shinto hero-worship." If Riyobu Buddhism be two-fold, here is a texture or amalgam that is shi-bu, four-fold. Let us watch lest go-bu, with Christianity mixed in, be the next result of the process. To play the Japanese game of go-ban, with Christianity as the fifth counter, and Jesus as a Palestinian avatar of some Dhyani Buddha, crafty priests in Japan are even now planning.

This illustration of the Seven Gods of Happiness, whose local characters, functions and relations have been developed especially within the last three or four hundred years, is but one of many that could be adduced, showing what proceeded on a larger scale. The Riyobu process made it almost impossible for the average native to draw the line between history and mythology. It destroyed the boundary lines, as Pantheism invariably does, between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood. The Japanese mind, by a natural, possibly by a racial, tendency, falls easily into Pantheism, which may be called the destroyer of boundaries and the maker of chaos and ooze. Pretty much all early Japanese “history” is ooze; yet there are grave and learned men, even in the Constitutional Japan of the Meiji era-­masters in their arts and professions, graduates of technical and philosophical courses-­who solemnly talk about their “first emperor ascending the throne, B.C. 660,” and to whom the dragon-born, early Mikados, and their fellow-tribesmen, seen through the exaggerated mists of the Kojiki, are divine personages.

The Gon-gen in the Processions.

While living in Japan between 1870 and 1874, the writer used to enjoy watching and studying the long processions which celebrated the foundation of temples, national or local festivals, or the completion of some great public enterprise, such as the railway between Tokio and Yokohama. In rich costume, decoration, and representation most of the cultus-objects were marvels of art and skill. Besides the gala dresses and uniforms, the fantastic decorations and personal adornments, the dances which represented the comedies and tragedies of the gods and the striking scenes in the Kojiki, there wore colossal images of Kami, Bodhisattvas, Gon-gen, Dai Mio Jin, and of imps, oni, mythical animal forms and imaginary monsters. More interesting than anything else, however, were the male and female figures, set high upon triumphal cars having many tiers, and arrayed in characteristic primeval, ancient, medieval, or early modern dress. Some were of scowling, others of benign visage. In some years, everyone of the eight hundred and eight streets of Yedo sent its contribution of men, money, decorations, or vehicles.

As seen by four kinds of spectators, the average ignorant native, the Shintoist, the learned Buddhist, and the critical historical scholar, these effigies represented three different characters or creations. Especially were those divine personages called Gon-gen worth the study of the foreign observer.

(1) The common boor or streetman saluted, for example, this or that Dai Mio Jin, as the great illustrious spirit or god of its particular district. To this spirit and image he prayed; in his honor he made offerings; his wrath he feared; and his smile he hoped to win, for the Gon-gen was a divine being.

(2) To the Shintoist, who hated Buddhism and the Riyobu Shinto which had overlaid his ancestral faith, and who scorned and tabooed this Chinese term Dai Mio Jin, this or that image represented a divine ancestor whose name had in it many Japanese syllables, with no defiling Chinese sounds, and who was the Kami or patron deity of this or that neighborhood.

(3) To the Buddhist, this or that personage, in his lifetime, in the early ages of Japanese history, had been an avatar of Buddha who had appeared in human flesh and brought blessings to the people and neighborhood; yet the people of the early ages being unprepared to receive his doctrine or revelation, he had not then revealed or preached it; but now, as for a thousand years since the time of the illustrious and saintly Kobo, he had his right name and received his just honors and worship as an avatar of the eternal Buddha. So, although Buddhist and Shintoist might quarrel as to his title, and divide, even to anger, on minor points, they would both agree in letting the common people take their pleasure, enjoy the festivals and merriment, and preserve their reverence and worship.

(4) Still another spectator studied with critical interest the swaying figure high in air. With a taste for archaeology, he admired the accuracy of the drapery and associations. He was amused, it may be, with occasional anachronisms as to garments or equipments. He knew that the original of this personage had been nothing more than a human being, who might indeed have been conspicuous as a brave soldier in war, or as a skilful physician who helped to stop the plague, or as a civilizer who imported new food or improved agriculture.

In a word, had this subject of the ancient Mikado lived in modern Christendom, he might be honored through the government, patent office, privy council, the admiralty, the university, or the academy, as the case or worth might be. He might shine in a plastic representation by the sculptor or artist, or be known in the popular literature; but he would never receive religious worship, or aught beyond honor and praise. In this swamping of history in legend and of fact in dogma, we behold the fruit of Kobo’s work, Riyobu Buddhism.

Kobo’s Work Undone.

Buddhism calls itself the jewel in the lotus. Japanese poetry asks of the dewdrop “why, having the heart of the lotus for its home, does it pretend to be a gem?” For a thousand years Riyobu Buddhism was received as a pure brilliant of the first water, and then the scholarship of the Shinto revivalists of the eighteenth century exposed the fraudulent nature of the unrelated parts and declared that the jewel called Riyobu was but a craftsman’s doublet and should be split apart. Only a splinter of diamond, they declared, crowned a mass of paste. Indignation made learning hot, and in 1870 the cement was liquefied in civil war. The doublet was rent asunder by imperial decree, as when a lapidist melts the mastic that holds in deception adamant and glass, while real diamond stands all fire short of the hydro-oxygen flame. The Riyobu temples were purged of all Buddhist symbols, furniture, equipment and personnel, and were made again to assume their august and austere simplicity. In the eyes of the purely aesthetic critic, this national purgation was Puritanical iconoclasm; in those of the priests, cast out to earn rice elsewise and elsewhere, it was outrage, which in individual instances called for reprisal in blood, fire and assassination; to the Shintoist, it was an exhibition of the righteous judgment of the long-insulted gods; in the ken of the critical student, it seems very much like historic and poetic justice.

In our day and time, Riyobu Buddhism furnishes us with a warning, for, looked at from a purely human point of view, what happened to Shinto may possibly happen to Japanese Christianity. The successors of those who, in the ninth century, did not scruple to Buddhaize Shinto, and in later times, even our own, to Shintoize Buddhism while holding to Buddha’s name and all the revenue possible, will Buddhaize Christianity if they have power and opportunity; and signs are not wanting to show that this is upon their programme.

The water of stagnant Buddhism is still a swarming mass, which needs cleansing to purity by a knowledge of one God who is Light and Love. Without such knowledge, the manifold changes in Buddhism will but form fresh chapters of degradation and decay. Holding such knowledge, Christianity may pass through endless changes, for this is her capability by Divine power and the authorization of her Founder. The now Buddhism of our day is endeavoring to save itself through reformation and progress. In doing so, the danger of the destruction of the system is great, for thus far change has meant decay.