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The Western Paradise.

“A drop of spray cast by the infinite
I hung an instant there, and threw my ray
To make the rainbow. A microcosm I
Reflecting all. Then back I fell again,
And though I perished not, I was no more.”-­
The Pantheist’s Epitaph.

“Buddhism is essentially a religion of compromise.”

“Where Christianity has One Lord, Buddhism has a dozen.”

“I think I may safely challenge the Buddhist priesthood to give a plain historical account of the Life of Amida, Kwannon, Dainichi, or any other Mah[=a]y[=a]na Buddha, without being in serious danger of forfeiting my stakes.”

“Christianity openly puts this Absolute Unconditioned Essence in the forefront of its teaching. In Buddhism this absolute existence is only put forward, when the logic of circumstances compels its teachers to have recourse to it.”-­A. Lloyd, in The Higher Buddhism in the Light of the Nicene creed.

“Now these six characters, ‘Na-mu-A-mi-da-Butsu,’ Zend-o has explained as follows: ‘Namn’ means [our] following His behest-­and also [His] uttering the Prayer and bestowing [merit] upon us. ‘Amida Butsu’ is the practice of this, consequently by this means a certainty of salvation is attained.”

“By reason of the conferring on us sentient creators of this great goodness and great merit through the utterance of the Prayer, and the bestowal [by Amida] the evil Karma and [effect of the] passions accumulated through the long Kalpas, since when there was no beginning, are in a moment annihilated, and in consequence, those passions and evil Karma of ours all disappearing, we live already in the condition of the steadfast, who do not return [to revolve in the cycle of Birth and Death].”-­Rennyo of the Shin sect, 1473.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God.”-­John.

“The Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness,
neither shadow of turning.”-­James.

We cannot take space to show how, or how much, or whether at all, Buddhism was affected by Christianity, though it probably was. Suffice it to say that the Jo-do Shu, or Sect of the Pure Land, was the first of the many denominations in Buddhism which definitely and clearly set forth that especial peculiarity of Northern Buddhism, the Western Paradise. The school of thought which issued in Jo-do Shu was founded by the Hindoo, Memio. In A.D. 252 an Indian scholar, learned in the Tripitaka, came to China, and translated one of the great sutras, called Amitayus. This sutra gives a history of Tathagata Amitabha, from the first spiritual impulses which led him to the attainment of Buddha-hood in remote Kalpas down to the present time, when he dwells in the Western World, called the Happy, where he receives all living beings from every direction, helping them to turn away from confusion and to become enlightened. The apocalyptic twentieth chapter of the Hokke Kio is a glorification of the transcendent power of the Tathagatas, expressed in flamboyant oriental rhetoric.

We have before called attention to the fact that, with the multiplication of sutras or the Sacred Canon and the vast increase of the apparatus of Buddhism as well as of the hardships of brain and body to be undergone in order to be a Buddhist, it was absolutely necessary that some labor-saving system should be devised by which the burden could be borne. Now, as a matter of fact, all sects claim to found their doctrine on Buddha or his work. According to the teaching of certain sects, the means of salvation are to be found in the study of the whole canon, and in the practice of asceticism and meditation. On the contrary, the new lights of Buddhism who came as missionaries into China, protested against this expenditure of so much mental and physical energy. One of the first Chinese propagators of the Jo-do doctrine declared that it was impossible, owing to the decay of religion in his own age, for anyone to be saved in this way by his own efforts. Hence, instead of the noble eight-fold path of primitive Buddhism, or of the complicated system of the later Buddhistic Phariseeism of India, he substituted for the difficult road to Nirvana, a simple faith in the all-saving power of Amida. In one of the sutras it is taught, that if a man keeps in his memory the name of Amida one day, or seven days, the Buddha together with Buddhas elect, will meet him at the moment of his death, in order to let him be born in the Pure Land, and that this matter has been equally approved by all other Buddhas of ten different directions.

One of the sutras, translated in China during the fifth century, contains the teaching of Buddha, which he delivered to the wife of the King of Magudha, who on account of the wickedness of her son was feeling weary of this world. He showed her how she might be born into the Pure Land. Three paths of good actions were pointed out. Toward the end of the particular sutra which he advised her to read and recite, Buddha says: “Let not one’s voice cease, but ten times complete the thought, and repeat the formula, of the adoration of Amida.” “This practice,” adds the Japanese exegete and historian, “is the most excellent of all.”

How well this latter teaching is practised may be demonstrated when one goes into a Buddhist temple of the Jo-do sect in Japan, and hears the constant refrain,-­murmured by the score or more of listeners to the sermon, or swelling like the roar of the ocean’s waves, on festival days, when thousands sit on the mats beneath the fretted roof to enjoy the exposition of doctrine-­“Namu Amida Butsu”-­“Glory to the Eternal Buddha!"

The apostolical succession or transmission through the patriarchs and apostles of India and China, is well known and clearly stated, withal duly accredited and embellished with signs and wonders, in the historical literature of the Jo-do sect. In Buddhism, as in Christianity, the questions relating to True Churchism, High Churchism, the succession of the apostles, teachers and rulers, and the validity of this or that method of ordination, form a large part of the literature of controversy. Nevertheless, as in the case of many a Christian sect which calls itself the only true church, the date of the organization of Jo-do was centuries later than that of the Founder and apostles of the original faith. Five hundred years after Zen-do (A.D. 600-650), the great propagator of the Jo-do philosophy, Ho-nen, the founder of the Jo-do sect, was born; and this phase of organized Buddhism, like that of Shin Shu and Nichirer Shu, may be classed under the head of Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.

When only nine years of age, the boy afterward called Ho-nen, was converted by his father’s dying words. He went to school in his native province, but his priest-teacher foreseeing his greatness, sent him to the monastery of Hiyeizan, near Kioto. The boy’s letter of introduction contained only these words: “I send you an image of the Bodhisattva, (Mon-ju) Manjusri.” The boy shaved his head and received the precepts of the Ten-dai sect, but in his eighteenth year, waiving the prospect of obtaining the headship of the great denomination, he built a hut in the Black Ravine and there five times read through the five thousand volumes of the Tripitaka. He did this for the purpose of finding out, for the ordinary and ignorant people of the present day, how to escape from misery. He studied Zen-do’s commentary, and repeated his examination eight times. At last, he noticed a passage in it beginning with the words, “Chiefly remember or repeat the name of Amida with a whole and undivided heart.” Then he at once understood the thought of Zen-do, who taught in his work that whoever at any time practises to remember Buddha, or calls his name even but once, will gain the right effect of going to be born in the Pure Land after death. This Japanese student then abandoned all sorts of practices which he had hitherto followed for years, and began to repeat the name of Amida Buddha sixty thousand times a day. This event occurred in A.D. 1175.

Ho-nen, Founder of the Pure Land Sect.

This path-finder to the Pure Land, who developed a special doctrine of salvation, is best known by his posthumous title of Ho-nen. During his lifetime he was very famous and became the spiritual preceptor of three Mikados. After his death his biography was compiled in forty-eight volumes by imperial order, and later, three other emperors copied or republished it. In the history of Japan this sect has been one of the most influential, especially with the imperial and shogunal families. In Kioto the magnificent temples and monasteries of Chion-in, and in Tokio Zo-jo-ji, are the chief seats of the two principal divisions of this sect. The gorgeous mausoleums,-­well known to every foreign tourist,-­at Shiba and Uyeno in Tokio, and the clustered and matchless splendors of Nikko, belong to this sect, which has been under the patronage of the illustrious line of the Tokugawa, while its temples and shrines are numbered by many thousands.

The doctrine of the Jo-do, or the Pure Land Sect, is easily discerned. One of Buddha’s disciples said, that in the teachings of the Master there are two divisions or vehicles. In the Maha-yana also there are two gates; the Holy path, and the Pure Land. The Smaller Vehicle is the doctrine by which the immediate disciples of Buddha and those for five hundred years succeeding, practised the various virtues and discipline. The gateway of the Maha-yana is also the doctrine, by which in addition to the trainings mentioned, there are also understood the three virtues of spiritual body, wisdom and deliverance. The man who is able successfully to complete this course of discipline and practice is no ordinary person, but is supposed to possess merit produced from good actions performed in a former state of existence. The doctrine by which man may do so, is called the gate of the Holy Path.

During the fifteen hundred years after Buddha there were from time to time, such personages in the world, who attained the end of the Holy Path; but in these latter days people are more insincere, covetous and contentious, and the discipline is too hard for degenerate times and men. The three trainings already spoken of are the correct causes of deliverance; but if people think them as useless as last year’s almanac, when can they complete their deliverance? Ho-nen, deeply meditating on this, shut up the gate of the Holy Path and opened that of the Pure Land; for in the former the effective deliverance is expected in this world by the three trainings of morality, thought and learning, but in the latter the great fruit of going to be born in the Pure Land after death, is expected through the sole practice of repeating Buddha’s name.

Moreover, it is not easy to accomplish the cause and effect of the Holy Path, but both those of the doctrine of the Pure Land are very easy to be completed. The difference is like that between travelling by land and travelling by water. The doctrines preached by the Buddha are eighty-four thousand in number; that is to say, he taught one kind of people one system, that of the Holy Path, and another kind that of the Pure Land. The Pure Land doctrine of Ho-nen was derived from the sutra preached by the great teacher Shaka.

This simple doctrine of “land travel to Paradise” was one which the people of Japan could easily understand, and it became amazingly popular. Salvation along this route is a case of being “carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others sought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas.”

Largely through the influence of Jo-do Shu and of those sects most closely allied to it, the technical terms, peculiar phraseology and vocabulary of Buddhism became part of the daily speech of the Japanese. When one studies their language he finds that it is a complicated organism, including within itself several distinct systems. Just as the human body harmonizes within itself such vastly differing organized functions as the osseous, digestive, respiratory, etc., so, embedded in what is called the Japanese language, there are, also, a Chinese vocabulary, a polite vernacular, one system of expression for superiors, another for inferiors, etc. Last of all, there is, besides a peculiar system of pronunciation taught by the priests, a Buddhist language, which suggests a firmament of starry and a prairie of flowery metaphors, with intermediate deeps of space full of figurative expressions.

In our own mother tongue we have something similar. The dialect of Canaan, the importations of Judaism, the irruptions of Hebraic idioms, phrases and names into Puritanism, and the ejaculations of the camp-meeting, which vein and color our English speech, may give some idea of the variegated strains which make up the Japanese language. Further, the peculiar nomenclature of the Fifth Monarchy men, is fully paralleled in the personal names of priests and even of laymen in Japan.

Characteristics of the Jo-do Sect.

Ho-nen teaches that the solution of abstract questions and doctrinal controversies is not needed as means of grace to promote the work of salvation. Whether the priests and their followers were learned and devout, or the contrary, mattered little as regards the final result, as all that is necessary is the continual repetition of the prayer to Amida.

It may be added that his followers practise the master’s precepts with emphasis. Their incessant pounding upon wooden fish-drums and bladder-shaped bells during their public exercises, is as noisy as a frontier camp-meeting. The rosary is a notable feature in the private devotions of the Buddhists, but the Jo-do sect makes especial use of the double rosary, which was invented with the idea of being manipulated by the left hand only; this gave freedom to the right hand, “facilitating a happy combination of spiritual and secular duty.” At funerals of believers a particular ceremony was exclusively practised by this sect, at which the friends of the deceased sat in a circle facing the priest, making as many repetitions as possible.

In Mohammedan countries, blind men, who cannot look down into the surrounding gardens or house tops at the pretty women in or on them, but who have clear and penetrating voices, are often chosen us muezzins to utter the call to prayer from the minarets. On much the same principle, in Old Japan, Jo-do priests, blind to metaphysics, but handsome, elegantly dressed and with fine delivery, went about the streets singing and intoning prayers, rich presents being made to them, especially by the ladies. The Jo-do people cultivate art and aesthetic ornamentation to a notable degree. They also understand the art of fictitious and sensational miracle-mongering. It is said that Zen-do, the famous Chinese founder of this Chinese sect, when writing his commentary, prayed for a wonderful exhibition of supernatural power. Thereupon, a being arrayed as a priest of dignified presence gave him instruction on the division of the text in his first volume. Hence Zen-do treats his own work as if it were the work of Buddha, and says that no one is allowed either to add or to take away even a word or sentence of the book.

The Pure Land is the western world where Amida lives. It is perfectly pure and free from faults. Those who wish to go thither will certainly be re-born there, but otherwise they will not. This world, on the contrary, is the effect of the action of all beings, so that even those who do not wish to be born here are nevertheless obliged to come. This world is called the Path of Pain, because it is full of all sorts of pains, such as birth, old age, disease, death, etc. This is therefore a world not to be attached to, but to be estranged and separated from. One who is disgusted with this world, and who is filled with desire for that world, will after death be born there. Not to doubt about these words of Buddha, even in the slightest degree, is called deep faith; but if one entertains the least doubts he will not be born there. Hence the saying: “In the great sea of the law of Buddha, faith is the only means to enter.”

Salvation Through the Merits of Another.

In this absolute trust in the all-saving power of Amida as compared with the ways promulgated before, we see the emergence of the Buddhist doctrine of justification by faith, the simplification of theology, and a revolt against Buddhist scholasticism. The Japanese technical term, “tariki,” or relying upon the strength of another, renouncing all idea of ji-riki or self-power, is the substance of the Jo-do doctrine; but the expanded term ta-riki chin no ji-riki, or “self-effort depending on another,” while expressing the whole dogma, is rather scornfully applied to the Jo-doists by the men of the Shin sect. The invocation of Amida is a meritorious act of the believer, much repetition being the substance of this combination of personal and vicarious work.

Ho-nen, after making his discovery, believing it possible for all mankind eventually to attain to perfect Buddhaship, left, as we have seen, the Ten-dai sect, which represented particularism and laid emphasis on the idea of the elect. Ho-nen taught Buddhist universalism. Belief and repetition of prayer secure birth into the Pure Land after the death of the body, and then the soul moves onward toward the perfection of Buddha-hood.

The Japanese were delighted to have among them a genius who could thus Japanize Buddhism, and Jo-do doctrine went forth conquering and to conquer. From the twelfth century, the tendency of Japanese Buddhism is in the direction of universalism and democracy. In later developments of Jo-do, the pantheistic tendencies are emphasized and the syncretistic powers are enlarged. While mysticism is a striking feature of the sect and the attainment of truth is by the grace of Amida, yet the native Kami of Japan are logically accepted as avatars of Buddha. History had little or no rights in the case; philosophy was dictator, and that philosophy was Ho-nen’s. Those later Chinese deities made by personifying attributes or abstract ideas, which sprang up after the introduction of Buddhism into China, are also welcomed into the temples of this sect. That the common people really believe that they themselves may attain Buddha-hood at death, and enter the Pure Land, is shown in the fact that their ordinary expression for the dead saint is Hotoke-­a general term for all the gods that were once human. Some popular proverbs indicate this in a form that easily lends itself to irreverence and merriment.

The whole tendency of Japanese Buddhism and its full momentum were now toward the development of doctrine even to startling proportions. Instead of the ancient path of asceticism and virtue with agnosticism and atheism, we see the means of salvation put now, and perhaps too easily, within the control of all. The pathway to Paradise was made not only exceedingly plain, but also extremely easy, perhaps even ridiculously so; while the door was open for an outburst of new and local doctrines unknown to India, or even to China. The rampant vigor with which Japanese Buddhism began to absorb everything in heaven, earth and sea, which it could make a worshipable object or cause to stand as a Kami or deity to the mind, will be seen as we proceed. The native proverb, instead of being an irreverent joke, stands for an actual truth-­“Even a sardine’s head may become an object of worship.”

“Reformed” Buddhism.

We now look at what foreigners call “Reformed” Buddhism, which some even imagine has been borrowed from Protestant Christianity-­notwithstanding that it is centuries older than the Reformation in Europe.

The Shin Shu or True Sect, though really founded on the Jo-do doctrines, is separate from the sect of the Pure Land. Yet, besides being called the Shin Shu, it is also spoken of as the Jo-do Shin Shu or the True Sect of the Pure Land. It is the extreme form of the Protestantism of Buddhism. It lays emphasis on the idea of salvation wholly through the merits of another, but it also paints in richer tints the sensuous delights of the Western Paradise. As the term Pure Land is antithetical to that of the Holy Path, so the word Shin, or True, expresses the contrary of what are termed the “temporary expedients.”

While some say that we should practise good works, bring our stock of merits to maturity, and be born in the Pure Land, others say that we need only repeat the name of Amida in order to be born in the Pure Land, by the merit produced from such repetition. These doctrines concerning repetitions, however, are all considered but “temporary expedients.” So also is the rigid classification, so prominent in “the old sects,” of all beings or pupils into three grades. As in Islam or Calvinism, all believers stand on a level. To Shin-ran the Radical, the practices even of Jo-do seemed complicated and difficult, and all that appeared necessary to him was faith in the desire of Amida to bless and save. To Shinran, faith was the sole saving act.

To rely upon the power of the Original Prayer of Amitabha Buddha with the whole heart and give up all idea of ji-riki or self-power, is called the truth. This truth is the doctrine of this sect of Shin. In a word, not synergism, not faith and works, but faith only is the teaching of Shin Shu.

Shinran, the founder of this sect in Japan, was born A.D. 1173 and died in the year 1262. He was very naturally one who had been first educated in the Jo-do sect, then the ruling one at the imperial court in Kioto. Shall we call him a Japanese Luther, because of his insistence on salvation by faith only? He is popularly believed to have been descended from one of the Shinto gods, being on his father’s side the twenty-first in the line of generation. On his mother’s side he was of the lineage of the Minamoto or Genji, a clan sprung from Mikados and famous during centuries for its victorious warriors. Ho-nen was his teacher, and like his teacher, Shinran studied at the great monastery near Kioto, learning first the doctrine of the Tendai, and then, at the age of twenty-nine, receiving from Ho-nen the tenets of the Jo-do sect. Shortly after, at thirty years of age, he began to promulgate his doctrines. Then he took a step as new to Buddhism, as was Luther’s union with Katharine von Bora, to the ecclesiasticism of his time. He married a lady of the imperial court, named Tamayori, who was the daughter of the Kuambaku or premier.

Shinran thus taught by example, if not formally and by written precept, that marriage was honorable, and that celibacy was an invention of the priests not warranted by primitive Buddhism. Penance, fasting, prescribed diet, pilgrimages, isolation from society whether as hermits or in the cloister, and generally amulets and charms, are all tabooed by this sect. Monasteries imposing life-vows are unknown within its pale. Family life takes the place of monkish seclusion. Devout prayer, purity, earnestness of life and trust in Buddha himself as the only worker of perfect righteousness, are insisted upon. Morality is taught to be more important than orthodoxy.

In practice, the Shin sect even more than the Jo-do, teaches that it is faith in Buddha, which accomplishes the salvation of the believer. Instead of waiting for death in order to come under the protection of Amida, the faithful soul is at once received into the care of the Boundlessly Compassionate. In a word, the Shin sect believes in instantaneous conversion and sanctification. Between the Roman and the Reformed soteriology of Christendom, was Melancthonism or the cooperate union of the divine and the human will. So, the old Buddhism prior to Shinran taught a phase of synergism, or the union of faith and works. Shinran, in his “Reformed” Buddhism, taught the simplicity of faith.

So also in regard to the sacred writings, Shinran opposed the San-ron school and the three-grade idea. The scriptures of other sects are in Sanskrit and Chinese, which only the learned are able to read. The special writings of Shinran are in the vernacular. Three of the sutras, also, have been translated into Japanese and expressed in the kana script. Singleness of purpose characterised this sect, which was often called Monto, or followers of the gate, in reference to its unity of organization, and the opening of the way to all by Shinran and the doctrine taught by him. Yet, lest the gate might seem too broad, the Shin teachers insist that morality is as important as faith, and indeed the proof of it. The high priests of Shin Shu have ever held a high position and wielded vast influence in the religious development of the people. While the temples of other sects are built in sequestered places among the hills, those of Shin Shu are erected in the heart of cities, on the main streets, and at the centres of population,-­the priests using every means within their power to induce the people to come to them. The altars are on an imposing scale of magnificence and gorgeous detail. No Roman Catholic church or cathedral can outshine the splendor of these temples, in which the way to the Western Paradise is made so clear and plain. Another name for the sect is Ikko.

After the death of Shinran, his youngest daughter and one of his grandsons erected a monastery near his tomb in the eastern suburbs of Kioto, to which the Mikado gave the title of Hon-guanji, or Monastery of the Original Vow. This was in allusion to the vow made by Amida, that he would not accept Buddhaship except under the condition that salvation be made attainable for all who should sincerely desire to be born into his kingdom, and signify their desire by invoking his name ten times. It is upon the passage in the sutra where this vow is recorded, that the doctrine of the sect is based. Its central idea is that man is to be saved by faith in the mercy of the boundlessly compassionate Amida, and not by works or vain repetitions. Within our own time, on November 28, 1876, the present reigning Mikado bestowed upon Shinran the posthumous title Ken-shin Dai-shi, or Great Teacher of the Revelation of Truth.

The Protestants of Japanese Buddhism.

This is the sect which, being called “Reformed” Buddhism and resembling Protestantism in so many points, both large and minute, foreigners think has been borrowed or imitated from European Protestantism. As matter of fact, the foundation principles of Shin-Shu are at least six hundred years old. They are perfectly clear in the writings of the founder, as well as in those of his successor Rennio, who wrote the Ofumi or sacred writings, now daily read by the disciples of this denomination. With the characteristic object of reaching the masses, they are written, as we have shown, not in the mixed Chinese and Japanese characters, but in the common script, or kana, which all the people of both sexes can read. Within the last two decades the Shin educators have been the first to organize their schools of learning on the models of those in Christendom, so that their young men might be trained to resist Shinto or Christianity, or to measure the truth in either. Their new temples also show European influence in architecture and furniture. Liberty of thought and action, and incoercible desire to be free from governmental, traditional, ultra-ecclesiastical, or Shinto influence-­in a word, protestantism in its pure sense, is characteristic of the great sect founded by Shinran.

Indeed the Shin sect, which sprang out of the Jo-do, maintains that it alone professes the true teaching of Ho-nen, and that the Jo-do sect has wandered from the original doctrines of its founder. Whereas the Jo-do or Pure Land sect believes that Amida will come to meet the soul of the believer on its separation from the body, in order to conduct it to Paradise, the Shin or True Sect of the Pure Land believes in immediate salvation and sanctification. It preaches that as soon as a man believes in Amida he is taken by him under him merciful protection. Some might denominate these people the Methodists of Buddhism.

One good point in their Protestantism is their teaching that morality is of equal importance with faith. To them Buddha-hood means the perfection and unlimitedness of wisdom and compassion. “Therefore,” writes one, “knowing the inability of our own power we should believe simply in the vicarious Power of the Original Prayer. If we do so, we are in correspondence with the wisdom of the Buddha and share his great compassion, just as the water of rivers becomes salt as soon as it enters the sea. For this reason this is called the faith in the Other Power.”

To their everlasting honor, also, the Shin believers have probably led all other Japanese Buddhists in caring for the Eta, even as they probably excel in preaching the true spiritual democracy of all believers, yes, even of women. “According to the earlier and general view of Buddhism, women are condemned, in virtue of the pollution of their nature, to look forward to rebirth in other forms. By no possibility can they, in their existence as women, reach the higher grades of holiness which lead to Nirvana. According to the Shin Shu system, on the other hand, a believing woman may hope to attain the goal of the Buddhist at the close of her present life." This doctrine seems to be founded on that passage in the eleventh chapter of the Saddharma Pundarika, in which the daughter of S[=a]gara, the N[=a]ga-king, loses her sex as female and reappears as a Bodhisattva of male sex.

The Shin sect is the largest in Japan, having more than twice as many temples as any four of the great sects, and five thousand more than the So-do or sub-sect of Jo-do, which is the next largest; or, over nineteen thousand in all. It is also supposed to be one of the richest and most powerful of all the Japanese sects. In reality, however, it possesses no fixed property, and is dependent entirely upon the voluntary contributions of its adherents. To-day, it is probably the most active of them all in education, learning and missionary operations in Yezo, China and Korea.

Interesting as is the development of the Jo-do and Shin sects, which became popular largely through their promulgation of dogmas founded on the Western Paradise, we must not forget that both of them preached a new Buddha-­not the real figure in history, but an unhistoric and unreal phantom, the creation and dream of the speculator and visionary. Amida, the personification of boundless light, is one of the luxuriant growths of a sickly scholasticism-­a hollow abstraction without life or reality. Amidaism is utterly repudiated by many Japanese Buddhists, who give no place to his idol on their altars, and reject utterly the teaching as to Paradise and salvation through the merits of another.

Yet these two special developments by natives, though embodying tendencies of the Japanese mind, did not reach the limit to which Northern Buddhism was to go in those almost incredible lengths, which prompted Professor Whitney to call it “the high-faluting school,” and which we have seen in our own time under the cultivation of western admirers.

The Nichiren Sect.

The Japanese mind runs to pantheism as naturally as an unpruned grape-vine runs to fibre and leaves.

When Nichiren, the ultra-patriotic and ultra-democratic bonze, saw the light in A.D. 1222, he was destined to bring religion not only down to man, but even down to the beasts and to the mud. He founded the Saddharma-Pundarika sect, now called Nichiren Shu.

Born at Kominato, near the mouth of Yedo Bay, he became a neophite in the Shin-gon sect at the age of twelve, and was admitted into the priesthood when but fifteen years old. Then he adopted his name, which means Sun-lotus, because, according to a typical dream very common in Korea and Japan, his mother thought that she had conceived by the sun entering her body. Through a miracle, he acquired a thorough knowledge of the whole Buddhist canon, in the course of which he met with words, which he converted into that formula which is constantly in the mouth of the members of the Nichiren sect, Namu-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo-­“O, the Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law." His history, full of amazing activity and of romantic adventure, is surrounded by a perfect sunrise splendor, or, shall we say, sunset gorgeousness, of mythology and fable. The scenes of his life are mostly laid in the region of the modern Tokio, and to the cultivated traveller, its story lends fascinating charms to the landscape in the region of Yedo Bay. Nichiren was a fiery patriot, and ultra-democratic in his sympathies. He was a radical believer in “Japan for the Japanese.” He was an ecclesiastical Soshi. He felt that the developments of Buddhism already made, were not sufficiently comprehensive, or fully suited to the common people. So, in A.D. 1282, he founded a new sect which gradually included within its pantheon all possible Buddhas, and canonized pretty nearly all the saints, righteous men and favorite heroes known to Dai Nippon. Nichiren first made Japan the centre of the universe, and then brought religion down to the lowest. He considered that the period in which he lived was the latter day of the law, and that all creatures ought to share in the merit of Buddha-hood. Only the original Buddha is the real moon in the sky, but all Buddhas of the subordinate states are like the images of the moon, reflected upon the waters. All these different Buddhas, be they gods or men, beasts, birds or snakes, are to be honored. Indeed, they are both honored and worshipped in the Nichiren pantheon. Besides the historic Buddha, this sect, which is the most idolatrous of all, admits as objects of its reverence such personages as Nichiren, the founder; Kato Kiyomasa, the general who led the army of invasion in Korea and was the persecutor of the Christians; and Shichimen-­a word which means seven points of the compass or seven faces. This Shichimen is the being that appeared to Nichiren as a beautiful woman, but disappeared from his sight in the form of a snake, twenty feet long, covered with golden scales and armed with iron teeth. It is now deified under the name meaning the Great God of the Seven Faces, and is identified with the Hindoo deity Siva.

Another idol usually seen in the Nichiren temples is Mioken. Under this name the pole star is worshipped, usually in the form of a Buddha with a wheel of a Buddha elect. Standing on a tortoise, with a sword in his right hand, and with the left hand half open-­a gesture which symbolizes the male and female principles in the physical world, and the intelligence and the law in the spiritual world-­Mioken is a striking figure. Indeed, the list of glorified animals reminds us somewhat of the ancient beast-worship of Egypt. In the Nichiren hierology, it is as though the symbolical figures in the Book of Revelation had been deified and worshipped. It is evident that all the creatures in that Buddhist chamber of imagery, the Hokke Kio, that could possibly be made into gods have received apotheosis. The very book itself is also worshipped, for the Nichirenites are extreme believers in verbal inspiration, and pay divine honors to each jot and tittle of the sutra, which to them is a god. They adore also the triad of the three precious ones, the Buddha, the Rule or Discipline, and the Organization; or, Being, Law, and Church. The hideous idol, Fudo, “Eleven-faced,” “Horse-headed,” “Thousand-handed,” or girt in a robe of fiery flame, is believed by Buddhists to represent Avalokitesvara; but, in recent times he has been recognized, detected and recaptured by the Shintoists as Kotohira. The goddess Kishi, and that miscellaneous assortment or group known as the Seven Patrons of Happiness, which form a sort of encyclopaedia or museum of curiosities derived from the cults of India, China and Japan, are also components of the amazing menagerie and pantheon of this sect, in which scholasticism run mad, and emotional kindness to animals become maudlin, join hands.

The Ultra-realism of Northern Buddhism.

Like most of the other Japanese sects, the Nichirenites claim that their principles are contained in the Hok-ke-kio, which is considered the consummate white flower of Buddhist doctrine and literature. This is the Japanese name for that famous sutra, the Saddharma Pundarika, so often mentioned in these chapters but a thousand-fold more so in Japanese literature. The Ten-dai and the Nichiren sects are allied, in that both lay supreme emphasis upon this sutra; but the former interprets it with an intellectual, and the latter with an emotional emphasis. Philosophically, the two bodies have much in common. Outwardly they are very far apart. One has but to read their favorite scripture, to see the norm upon which the gorgeous art of Japan has been developed. Probably no single book in the voluminous canon of the Greater Vehicle gives one so masterful a key to Japanese Buddhism. Its pages are crowded with sensuous descriptions of all that is attractive to both the reason and the understanding. Its descriptions of Paradise are those which would suit also the realistic Mussulman. Its rhetoric and visions seem to be those of some oriental De Quincey, who, out of the dreams of an opium-eater, has made the law-book of a religion. Translated into matter-of-fact Chinese, none better than Nichiren knew how to present its realism to his people.

In its ethical standards, which are two, this sect, like most others, prescribes one course of life for the monk, which is difficult, and another for the laity, which is easy. The central dogma is that every part of the universe, including not only gods and men, but animals, plants and the very mud itself, is capable, by successive transmigrations, of attaining to Buddhaship. In one sense, Nichirenism is the transfiguration of atheistic evolution. In its teachings there are also two forms: the one, largely in symbol, is intended to attract followers; the other, the pure truth, is employed to convert the obstinately ignorant, against their wills. As in the history of the papal organization in Europe, a materialistic interpretation has been given to the canons of dogma and discipline.

Contrary to the doctrine of those sects which teach the attainment of salvation solely through the aid of Amida, or Another, the Nichirenites insist that it is necessary for man to work out his own salvation, by observing the law, by self-examination, by reflecting on the blessings vouchsafed to the members of this elect and orthodox sect and by constant prayer. They consider themselves as in the only true church, and their succession to the priesthood, the only valid one. The strict Nichiren churchmen will not have the Shinto gods in their household shrines, nor will they intermarry among the sects. The Nichirenites are also very fond of controversy, and their language in speaking of other creeds and sects is not that characteristic of the gentle Buddha. The people of this sect are much given to the belief in demoniacal possession, and a considerable part of the duty and revenue-yielding business of the Nichiren priests consists in exorcising the foxes, badgers and other demons, which have possessed subjects who are generally women at certain stages of illness or convalescence. The phenomena and pathology of these disorders seem to be allied to those of hysteria and hypnotism.

This popular sect also makes greatest use of charms, spells and amulets, lays great store on pilgrimages, and is very fond of noise-making instruments whether prayer-books or the wooden bells or drums which are prominent features in their temples and revival meetings. In one sense it is the Salvation Army of Buddhism, being especially powerful in what strikes the eye and ear. The Nichirenites have been well called the Ranters of Buddhism. Their revival meetings make Bedlam seem silent, and reduce to gentle murmurs the camp-meeting excesses with which we are familiar in our own country. They are the most sectarian of all sects. Their vocabulary of Billingsgate and the ribaldry employed by them even against their Buddhist brethren, cast into the shade those of Christian sectarians in their fiercest controversies. “A thousand years in the lowest of the hells is the atonement prescribed by the Nichirenites for the priests of all other sects.” When the Parliament of Religions was called in Chicago, the successors of Nichiren, with their characteristic high-church modesty, promptly sent letters to America, warning the world against all other Japanese Buddhists, and denouncing especially those coming to speak in the Parliament, as misrepresenting the true doctrines of Buddha.

Doctrinal Culmination.

When the work of Nichiren had been completed, and his realistic pantheism had been able to include within its great receiver and processes of Buddha-making, everything from gods to mud, the circle of doctrine was complete. Kobo’s leaven had now every possible lump in which to do its work. All grades of men in Japan, from the most devout and intellectual to the most ranting and fanatical, could choose their sect. Yet it may be that Buddhism in Nichiren’s day was in danger of stagnation and formalism, and needed the revival which this fiery bonze gave it; for, undoubtedly, along with zeal even to bigotry, came fresh life and power to the religion. This invigoration was followed by the mighty missionary labors of the last half of the thirteenth century, which carried Buddhism out to the northern frontier and into Yezo. Although, from time to time minor sects were formed either limiting or developing further the principles of the larger parent sects, and although, even as late as the seventeenth century, a new subsect, the Oba-ku of Zen Shu, was imported from China, yet no further doctrinal developments of importance took place; not even in presence of or after sixteenth century Christianity and seventeenth century Confucianism.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries form the golden age of Japanese Buddhism.

In the sixteenth century, the feudal system had split into fragments and the normal state of the country was that of civil war. Sect was arrayed against sect, and the Shin bonzes, especially, formed a great military body in fortified monasteries.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, came the tremendous onslaught of Portuguese Christianity. Then followed the militarism and bloody persécutions of Nobunaga.

In clashing with the new Confucianism of the seventeenth century, Buddhism utterly weakened as an intellectual power. Though through the favor of the Yodo shoguns it recovered lands and wealth, girded itself anew as the spy, persecutor and professed extirpator of Christianity, and maintained its popularity with the common people, it was, during the eighteenth century, among the educated Japanese, as good as dead. Modern Confucianism and the revival of Chinese learning, resulted in eighteenth century scepticism and in nineteenth century agnosticism.

The New Buddhism.

In our day and time, Japanese Buddhism, in the presence of aggressive Christianity, is out of harmony with the times, and the needs of forty-one millions of awakened and inquiring people; and there are deep searchings of heart. Politically disestablished and its landed possessions sequestrated by the government, it has had, since 1868, a history, first of depression and then of temporary revival. Now, amid much mechanical and external activity, the employment of the press, the organization of charity, of summer schools of “theology,” and of young men’s and other associations copied from the Christians, it is endeavoring to keep New Japan within its pale and to dictate the future. It seeks to utilize the old bottles for the new vintage.

There is, however, a movement discernible which may be called the New Buddhism, and has not only new wine but new wineskins. It is democratic, optimistic, empirical or practical; it welcomes women and children; it is hospitable to science and every form of truth. It is catholic in spirit and has little if any of the venom of the old Buddhist controvertists. It is represented by earnest writers who look to natural and spiritual means, rather than to external and mechanical methods. As a whole, we may say that Japanese Buddhism is still strong to-day in its grip upon the people. Though unquestionably moribund, its death will be delayed. Despite its apparent interest in, and harmony with, contemporaneous statements of science, it does not hold the men of thought, or those who long for the spiritual purification and moral elevation of Japan.

Are the Japanese eager for reform? Do they possess that quality of emotion in which a tormenting sense of sin, and a burning desire for self-surrender to holiness, are ever manifest?

Frankly and modestly, we give our opinion. We think not. The average Japanese man has not come to that self-consciousness, that searching of heart, that self-seeing of sin in the light of a Holy God’s countenance which the gospel compels. Yet this is exactly what the Japanese need. Only Christ’s gospel can give it.

The average man of culture in Dai Nippon has to-day no religion. He is waiting for one. What shall be the issue, in the contest between a faith that knows no personal God, no Creator, no atonement, no gospel of salvation from sin, and the gospel which bids man seek and know the great First Cause, as Father and Friend, and proclaims that this Infinite Friend seeks man to bless him, to bestow upon him pardon and holiness and to give him earthly happiness and endless life? Between one religion which teaches personality in God and in man, and another which offers only a quagmire of impersonality wherein a personal god and an individual soul exist only as the jack-lights of the marsh, mere phosphorescent gleams of decay, who can fail to choose? Of the two faiths, which shall be victor?