The spread of Buddhism did not destroy, though it may have transformed, the ancient beliefs of the Japanese; nor did it prevent them from practicing other forms of religion. The ancient Chinese cult of heaven worship was not neglected, as is clear from its official chronicles.See footnote 1
JAPAN owes much of her civilization to the Church of the East. This may come as a surprise to many. If so, there will be more surprises in store for those who are not informed as to how strong a determining factor Christianity was in the career of the
The Kojiki has sometimes been called the “Bible of the Japanese,See footnote 3
”butit is difficult to find a religious motive behind its compilation, save in so far as it sets forth the old stories of the ‘origin of deities and the establishment of men.’ The predominant aim of the compilation was to demonstrate the divine origin of the ruling family and the remote antiquity of the foundation of the state.
Of the Nihongi, he says that it covers in part the same ground as the other document, with alternate versions of the same myth or event. For the first twelve centuries of the Christian Era, the inescapable trait of Japan’s history was its servile imitation and copying of the ways and life of China. It received the penetration of Chinese thought and language. In this respect, Japan was practically a province of the Celestial Empire. AsP. Y. Saeki puts it:
If the court buildings in Hsianfu were painted red, so were those at Nara. If a temple was built and supported by the Chinese government in each province, so must it be in Japan. If the birthday of the Chinese emperor was observed as a national holiday in China, so was it here. If the nobles and upper class in the Chinese capital played football, it was soon imitated by the Japanese aristocracy inSee footnote 4
Buddhism was among the influences from China deeply affecting Japan. How Buddhism itself was profoundly transformed by Christianity and how this force dominated Japanese history will be related. The emperor is looked upon as a direct descendant from the sun-goddess, Amaterasu. Shinto priests assert that the temple at Ise, the national shrineof Amaterasu, was erected by
Shintoists are, therefore, in a position to contend that their revelation is the original which the apostles counterfeited, or that both religions have a common origin. Ise, a religious center, is the holy of holies to the Nipponese. Millions daily turn to it in prayer as in other lands religionists do to Mecca or Jerusalem. In solving the problems which are bound to come in the clash between the Orient and the Occident, it is important to study how the national religion of Japan came to approximate Christianity in doctrine and in religious ceremonies. How did Shintoism and Buddhism come to fuse in Japan, and how did this national religion set out to rival Bible revelations?
COUNTERFEITING CHRISTIANITY IN THE ORIENT
Buddhism, in general, is not today what it was at the time of its founder’s death. The original doctrine taught by Buddha lacked the depth, breadth, and force of the messages of the Bible. If it had not obtained in Asoka(emperor of the great Hindu Empire in India about 273 B.C.) a patron and an apostle, it probably would not have survived. Although Buddhism in India enjoyed imperial support from many different emperors, such as the true church of Christ never enjoyed, it was so sterile and so unresponsive to the needs of the human soul that if it had not appropriated the satisfying doctrines and the productive machinery of Christianity, it would be a dead issue today. As it now stands, Buddhism is one of the greatest religions of the world. Buddhism, the new faith which its founder placed in the midst of a cruel, filthy, primitive Hinduism, was quite an advance over the crude idolatries in his native land. Yet it was a meager and unsatisfying doctrine of man’s relation to God and of his hopes in the future. It was, moreover, too weak to stand up against a rejuvenated Hinduism and an advancing Christianity. In its earlier form, it had no trinity.(6) It presented a clearer idea of divinity
“The primitive Buddhism which ignored the divine was known in later times as Hina-yana, or Lesser Vehicle of salvation, while the modified religion which recognized the value of prayer and acknowledged Buddha as the Savior of mankind was called the Maha-yana, or the Greater Vehicle.”See footnote 7
The great doctrine of salvation through faith alone, or Mahayana, appeared in Buddhism about a thousand years after the death of its founder. Buddhism entered China in the year A.D. 67. Six years prior, Emperor Ming Ti had had a dream which produced in his soul
Whereupon the monarch commissioned a deputation of eighteen men to travel west for information about this Buddha. The commission returned, accompanied by white horses laden with writings and relics, to Loyang, capital of China at that time. Thereupon the emperor built to the new faith a temple, and called it the White Horse, on account of the animals which carried back from India the relics and writings of Buddhism. Karl Reichelt adds, “Thus began the invading stream of Buddhist monks from India to China, which continued for over seven hundred years, and which became of such great significance to the ‘Middle Kingdom.’(8) While Buddhism was making its way into China, it was undergoing a transformation. Though supported in the beginning by imperial patronage, it found itself too cold and sterile as a doctrine to compete with Confucianism, the leading indigenous religion in China
“What has been said here of Amitabha will be sufficient to give an impression of the tremendous significance his name acquired in China, and will show how all the threads in the web of Mahayana lead back to him.”See footnote 12
“We have thus,” writes Arthur Lloyd, “as itSee footnote 13
were, three different Buddhisttrinities., all claiming to come from the beginnings of Mahayana, all supposed to have appeared simultaneously in China, just at the time when Christian missions first made their way to that empire, and all three brought over to Japan during the early years of the Nara period. At the three sets meant pretty much the same thing.” bottom
There is a Chinese Buddhism and a Japanese Buddhism, as well as
BUDDHISM ADOPTS THE SECOND COMING OF BUDDHA
The Buddhists, in adding Amitabha to their godhead, had been enabled
It [the stone] stands just within the entrance to the wonderful cemetery of the Okuno-in, where tens of thousands of the Japanese, from emperors to peasants, have been laid to rest in expectation of the coming of Miroku — the expected Messias of the Buddhists — during the eleven hundred years since their beloved and venerated saint Kobo Daishi returned from Ch’ang-an, where he is supposed to have seen that “Speaking Stone” which the Nestorian monks had erected there only twenty-three years before his arrival.See footnote 15
Where did Buddhism in general and Japanese Buddhism
THE ECLIPSE OF SHINTOISM BY A CHRISTIANIZED BUDDHISM
The profound transformation of Shintoism in Japan by a Christianized Buddhism centers around the figure of Kobo Daishi, Japan’s mightiest intellect. It was he who founded on Matthew Koya a monastery which is now the largest and perhaps the most flourishing in Japan
became an important rite in the mysteries of Shingon. Kobo Daishi succeeded in reconciling the native gods of Japan with the Buddhist divinity. Thus, he could identify the Japanese sun-goddess with Amita,the great illuminator.“Shinto architecture took many hints from Buddhist temples,” says Sansom
THE CHURCH OF THE EAST MONUMENT IN JAPAN
The church monument in stone on the summit of Matthew Koya, Japan, is a replica of the famous stone unearthed in Changan, China’s capital, about 1625; and it is the Oriental key to the halls of the Christian past in the Orient. In these
Here at Koya-san hundreds of people are seen day in and day out, many of whom are pious pilgrims in white robes, chanting their diverse formulas, but there are also many who are curious visitorsSee footnote 19
….This cemetery stretches for more than a mile from the center to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, where, according to the legend, he caused himself to be buried alive in his sammai, or posture of meditation.
In the centuries immediately preceding and
following 804, Japan from a cultural standpoint could reasonably be considered a part of China. The lanes of civilizing culture which ran from the capital to the eastern province of China extended across the water to the Sunrise Kingdom. As before mentioned, the monument to the Church of the East was erected under imperial favor. The echoes of its magnificent dedicatory ceremonies were still reverberating when Kobo Daishi resided in the same city. Like some chapters in the Bible which give much in rapid sentences, this stone discloses the teachings which raised China from the depths of ignorance to its position as a mighty civilization; and which in so doing, raised Japan with it.
“It brings to light,” writes P. Y. Saeki, speaking of the original monument in Changan, “the background of the Ch’ang-an civilization which influenced the neighboring countries of High AsiaSee footnote 20
….Besides the stone is actually the great torch which reveals the nature of the civilization which the Japanese received from the Asiatic continent as the result of their intercourse with China during the T’ang dynasty.”
There are three turning points which changed the history of Japan prior to the nineteenth century. The first is the return of Kobo Daishi from China to give his report to the government and become the author of influential works. By his powerful
His memory lives all over the country, his name is a household word in the remotest places, not only as a saint, but as a preacher,See footnote 23
a scholar, a poet, a sculptor, a painter, an inventor, and explorer, and — sure passport to fame — a great calligrapher. Manymiraculous legends cluster about his name.
The brilliant ceremonies which accompanied the setting up of the Christian memorial monument in Changan in 781, found their re-duplication in 1911 when the replica stone was erected on Matthew Koya, Japan. Because of the galaxy of circumstances clustering around the sojourn of Kobo
When he passed out of this life on Koya he did not die, for he lies uncorrupted in his sepulcher, awaiting the coming of Maitreya, the Buddhist Messiah. More authentic, if less wonderful, merits ascribed to him are the introduction of tea into Japan, much useful work like bridge building and path making, and the invention of the kana syllabary. Such traditions of excellence cling only to the memory of truly exceptional men, and we may be sure that in him Japan nourished a genius, probably one of the greatest in her history.”See footnote 24
THE CRUSHING DEFEAT OF CHINA BY JAPAN
The second decisive turning point in the history of Japan was her repulse of China’s large armada about 1284. More than four hundred years had passed since the transformation in Japan’s civilization was accomplished by Kobo Daishi and his associates. During this time she continued to look up to China as her superior. There was no other worthwhile nation whom she could contact, and so possess an opportunity of comparison. During the first twelve hundred years of the Christian Era, China had never taken enough notice of Japan to desire to subdue it territorially. The hour was reached, however, when a Mongolian occupied the throne of the Orient.
Kublai Khan, succeeding to the throne of the Mongolian empire, removed his capital to Peking, China. The first attempt of Kublai Khan against Japan, when his fleet carried thirty thousand troops against that country, was not a success. As the island rang with triumph, the central administration was satisfied that the Chinese monarch would renew his assault with larger forces. Seven years passed
JAPAN’S STRUGGLE WITH THE JESUITS
The third turning point in the history of Japan is the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries in the middle of the sixteenth century, which was followed by the rapid progress of their propaganda, the bloody persecution of their converts, and the final expulsion. The restoration of peace and political unity at the beginning of the seventeenth century was followed by the extermination of Catholic propaganda and foreign intercourse.25How did the entrance of Jesuit power into Japan and the Philippines influence these countries as far as Christianity is concerned? William E.Griffis,
Christianity, in the sixteenth century, came to Japan only in its papal or Roman Catholic form. While in it was infused much of the power and spirit of Loyola and Xavier, yet the impartial critic must confess that this form was military, oppressive and political. Nevertheless, though it was impure and saturated with the false principles, the vices and the embodied superstitions of corrupt southern Europe, yet, such as it was, Portuguese Christianity confronted the worst condition of affairs, morally, intellectually and materially which Japan has known in historic timesSee footnote 26
….In the presence of soldierlike Buddhist priests, who had made war their calling, it would have been better if the Christian missionaries had avoided their bad example, and followed only in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace; but they did not. On the contrary, they brought with them the spirit of the Inquisition thenin full blast in Spain and Portugal, and the machinery with which they had been familiar for the reclamation of native and Dutch ‘heretics.’ Xavier, while at Goa, had even invoked the secular arm to set up theInquisition in India, and doubtless he and his followers would have put up this infernal enginery in Japan if they could have done so. They had stamped and crushed out ‘heresy’ in their own country, by a system of hellish tortures which in its horrible details is almost indescribable.”
The same writer attests concerning the work of the Jesuits in Japan:
“Whole districts were ordered to become Christians. The bonzes[Buddhist priests] were exiled or killed, and fire and swordSee footnote 27
as well as preachingwere employed as a means of conversion.”
‘No history of Japan would be complete without the record of the century-long work of the Jesuits in that country, their methods, and above all, the disastrous effect they produced upon the nation with respect to Christianity. It was the dread of the uprisings caused by the characteristic cruel work of this organization which produced the final decision of the rulers to shut the doors of the nation to Christianity.(28) It is
Those were the days when Leonardo da Vinci had laid the foundations of the experimental method and therefore of modern scientific inquiry; Copernicus had taught a new theory of the universe; Harvey had lighted on the circulation of the blood; andGilbert had commenced the study of electricity. But since these discoveries were unpalatable to the Inquisition, which burned Bruno at the stake and imprisoned Galileo, it is unlikely that the Japanese gained any inkling of them from the missionaries.See footnote 29
Japan now took the resolution to shut herself off from the rest of the world. For nearly two centuries no foreigner was allowed to approach her shores. She knew nothing of the outside world, which in turn knew practically nothing of her until Commodore Perry of the United StatesNavy anchored his fleet in Uraga harbor. That was the time when mothers hushed their fretful children with the question, “Do you think the Mongols are coming?” The immediate result of the negotiations between the American representative and the agent of the Japanese government was the opening of the ports to foreign commerce in 1859. After that, Japan sent to England to organize her navy; to Germany to organize her army
THE SUBJECTION OF THE PHILIPPINES
There is evidence that before the Spaniards brought the Philippine Islands under their dominion, education was, comparatively speaking, on a high level. As the Philippines had had no contact with the civilization of the West except through Christianity, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the splendid state of education at the time of the Spanish conquest (1569), was due to the Church of the East. What, however, was the condition of things after the Islands were taken over by the Spaniards? We quote from Blair and Robertson:
If, as is credibly asserted, the knowledge of reading and writing was more generally diffused in the Philippines than among the common people of Europe, we have the singular result that the islands contained relatively more people who could read, and less reading matter of any but purely religious interests, than any other community in the world.See footnote 30
The same authors add that it was a singular fact that in all the lists there is no translation of the parts of the Bible.31The rise, growth, and retreat of the Church of the East
1 Sansom, Japan, p. 225.
2 Underwood, Shintoism, p. 18.3 Underwood, Shintoism, pp. 14, 15.4 Saeki, The Nestorian Monument in China, p. 145.5 Gordon, “World Healers,” p. 471, note 2; p. 481, note 4.6 Saeki, The Nestorian Monument in China, p. 123.7 Smith, The Oxford History of India, p. 55.8 Reichelt, Truth and Tradition in Chinese Buddhism, p. 12.9 See the author’s discussion in Chapter 21, entitled, “Adam and theChurch in China.”10 Saeki, The Nestorian Monument in China, p. 148.11 Ibid., p. 153.12 Reichelt, Truth and Tradition in Chinese Buddhism, p. 41.13 Lloyd, The Creed of Half Japan, pp. 203, 204.14 Gordon, “World Healers,” p. 38.15 Saeki, The Nestorian Monument in China, p. 12.16 Sansom, Japan, p. 223.17 Saeki, The Nestorian Monument in China, p. 214.18 Sansom, Japan, p. 223.19 Anesaki, Religious Life of the Japanese Peoples, p. 58.20 Saeki, The Nestorian Monument in China, p. 2.21 Ibid., p. 148.22 Reichelt, Truth and Tradition in Chinese Buddhism, p. 131.23 Sansom, Japan, p. 223.24 Sansom, Japan, p. 224.25 Anesaki, History of the Japanese Religions, pp. 13, 14.26 Griffis, The Religions of Japan, pp. 346-348.27 Ibid., p. 348.28 Sansom, Japan, pp. 413-442.29 Sansom, Japan, pp. 445.
30 Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, vol. 1, p. 80.31 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 79, note 132.