The Bell and the Cemetery
Temple, Monks, Buddhist, Country, Buddhism, Japan
The Buddhist missionaries, and especially the founders of temples, thoroughly understood the power of natural beauty to humble, inspire and soothe the soul of man. The instinctive love of the Japanese people for fine scenery, was made an ally of faith. The sites for temples were chosen with reference to their imposing surroundings or impressive vistas. Whether as spark-arresters and protectives against fire, or to compel reverent awe, the loftiest evergreen trees are planted around the sacred structure. These "trees of Jehovah" are compellers to reverence. The alien's hat comes off instinctively—though it may be less convenient to shed boots than sandals—as he enters the sacred structure.
The great tongueless bell is another striking accessory to the temple services. Near at hand stands the belfry out of which boom forth tidings of the hours. In the flow of time and years, the note of the bell becomes more significant, and in old age solemn, making in the lapse of centuries an educating power in seriousness. "As sad as a temple bell" is the coinage of popular speech. Many of the inscriptions, though with less of sunny hope and joy than even Christian grave-stones bear, are yet mournfully beautiful.33 They preach Buddhism in its reality. Whereas, the general associations of the Christian spire and belfry, apart from the note of time, are those of joy, invitation and good news, those of the tongueless and log-struck bells of Buddhism are sombre and saddening. "As merry as a marriage bell," could never be said of the boom from a Buddhist temple, even though it pour waves of sound through sunny leagues. There is a vast difference between the peal and play of the chimes of Europe and the liquid melody which floods the landscape of Chinese Asia. The one music, high in air, seems ever to tell of faith, triumph and aspiration; the other in minor notes, from bells hung low on yokes, perpetually echoes the pessimism of despair, the folly of living and the joy that anticipates its end.
Above all, the temple holds and governs the cemetery34 as well as the cradle; while from it emanate influences that enwrap and surround the villager, from birth to death. Since the outlawry of Christianity, and especially since the division of the empire into Buddhist parishes, the bonzes have had the oversight of birth, death, marriage and divorce. Particularly tenacious, in common with priestcraft all over the world, is their clutch upon what they call "consecrated ground." In a large sense Japan is still, what China has always been, a country governed by the graveyard. These cities of the dead are usually kept in attractive order and made beautiful with flowers in memoriam. The study of epitaphs and mortuary architecture, though not without elements bordering on the ludicrous, is enjoyed by the thoughtful student.35
In every community the inhabitants are enrolled at birth at the local temple, whose priests are the authorized religious teachers, and are always expected to take charge of the funerals of those whose names are thus enrolled. So long as an individual remains in the region of the family temple, the tie which binds him to it is exceedingly difficult to break; but if he moves away he is no longer bound by this tie. This explains the fact, so often observed by missionaries, that the membership of Christian churches is made up almost entirely of people who have come from other localities. In the city of Osaka, for instance, it is a very rare thing to find a native Osakan in any of the churches. The same is true in all parts of the country. So long as a Japanese remains in the neighborhood of his family temple it is almost impossible to get him to break the temple tie and join a Christian church; but when he moves to another place he is free to do as he likes.36
This statement of a resident in modern Japan will long remain true for a large part of the empire.
Political and Military Influences
A volume might be written and devoted to Japanese Buddhism as a political power; for, having quickly obtained intellectual possession of the court and emperor, it dictated the policies of the rulers. In A.D. 624, it was recognized as a state religion, and the hierarchy of priests was officially established. At this date there were 46 temples and monasteries, with 816 monks and 569 nuns. As early as the eighth century, beginning with Sh[=o]mu, who reigned A.D. 724-728, and who with his daughter, afterward the female Mikado, became a disciple of Shaka, the habit of the emperors becoming monks, shaving their heads and retiring from public life, came in vogue and lasted until near the nineteenth century. By this means the bonzes were soon enabled to call Buddhism "the people's religion," and to secure the resources of the national treasury as an aid to their temple and monastery building, and for the erection of those images and wayside shrines on which so many millions of dollars have been lavished. In addition to this subsidized propaganda, the Buddhist confessor was too often able, by means of the wife, concubine, or other female member of the household, imperial or noble, to dictate the imperial policy in accordance with monkish or priestly ideas. Ugéno D[=o]-ki[=o], a monk, is believed to have aspired to the throne. Being made premier by the Empress K[=o]-ken, whose passion for him is the scandal of history, he made no scruple of extending the power as well as the influence of the Buddhist hierarchy.
Buddhism had also a distinct influence on the military history of the country,37 and this was greatest during the civil wars of the rival Mikados (1336-1392), when the whole country was a camp and two lines of nominees claimed to be descendants of the sun-goddess. Japan's only foreign wars have been in the neighboring peninsula of Korea, and thither the bonzes went with the armies in the expeditions of the early centuries, and in that great invasion of 1592-1597, which has left a scar even to this day on the Korean mind. At home, Buddhist priests only too gladly accompanied the imperial armies of conquest and occupation. During centuries of activity in the southwest and in the far east and extreme north, the military brought the outlying portions of the empire, throughout the whole archipelago, under the sway of the Yamato tribe and the Mikado's dominion. The shorn clerks not only lived in camp, ministered to the sick and shrived the dying soldier, but wrote texts for the banners, furnished the amulets and war cries, and were ever assistant and valuable in keeping up the temper and morals of the armies.38 No sooner was the campaign over and peace had become the order of the day, than the enthusiastic missionaries began to preach and to teach in the pacified region. They set up the shrines, anon started the school and built the temple; usually, indeed, with the aid of the law and the government, acting as agents of a politico-ecclesiastical establishment, yet with energy and consecration.
In later feudal days, when the soldier classes obtained the upper hand, overawed the court and Mikado and gradually supplanted the civil authority, introducing feudalism and martial law, the bonzes often represented the popular and democratic side. Protesting against arbitrary government, they came into collision with the warrior rulers, so as to be exposed to imprisonment and the sword. Yet even as refugees and as men to whom the old seats of activity no longer offered success or comfort, they went off into the distant and outlying provinces, preaching the old tenets and the new fashions in theology. Thus again they won hosts of converts, built monasteries, opened fresh paths and were purveyors of civilization.
The feudal ages in Japan bred the same type of militant priest known in Europe—the military bishop and the soldier monk. So far from Japan's being the "Land of Great Peace," and Buddhism's being necessarily gentle and non-resistant, we find in the chequered history of the island empire many a bloody battle between the monks on horseback and in armor.39 Rival sectarians kept the country disquieted for years. Between themselves and their favored laymen, and the enemy, consisting of the rival forces, lay and clerical, in like array, many a bloody battle was fought.
The writer lived for one year in Echizen, which, in the fifteenth century, was the battle-ground for over fifty years, of warring monks. The abbot of the Monastery of the Original Vow, of the Shin sect, in Ki[=o]to, had built before the main edifice a two-storied gate, which was expected to throw into the shade every other gateway in Japan, and especially to humble the pride of the monks of the Tendai sect, in Hiyéizan, The monks of the mountain, swarming down into the capital city, attacked the gate and monastery of the Shin sect and burned the former to ashes. The abbot thus driven off by fire, fled northward, and, joined by a powerful body of adherents, made himself possessor of the rich provinces of Kaga and Echizen, holding this region for half a century, until able to rebuild the mighty fortress-monasteries near Ki[=o]to and at Osaka.
These strongholds of the fighting Shin priests had become so powerful as arsenals and military headquarters, that in 1570, Nobunaga, skilful general as he was, and backed by sixty thousand men, was unsuccessful in his attempt to reduce them. For ten years, the war between Nobunaga and the Shin sectarians kept the country in disorder. It finally ended in the conflagration of the great religious fortress at Osaka, and the retreat of the monks to another part of the country. By their treachery and incendiarism, the shavelings prevented the soldiers from enjoying the prizes.
To detail the whole history of the fighting monks would be tedious. They have had a foothold for many centuries and even to the present time, in every province except that of Satsuma. There, because they treacherously aided the great Hidéyoshi to subdue the province, the fiery clansmen, never during Tokugawa days, permitted a Buddhist priest to come.40
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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