CHAPTER X. JAPANESE BUDDHISM IN ITS MISSIONARY DEVELOPMENT
Chinese, Century, Japan, Civilization, History, Primitive
Missionary Buddhism the Measure of Japan's Civilization
Broadly speaking, the history of Japanese Buddhism in its missionary development is the history of Japan. Before Buddhism came, Japan was pre-historic. We know the country and people through very scanty notices in the Chinese annals, by pale reflections cast by myths, legends and poems, and from the relics cast up by the spade and plough. Chinese civilization had filtered in, though how much or how little we cannot tell definitely; but since the coming of the Buddhist missionaries in the sixth century, the landscape and the drama of human life lie before us in clear detail. Speaking broadly again, it may be said that almost from the time of its arrival, Buddhism became on its active side the real religion of Japan—at least, if the word "religion" be used in a higher sense than that connoted by either Shint[=o] or Confucianism. Though as a nation the Japanese of the Méiji era are grossly forgetful of this fact, yet, as Professor Chamberlain says,1 "All education was for centuries in Buddhist hands. Buddhism introduced art; introduced medicine; created the folk-lore of the country; created its dramatic poetry; deeply influenced politics, and every sphere of social and intellectual activity; in a word, Buddhism was the teacher under whose instruction the Japanese nation grew up."
For many centuries all Japanese, except here and there a stern Shint[=o]ist, or an exceptionally dogmatic Confucian, have acknowledged these patent facts, and from the emperor to the eta, glorified in them. It was not until modern Confucian philosophy entered the Mikado's empire in the seventeenth century, that hostile criticism and polemic tenets denounced Buddhism, and declared it only fit for savages. This bitter denunciation of Buddhism at the lips and hands of Japanese who had become Chinese in mind, was all the more inappropriate, because Buddhism had for over a thousand years acted as the real purveyor and disperser of the Confucian ethics and culture in Japan. Such denunciation came with no better grace from the Yedo Confucianists than from the Shint[=o] revivalists, like Motoöri, who, while execrating everything Chinese, failed to remember or impress upon his countrymen the fact, that almost all which constituted Japanese civilization had been imported from the Middle Kingdom.
Buddhism, in its purely doctrinal development, seems to be rather a system of metaphysics than a true religion, being a conglomeration, or rather perhaps an agglomeration, of all sorts of theories relating to the universe and its contents. Its doctrinal and metaphysical side, however, is to be carefully distinguished from its popular and external features, for in its missionary development Buddhism may be called a system of national improvement. The history of its propagation, in the land farthest east from its cradle, is not only the outline of the history of Japanese civilization, but is nearly the whole of it.
It is not perhaps difficult to reconstruct in imagination the landscape of Japan in pre-Buddhistic days. Certainly we may, with some accuracy, draw a contrast between the appearance of the face of the earth then and now. Supposing that there were as many as a million or two of souls in the Japanese Archipelago of the sixth century—the same area which in the nineteenth century contains over forty-one millions—we can imagine only here and there patches of cultivated fields, or terraced gullies. There were no roads except paths or trails. The horse was probably yet a curiosity to the aborigines, though well known to the sons of the gods. Sheep and goats then, as now, were unknown. The cow and the ox were in the land, but not numerous.2 In architecture there was probably little but the primeval hut. Tools were of the rudest description; yet it is evident that the primitive Japanese were able to work iron and apply it to many uses. There were other metals, though the tell-tale etymology of their names in Japanese metallurgy, as in so many other lines of industry and articles of daily use, points to a Chinese origin. It is the almost incredible fact that the Japanese man or woman wore on the person neither gold nor silver jewelry. In later times, decoration was added to the sword hilt and pins were thrust in the hair.
Possibly a prejudice against metal touching the skin, such as exists in Korea, may account for this absence of jewelry, though silver was not discovered until A.D. 675, or gold until A.D. 749. The primitive Japanese, however, did wear ornaments of ground and polished stone, and these so numerously as to compel contrast with the severer tastes of later ages. Some of these magatama—curved jewels or perforated cylinders—were made of very hard stone which requires skill to drill, cut and polish. Among the substances used was jade, a mineral found only in Cathay.3 Indeed, we cannot follow the lines of industry and manufactures, of personal adornment and household decoration, of scientific terms and expressions, of literary, intellectual and religious experiment, without continually finding that the Japanese borrowed from Chinese storehouses. Possibly their debt began at the time of the alleged conquest of Korea4 in the third century.
In Japanese life, as it existed before the introduction of Buddhism, there was, with barbaric simplicity, a measure of culture somewhat indeed above the level of savagery, but probably very little that could be appraised beyond that of the Iroquois Indians in the days of their Confederacy. For though granting that there were many interesting features of art, industry, erudition and civilization which have been lost to the historic memory, and that the research of scholars may hereafter discover many things now in oblivion; yet, on the other hand, it is certain that much of what has long been supposed to be of primitive Japanese origin, and existent before the eighth century, has been more or less infused or enriched with Chinese elements, or has been imported directly from India, or Persia,5 or has crystallized into shape from the mixture of things Buddhistic and primitive Japanese.
Apart from all speculation, we know that in the train of the first missionaries came artisans, and instructors in every line of human industry and achievement, and that the importation of the inventions and appliances of "the West"—the West then being Korea and China, and the "Far West," India—was proportionately as general, as far-reaching, as sensational, as electric in its effects upon the Japanese minds, as, in our day, has been the introduction of the modern civilization of Europe and the United States.6
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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