Century, Buddhism, Japanese, Christianity, Gospel, Japan
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. K[=o]b[=o]'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 persecutions 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 sh[=o]guns 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?
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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