Japanese Pilgrims to China
Sect, Teachings, Buddha, Chinese, Middle, Buddhism
The Ris-shu or Vinaya sect is one of purely Chinese origin, and was founded, or rather re-founded, by the Chinese priest D[=o]sen, who lived on Mount Shunan early in the seventh century, and claimed to be only re-proclaiming the rules given by Gautama himself. He was well acquainted with the Tripitaka and especially versed in the Vinaya or rules of discipline. His purpose was to unite the teachings of both the Greater and the Lesser Vehicle in a sutra whose burden should be one of ethics and not of dogma.
The founder of this sect was greatly honored by the Chinese Emperor. Furthermore, he was honored in vision by the holy Pindola or Binzura,10 who praised the founder as the best man that had promulgated the discipline since Buddha himself. In later centuries, successors of the founder compiled commentaries and reproclaimed the teachings of this sect.
In A.D. 724 two Japanese priests went over to China, and having mastered the Ris-shu doctrine, received permission to propagate it in Japan. With eighty-two Chinese priests they returned a few years later, having attempted, it is said, the journey five times and spent twelve years on the sea. On their return, they received an imperial invitation to live in the great monastery at Nara, and soon their teachings exerted a powerful influence on the court. The emperor, empress and four hundred persons of note were received into the Buddhist communion by a Chinese priest of the Ris-shu school in the middle of the eighth century. The Mikado Sh[=o]-mu resigned his throne and took the vow and robes of a monk, becoming H[=o]-[=o] or cloistered emperor. Under imperial direction a great bronze image of the Vairokana Buddha, or Perfection of Morality, was erected, and terraces, towers, images and all the paraphernalia of the new kind of Buddhism were prepared. Even the earth was embroidered, as it were, with sutras and shastras. Symbolical landscape gardening, which, in its mounds and paths, variously shaped stones and lanterns, artificial cascades and streamlets, teaches the holy geography as well as the allegories and hidden truths of Buddhism, made the city of Nara beautiful to the eyes of faith as well as of sight.
This sect, with its excellence in morality and benevolence, proved itself a beautifier of human life, of society and of the earth itself. Its work was an irenicon. It occupied itself exclusively with the higher ethics, the higher meditations and the higher knowledge. Interdicting what was evil and prescribing what was good, its precepts varied in number and rigor according to the status of the disciple, lay or clerical. It is by the observance of the sila, or grades of moral perfection, that one becomes a Buddha. Besides making so powerful a conquest at the southern capital, this sect was the one which centuries afterward built the first Buddhist temple in Yedo. Being ordinary human mortals, however, both monk and layman occasionally illustrated the difference between profession and practice.
These three schools or sects, Ku-sha, J[=o]-jitsu, and Ris-shu, may be grouped under the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle, with more or less affiliation with Southern Buddhism; the others now to be described were wholly of the Northern division.
The Hoss[=o]-shu, or the Dharma-lakshana sect, as described by the Rev. Dai-ryo Takashi of the Shin-gon sect, is the school which studies the nature of Dharmas or things. The three worlds of desire, form and formlessness, consist in thought only; and there is nothing outside thought. Nine centuries after Gautama, Maitreya,11 or the Buddha of kindness, came down from the heaven of the Bodhisattva to the lecture-hall in the kingdom in central India at the request of the Buddhas elect, and discounted five shastras. After that two Buddhist fathers who were brothers, composed many more shastras and cleared up the meaning of the Mah[=a]yan[=a]. In 629 A.D., in his twenty-ninth year, the famous Chinese pilgrim, Gen-j[=o] (Hiouen-thsang), studied these shastras and sciences, and returning to China in 645 A.D., began his great work of translation, at which he continued for nineteen years. One of his disciples was the author of a hundred commentaries on sutras and shastras. The doctrines of Gen-j[=o] and his disciples were at four different times, from 653 to 712 A.D., imported into Japan, and named, after the monasteries in which they were promulgated, the Northern and Southern Transmission.
The Middle Path
The burden of the teachings of this sect is subjective idealism. They embrace principles enjoining complete indifference to mundane affairs, and, in fact, thorough personal nullification and the ignoring of all actions by its disciples. In these teachings, thought only, is real. As we have already seen with the Ku-sha teaching, human beings are of three classes, divided according to intellect, into higher, middle and lower, for whom the systems of teachings are necessarily of as many kinds. The order of progress with those who give themselves to the study of the Hoss[=o] tenets, is,12 first, they know only the existence of things, then the emptiness of them, and finally they enter the middle path of "true emptiness and wonderful existence."
From the first, such discipline is long and painful, and ultimate victory scarcely comes to the ordinary being. The disciple, by training in thought, by destroying passions and practices, by meditating on the only knowledge, must pass through three kalpas or aeons. Constantly meditating, and destroying the two obstacles of passion and cognizable things, the disciple then obtains four kinds of wisdom and truly attains perfect enlightenment or Pari-Nirvana.
The San-ron Shu, as the Three-Shastra sect calls itself, is the sect of the Teachings of Buddha's whole life.13 Other sects are founded upon single sutras, a fact which makes the student liable to narrowness of opinion. The San-ron gives greater breadth of view and catholicity of opinion. The doctrines of the Greater Vehicle are the principal teachings of Gautama, and these are thoroughly explained in the three shastras used by this sect, which, it is claimed, contain Buddha's own words. The meanings of the titles of the three favorite sutras, are, The Middle Book, The Hundred, and The Book of Twelve Gates. Other books of the canon are also studied and valued by this sect, but all of them are apt to be perused from a particular point of view; i.e., that of Pyrronism or infinite negation.
There are two lines of the transmission of this doctrine, both of them through China, though, the introduction to Japan was made from Korea, in 625 A.D. Not to dwell upon the detail of history, the burden of this sect's teaching, is, infinite negation or absolute nihilism. Truth is the inconceivable state, or, in the words of the Japanese writer: "The truth is nothing but the state where thoughts come to an end; the right meditation is to perceive this truth. He who has obtained this meditation is called Buddha. This is this doctrine of the San-ron sect."
This sect, by its teachings of the Middle Path, seems to furnish a bridge from the Hinayana or Southern school, to the Mah[=a]yan[=a] or Northern school of Buddhism. Part of its work, as set forth by the Rev. K[=o]-ch[=o] Ogurasu, of the Shin sect, is to defend the authenticity, genuineness and canonicity of the books which form the Northern body of scriptures.
In these two sects Hos-s[=o] and San-ron, called those of Middle Path, and much alike in principle and teaching, the whole end and aim of mental discipline, is nihilism—in the one case subjective, and in the other absolute, the end and goal being nothing—this view into the nature of things being considered the right one.
Is it any wonder that such teachings could in the long run satisfy neither the trained intellects nor the unthinking common people of Japan? Is it far from the truth to suspect that, even when accepted by the Japanese courtiers and nobles, they were received, only too often, in a Platonic, not to say a Pickwickian, sense? The Japanese is too polite to say "no" if he can possibly say "yes," even when he does not mean it; while the common people all over the world, as between metaphysics and polytheism, choose the latter. Is it any wonder that, along with this propagation of Nihilism as taught in the cloisters and the court, history informs us of many scandals and much immorality between the women of the court and the Buddhist monks?
Such dogmas were not able to live in organized forms, after the next importations of Buddhism which came in, not partly but wholly, under the name of the Mah[=a]yan[=a] or Great Vehicle, or Northern Buddhism. By the new philosophy, more concrete and able to appeal more closely to the average man, these five schools, which, in their discussions, dealt almost wholly with noumena, were absorbed. As matter of fact, none of them is now in existence, nor can we trace them, speaking broadly, beyond the tenth century. Here and there, indeed, may be a temple bearing the name of one of the sects, or grades of doctrine, and occasionally an eccentric individual who "witnesses" to the old metaphysics; but these are but fossils or historical relics, and are generally regarded as such.
Against such baldness of philosophy not only might the cultivated Japanese intellect revolt and react, but as yet the common people of Japan, despite the modern priestly boast of the care of the imperial rulers for what the bonzes still love to call "the people's religion," were but slightly touched by the Indian faith.
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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