The Purveyors of Civilization
Japanese, Bonzes, Temples, Religion, Lines, Priests
The Buddhist missionaries, in their first "enthusiasm of humanity," were not satisfied to bring in their train, art, medicine, science and improvements of all sorts, but they themselves, being often learned and practical men, became personal leaders in the work of civilizing the country. In travelling up and down the empire to propagate their tenets, they found out the necessity of better roads, and accordingly, they were largely instrumental in having them made. They dug wells, established ferries and built bridges.7 They opened lines of communication; they stimulated traffic and the exchange of merchandise; they created the commerce between Japan and China; and they acted as peacemakers and mediators in the wars between the Japanese and Koreans. For centuries they had the monopoly of high learning. In the dark middle ages when civil war ruled, they were the only scholars, clerks, diplomatists, mediators and peacemakers.
Japanese diet became something new under the direction of the priests. The bonzes taught the wickedness of slaughtering domestic animals, and indeed, the wrong of putting any living thing to death, so that kindness to animals has become a national trait. To this day it may be said that Japanese boys and men are, at least within the limits of their light, more tender and careful with all living creatures than are those of Christendom.8 The bonzes improved the daily fare of the people, by introducing from Korea and China articles of food hitherto unknown. They brought over new seeds and varieties of vegetables and trees. Furthermore, necessity being the mother of invention, not a few of the shorn brethren made up for the prohibition of fish and flesh, by becoming expert cooks. They so exercised their talents in the culinary art that their results on the table are proverbial. Especially did they cultivate mushrooms, which in taste and nourishment are good substitutes for fish.
The bonzes were lovers of beauty and of symbolism. They planted the lotus, and the monastery ponds became seats of splendor, and delights to the eye. Their teachings, metaphysical and mystical, poetical and historical, scientific and literary, created, it may be said, the Japanese garden, which to the refined imagination contains far more than meets the eye of the alien.9 Indeed, the oriental imitations in earth, stone, water and verdure, have a language and suggestion far beyond what the usual parterres and walks, borders and lines, fountains and statuary of a western garden teach. It may be said that our "language of flowers" is more luxuriant and eloquent than theirs; yet theirs is very rich also, besides being more subtle in suggestion. The bonzes instilled doctrine, not only by sermons, books and the emblems and furniture of the temples, but they also taught dogma and ethics by the flower-ponds and plots, by the artificial landscape, and by outdoor symbolism of all kinds. To Buddhism our thanks are due, for the innumerable miniature continents, ranges of mountains, geographical outlines and other horticultural allusions to their holy lands and spiritual history, seen beside so many houses, temples and monasteries in Japan. In their floral art, no people excels the Japanese in making leaf and bloom teach history, religion, philosophy, aesthetics and patriotism.
Not only around the human habitation,10 but within it, the new religion brought a marvellous change. Instead of the hut, the dwelling-house grew to spacious and comfortable proportions, every part of the Japanese house to-day showing to the cultured student, especially to one familiar with the ancient poetry, the lines of its origin and development, and in the larger dwellings expressing a wealth of suggestion and meaning. The oratory and the kami-dana or shelf holding the gods, became features in the humblest dwelling. Among the well-to-do there were of course the gilded ancestral tablets and the worship of progenitors, in special rooms, with imposing ritual and equipment, with which Buddhism did not interfere; but on the shelf over the door of nearly every house in the land, along with the emblems of the kami, stood images representing the avatars of Buddha.11 There, the light ever burned, and there, offerings of food and drink were thrice daily made. Though the family worship might vary in its length and variety of ceremony, yet even in the home where no regular system was followed, the burning lights and the stated offering made, called the mind up to thoughts higher than the mere level of providing for daily wants. The visitation of the priests in time of sorrow, or of joy, or for friendly converse, made religion sweetly human.12
Outwardly the Buddhist architecture made a profound change in the landscape. With a settled religion requiring gorgeous ceremonial, the chanting of liturgies by large bodies of priests and the formation of monasteries as centres of literary and religious activity, there were required stability and permanence in the imperial court itself. While, therefore, the humble village temples arose all over the country, there were early erected, in the place where the court and emperor dwelt, impressive religious edifices.13 The custom of migration ceased, and a fixed spot selected as the capital, remained such for a number of generations, until finally Héian-j[)o] or the place of peace, later called Ki[=o]to, became the "Blossom Capital" and the Sacred City for a thousand years. At Nara, where flourished the first six sects introduced from Korea, were built vast monasteries, temples and images, and thence the influence of civilisation and art radiated. From the first, forgetting its primitive democracy and purely moral claims, Buddhism lusted for power in the State. As early as A.D. 624, various grades were assigned to the priesthood by the government.14 The sects eagerly sought and laid great stress upon imperial favor. To this day they keenly enjoy the canonization of their great teachers by letters patent from the Throne.
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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