The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
The Buddhism of the Muromachi Age
The Hōjō Regents fell in the year 1333. Their fall was due to many causes, and had been in preparation for some time. The immediate and ultimate cause was the conjunction of a real, substantial grievance, which alienated the sympathies of the people, with the fact that the Imperial throne was at the time occupied by an Emperor of exceptional ability—the ill-starred Go-daigo (= Daigo II.).
The grievance was caused by the rapacity of Nagasaki Tadasuke, the Minister of Hōjō Takatoki, the last of the Kamakura Regents. Takatoki was a very different personage from the Saimyōji who resigned his high office in order to study the wants of his people, or the Tokimune who organized the forces which beat off the Mongols. He was a weak, vain man, engrossed in intrigues against Shōguns, Barons, and Prelates, who found no time to attend to the details of administration. He left all such disagreeable matters to Nagasaki Tadasuke, and the minister made a profit of the free hand which his master gave him, by selling rice to the people during a period of famine at very high prices. What made this enormity more enormous was that the rice had been stored by the earlier Regents for the purposes of free distribution in time of need.
The consequent unpopularity of the Regent gave
[paragraph continues] Godaigo an opportunity for restoring the Imperial House to its rightful position in the country. The design was not accomplished at one blow; but Go-daigo had staunch supporters in Kusunoki Masashige, Nitta Yoshisada, Ashikaga Takauji, and other loyalist knights and barons, and with their help Kamakura was destroyed, and the Hōjō Regency overthrown. It had been an unconstitutional usurpation from the very beginning, but it had done good service to the country in the earlier years of its existence.
Unfortunately, however, Go-daigo speedily offended his chief supporters by the grants of land and fiefs, which he made to unworthy parasites and favourites, instead of to the warriors whose arms had placed the reins of administrative power in his hands. The men who had, as it were, made the Emperor, felt, perhaps, that they could also unmake him, and Ashikaga Takauji, seeing an opportunity for turning the discontent against the Emperor to his own advantage, raised the standard of revolt, and proclaimed himself Shōgun in the place of Moriyoshi, the newly appointed Shōgun of the Imperial Blood, 1 whose scandalously luxurious life had speedily shown him to be unfit for his office.
The Civil War which was thus commenced was a terrible one for Japan. It led to the setting up of a Rival Dynasty, intended to supplant the House of Go-daigo,
which was declared to have forfeited the throne. For a period of sixty years there were two rival Emperors in Japan—the Southern Line, that of Go-daigo, which was clearly the legitimate one, holding its own in Kyushu and the South; while the Northern line, which was the usurping one, was recognized throughout the North. The strife ended in a compromise, which was, however, clearly to the advantage of the usurping North, for it was Go-Komatsu, of the Northern line, who re-united the two dynasties on the abdication of Go-Kameyama of the South, and after the death of his son Shōkō, the inheritance passed, with Go-Hanazono, Go-Tsuchimikado, etc., to the descendants of Sukō, the third Emperor of the Northern line. Go-Komatsu reigned from 1392–1412; but his power was only what the Shōgun Yoshimōchi permitted him to have.
Let us follow the history of the country closely for a few years longer.
The Emperor Shōkō (1413–1428) was raised to the throne by Yoshimochi on the abdication of his father Go-Komatsu. By this act Yoshimochi deliberately broke his faith; for the understanding between the two dynasties had been that the Emperors should be chosen alternately from the North and the South, and it was now the turn of the South. The appointment was not made without opposition, and many of the supporters of the Southern Dynasty rose in rebellion at the breach of faith; but the South had allowed the Sacred Treasures 1 to pass into the keeping of the North, and so long as the North held them they felt themselves to be safe. Amongst the supporters
of the North there were also dissensions, for the Ashikaga Shōguns had offices of power and emolument to bestow upon their followers, and there were many rivalries and jealousies among the great families who desired to increase their territories and wealth. Yoshimochi was not such a great man as his father Yoshimitsu, who had reduced the country in favour of Go-Komatsu, had built the beautiful Kinkakuji at Kyōto, and treated with the Mings, the Chinese successors of the Mongols; but he had inherited a large amount of authority and influence, which he used without scruple. In 1418 he slew his own brother, whom he suspected of aiming at the Shōgunate. In 1423 he became a monk, but continued to be the power behind the throne until his death five years later.
Shōkō's successor, Go-Hanazono (1429–1465) had a long reign of thirty-six years entirely filled with civil wars. The great families of Hosokawa, Hatakeyama, Yamana, Shiba, etc., were engaged in a constant scramble for territories, power, and wealth. The Shōgun Yoshimasa, who lived in luxury in his palace at Muromachi, added fuel to the fire by a high-handed act which produced a schism in his own family. He had been for a long time childless, and, an heir being imperatively necessary, had adopted his own younger brother Gijin, whom he took from a monastery for the purpose. The next year, however, a son was born to him, and he then proposed to disinherit Gijin and send him back to the monastery. But Gijin, having tasted the sweets of secular life, refused to go, and the distracted state of the country made an appeal to arms seem an obvious remedy. The Civil War which followed is known in Japanese history as the Ōnin no tairan. It lasted for over ten years (1467–1477); then, after a short interval, broke out afresh at the death of Yoshimasa, after which it raged for an unbroken century. When the
[paragraph continues] Emperor Go-Hanazono's son, Go-Tsuchimikado, died in A.D. 1500, his corpse remained unburied for forty days, because there was not, in the Imperial Palace, the money with which to bury him. Such was the poverty to which the Imperial House was reduced.
Go-Kashiwabara reigned from 1501 to 1527. The fighting was still going on, but a few of the more enterprising daimyos, the Mori, the Shimazu, the Otomo, the Hōjō of Odawara, and others, were organizing their territories into semi-independent states, and a few well-administered daimyates here and there stood out like oases in the wilderness of confusion and distress. In the succeeding reign, that of Go-Nara (1527–1558), the same kind of thing went on. Some of the great families, the Ouchi and the Hosokawa, etc., disappeared; whilst others, such as the Mōri and the Hōjō, increased in power and wealth. When the Emperor Go-Nara died, neither he nor the Ashikaga Shōgun had any actual power. But Nobunaga was twenty-four years of age, Hideyoshi twenty-one, and Iyeyasu fifteen, and there was the first dawn of the Hope of Peace and Order. St. Francis Xavier and his band of Jesuits were in the country, and Christianity was being openly preached.
And what, we may ask, did Japanese Buddhism do, during this period of terrible misery, to alleviate the sufferings of the people and to bring about a better state of affairs?
It would seem as though its record throughout the thousand years of its existence in Japan had been nothing but a dismal chronicle of broken promises. How often have we not read, in the pages of this history, of distinguished and saint-like men, Shōtoku, Kōbō, Dengyō, Hōnen, Shinran, Nichiren, and the fathers of the Zen sects, who, moved by the afflictions of their times, set their hands
to the work of religious reformation, and devoted themselves to the propagation of doctrines theological and practical, which gave hopes of something better at hand! Alas, that in every case these hopes were shattered, and that, in every case, the disciples of the reformers exhibited in their lives those very vices which the reformers had sought to eradicate. When the saddest hour of Japan came, the Buddhist sects were not only powerless to help their countrymen, but they had actually become active aiders and abettors of the very evils of those distressful times.
The Tendai monks of Hieizan and Mi-idera had been old offenders in the practice of turning their monasteries into barracks and making religion the bondservant of political intrigue and oppression. The other sects followed suit. The disciples of Kōbō had turned the monastery of Kōya San into a military encampment. They had become divided into two sects, the leader of the schism (the Shingiha of Shingon, as it was called), had founded a rival temple at Negoro, in the province of Kii, and this daughter temple, which could raise an army of 3000 fighting monks, waged wars on its own account, and ended by being besieged, taken by assault, and razed to the ground by Hideyoshi in 1585. The Jōdo-Shinshu were the ruling power in Echigo, Kaga, and other provinces, where they dwelt just as the Prince-Bishops of Germany, ruling their States as temporal barons or lords. These Hongwanji armies had more than one pitched battle with their brethren of Hieizan, and the Monto power counted for very much in the civil quarrels of the time. The older Jōdo, the followers of Hōnen, were quieter in their demeanour, but there were times when even they took to the sword to maintain their opinions; 1 the same may be said of the quieter Zen sects,
who stood very high in the favour of the Ashikaga Shōguns.
The Nichirenists speedily became the greatest offenders of all. They quarrelled amongst themselves, the sectarian differences between the various sub-sects or schisms of Nichirenism being clearly and antagonistically marked. They quarrelled with Monto and Jōdo; with the Tendai they had a formal private war of their own, which history designates as Tembun Hōran (1532), the "Religious War of the Tembun period." 1 They quarrelled with the authorities. They enunciated a principle known as Fuju fuze, "not giving and not receiving," which may be translated as "intransigeant." The term was adopted as a denominational designation by one of the many Nichirenist sub-sects, and the extremist Fuju fuze sub-sect of Nichirenism was proscribed by the Tokugawa Shōguns at the same time as Christianity. All manner of disreputable characters joined the ranks of the Buddhist clergy to escape from offended Justice (what little there was of her in those sad times); 2 wandering Ko-musō spread the doctrines of the
[paragraph continues] Hokekyō, whilst they brought religion into disrepute; and one of the favourite themes for dramatic performances was skits on the gross immoralities of the Buddhist clergy. 1
A few bright names, to be sure, adorned the period. Such was, for instance, that of Rennyo Shōnin (1415–1499), the poet, preacher, and religious writer, eighth Patriarch of the Shinshu, who was driven from the capital by the Hieizan monks, jealously incensed at the influence which he had gained by his sanctity. Shortly afterwards, he was able to return to Kyōto as Patriarch of his sect, but again, and in spite of Imperial protection, the Hieizan monks attacked him, burned the Hongwanji, and drove him into exile. He now went into the provinces of Echizen, Kaga, and Noto, preaching, building temples, and exhorting to a better life, with such vigour and success that his own Shinshu clergy rebelled and set fire to the monastery in which he was living. In spite of all his efforts, a civil war amongst his own people ensued. It is known as Ikkōtō no ran, "the civil war in the Ikkō sect," and filled all the earlier years of the sixteenth century, until Nobunaga arose to put it down with a strong hand. It is from Renuyo Shonin's time, and from the schism which these family squabbles engendered, that we get the division of the disciples of Shinran into the two Hongwanji of the East and of the West, which still remains.
When Catholic Christianity reached Japan, Buddhism was morally and spiritually bankrupt. 2 With few exceptions,
all the elements that worked for good came from the purer forms of Confucianism, which were gaining ground everywhere, and from the improved moral discipline which some of the better daimyōs were introducing amongst their followers. In the popular imagination, Buddhism was associated with magnificent services in magnificently decorated temples, performed by men who were extremely punctilious on points of ecclesiastical order, but who enjoyed a bad reputation for worldliness, hypocrisy, and avarice. The fighting man, who monopolized education outside of the clerical ranks, had seen enough of these things. He had no desire to make even the acquaintance of any other system which might seem to reproduce the blemishes which he so vigorously blamed and so heartily despised. He was much strengthened in his opinions by the philosophy of Shushi, the Confucianist reformer of the Middle Ages, whose teachings had recently been introduced into Japan, where they had met with a very hearty welcome amongst thoughtful people. The Zen priests, especially, had been much drawn towards these views, which very largely coincided with their own.
342:1 The pre-Tokugawa Shōguns may be distributed as follows: (1) Three of the Minamoto family—Yoritimo (1192), Yoriie (1202), Sanetomo (1203); then (2) two Fujiwaras—Yoritsune (1226), Yoritsugu (1244); then (3) seven Shōguns of the Imperial Blood—Munetaka (1252), Koreyasu (1266), Hisa-akira (1289), Morikuni (1308), Morinaga (1333), Narinaga (1334), and Moriyoshi (1338). These all resided at Kamakura, with Regents of the Hōjō family to look after them. Then came (4) fifteen Ashikaga Shōguns (1338–1573), residing at Kyōto. They were for the most part quite as insignificant as their Kamakura predecessors.
343:1 The Sacred Treasures are the Sword, the Mirror, and the Magatame, the possession of which constitutes in Japan the right to the Imperial Crown. Even to-day the Japanese are extremely touchy on the subject of the Rival Dynasties and the consequent displacements in the line of Imperial Succession.
346:1 A tale which redounds to their honour is told of this sect. They were engaged in a controversy on some theological point with the p. 347 Nichirenists, and both sides appealed to Nobunaga, who appointed a day to hear their disputations. The night before the disputation he sent for the Jōdoist leaders. "If the decision should be given in your favour, what punishment do you think should be given to your adversaries?" "None at all," they replied; "we only want to have a clear statement of the Truth" Nobunaga then turned to the Nichirenists. "We," they said, not knowing what the Jōdoists had answered, "should demand the death of our obstinate opponents." The verdict was given in favour of the Jōdoists; the full penalty was exacted from the defeated Nichirenists.
347:1 An indication of the miseries of the time maybe found in the list of Nengō or year periods. It was always customary that these periods must be changed whenever any great calamity occurred. During the whole of the Muromachi period they were changed on an average every three years.
347:2 The miseries of this time have been set forth far more forcibly than I can do it in the Introduction to Murdoch and Yamagata's "History of Japan," which I strongly recommend to the student. It was published at Kobe in 1903.
348:1 See K. Florenz, "Geschichte der Japanischen Literatur," and my notes on the Japanese Drama in Transactions of Ass. Society of Japan, vol. xxxv. pt. 2.
348:2 Yet in spite of what I have said here, with justifiable reason, it must be remembered that there have always been in the ranks of the Buddhist clergy a certain number of devout and pious men whose lives and precepts have served to keep religion alive and in p. 349 popular estimation. But these have mostly been the incumbents of rustic temples whose lives have been spent far from the pressure of contemporary life.