The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
It shall be my pleasant task in this concluding chapter to recapitulate for my reader all that I have put before him in a long and rather prolix narration.
I would, first, call attention to the remarkable parallels between the history of Christianity and that of the Buddhist Mahāyāna.
Both faiths begin in that marvellous sixth century before Christ, which saw the beginnings of so much that has been for the benefit of mankind. Philosophy began for man in Greece, in India, and in China. S’akyamuni was founding a religion which, if not perfect, is at any rate one that commands our most reverent sympathy and affection, and the later exponents of Judaism, the exilic and post-exilic prophets and psalmists, the teachers of the law, and the great Fathers of the later Faith of Jerusalem, were distinctly raising the faith of Israel to a higher plane in preparation for a great event to come.
The great event came. It came at the right moment for East and West. It was like a stone flung into the midst of a large pool, that falls with a mighty splash and sets up ripples which go forth equally on all sides, and never rest till they break upon the distant margins. We have been accustomed to watch the ripples that have gone out West and North from the splash made in the world's religious history by the Advent of Christ. We
have seen those ripples bringing new life to Europe, revivifying philosophy and art, giving men nobler thoughts and aspirations, and laying the foundations of that religion of humanity which is bound up with the name of Christ.
I have tried in this book—tentatively and with the uncertain tread of a pioneer going through untrodden brushwood—to trace the ripples that flowed out eastward from the splash of the stone. Occasionally I have seemed to myself to see the traces of Christ distinct and clear, though few and far between, and not sufficient in number or quantity to allow of anything very elaborate in the way of deduction and inference. But during the whole of the first millennium of the Christian era, a period corresponding very nearly with the millennium of Image Law of which Buddhists speak, I find the same phenomena both East and West—a chaos of heresies, each claiming to be heard as the sole exponent of the Truth, and amidst them all one fact: the proclamation that there is one Being who has given Himself for man, that man through Him might have life. The proclamation in the West, in spite of heresies and in spite of the manifold superstitions of a dark age, is clear and distinct. In the East it is not so distinct; it is like a lotus-seed, sown deep down in the slime at the bottom of the pool. It is there, and it grows, but it takes some time to reach the surface.
With the end of the first millennium of Christendom comes the period which the Buddhist knows as Mappō, the "last days," the period of the "Destruction of the Law." As this period comes on, the Christian, forgetting the spirit he is of, grasps the sword, for the conquest of the Holy Land, for the extirpation of Albigenses and other heretics. So does the Buddhist. It is the age of the great barrack monasteries, and of the wars waged by the monks of Hieizan, Onjōji, Negoro, Hongwanji, for the defence of
their supposed rights and the injury of their neighbour. In the midst of this period, disciples of the inquisition-loving Nichiren, who was yet a seer, find themselves brought face to face with the disciples of the inquisition-loving St. Dominic, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries see in Japan the establishment of a permanent Inquisition. Yet the same period sees the loud proclamation, so comforting to the outcast and the sinner, of Salvation by Faith alone, through the mercies of One whose compassion has from the first been known, though under different names, to the Mahāyānist and to the Christian. St. Francis and Wiclif (they will forgive me for thus coupling their names) are the Christian counterparts of Hōnen and Shinran. The Schoolmen, too, whose labour it was to reconcile Aristotle and Christ, find their counterparts in the labours of the great Japanese scholars of the middle ages, who worked to reconcile S’akyamuni and Confucius.
The first Christian millennium did not pass away without its warning of impending change. The Moslem peril profoundly moved Christendom, the same peril threatened China under the Tang. In both parts of the world, the meaning of the warning was largely misread, as was, probably, the similar warning of the Mongols, at the commencement of the second millennium.
This second millennium, which is the Buddhist period of the Mappō, is not yet finished; but may we not say that we have had the warning of an impending change? A man of the eighteenth century, a man of science, a dreamer, and yet a seer, amused his contemporaries by proclaiming that the year 1757 had seen in "the heavenlies" a spiritual judgment which was to be the precursor of a new Age and of a new Church. He brought no proof for his assertion, except the testimony of one of his own visions, and his testimony was rejected all but unanimously. And yet the
year 1757 saw the declaration of the Seven Years’ War, which brought in its train the rise of Prussia, the unification of Germany, and all that Germany stands for in the civilization of the world. It saw the accession to power in England of the elder Pitt, and the commencement of those operations against France which led to the conquest of Canada and the ultimate securing of Anglo-Saxon supremacy on the Continent of North America. It witnessed the battle of Plassey, which secured the British supremacy in India, and for the first time in the world's history enabled Eastern thought and Western to meet each other and compare notes. If it had not been for Plassey there would have been no Oriental studies, and possibly but few Christian Missions in India. It saw, in France, those attacks on Christianity, led by Montesquieu, Rousseau, and the Encyclopædists, which led to the French Revolution. It found the Wesleys at the commencement of their labours. Surely it was a year full of pregnant significance.
The significance becomes deeper for us, whose hearts are in Japan, when we remember that it also found Kamo Mabuchi preparing to retire from his active duties in order to devote himself to those historical studies which ultimately led to the restoration of the Imperial House, and the entry of Japan into the world of civilized nations.
The mills of God grind slowly. There is no hurry or haste in the workings of Providence. A long time has passed since the Swedish seer made his announcement, but to-day it needs no prophetic gift to tell us that a new era is at hand, that the old is passing away, that a new day dawns.
One thing never passes away. Heaven and Earth may change, the whole political and social fabric of the world may perish, but God's Word will not do so. Whatever form the new world may take, it will have a religion, and that religion will be based on the Eternal Verities.
The Christian—I will claim nothing for myself but that—finds it to be his duty, his pleasure, and his pride, to commend those Eternal Verities, quietly, soberly, temperately, to the people amongst whom he lives. And he must do it sympathetically, for the most eloquent sermon, if devoid of sympathy, will necessarily fail to touch the heart of the people.
Buddhism is the religion of the great bulk of the Japanese people. The farmers are Buddhists, so are the shopkeepers, so are the rank and file of the people. The ladies of the upper classes are Buddhists, so are most of their husbands, if they will be honest with themselves. Buddhism does not go well with the frock-coat and top hat which are the joy of the Japanese gentleman, and so he affects to lay it aside as a thing past use; but there comes to one and all a time when frock-coat and top hat fail to protect the head and heart against the terrors of a change inevitable and universal, and then I find that the Japanese turns after all to the faith which he has spent his life in professing to neglect. One has but to learn the Japanese language, and study the literature of to-day's daily life, to understand what a hold Buddhism has on the thoughts and affections of the people.
Christianity, if it would win Japanese Buddhism for Christ (and surely that is an inspiring ambition), must take these things into consideration. Buddhism needs its special preachers—men of sympathy and patience; men who, while proud of being Christians, are yet willing for Christ's sake, to be followers of S’akyamuni in all things lawful and honest; men who can say to the Buddhist, "I will walk with you, and together we will go to Him to whom you say S’akyamuni Himself bore witness." It is for such readers, primarily, that I have ventured to write this outline of Mahāyāna History.
"Charity never faileth; but, whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge (γνῶσισ, bodhi), it shall vanish away."