Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
It is my intention in these lectures to sketch, for my own benefit, as well as for that of my Readers, the history and doctrine of the Shinshū or "True Sect" of Japanese Buddhism, such as it is to be seen today in many parts of the Empire of Japan. The Shinshū is one of the Amida or Jōdo Sects, so called either from its chief, we may say, only Deity, the Original and Unoriginated Buddha, Amitābha or Amitāyus, Lord of Boundless Life and Light, whom the Japanese know as Amida Nyorai, or Mida; or else from Jōdo or Paradise, the safe Heaven of freedom from sin and evil, which Amida promises to all who, with full trust and confidence, draw near and invoke His Name, which, carved on a tablet and placed in a holy place, is the quasi-Sacramental Exposition and Pledge of His Immeasurable Compassion and Mercy.
There are in Japan four sects of Buddhism which profess a belief in Amida and practise the Nembutsu. * Two of these—the Yūdzūnembutsu and Ji,
[paragraph continues] —are insignificant in influence and numbers. The other two—the Jōdo and the Shinshū are weighty and numerous, comprising between them more than one half of the Buddhist believers in this country. The Shinshū is the youngest, and by far the most popular of them all, and carries out to its logical conclusions the principle of Salvation by Faith in the Vow of Amida, the One Buddha, which lies at the root of the doctrinal system of all four sects. It is a purely Japanese sect—so, as a matter of fact, are all the Jōdo sects;—for it is only in Japan that it has been found possible to establish religious sects on the sole principle of Faith in Amida looked upon as the One and Only Buddha. Yet it has its roots in the past, and the Shinshuist proudly points to the fact that the Amida doctrines have come down to him from the great Indian Mahāyānist doctors, Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu, through China, to the earliest days of Buddhism in Japan, and that what Shinran elaborated was only the logical development of that which previous Japanese doctors, Shōtoku, Kūya, Genshin and Hōnen, had established.
Nay, he will trace his spiritual pedigree still further, and claim that his doctrines come to him straight from the Buddha S’akyamuni himself, and will defend, as genuine records of S’akyamuni's teachings, the three Sūtras * in which, towards the end of his career, the great Indian Teacher, brought his mission to a conclusion, by pointing his hearers to the Mercies of the Great Buddha of Boundless Life and Light. He had taught them, says the
[paragraph continues] Shinshuist, for many long years the doctrines of the Holy Path * ("this is the way: walk ye in it"). But the Holy Path is a road along which it needs strength and courage to walk, and the majority of mankind are feeble. For the weary, the heavy-laden, the sinner, the great S’akyamuni at last opened the Gate of Faith in the Mercies of Amida, and thus made his system all-embracing and universal, by welcoming to his fold the ignorant and sinful, as well as the wise and holy.
The numerous points of resemblance between Christianity and Shinshu will not fail to strike the readers of these pages. These resemblances may be accounted for in many ways.
(i) The "Three Books," may be the genuine records of S’akyamuni's Teaching. In that case they will .fall at the end of S’akyamuni's life, between B.C. 490 and 480, after the fall of Babylon and when Persia was already at grips with Greece. It is impossible to deny that, by that time, the teachings of Jewish prophets may already have found an echo in Indian teaching halls and vihāras. †
Or (ii) the "Three Books" may not have been composed until somewhere near the time when we get the first literary mention of them, i.e. about the middle of the second century A.D. In that case, it would seem impossible to deny the possibility of Christian (and esp. Gnostic) influences in their production. *
Or again (iii), if we consider that the Amida Sects, as distinct bodies, do not make their appearance on the scene until after Nestorians and Buddhists had been working together side by side for a few centuries in China,—that great school-house of Japanese religion,—we may again suppose that there has been an influencing of Buddhist thought by Christian ideas. In the course of these Lectures we shall frequently have occasion to consider the wonderful coincidences which exist between Christian theology and what we may call the theology of the Shinshu. The Japanese theologians discuss a very large number of
problems, such as the relations between Faith and Works, Conversion, the New Birth, Abstinence from meats, and from marriage, etc. which are almost identical with those which agitated the Christian Communion during the Apostolic age and afterwards,—strange to say, in almost every case do we find the Shinshu doctors taking the same side as St. Paul in their treatment of these questions.
There is a great deal to be said in favour of any or all of these hypotheses, but this is not the place in which to say it. There is another and more generous way of looking at the problem. It is equally possible, we may say, that there has been no historical connection whatever between Christianity and the Mahāyāna. It is quite possible that neither faith has borrowed from the other, but that God, Who fulfils Himself in countless ways, has brought Shinshuists and Christians, along totally different roads, to the common acknowledgement of the fact that there is One and Only One Lord and Saviour of Mankind, and that He willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the Truth, by faith in what He has done, and not. through any works or merits of their own. * Viewed superficially, the Saviours are respectively God-in-Christ and Amida Nyorai—poles apart from each another. Go below the surface, and there is much reason for concluding that the two conceptions are identical, and that, without being conscious of it,
our worship, under different forms and names, is all the while being directed towards the same object. Throughout this book I purpose consistently to take this line of argument, viz. that when the Shinshuist recites his Nembutsu, he is (however unconsciously) addressing the same Divine Person whom the Christian worships, on his knees in the closet or before the Altar, and I believe that the witness to Himself which God has thus given to the Japanese is one which the Christian missionary would be ill advised to set aside or neglect.
The adoption of this line of argument will save me from a great deal of antiquarian research and historical disquisition,—discussions which are after all of but little value for the practical issues of life. These matters will mostly appear only in footnotes and appendices, as matters of secondary importance, and I shall be able to expose, in considerable detail, and with constant reference to Christianity, the actual teachings of the Shinshu itself, what answer they give to the spiritual needs and cravings of mankind, how and in what way they help men to be better, where they conflict with Christianity, and where they have fresh light to throw on points which we Christians have held, perhaps, mechanically, without a due appreciation of their full significance.
In order to give definiteness and order to my book, I am basing it on a Japanese work which has but recently appeared—a Catechism of Shinshu Doctrine, *—which I shall follow faithfully from
chapter to chapter, and from section to section. I shall not give a romanized Japanese text, nor even necessarily a literal translation. My missionary readers (to whom alone such an original would be important) ought to be able to read the Japanese text for themselves in the popular style in which Mr. Nishimoto's book is written. Facilities for checking my statement will be easily obtained by comparing them with the Japanese from which I take them.
I hope none of my Christian readers will suspect me of advocating any form of Christian doctrine at variance with that sound Nicene Faith which the Catholic Church formulated for herself at the end of that long struggle which was, in fact, if not in name, a struggle against the Orientalism of invaders from Asia. I hope also that no Buddhist (if any Buddhist condescends to read me) will think that I want to score a cheap victory, and to degrade his Amida, by identifying him, however tentatively, with God as revealed in Christ. It is with no controversial aim that I take up my pen. Rather, I feel that the quarrel between Eastern Buddhism and Western Christianity is one to be best solved by the path of meditation and prayer. For, if, through the exercise of Faith, we could, even for a few weeks only, realize that the Lord whom we variously worship is One and the Same, the Source of Life and Light, and if, with that Faith, we could come just as we are, Christians and Buddhists, and ask for Light, are we to doubt Christ, or are we to doubt Amida, by supposing that Light would be withheld from his children by One whom Christians and
[paragraph continues] Buddhists alike delight in calling a Loving Father?
My Lectures will therefore be a first step in a new and perhaps dangerous missionary experiment—the homoeopathic treatment of Shinshu Theology. I am fully aware of the dangers that attend my experiment,—what beleaguered city was ever yet taken without danger to the besiegers? Still, I venture to ask for a sympathetic hearing till I have said my say. I ask for no endorsement, though I trust the reasonableness of my propositions will commend them in time to the thoughtful reader's Christian or Buddhist conscience. In the old days of Japan, when a samurai was about to undertake some doubtful enterprise which his clan could not be expected readily to endorse, he would cut himself off from his kinsmen, and become a rōnin. Then, if he failed, he failed, and the clan took no harm: if he succeeded, he returned in triumph to his feudal lord, bringing with him the fruits of his victory. It is quite good to be a rōnin for Christ's sake. If I fail, I fail, and the faithful will disown me, though I myself shall hope to be saved "so as by fire." If I succeed, my work will bear its fruit, and the result will be ad majorem Dei gloriam.
Tokyo, Oct. 1909.
1:* A Japanese contraction for Namu Amida Butsu "Glory to the Buddha Amitābha."
2:* Muryōjukyō, Kwammuryōjukyō, Amida Kyō.
3:* Jap. shōdō.
3:† If the Ahasuerus of the Book of Daniel is Identical with Cyaxares II of Xenophon's Cyropædia (and Xenophon is sometimes a safer guide than Herodotus), it will be seen that there must have been a very close connection between the Medo-Persian Kingdom and N. W. and Central India. See article by Bosanquet on "The Chronology of the Medes" in the Journal of the "R. As. Soc." for 1858. If the Amida teachings are the genuine teachings of S’akyamuni himself, we must not only say, with the Shinshuist, that he did not promulgate them until towards the end of ministry, but we must go further and say that it cannot have been until the end of his ministry that he himself learned of the mercies of Amitābha. For it is p. 4 inconceivable that a Teacher, with a large and compassionate heart, like S’akyamuni, should have been content to teach to suffering humanity the long and painful road of salvation by works and merits, and to have withheld from them the short and easy Path of Salvation by Faith. I conclude therefore that if this doctrine came to the Buddhist world from the lips of S’akyamuni himself, it was a doctrine which he only learned long after his Enlightenment under the Bō Tree, and which he preached as soon as he knew it. It was a "better way," and between B.C. 500 and 480, there must have been many opportunities, even in India, of learning of Him whose worship was at that juncture rising from a national cult to the world wide faith of an Isaiah or an Ezekiel.
4:* I have touched on the connections with Gnosticism elsewhere,—in my Wheat Among the Tares, and in my lectures on the Japanese Mahāyāna, (not yet published).
5:* Early India seems to have had a monotheistic faith of its own, opposed by the warrior caste (to which S’akyamuni belonged) against the prevailing Pantheism of the Brahmans. (Girerson, in Asiatic Quarterly Review July 1909).
6:* Shinshu Hyakuwa by Nishimoto, published by Moriya, Tokyo.