The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
The Crown Prince Shōtoku Taishi
The Emperor Kimmei, who had received from Korea the gifts of Buddhist images and sacred vessels which had caused so much disturbance among his subjects, died in A.D. 570. His reign had not been a very happy or glorious one. In addition to the domestic confusions arising from the introduction of the new religion, there had been disappointments in the foreign policy of the country. His ally, King Seimei of Kudara, had been defeated by the troops of Shiragi and taken prisoner (about 557), a Japanese army in Korea had been defeated by the Shiragi armies in 562, and the province of Mimāna had been entirely lost to Japan. When Kimmei lay a-dying in 570, he charged his successor, Bidatsu, not to rest until Mimāna had been recovered.
It was not Bidatsu's good fortune to recover the lost province, and when he died, in A.D. 585, he laid on his successor, Yōmei, the same solemn injunction that his predecessor had laid upon him. But the year following his accession, the wife of his brother Yōmei bore a son who was destined to restore the fallen prestige of the country. The child thus born was at the first called Umayado, "the Stable Prince," a name which has been explained by the story (surely a fiction) that his mother, while going the rounds of her house and grounds, was suddenly seized by labour pains, and gave birth to her son in the stable.
[paragraph continues] He had another name, Toyoto-mimi, which may convey some reference to his personal appearance; but at any rate personal defects had no effect on his intellectual powers, and he was early distinguished both for wisdom and for virtue.
His early youth was a troublous one. Bidatsu continued to receive presents (and appeals for help) from the King of Kudara, hard pressed by Shiragi and scarcely able to hold his own. Without becoming a convert, the Emperor did all in his power to help the new religion, and, to give but one instance, instituted the practice of releasing animals on the eighth, fourteenth, fifteenth, twenty-third, twenty-ninth, and thirtieth of every month—an institution not unlike the primitive uposatha, or the Christian and Jewish sabbath. No civic disturbances marked his reign; but once, when a pestilence broke out shortly after the erection of a pagoda, built to contain a Buddhist relic that had, it was claimed, been found in some rice, there must have been many doubtful heads shaken over the untoward event. But the Buddhists were not to be moved. They met the pestilence with the weapon of prayer, and when the Emperor himself miraculously recovered from an attack of the plague, they felt that they had triumphed.
In 586, Prince Umayado's father, Yōmei, came to the throne, and the Prince became, in expectation at least, Heir-Apparent. Yōmei went further than any of his predecessors, for he was the first Imperial convert to Buddhism, and the first emperor to be baptized with the Buddhist ceremony of Kwanjo. His conversion possibly cost him his life, for he died in the following year, and his death was the occasion for the outbreak of a civil war, which ended with the Battle of Shigisen, in which the Prince Shōtoku and his staunch friend, Soga
no Umako, were victorious. It would seem that the Prince's Buddhism was of too pronounced a type for him to be a suitable occupant of the throne, which went to his uncle Sujun, a younger brother of Bidatsu and Yōmei. Sujun must have been the candidate favoured by the conservative Kami worshippers, or at least acceptable to them. He made preparations for an expedition against Shiragi, but he was apparently unable to preserve the loyalty of the advanced party of the Buddhists, for he was murdered in 592 by the ally of the Prince, Soga no Umako.
The Prince was again passed over—voluntarily, it would seem. Sujun's successor was his elder half-sister, Suiko, the widow of Bidatsu—for marriages between half-brothers and half-sisters were always allowed in ancient Japan. Suiko reigned from 593 to 628; for all but the last seven years, her nephew, now known as Shōtoku Taishi, acted as her deputy and vice-gerent, so that what was nominally the reign of the Empress Suiko was in reality the reign of the Crown Prince Shōtoku.
Shōtoku's life-work falls under three heads. We must judge him by his foreign policy, his domestic administration, and his religious achievements.
His foreign policy was eminently successful. His uncles had dreamed of conquering Shiragi, and an expedition was actually on the point of starting when the Emperor Sujun was murdered. Shōtoku tried a more conciliatory line of policy, and one more in accordance with the religious professions of a Buddhist. He sent embassies to Shiragi, in 597, and again in 600, with the result that tribute was sent to Japan, not only from Shiragi, but from Mimāna as well, showing thereby that, thanks to the Regent's wise policy, Shiragi had recognized the independence of the state of Mimāna protected by the
cont}Japanese. Shōtoku even went further in asserting the dignity of his country. He dared to claim for Japan an equal Imperial dignity with China, which Wen-ti of the Sui Dynasty had just united once more under one sceptre. Wen-ti had stretched his dominions from the frontiers of Koma in the east, to those of the Turki kingdoms in the west, and his successor, Yangti, who ruled from 606 to 618, had extended his power still further. Shōtoku's Korean policy brought him into collision with Yangti, who also had designs on the peninsula, and in 609 a letter came from the Chinese sovereign, which the Japanese Court received. Shōtoku answered it, but in a tone of equality, "The Eastern Emperor begs respectfully to speak to the Emperor of the West." The Chinese Court did not altogether appreciate the tone of the letter; but in 610 Koma sent presents to the Court of Japan, and Shiragi in 616. Bluff, or rather the proper assertion of dignity, is at times a very paying line of policy for a statesman to adopt.
Shōtoku's home administration is chiefly connected with an attempt made in 603 to arrange the official ranks of persons in Government service according to the model of the Chinese Court, 1 and the Constitution of the Seventeen Articles issued in the following year. The newly graded official ranks were named after the Confucianist virtues, as though to remind the holders of the paramount importance of virtue above all things else; in the Constitution we have traces of Confucianist influence, together with an outspoken advocacy of Buddhism, as being, in the writer's mind at least, the sole religion for a wise man to follow.
The seventeen Articles of the Constitution throw a very bright light on the conditions of the country which Shōtoku sought to amend. It was a period of disunion and discord, dating probably from days prior to the introduction of Buddhism, but also probably accentuated by the same. The results of this discord were visible in the loss of Mimāna and of almost all prestige in Korea, and in the backwardness of Japanese culture. Shōtoku appeals to the country on behalf of concord, in his first Article: in the second, he points his countrymen to what he feels to be the best and truest way of arriving at the same—the whole-hearted acceptance of Buddhism. We cannot but admire the boldness of his words, in view of the still constant opposition to foreign doctrines. Neither can we forget that, just about this time, an Emperor of China was coming to the conclusion that, whenever a ruler showed himself too partial towards the doctrines of Buddhism, he always brought ruin on his dynasty. 1 In Shōtoku's eyes, Buddhism wore a very different aspect.
In Article III., Shōtoku dwells on the dignity of the Emperor, who stands above his people, covering them with his protection, just as Heaven stands over and protects the earth beneath it. The Article was probably directed against the nobles, whose respect for the sovereign in those days of civil strife and confusion was not always as great as it should have been. The Article must, moreover, be read in reference to the murder of the Emperor Sujun by Shōtoku's ally, Soga no Umako. Had Shōtoku felt himself in any way to be blamed for his continued friendship for the man who had committed that deed, he would scarcely have ventured to speak as he did of the respect due to the Emperor. 2 It would seem as though
[paragraph continues] Sujun had been a usurper, possibly with the aid of the opponents of Buddhism; that Soga no Umako, as the supporter of Shōtoku's claims, had opened the way for the Prince to succeed, and that the Prince, declining to come to the throne in this way, had secured the nomination of his aunt. He was conscious of his own rights as the son of Yōmei, yet he stood back in order that he might be in a position to speak with greater emphasis of the duty that the subject owes to his sovereign. It is evident from the Article that Shōtoku did not share the subsequently formulated and now officially accepted doctrine as to the origin of the Imperial House.
The following Articles deal with the duties of ministers and functionaries. If subjects have certain duties towards their rulers, rulers and magistrates have certain responsibilities towards those beneath them, which must be discharged with decorum and the observance of due proportion. Such observance cannot fail to have a good influence on the country at large (Art. iv.). But if, on the other hand (Art. v.), the magistracy allows itself to be bribed with gifts, if the judge is remiss in the administration of justice, if he gives his decisions to suit his own interests, or without clearness, the poor will no longer know whom to look to for support, and the country will lose its prosperity. Lying and flattery (Art. vi.) have been evils in every country and age; Shōtoku's age was certainly not free from them. It was exposed to another peril, that of hereditary office (Arts. vii. and viii.). Men were promoted to dignities and high charges, not for any special capacities that they had shown in inferior positions, but because these offices were considered to be the perquisites of certain families. And the hereditary office had but too often been treated as a
sinecure. The result of all this (Art. ix.) was the loss of public confidence.
In Arts. x.–xiv., the evils arising from the want of a feeling of responsibility, on the part of these hereditary holders of offices treated almost as sinecures, are laid out more in detail. The magistrate would allow himself to lose his temper on the bench, and bully the accused or the witnesses. He should remember that it was always possible that he himself might not always be the perfection of wisdom; that it was also possible that the prisoner in the dock, and the witness under cross-examination, were reasonable men (Art. x.). He should listen, therefore, to the opinions of others, should give his decisions with sobriety and fear, and be very careful to administer praise and blame in strict accordance with the results of a severe and impartial investigation (Art. xi.). He should be careful to levy no arbitrary taxes, on his own authority, in the district over which he was called to rule, so as not to provoke the people to resistance (Art. vii.). He should know the working of every detail of his own office, and the regularity or slackness of the members of his staff. If something had gone wrong, because a subordinate was absent from his post, the chief of the bureau must not excuse himself by saying that he did not know the man was absent. It was his duty to know it, and to provide for the public service being properly attended to (Art. xiii.). Mutual jealousies have often brought ruin upon a State. Saints and sages appear but rarely in the world; jealousy and envy are the main obstacles which hinder their more frequent development. And what would become of the government of a country without sages or saints? (Art. xv.). A sage or a saint, he continues, showing the identity of both Confucianist and Buddhist teachings in this respect, is one who sacrifices his own
will, and devotes himself to the service of others. This principle produces self-sacrifice in the governors, obedience in the people, and makes for peace and harmony (Art. xv.). It shows itself in the way in which orders are given.
For instance, Government has the right to demand a certain amount of forced labour from the people. But times and seasons must be observed. If the governor makes the people work for the State during the summer months, the farmer will suffer, and distress will ensue. If the governor exercises patience and self-control, and waits till winter comes there will be no friction (Art. xvi.). "Never act," he concludes, "on your own private initiative or authority; and never take any step of importance without consultation. In a doubtful case, consult the more" (Art. xvii.). 1
Such were the principal defects which Shōtoku found in the administration of the country after he had had his hand at the helm of State for several years. For these evils he had two great remedies. The one was the reform of the judiciary and magistracy according to Chinese 2
models; the other was the inculcation and propagation of Buddhism, as the best religion he knew, and as eminently fitted, in his judgment, to supply to his countrymen that firm ethical basis which the Shintoism of the time lacked, plus the religious enthusiasm which comes from a definite theological system. We will now pass on to the consideration of Shōtoku's religion.
Shōtoku has been much blamed by modern Shintoist writers as wanting in patriotism, because he laid no stress on the national gods of the land, and because, in the second article of his Constitution, he emphasized Buddhism as the sole religion worthy to be adopted by his subjects. It is true that the saying once currently attributed to him, that the religion of Japan was like a tripod standing on three legs, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the Shinto, cannot be sustained, because, as Dazai truly observes, Shinto did not exist, i.e. was not elevated into a system, until long after the Crown Prince's time. 1 But it is also true that there is no sign of his having forced his beliefs on the consciences of his people against their wills. He confined himself to preaching the faith which he had adopted with all his heart and soul; for other forms of faith and religion, he had no thoughts left.
He had no reason to love the Kami-worshippers. The adherents of that system were not only conservatives in religion, but probably obstructionists in the path of popular progress, and were opposed not only to Buddhism, but to Confucianism as well. His whole early life had been embittered by the antagonism of a Conservative party, which was not even loyal to the throne; it can hardly cause wonder if, on his accession to power, he did
not go out of his way to recommend a system which had always stood in the way of the reforms and the progress he was so anxious to inaugurate. Besides, the Shinto of his day needed no commendation from him. It was already well established in the hearts of the people. It had not yet been systematized—that came later, as a result of the opposition to Buddhism—neither had the amalgamation between the two religions yet been carried out. But we can well imagine that Shōtoku saw no reason why it should not be quietly absorbed by the all-embracing Buddhism which he preached. There was no need for mentioning the subject. He would preach Buddha, and trust to coming events for the result.
Shōtoku, like As’oka, whom he very much resembled in character, was a preacher. The fact facilitates the task of the historian, for we fortunately know the texts from which he preached to the ladies and gentlemen of his aunt's court. In the year 606, two years after the promulgation of his Constitution, he lectured in his palace at Naniwa on three books, the "Saddharmapundarika Sūtra," the "Vimāla-Kīrtti-nirdesa-sūtra," and the "S’rimāladenī-simhananda-sūtra." 1 In the same year he decreed the observance of S’akyamuni's birthday. We may sum up the three Sūtras by saying that the first furnished Shōtoku with a manual of theology; the second, with texts on the duties of the devout layman; the third, with homilies on the duties of faithful women. On these three Sūtras he preached and also composed commentaries.
The Hokekyō is an extremely well-known Sūtra. It is one of a comparatively late date, for, when the five subdivisions of the Mahāyāna Sūtras were made, it was not in existence, and Dr. Nanjo gives it to us under a
separate heading as one of the Sūtras of the Mahāyāna not included under any of the previous five classes. It is post-Christian in its structure, and betrays acquaintance with the New Testament scriptures, an acquaintance which it may have derived through Manichæism. 1 It represents S’akyamuni, but not as he was in the guise of his historical life, preaching a simple life to simple persons, and bringing to the searcher after Truth in India the gospel of a relief from the fetters of caste and the possibility of attaining to a Nirvana of rest and freedom, without penances or austerities, by a simple placing of trust in Himself and a following along the noble Eightfold Path of Right Actions, Right Views, Right Aspirations. It represents Him as the Eternal Buddha, without beginning and without end, manifested in India as Gotama, but manifested often both before and since. It represents him spiritually present with his people, giving them His spiritual Body for their worship, with four great Ministers before Him, and surrounded with a glorious company which no man can number, of perfected saints who rise to greet Him out of the clefts of the earth. And, if we may judge from the fact that all the images which came to Japan in those early days were images of Amida, with or without his great son and representative Kwannon (Avalokites’vara) and his other minister Seishi (Mah’āsthāmaprāpta), we shall infer that Shōtoku identified the glorified S’akyamuni of the Hokekyo, the counterpart, to use no stronger expression, of our Christ, with the Great Buddha, Amitābha, as do the Shinshuists to-day. 2
The other two Sūtras are not so well known, neither
has the Commentary by Shōtoku ever been made accessible to Western scholars. All I know of the "Shomangyō," the Sūtra treating of the duties of women, is that it is classed by Nanjo among the Avatamsaka Scriptures which formed the Canon used by the Yogāchārya sect, the Japanese Hossō. It is therefore a writing of a comparatively late date.' 1 Of the "Yuimakyo," which deals with the duties of the Buddhist layman, there is fortunately an English translation, published in 1897 in the columns of a now defunct periodical, the Hansei Zasshi. It is too lengthy to be reproduced here, but it is very practical, and contains a very full summary of the religious life as viewed by the Mahāyānist. A man who should fashion his life according to its precepts would come very near to being a holy man. He might, however, be a prig.
Shōtoku was also a man who believed in the power and efficacy of prayer. When his friend the Ōmi, Soga no Umako, lay ill, he instituted formal intercessions for his recovery, and a thousand persons took temporary vows to lead a monastic life until the sick man should recover. Shōtoku's limitations were due to his exalted position. Had he been born a prince of a long- dethroned house, like Christ, with no thoughts before him of temporal power, or had he been able to make the renunciation of earthly position, which is such a touching and prominent feature in the life of S’akyamuni, he would have accomplished even more than he did. It was his misfortune that, like As’oka, he had to combine the offices of priest and prince in his own person. When a ruling prince takes to preaching, there is always a danger lest the
doctrine, becoming superficially popular, should become perverted. It was so in As’oka's case; it was so in Shōtoku's. Three years after his death stringent measures had to be taken to enforce discipline amongst an immoral clergy, and the Nara age, to which we are now coming, was a very corrupt and superstitious one. There is no healthy religion of any kind that does not involve the bearing of a cross of some sort or other.
It is a true instinct that has led the Shinshu or "True Sect" believers in Japan to place Shōtoku on a pedestal of honour as the firstfruits of Amidaism in Japan. For undoubtedly he was inspired by the idea of that great Being, the counterpart of our Western Christ, who humbled himself that he might save man, who was exalted when he had accomplished that salvation, and from whom so much of comfort and strength has flowed out to suffering humanity in Japan and the Far East. 1 A further study of Comparative Chronology, one of the most important branches of the study of religion, will show us that Shōtoku was the contemporary of that religious movement which took place in the capital of the Chinese Tangs, when the victories of Mahometanism brought Christian and Zoroastrian exiles to the court of Singanfu, to rub shoulders together in the sympathy that came to them from the participation in a common misfortune.
181:1 The grades are as follows: Daitoku, Shōtoku, Daijin, Shōjin, Tairei, Shōrei, Daishin, Shōshin, Daigi, Shōgi, Daichi, Shōchi. Toku, Jin, Rei, Shin, Gi, Chi (virtue, benevolence, propriety, sincerity, justice, wisdom) are the basal Confucianist virtues.
182:1 Taitsung of the Tang Dynasty, A.D. 627.
182:2 Aston's "Nihongi," vol. i. p. 129, etc.
185:1 This passage may possibly have inspired one of the recent poems of her Majesty the Empress—
"Should we fear
To slip or err, we take good care ourselves,
And e’en the smallest deed, do heedfully."
185:2 P. Balet ("Mélanges Japonais," vol. iii. p. 287) points out that when Shōtoku, in 607, sent students to China (Sui Dynasty, 590–619) to study actual conditions, he chose only the descendants of Chinese families naturalized in Japan. All bear the designation Ayabito, which denotes a Chinaman naturalized in Japan.
186:1 See Mr. Consul-General J. C. Hall, "A Japanese Philosopher on Shinto," in Transactions of the Third International Congress for the Study of the History of Religions (Oxford, 1908).
187:1 In Japanese, "Hokekyō," "Yuima-kyō," "Shomangyō." In Nanjo's Catalogue, Nos. 134, 144, and 23 (48).
188:1 See my "Wheat among the Tares."
188:2 The oldest Image in Japan, the one sent by the King of Kudara in 552, is said to be at the Zenkōji, in Nagano. It represents Amida, Kwannon, and Seishi. See my "Wheat among the Tares," passim, and Dr. Tada Kanae's "Shoshinge Kâwa" (in Japanese).
189:1 It would be almost impossible for any single-handed historian of the Mahāyāna to translate all the Chinese texts he is obliged to mention. It requires time, money, and many sets of brains and hands to lay bare all that is contained in the vast Mahāyāna Canon.
190:1 And yet Shōtoku preceded Zendō and the great development of Amidaism which originated with him. See next chapter.