Japan and its horde of eighty million people confined to a space not larger than the state of California, is in no sense of the word a Christian nation. The number of nominal Christians, prior to the present war, was approximately half a million, which is only a fraction of the total population. If it is borne in mind that this small fraction includes Catholics, modernists, etc., it -is quite evident that the actual number of true Christians is indeed small in comparison to the millions of people that inhabit the islands of Japan.
Man who was made in the image of God is not, and cannot be without religion. Forsaking God he will hew himself out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Thus Jeremiah testifies inof Israel that turned from God to the idols of the other nations, and it is true of every man that lives on the earth that forsakes God.
As we stated in a previous article on the religions situation in Japan, the native belief of Japan is Shinto. Shinto is simply a collective term to denote the religious concepts and practices native to Japan. It consists in brief of the deification, either with or without personification, of all natural objects, forces and phenomena, animate and inanimate, living or dead. The worship of the sun and of the Emperor are only phases of it.
But Shinto is not the dominating religion of Japan today, nor has it been for many centuries. Buddhism, an imported religion, claims the allegiance of the great masses today and has done so for many years gone by. Japan is a stronghold of Buddhism. This does not mean that Shinto has disappeared. Not at all, Shinto still has its adherents, even among the thousands that profess Buddhism. As a matter of fact Buddhism has accommodated itself so much to Shinto that the Shinto gods have been turned into Buddhist saints, and Shinto virtues into Buddhist virtues. Being also itself the lie, it naturally could accommodate itself and absorb the lie of Shinto. For the rest it exists peaceably side by side with Shinto.
Shinto is an imported religion. It came to Japan about the fifth century after Christ, that is about the time that Christianity first came to England. It came from the Asiatic mainland through China and Korea. The Emperor for political reasons, it seems, allowed the Chinese and Korean Buddhist monks and priests admission to Japan to propagate the new “faith” (“error” it really was, of course). As a matter of fact the Emperor whom Japan hails as a god even appointed a minister of the new religion, whose duty was to father the new ideas and propagate them. The Emperor undoubtedly sought contact with the mainland in the interest of trade and political influence. However that be, the priests of Buddhism energetically propagated their ideas, accommodated themselves to Shinto, brought a new culture and in the course of a few centuries established elaborate monasteries, temples and built huge Buddhist idols. The monasteries became strongholds for power upon which later Emperors relied for protection. Gradually the millions of Japan became Buddhists rather than Shintoists.
What Is Buddhism?
Just what is Buddhism? Of course, fundamentally it is the lie as much as Shinto is. However, in contrast to Shinto, Buddhism is very definitely a philosophy rather than a religion. It compares in more than one sense with what is known in our nation today as Christian Science, which is neither Christian nor Science. Christian Science teaches the non-reality of evil; if only you can make yourself believe evil does not exist, you have overcome it. Surely, it is true, if you can reason yourself into believing that you have no trouble and pain, you’ve overcome it. But it is folly nonetheless, for it is deceit pure and simple. Buddhism also, especially in its beginnings, is exactly such a deceit as Christian Science. It is the philosophy of self-annihilation and nihilism, and roots in utter passivity and pessimism.
Buddhism did not originate in Japan, nor even in China. It began in India, where today it has largely been supplanted by still another lie—that of Mohammedanism. About a thousand years before Buddhism came to Japan, in the 6th century B. C. to be exact, there lived an Indian prince, Siddharta by name (also known as Shaka, Gautama, and usually as Buddha). While Isaiah as the prophet of the Lord prophesied of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow after, the darkness of Brahmanism had reached a pitch of ritualism such as the world had never seen. That brought a great reaction. Prince Siddharta revolted against this ritualism, and became the founder of Buddhism, which historically is only an off-shoot of Brahmanism, He rejected the writings of Brahmanism and the entire system of caste, and talked of the Great Renunciation. Buddhism centralizes in Renunciation. Buddha himself one night arose from his bed and left his wife and child, renounced his kingdom, rode into the forest to become an ascetic and never returned. This disrespect to the duties and obligations of daily life is characteristic of all Buddhism. In course of time he set forth the doctrine of “the impermanence of all individual existence, the universality of suffering inherent in individuality, the non-reality of the ego-principle”.1 This was gradually expanded into the so-called Four Noble Truths, which are briefly:
“The key-note of Buddhism is the transitory-ness and vanity of life, which is conditioned by Karma, the fruit of deeds done in countless previous lives; nor can existence be ended before the expiration of many reincarnations devoted to works of holiness and spent in unceasing efforts to gain Nirvana. . . . Nirvana seems to imply the annihilation of the soul. … It is noteworthy, furthermore, that the word Nirvana etymologically denotes “a blowing out,” the extinguishing of the fires of hatred, infatuation, and all passions. Nirvana seems to have been twofold, a secondary condition which may be reached by the righteous in this life, and the blessed state of freedom from rebirth.”2
Buddhism That Came To Japan.
But it was not this original Buddhistic philosophy, pure and simple, that came to Japan. In the course of the years Buddhism had been modified, for Buddhism was a thousand years old when it came to Japan. Buddha himself had not believed in gods at all, he had not been interested in after life. In his philosophy there were no gods, no soul, no sacrifice, no prayer, no help—by mediation and concentration man must attain self-annihilation. Through the passing of the centuries this original philosophy was modified. Buddha himself became a god. The Buddhist built large and ornate temples with elaborate ritual, immense idols that sat with folded hands staring into nothingness as .symbols of the state of perfect calm that Buddhism has as its goal. For Buddhism life is sorrow, only sorrow, and man must attain to perfect calm and utter self-resignation.
Buddhism as it exists today, while still true to its original passivity, has many variations. There are hundreds of sects in Japan, existing side by side, be it peaceably. In the main there are two distinct schools of Buddhism. The first is called Hinayana; the second, Mahayana. The former, Hinayana, is the more like original Buddhism. It holds forth as the only way to escape life (which is suffering) by one’s own efforts, by progress in the steps that lead to Nirvana. It is called the “self-help” school. There is no room for help from the outside—one’s own efforts alone can lead to the goal of perfect calm. The latter, Mahayana, is known as the “other-help” school. This group, which counts by far the larger number of adherents, teaches that there was once a Buddha saint, Amida by name, who attained Nirvana for others. As a result, without any effort, simply by faith in him, the average man may have this Nirvana. This group, strange as it may seem, speaks of a blessed heaven after this life. It has departed far from the original, in every sense atheistic, Buddhism. This Mahayana is an adaptation of original Buddhism to the general average mind, to the desires latent in man, and with its Amida evidently even a wicked attempt to adapt itself to Christianity. However, though as far as its Amida is concerned, similar in a sense to Christianity, in no sense of the word identical as modernists have asserted.
The coming of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century brought a great change to Japan. For, first of all, it meant, through the Buddhist priests, contact with the Asiatic mainland and its civilization. Secondly, it brought learning and “culture” to Japan. The Buddhist priests introduced writing, and Japan has since then always used the Chinese character writing. Also art came to Japan via China and Korea through Buddhism. The Buddhists built large, ornate temples; immense Buddhist idols. Also painting as an art was introduced.
As the coming of Christianity brought with it a tremendous cultural change to the British isles in the West, the coming of Buddhism brought with it a similar change to the Japanese islands in the East.
Two remarks are in place in conclusion: 1. The first regards the so-called “cultural question.” In recent years the theory of “commongrace” has always urged that Christianity brings with it learning and art as a by-product, and that this is due to common-grace. The situation in Japan to our mind disproves this at once. Buddhism brought a similar cultural change into Japan. Or is this also somehow “common-grace”?
Of course not. Another solution must be sought. Renaissance and reformation in Europe differ in every respect; the former is not a common grace product of the latter. 2. Buddhism with its intellectualism is only another form of the lie. Man that departs from God must repeatedly make himself new idols and fashion them after his image. Buddhism is not as rudimentary as Shinto, but it is fundamentally the lie as much as Shinto. Japan still gropes in the darkness of heathendom. Will the light of the Gospel ever be disseminated there and make an impact upon the Japanese nation as it has done in the European nations? I do not know how to answer this question, but one thing is plain there are yet hordes of men both in Japan and in the other Asiatic nations that have never yet come into contact with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord. They are still nations that in every sense grope in darkness. Having forsaken God they wander about in sin, believing the lie.
1 H. Gowen, An Outline History of Japan, p. 79.
2 Schaaf-Herzog, Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II, p. 293.