Japanese Buddhism -- By: J. V. Atkinson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 049:194 (Apr 1892)
Article: Japanese Buddhism
Author: J. V. Atkinson


Japanese Buddhism

Rev. J. V. Atkinson

Japan has long been regarded as a remarkably vigorous stronghold of Buddhism. The many and costly temples, the numerous priests, and the great masses of devoted worshippers, have been considered as furnishing sufficient evidence of this. Christianity has been spoken of by some as essentially weak in comparison, and as having a task before it, in the conversion of the people, that may be truly spoken of as appallingly great and well-nigh hopeless. The writer has no intention of discussing the relative value and power of the two religions, in the present paper. His purpose is to give some account of Japanese Buddhism and of the teachings of some of the leading sects.

Mr. Takahashi Goro, a native scholar well versed in the Buddhism of his country, has somewhat recently written a book in Japanese on the various great religions of the world. He has devoted one section of that work to an exhibit and brief exposition of Japanese Buddhism. This article is a free translation of that section of Mr. Takahashi’s book. A few historical additions, and brief statements of the present condition of some of the sects, and of Buddhism in Japan as a whole, have been added by the translator, from his own knowledge and from other sources. A perusal of the article can hardly fail to give considerable satisfaction to American readers, to show the real and inherent weakness of Japanese Buddhism, and at the same time greatly to encourage all who are interested in the propagation of Christianity in Japan.

The reader will learn that Japanese Buddhism is not that compact and “appallingly formidable” body that it has often been supposed to be; but that it is, on the contrary, disrupted, divided, and subdivided into a large number of sects advocating principles, doctrines, ritual, and practices that are mutually antagonistic. For instance: the Zen sect is broken up into three, and one of these, the Rinzaiha, is again broken up into ten sects. The Nichiren sect is broken up into eight factions, while the Shin—or Protestant sect as it is sometimes called—has broken up into ten bodies. These conflicting sects may unite for a time, in order to face and fight a common foe; but they are so mutually at variance on so many vital points, that their union cannot endure. The experience recorded on the last pages of this article indicates this very clearly.

Buddhism was originated and first taught by Gotama Shakamuni of India. His father’s name was Jobon. His mother’s name was Maya. Buddhism spread east from India. It first reached Japan in the reign of the Emperor Kinmei Tenno, in the thirteenth year and tenth month of his reign —about 550 A. D. Buddhism was introduced into ...

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