Category Archives: History of Japanese Religion

The Union of Religious Ideals and National Life

The union of religious ideals and national life thus proclaimed, expounded, and carried out by the prince, became once for all the aim of the greatest Buddhists and the aspiration of the best statesmen in Japan. Through the broad vision and high idealism of his leadership, Buddhism was able to influence the Japanese extensively and profoundly; it was largely due to Buddhist inspiration that the wise prince was able to handle successfully the difficult situations of his government and to lead his people to a high level of culture and spiritual edification.

History of Japanese Religion

The Gospel of the Lotus

The “Lotus” is a gospel of universal salvation and its purpose is to interpret the life and personality of the historical Buddha Sākya-muni as a manifestation of eternal truth (Dharma) working ever to bring all beings without exception into the all-embracing way (Eka-yāna) of salvation and enlightenment. His power of saving all is likened to the rainwater which, being one and homogeneous in itself, nourishes all plants and herbs of diverse sorts according to their respective natures and capacities. Not only was Buddha himself an example of Buddhist perfection but he also guides and inspires everyone who is ready to follow him. His working is not limited to his lifetime. He is an eternal and omnipresent Lord of the Universe, and besides his own direct instruction and inspiration, he sends innumerable saints, Bodhisattva, for the salvation of all throughout the ages. Thus we can see why Prince Shōtoku selected this book as the central theme of his lectures. His life was an emulation of this work of Buddha, and considering himself to be a Bodhisattva, he derived inspiration from those passages where Buddha’s saints were depicted as working incessantly for perfecting themselves by saving others and inducing others to take the same way to perfection.

History of Japanese Religion

Communion with Buddha

The rulership of a single monarch implied the equality of all people, just as faith in the unique personality of Buddha as the saviour of all mankind presupposed the intrinsic value and destiny of every individual to be in communion with him.

History of Japanese Religion

The Influence of Buddhism

Buddhism is usually known in the Occident as a religion of ascetic practice and atheistic ideas. Whatever the Western critics may say, the influence Buddhism exerted everywhere lay in its practice of love and equality, which was an outcome of its fundamental teaching of the unity of all beings, and of its ideal of supreme enlightenment (Bodhi) to be attained by all. This Bodhi amounts to realizing, in the spirit and in life, the basic unity of existence, the spiritual communion pervading the whole universe. This was exemplified by the person of Buddha, not only in his teaching of all-oneness but in his life of all-embracing charity. Those united in the faith in Buddha and his teaching form a close community of spiritual fellowship, in which the truth of oneness is embodied and the life of charity is practised. In short, the principle of the Buddhist religion amounts to faith and life in the Three Treasures (Rama-traya), which means oneness of the Perfect Person (Buddha), the Truth (Dharma), and the Community (Sangha).

History of Japanese Religion

Japanese Morality

Scrupulous fidelity to tradition is everywhere a characteristic of tribal religion. Its morality is based upon the sanctity of the communal life amounting to the adoration of blood kinship and the observance of social rules. The individual is almost nothing in the face of the community, and unreasoning submission to social sanction is the essential condition of individual life. Authority and tradition, not the person and conscience, are the ultimate foundation of morality which, though remaining still in force, are being modified by the influence of modern civilization on village life. This has been the strength and at the same time the weakness of Japanese morality. It was the force that solidified the feudal régime and still sustains the solidarity of the people as a body.

History of Japanese Religion

In the Beginning

“In the beginning” men and animals were gods, and plants and rocks had speech; but even now, according to the Shinto conception, it is not entirely otherwise.

History of Japanese Religion

The Question of Individual Piety

The thirteenth century marks a significant epoch in the history of Japan. Together with the political and social changes which occurred in that century, new religions or new forms of Buddhism arose in response to the spiritual demands of the people at large. Buddhism ceased to be an affair of national polity and became the question of individual piety.

History of Japanese Religion

The Root, Stem and Branches, and Flowers and Fruits

A saying ascribed to Prince Shōtoku, the founder of Japanese civilization, compares the three religious and moral systems found in Japan to the root, the stem and branches, and the flowers and fruits of a tree. Shinto is the root embedded in the soil of the people’s character and national traditions; Confucianism is seen in the stem and branches of legal institutions, ethical codes, and educational systems; Buddhism made the flowers of religious sentiment bloom and gave the fruits of spiritual life.

History of Japanese Religion

History of Japanese Religion

History of Japanese Religion bookcover
This book is available for purchase on Amazon

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Masaharu Anesaki’s “History of Japanese Religion” continues to be a much-cited pillar of Japanese studies and is now available in digital format.

The original draft of the present book was an outcome of the author’s lectures at Harvard University during the years 1913-15, when he had the honor of occupying there the chair of Japanese Literature and Life. In response to the encouragement given by several friends at Harvard, the author tried to put the material of the lectures into book form and redrafted it from time to time. The book was eventually published in 1930.

See also, Masaharu Anesaki’s “Nichiren, The Buddhist Prophet

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