Japan is an incredible nation with impressive inventions, a unique culture, and a brilliantly efficient way of life in spite of having limited natural resources. Where else can a person ride on a bullet train at 320 kilometers per hour, eat raw fish (safely), hear about snow falling on monkeys "chilling" in hot springs, see spring cherry blossoms in front of a 500 year old castle, watch a sumo wrestling match, and be in the country where words like "ninja," "samurai," "karate," "karaoke," "Kawasaki," "Yamaha," "Canon," "Toyota," "origami," and "sushi," originated? Japan, also known as the land of the rising sun, has a very interesting history. Much of that history was shaped and influenced by various religious convictions.
In this paper I will first give a historical overview of Japanese Buddhism and then focus on its most popular forms today (which mostly fall into the category of Mahayana Buddhism- "large vehicle" Buddhism). For a list of statistics, reflecting the popularity of various Buddhist influences in Japan, please see appendix A. In looking at Japanese Buddhism, several themes keep popping up: the popularity of the Lotus Sutra (a sutra is a Buddhist text), ancestor worship, chanting and the use of rosaries, pantheism, Shintoism (Japan's pre-Buddhist religion which is sometimes mixed with Buddhism), savior figures such as Amida (Amitabha), Kannon (Avalokitesvara), and Dainichi (Vairocana), and mystical revelations as opposed to historically verifiable truths.
Of course the various schools of Japanese Buddhism have differences in their emphasis or denial of these themes, sometimes teaching completely opposite doctrines of one another. The goal of this paper is to show the sure foundation of the Bible in contrast to man-made systems, which are interesting, but don't have the ultimate saving power which every person in this world needs to get to heaven.
Periods of Japanese History Related to Buddhism
The Kofun Period (AD 250-538)
The Asuka Period (AD 538-710)
The Nara Period (AD 710-794)
The Heian Period (AD 794-1185)
The Kamakura Period (AD 1185-1333)
The Ashikaga Period (AD 1333-1568)
The Shokuho Period (AD 1568-1603)
The Edo Period (AD 1603-1868)
The Meiji Period (AD 1868-1912)
The Taisho Period (AD 1912-1926)
The Showa Period (AD 1926-1989)
The Heisei Period (AD 1989- present)
The Kofun Period (AD 250-538): Foundation
This period is named after the "kofun" which were large burial mounds used at that time. Although the date given in Japanese legends is 660 BC for the beginning of the Japanese state, modern historians would place the beginning of the Japanese state in the Kofun Period instead, "...modern historians present us with the hesitant statement that a start was made towards building a center of political power in the Yamato region in the late third or early fourth century A.D. They regard the date 660 B.C. as about a thousand years too early" (Mason & Caiger, 25).
"Pre-Buddhist Japanese religion centered on the worship of kami: beings (spirits, people, animals), objects, and places possessing charismatic power. This charisma was perceived to have not only a religious dimension, but also political and aesthetic dimensions as well" (Robinson, 241). Later, this pre-Buddhist Japanese religion came to be known as Shinto. "Shinto, as this animistic religion is called, has no founder and no bible” (Mason & Caiger, 33).
"The first emperor of Japan did not ascend the throne in 660 B.C., but Japan's imperial institution is still the world's oldest hereditary office" (Mason & Caiger, 32). "The head of the imperial family in Yamato, from whom the present emperor is descended, claimed direct descent from the sun goddess (Amaterasu Omikami)..." (Mason & Caiger, 32). "In 1946, the emperor publicly denied his divinity; in 1947 the traditional system of interlocking households was dismantled, so that individuals were no longer bound by their family religion" (Robinson, 264).
"...the kami were numerous and essentially amoral, with no established order among them...One of the principal problems in unifying Japan as a country thus lay in establishing a fixed narrative cycle to explain the hierarchy among the kami so that the various clans could be brought into a hierarchical relationship as well. The truth of these narratives was tested in the battlefield, and a shift in the balance of power would be reflected in a retelling of the relevant narrative" (Robinson, 242).
Buddhism's claim was that it was based on "...universal principles rather than uncertain narratives" (Robinson, 242). We will see later in this paper that Buddhism also beckons help from uncertain narratives and thus has an uncertain foundation for its principles.
The Asuka Period (AD 538-710): Hesitation
"Buddhism was probably first brought to Japan by Korean immigrants...The first recorded contact on the royal level, however, was in 552" (Robinson, 243). King Syong-myong of Paikche (one of the three main states of Korea at that time), sent the emperor of Japan a request for military assistance against his enemies, along with a Buddhist image and Buddhist scriptures, telling him that Buddhism, "...leads ultimately to the highest wisdom and in which every prayer is fulfilled" (Saunders, 92). Ten years later, in AD 562, this Korean king who introduced Japan to Buddhism, "...was ultimately killed and his country conquered by the Sillans..." (Saunders, 92).
Meanwhile, back in Japan, this new religion was met with suspicion by many. The Nakatomi and Mononobe families stood against the new religion, but the Soga family was in favor of it, and turned their house into a temple for this Buddhist image from Korea. Soon however, a pestilence broke out, and the Buddha image was blamed for this. The Nakatomi and Mononobe families, "...burned the temple and threw the image into a canal" (Saunders, 93). Years later another Buddha image was set up and another pestilence broke out. This time the image was again thrown into the river, but this did not seem to stop the pestilence, so the image was fished out of the river and set back up.
The Mononobe family claimed that, "...they were descended from a kami [Shinto deity] who flew down from heaven riding in a 'heavenly-rock-boat'" (Mason & Caiger, 39). The Soga clan, who were descendants of Korean immigrants, defeated the Mononobe clan militarily in AD 587, and Buddhism began to gain more ground.
"Prince Shotoku (AD 573-622), who was later regarded as the founder of Japanese Buddhism...imported Korean artisans to build temples...as well as Korean monks and nuns to staff them" (Robinson, 244). Prince Shotoku was himself descended from Korean immigrants, being a member of the Soga clan. Among other commentaries, Prince Shotoku also wrote a commentary on the Lotus Sutra, which would become a very prominent sutra in Japan.
"Because Buddhist Sutras were all written in Chinese, it became plain to the Japanese that they might do better to establish direct contact with China, rather than go through Korean intermediaries" (Robinson, 244).
The Nara Period (AD 710-794): Experimentation
In 710 the capital moved from Asuka to Nara. There were six Buddhist schools of thought in the Nara Period (Kusha, Jojitsu, Sanron, Hosso, Kegon, and Ritsu). "Kusha, Jojitsu, and Sanron were never more than curriculum subjects..." (Robinson, 245). Only the Hosso, Kegon, and Ritsu schools still have an active following in modern times, which together account for only about half of one percent of Japan's population. Here's a brief description of some of the beliefs of the surviving three schools:
Hosso: "In the Hosso teaching, things exist for us through the projection or reflection of their image on our minds..." (Saunders, 121). "...the Hosso school does not recognize that every being has within it the Buddha nature" (Saunders, 123).
Kegon: "The Hua-Yen [Kegon] worldview was adapted to political ideology by equating Vairocana, the Cosmic Sun Buddha, with the emperor, whose uji [tribe or clan] claimed to be descendants of the sun" (Robinson, 245). "...the Kegon school which flourished in Nara times, taught that all phenomenon were fundamentally one and interchangeable" (Mason & Caiger, 239). "The Avatamsaka-sutras (J. Kegonkyo), which are the basis of the Kegon school, are also intimately connected with Zen. They teach a kind of cosmotheism in which the various aspects of the universe are completely interdependent...Moreover, the Buddha-nature is in everything, as much in a grain of dust as in man" (Saunders, 204-205). Many of the Japanese Buddhist sects cancel each other out, as can be seen in the Hosso and Kegon beliefs about the Buddha-nature.
Ritsu: "Ritsu, named after the Chinese Lu, or Vinaya tradition, concerned itself with exegesis of the Vinaya (the Buddhist code of monastic discipline)...this sect was also responsible in Japan for the ordination of the clergy" (Noriyoshi, 163).
The Heian Period (AD 794-1185): Amalgamation
"In 784, THE IMPERIAL CAPITAL was transferred from Nara to Nagaoka and from there in 794 to Heian, the present-day Kyōto, where it was to remain in name at least, until 1868" (Saunders, 134). In this period two new schools of Buddhism emerged: Tendai and Shingon. "...both the Tendai and Shingon sects explained that the Shinto kami were actually nirmanakaya (emanation bodies) of the great Cosmic Buddhas" (Robinson, 246). "...Both Tendai and Shingon retained the Hinayana concepts of rebirth (karma), monasticism, and self-effort" (Mason & Caiger, 100-101).
Saicho (AD 767-822) founded the Tendai School of Buddhism after spending time in China learning from various schools there. He set up his headquarters on Mount Hiei. "Mount Hiei went on to become the major monastic center in Japan and remained so until its destruction at the end of the sixteenth century. In its heyday, it housed thirty thousand monks and contained more than three thousand buildings... The vast amount of wealth donated to the temple required that some of the monks be armed to protect it from thieves. These armed monks formed factions that then became involved in disputes over succession to the position of abbot" (Robinson, 247). "...all the major monastic reformers of the following period- Eisai, Dogen, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren- spent their early monastic careers at Mount Hiei and were largely motivated in their efforts at reform by the corruption they witnessed there..." (Robinson, 248).
"[In Tendai]...there was a belief in the eventual salvation of all beings...there was the idea that all life, and not just human life, was basically the same; that is, an idea of underlying unity of existence...This teaching was based on the Lotus Sutra, one of the great scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra claims to be a final sermon preached by Gautama shortly before he entered nirvana. In reality, it was composed long after Gautama's death..." (Mason & Caiger, 102). The five reformers mentioned above were all influenced to some degree by the Lotus Sutra.
"Saicho adhered to the T'ien-t'ai doctrine that recognized universal salvation, that is, the existence of the absolute nature of Buddhahood in all beings" (Michio, 270). In 2004, Tendai still claimed followers among 2.7% of the Japanese population. "Tendai recognizes Vairochana, the solar pan-Buddha, as an expression of the dharmakaya..." (Saunders, 144-145).
The founder of Shingon was Kukai (AD 774-835) who also went to China to learn. There are four statues of him in Japan ranging in height from 16-21 meters. "From Prajna [a Kashmirian monk], Kukai is said to have received sutras and a rosary with which he is frequently portrayed in Japanese representations of him" (Saunders, 154). Using prayer beads was a practice used in Hinduism hundreds of years before Christ. "In addition to founding Shingon he devised a syllabary that greatly simplified the reading and writing of Japanese" (Robinson, 248). "Shingon posits a kind of pantheism in which the whole universe is a manifestation, an emanation, of the central solar divinity, Vairochana (J. Dainichi)" (Saunders, 161). "[Vairochana's] marked solar character made it particularly easy to establish a relationship with the native sun goddess Amaterasu, the Dual Shinto system..." (Saunders, 168).
"Shingon was Mahayana Buddhism with a strong mixture of Tibetan or Tantric emphasis on such things as ritual speech and mystic union with the deities" (Mason & Caiger, 105). The texts which Shingon was based on, "...involved a pantheon heavily influenced by Hinduism, containing numerous divinities not purely Buddhist" (Saunders, 161). Practicing Shingon requires disciples to, "...bring body and speech into harmony through the use of the mudras [sacred gestures] and mantras [sacred words or phrases] taught by Mahavairocana. Then, by absorbing one's mind in these physical manifestations along with visualization of chaste but colorful mandalas [sacred pictures], total harmony can be attained..." (Robinson, 248-249). The goal of these exercises was actually to become Mahavairocana, which fits in with Shingon's pantheism. "Shingon was based on Tantras of the Yoga class...the practice of imitating the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha Mahavairocana (The Great Sun), so as to assume the identity of that great being" (Robinson, 248).
Ezekiel, who prophesied around 590 BC, before Israel's temple was destroyed by Babylon, recorded Israel's unfaithfulness to God. They worshipped the sun. "And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose." (Ezekiel 8:16-17) Putting "the branch to their nose", probably refers to the practice, still used in modern times, of holding up incense sticks in a worshipful gesture.
Shingon's idea of pantheism is also reflected in art. "Shingon's idea that Truth (i.e. the cosmic Buddha) included the unpleasant as well as the agreeable sides of life..." (Mason & Caiger, 115). Also related to Vairocana's unpleasant side is, "...a secondary group of divinities called Wisdom Kings (myo-o)...Fudo (skt. Achala), the Immovable, a form of Shiva...He is regularly portrayed holding in his hands a sword and a rope; with the former he cuts down the evils of the world, and with his rope he binds them...with a terrible face from which two fangs protrude, while behind him arises a background of flames" (Saunders, 176). In Hinduism, from which Fudo is derived, Shiva is the destroyer. "Fudo Myo-o is the central deity in all Myo-o groupings...Today, the Myo-o are revered mainly by the Shingon sect...Indeed, the Myo-o are forms of Dainichi [Vairocana], and represent Dainichi's wrath against evil and ignorance." (https://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/fudo.html) In pantheism, even the evil sides of life are part of the "deity." In the sutra of the Kurikara incantation, "He [Fudo] assumes the form of a flame-wreathed snake or dragon coiled around an upright sword..." (https://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/dragons.html)
Shingon continues to hold sway over many people in Japan. Fudo, who supposedly can change to be a snake or dragon, and who is derived from Shiva the destroyer, is supposed to be a manifestation of Vairocana. The Bible declares clearly who this snake/dragon-like being is. "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9). In 2004, about 9.9% of the population considered themselves to be adherents of Shingon.
The Kamakura Period (AD 1185-1333): Reformation
In AD 1185 power was taken from the emperor and a new form of government emerged under the authority of a shogun. The imperial capital was still in Kyoto, and the emperor was allowed to hold his title, but the political capital was moved to Kamakura, where the shogun resided. During this time on Mount Hiei, near Kyoto, there were five prominent men who came out of the Tendai school, and became reformers of Japanese Buddhism: Eisai, Dogen, Honen, Shinran, and Nichiren.
Eisei and Dogen: Zen Buddhism
As of 2004, about 2.6% of Japan's population claimed to be Zen Buddhists. Although that's a pretty low number, internationally, Zen is probably the best known form of Japanese Buddhism. "Myoan Eisai (1141-1215) established the first Zen (in Chinese, Ch'an) temple in Kyoto in 1202...Dissatisfaction with the eclecticism of Eisai's Zen led a number of monks in the following generation to travel to China on their own to receive transmission of a less adulterated teaching to bring back to Japan. The first to do so was Dogen Kigen (1200-53)....Zen, he [Dogen] says, is essentially 'dethinking thinking.' With what means is dethinking to be thought? 'Beyond thinking'" (Robinson, 251).
Altered States of Consciousness
Zen focuses on meditation as the way towards enlightenment. The word Zen comes from the Pali word "jhana" and the Sanskrit word "dhyana." "The four dhyanas are best understood as a series of altered states of consciousness characterized by an increasing degree of enstasy. The term 'enstasy' literally means 'standing within.' An enstatic practice, then, is one aimed at the withdrawal of the practitioner's senses and thoughts from contact with the external world and at the reduction of the contents of her consciousness" (Griffiths, 38). "It is even possible to see strong parallels between his [Dogen's] thought and that of early Buddhism: Dethinking thinking corresponds to the use of right view to go beyond views...Dogen became regarded as the founder of the Soto school of Zen" (Robinson, 252).
Early Buddhism, which is carried on in the Theravada tradition, resembles Zen in some of their meditation goals and techniques. In early Buddhism, "Jhana...signifies a state of trance in which all sensory input, aside from the subject of meditation, is totally excluded from awareness. At the higher jhanic levels the meditator is also incapable of speech or movement, and in the highest possible, attention is said to be without ordinary consciousness and to reach the trance of cessation. According to the Pali Canon, Gotama reached Buddhahood (enlightenment) by means of the four classic jhanas, gained by concentrated attention on the (unspecified) meditational subjects he had chosen" (King, 88).
Beyond Words and Logic
Bodhidharma (c. AD 470-534), who in Japan is called Daruma, is said to be the first Chinese patriarch of Zen. "His [Bodhidharma's] teaching goes back traditionally to that of the Buddha himself, who once while preaching held up a flower and smiled. Only Kashyapa understood that the Buddha meant to symbolize the inadequacy of words to express the essence of his Doctrine. This is the 'wordless tradition' Bodhidharma brought to China, the transmission of which henceforth depended on intuitive apprehension of the Absolute" (Saunders, 208). According to the "Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall", written in AD 952, Bodhidharma is said to have faced a wall for nine years, not speaking at all. Whether or not this is legend, it is in keeping with the wordless philosophy. This tendency against rational thought continues in the modern Zen school.
"Zen holds that nobody can actually think himself into a state of enlightenment, still less depend on the logical arguments of others. Rationality must eventually give way to intuitive insight, which alone frees a person to live naturally and spontaneously..." (Mason & Caiger, 169). This kind of approach to morality and religion does not match the real world. If a teacher "intuitively" gave grades to students without looking at test scores and other rational factors, there would be an outcry of "that's not fair" from the students. If a doctor "intuitively" and "spontaneously" prescribed medicine, people would die. The same chaos would result if this were applied to financial decisions, driving decisions, moral decisions, etc. An "enlightenment" which is "beyond views" and "beyond thought" is really a suppression of the truth. Instead of freedom for rational thought, experience is overemphasized, which results in going away from truth. The rationality we use in everyday life also applies to understanding spiritual truths.
Koans are one way to "overcome" rationality in Zen, such as meditating on the question, "What's the sound of one hand clapping?" In addition to the koan, sometimes a "shocking yell" is used. "Koans are, so to speak, undeveloped themes, which often illogically confound the intellect and appeal to the intuition for understanding. Like the yell 'katsu!' they are meant to establish a direct intuitive understanding, bypassing inhibitive intellectual processes" (Saunders, 212). "...the purpose of asking such questions [koans] from all possible sides is not to come to any conclusive answers, but to become more and more familiar with the dynamic of 'beyond thinking'..." (Robinson, 252). Another technique to overcome thought, used in some schools, was (and is) the whack of a stick: "...the stick which, like the yell, was used- corporally- to startle the mind to sudden enlightenment" (Saunders, 213).
One example of a longer koan, was a case in a monastery in China. "Monks of the northern and southern halls of Nan-ch'uan's monastery engaged in a rowdy dispute over the possession of a kitten. Catching the cat, Nan-ch'uan held it up before the disputing monks and said, 'If any among you can tell me why I should not kill this cat, I will spare its life.' Since none of the monks spoke, Nan-ch'uan dashed the kitten to the ground and killed it. The monk Chao-chou (J. Joshu, 778-891), returning to the monastery after a day's absence, was greeted by Nan-ch'uan and asked what he would have answered had he been present. Chao-chou removed his straw sandals, placed them on his head, and left the presence of Nan-ch'uan. Whereupon Nan-ch'uan said: 'If you had been there, the cat would have been saved.' Chao-chou's action implied neither affirmation nor negation. In other words, it expressed the Void that is the only answer to any problem, and his pointing out the nonexistence of the problem constituted the saving word which was never spoken" (Saunders, 212-213).
"The Prajnaparamita-Sutras are studied today in Zen cloisters, and their concept of the ultimate Void of all things continues to influence Zen thinking" (Saunders, 204).
There are many negative implications of a philosophy like this for society. Chao-chou's disinterested response about the kitten, show a classical Buddhist detachment, combined with the Mahayana doctrine of the "Void of all things." This "ultimate Void" is in contrast with the belief of the Buddha-nature being in everything (see under Kegon about cosmotheism on page 4). As we've seen already though, logical coherence is not a priority in Zen.
The popular Zen author, D.T. Suzuki wrote, "Zen is neither monotheistic nor pantheistic; Zen defies all such designations...Zen defies all concept-making. That is why Zen is difficult to grasp" (Suzuki, 41-42). Suzuki then quotes Yengo (AD 1566- 1642) to help "define" what Zen is: "The great truth of Zen is possessed by everybody. Look into your own being and seek it not through others...In its light all is absorbed. Hush the dualism of subject and object, forget both, transcend the intellect, sever yourself from the understanding, and directly penetrate deeply into the identity of the Buddha-mind; outside of this there are no realities" (Suzuki, 46). Suzuki has contradicted himself by quoting Yengo's concept-making and designations for Zen, which he said Zen defies. In the quotation we also see the pantheistic statement, "In its [Zen's] light all is absorbed." A follower of Zen is supposed to "transcend the intellect," bringing a person to the very dangerous place of leaving logic and commonsense behind.
In the koan above, regarding a kitten, what if the case concerned a human baby, would there still be indifference shown and sandals worn on the head? In Keown's 1996 book he wrote, "In Japan...abortion is legal and around a million abortions are performed each year. This compares with a figure of 1.5 million for the United States, a country with over twice the population of Japan" (Keown, 102). America as a nation has also gone far from God and the compassion that should be shown to a baby in the womb. The problem with the view of indifference is that some things really are evil and some things really are good. If people go through life indifferent and detached (but ironically very attached to the view of indifference), this filter for life (also called the middle way of equanimity) will cause them to miss God who is ultimately good, and cause them not to avoid some things that really are evil.
Honen and Shinran: Pure Land Buddhism
This is by far the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan today. About 15.3 % of Japanese people in 2004 identified themselves as being Pure Land Buddhists. "While Amidism [Pure Land Buddhism] stressed salvation through others, i.e., through the Buddha Amida, Zen emphasized salvation within oneself. Every man has the Buddha-nature, and this nature is perceptible through a 'realization of self' (Saunders, 228). "Amida's presence in the Tendai and Shingon sects testifies to his existence as an Esoteric divinity. Thus, like other Esoteric gods, Amida was an object of meditation...Merely calling on Amida's name (nembutsu), was not sufficient..." (Saunders, 189). This Tendai and Shingon emphasis (which like Zen involved much self-effort) changed through the influence of Honen and Shinran.
Honen (1133-1212) founded the Jodo sect of Pure Land. This was based on the idea that a person could call on the Amida Buddha's help to bring them into the Pure Land when they die. "A charismatic leader, he practiced what he preached- chanting the Nembutsu up to seventy thousand times a day- and drew disciples from all levels of society..." (Robinson, 254). Shinran (1173-1262) was a disciple of Honen. "We are told that he dreamed Kannon instructed him to study with Honen, which he began to do in 1201" (Saunders, 198). Shinran later had some dramatic visions, which eventually led him to found Shin Buddhism (a.k.a. Jodo Shinshu).
"After twenty years on Mount Hiei, grappling with the constraints of celibacy, he experienced a revelation, in which the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin (in Japanese, Kannon) appeared to him in a dream and promised to come to him in the form of a young woman who he should marry" (Robinson, 254). Shinran did get married and then had another revelation, "...that the saving grace of Amida required only one Nembutsu" (Robinson, 254).
"Shinran's doctrine, similar to Honen's, opened itself to all sorts of abuses and misinterpretations. His own son, Zenran, preached such an inflammatory version of the teaching as to make it an outright invitation to sin. Shinran eventually had to sever all relations with him" (Robinson, 255).
"Honen had thought that the greater the number of repetitions the greater the believer's chances of rebirth in the Pure Land" (Mason & Caiger, 164). Over the years there were many debates about whether one calling on Amida was sufficient or whether repetitive callings were necessary. Nowadays both schools are still in existence, but Shin Buddhism (one calling) is more popular. "China, Korea, and Vietnam decided in favor of combining devotion to Amita [Amida] with Ch'an [Zen] meditation (known in Korea as Son and in Vietnam as Thien), while Japan divided Pure Land and Zen into separate lineages" (Corless, 263).
Tao-ch'o (AD 562- 645) of China, "...is credited with the introduction of the rosary into Pure Land practice, with the aid of which both laypeople and monastic people notched up record numbers of nien fo [Nembutsu]" (Corless, 263). In contrast, Jesus said, "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (Matthew 6:7).
Although Shinran's devotion was primarily to Amida, he also paid respect to Kannon (which has the largest number of tall statues in Japan). From the picture given in Pure Land sutras, "On either side of him [Amida] are his chief bodhisattvas, the greatly compassionate Avalokitesvara [Kannon] and the greatly powerful Mahasthamaprapta..." (Corless, 253). However, both of these personalities (Amida and Kannon) date from after the time of Christ. And, they are not real historical figures, but inventions of hagiographers.
"Whereas Honen had stripped meditation and merit making away from the teaching, leaving only faith and the Nembutsu, Shinran stripped it down still further, leaving only faith in tariki (other-power), with no trace of jiriki (self-power) at all" (Robinson, 255). The well known Thai Buddhist scholar P.A. Payutto has said, "No matter where Buddhism spreads to, or how distorted the teaching becomes, this emphasis on human endeavor never varies. If this one principle is missing, we can confidently say that it is no longer Buddhism" (38). According to Payutto, Shin Buddhism should not even be called Buddhism, because of its complete lack of emphasis on self-effort.
Only One Savior
At first glance, Amida seems to fulfill the role that God does in Christianity- bringing salvation by grace and not by works. But there are some big differences between God Almighty and Amida: "[Amida]...is not unique in the universe as a whole, being only one of many Buddhas...he does not create, sustain, or destroy the universe as a whole, nor is he the ontological support...for the universe as a whole...he does not stand above the worshiper as an ontologically 'Higher Power'...his life is not infinite, since there was a time when he was not a Buddha" (Corless, 247-248).
Honen and Shinran were not the only ones to make changes to Pure Land doctrines. "These two points- recitation rather than meditation, and the inclusion of sinners with those who can benefit from Amitabha's [Amida's] vows- were the main Chinese departures from Indian Amitabha doctrines" (Robinson, 196). Over the years many changes have been made in Pure Land doctrine. Shin Buddhism has strayed not only from Pure Land doctrine, but has also strayed far from reality in following after a non-historical person who has no authority to save us. When we look for a doctor we look for good credentials and reliability. When we look for an insurance company we likewise look for reliability and trustworthiness.
When looking for a saviour we should not expect less. In fact, we should expect more. "I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour" (Isaiah 43:11). "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:22). "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). There is only one God Almighty! God said "beside me there is no saviour," and yet Jesus is called "Saviour." This is because Jesus is God Almighty.
Jesus' salvation is far reaching, even promising salvation to the thief on the cross who put his faith in Him. This was not an empty promise. Jesus proved his authority when He rose from the dead. The historical records regarding the resurrection of Jesus from the dead are of the caliber that have brought many lawyers to faith in Jesus. "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus can save someone from any walk of life. To read the story of how the granddaughter of a Shin Buddhist priest's daughter became a Christian, please see Appendix B.
Nichiren: Nichiren Buddhism
As of 2004, the various Nichiren sects accounted for about 13% of Japan's population. Nichiren (AD 1222-1282) also left the Tendai school, but focused exclusively on the Lotus Sutra to form his Buddhist sect. "Only the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren felt, contained the unadulterated True Dharma. All other Buddhist sects were wrong..." (Robinson, 256). "Nichiren's life followed the pattern of a Shinto shaman more than that of a Buddhist leader. He attracted a following largely through his courage and...his personality, which at times resembled that of a medium possessed" (Robinson, 256). "...the practice he [Nichiren] recommended was simplicity itself: the repetition of the daimoku (mantra) 'Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō'...Later he worked out a mandala [sacred picture] representing his beliefs, called the gohonzon, at which one was to stare while repeating one's declaration of homage" (Robinson, 256).
The name "Nichiren" which was not his original name, but is a name that he chose, means, "sun-lotus." "...nichi standing not only for the sunlight of true faith, but for Japan itself; ren, for the Lotus" (Saunders, 231). Nichiren also wrote a lot. "...these writings were devoted to exposing the errors of other sects, especially the Amidist and Zen, and later the Shingon and Ritsu. In fact, adverse criticism of these four branches became an integral part of Nichirenism" (Saunders, 233). "Although Nichiren promoted the doctrine of universal salvation, his school developed into the most exclusive and often militant group in Japanese religious history" (Michio, 273). Nichiren once said, "It is a great pity that they should have cut off the heads of the innocent Mongols and left unharmed the priests of Nembutsu [Pure Land], Shingon, Zen, and Ritsu, who are the enemies of Japan" (Mason & Caiger, 165).
"Nichiren presented his doctrines as complex meditations on the Lotus Sutra's teaching of the original Buddha-nature...placing faith in the conviction that the Eternal Buddha Sakyamuni, the truth of the Sutra, and all beings were ultimately one..." (Robinson, 256). This belief, like those of other schools in Japanese Buddhism (Kegon, Tendai, Shingon, and Zen), sounds very pantheistic.
For example in Tendai, "...there was the idea that all life, and not just human life, was basically the same; that is, an idea of underlying unity of existence...This teaching was based on the Lotus Sutra..." (Mason & Caiger, 102). Such a "unity of existence" and the supposed ultimate oneness of the Buddha and "all beings" can make no distinction between good and evil. It is pantheistic, saying that everything is one, which would include good and evil! Even though Nichiren tried to make distinctions of "right" and "wrong," based on the Lotus Sutra he had no grounds for doing so. Nichiren was not indifferent about what he thought was good or evil, but he had no standard within his system which was authoritative and separate from the evil of this universe. Only God almighty can provide that perfect standard.
In Kyoto there is a temple that has 1000 idols of Kannon. Surrounding these are 28 "protectors" of hers, many of which look like demons, some having snakes hanging out of their head or arms. Many of these 28 were taken straight from Hinduism. Doesn't that say something when a "deity" is being protected by demon-like beings? Demons certainly don't want to promote the truth. The Dalai Lama is said to be the manifestation of Kannon even though he is male, and usually Kannon is portrayed as female. "In China, Avalokitesvara [Kannon] was eventually represented as a woman" (Robinson, 108). By the way, the brand name "Canon" (cameras, printers, etc.) is also named after Kannon. (https://www.canon.com/about/history/outline.html)
Kannon receives much attention in the Lotus Sutra, going by the name of Avalokitesvara. In the Lotus Sutra, it is recorded that Avalokitesvara (Kannon) can change its form, becoming a woman, a boy or a girl, a garuda bird, or even a naga snake (www.bdkamerica.org/digital/dbet_t0262_lotussutra_2007.pdf). "The Avalokitesvara Sutra was incorporated into the Lotus Sutra as late as the third century C.E." (Robinson, 108). "...Maitreya, Manjusri, and Avalokitesvara [Kannon]...These great beings are nonhistorical; there is no evidence that any of them is an apotheosis of a human hero.... Strangely, no Sutra preaches devotion to a celestial bodhisattva until the third century C.E..." (Robinson, 105).
In Japan there are 10 statues of Kannon taller than the U.S. statue of liberty, and 32 statues of Kannon ranging in height from 17-100 meters. Sadly, millions of yen have been poured into this non-historical idol, while ignoring the One who really deserves our praise and attention, namely our Creator. God doesn't want to be worshipped with idols though, but in "spirit and in truth," as Jesus taught. Jesus' existence is very much confirmed in history. He performed miracles, led a perfect life, was raised from the dead, and his life was prophesied in hundreds of details in the Old Testament, hundreds and thousands of years before he came. Jesus said, "...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
The Ashikaga Period Through the Edo Period (AD 1333-1868): Stagnation
During this time, "All Buddhist sects aside from Soto and Rinzai [both Zen] had formed armed societies to protect their interests, only to be slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands, which destroyed Buddhism's credibility as an instrument for national unity" (Robinson, 257). Government headquarters were set up in Edo at this time (modern day Tokyo). From the Kamakura Period (1185) up until the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868), Japan was mostly ruled by shoguns. "...the long period of uneventful existence, of status quo, the absence of new ideas or challenges from abroad, were ultimately to sap the vitality of Buddhist institutions until, by the end of the Tokugawa period , their condition can at best be called apathetic" (Saunders, 247). "...at the beginning of the Meiji era , Buddhism was at its weakest. The years of stultification under Tokugawa control had terminated in the identification of the religion with the shogunal power...In 1867, the shogunate collapsed, and the next year Buddhism was disestablished and largely disendowed" (Saunders, 255).
The Meiji Period (AD 1868-1912): Renovation
The Meiji Restoration involved many aspects of society, but of course began with, "...restoring the emperor to his rightful position which had been usurped by the Fujiwara and a succession of shoguns" (Mason & Caiger, 258). The exaltation of Shintoism went hand in hand with the exaltation of the emperor. "The government proclaimed the adoption of Shinto as the national religion in 1870 under the name of Daikyo, or 'Great Doctrine.' A strong propagandist movement was initiated, and missionaries were sent throughout the land, whose duty it was to refute Confucianism and Buddhism and defend the concept of Shinto" (Saunders, 257).
The Taisho Period to The Heisei Period (AD 1912- present): Innovation
After World War II, "...the emperor publicly denied his divinity...individuals were no longer bound by their family religion...[and] a policy of land distribution was enacted...The combined effect of these directives was to create, for the first time in Japanese history, a totally secular government; to give individuals total religious freedom" (Robinson, 264). Many new religions (shinko shukyo) sprung up. On the other hand, "Polls indicate that large numbers of Japanese do not view themselves as belonging to any particular group" (Robinson, 265).
Soka Gakkai Buddhism is an offshoot within Nichiren Buddhism. It began in 1938 and is based on Nichiren’s teachings. "The sect recommends the traditional Nichiren practice of chanting...although the purpose of the chant is to attain this-worldly goals: Job promotion, financial success, family harmony, and the alleviation of physical and psychological ills" (Robinson, 265). "The Gohonzon scroll is the religious core of the Soka Gakkai faith" (Dumoulin, 259).
"The personal character of the religion is particularly apparent in the spirituality of President Ikeda, who teaches the faithful to pray daily: 'Gohonzon, help me to accomplish this today'" (Dumoulin, 259). "Among the many mandalas created by Nichiren to represent symbolically the total content of his teachings- that is, absolute reality according to the vision of the Lotus Sutra- one [the Gohonzon] is accorded special importance by the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai...a scroll upon which Chinese ideograms are written in vertical order..." (Dumoulin, 258- 259). Dumoulin, in visiting the Daisekiji temple, writes, "...I was not only touched by the intense conviction of the young people there, devoid of all human fear, but I also felt that their disposition unmistakably exhibited a personal relationship with the Gohonzon" (Dumoulin, 259).
David Hesselgrave, writing about a disagreement between Soka Gakkai Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism (their umbrella organization at that time) says, "Built a quarter century ago at a cost of $100,000,000 (well over twice that figure at today's exchange rate), the Shohondo [a main hall on Nichiren temple grounds, but largely built by Sokka Gakkai donations] was one of the most impressive buildings in the Buddhist world. And yet, in spite of the pleas and protests of prominent architects, politicians and religious leaders of various persuasions, a Nichiren Buddhist priest had spent $35,000,000 to have it demolished!...Power struggles and factionalism finally reached a climax in 1991 when High Priest Abe took the radical step of excommunicating Ikeda [Soka Gakkai's president] and all his followers."
Conflict between Nichiren and Soka Gakkai went back further to after World War II when Soka Gakkai president Toda, forced one of the Nichiren monks in 1952 to sign a declaration of guilt. "This particular monk was blamed for the suppression of the Soka Gakkai during the war, and for Makiguchi's death [the founder of Soka Gakkai] in prison, because as a leader he had favored syncretism with Shinto, the state religion, as well as an organizational merger with other Nichiren sects from Mount Minobu" (Dumoulin, 258). This conflict aside, Soka Gakkai members focus on the Gohonzon, which Dumoulin was told was, "...nothing other than the presence of the holy Buddha Nichiren" (Dumoulin, 259). Having a relationship with a scroll, which is supposed to invoke the presence of Nichiren, a dead man, whose personality, "at times resembled that of a medium possessed" (Robinson, 256), is spiritually dangerous to say the least. More on this later, when discussing "familiar spirits."
Reiki was a Japanese adaptation of some Hindu ideas (e.g. chakras- the seven energy centers). In 1922 Mikao Usui, after going through a Buddhist training course, said he received a revelation regarding Reiki. It's a method that aims to bring healing through "supernatural influence." "...many nurses, counselors, and especially massage therapists use Reiki as a supplement to their work" (Yungen, 95). "Reiki came to the United States (from Japan) in the mid 1970s. It took about twenty years for this particular practice to reach 500,000 practitioners....By the year 2005, the number skyrocketed to an astonishing one million practitioners in just the U.S." (Yungen, 13)! Reiki claims to have 5 million followers worldwide. (https://www.reiki.ne.jp/reiki_japan/en.html)
"...many Reiki practitioners report having verbalized channeled communications with the spirit world" (Yungen, 97). In Reiki, guidance is given by spirits, called "Reiki guides." One Reiki master wrote of her experience, "For me, the Reiki guides make themselves the most felt while attunements are being passed. They stand behind me and direct the whole process, and I assume they also do this for every Reiki master. When I pass attunements, I feel their presence strongly and constantly. Sometimes I can see them" (Yungen, 95).
Reiyu-kai, was founded in 1925, as an offshoot of Nichiren. In 1963, they claimed to have 3.6% of the Japanese population as members. Presently, they have about five million members worldwide (https://reiyukaiglobal.org/introduction.php). "It is based on the Lotus Sutra and stresses filial piety and duty towards ancestors" (Saunders, 281). "...ancestor worship is the core of its teaching and practice. Easily understood by the common man, it gives him access to the world of spirits and souls which the shamanistic cofounder mediated to her following" (Dumoulin, 241).
Funerals and Spirits
"...traditional Buddhism has lost much of its appeal, except as a relic of Japan's cultural past. 'Funeral Buddhism' is the name that many people use to refer to the traditional sects, in light of the ritual role to which many of the priests have been reduced" (Robinson, 265). "Many temples have become funeral institutions, whose administrators concern themselves primarily with well-paid rites for the dead" (Dumoulin, 217). "As a means of gaining their [provincial samurai and the peasantry] allegiance Soto [a school of Zen] assimilated a certain amount of popular beliefs and rituals but devised, above all, funeral and memorial services for the dead, a trait that was to become one of the characteristic features of almost all Buddhist schools in Japan" (Noriyoshi, 169).
"The time-honored ritual of sutra copying (shakyo), still popular among Jodo, Shingon, and Tendai followers, is undertaken to bring repose to the spirits of the dead, accumulate merit for the practitioner, and deepen faith in the sutra copied" (Unno, 323). Also related to bringing "repose to the spirits of the dead" is the Obon festival. "...it [Ullambana, known in Japan as Obon] began in the sixth century in China and soon after was introduced to Japan...the origin of the Ullambana ceremony is found in the legend of Moggallana...who through transcendental vision saw his mother suffering in Avici hell. In order to save her he followed the advice of Sakyamuni Buddha and practiced charity by feeding hundreds of monks" (Unno, 320). This story is a very late invention, not being in the Pali Canon, which in and of itself already contains many legends. It comes from a text, "made in China," called the, "...Ullambana Sutra (a text composed in China)..." (Robinson, 215). "...much of the content of the Ullambana festival is non-Buddhist in origin" (Unno, 320-321). The main purpose of the Obon festival is, "...aiding the dead in their proper journey, keeping them from becoming malevolent and thereby dangerous to the living" (Robinson, 215).
Involvement with spirits is a trademark of many Japanese Buddhist sects. Shintoism, being an animistic religion, also involves ceremonies to appease spirits, ask them for blessings, etc. In the Bible, "familiar spirits" are actually devils. God forbids us to invoke or communicate with them, because they are deceivers. When people die, they don't float around in this world. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27). There is nothing we can do for those who have died already. Whatever they have done in their lives will be judged by God, whose judgment is perfect and fair.
The spirits that are in the spiritual realm of this world are not deceased family members, but are either angels or devils. If we are NOT submitted to God and adopted into God's family, then we are in danger of deception by devils pretending to be merciful and powerful beings. They try to take people's attention away from God, and towards bondage to spiritual lies. Even those who are Christians and part of God’s family are told to be careful. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). The word "try" here means "put on trial"- to test. We do this by comparing their message with the standard of the Bible. God made it very clear that we are not to seek spiritual direction from anywhere apart from His Word. "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee" (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
Isaiah, who lived about 700 years before Christ, rebuked the people for seeking dead spirits instead of God Almighty. "And when they shall say unto you, seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:19-20). God has authority over every spirit, so we need not be troubled by any lesser spirits. We can simply submit ourselves to God almighty, and He will lead our lives.
If we found a computer mouse laying on the road, would anyone doubt that it has a maker? A computer mouse cannot make itself. Even though we may not see the maker, the computer mouse itself is evidence that points to it having a creator. People have factories for making computer mice. But, people have no factories for making real mice. A computer mouse is impressive in that it can transmit information via it's "tail" to the computer, or in some types, the mouse has no tail and can transmit information "remotely." But, a real mouse has its own brain with which it can transmit commands to its body.
Although we normally would think of a computer mouse as being "high-tech," seeing that people can make these, but cannot make real mice, we should actually call a computer mouse "low tech" and a real mouse "high tech." Only God can make a real mouse! Although we don't see God, the mouse itself is evidence that it has a Creator. Being far more complex than a computer mouse, it cannot make itself, nor randomly come into being without a Designer. God created people, too, but He created people in His own image, different from the animals. Monkeys don't have police monkeys, nor courtrooms, nor prisons, nor libraries, nor philosophers, etc. They follow instinct. People have the freedom to choose right or wrong. People will one day be held responsible by God for what they have done with their lives and how they have responded to God their Creator.
Right now, the tallest statue on earth is an idol of the Vairocana Buddha in China, which stands at 128 meters. Compared to God Almighty, that statue is like a tiny piece of dust. How could people fit the Almighty God who made everything, into an idol made by people? Even if people could make an idol 8000 meters tall, with its head in the clouds, or 12,000 meters tall, with its head peering above the clouds, that is still tiny, compared to God Almighty. "Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest" (Isaiah 66:1)?
In Japanese Buddhism, the Vairocana Buddha is exalted as a solar deity, and in Shintoism, Amaterasu Omikami is exalted as the sun goddess. Is the sun a worthy object of our worship? The universe itself is also said to be a manifestation of Vairocana. Is the universe a worthy object of our worship? The sun truly is massively big and amazing. But, compared to the rest of the universe it is likewise tiny. The sun and the universe point to God's incredible design. God almighty is separate from His creation and awesomely greater than it. The universe is also still under the curse brought about through sin, and is thus only an imperfect reflection of God's power. We should worship the Creator, not the creation.
Jason Lisle gives us some insight about the sun and our universe, "The sun is about 400 times more distant than the moon. Remarkably, it is also 400 times larger. So it has the same angular size as the moon- meaning it appears the same size and covers the same portion of the sky [making the moon the perfect size to eclipse the sun]... If it [the sun] were hollow, it could hold over 1 million earths...When we consider the immensity of the Milky Way, with its 100 billion stars...the overwhelming power of the Creator becomes clear. Yet, our galaxy is not the only one...It is estimated that there are at least as many galaxies as there are stars in the Milky Way (100 billion)."
As incredibly large as the universe is (making the sun seem tiny), God almighty is even greater than the universe He created. "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD" (Jeremiah 23:24).
The large vehicle of Buddhism (Mahayana Buddhism) is expressed in a large variety of ways and is practiced in Japan, China and elsewhere. Within this large vehicle there are schools of thought that are completely opposite of one another, but they are still considered to be part of Mahayana, since they cater to a larger group of people as opposed to Hinayana (the "small vehicle") for which enlightenment is seen as something few people can attain (Theravada is the only surviving school of Hinayana). Mahayana had a later start historically, mystically adding many new ideas to an already faulty system (Hinayana). In this paper, we've seen some of the shortcomings of the large vehicle in Japan.
Shingon and the other schools which emphasize a pantheistic type of view implode on themselves when we consider that if all is included (which Shingon especially is very clear about, and other schools hint at), then evil also is included in the "Buddha-nature." Zen relies on the silent sermon and the "beyond logic" approach, defeating itself with any attempt to communicate anything. Shin Buddhism sees the vanity of self-effort, but suggests believing in a limited and imaginary being to help. The various Nichiren schools have an equally unreliable foundation in the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra was composed around AD 200 (Robinson, 85), but claims to be a final sermon of Gautama Buddha, which makes it about 600 years too late to be credible. Various other schools of thought which call on the "spirits of the dead" are likewise limited and in the dark, not knowing that these are actually deceiving spirits they are calling on. Besides this, no lesser spirit can help us find eternal salvation. God is almighty. Because He is almighty He expects us to put all of our faith in Him, not 50% in Him and 50% in something else.
If we compare any of these schools of thought to a "vehicle" which is supposed to save us and get us to heaven, they are like vehicles that have no gasoline, or no tires, or are only imaginary, having no ability to take us anywhere. People have factories for making nice vehicles for the roads here on earth, but we have no factory to make a vehicle to get us to heaven. Only God almighty can bring a person to heaven, and that must be on His terms, which are revealed in the Bible through Jesus Christ.
Tokichi Ishii, a former criminal, became a Christian in 1916. He wrote the following words: "Again, chaplains and pastors, and those who see men die, agree that the last words a man utters come from the depths of his soul, and that he does not die with lies upon his lips. Jesus' last words were, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do, and so I cannot but believe that they reveal his true heart." "What did the verse reveal to me? Shall I call it the love of the heart of Christ? Shall I call it His compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only know that with an unspeakably grateful heart, I believed. Through this simple sentence I was led into the whole of Christianity" (Ishii, 36).
Christianity is not just a good idea, but is confirmed with historical and prophetic evidence. This is essential. Experiences, dreams, or even visions are not proof of spiritual reality. Such "evidences" would be thrown out of a court of law very quickly. What we have in Christianity are not only life transforming and wonderful truths about Jesus and His teachings, but also the kind of evidence that can be proven in a court of law. God our Creator deserves all of our worship and faith. Will you come to Jesus and put your faith in Him today? "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (I John 5:11-12).
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Numbers and Hearts
Japan has a land mass that is smaller than California, but a population over 3 times that of California. The entire population of the United States is only about 2.5 times that of Japan. In other words, about half of the United States could move into the state of California, and this would be roughly the population density of Japan. In spite of being a fairly small nation compared to other nations (but with a large and very diligent work force), Japan has done very well economically. "...the generally sustained increase in annual production has raised Japan to a position where, today, it comes second to only one other nation, the United States, in economic strength" (Mason & Caiger, 361, copyright 1997). More recently China has moved into the number 2 spot, but Japan is still number 3 in the world (as measured by GDP).
In this situation of economic strength, many people's hearts in Japan, China, and America have decided to follow money instead of God almighty. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:13-15).
In Dale Saunders' book "Buddhism in Japan," he cites two other books dated 1960 and 1963, showing the number of members of the various Buddhist sects in Japan. Between 1960-65 the population of Japan was about 95.85 million people. Using the statistics from Saunders' book, but as a percentage of the total population, here are the seven most popular Buddhist sects at that time: Jodo Shin (also known as Shin Buddhism) 14.9%, Soka Gakkai 10.4%, Zen 9.6%, Jodo (the predecessor of Jodo Shin) 3.7%, Reiyukai 3.6% [an offshoot of Nichiren], Shingon 3.1%, and Nichiren 2.3%. Also reflecting the popularity of Shin Buddhism, a book published in 1918 ("A Gentleman in Prison") states that all prison chaplains at that time were Shin priests (Ishii, 49).
The 1960/1963 statistics show that about 56.77% of the population of Japan was Buddhist. Statistics from 1995 show that about 69.6% of the population was Buddhist and 93.1% of the population was Shinto. Christians accounted for 1.2% and other religions for 8.1% of the population (Encyclopedia Britannica). Clearly there is an overlap between those who consider themselves to be Buddhist and those who consider themselves to be Shinto. Many people consider themselves to be followers of both Shintoism and Buddhism. These two religions have a history of syncretism with each other, though at times forcible distinctions were made.
Comparing these statistics with more recent ones in 2004, we see that about 44% of the population considered themselves to be Buddhist, based on a population at that time of 127.6 million people. Nara religions accounted for 0.56% of the population, Zen 2.6%, Tendai 2.7%, Shingon 9.9%, Nichiren 13%, and Pure Land 15.3% (O'Brien). It seems that Soka Gakkai, Reiyukai, and Nichiren are all included under the heading of Nichiren here. Also, Jodo and Shin Buddhism seem to be included under the heading of Pure Land Buddhism. In summary, Jodo, Shin Buddhism and schools based on Nichiren's exaltation of the Lotus Sutra were still the most popular, with Shingon Buddhism, Tendai Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism also accounting for a large percentage of followers.
The tallest statue in the world presently is in China and is of the Vairocana Buddha, which stands at 128 meters. Japan has 10 idols of Kannon that are taller than the U.S. statue of liberty (which is 46 meters tall). The tallest statue in Japan is the Amida (Amitabha) Buddha at 110 meters. Of all the Buddhist statues in Japan ranging from 13 meters to 110 meters tall, the top four types are as follows: Vairocana Buddha (3 statues), Kukai (4 statues), Amida Buddha (4 statues), and Kannon (32 statues). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_statues_by_height). The massive amount of money that is poured into these statues tells us something about where people's hearts are at. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21).
The popularity of various statues gives a slightly different picture compared to the popularity of the various Buddhist sects. With the popularity of Shin Buddhism, we would expect there to be more statues of Amida. Kannon is overwhelmingly the most popular statue, but it doesn't even have a sect dedicated solely to it. Kannon features prominently in the Lotus Sutra though, which Soka Gakkai, Nichiren, Reiyukai, and Tendai all exalt. Shin and Jodo Buddhism also give a place to Kannon, next to Amida. Vairocana is the central Buddha of the Shingon sect. And, Kukai (AD 774-835) was the founder of the Shingon sect. So, in a way this distribution does make sense.
Ayako Kawanishi's Story from Hyogo Ken, 90 years old (June 2013)
(Thank you Geoff and Fumie Toole for recording this.)
Praise the Lord. About 30 years ago there was a pastor who had been a teacher in my son’s school. He saw that society had given up taking care of children’s souls. Realizing that the training of the soul was important, as opposed to only teaching academic subjects, he quit teaching and ended up studying in a theological college to become a pastor. My son also attended his church and one day he visited me at home. He invited me to come to church and shared with me the following scripture.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
But I thought that it would be impossible for me to go to church. Actually my grandmother was the daughter of a Buddhist priest [Jodo Shinshu]. As a child I had gone to Buddhist Sunday school, learned to recite the "Okyo" Buddhist chants and learned stories about the Buddha. I repeated the Buddhist chants each morning and evening. On top of that, our lives were saved by returning to my grandmother’s temple in the countryside just before my house was burned and destroyed during the war in Hiroshima. They had looked after us during the war, so I felt that I could not turn away from their religion...I was always against my son’s faith.
Even in the days following the war in Japan, every day was a struggle with my children and family. Everything had been burned down and all resources had been lost. Somehow we managed to live day to day. In search of some solution to my problems, I bought a Zen book and read it but it didn’t contain the answers I was looking for. I finally thought (after many years) I would go along with my son to church one day.
The first church I went to was Nishinomiya Baptist Church. There was a wonderful American missionary couple there who taught great things about the Bible. It was wonderful for me to see all the smiling faces and to be in such a happy environment. I learned that God had given Jesus Christ to a world lost in sin to die in my place for my sins. My small, narrow heart which had long been troubled was turned 180 degrees and filled with light.
I don’t know how many people’s hearts have been saved by the many words God has left us in the Bible. I am so grateful that Japan has become a nation which legally recognizes freedom of religion so that even people like myself can freely go to church. Ever since then I have looked forward to going to church each week on Sunday and now I find that I am 90 years old. I greatly enjoy living each day in good health and in God’s care. As I look back on my life there have been many struggles, but the words of the Bible have always given me the answers. I give thanks to the Name of the Lord for all things.