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The Religion of the Samurai

4. Buddha, The Universal Spirit
1. The Ancient Buddhist Pantheon.
The ancient Buddhist pantheon was full of deities or Buddhas, 3,000[FN#137] in number,
or rather countless, and also of Bodhisattvas no less than Buddhas. Nowadays, however,
in every church of Mahayanism one Buddha or another together with some Bodhisattvas
reigns supreme as the sole object of worship, while other supernatural beings sink in
oblivion. These Enlightened Beings, regardless of their positions in the pantheon, were
generally regarded as persons who in their past lives cultivated virtues, underwent
austerities, and various sorts of penance, and at length attained to a complete
Enlightenment, by virtue of which they secured not only peace and eternal bliss, but
acquired divers supernatural powers, such as clairvoyance, clairaudience, all-knowledge,
and what not. Therefore, it is natural that some Mahayanists[FN#138] came to believe
that, if they should go through the same course of discipline and study, they could attain
to the same Enlightenment and Bliss, or the same Buddhahood, while other
Mahayanists[FN#139] came to believe in the doctrine that the believer is saved and led
up to the eternal state of bliss, without undergoing these hard disciplines, by the power of
a Buddha known as having boundless mercy and fathomless wisdom whom he invokes.
[FN#137] Trikalpa-trisahasra-buddhanrama-sutra gives the names of 3,000 Buddhas, and
Buddhabhisita-buddhanama-sutra enumerates Buddhas and Bodhisattvas 11,093 in
number. See Nanjo's Catalogue, Nos. 404, 405, 406, 407.
[FN#138] Those who believe in the doctrine of Holy Path. See 'A History of the Twelve
Japanese Buddhist Sects,' pp. 109-111.
[FN#139] Those who believe in the doctrine of the Pure Land.
2. Zen is Iconoclastic.
For the followers of Bodhidharma, however, this conception of Buddha seemed too crude
to be accepted unhesitatingly and the doctrine too much irrelevant with and uncongenial
to actual life. Since Zen denounced, as we have seen in the previous chapter, the
scriptural authority, it is quite reasonable to have given up this view of Buddha inculcated
in the Mahayana sutras, and to set at naught those statues and images of supernatural
beings kept in veneration by the orthodox Buddhists. Tan Hia (Tan-ka), a noted Chinese
Zen master, was found warming himself on a cold morning by the fire made of a wooden
statue of Buddha. On another occasion he was found mounting astride the statue of a
saint. Chao Chen (Jo-shu) one day happened to find Wang Yuen (Bun-yen) worshipping
the Buddha in the temple, and forthwith struck him with his staff. "Is there not anything
good in the worshipping of the Buddha?" protested Wang Yuen. Then the master said:
"Nothing is better than anything good."[FN#140] These examples fully illustrate Zen's
attitude towards the objects of Buddhist worship. Zen is not, nevertheless, iconoclastic in