A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Japanese

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JAPANESE. The religion of these islanders is paganism, but under some peculiar forms which deserve attention—particularly, the Sinto, the ancient idol worship of the Japanese; the Budso, or foreign idol worship, introduced from China; and the religion of their philosophers and moralists.

I. The Sintos have some obscure and imperfect notions of the immortality of the soul, and a future state of bliss and misery; they acknowledge a supreme Being, who, they believe, dwells in the highest heaven; and admit of some inferiour gods, whom they place among the stars; but they worship and invoke those gods alone whom they believe to have the sovereign control over this world, its elements, productions, and animals; these, they suppose, will not only render them happy here, but, by interceding for them at the hour of death, may procure them a happy condition hereafter. Hence their dairis, or ecclesiastical chiefs, being thought lineally descended from the eldest and most favoured sons of these deities, are supposed to be the true and lining images of their gods.

The Sintos believe that the soul, after quitting the body, is removed to the high sub-celestial fields, seated just beneath the dwelling places of their gods; that those, who have led a good life, find immediate admission, while the souls of the wicked are denied entrance, and condemned to wander till they have expiated their crimes.

Their religion enjoins abstaining from blood, from eating flesh, or being near a dead body; by which a person is for a time rendered unfit to visit their temples, or to appear in the presence of their gods. It also commands a diligent observance of the solemn festivals, in honour of their gods; pilgrimages to the holy places at Isje; that is, to the temple of Tensio-Dai-Sin, the greatest of all the gods of the Japanese; and the chastisement and mortification of their bodies. But few of them pay much regard to this precept.

II. The most essential points of the Budso religion are: That the souls of men and animals are immortal, and both of the same substance, differing only according to the bodies in which they are placed; and that after the souls of mankind have left their bodies, they shall be rewarded or punished according to their behaviour in this life. Their god Armida is the sovereign commander of heaven; and is considered as the patron and protector of human souls; and to obtain his approbation it is requisite to lead a virtuous life, and do nothing contrary to the live commandments, viz. not to kill any thing that has life; not to steal; not to commit fornication; to avoid lies, and all falsehood; not to drink strong liquors. On, the other hand, all the vicious, priests or laymen, are, after death, sent to a place of misery, to be tormented for a certain time, according to the nature and number of their crimes, the number of years they lived upon earth, and their opportunities for becoming good and virtuous. Yet they suppose the miseries of these unhappy souls may be greatly alleviated by the virtuous lives of their relations and friends, and still more by the prayers and offerings of the priests to their great god, Armida. When vicious souls have expiated their crimes, they are sent back to animate such vile animals as resembled them in their former state of existence. From the vilest of these transmigrating into other and nobler, they, at last, are suffered again to enter human bodies; and thus have it in their power, by their virtue and piety, to obtain an uninterrupted state of felicity.

III. The philosophers and moralists pay no regard to any of the forms of worship practised in the country. Their supreme good consists in the pleasure and delight which arise from the steady practice of virtue. They do not admit of the transmigration of souls; but believe that there is an universal soul diffused throughout nature, animating all things, and reassuming departed souls as the sea does the rivers. This universal spirit they confound with the supreme Being.

These philosophers consider self-murder as an heroic and commendable action, when it is the only means of avoiding a shameful death, or of escaping from the hands of a victorious enemy. They conform to the general custom of their country, in commemorating their deceased parents and relations, by placing all sorts of provisions on a table provided for the purpose; but they celebrate no other festivals, nor pay any respect to the gods of the country.[1]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Payne's Epitome of Hist. vol. ii. p. 36-53.