Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
Use of Buddhist terms in the Nestorian inscription, A.D. 781—Mo, "demon;" in Sanscrit, mara—Ti-yü, "hell," is naraka—Ten judges of hell—Among them Pau Cheng, the famous judge of the Sung dynasty—The Sung philosophers encouraged the popular belief in future retribution—This prepares for Christianity—T‘ien-t‘ang, "heaven"—Defects of this term—Ming-kung, &c., as names for "heaven"—Buddhist paradises possibly borrowed from Western Asia or some other country farther west—Redemption—Ti-tsang and Kwan-yin—Pity—Instruction—Effect of sin—Decreed forgiveness to penitents—Secret merit—Happiness and merit confounded—Sin and misery confounded—Illustration from the narrative of a Christian convert.
WE teach the Chinese the Christian religion by means of their own language, and in their vocabulary of religious terms many words and phrases of Buddhist origin have come into common use.
The Syrian inscription, A.D. 781, shows that no scruple was felt by the first Christian missionaries in China in adopting many Buddhist terms.
We find there mo, "devil." This is the common word used in mo-kwei. Both name and being are of Hindoo origin; the "delusions of the devil" are called mo-wang. Hell is called "palace of darkness," an-fu. The "ship of mercy" conveys the faithful disciples across the sea to heaven. The ship is ts‘ï-hang; "heaven" is ming-kung;
[paragraph continues] Christian "monks" were called seng, from the Sa limit sanga, "assembly;" a "monastery" is called sï, as by the Chinese Buddhists; a "monk's robe" is called kia-sha, which is the Sanscrit word for "gown," kashaya.
Buddhism throve in the T‘ang dynasty. It was the era when Hiuen-tsang went to India. His journey was an instance of the depth of religious faith which characterised the Chinese followers of Gautama in his age, and it also secured an immense increase of popularity to the ideas of his sect. Buddhism was very powerful in the court, and profoundly influenced the literature. Translations from Sanscrit were made with extreme care, and received from the literati a high literary finish. The influence of Buddhism is distinctly seen in the dictionaries of the time, in the syllabic spelling, in the discovery of the four tones, and the settlement of the laws of poetry consequent on that discovery. The poets and critics of the T‘ang dynasty were conscious of great obligations to Buddhism, and made scarcely any decisive and persistent effort to check the spread of popular faith in that religion, and the general adoption of Hindoo phrases and terms in the language. Han Yü, in his Fo-ku-piau, was an exception.
The Syrian Christians extended their missions in China at a time when Buddhism was in the ascendant, and adopted terms from the professors of that religion which indicate a more extensive principle of imitation than either the Roman Catholics or the Protestants have in later times thought of adopting. The reason is found in the popularity of Buddhism in the capital of China in the time of the Nestorian missionaries. That religion was much favoured at court, and was the chief agent in teaching the future state and the superiority of the monastic life as a means of subduing the passions. Both Buddhism and Christianity came from the West; and it would be for the Nestorians difficult to maintain the mutual independence of the two religions, agreeing as they did in a belief in a world of happiness and of misery for mankind after the present
life. The fact that the Nestorian monks called themselves seng, as the Buddhists do, has some light thrown on it by an incident in the life of Matthew Ricci. He adopted a Buddhist priest's dress and shaved his head. But after making trial for a time of this costume he changed it for that of the Confucianists, as it was worn in the Ming dynasty. Perhaps the Nestorian priests adopted and retained the Buddhist costume in ordinary life, and reserved their own ceremonial robes for special occasions, as the Roman Catholics do now with the Confucianist.
The word seng, for "priest," they probably took to be an exact equivalent of their cohen. So in colloquial English, we call the Buddhist monks Buddhist priests. We have given up the word bonzes, the Japanese term introduced by Portuguese and other Romish missionaries, into European accounts of the religion of this part of the world. To call them priests at all is, however, somewhat negligent English. The Roman Catholics have done better to call their "monks" sieu-shï, and their "nuns" sieu-nü, rather than to style them seng or ho-shang, and ni-ku or ni-seng. Sieu is "cultivate moral virtues;" shï, "scholar," "person;" nü is "woman."
Times have changed. The Buddhists are not now wafted to a proud position by the gales of popular applause; and still less in the present dynasty, than in the Ming dynasty, would the Jesuit gain any advantage by following the example of Ricci while he was in South China, in adopting the Buddhist garb.
In discussing Buddhist phrases capable of being applied in Christian teaching, I will begin with mo, the "devil." This is in Sanscrit mara. The maras are, in Buddhist phraseology, a class of demons. They are not known to the Brahmans. The word is formed from the root mar, "death," and is an Aryan personification of death. By the Buddhists the maras are regarded as a king with a host of followers. They wage war against Buddhism, and when Shakyamuni was living he had successful contests
with them. In Buddhist books all temptations are demons. A demon is hidden in everything that can cause evil to man. The demon of anger prompts to sin in every case of sinful anger. So of lust, of drunkenness, of theft, and each form of sin.
The use of mo has become so extended that in our translations of the Bible it is freely used for the Greek διαβολος, diabolus in the literary and colloquial versions. To Christian converts it gradually assumes a Christian sense in proportion as they are instructed in the Biblical representations of the power, agency, and character of Satan. But if not instructed, the views of the convert are Buddhistic. These views are brought into connection with "possession," as seen in an intoxicated man, an importunate beggar who cannot be got rid of, an opium smoker who is under the dominion of his habit, or a scholar who cannot cease from study. Such persons are possessed by a demon who is called kwei, but in the poetry of the Tang and the Sung dynasties he might be called mo. A writer is free from the mo-chang, "demoniacal film or hindrance," when his thoughts and language flow freely and beautifully.
The main idea is often that of causing trouble by possession. Ju-mo, "a demon entering," is a phrase which is quite commonly used to express the idea. To "become deluded," "to be deadened to," are also thus described. Nan-mo or nan-kwei are common examples of the way in which "demons causing trouble" is expressed.
Evidently it is necessary in using mo for the Christian sense, to distinguish accurately the peculiar meaning of the word in the heathen religions. The Christian mo-kwei is more intensely wicked than the Buddhist mo-kwei. But both in Europe and in Asia, in ancient or modern times. we nowhere find the demon world dissociated from the phenomenon of possession in popular language. It is one of the primitive identities, permanently retained in the phraseology of all religions.
Another common Buddhist expression is, ti-yü, "earth's prison." The Sanscrit naraka, "the abodes of demons," places of punishment underneath the world of men, are so designated.
The advantage of the employment of this term is that it is ready for use, that it agrees with our word "hell" in being a place of punishment; and, further, that the visible universe being to the Chinese consciousness in two parts, viz., heaven and earth, it must always be convenient to the Christian teacher to speak of "hell" as belonging to earth. The objections to its use are great. It misplaces the locality. No modern Christian books place hell underground. It is plural as much as singular, while our word for the place of punishment is always singular. Further, it gives the Confucianist occasion to say that we have borrowed from the Buddhists, and that we must share in the same condemnation which the adherents of that religion have had to endure.
The authors who have reasoned against Christianity on the ground of the identity of the doctrine of hell being much the same in the two religions, and that we have borrowed from the Buddhists, are Sü Ki-yü in Ying-hwan-chï-lio, Wei Yuen in Hai-kwo-t‘u-chï, and the king of Corea in his edict against Christianity, taken away from the hill fort at the mouth of the Corean river, by the United States naval force which captured the fort eleven years ago.
The words used for "hell" in our translations of the Bible are yin-fu (the hidden palace), yin-kien (the dark world). The natives also use yin-sï, the (place of hidden judgment). Ti-yü is never used in our translations, at least the recent ones; but all missionaries use it colloquially, and it finds its place in our catechisms. These phrases, yin-fu, yin-kien, yin-sï, are very modern. They are subsequent to the teaching of the metempsychosis in China. The term used for hell in the Syrian inscription A.D. 781 is an-fu, "palace of darkness," a phrase borrowed
from the Buddhism of the time, and meaning the same as yin-fu.
Since the Sung dynasty, the popular notion of hell in China has been formed chiefly by the prevalent representations of the ten tribunals seen in temples and in the Yü-li (probably A.D. 1068) and other works. Punishments are here depicted in the most frightful forms. The incendiary is bound by a chain to a hot cylinder, which he clasps with his arms and legs; flames are being poured forth from the top and sides of the cylinder. Those who guard written characters from desecration enjoy honours and wealth. Those who waste grains of rice and millet are seen changed into horses, sheep, and oxen. The retribution corresponds with the sin and the merit in all cases.
In the consent of the governing class to those popular representations of hell which we see painted with charcoal on the white walls of temples, or formed with moulded and painted figures of clay, or taking the form of prints in popular Tauist literature, we see an important concession. While the literary class do not believe in heaven or in hell, they see the advantage that may be derived from them in the inculcation of virtue. In the hands of the moral teacher, future retribution is a powerful engine for good. This is recognised by the governing class so far, that they encourage the people to have in temples the horribly grotesque and alarming models in clay of future punishment which we see there. The celebrated judge Pau Cheng, of the Sung dynasty, who died A.D. 1062, is the fifth of the ten judges. The rest are all Chinese, as we know by their surnames, and probably actual judges of about the same period.
The late Dr. Medhurst, when visiting T‘ien-mu shan, in the vicinity of Hang-cheu, was hospitably entertained by the magistrate of the hien city of Hiau-feng. In the course of conversation he asked his host what he expected would be his lot in the future state. He replied that he supposed he would become a C‘heng-hwang-ye. This little
circumstance shows how the Sung dynasty practice of canonising good magistrates has taken hold upon the country, and made the people think a magistracy in the invisible world quite as attainable as a like post of honour in the present state of existence. Often, however, they will, in using phrases of this kind, speak jokingly. Sung dynasty emperors were the first to practise, so far as I know, the appointment of local magistrates for the invisible world, with jurisdiction over particular cities. None of the Sung philosophers lifted up a voice against it. They allowed the up-growth of the religious usages and arrangements connected with the Tung-yo miau, the Ch‘eng-hwang miau, and the T‘u-ti miau. All of these temples are erected to divinities who are supposed to deal with mankind in the future state in the way of just retribution for their crimes.
These and other judicial divinities were elevated to their posts with the assistance of the literary class, who are, however, ashamed to recognise them in their writings. They kneel before them as officers on duty, encourage the people to believe in the reality of their jurisdiction, and avoid protesting against them in their writings. What the literati believe in their hearts to be a monstrous fiction, is to be allowed on account of its moral and political benefits.
What shall the Christian missionary in these circumstances do with the native doctrine of retribution? He will assure the people that there is revealed in the Christian Scriptures a retribution just, comprehensive, and inevitable. He may allude to the modern origin of the Ten judges, and condemn the Sung philosophers for their insincerity in allowing, if not inventing, this mythological creation. He may proceed to condemn the Buddhist also for teaching that Yama is judge in the invisible world, when, according to their own metaphysics, Yama is nothing; and for urging the Chinese to accept a doctrine of hell punishments which they teach, not as what they
really believe, but as a means to an end. In this they set an example of false teaching which the Confucianists were only too ready to accept and imitate. The Christian retribution will come before the Chinese mind on quite a different footing, as resting on the instruction of a divine Saviour.
But let us be candid in acknowledging the aid we receive from Buddhists in previously spreading far and wide among the people the idea of a moral retribution; for this helps us to bring over more quickly to the understanding of the Christian faith on this point, any of the population who are familiar with the Buddhist teaching.
This is the case even with sects like the Sin-siu in Japan. That sect professes to believe in absorption into the absolute. Many Buddhists profess to take the Western heaven as the goal of their hopes. But these beliefs or aspirations are capable of being reconciled with beliefs in the heavens and hells of the metempsychosis, and they are actually taught along with them. Even the most metaphysical Buddhists, and those who have the most abstruse notion possible of the Nirvâna, still teach as exoteric doctrine the metempsychosis as known in India.
That I am not wrong in imputing to the literati who belonged to the later Sung dynasty, and especially Chu Hi, a principal part in the encouragement of the popular belief in future retribution, may be shown by the chronology. The author of the Yü-li, a Tauist named Tan Chi, who was the first to give currency to the legend of the Ten royal judges, lived more than a century before Chu Chï. The two brothers, Ch‘eng Ming-tau and Cheng Yi-chwen, lived a little before Tan Chï, in the early part of the eleventh century. The elder died the year before the Yü-li was made; the younger lived for nearly twenty years after. Then came the time of Hwei-tsung, who is said to have deified Chang Yi with the title Yü-hwang to-ti, and who was carried with his son into Tartary a prisoner under the Nü-chih dynasty. This was the period
of the founding of this new Tauist school of a future state, with ten judicial courts, and with Yü-hwang to-ti enthroned as a judge of human actions. Then was the time also that Tsï-hwang shang-ti and Feng-tu to-ti were made divine judges, each with his special court for the determination of the happiness or misery in the future state of each individual man.
Chu fu-tsï witnessed all this and did not protest against it. He saw also rising round him the novelty of the Ch‘eng-hwang miau, with its judicial apparatus, its magistrate for trying cases in Hades, and its array of clay servitors, with arrangements for periodical processions through the region over which he had jurisdiction, for the sake of knowing the good and bad conduct of individuals. He saw these things and made no struggle against the extension of superstition. The worst he said of Buddhism was, that the doctrine of Yang and Mih was better. The reaction against Buddhism, so far from beginning with him, began rather, as I think, with the expulsion of the images of Confucius, which had in the Sung dynasty found their way into the temples of Confucius in cities. This expulsion took place in the Ming dynasty, and in the present dynasty the reaction against Buddhism has been stronger among the literati. But the pictures of the ten hells have come to be more and more used.
It is important to note that Chu fu-tsï lived in an age when the Tauist images, and the mythology connected with them received a great development, against which he made no protest. Chu Hi ought not to be put forward as the authoritative representative of Chinese thought; and some foreign scholars appear to me to have erred in regarding his views as final, and as the accepted expression of Chinese thought, ancient and modern. In fact, there is scarcely any one who has been by later writers more heavily condemned. His influence has been great, and it continued long, and some of his works are still authorised school-books; but his authority as a thinker
and a scholar, is in the present dynasty challenged and criticised severely by all independent writers, without an exception.
It is possible that Chu Hi may have felt that the doctrine of future retribution is likely to be true. He was certainly rather fond of reading Buddhist books. He may not have cared to contradict what was to some extent perhaps true. Let it be borne in mind that in the "Book of Odes" he approves of the rendering in a certain well-known passage, "The soul of Wen Wang moves up and down in the presence of the Eternal." Scholars not in favour of the continued existence of the soul after death usually explain this away.
The term t‘ien-t‘ang, for "heaven," seems to be founded on the use of t‘ang as a "hall" for holding a court. Heaven is present to the native mind as a vast hall where the Deity sits in celestial state with subordinate divinities as his assessors. The phrase is not Hindoo, but the idea is Hindoo. In other words, the Chinese have made a phrase of their own, to fit the Buddhist notion of a paradise or palace of the gods. The reason is not far to seek. The Buddhist translators, when rendering the word "god" used t‘ien invariably. The Sanscrit deva, the Latin deus, and the Bengali debta, have no other equivalent in Chinese than t‘ien, "heaven." At the same time devaloka, the "heaven of a deva," is also translated by t‘ien, thus causing some confusion. This mixture of two senses has led to the addition of t‘ang, in ordinary colloquial use, for heaven as a paradise. This phrase t‘ien-t‘ang, "heavenly hall," is of course modern and subsequent to the spread of Buddhism.
The narrow limitation of the word to the sense "hall" is an objection, but Christians all feel that the chief and prevailing sense is in the word t‘ien. The Christian usage omits t‘ang as often as it admits it, even in colloquial intercourse and in preaching. In the various translations of the Bible, t‘ien-t‘ang is never used.
T‘ien-kung, "palace of heaven," is not inappropriate for the throne-scene in the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation; but it is not used in the Chinese versions of the Scriptures. Like ti-yü for "hell," it is limited to colloquial use in Christian literature. In Buddhist books, tien-tang is not used for "heaven," but t‘ien-kung, "palace of the gods," which is so used, is a good deal like it, and resembles ming-kung, "bright palace," which is found in the Syrian inscription for "heaven," and in late Christian literature occasionally. Ming-kung and t‘ien-t‘ang are both of them phrases formed on the Hindoo notion of heaven.
"Heaven" and "hell" are both embraced in yin-kien. The invisible world includes states of happiness as well as misery. This reminds us of Homer, where, in the eleventh Book of the Odyssey, he describes the interviews of Ulysses with many of the shades of the dead, including his own mother. The palace of Pluto and the abodes of the dead were regarded by Homer and his contemporaries as underground. Was not the notion of ti-yü, "earth's prison," taken to India from countries farther west? Egypt may have been the parent of the idea of a subterraneous prison of the dead. We find the notion in Egypt, in Greece, in Babylon, and in India; but it is not in the Vedas. It was either originated in India after the Vedic age, or it was then introduced from elsewhere. I prefer somewhat the hypothesis of Western origin, on account of the similarity of the view held of the future state as given in Buddhist books, with those found in the religious books of Western races.
We are beginning to find out how fruitful was the Greek mind, not only in inventing, but in communicating the knowledge of inventions. The traces of Greek influence are found in Hindoo architecture, in Hindoo astronomy, in Hindoo arithmetic, and in Hindoo philosophy. The Sanscrit writing is now admitted to be of Semitic origin. The Hindoo hells which are first found in the "Laws of Manu,"
of uncertain date, somewhere between B.C. 800 and B.C. 500, and then in the Buddhist books, and which are intimately connected with the metempsychosis, may have come from Western countries, and subsequently have been elaborated into the Hindoo shape, when the universe based on the metempsychosis was in course of construction by the Hindoo mind; at any rate when Chinese critics charge Christianity with borrowing "heaven and hell" from the Buddhists, we are right in pointing out that the Olympus of the Greek gods, and the Hades of Pluto (Poseidon), in Homer, are more ancient conceptions than the Buddhist hells and paradises; and that, whether it was from Egypt, from Babylon, or from some other source, the borrowing is on the whole more likely to have been the other way. Otherwise, why do the oldest Hindoo books say nothing of the "earth prisons" and the "palaces of the gods"?
Redemption.—Each Buddha and Bodhisattwa is a redeemer. I notice here Ti-tsang-wang p‘u-sa. He is called Yeu-ming-kiau-chu, "Teacher of the unseen world." Full of benevolence and grace towards mankind, he opens a path for self-reformation and pardon of sins.
The phrases here used are such as we employ in describing the Christian redemption. The Buddhist redemption is moral; for it includes repentance, and rescue from the net of the delusions of Maya, partly moral and partly mental (Maya-saus, "a juggler," "idealism," "delusion"). It brings the idea of grace before the people. That grace is pity in the heart of Buddha, or some Bodhisattwa such as Kwan-yin, prompting them to teach true doctrine to those who have gone astray. In the Buddhist books the Bodhisattwa expresses a wish and proceeds to accomplish it. In the Tauist books, however, the utterance of the wish is attributed to Ti-tsang or Kwan-yin, but the issue of the decree of salvation is ascribed to Yü-hwang ta-ti or Tsï-hwang shang-ti. The love of Buddha is self-prompted, and is the result of a determination entered on millions of years
before in an earlier life. It may be doubted whether this self-originating love can logically be claimed by the Buddhists; for they also believe in an impersonal fate which compels the succession of events just as they happen. But it is better wherever we find a moral love like that of Buddhism, being at once the enemy of vice and the friend of virtue, to recognise its existence and assign due credit to it.
This being so, it seems proper to say, further, that the resemblances with Christianity are most striking. (1.) There is the self-prompted pity of P‘u-sa for mankind. (2.) P‘u-sa saves men by instruction, from the punishments in which they will certainly be involved in the hundred and thirty-eight hells. (3.) The cause of future punishment is sin committed in the "present life," yang-kien. (4.) The god of the Tauists is represented as promulgating a gracious decree, to remit the punishment of hell for those who repent.
Such is the way in which redemption is represented in modern Tauist works, where a Buddhist element is freely intermingled. A mixed mythology and scheme for a fictitious salvation had grown up in the Sung dynasty, and continued to prevail till the present time in works like the Yü-li. In it we see a sort of preparation for Christianity, in the way of familiarising the minds of the people with phraseology which may be used in describing the Christian redemption in several particulars.
The purely Buddhist notion of the Western heaven, and the disciples of the Tauist sect leading the soul to that abode of happiness, are also introduced without scruple in these Tauist representations. I have often thought that the religious pilgrims, pictured with banners in their hands inscribed with the sentence tsie-yin-si-fang, "we will lead you to the Western heaven," a Tauist priest in front, pencil in hand, ready to write on the head of new disciples met upon the way the sign of initiation to the religious life, might be very effectively used as an illustration to describe the zeal which Christians ought to show in
holding aloft their banner in the path of their pilgrimage, and in the readiness which they should exhibit to look out on the way for the victims of sin and error, and induce them to join in the march to the heavenly city.
Secret merit.—Any virtuous actions are meritorious, and form a stock which may be heaped up like grain in a barn, and constitute a man's treasure of benefits to come. No good action, says the Buddhist, is lost. The spirits unseen will be sure to take note of it. If you do good, there is an absolute certainty that you will receive benefits by way of recompense. Hence the phrase tsi-yin-kung, "accumulation of secret merit."
A curious confusion takes place here, through that mental tendency which sometimes mixes the cause of an act with the event. Merit produces happiness. Therefore the name happiness is given to merit. In Mongolian Buddhism boyin is both "happiness" and "merit." Etymologically, it is the Chinese fu, "happiness;" doctrinally, it is any good action. In the ordinary language of social life, it is either happiness or religious merit. In Chinese Buddhism, tsui-fu means either "misery" and "happiness," or "sin" and "virtue." You may translate them either way; tsui is "misery," but it is also "sin;" fu is "happiness," but it is also "merit." In the ordinary use of sheu-tsui in Chinese, "bear suffering" is the idea. The conception of "sin" is lost. This is the effect of Buddhist teaching.
The following passages occur:—T‘iau-t‘o-tsui fu-chï-kwan, "leap out of and escape the gate of misery and happiness;" sien-t‘sung-tsui-fu-yin-kwo-i-jan-sing-wu, "first wake up with a shock from (the delusive dream of) causes and effects, of misery and happiness."
The effect of Buddhist doctrine on heaven and hell may be judged of partially by a statement in No. 480 1 of the Wan-kwo-kung pau. An account is there given by a convert of the Basel mission, in the district of Sin-an, near
[paragraph continues] Canton, of his personal experience, first as a heathen and afterwards as a Christian. After leading a dissolute life for some years, he began at the age of twenty-seven to read such books as Pau-ying-lu, Yin-chï-wen, and Kan-ying-p‘ien. These teach future retribution in the most appalling language when describing the torments of the wicked, and they make use of the most inviting pictures of the happiness of the virtuous. He then read also Yü-li-ch‘au-chwen. He says regarding it, that it speaks of "heaven," t‘ien-t‘ang, as a place of incomparable glory, and of "hell" or "earth's prison," ti-yü, as the abode of misery indescribable. He continues: “At this time I was so affected by what these books said, that I felt my very hair and bones grow stiff with fear at the thought of the character of my past life. Coming to myself I looked up to heaven and said, 'How shall I escape the punishment of earth's prison?' My conscience condemned me. Waking and sleeping I could get no rest. I continued to read books exhorting to virtue, and meditated deeply on them. I kept on saying to myself, 'Do nothing wrong, but practice every good deed;' or else I thought in my innermost mind about the words, 'Lust is the most deadly of all sins, and filial piety the chief of all virtues.' Of these words I made a warning and a rule. Sometimes I presented a written petition to Wen-ch’ang ti-kiün, declaring my determination to live virtuously. At other times I made it a daily habit to go morning and evening to the image of Kwan-yin and burn incense before it, at the same time reading the 'Book (King) of Kwan-yïn,' and praying to that divinity to rescue me from my miseries. I also prayed to High Heaven, making use of four sentences:—'I strike my head and worship the blue heaven;' 'My ruined life has been marked by thousands and tens of thousands of sins;' 'I pray thee to have pity on me;' 'I beg forgiveness for all past sins.' I was so full of alarm, that I was anxious to perform some meritorious act to free me from all my sins.
“Occasionally also on returning home, I presented incense, and read a prayer to the kitchen god, and was accustomed to take the manual for the worship of the god, and recite passages to various members of the family, exhorting them to compliance with the direction to be very reverential to the kitchen god. I also urged my parents to avoid eating beef and dog's flesh, for the preservation of their good fortune.
"My desire to be virtuous grew greater as I observed the cheats and craft of the world, and the selfishness and greed of many persons. I was at that time bent on becoming a good man, and superior to others, and so acquiring a variety of high rewards."
He then proceeds to show that all this time he was himself deluded in a multitude of ways, and firmly bound in the snares of ignorance, till, by the help of his grandmother, an old lady of eighty-seven years, who had been for years an excellent Christian, he was brought to the exercise of faith in Christ and His Gospel.
Undoubtedly this is an example extremely interesting and instructive, as showing how the Buddhist doctrine of heaven and hell prepares for the Christian. I proceed to detail the steps of this man's conversion. The old lady had five sons, all of whom, except our convert's father and the eldest, followed their mother in adopting Christianity. The opposition of these two sons to Christianity continued for years, and the writer of the account was brought up an unbeliever. The grandmother, coming one day to chapel, slipped her foot, and sustained a severe injury. A Christian helped our convert in taking care of her, and in applying his medical skill to cure her. While he was doing this, he plied our convert with exhortations to accept the new doctrine. As he spoke of the coming judgment, and of heaven and hell, our convert felt himself deeply moved. It just suited his mode of fear and of longing. It helped him to make up his mind and give his will a fixed direction, so that he yielded himself to the
influence of the new religion and became a secret believer. When his grandmother reiterated her earnest appeals to him to adopt the true faith, he consented. He still felt, however, afraid of calumny and reproach, and confined his praying to the schoolroom where he taught. At last, he says, he felt stronger faith, went to join in worship at the chapel, met the missionary, and was afterwards soundly chastised by his parents. He was subsequently baptized, and entered the training institution of the Basel Mission.
Let attention be given here to the circumstance, that this man, a genuine convert to Christianity, had made an unsuccessful attempt at a moral self-reformation in connection with the Buddhist doctrine of heaven and hell, and the moral teaching inculcated in the universally-known Tauist publications, the names of which he mentions in his account.
The retribution proclaimed by Buddhism led him to an outward reformation, consisting in the abandonment of a vicious life. At this time he had a glimmering of certain truths, found imbedded in heathen beliefs. He had the moral intention leading him to forsake some sins, but he did not achieve a satisfactory escape from doubt and temptation. This could only be the gift of Christianity; yet, in Buddhism, he had the guidance of a certain light which led him to become a seeker for truth. Christianity found him not altogether cold and dull, but in an inquiring and unsatisfied attitude. He was looking for more light than that of Buddhism—for stronger love than that of Buddhism—for a brighter hope than that of Buddhism. These he found in the Gospel.
Not only had the moral teaching of Tauist books and the Buddhist doctrine of heaven and hell a distinctly perceptible effect in inclining him strongly to self-reformation, but the habit of Buddhist devotion, in the form of reciting passages from liturgical books, and prayers for aid to escape from misery, helped him in commencing a quasi-religious life. The petition to Wen-ch‘ang ti-kiun, a star
god, is a written prayer burnt in the incense flame. The prayer to Kwan-yin is an appeal to the powerful divinity, who promises to exercise her delivering power as a P‘u-sa to every supplicant. The habit of prayer was already formed, when he was induced by faithful Christian friends and relatives to pray to the God revealed in the Bible. When he did so, he begged the recovery of his grandmother, in order, he adds, that she might lead him and his family with her to the hall of worship. His grandmother recovered, and he felt that his prayer was answered. This led him to great earnestness in prayer and strength of faith; for she was confident that the cure took place by the immediate exercise of God's power, and in answer to prayer. His habit of heathen devotion was transmuted into Christian devotion. Christianity takes man as it finds him, and makes him, by teaching and training, a servant of God.
I do not in any way doubt that Buddhist doctrines have been, for the Christian teacher, most important preparation for Christianity; and that, through the spread of these doctrines, the Chinese people look upon Christianity with much less strangeness, and accept its doctrines with much less difficulty, than otherwise they would have been able to do.
On the other hand, it may be said that Buddhist priests do not easily become converts; that Polynesians, Negroes, un-Mohammedanised Malays, and the mountain tribes in Birmah and India, become converts more readily than the Chinese. This, perhaps, has been so hitherto, but I doubt if it will be so in the future. There have been causes which have operated to check the progress of Christianity in China. They have been chiefly originated by the Confucianists. When opposition from the literati is removed, it is surprising with what ease Christianity can be propagated. One reason of this is, that the minds of the people are impregnated with Buddhist ideas and the language with Buddhist expressions.
353:1 This paper was read in the spring of 1878, before an association of missionaries resident in Peking.
366:1 Published at Shanghai, March 16th, 1878.