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Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, [1893], at

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Originated two hundred and seventy years ago by a native of Shan-tang—No showy ceremonial—No images—Sacred books six in number—Interview of the founder with the emperor of the period Chena te—Discussion with opponents—Victory—One of their leaders was crucified.

INTERSPERSED through the village population of the eastern provinces of China are to be found the adherents of a religion called the Wu-wei-kiau. They are little known, usually belong to the lower ranks of life, and have few books. Their principles, however, render them remarkable. They are a kind of reformed Buddhists. Their system is more like Buddhism than any other religion, but they are opposed to idolatry. They appear to be strongly and sincerely convinced of the goodness of their opinions, and they hold with tenacity the uselessness of image worship. This circumstance has often attracted the attention of missionaries at Shanghai and Ningpo, and I have thought that a notice of the sect would not be without interest.

This sect has existed in China for about two hundred and seventy years. Its originator was Lo Hwei-neng, a native of Shan-tung. In imitation of the Buddhist title tsu, he is called Lo-tsu, "the patriarch Lo." His opinions have spread with considerable rapidity through the adjoin-provinces—Kiang-nan, Che-kiang, and An-hwei, and may advance farther.

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The name of the sect is Wu-wei-kiau, which, translated literally, means the "Do-nothing sect." The idea intended by it is, that religion consists, not in ceremonies and outward show, but in stillness, in a quiet, meditative life, and in an inward reverence for the all-pervading Buddha. Buddha is believed in, but he is not worshipped. There are temples, if they may be so called, but they are plain structures, destitute of images, and having in them only the common Chinese tablet to heaven, earth, king, parents, and teacher, as an object of reverence.

The phrase wu-wei, to "do nothing," occurs in the writings of the early Tauists, long before Buddhism appeared in China. In the "Book of Reason and Virtue" (Tau-te-king), it is said by Lau-kiün: "The highest virtue is not (intentionally) virtuous, and on this account it is (deserving of the name) virtue. The lower sort of virtue is (anxious) not (to be) wanting in virtue, and therefore it is not (true) virtue. The highest virtue does nothing, and consequently does not trust to (or rest on) any action. Virtue of an inferior kind (anxiously) acts and trusts to action."

This is the controversy that has been so often raised between the contemplative and the active man. In China Confucius and his school are the advocates of activity, and Lau-tsi and his followers of contemplation. These philosophers both discussed the art of government, the one with the aid of idealism, the other under the guidance of (something like) materialism. The phrase wu-wei is one of the watchwords of idealistic and mystical schools in China; while yeu-wei, "action," a phrase of opposite signification, is the cry of systems which favour materialism.

I give another quotation. It is from the second of the great Tauist authors, Chwang-tsï. "The way of heaven," he says, "is 'not to act' (wu-wei), and therein and thereby to be the most honoured of all things. The way of men is to act' (yeu-wei), and to be involved in trouble."

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When Buddhism entered China, a system much more purely idealistic than Tauism, this phrase wu-wei was soon recognised as the equivalent to the phrase hü-wu-tsi-mie, "vacancy, stillness, and destruction" of that foreign religion. The resemblance in principle between Buddhism and Tauism was in this respect too evident not to be remarked. The similarity became still closer when the esoteric branch of Buddhism, established by Bodhidharma, and developed by the Chinese Buddhists who succeeded him, extended itself so much as quite to overshadow the older exoteric branch. External Buddhism seeks after the Nirvâna, encourages the worship of images, appoints prayers for the dead, and makes use of much outward show to win the multitude. This is yeu-wei, or "reliance on action." The mystic Buddhists resist such a method of attaining the ends of religion. They recommend "inaction," or wu-wei. It is from them that the Wu-wei sect has sprung. The name is a favourite Tauist expression, but the source of the religion is Buddhism.

Lo-tsu, the founder of this religion, was a native of Lai-cheu fu, in Shan-tung. He was introduced, say the books of the sect, to the emperor of the Ming dynasty of the period Cheng-te. The following account is given of the interview, in the work Lo-tsu-ch‘u-shï-t‘ui-fan-ping-pau-kiuen. A hundred thousand foreign soldiers had invaded China, and an army of ten times that number had been sent out to repel them. The army failed in its enterprise, and Lo-tsu offered to the commander to drive back the invaders. He shot an arrow into the air, when a lotus-flower descended with a loud noise, and the enemy seeing it became terrified and immediately fled. The emperor was informed of this, and Lo-tsu was called to his presence. The emperor thanked him for his success, and asked him how he came to possess this miraculous power. Lo-tsu denied having any supernatural power, and attributed the deliverance of the state to the protection of the dragons and the gods.

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[paragraph continues] The emperor then directed him to shoot arrows into the air, when a shower of lotus-flowers appeared. The emperor was enraged, and ordered him to be imprisoned and starved to death as a sorcerer. While he lay in captivity, mourning over his fate and reciting prayers to Buddha, a revelation seemed to dart into his mind. He said to his jailer, "I have five books to make known to men." The jailer called in Chang Kung-kung to confer with him, who encouraged him to commit his books to writing. He therefore sent for two of his disciples, Fuh-hi and Fuh-pau, to come from the Wu-t‘ai mountain, where they resided, to act as his amanuenses. Two other persons, noted in the history of his religion, namely, Wei Kwo-kung and T‘ang Shang-shu, were witnesses of the correctness of the transcript.

The five works whose origin is thus described constitute the sacred books of the religion. They comprehend the following six subjects:—

1. Hing-kio-kiuen (which describes painful efforts after emancipation, resulting in perception of the excellence of this religion), "Chapter of the movement of the feet."

2. T‘an-shï-kiuen, "Lament over the world."

3. P‘o-sie-kiuen, "Overthrow of false doctrine."

4. Cheng-sin-kiuen, "Inclination of the mind to the right doctrine."

5. T‘ai-shan-kiuen, "Becoming like the mountain T‘ai-shan" (confirmation chapter).

6. Ts‘ing-tsing-kiuen, "The mind and nature purified and quieted."

These works were presented, continues the story, to the emperor, who recalled the author to his presence and received him more favourably than before. The three friends abovementioned, being officers high in rank, interceded for him, and became sureties for his good conduct.

At this juncture seven foreign Buddhists arrived at court, bringing a brass Buddha as a present. Lo-tsu was appointed to hold a discussion with them. He was introduced

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as the Wu-wei-tau-jen, "Religious man who maintains the principle of non-action." The foreign priests asked him why he assumed this name. "By means of it," he replied, "I shall be able to overturn your brass Buddha of three thousand pounds weight to-day. Men do not know this principle, and therefore they seek for false doctrine. My method is clear and perfect; it is suited for the whole world." To this it was replied by the foreign priest, "Do not use boastful words; I can make a gourd sink to the bottom of the sea and iron tongs swim on the surface. Can you do so?" The foreign priest expects that our hero will not be able to explain his riddle, but he is mistaken. A ready reply is given, "Man's nature is like the full moon, which, when it emerges from the horizon, shines to the bottom of the sea, across the surface, and everywhere. To sink and to swim, then, become the same. When my 'nature' (sing), like the moon, shines bright and clear, my life returns to the bottom of the sea. In the view of my spiritual nature, born directly from heaven, iron may swim and the gourd may sink."

The foreign priest then asked him why he did not chant books of prayers. He answered "That the great doctrine is spontaneous, man's nature is the same with heaven. The true unwritten book is always rotating. 1 All heaven and earth are repeating words of truth. The true book is not outside of man's self. But the deceived are ignorant of this, and they therefore chant books of prayers. The law that is invisible manifests itself spontaneously, and needs no book. The flowing of water, the rushing of the winds, constitute a great chant. Why, then, recite prayers from books?"

The founder of the Wu-wei religion was again asked why he did not worship images of Buddha. He answered,

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[paragraph continues] "A brazen Buddha melts, and a wooden Buddha burns, when exposed to the fire. An earthen Buddha cannot save itself from water. It cannot save itself; then how can it save me? In every particle of dust there is a kingdom ruled by Buddha. In every temple the king of the law resides. The mountains, the rivers, and the great earth form Buddha's image. Why, then, carve or mould an image?"

I remark here, in passing, that at this point we must consider Buddha as God in the view of these religionists. He is to them that Being whose glory and whose acts are seen in every object of nature. But, then, this Buddha is not a personal being, the ruler and father of the world. He cannot be prayed to. He cannot love me, or be the object of my love. When religionists of this class say they see Buddha everywhere, it is only the reflection of the thoughts and emotions of their own minds that they refer to.

Again he is asked why he does not burn incense? He replies, "That ignorant men do not know that every one has incense in himself. What is true incense? It is self-government, wisdom, patience, mercy, freedom from doubts, and knowledge. The pure doctrine of the Wu-wei is true incense, pervading all heaven and earth. Incense is everywhere ascending. That incense which is made by man, the smoke of fragrant woods, does not reach heaven. The winds, clouds, and dew are true incense, always shedding itself forth through the successive seasons of the year."

He was asked once more, "Why do you not light candles?" He answered "That the world is a candlestick. Water is the oil. The sky is an encircling shade. The sun and moon are the flame lighting up the universe. If there is light within me, it illumines all heaven and earth. If my own nature be always bright, heaven will never become dark. It will then be perceived that the king of the law is limitless."

It should be noticed that the king of the law is a personification

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of the doctrine believed. The mind reflects on the doctrine till imagination pictures it to the intellectual eye as a glorious image. This is the king of the law.

When the discussion was over, the seven priests all confessed themselves worsted, and begged Lo-tsu to become their instructor. The book adds that the emperor was highly pleased, and ordered the books of Lo-tsu to be engraved. They were published, continues the record, in the thirteenth year of Cheng-te from the imperial press, A.D. 1518.

I met recently with a former adherent of this religion who is now a Christian. He was baptized recently by the late Bishop Russell of Ningpo, of the Church Missionary Society. He gave me much information respecting the sect to which he had previously belonged. He still thinks its principles are good. It enjoins virtue, and its tendencies are, he considers, of an excellent kind, but it does not show how goodness is to be attained. He therefore left it and became a Christian.

On asking him the meaning of the discussion before the emperor, and if it was not fictitious, he said that the army of foreign invaders means the sensorial organs, the six thieves, as they are called by the Buddhists. The arrow shot in the air is the heart. The foreign priests who oppose the true doctrine are mo-kwei, "demons."

This use of fiction to recommend religious dogmas is in keeping with the usual character of the Buddhist books. Unlimited license is taken by the authors in inventing a suitable tableau of characters and scenery, in which the doctrines to be taught may be prominently represented.

Two other persons—Ying-tsu and Yau-tsu—have, at different periods, taken the lead in this sect. Ying-tsu is said to have discoursed on fa (dharma) "the law," as Lo-tsu did on king the "books."

There is another personage beside Buddha spoken of by these religionists, the Kin-mu, "Golden mother." She dwells in a heaven called Yau (to shake) chu (to dwell)

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[paragraph continues] kung (palace). My informant considered that she represents God, in the idea of this religion, more nearly than Buddha does, because she is an object of worship. On my inquiring why this divinity should be female, he said that Kin-mu was the mother of the soul, as the female parent was of the body. Yan chu kung may be Jasper pearl palace. She is said to protect from various calamities, and is prayed to for deliverance from sickness, and to save the deceased from miseries in the unseen world.

The origin of her name is found in the Chinese theory of the elements, among which kin, "gold," "metal generally," stands first in order. This and many other Tauist notions are blended with Buddhist principles in the system maintained by the followers of the Wu-wei-kiau.

They have four principal festivals, of which two are to celebrate the day of the birth and death of Lo-tsu. The others are the new year and the middle of the eighth month. On these occasions, three cups of tea and nine small loaves of bread are placed on the table by appointment of Lo-tsu. The number nine refers to the strokes of the pa-kwa, or "eight diagrams," in which nine is the most fortunate number. The bread is called k‘ien-k‘wan, "heaven and earth," also in imitation of the names of the eight diagrams of the "Book of Changes."

The sect is sometimes called Ch‘a-kiau, "Tea sect," and Man-t‘eu-kiau, "Bread sect," in consequence of the usage here mentioned. These appellations are, however, nothing but popular nicknames.

They have in their chapels, tablets to the emperor and to the five names of honour—heaven, earth, prince, parents, and teacher. They are strict vegetarians, and argue tenaciously for the metempsychosis. They have no ascetic institute like the Buddhists, but allow the family institution to be undisturbed.

They were persecuted in the Ming dynasty. One of their leaders was crucified by nailing on the gate of a city in Shantung. On one occasion, some persons of this sect

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addressed me in a missionary chapel in Shanghai, with the remark that their religion resembled the Christian in this respect, that one of their leaders was crucified.

They have not since been subjected to persecution, but their religion is still prohibited, and its name is found among those charged with teaching depraved doctrines, in some editions of the "Sacred Edict."

My informant told me, further, that the doctrine of the non-existence of matter is not held by this sect—though it might have been expected from their close adherence to Buddhism that they would have maintained it—but that they simply regard all material things as perishable. When the world comes to its end, the Golden mother will take all her children—i.e., all believers in this religion—home to the yau-chu heaven.

The Wu-wei-kiau is usually spoken of by the Confucianists as a corrupt sect, with secret political designs; but its adherents appear at present to be entirely innocent of any illegal aims. They are, so far as can be seen, intent on religious objects, and sincerely attached to their system. We may yet see many of them exchanging abstract philosophical dogmas for Christian truth. Their opposition to idolatry is a preparation for Christianity, and they deserve great attention from those who are engaged in teaching the Chinese the religion of the Bible.

They are very determined vegetarians. When they become Christians, they prefer to free themselves from the bondage of the prohibition by eating some small quantity of animal food, as a proof to others of their change of religion. This is entirely voluntary on their part.

In the vicinity of Shanghai, a few years since, this happened in the case of a florist and his wife. The wife was a woman of influence and decision. She signalised her change of religion by inviting friends to a feast and partaking in their presence of a certain portion of animal food.


375:1 There is an allusion here to the chanting a liturgy, as the revolving common Buddhist description of preaching Buddhist dogma, and of the wheel of the law.

Next: Chapter XXIV. Buddhism and Tauism in their Popular Aspects