The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
Alexandria and Antioch at the Time of Christ
There are two words which connect the Japanese Mahāyāna, in one of its many aspects, with the Gnosticism of Alexandria and Antioch, and through it with the Christianity of the Apostolic age. These words are Abraxas and Caulaucau.
I have already, in a previous chapter, spoken of Alexandria and Antioch, of their mixed populations, of the extent of their commercial relations with Central Asia and India, and of the fact of As’oka's emissaries having been sent to both these cities during the course of the third century B.C. It is not necessary for me to repeat what I said then. What is of present importance is that these two cities, the two organs, so to speak, through which the commerce between Asia and Europe was effectuated in the early days of the Roman Empire, were the native homes of that syncretic miscellany of religious ideas, known as Gnosticism. Alexandrian Gnosticism is connected with the name of Basilides, 1 that of Antioch (or, rather, Syria) with Valentinus. 2
Gnosticism is derived from the Greek gnosis, which is identical in meaning with the word Bodhi, from which we get Buddha, "the Enlightened One," and it is akin, both etymologically and in signification, with the word Prajnā (Jap. Hannya), "Knowledge." The first of these Sanskrit
words, personified and used in the singular, has supplied Mahāyānism with its nearest approach to the idea of God, such as we know Him, "above all, in all, through all"; the second, likewise personified, in that vague manner which the Mahāyāna delights to use, has been identified with Nature, with the Hindu goddess Prithivī, with the spirit which animates the Kosmos, the "universal Pan."
The Gnostics, like the Mahāyānists, claimed to have the key of wisdom or knowledge, and, like them, tried to interpret the various religions of the world, with the help of the key which was in their hands. There seems to be no doubt that the fact of Christ was the impulse which spurred them to activity; it is equally certain that the outward form of Gnosticism varied according to the country in which it made its appearance. It is this that makes Gnosticism such an extremely puzzling subject to the student of philosophy and religion.
Gnosticism, like Proteus, claimed to be "thrice excellent;" it "knew not only things to come, but even things past as well as present;" it had great "skill in divination;" "it was (or claimed to be) the messenger and interpreter of all antiquities and hidden mysteries." But it was at liberty, nevertheless, "to turn itself into all manner of forms and wonders of nature." 1 The underlying matter was always the same; the form differed from a country to country and from age to age. The Mahāyāna exhibits a precisely similar Protean power of assuming the most varied shapes.
The existence of Buddhism in Alexandria has often been suspected. Scholars have seen Buddhists in the communities of the Essenes in Palestine, in the monastic j, congregations of the Therapeutæ described by Philo, in the Hermetic books of Egypt, and especially in the κορὴ κόσμου,
preserved for us by Stobæus. The identity of these with Buddhism has never been clearly established. It has also been often suspected that Gnosticism was derived from Buddhism. Again, the identity has never been clearly established, possibly because Western scholars have devoted their attention almost exclusively to the Hīnayāna Buddhism of Ceylon and the Pali books. It would not readily occur to any one to look for traces of Egyptian Gnosticism in remote Japan. Yet there can be little doubt that the system known in Japan as the Shingon, and introduced into that country about A.D. 804, by the celebrated Kōbō Daishi, must be looked upon as a system which is not Indian in its origin, but which has been foisted upon Buddhism from some extraneous quarter, and that it is essentially Egyptian and Gnostic.
The Gnosticism of Basilides was based on the religions which that thinker found to his hand in Alexandria, and the task to which he set himself was apparently to reconcile the fact of Christ with the preconceived notions of the Alexandrian people. The religions were mainly two, the ancient Egyptian cults, and Judaism. The mythologies of Greece and Rome did not apparently count for much in Alexandria, the philosophies in vogue were not those of the schools of Athens, nor were they such as Seneca or Pliny would have delighted in. The Judaism of Alexandria was of a far more liberal type (or shall we call it "broad"? to be "broad" is not always to be "liberal") than that of Jerusalem, and the "broad" school of Jewish thought which eventuated in the Cabbalah looked to Alexandria as its nursery. Egypt lay outside of St. Paul's province—on no other hypothesis can we explain his neglect of a city of such importance to an Apostle to the Gentiles—and all early notices of Alexandrian Christianity show it to have been for many years of a
very vague and mixed character. 1 Evidently the spiritual soil of Alexandria was different from that of Jerusalem, Ephesus, or Rome, and required a different treatment.
Basilides is spoken of by Clement of Alexandria, who had better opportunities of judging than Irenæus, as a worthy man and an earnest Christian, and his efforts to adapt the fact of Christ to the spiritual prejudices of the Egyptian or Egyptianized Alexandrians were probably quite praiseworthy. A missionary religion must adapt itself to the circumstances and thought of the people to whom it comes. 2
The system of Basilides was, like the system of ancient Egypt, 3 and like that of the Japanese Shingon, dualistic. It represented two Worlds (βύθος and ζώη), the World of Light and the World of Darkness. The former—like the glaring noon of an Egyptian summer's day—was still, immovable, fixed, the world of permanent ideas; the other, like the streets that are filled with life at sunset, is the world of motion, of birth, of death—in short, the world of Nature.
In the centre of the World of Light—the Diamond-World (Kongo Kai), as the Shingon well calls it, to denote its fixed and permanent nature—the Egyptians placed God, the unknown I AM, whose name the priests of Pharaoh would not pronounce. The Gnostics called him Pater Innatus; in the Japanese Shingon it is Roshana, the Buddha of Light, Eternal. From that central and eternal Deity emanate, or proceed, four Beings—Eons in Gnosticism, Buddhas in the Shingon—who surround the central God on the Four Quarters. The Gnostics termed
them Logos, Phronesis, Sophia, Dynamis. 1 The Shingon personifies them as Ashuku, Hōshō, Amida, Fukūjōjū; 2 but it treats Ashuku as representing that reason (λόγος) by which a man is capable of faith, Hōshō as the sense (φρόνησις) which enables a man to regulate his conduct, Amida as the Wisdom (σοφία) which enables a man to understand and explain the divine laws, and Fukūjōjū as the practical power which manifests itself in salvation (δύναμις).
Emanating from this central God, with his four modes of manifestation, we have, in the Gnostic system, a number of minor Æons and other mysterious beings, evidently borrowed from the gods of Egypt. They numbered 365, which number written in Greek numerals spelled the word Abraxas or Abrasax, and this name was consequently given by the Basilidean and other Gnostics to the Deity,
as a whole; not to the central Pater Innatus of the World of Light, but to the whole fulness or pleroma made up of all the Æons within that world. It is evidently in opposition to this splitting up of the Godhead amongst many minor and unsubstantial beings that St. Paul insists that there is but one God, the Father, one Lord (and not four)—and that in that one Lord dwells the whole Pleroma of the Godhead in a bodily manner. 1 St. Paul scarcely seems to be conscious of the gods of Greece and Rome; he never speaks against the great goddess of Ephesine superstition. He is keenly alive to the dangers which may beset the Faith which he is commissioned to preach from Gnostic foes disguised as friends.
In Japan, the Shingon creed fills up the Mandara or pleroma of the Diamond World with many Æons, whom it calls sometimes Buddhas, sometimes Bodhisattvas, and sometimes Myō-O, or "mysterious kings." As a term for the whole it employs two words, Abarakakia and Kha-la-ka-ba-a. 2 The one is used in the Shingon funeral rites, where it is invoked first, before any invocation of personified Buddhas. The second is written in Sanskrit characters on the wooden post which is erected over a Buddhist grave immediately after the funeral. Both words are found in Gnosticism—Abraxas and Caulaucau; both are identical in meaning, both with one another and with the corresponding words in Japanese. I shall have to mention Caulaucau again in this chapter.
We now come to the Womb-world—as the Japanese call it—the World of moving Life, of Darkness, and of
[paragraph continues] Death. (It is worth while noticing that the expression "womb-world" is not confined to the Japanese Shingon. It is also found in Epiphanius in his description of the Basilidean conception of the World of Darkness. 1) In the centre of the Womb-world we have, in the ancient Egyptian religion, Osiris; in the Gnostic system, the Pater Innatus; in Shingon, Vairoc’ana or Dainichi. All three systems identify this central Deity with the Sun. 2 From Him, in all three systems, emanates an "ogdoad," or eight-petalled flower, known in Sanskrit as ashṭapattra vṛiti, in Japanese as hachi-yō-in, and composed in Gnosticism of various Æons, in Shingon of Eight Ideal Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, whose names we need not enter into. Thus the Ogdoad plus the Pater Innatus becomes an Ennead, or group of Nine, and the Shingon hachi-yō-in plus Vairoc’ana becomes a similar ninefold constellation. 3 The three systems are strikingly alike.
When an Egyptian died, his soul descended to the realms of Tuat, or Hades. Here it passed through thirteen kingdoms, each with its own guardian deity, until it finally obtained emancipation at the end. The same thirteen kingdoms are to be found in the Gnostic book, "Pistis Sophia," and the soul is represented as passing through them in a similar manner. Only he who plays the part of Osiris in the Gnostic version is Jesus. In the Shingon sect there are thirteen Buddhas 1 and Bodhisattvas, who take charge of the soul at death, the two last, Vairoc’ana and Kokūzō, remaining its permanent guardians. The whole conception of the state of the dead in Shingonism is Egyptian. It is certainly not Buddhist.
I might multiply examples, but I must content myself with one or two. In Egypt, the guardian deity of the first of the mansions in Tuat bears a name which signifies the "Crusher of the forehead of the enemies of Ra." In Japan it is Fudō Sama, the fierce-looking, but essentially kind-hearted, Being, who stands amidst the flames, and bears in his hands a sword wherewith to slay the enemies of man's soul. The Shingon astronomy speaks of twenty-eight chiku, or constellations, seven in each quarter of the heavens; the Egyptian astronomer knew the same, and spoke of them as the "gods of the twenty-eight finger-breadths of the Royal cubit." The Shingon astronomer uses the Egyptian signs of the Zodiac, 2 the same as ours,
and not the Turkish cycle in ordinary use in Japan. The opening chapter of the "Saddharma pundarika Sūtra" (the Hokekyō of Japan) is so like the opening chapters of the "Pistis Sophia" 1 that it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the author of the latter work must have had before him either the "Saddharma pundarika Sutra" itself or a Sūtra of a very similar type. The latter alternative is the more probable one. The Hokekyō is a composite work based on something that has gone before; and it is indeed most likely that the "Ur-evangelium" in its case was a Mahāyāna Sūtra by some early Mahāyānist writer. There are grounds for such a conjecture. In the list of Scriptures taken to China in A.D. 147 by Anshikao the Prince of Parthia, and translated by him into Chinese during the Han period, there is one, the "Marghabhūmi Sūtra" (Jap. Dōshikyō 2), the last three chapters of which are said by Nanjo to be based on the "Saddharma pundarika." Nanjo's statement is denied by some Japanese students, still the fact remains that there are portions of this Sūtra which
strongly resemble the spirit and tone of the longer Scripture, which, in its longer and completer, form is evidently of later date.
There is also the statement made concerning the Manichean books by Cyril of Jerusalem, 1 whom, as a bishop, we must credit with trying to speak only what he believed to be truth, and who, as Bishop of Jerusalem, probably knew a good deal about the earlier history of his own diocese. Cyril tells us of a certain Scythianus who lived in Alexandria and wrote books which pretended to be the gospel, but "had not the acts of Christ but the mere name only," to which the "Acta Archelai" adds that he founded his sect during the lifetime of the Apostles, and came to Jerusalem in the hope of getting them approved. Scythianus had a disciple named Terebinthus, 2 who apparently came to Jerusalem for the same purpose, but was rejected by the authorities and retired to Persia, where he assumed the name of Buddas. These books were the basis upon which Manes founded his teachings. The resemblances between the "Saddharma pundarika" and the "Pistis Sophia" give probability to the story. There must have been in circulation in Alexandria, during the latter half of the first century A.D., a Buddhist book or collection of books which was the Ur-evangelium" of several heresies.
How far was the Gnostico-Shingon system which I have described influenced by the speculations of the mystic school of Judaism which eventually blossomed out into the Cabbalah? 2 And how far was the Cabbalah influenced by the thoughts of the Mahāyānists? It would take us too long to investigate the problem here. A thorough investigation of this subject would necessitate a long
excursion into the realms of theurgy and magic, and I must therefore content myself with a few brief remarks. Theurgy was practised by the Egyptians; it was a prominent feature of Gnosticism; 1 it is at the present moment the main and distinctive element of the Shingon worship, which consists very largely of manual gestures and the repetition of certain meaningless Sanskrit formulæ 2 The mystic formulæ are Greek or Coptic in the one case, Sanskrit in the other; but the manual gestures are much the same in both. It is probable that the Gnostic system was taken by Alexandrian merchants to Southern India, a district which had intimate trade relations with Alexandria during the whole of the first century, 3 though it fell off in volume after the death of Nero in A.D. 68; and it was in Southern India, according to the Shingon story, that Nāgārjuna found the mystic books which lie at the base of their system. 4 This migration from Egypt to South India would account for the Sanskritizing of a system mainly Egyptian, and there is a certain amount of historical probability in the story as related by the Shingon authorities; for Nanjo tell us that Nāgārjuna (whom we may place anywhere about the middle of the second century) received the Shingon doctrine from a teacher of the name of Vajrasattva (Jap. Kongōsatta), and that Vajrasattva had received it, along with the mystic Baptism, from Vairoc’ana himself through the hands of S’akyamuni, at an assembly called the Joshōe
[paragraph continues] ("self-nature-assembly"). 1 If we may apply to a Buddhist assembly the ordinary rules of chronological computation (which is perhaps a little hazardous), that "self-nature-assembly" must have taken place about the end of the first century A.D.
We must not forget that Antioch as well as Alexandria was a great centre of trade with the Orient. Antioch was the centre of much Christian life. From it went forth St. Paul and all that missionary activity which laboured in Asia Minor, in Greece, and in Italy. From it, likewise, went forth, Eastward, the missions to Edessa, to Nisibis, to Armenia, 2 to Persia and beyond. From it came the churches which were cut off in consequence of the quarrels over Nestorius, and through the Nestorians Antioch became the grandmother of the earliest missions—at least as far as definite records are at hand—to China.
Antioch originated the word "Christian;" the first Christian from Antioch whose name is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, was a certain Nicolas, 3 a proselyte of that city, who was chosen to be one of the Seven Deacons. The term "proselyte" would seem to imply that Nicolas was a Gentile by birth, converted to Judaism, and again to Christianity. He must have been a fickle person, for he subsequently left the Christian Church, and became the founder of a heretical sect mentioned by the writer of the
[paragraph continues] Apocalypse. Isis teachings are described by Irenæus, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, and others. They were of the general Gnostic type, and we note with interest that he and his followers used the word Caulaucau as a term apparently for God. Now, Caulaucau is that Buddhist term which is found along with Abraxas in the system of Basilides and in the Japanese Shingon. It brings the Japanese Mahāyāna very near to the holy ground of the New Testament—too near, perhaps, for some people.
One more point remains to be noticed. It is said both of Nicolas and of Basilides that their followers speedily lapsed into wild immoralities, quite at variance with the austere strictness which these two heresiarchs affected. I am not personally aware of any immoral practices amongst the Japanese Shingonists, but the Rev. Ekai Kawaguchi, the Buddhist priest who has travelled so long in Thibet, speaks of the immoral doctrines of the old sect of Lamas in that country, and likewise of an immoral sect of the Japanese Shingon which had to be suppressed on account of its filthy practices. So I conclude that the Shingon, like its parent Gnosticism, has, at some period in its history, presented the same sad contrast of the pure and the impure. 1
58:1 Basilides, A.D. (circa) 110.
58:2 Valentinus, A.D. (circa) 130.
59:1 Bacon, "Wisdom of the Ancients," ch. xiii.
61:1 See Church Quarterly Review, October, 1909.
61:2 This thought is constantly expressed in the Saddharma pundarika. It was one of Nichiren's favourite topics.
61:3 I have taken my matter mainly from Irenæus and Epiphanius.
62:1 See "Dissertations Præviæ in Irenæi Libros," in Migne's edition of Irenæus, p. xxxviii.
62:2 In Sanskrit Akshobya, Ratnasambhava, Amitābha, Amoghasiddhi. These, with the Central Roshana or Vairoc’ana, form the Five Dhyāni Buddhas, the Gochi Nyorai of Japan. It is to be noted that Fukūjōjū is identified with S’akyamuni. Millioué ("Cat. Mus. Guimet," 1883, p. 204) identifies Amida with the Egyptian Amenti. In the funeral ritual of the Shingon he appears as Amṛita, "The Immortal." I believe that it must have been this personage whom the Gnostics identified with Christ. There was evidently, from the case of Fukūjōjū, a disposition to identify the Dhyāni Buddhas with actual teachers and saints, and it is quite evident that the Alexandrian Gnostics did not look upon Christ as the only Saviour.
It is interesting to compare St. Paul's treatment of a somewhat similar problem in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which, like Colossians, is treating of some Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic difficulties. In it (Ephes. iv.) we have Christ the centre of all ministerial authority; and, issuing from Him, a fourfold ministry: Apostles, centres of authority, who appeal to the will; Prophets, whose sphere lies in the imagination; Evangelists, who appeal to men as reasonable beings; Pastors and Teachers, who guide men through the emotions and affections. Men do not always express themselves alike; in this case, however, the underlying thought is the same. God has many ways of saving lost mankind.
63:1 E.g. Col. i. 19.
63:2 Japanese has no l sound. Hence I write here mandara, not mandala. This word has become naturalized. But Kha-la-ka-ba-a is always written in Sanskrit letters, hence I write it with an l.
64:1 I have consulted, for the purposes of this comparison, (i.) the chapter on Shingon in Dr. Nanjo's "Short History of the Twelve Japanese Buddhist Sects;" (ii.) Dr. Wallis Budge, the "Gods of Egypt;" and (iii.) the accounts of the Gnostic sects given by Hippolytus, Irenæus, and Epiphanius. The Greek word used is μήτρα. See Bousset on Gnosticism.
64:2 This gives us the point of contact with the Japanese Shinto. It was the policy of the Shingon and other early sects to identify the Japanese Sun-goddess Amaterasu with Vairoc’ana. Amaterasu is the fabled divine ancestress of the Imperial House, and the sixteen-petal chrysanthemum, which is the Imperial crest, is said to be a Buddhist emblem, an expansion of the Hachi-yō-in, adopted circa A.D. 1120 at the suggestion of a courtly Buddhist monk by the Emperor Toba, who was an ardent Buddhist. Strangely enough, Dr. N. G. Munro, of Yokohama, has found the sixteen-petal chrysanthemum on an Egyptian tomb. It is also found in "Pistis Sophia."
64:3 Dr. Nanjo (p. 91) speaks of the "Mandala of nine Assemblies of the Vajradhatu, which corresponds to the nine Beings of the Hachi-yō-in." It is also noteworthy that there are nine stages in our knowledge of Amida, who is accordingly sometimes represented by nine figures, each a little different from the rest. There are also nine forms of Osiris.
65:1 The thirteen Buddhas of the Shingon are Fudō (one week after death), S’akyamuni (2nd week), Manjus’ri (3rd week), Samantabhadra (4th week), Kshitigarbha (5th week), Maitreya (6th week), Bhaishajyaguru (7th week); Avalokites’vara (100 days), Mahāsthāmaprāpta (1 year), Amitābha (3 years), Akshobya (7 years), Vairoc’ana and Kokūzō, for ever. To these correspond a series of thirteen planets and heavenly deities. See "Catalogue of Musée Guimet," p. 191 (1883).
65:2 The Shingon signs of the, Zodiac are: (1) Hōbyōgū, Aquarius; (2) Suigyōgū, Pisces; (3) Byakuyōgū, Aries; (4) Go mitsugū, Taurus; (5) Nannyōgū, Virgo (though this is bisexual); (6) Būgegū, Cancer; (7) Sonyōgū, p. 67 Gemellæ (not Gemini); (8) Shishigū, Leo; (9) Hyōryōgū, Libra; (10) Kattchengū, Scorpio; (11) Kūgū, Sagittarius; (12) Makatsugū, Capricornus.
The ordinary signs are the Rat, Bull, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Cock, Dog, Boar. This is the Turkish cycle. In some of the trades, such as the building trade, which abounds in ancient customs, I have found an occasional use of the Buddhist cycle.
66:1 The resemblances between these two books are extremely striking. I have called attention to the subject in a lecture delivered before the Asiatic Society of Japan. The resemblances lie principally in the structure and conception of the two dialogues, in certain mannerisms' of speech and action, and in the light that emanates from the Teacher in either case. There is also a śtrong similarity between the two books in respect to the use of gāthās and songs.
66:2 In Nanjo's "Catalogue of the Tripitaka," No. 1326. Another Han book, the earliest edition of the Sukhāvati Vyūha, differs largely from the versions made in the fourth and fifth centuries which are now current in Japan.
67:1 Cyril, "Cat. Lect.," vi. 22. Also "Acta Archelai," c. li.
67:2 See, below, the chapter on Manichæism, p. 147.
68:1 See, e.g., "Pistis Sophia," cap. 64.
68:2 I have worked out many of these in an article on the "Care of the Dead," written for Hasting's" Encyclopædia of Sects and Religion," and one of the publications of the Musée Guimet is entirely devoted to them.
68:3 See article by Sewell on "Roman Coins found in India," in J.R.A.S for October, 1904.
68:4 Nanjo, "Twelve Buddhist Sects," p. 79.
69:1 This points to a belief, of which I have found traces elsewhere in Japan, of a reappearance of S’akyamuni somewhere about the beginning of the Christian era.
69:2 In an article by J. Kennedy in J.R.A.S, 1904, we learn that there was an Indian colony in Armenia from B.C. 130 to A.D. 300, when it was broken up by St. Gregory the Illuminator. They were snake-worshippers ("Nāgas") from Nāgpur, and may thus have had some connection with Ophitism.
69:3 Acts vi. 5; Rev. ii. 15
70:1 Ekai Kawaguchi, "Three Years in Tibet," pp. 409–411.