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The Meaning of "The Beginning1' and "The Endt1

In Shinto and Early Japanese Buddhism


A.N.

MESHCHERYAKOV

INTRODUCTION
The problem of the interdependence between Shinto and
Buddhism is of great importance in the history of Japanese
c u l t u r e because it is closely connected w i t h many other
major issues, such as formation of a state religion, l i t e r a ture, philosophy, development of fine arts and the like.
Western scholars have paid considerable attention t o
the r o l e of early Japanese Buddhism as a state religion.
Though this is indeed a very significant problem I believe
nevertheless that the r e a l meaning of Buddhism can be
f u l l y grasped only i n a broader c u l t u r a l context. F o r this
purpose it is extremely important to consider how one and
the same "elementary" c u l t u r a l feature manifests i t s e l f in
life, h i s t o r y and man's creativeness.
F o r the analysis of such fundamental elements I have
chosen the notions of the "the beginning" and "the end,"
which are of major importance in the semiotics of culture.
Basing my research on early Buddhist prose on the one
hand and on Shinto-oriented t e x t s on the other, I w i l l t r y
t o show t h a t the notion of "the beginning" i n a Shinto
i n t e r p r e t a t i o n and that o f "the end" i n the Buddhist
comprehension b o t h work as universal structure-making
patterns.
This paper embraces three fields: t h e existential ( l i f e
o f man), the making of plots ( i n Buddhist prose) and the
h i s t o r i c a l (comprehension of history).
THE EXISTENTIAL
I n the existential f i e l d the problem of "the beginning" and
"the end" is none other than the problem of "birth" and
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"deathtt which naturally is of the gravest significance in


any period i n the history of mankind.
Shinto myths deal mainly w i t h birth. Gods are born
f r o m the parts of the body, f r o m water, blood, etc. This
preoccupation w i t h b i r t h is q u i t e n a t u r a l because myths are
stories about how the world was developed.
So Shinto
r i t u a l s aim a t the reproduction of the i n i t i a l order, customs
and manners. As has been shown, t h e chronology of the
gods' b i r t h s contributed greatly t o the self-consciousness of
the society: the earlier the god was born, the greater
number of clans (uji) considered h i m t h e i r ancestor and
hence the more stable was his place in the Shinto pantheon.
(Amaterasu is an exception-her
overwhelming
importance is determined by l a t e r purely p o l i t i c a l events.
See Meshcheryakov 1978.)
The "death" o f the gods and t h e i r existence a f t e r
"death" is treated i n less detail. Gods died i n d i f f e r e n t
ways, some of them calmly and others evoking cosmic
disorder. B u t very l i t t l e can be said about how gods behave
i n the netherland (Yomi n o kuni).
Nevertheless we can
surely imagine that their human descendants conducted
c o l l e c t i v e ceremonies in their honor t o achieve their help
b o t h in the present and i n the future.
The death of an emperor was regarded as a cosmic
event.
Ascending the throne is described as descending
from heaven and his death as ascending t o heaven (see
ManybshU, Nos. 199 and 200). The word "kamuagarutt ? t o
diett) consists of t w o roots-"godtt and " t o ascendtt-and can
be interpreted as " t o ascend t o the gods."
The death of an emperor was, moreover, apprehended
as a loss of solar light and a break in time-subjects ceased
t o distinguish "day and nighttt (Manybsho, No. 200). A l l
governmental a f f a i r s were stopped or considered t o b e
stopped-that
also means break of time. The t e n t h century
0 3 gokurakki, describing the death of Shdtoku Taishi,
says: "Tillers l e f t their mattocks, women who pounded corn
abandoned their pestles. They said: 'Sun and moon are
faded.. "I It was also thought t h a t the emperor had

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e s c a p e d i n t o a c a v e ( s e e ManyUshU No. 1 9 9 ) , a n idea which


clearly resembles t h e famous myth of A m a t e r a s u ' s concealm e n t in a rock-cave.]
We must admit t h a t Buddhism did not bring much t h a t
w a s new t o t h e c o n c e p t s of b i r t h of t h e J a p a n e s e , and t h e
i d e a of karmic retribution w a s i n t e r p r e t e d mainly as retribution for d e e d s in this life, and not a previous one. But
t h e Buddhist contribution t o ideas concerning d e a t h is q u i t e
significant. Buddhism introduced t h e e t h i c a l notion of
a f t e r - d e a t h retribution based on sin and virtue. In W o n
ryaiki, t h e f i r s t lengthy Buddhist writing of a non-official
n a t u r e in J a p a n , t h i s retribution is m a n i f e s t e d a t l e a s t in
t w o ways: 1) r e b i r t h in human or bestial form, and 2) t o r m e n t s (delights) in t h e world of Yama. (The t o r m e n t s a r e
described much more thoroughly.) T h e idea of a f t e r - d e a t h
r e t r i b u t i o n is transformed g r e a t l y in t h e l a t e r Djb gokurakki. In W o n r y i j i k i t h e main r e w a r d f o r v i r t u e is m a t e r i a l
B
benefit in this l i f e b u t t h e s a i n t s d e p i c t e d in ~ J gokurakki
t e a r through t h e c y c l e of life and d e a t h and a s c e n d t o t h e
P u r e Land.
As a whole, t h e notion of d e a t h (or of post-death r e t r i bution) is more developed in Buddhism t h a n in Shinto. This
c a n b e explained by t h e e t h i c o r i e n t a t i o n of Buddhism,
which t e a c h e s man t h e u l t i m a t e goal of self-perfection. In
Shinto, on t h e c o n t r a r y , everybody is r e v e r e d by his
d e s c e n d a n t s regardless of his f a u l t s and merits, merely
b e c a u s e he is an ancestor. T h e Buddhist comprehension of
d e a t h is more detailed-it r e g a r d s men not only a s ancest o r s or d e s c e n d a n t s but looks upon them in their social
environment.
It is thus q u i t e n a t u r a l t h a t t h e Shinto c u s t o m of
committing t o t h e e a r t h was gradually c h a n g e d t o crernation. T h e first w r i t t e n e v i d e n c e of this new c u s t o m t r a c e s
back t o 700 A.D. when t h e monk D6shd w a s c r e m a t e d
I. This tale can be found i n the following sources in English: P h ~ l i p p i
1968, pp. 81-86; Aston 1978, pp. 41-50; KatG and Hoshino 1926, pp. 1923.

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according to his w i l l (see Shoku nihongi, Monmu 4-3-10). I n


702, 707 and 721 emperors Jit6, Monmu, and Genmei
respectively were cremated. Pragmatic explanations of the
spread of cremation in terms of the alleged shortage of
land (Matsunaga 1971, p.171) are not valid, in my opinion,
because in the eighth century there was a good deal of
unused and uncultivated land, and many Shinto funerals
were also conducted i n the mountains, where farming was
I believe that Buddhist concepts of death
impossible.
displaced step by step those of Shinto, which led to a wide
recognition of Buddhist ritual.
Even now funerals are
conducted largely by Buddhist priests.
A t the same time, however, Shinto notions and rituals
of b i r t h dominated. Not only did these play a great role in
the l i f e of man, they also gave b i r t h to stories which were
considered by their contemporaries as Buddhist.
The story found in Nihon ry8ik.i Vol. 1, No. 3 is of much
importance in this connection.
During the reign of Emperor Bidatsu, when a farmer
was working in his field, i t began raining. The farmer took
shelter under a tree. When it thundered he raised his metal
r o d in fear. The thunder struck before him, appearing as a
boy. The farmer was about to strike him w i t h the rod but
the boy said: "Please, don't h i t me. I w i l l repay your kindness."
The farmer asked what he should do. The boy
answered that he would send a son to the farmer. "Make
me a camphor boat, f i l l it w i t h water, put a bamboo leaf
on the water and give the boat to me." The farmer did this
and the thunder god could now ascend t o heaven. Later a
son was born to the farmer. A snake was coiled twice
around his head. This son accomplished miraculous deeds:
he defeated a strong prince, expelled an e v i l fiend from
the Buddhist temple Gangbji, and defeated some princes
who had stopped the flow of water to the fields owned by
this temple. He was ordained under the name of DBjd.
I n this story the snake is identified w i t h the thunder
god, which is quite usual everywhere in the world. The
f i r s t part of the story, dealing w i t h the meeting of the
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farmer and the thunder god and the b i r t h of the child, is


closely connected t o traditional Shinto beliefs, as can be
shown by the following arguments.
The farmer raised the metal r o d ("kane n o tsue") when
i t thundered. W o n r y U i k i says that he did this in fear, as
i f p r o t e c t i n g himself. B u t as we know f r o m modern folktales, snakes are afraid o f metal things (See Dorson 1962,
p. 118, p.121).
Besides that, t h e word tsue, w h i c h is traditionally interpreted as "a rod," is a sacred object of Shinto.
According t o K o j i k i , Izanagi returned from the land of
Yomi and purified himself. During the purification, when he
flung down his tsue, a god named Tuki-taku-puna-to-nokami came i n t o existence (Philippi 1968, p.68). L a t e r in the
historic period, this was symbolized as a p i l l a r or stick and
was fixed by the roads. People believed that that god
drove away e v i l spirits. We also know that the tsue as a
walking-stick was used as a protector against spirits. Tsue
are also o f t e n used i n Shinto kagura. I n Nihon rybiki the
tsue is certainly used t o safeguard the farmer from being
struck by lightning.
Making a boat for the thunder god is a r i t u a l t o renew
the abilities of the thunder god which he lost on the
ground. One can easily imagine that camphor-boats appearing in excavations of Yayoi and K B f u n stratas may b e
explained as accessories of a thunder god cult.
The appearance of a child w i t h a snake coiled t w i c e
around his head indicates that the child was a descendant
of the thunder god.
I n i t s most archaic form, some traces of which can be
seen i n the Nihon r y U i k i story, the appearance of a miraculous boy resulted from the fecundation of mother-earth
b y the r a i n (thunder) god.
The competition w i t h a prince living i n a secluded
house corresponds to the m o t i f of the test of the hero,
w h i c h in f a c t is absolutely necessary i n every folk narrative. The Nihon ryEiki story says that the boy made deep
footprints.
I n another story the snake himself, n o t his
descendant, is featured i n the same manner (Dorson 1962,
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p. 122). One can assume that deep footprints are indicative


of a snake.
The rain-making function i n a highly developed agricult u r a l society is transferred f r o m the snake t o his child: as
his l a s t deed D6j6 opened the sluice gates shut by the e v i l
princes so that the fields of the GangEji temple were never
dry again.
Story 8 1 of the eleventh century Dai nihon hokke genki
treats the snake in a similar manner in connection w i t h his
water-bringing activities. I n this tale a man wishes t o build
The monk
a pagoda b u t thunder destroys it many times.
Jin'y4 promises to help that man and starts to read the
"Lotus Sutra."
A t t h a t moment i t begins t o r a i n and the
man is a f r a i d t h a t the lightning w i l l destroy the pagoda
once again. B u t the prayers have an e f f e c t and the thunder
god, i n the form of a young man, falls to the ground. He is
Jin'yO
tangled i n a rope and cannot ascend t o heaven.
orders him n o t t o destroy the pagoda and t o bring water
f r o m the valley. The thunder god obeys the command but
does not bring water from the valley. When he ascends t o
heaven a spring of the purest water gushes f o r t h from a
rock.
This story turns the irregular rain-maker i n t o a
permanent source of water.
Generally speaking the common Japanese Buddhist
comprehension of the snake is as a wholly harmful creature. This a t t i t u d e can be traced t o pre-Buddhist times,
and is not connected w i t h the snake's rain-making function
-the
snake is featured as a sexual trickster.
Some
examples w i l l make this clear.
Hitachi fudoki relates the tale of a stranger who used
t o visit a woman named Nuka-bime.
This stranger would
appear in the evening and leave in the morning. The woman
eventually gives b i r t h t o a snake child. The child speaks t o
his mother i n the darkness and keeps silence when i t begins
t o dawn. The mother moves him from one vessel t o another
b u t the snake grows so rapidly t h a t one day she has no
appropriate vessel for him. The mother says: "Judging by
your abilities I have understood that you are son of a god
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and our family cannot nourish you any longer. Go back t o


your father. You should not remain here.'' The son agrees
w i t h her b u t asks for a child as a guide. When his request
is rejected he goes into a rage and w i t h the help of the
lightning strikes his uncle Nuka-bime's brother dead. The
mother then throws the vessel the snake had been kept in
a t him. He loses his divine abilities and cannot ascend to
heaven (Fudoki, pp. 78-81).
Hizen fudokr says that a man once came at night t o
Otohi-himeko and l e f t at dawn. When the woman traced
him she found herself at a lake at the peak of a mountain.
She saw a snake there. He had a human body i n the water
and the head o f a snake on the shore. A t t h a t moment the
snake turned into a man and invited Otohi-himeko t o
descend to his house. Otohi-himeko's maid returned home
and told the story to her relatives. When they climbed the
mountain they found Otohi-himeko lying a t the bottom of
the lake (Fudoki, pp. 396-397).
I n Kojiki, there is a story very similar to this Hizen
fudoki legend, but in K o j i k i the story ends at the moment
of identification of a stranger with a snake-god in the
mountain (Philippi 1968, pp. 203-204).
Buddhist stories regard relationships between snakes
and human women as harmful. Nihon rybiki 11. 4 1 tells how
a g i r l was raped by a snake b u t cured by a magic ritual.
Nevertheless she was violated for the second time and died.
RyZIiki compiler K y 6 k a i ends the story in the following
way: "According to the law of karmic causality, one is
reborn as a snake, horse, cow, dog, or bird, or falls in love
w i t h a snake because of e v i l deeds in the past, or is reborn
i n the form of a ghostly creature.''
Most stories in Nihon 1~8ikiend w i t h a didactic moral
by the compiler which serves as a powerful means for
accomodat ion of non-Buddhist stories. The moral showed
the reader how to adopt ideas which were desirable to the
author.
The appearance of this moral is a f a c t of great significance, because in Shinto it is impossible to recapitulate the
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text, which exists i n Shinto only as an equal t o itself. Even


the author of a polemical work such as Kogoshui (early
n i n t h century) i s inclined t o c i t e the myth i n f u l l but not
t o p o i n t out the differences between the " o f f i c i a l " version
of the myth and the myth kept by his clan.
M A K I N G OF PLOTS
Now l e t us have a look a t t w o very similar legends from
Nihon ry8M (Stories 11.8 and II.12), which are quite i n t e r esting f o r the comprehension they show of the plot making
function of syncretic Shinto-Buddhist stories. I n one (II.8),
a g i r l meets a snake who is swallowing a frog. Moved by
the desire t o save a l l sentient beings, the g i r l asks the
snake t o set the frog free, and i n exchange she promises t o
marry the snake. Then i n fear she goes t o the Venerable
Gy6gi (or Gyaki), b u t he answers that nothing can be done
and that she should have f a i t h in the Three Treasures of
Buddhism and keep the precepts firmly. On the appointed
day the snake appears, climbs onto the r o o f and drops in
f r o n t of the girl. B u t some crabs she had also saved earlier
c u t the snake into shreds, saving her from what Shinto
would c a l l a sin. Thus Buddhist virtues p r o t e c t the g i r l
f r o m evil.
I n spite of the Buddhist p l o t of the story the snake is
p i c t u r e d i n a Shinto way. A t the g i r l ' s house he comes
through the roof, which indicates his sacred origin. The
following fragments from K o j i k i show this quite clearly.
When Amaterasu was inside the sacred weaving hall
seeing to the weaving of the divine garments, her brother
Susanoo opened a hole in the r o o f and dropped the heavenl y pony through it (Philippi 1968 p.80).
I n another fragment the god Take-mika-duti-no-kami
sends a sword t o p a c i f y the land through a hole in the r o o f
of a store-house (Philippi 1968, p. 168).
I n these Nihon ry8M stories "up" \="the sky") is
connected w i t h the l i f e of the snake and "down" w i t h his
death. Snakes are immobilized or die on the ground i n four
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stories.2
The presence o f a f r o g i n the Nihon ryUi,iki stories also
indicates the pre-Buddhist origins o f t h e legend. I n Nihon
ryiliki t h e f r o g is depicted only as a goal f o r f u l f i l l i n g the
Buddhist v i r t u e o f saving a l i v i n g being. B u t in other
stories t o avoid giving b i r t h t o a snake's c h i l d a g i r l is
advised t o step over a t u b w i t h frogs (Suzuki 1951, pp.5152) or p u t a f r o g i n the t u b w h i c h is used during p a r t u r i t i o n (Seki 1963, p.270).
On the bronze d o t a k u f r o m
Sakura-ga-oka t h e r e is a p i c t u r e o f a frog, a snake and a
human being w h i c h also proves the a n t i q u i t y of this m o t i f
(Torigoe 1975, p. 29). I b e l i e v e t h a t in the Nihon ryijiki
s t o r y we f i n d a fragment o f an unknown myth.
The meaning o f the crabs in the Nihon ryaiki s t o r y is
n o t c l e a r enough. B u t it should be pointed out t h a t the p a i r
"girl-crab" is found i n a n c i e n t kagura songs.3
Various f o l k t a l e s have i n h e r i t e d this opposition between
snake and crab. Dorson c i t e s the f o l l o w i n g story. A man
named Hachiro was preparing meals for a wood-cutter.
He
caught a t r o u t b u t l i k e d i t so much t h a t he ate it himself.
He then became t h i r s t y and could not slake his thirst, so he
t u r n e d i n t o a snake and b u i l t a dam. The god o f Kogage, i n
whose t e r r i t o r y this happened, d i d n o t l i k e it, and thus
t u r n e d i n t o a crab, making a hole in the dam (Dorson 1962,
pp. 126-127).
I n Buddhist stories w h i c h appeared a f t e r Nihon rybiki
t h e m o t i f of g i r l and snake falls i n t o f u r t h e r decline
t h r o u g h t h e i n t r o d u c t i o n o f a Buddhist monk.
I n story
2.

3.

Stories 1.1, 1.3, 11.8 and 11-12. The motif of a snake penetrating through
the roof of a house is preserved i n folktales even today, but the details of his arrival on the roof are pictured very pragmatically. According to one story (Seki 1963, pp. 139-142) a g i r l became ill because
a snake was trapped i n the roof of her house when i t was thatched.
For these songs see Nihon koten bungaku zenshu, Vol. 25, pp.70-71.
According t o K o j i k i , Emperor b j i n sang a song to Ya-gapa-ye-pime in
which a crab is mentioned before their marriage. Philippi believes that
"perhaps, crab was served a t the feast" (p.277), but 1 believe that the
crab here is clearly a sexual symbol.

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X X I X . 40 o f Koruaku m o n o g a t a r i shO a young monk dreams


t h a t he slept w i t h a b e a u t i f u l girl. When he awakens he
sees a dead snake near him. I n this s t o r y w e see a t o t a l
d e c l i n e of an original story: we now have n o t a male snake
b u t a female snake; n o t a g i r l b u t a monk; t h e death n o t of
a human being but of an animal.
Nihon r y b i k i I.5 i s also very i n t e r e s t i n g f r o m t h e pers p e c t i v e of p l o t i n s y n c r e t i c Shinto-Buddhist stories. Sounds
resembling flutes, k o t o s and thunder are heard f r o m the
seashore. It is found t h a t the sounds w e r e u t t e r e d by a
camphor l o g w h i c h had been struck by lightning. The l o g
was transported by c a r t t o the C o u r t and Buddhist images
w e r e made f r o m it.4
It is apparent f r o m K o j i k i , Nihon shoki, t h e f u d o k i and
modern ethnographical observations t h a t the k o t o is a
sacred instrument t o Shinto and was used during shamanist i c trances.
Such r i t e s are depicted i n K o j i k i ( P h i l i p p i
1968, pp. 257-258). One preceded t h e campaign against the
Kumaso tribe. Emperor ChOai played t h e koto. Takesi-utino-sukune was appointed saniwa, t o seek the divine will,
and the empress was t h e diviner.
The empress became
possessed and said: "There is a land i n the west.. I w i l l
n o w g i v e this country t o your hands." B u t the emperor did
n o t b e l i e v e these words because there was no land t o the
west. He pushed t h e k o t o away. The d e i t y was enraged and
said t h a t the emperor would n o t r u l e this kingdom. The
saniwa asked h i m t o play the k o t o again and the emperor
d i d so reluctantly. Suddenly t h e sound stopped and when
t h e y raised t h e l i g h t s they saw t h a t t h e emperor was dead.
A f t e r some t i m e had passed t h e d i v i n a t i o n was repeated
and t h e words of t h e gods w e r e found unchanged.
The d i v i n a t i o n of Jing: K c 9 5 was conducted under the
same conditions-the diviner became possessed w h i l e listen-

4.

52

A similar legend is found In Nihon shoki in t h e e n t r y f o r Kinmei


141517. A c c o r d i n g t o t h i s s t o r y a v o i c e t h a t e c h o e d l i k e t h u n d e r w a s
h e a r d r e c i t i n g Buddhist c h a n t s . T h e Nihon shoki v e r s i o n d o e s not s a y
t h a t t h e log w a s s t r u c k by lightning.

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ing to the sounds of the koto (Philippi 1968, pp.260-291,


Aston 1978, p. 225).
The koto is also featured as a shamanistic instrument
i n a non-official version of the famous m y t h about the concealment of Amaterasu i n the cave. Ame-no-Uzume enticed
the goddess by a dance accompanied by k o t o music. One of
the possible ways to w r i t e the word "koto" i n Japanese
consists of three ideograms: "god-command-koto."
There
were koto players i n the Jingikan who, w i t h f l u t e players,
took p a r t i n Shinto ceremonies.
Now l e t us r e t u r n t o the Nihon r y s i k i story about the
log c i t e d above. It is said t h a t the sounds of the log resembled thunder. According to Nihon shoki, camphor trees
were produced by Susanoo (the storm god) f r o m his brows
f o r ship-building (Aston 1978, p.58).
I n Nihon rybiki 1.3,
mentioned above, the snake (=thunder god) asks the farmer
t o make a boat for him from a camphor-tree so that he
could r e t u r n to the sky.
The thirteenth century GukanshU says t h a t when i n the
reign of K i n m e i Buddhist statues were thrown i n t o the
canal, the Emperor's residence was set on f i r e by lightning.
Then a radiance was seen i n the sea which was produced
by a log from a camphor tree. Kimmei commanded Buddhist
images to be made from it (Brown and Ishida 1979, p.262).
The "Karano" ship was also made from camphor (Fudoki,
pp.483-484). The K o j i k i and Nihon shoki story says t h a t the
ship was used t o b r i n g water f o r the imperial table. When
the ship became diiapidated i t was u t i l i z e d as firewood t o
boil thick sea brine down t o salt and f r o m the parts l e f t
over from the burning a k o t o was made, the sound of which
could be heard f r o m afar (Philippi 1968, pp. 322-323).
The close connection between camphor trees and the
k o t o can be seen i n a Hizen fudoki story i n which a k o t o
t h a t was set vertically on the top of a h i l l turned i n t o a
camphor tree (Fudoki, pp. 390-391).
Thus we f i n d a f i x e d set of motifs: thunder god,
camphor tree (ship), koto. The f i r s t t w o parts of this t r i a d
are preserved i n the Nihon rybiki story, while the t h i r d one
Japanese Journal o f Religious Studies 1 1 / 1 1984

53

A .N.

MESHCHERYAKOV

is transformed i n t o Buddhist images. The sentence about


the sounds of flute, k o t o and thunder seems t o be a reminiscence, b u t i t s origin is half forgotten.
Taking the Rybiki stories mentioned above i n t o consideration, we can a r r i v e a t an important conclusion concerning the making of plots. Shinto stories adopted by Japanese
Buddhism were altered mainly in t h e i r endings, by the
substitution of new Buddhist elements f o r the last p a r t of
the original story. The beginnings of the stories are more
stable and contain Shinto beliefs more fully.
HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS
The rapid spread i n the Heian period of Amidist ideas a t
the existential level, and eschatological socio-historic
notions ( f i x e d i n l i t e r a t u r e , Buddhist writings, and h i s t o r i c
works such as rekishi monogatari) proves t h a t the whole
sum of the notion of "the end" (death, post-death retribution, eschatology) greatly influenced the l a t e r development
of Japanese Buddhism and culture.
I n this connection the stories i n the rekishi monogatari
sub-genre are of particular interest. I n these works the
Shinto concept of the beginnings of the world and l e g i t i macy of the ruling house prevails. As time passes more and
more Buddhist ideas are inserted i n the comprehension of
history, so that i n i t s concept of the f u t u r e Buddhism
p r a c t i c a l l y excludes Shinto. Even much later, when Shinto
theology was developed, i t could not produce models of the
f u t u r e invariably through the i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of myths.
Though this may seem somewhat paradoxical, folktales,
h i s t o r i c views and l i f e styles are isomorphous t o one and
t h e same pattern. Japanese emperors began t h e i r l i f e and
reign from Shinto ceremonies and ended, beginning w i t h
Emperor Tenmu, by ceremonies of Buddhist origin (curing
by dharani invocations, becoming a monk, cremation). Thus
t h e Shinto preoccupation w i t h the beginning of the world
and the i n i t i a l stages of various processes, on the one
hand, and the Buddhist concentration on eschatology and
the f i n a l stages of processes, on the other, influenced many
54

Japanese J o u r n a l o f Religious Studies 1 1 / 1

1984

M e a n i n g o f B e g i n n i n g a n d End

c u l t u r a l phenomena, s u c h a s plot-making, l i f e styles, conc e p t s of history and t h e like.


A t f i r s t sight t h e r e exists no more c o n t r a s t than
b e t w e e n t h e glory of t h e emperor and t h e poor p e a s a n t or
p e t t y official who a r e t h e r e a l c r e a t o r s of folktales. But a s
I h a v e t r i e d t o show in t h i s paper, t h e i r comprehension of
t h e world a n d t h e world's comprehension of them a r e
simply v a r i a n t s of one and t h e s a m e mental p a t t e r n . Theref o r e w e c a n claim t h a t all t h e s e men a r e r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s of
J a p a n e s e medieval culture.
CONCLUSION
Medieval J a p a n formed a s y n c r e t i c Shinto-Buddhist p a t t e r n
of time which influenced greatly d i f f e r e n t s p h e r e s of intell e c t u a l activities. As a r e s u l t t h e c y c l e of Shinto agricult u r a l t i m e was s t r a i g h t e n e d a n d a c o n c e p t of linear time
c a m e into existence. But f o r a r e s e a r c h e r of humanitarian
problems a n o t h e r f a c t is more important. T h e new c o n c e p t
of time c o n t r i b u t e d g r e a t l y t o t h e forming of t h e individual. It is well known t h a t in Shinto t h e individual is of n o
value and p a t t e r n s of behavior a r e collective. J a p a n e s e
Buddhism a c c e n t u a t e d " t h e end" of all phenomena and i t
m a d e possible t o e v a l u a t e t h e individual b e c a u s e only t h e
t r a n s i e n t c a n be considered t h e unique. Only a c u l t u r e of
l i n e a r time could produce t h e following s t a t e m e n t ( K e e n e
1967, p. 7):
If man w e r e never t o f a d e away like t h e dews of
Adashio, n e v e r t o vanish like t h e smoke over Toribeyama, b u t lingered on f o r e v e r in t h e world, how things
would lose t h e i r power t o move us.

J a p a n e s e J o u r n a l o f R e l i g i o u s S t u d i e s 11/1 1 9 8 4

A.N.

MESHCHERYAKOV

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1984