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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The influence of the Fujiwara was great


the increase of superstition. This was due in part at least to the growth in Japan of the power of Buddhism, and, be it understood, of Buddhism of a degraded and debased form. The effort to combine Buddhism and Shinto probably robbed the latter of any power it might otherwise have had to withstand superstition. Although men of the greatest ability went into the Buddhist monasteries, including many Imperial princes, their eminence did not make them better leaders and guides of the people, but rather aided them in misleading and befooling the laity. Murdoch in speaking of the beginning of the 12th century says: "At this date, Buddhism in Japan from a moral point of view was in not a whit better case than was the Church of Rome between the death of Sylvester II and the election of Leo IX." An interesting parallel might be drawn between Japanese and European superstition, as each was consequent on the low standards of the clergy of the times. The famous report of Miyoshi Kiyotsura, to which we have so often alluded, spoke in no measured terms of the greed and vice of the Buddhist priests. And the character of these hireling shepherds goes far to explain the gross superstition of the tune. We have told (p. 274) the story of the abbot Raigo and how the Court was forced to purchase from him intercessory prayers for the birth of an heir,--and of the death of the heir in apparent consequence of Raigo's displeasure. Near the end of the ninth century one Emperor made a gift of 500,000 yen for prayers that seemed to have saved the life of a favourite minister. Prayers for rain, for prolonged life, for victory over an enemy, were implicitly believed to be efficient, and priests received large bribes to make these prayers. Or they received other rewards: the privilege of coming to Court in a carriage was granted to one priest for bringing rain after a long drought and to another for saving the life of a sick prince in 981. As men got along in years they had masses said for the prolongation of their lives,--with an increase in the premium each year for such life insurance. Thus, at forty, a man had masses said in forty shrines, but ten years later at fifty shrines in all.

In this matter, as in others, the influence of the Fujiwara was great. They were in a close alliance with the priests, and they controlled the Throne through consorts and kept the people in check through priests and superstitions.

With the widespread belief in the power of priestly prayer there was prevalent a fear of spirits and demons. Oda received a promise in a dream that he would become Emperor. In the next generation the Emperor Daigo exiled Sugawara Michizane to Kyusml, where the exile died in two years. Soon afterwards the Emperor fell sick; and this, the disaster of 930 when a thunderstorm killed many nobles in the Imperial palace, and the sudden death of Michizane's accusers and of the Crown Prince were explained as due to the ill-will of the injured man's spirit. His titles were restored and everything possible was done to placate the ghost (see p. 244). To an earlier period belongs the similar story of Kwammu and his efforts to placate the spirit of his younger brother whom he had exiled and killed. Kwammu, fearing that death was coming upon him, built a temple to the shade of this brother. A cloud over the palace of another Emperor was interpreted as a portentous monster, half monkey and half snake, and one of the Minamoto warriors won fame for his daring in shooting an arrow at the cloud, which then vanished. Equally foolhardy and marvellous was the deed of Fujiwara Michinaga, who alone of a band of courtiers in the palace dared one dark night to go unattended and without lights from one end of the palace to the other.

When the new city of Kyoto was built, a Buddhist temple was put near the northeast gate to protect the capital from demons, since the northeast quarter of the sky belonged to the demons; and on a hill a clay statue was erected, eight feet high and armed with bow, arrows and cuirass, to guard the city. So implicit was the belief in the power of this colossal charm that it was said that it moved and shouted to warn the city of danger.


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