Excerpts on Buddhism from Silence

Silence (沈黙 Chinmoku?) is a 1966 novel of historical fiction by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō. It is the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to 17th century Japan, who endures persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion.

“Well, then, let me ask a question.” Opening and closing his fan as he spoke, he came to the attack. “The Christians say that their Deus is the source of love and mercy, the source of goodness and virtue, whereas the buddhas are all men and cannot possess these qualities. Is this your stand also, father?”

“A buddha cannot escape death any more than we can. He is something different from the Creator.”

“Only a father who is ignorant of Buddhist teaching could say such a thing. In fact, you cannot say that the buddhas are no more than men. There are three kinds of buddhas – hossin, goshin and oka. The oka buddha shows eight aspects for delivering human being and giving them benefits; but the hossin has neither beginning nor end, and he is unchangeable. It is written in the sutras that the buddha is everlasting and never changes. It is only a Christian who could regard the buddhas as mere human beings. We don’t think that way at all.”

“But you hold that everything exists naturally, that the world has neither beginning nor end,” said the priest, seizing on the other’s weak point and taking the offensive.

“Yes, that is our position.”

“But an object without life must either be moved from outside by something else, or from within. How were the buddhas born? Moreover, I understand that these buddhas have merciful heart – but antecedent to all this, how was the world made? Our Deus is the source of his own existence; he created man; he gave existence to all things.”

“Then the Christian God created evil men. Is that what you are saying? Is evil also the work of your Deus?” The interpreter laughed softly as he spoke, enjoying his victory.

“No, no,” cried the priest shaking his head. “God created everything for good. And for this good he bestowed on man the power of thought; but we men sometimes use this power of discrimination in the wrong way. This is evil.”

“Stop this sophistry,” shouted the interpreter. “You may satisfy peasants with their wives and children in this way; but you can’t beguile me. But now let me put you one more question. If it is true that God is really loving and merciful, how do you explain the fact that he gives so many trails and sufferings to all kinds to man on his way to Heaven?”

“Sufferings of every kind? I think you are missing the point. If only man faithfully observes the commandments of our Deus he should be able to live in peace. If we have the desire to eat something, we can satisfy it. God does not order us to die of hunger. All we are asked to do is to honour God our Creator, and that is enough. Or again, when we cannot cast away the desires of the flesh, God does not order us to avoid all contact with women; rather does he tell us to have one wife and do his divine will.”

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