If it be asked, as I am often asked, how it is that the Japanese, a professedly Buddhistic people, could have taken to such un-Buddhistic ways, it must be replied first, that all institutionalized religions are nowadays largely rendered ethically ineffective because they have become matters more of social convenience than of personal conviction, and second, that after the great historical revolution of 1868, when the entire feudal system of government was abandoned, Buddhism also was largely abandoned with it. The new government disestablished it as a state religion, took possession of thousands of Buddhist temples, stripped them of their Buddha-images, and turned out their priests. Thus Buddhism, a religion of earthly renunciation, was discarded. A religion of earthly aggrandizement, combining feudalistic Shinto Mikado-worship with a feverish industrialistic ambition, replaced it. With this death-blow, the seeds of potential spiritual greatness were cast out and replaced by the dry-rot of a materialistic ambition. With it was lost the opportunity of becoming the torchbearer of a new and dynamic reform for the backward countries of Asia. This was because Japan, of all the Oriental nations of that time, was the only one wise enough in her unique religious vision to take the serenity and mind-control gained in inward contemplation and express it in the outward version of inspired action. The Japanese were provided with this striking opportunity during the nineteenth century to rejuvenate the vast continent of Asia in the right way and thus become its recognized leader. This would have prepared the way for the introduction of that new East-West spiritual-material civilization of which the whole world is unconsciously or half-consciously in desperate need. Had they lived up to this opportunity Japan would quite properly have earned our profound respect and all mankind's gratitude. But unhappily for themselves and unfortunately for us, the Japanese lost their moral and mental balance in the vast turn-over which they carried out and became the votaries of sordid materialism and ruthless militarism instead. The purifying fires of self-earned suffering became their lot for failure to grasp this grand opportunity and accomplish a truly divine mission. Prior to the transformation of which we speak, the ancient Japanese conception of life possessed a virility all its own. It was infused into the Buddhistic wisdom which they absorbed from India by way of Korea, because the negative quietism, trance-seeking yoga, and sepulchral asceticism of India did not suffice to satisfy them as a complete goal. They used these things, therefore, and refused to let themselves be used by them. They brought the study of truth and the practice of meditation into relation with the need of practical life and social existence, which meant that they brought these treasured gems across the walls of cloisters within which they had previously been confined into the wider world. With them, penetration into the deeper significance of human life ceased to be a preoccupation for lethargic monks who lacked the opportunities to put their learning into practice, and became the inspiration of active men engaged in the work and turmoil of earthly existence. They turned a metaphysic which usually ended in logical abstractions into a gospel which ended in inspired actions. They made bodily experience, rational thought, and aesthetic emotion combine to proclaim truth with united voice. This was the gospel of Zen, as it was called. But alas! we speak here of old Japan, of the land which had not yet been opened to the West and not yet been dazzled by its industrial prosperity and material achievements, a land which has vanished and now exists no longer.
-- Notebooks Category 13: Human Experience > Chapter 4: World Crisis > # 126