THE RULE OF THE DEAD
It should now be evident to the reader that the ethics of Shinto were all comprised in the doctrine of unqualified obedience to customs originating, for the most part, in the family cult. Ethics were not different from religion; religion was not different from government; and the very word for government signified "matters-of-religion." All government ceremonies were preceded by prayer and sacrifice; and from the highest rank of society to the lowest every person was subject to the law of tradition. To obey was piety; to disobey was impious; and the rule of obedience was enforced upon each individual by the will of the community to which he belonged. Ancient morality consisted in the minute observance of rules of conduct regarding the household, the community, and the higher authority.
But these rules of behaviour mostly represented the outcome of social experience; and it was scarcely possible to obey them faithfully, and yet to remain a bad man. They commanded reverence toward the Unseen, respect for authority, affection to parents, tenderness to wife and children, kindness to neighbours, kindness to dependants, diligence and exactitude in labour, thrift and cleanliness in habit. Though at first morality signified no more than obedience to tradition, tradition itself gradually became identified with true morality. To imagine the consequent social condition is, of course, somewhat difficult for the modern mind. Among ourselves, religious ethics and social ethics have long been practically dissociated; and the latter have become, with the gradual weakening of faith, more imperative and important than the former. Most of us learn, sooner or later in life, that it is not enough to keep the ten commandments, and that it is much less dangerous to break most of the commandments in a quiet way than to violate social custom. But in Old Japan there was no distinction tolerated between ethics and custom - between moral requirements and social obligations: convention identified both, and to conceal a breach of either was impossible, - as privacy did not exist. Moreover the unwritten commandments were not limited to ten; they were numbered by hundreds, and the least infringement was punishable, not merely as a blunder, but as a sin. Neither in his own home nor anywhere else could the ordinary person do as he pleased; and the extraordinary person was under the surveillance of zealous dependants whose constant duty was to reprove any breach of usage. The religion capable of regulating every act of existence by the force of common opinion requires no catechism.
Early moral custom must be coercive custom. But as many habits, at first painfully formed under compulsion only, become easy through constant repetition, and at last automatic, so the conduct compelled through many generations by religious and civil authority, tends eventually to become almost instinctive. Much depends, no doubt, upon the degree to which religious compulsion is hindered by exterior causes, - by long-protracted war, for example, - and in Old Japan there was interference extraordinary. Nevertheless, the influence of Shinto accomplished wonderful things, - evolved a national type of character worthy, in many ways, of earnest admiration. The ethical sentiment developed in that character differed widely from our own; but it was exactly adapted to the social requirements. For this national type of moral character was invented the name Yamato-damashi (or Yamato-gokoro), - the Soul of Yamato (or Heart of Yamato), - the appellation of the old province of Yamato, seat of the early emperors, being figuratively used for the entire country. We might correctly, though less literally, interpret the expression Yamato-damashi as "The Soul of Old Japan."