detailed knowledge of its history. They were aware, however, that it was a major religious tradition of importance over a vast area of Asia and that it originated in India.
Although from the mid-seventeenth century Jesuit correspondence from the east was widely read in western Europe, by Protestants as well as Catholics, these reports did little to bring any understanding of Buddhism to the west. This is partially explained in China by the concentration of the Jesuits upon Confucianism and in Japan on the ferocious repression and its heroic martyrdoms.
However, despite the length of time it took for the western intellectual world to recognize Buddhism for what it was, Catholic missionaries certainly recognized it in Japan, China, Indo-China, and Siam not as 'indistinct aspects of the Orient', but as a powerful, coherent religious tradition. On his first encounter with this religious tradition in Japan, Xavier described accurately the many Buddhist sects in Japan and clearly understood that, despite their contradictory teachings and conflicting practices and theologies, they were sects of the same religion, whose common origins lay elsewhere.18 Thirty years later, Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606), Visitor of the Society of Jesus in the east, organized the Society and its auxiliaries in Japan according to a system of ranks, rules of diet and patterns of courtesy based upon those of the Zen monastic order.19 He was so deeply impressed by the prestige of Buddhist monks in Japan that he encouraged Fathers Ruggieri and Ricci to dress in a manner close to that of Buddhist monks as they began their work in China. This was so they might communicate that they were teachers of religion while attempting in their dress, diet, and manners to reject European and conform to Chinese norms. It was in China that missionaries became aware that what they came to call the 'religion of the idolaters' had its origins in India. This they recognized despite the fact that after more than a hundred years of western Christian activity in India Catholic missionaries had not encountered Buddhism there, except briefly in Ceylon.
Because there were so many outward similarities between Catholic Christianity and Japanese Buddhism, there were in Xavier's time a number of sympathetic encounters between followers of the two faiths. This initial sympathy and apparent agreement, however, led to all the more bitter disillusion on both sides when the real differences became clear. When one also takes into account the hatred that the early patron of the Christian mission, the dictator Oda Nobunaga (1533-82), had for the Buddhist monastic communities, it is not surprising that the relationship between the two faiths in Japan developed into one of constant argument and conflict. In China, relations also rapidly
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