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Shinto

Some Basic Facts

Name:

Shinto is the Chinese rendering of the Japanese word Kami-no-Michi which means the Way of the gods.

Founder:

There is no specific founder of this religion which is largely based on Japanese traditions and mythology

Place of Origin:

Japan

Sacred Books:

Kojiki (Records of Ancient Writings), assembled in 712 AD
Nihongi assembled in 720 AD

Sacred Places:

Ise, east of Osaka, main island of Honshu. Izumo, north of Hiroshima, island of Honshu

Festivals:

Gion: festival in Kyoto
Takayama: festival in the Hida region
Chichibu: festival in the mountains north west of Tokyo

Introduction

The Japanese religion Shinto is not considered to be a revealed religion by the scholars and historians. Although some fundamental ideas of this religion date as far back as 600 BC, the religion was organized into a systematic set of beliefs and worships around 350 to 550 AD.

One important reason for the organization of this national religion was to meet the challenge of the two imported religions: Buddhism from Korea and Confucianism from China. Over the years, Shinto and Buddhism intermingled so much in the Japanese society that today many Japanese would declare themselves to be both, Shintoist and Buddhist. It is very common for a Japanese to have a Shinto wedding and a Buddhist funeral.

In the Japanese mythology, the islands of Japan were created by two gods, Izangi and Izanami, who then descended from heaven to populate them. The first emperor of Japan is said to have descended from these two gods. The roots of the Japanese religion, therefore, lie in animism a belief that supernatural forces reside in natural objects such as animals, trees and mountains.

The central concept in the Shinto religion is that of Kami. Kami is a general term of respect for something holy and awesome. According to the Japanese, spiritual forces may reside in people, animals, trees, mountains or other objects. The Japanese appease to these forces by revering or worshiping these objects and respectfully call them Kami.

In rare cases, a living person may be regarded as a Kami. The Japanese believe that a god may take possession of a person’s soul and use him as a medium to speak the words of the god. This is the closest thing to the Shinto concept of a prophet.

The Beliefs of Shinto

Although the Shinto religion has no revealed commandments, it has a fairly well developed code of ethics and social behaviour. The basic beliefs of the Shinto faith could be summarized in the five tenets given below:

  1. To be courageous, loyal and to observe cleanliness
  2. That the Japanese race originated from two gods names Izangi and lzanami
  3. That life is good
  4. That the world reveals itself in beauty
  5. That the deeds are more important than arguments

The Shinto DO’s and DON’T’s

There are two sects of Shinto which have developed formal decalogues or Ten Commandments.

The ten DO’s of the Shinshu Kyo sect are:

  1. Worship the great deities of Shinto
  2. Pacify your spirit
  3. Practice the Way of the gods
  4. Revere the divine origin of the state
  5. Be loyal to the ruler
  6. Be zealous in your duty towards your parents
  7. Be kind to others
  8. Be diligent in business
  9. Be steadfast
  10. Cleanse away the rust of your body

The ten DONT’s of the Shinri Kyo sect are:

  1. Do not transgress the will of the gods
  2. Do not forget your obligations to the ancestors
  3. Do not transgress the decrees of the state
  4. Do not forget the great goodness of the gods which removes misfortune and sickness
  5. Do not forget that the world is one great family
  6. Do not forget the limitations of your own person
  7. Do not become angry
  8. Do not be lazy in your business
  9. Do not cause dishonour to the teachings
  10. Do not be carried away by foreign teaching

Worship in the Shinto Religion

Much of Shinto worship is an individual matter. Usually, before undertaking a journey, or an examination, or a new venture, a Shintoist will visit the shrine to appease the gods.

The concept of the shrine is very important in the Shinto religion. In the Japanese language the word for shrine means spiritual dwelling place of a god. It is very common for a shrine to enshrine a different deity. The deities of Shinto are not supernatural beings or gods, but rather the spiritualization of ordinary natural objects.

The shrines are generally located at places of natural beauty such as mountain tops. Inside the shrine is a large trough of clean water for the worshiper to perform ablution. The worshiper then performs a short prayer in the worship hall of the shrine.

In the Shinto religion, ancestor worship has an important place. In Shinto philosophy, man can only exist in this world by receiving the blood of countless ages of ancestors. These ancestors, therefore, must not be forgotten. Reverence and worship of ancestors is one of the fundamental principles of the Shinto faith.

Wisdom of Shinto

  • “All men are brothers”
  • “When prayer fails to help you accomplish your purpose, know that something is lacking in your sincerity”
  • “Do not profess love with your lips while you harbour hatred in your heart”
  • “One should not be mindful of suffering in his own life and unmindful of suffering in the lives of others”
  • “In all the world there is no such thing as a stranger”

Comparative Study

The Shinto religion is an “unfounded” religion in the sense that it cannot be traced to any known founder and appears to have evolved from ancient Japanese folk beliefs.

While the ethical system of the Shinto faith is reasonably well developed, its spiritual philosophy is very primitive. The religion revolves around nature worship and is highly disinterested in intellectual and philosophical speculation.

Among the major religions of the world, the Shinto religion comes closest to Hinduism. Both have a rich blend of tradition and mythology and both lack a known founder. But while most Hindu beliefs are a result of intellectual curiosity and philosophical speculation, Shinto beliefs appear primitive and superstitious by comparison. While Hindu triad has its basis in Brahman, the One God, there is no such concept of One Supreme Being in the Shinto religion, not at least in the way the faith exists today.

The Shinto religion is an ethnic faith; it is meant for the people of Japan only. Until very recently, the Shinto religion demanded complete loyalty to the King of Japan. The Japanese monarchy is a hereditary institution, existing in the same family for 124 generations since Emperor Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan. The Japanese Emperor is also the high priest of the Shinto religion. Today, Shinto is more of a Japanese culture or a way of life than a true religion.