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Japanese Shinto: Potential world religion?

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posted on Sep, 17 2009 @ 03:10 AM
Let's kick back and have a little chat a bit about The religion of Shinto.

Specifically, I am interested in one question: Can Shinto be considered a "world religion" like Christianity or Islam, where people of any nationality are accepted? Or is it closed off to Japanese people only? It is a complex and thorny issue, with strong opinions on either side.

Before we get into that, a little background will follow in this thread. Feel free to skip this post if you are already familiar with these matters.

First, "Shinto" is not a monolithic phenomenon, and the understanding of "what it means to be Shinto" differs internally among different sects and locations, as well as historically over time.

A brief historical sketch follows.

Shinto started out as the indigenous religion in Japan. In its earliest form, it was practiced in woodland clearings and involved elaborate purifications and trance-inducing rituals. This makes it very close to Siberian and Korean Shamanism in character, although it was perhaps a bit more elaborate in terms of ritual, etc. It featured Miko, who were kind of like female Shamans who could "channel" various spirits. In its earliest form, it had no rigid doctrine or sacred texts. 2,000+ years ago, Japan was organized into various Uji or "clans." Each one had its own main deities and in a sense the very earliest "Shinto" was not really a single religion but many dozens of religions that sometimes had overlapping beliefs, sometimes not.

Eventually, the Yamato Clan (which remains the ruling Imperial House of Japan) succeeded in unifying most of the country, and its head Goddess (Amaterasu-Omikami -- the Sun Goddess) became the sort of head of Japanese Shinto overall. It is at this point we begin to see more doctrinal fusion and unification as a single religion.

When Buddhism was introduced in earnest into Japan in the 6th century AD, it touched off a kind of short civil war, with the pro-Buddhists ultimately winning. However, they did not eliminate Shinto, and the two religions have existed (often uneasily) besides one another ever since. In response to the theological and intellectual challenges of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, Shinto also began to develop its own texts and sacred writings, as it sought to create a more as a more fleshed-out theology and corpus of thought that could stand alongside these ancient continental religions.

In the medieval period, there was a movement to blend Shinto and Buddhism, known as Honji Suijaku. This remained relatively popular for almost 1,000 years in various forms, but eventually the government mandated a strict separation between Shinto and Buddhism, and this type of practice and theory was outlawed and died off completely.

Why did the government do this? There are lots or reasons, but one was to prevent the religions from becoming too politically and economically powerful ("divide and conquer"). The Shoguns wanted to avoid a situation like such as that in medieval Europe, where the Pope held political power over secular lords and kings. In Japan, this was never allowed to happen. Shinto and Buddhism went their separate ways again, although they were not considered mutually exclusive. Each was given roles to play in society: Shinto involved in weddings, for example, while the Buddhists handled funerals. Through this and other forms of strict control, the secular government kept the religions from becoming too politically powerful.

Later, when Japan began modernizing and opening itself to the world in the 1800s, the government began to favor Shinto over Buddhism (although Buddhism trundled on, and certain of the more militaristic strains, like Rinzai Zen with its stoic lifestyle plus archery and swordsman skills, was also given strong state support). It was at this point that the govt of Japan began to truly exert control over Shinto, trying to lock down a more standardized doctrine with the Emperor at the center. They tried to standardize the various practices of thousands of rural shrines and institute national education (in Buddhist temples as well as secular schools) that the Emperor was both central and divine in the Shinto sense of the word.

The result is what is usually called State Shinto, which was extremely nationalistic and Emperor-centric. The basic idea was that the Emperor is a "holographic entry point" to universal divine power through the so-called Kokutai. This latter word is difficult to translate in English, but think of it as a mass of protective energy that encompasses all of Japan and flows through every Japanese individual. By participating in Emperor Worship, the State Shinto practitioners could fuse with this energy. The Emperor was seen as the direct descendent of the ancient Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami. Dying for the Emperor in foreign wars (versus China, Russia, South-East Asia, Korea, Taiwan, and later the US, etc) and dying in service to the emperor was seem as the ultimate honor for a soldier, because his soul would then fuse completely with the sacred power of the Emperor and his sacred nation of Japan. The dead soldier's family would also acquire a sort of elevated status as a result.

One can see how this doctrine could be used to mobilize a population for war. All dissent was ruthlessly quashed, and during the early 20th century, this became the only truly acceptable form of Shinto.

After defeat in WWII, Shinto experienced yet another transformation. The Emperor was forced to declare himself human, not divine, and the State Shinto control apparatus was dismantled. Shinto itself lives on, and is currently branching out in numerous directions as it struggles to deal with its long, conmplex, often-changing (and often self-contradory), and confusing history.

(Please see following post)

posted on Sep, 17 2009 @ 03:11 AM
The previous post provided a whirlwind tour through the history of Shinto, Obviously its simplified and there is room for dispute and its a bit oversimplified. Those familiar with Shinto history may want to skim or skip it,

In this post, I would like to ask: Can Shinto become a "world religion" that spreads beyond Japan, or is it forever locked into this archipelago? There are 2 reasons for thinking Shinto must be a purely Japanese phenomenon.

1) It developed from earliest times in Japan and has never really had a footprint in any other nations. Its also intensely local.

2) Memories of State Shinto and its hyper-nationalistic, Japan-centric views linger on, but looking at the grand picture of Shinto history, this represents a remarkably short-lived phenomenon. In most earlier forms of Shinto, there was little that stressed its "specific Japanese-ness."

So why should Shinto spread beyond Japan? Because, in its more basic and ancient forms, I think it has a lot to offer world spirituality.

When one enters a Shinto shrine, the basic idea is that one is entering a point at which a "holographic experience of the cosmic divinity" can be accessed. That is, through visiting one Shinto shrine, you connect at a local point with a totality divine energy that flows through all of reality, and become one with it. This energy (given various Japanese names in different contexts...Kami, Tama, etc.) is theoretically accessible anywhere one approaches an object with a sense of awe and Makoto no Kokoro (Usually translated as "mindful heart" or "sincerity"...inadequately, in my opinion). This term represents a kind of sincere response to the entry point into the divine presence, and also an opening to forces beyond oneself.

This experience is not something considered to take place either "within" or "outside" an individual. Rather, there is an OVERLAP involved. For example, when contemplating a sacred tree, the tree may be up to 700 years old or older, and its twisted shape and age evokes a sense of awe. The tree itself and the viewer's response of awe overlap to create a sense of purity, onneness, and "coming home." This feeling would be impossible without both the person in question and the tree itself...these are conceived as polarities through which the divine current flows like electricity, rather than being totally separate "observer" and "observed." The feeling exists at the intersection of the tree itself, the reaction in the viewer, and the cosmic energy that is universally present throughout the cosmos but perhaps more easily accessible to humans at sacred spaces like special trees, rocks, or shrines.

This is once concept (among many others) that Shinto has to offer the world. Others include reverence of nature, an aesthetic of purity and simplicity, and so forth. But whether or not Shinto's complex historical status will allow it to spread as a global religion is still a hotly contended issue.

posted on Sep, 17 2009 @ 03:14 AM
To moderators: This might better belong in the "Psychology, Philosophy and Metaphysics" Forum since it doesn't treat conspiracy per se. If possible, please move it there rather than BTS. Your consideration would be appreciated.

posted on Sep, 17 2009 @ 05:30 AM
reply to post by silent thunder

Zen Buddhism has more universal appeal, and mass popularity. That religion has a more likely chance of spreading Japanese ideals repackaged as a "univeral religion". And to be honest most Europeans and Americans are gullible enough to believe it.

Shinto religion on the other hand is mostly rooted into Japanese culture and belief systems. Where every creek, mountain, and sacred area has a minor, and\or major patron god (Kami) associated with it. And is a idea mostly foreign to 1st world countries, minus a few neo-pagens, and native animists.

Shinto though could have been a univeral religion if Japan didn't over reach itself, and attack first rate world powers. Like the US and Russia. If Japan had limited itself in invading its neighbors only, skipping all areas "settled" by Caucasians. And not been stupid like killing, raping and pillaging the invaded areas. Then perhaps shinto missionaries could have spread the Shinto message to the world. But now, Shinto like Nazism is a bad word to foreign countries due to its barbaric past. And now must reinvent itself, or face extinction in foreign countries.

posted on Sep, 17 2009 @ 07:58 AM
reply to post by msnevil

Zen is certainly here to stay, It has been well-known to the America for decades; Even leaving aside academics and aesthetes dabbling in Buddhism like Henry David Thoreau, who translated parts of the Lotus Stura in the 1800s, Zen took off as a popular phenomenon with the "beat" generation in the 50s and really hit the big time in the late 60s and early seventies.

Like all profound philosophies, its been gotten wrong more often than right, but there have been plenty to achieve profound benefits from Zen in America and the West in general. Zen is a very versatile and "portable" religion; its minimalist sensibilities and lack of reliance on specific figures, etc. allows it to flourish in the West. And of course there is no difference between doing Zazen in Tacoma or Tokyo.

My biggest complaint about the American Zen people is that many of them are excessively focused on the "crazy wisdom"aspect of the religion; the koans, the one-line zingers, and the general antinomian spirit that sometimes bubbles up in Zen. This is part of the story but not the whole thing. You have to remember: Zen scholars were steeped in the Mahayana classics; they'd spent years studying sutras, commentaries, commentaries on commentaries, etc....they'd have studied the Pure Land Sutras, the Nara School writings, the Blue Cliff Record, not to mention all the other major Mahyana sutras. They'd have learned (even if not strictly obeyed) the Vinaya Precepts and Boddhisattva precepts for strict moral training. Most importantly of all, Zen wasn't a weekend hobby for real monks: They literally gave up everthing and worked on Zen and only Zen. How many Western people have this background? I fear it can lead to a facile, superficial understanding of Zen.

Great actors always memolrize the scipt bakwards and forwards...for only then are they free to deviate from it and act extemporaneously.

Or else you have an excessive backlash against thought in general...people who think Buddhism is about "no thoughts." Its not about crushing your thoughts...its about transcending them.

Nevertheless, all religions change as they move among cultures. Japanese Buddhism is very different from, say, Thai or Tibetan Buddhism. Undoubtedly American Zen will thrive and be different too, in its own way. I think it already has among a number of names.

One more tidbit to chew on+ IT is not a matter of Zem versus Shinto." It could be "Zen AND Shinto," you know.

[edit on 9/17/09 by silent thunder]

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