The Shinto Religion
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What is Shinto?
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Nevertheless, kami are thought to wield power and ability. In Shinto, it is important to placate kami through rites and rituals. Purification is done for good fortune and peace of mind rather than to adhere to a doctrine, though in the presence of kami, purity is essential. In Shinto, the default for all human beings is goodness. Impurity comes from every day occurrences—intentional and unintentional—such as injury or illness, environmental pollution, menstruation, and death. To be impure is to separate oneself from the kami, which makes good fortune, happiness, and peace of mind difficult—if not impossible—to achieve.
Purification harae or harai is any ritual intended to rid a person or an object of impurity kegare. Harae originates from the founding story of Japan during which two kami, Izanagi and Izanami, were tasked by the original kami to bring shape and structure to the world. After some struggle, they married and produced children, the islands of Japan, and the kami that inhabit them, but the birth of the kami of fire ultimately killed Izanami. Desperate with sorrow, Izanagi followed his love to the underworld and was appalled to see her corpse rotting away, infested by maggots. Izanagi escaped the underworld and cleansed himself with water; the result was the birth of the kami of the sun, the moon, and storms.
Shinto is upheld by adherence to traditional practices that have been passed through centuries of Japanese history. Shinto shrines Jinji are public places constructed to house kami. Anyone is welcome to visit public shrines , though there are certain practices that should be observed by all visitors, including quiet reverence and purification by water before entering the shrine itself. Worship of kami can also be done at small shrines in private homes kamidana or sacred, natural spaces mori. Purification harae or harai is a ritual performed to rid a person or an object of impurity kegare. Purification rituals can take many forms, including a prayer from a priest, cleansing by water or salt, or even a mass purification of a large group of people.
A ritual cleansing can be completed through one of the following methods:. Haraigushi and Ohnusa. Ohnusa is the belief in transferring impurity from a person to an object and destroying the object after the transfer. When entering a Shinto shrine, a priest shinshoku will wave a purification wand haraigushi consisting of a stick with strips of paper, linen, or rope attached to it over visitors to absorb impurities. The impure haraigushi will theoretically be destroyed at a later point. Misogi Harai. Like Izanagi, this method of purification is done traditionally by submerging oneself completely under a waterfall, river, or other body of active water.
It is common to find basins at the entrance of shrines where visitors will wash their hands and mouths as an abbreviated version fo this practice. An act of prevention rather than purification, Imi is the placing of taboos on certain circumstances to avoid impurity. For example, if a family member had recently died, the family would not visit a shrine, as death is considered impure. Likewise, when anything in nature is being harmed, prayers are said and rituals are performed to appease the kami of the phenomenon. Religion became something of a hot potato when missionaries arrived in Japan during this period and started converting people from Shinto and Buddhism.
Christianity was seen as a political threat and was ruthlessly stamped out. The 17th century was dominated by Buddhism - but a Buddhism heavily laden with Shinto - partly because an anti-Christian measure forced every Japanese person to register at a Buddhist temple and to pay for the privilege of being a Buddhist. Japanese civic religion still included very many elements of Confucianism in its political and administrative thinking, while popular Japanese religion was a pragmatic fusion of Shinto rituals and myths with a hefty dose of Buddhism.
Buddhist temples came under the control of the state, and the training of priests and the management of temples and the hierarchy was effectively state supervised. In the two centuries before the Meiji period there was a movement towards a purer form of Shinto, with a particular focus on the Japanese people as being the descendants of the Gods and superior to other races. Buddhist and other influences were filtered out of institutions and rituals. This was not so much a purification of something that had once existed, as the creation of a unified faith from a group of many ideas, beliefs and rituals. The Meiji Restoration in brought a sudden change in the religious climate of Japan.
The aim was to provide a sacred foundation and a religious rationale for the new Japan and its national ethos, and to support the system of central administration. Shinto was reorganised, completely separated from Buddhism, and brought within the structure of the state administration. Amaterasu, who until then had not been a major divinity, was brought to centre stage and used to validate the role of the Emperor, not only as ruler, but as the high priest of Shinto. Shinto became the official state religion of Japan, and many shrines were supported by state funding.
However, this financial aid was short-lived, and by the s most Shinto shrines were once again supported by those who worshipped at them. One result of this reformation was that it was no longer acceptable for kami to be identified with Buddhist deities, and a considerable reorganisation of the Japanese pantheon of spirit beings had to take place. Shrines were cleaned of every trace of Buddhist imagery, apparatus, and ritual, and Buddhist deities lost their godly status.
Buddhist priests were stripped of their status, and new Shinto priests were often appointed to shrines with a tacit mission to purify them. Once again, this zeal for the reformation and purifying of Shinto did not last, and within a few years shrines were cautiously re-incorporating elements from Buddhism or tribal tradition. Shinto was enthusiastically promoted by Japan's militaristic rulers, who stressed that the emperor was a divine being, directly descended from the gods who had given birth to the Japanese islands. Shinto became the glue that bound the Japanese people together with a powerful mix of devotion to kami, ancestor-worship, and group loyalty to family and nation. It was during this period that Shinto was declared 'non-religious'.
Traditional historians say rather cynically that this was done to avoid any conflict between the imposition of Shinto by the Japanese state and the Japanese constitution's guarantee of religious freedom. In fact it was more subtle than that - Shinto was regarded as inseparable from the 'Imperial Way' and inseparable from the fundamental ethical and social code of Japan. This made Shinto so superior to other religions which, although of enormous value, were created by human beings that it counted as non-religious. In his criticism of popular conceptions of Shinto, historian Kuroda Toshio explains that it has come to be regarded as "the cultural will or energy of the Japanese people, embodied in conventions that precede or transcend religion". Shinto was disestablished in , when the Emperor lost his divine status as part of the Allied reformation of Japan.
The Emperor wrote:. The ties between Us and Our people have always stood on mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world. One academic has written that the American Occupation Forces "undoubtedly wished to crush and destroy Shinto", and certainly the orders issued by the occupying forces were very hostile to Shinto which they seem to have regarded as either a government-run cult, or a religion that had been converted into a military and nationalist ideology.
No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority. Despite the loss of official status Shinto still remains a very significant player in Japanese spirituality and everyday life. And despite the non-divine status of the Emperor, considerable religious ritual and mysticism still surrounds many Imperial ceremonies. Experts don't agree as to when Shinto became a unified religion rather than just a convenient label to give to the different but similar faiths found in Japan, so any history of Shinto is bound to cover a wide range of beliefs and traditions. Christians maintain that heaven with God awaits them after bodily death, whereas eternal separation from God in hell awaits those who neither received forgiveness for their sins nor acknowledged Jesus as Lord.
Christianity has seen countless reformation movements, which spawned innumerable sects and offshoot denominations. Combined, Christianity is the largest religion in the world, with roughly 2. Its impact on the shape of world history and on present-day world culture is incalculable. Confucianism was a dominant form of philosophy and religious orientation in ancient China, one that emerged from the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived — BCE. Confucius viewed himself as a channel for the theological ideas emerging from the imperial dynasties that came before him.
With an emphasis on family and social harmony, Confucianism was a distinctly humanist and even secularist religious ideology. Confucianism had a profound impact on the development of Eastern legal customs and the emergence of a scholar class and with it, a meritocratic way of governing. As Buddhism became the dominant spiritual force in China, Confucianism declined in practice. And with the emergence of communism and Maoism in the 20th century, the mainstream practice of Confucianism was largely at an end. However, it remains a foundational ideology and force underlying Asian and Chinese attitudes toward scholarly, legal, and professional pursuits. Indeed, the strong work ethic advocated by Confucianism is seen as a major catalyst for the late 20th century rise of the Asian economies.
Today, there are various independent Confucian congregations, but it was only in that congregation leaders in China gathered together to form the Holy Confucian Church. Druze refers to an Arabic ethnoreligious group that originated in and still largely inhabits the Mountain of Druze region in southern Syria. Despite a small population of adherents, the Druze nonetheless play an important role in the development of their region known in historical shorthand as the Levant. The Druze view themselves as the direct descendants of Jethro of Midian, distinguished in Jewish scripture as the father-in-law of Moses.
As such, the Druze are considered related to Judaism by marriage. Like their in-laws, the Druze are monotheistic, professing faith in only one God. Druze ideologies are something of a hybrid though, drawing from the cultural teachings of Islam, but also incorporating the wisdom of Greek philosophers, such as Plato, and concepts of reincarnation similar to those in Hindu canon. Indeed, its present-day scriptures and community remain somewhat insular. The close-knit communities rooted in present day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel have long been subject to persecution, particularly at the hands of Islamic theocracies.
This may be one reason that the Druze, while participating actively in the politics and affairs of their home nations, shield their customs and practices from the eyes of outsiders. Today, there are between , and one million Druze adherents, nearly all of them concentrated in the Middle East. A term adapted in modern historical discourse, gnosticism concerns the variety of religious systems and beliefs in the ancient world that emerged from the Judeo-Christian tradition. These belief systems held that emanations from a single God were responsible for the creation of the material world and that, as such, all humans carried the divine spark of God. Emerging in the first century CE — in close concert with the emergence of Christianity — gnosticism is perhaps best understand as the intermediary set of ideas shared by portions of the world as Christianity gradually eclipsed Judaism in size and scope.
During this period, — BCE, civilization transitioned from tribal and pastoral living into settled and agricultural living. From this emerged social classes, state-entities, and monarchies. The primary texts retelling this period of history are called the Vedas and would significantly inform the so-called Hindu Synthesis. The Hindu Synthesis was a period of time, roughly BCE to CE, in which the precepts of Hinduism solidified from multiple intertwining strands of Indian spiritual and cultural tradition, emerging from a broad range of philosophies to share a unifying set of concepts.
Critical among these concepts is the theme of the Four Purusarthas , or goals, of human life: Dharma ethics and duties , Artha prosperity and work , Kama desires and passions , and Moksha liberation and salvation. Other important concepts include karma, which asserts a universal relationship between action, intent, and consequences; samsara, the Hindu concept of rebirth; and a wide range of Yogic practices merging the body, mind, and elements.
Though no one figure or group is credited with its founding, Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world today. Islam is a monotheistic religion that — like Christianity and Judaism — traces its roots to the Garden of Eden, Adam, and the prophet Abraham. Islam teaches that Allah is the only God and that Muhammed is his messenger. Islam holds that God spoke to Muhammed through the archangel Gabriel some time around CE, delivering the revelations that would form the Quran.
This primary text of the Islamic faith is believed by adherents to contain the exact words of God and therefore provides a full and nonnegotiable blueprint for how to live. The Quran and the Islamic legal code known as Sharia inform every aspect of life, from ethics and worship to family matters and business dealings. In the centuries to follow, Islam would simultaneously produce countless wars of succession and a growing sense of spiritual unity within the Arab World.
This dichotomy between internal conflict and cultural unity remains a presence in the Islamic faith today. This dichotomy would also give way to a division between the two dominant sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia. With more than 1. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that — according to its adherents — can be traced through a succession of 24 sagely teachers. The first of these teachers is thought to have been Rishabhanatha, who lived millions of years ago.
These and other concepts are outlined in the Acaranga Sutra, the oldest of the Jainist scriptures. As one of the earliest extant religious traditions to emerge from the spiritually fertile Indian subcontinent, Jainism both shares with and diverges from features of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions that also emerged there. Like Hindu and Buddhism, Jainism teaches the doctrines of karma, rebirth, and monastic as opposed to theistic spiritual practices.
Jainists believe the soul is an ever-changing thing, bound to the body only for a lifetime, which differs from Hindu or Buddhist ideas about the soul as part of an infinite and constant universe. This focus on the corporeal also extends to the Jainist caste system, which, not unlike Hinduism, requires adherents eschew social liberation in favor of spiritual liberation. Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic world religions, among the first ethnoreligious groups to move away from idolatry or paganism and toward the recognition of a single deity.
Judaism is said to have begun with the figure of Abraham, a man living in the Land of Canaan — a geographical expanse likely encompassing portions of Phoenicia, Philistia, and Israel. In the Tanakh — the body of Jewish scripture which includes a foundational text called The Torah , and later supplemental texts call the Midrash and the Talmud — it is said that God spoke to Abraham and commanded him to recognize the singularity and omnipotence of God. Abraham accepted, becoming the father not just of Judaism but of the various monotheistic or Abrahamic religions that followed.
Thus, Abraham is seen not just as the first prophet of Judaism, but also of the Christian and Islamic faiths that sprung from the Judaic tradition. The Jewish faith is based upon a covenant between Abraham and God in which the former renounced idolatry and accepted the latter as the only divine authority.