Shinto: The Way of the Gods


SHINTO - THE WAY OF THE GODS

"The ways of shining Heaven are far:
Turn thee! Ah! turn so things yet near;
Turn to thy earthly home, o friend!
And try to do shy duty here."

Omi Okura


FOUNDED: Prehistoric

FOUNDER: Unknown

PLACE: Japan

SACRED BOOKS: Kojiki (Records of the Ancients), Nihongi (Chronicles
of Japan), and a later work Yengishiki (Hymns and Prayers), are the
works used by the followers of Shinto, but they are not regarded as
Sacred Books in the same way as we regard our Bible.

NUMBER OF ADHERENTS: About 30,000,000. But followers of Shinto may
be at the same time adherents of Buddhism, or Christianity, or Taoism.
(circa 1958)

DISTRIBUTION: Asia, most in Japan


THE WAY OF THE GODS

1. WHEN JAPAN WAS VERY YOUNG

If you look at a map of Asia you will see a strange looking swan swimming
towards a school of minnows with some larger fish amongst them.

The body of the swan is, mostly, China.

Its big red bill is Korea.

And the many small and big fish are the Islands of Japan, known as
the Land of the Rising Sun.

There are over four thousand islands in the Japanese Kingdom, and about
five hundred of these are inhabited by people. There are no great rivers
nor vast plains on these islands, but they have many high mountains
and many deep valleys.

And there amongst the mountains and the valleys of Japan, always in
fear of the frequent earthquakes, lives a race of people who look very
much like the Chinese, paint pictures and play musical instruments
like those of the Chinese, make statues and lacquered ornaments like
those of their nearest neighbors, and believe in religions very much
like those believed in China.

The reason the Japanese writing, music, and religions are so much like
those of China is very easy to explain:

That is where almost all these things came from in the first place.

Japan borrowed her writing, her arts, and her religions from China.
Or rather, China sent them across, through Korea, as her gifts to young
Japan. For Japan, as compared with India and China, is a very young
country.

When India had already such great men at Prince Mahavira, the Jaina,
and Prince Gautama, the Buddha, making changes in their old religion,
Japan was still a group of wild islands inhabited by several clans
of savage people fighting with each other in the most uncivilized way.
And when China was already so old as to have books of Philosophy and
books of Ceremony, telling people just exactly how to receive guests
and how to dress when going to Temple, the Japanese were still a simple
and primitive people who lived by catching fish and hunting wild game
for food.

The Chinese, then, called the Japanese 'Dwarfs,' and described them
as people who tattooed their faces, and who fought with spears and
bows and arrows.

When the Chinese began to send across their art of writing and their
art of making musical instruments, their ideas of how to grow rice
and how to make silk from the spinnings of the silkworm, the Japanese
were very glad to receive all these wonderful gifts, and were very
eager to learn.

From the beginning of their history, up to the present day, the Japanese
have always been good pupils, and learned very quickly anything that
was of interest to them. When the Japanese received their knowledge
of writing, of agriculture, of the arts, and of religions from China,
they changed all of these very much to fit their climate and their
lives which were quite different from the Chinese.

But even before the cultured Chinese brought their gifts to Japan,
even before the Japanese learned to write, or to play musical instruments,
they already had a religion.

In so far as we know there are no people, no matter how savage and
uncivilized, who had or have no religion whatsoever.

So, too, the Japanese of over 2000 years ago had a religion.

The religion was later, much later, named Kamino-Michi.

But it is better known by its Chinese name:

SHINTO.

We have seen that the early Chinese believed in good spirits and evil
spirits, and the good spirits were called SHEN. And the teachings of
the Old Philosopher Lao-tze were called TAO, meaning The Way.

So SHINTO (ShenTao) must mean in Chinese, and does mean: The Way of
the Good Spirits.

2. THE WAY OF THE GOOD SPIRITS

To the Japanese of over 2000 years ago the world was a very small place.
They believed that they were the only people on earth, and their kingdom,
which they called The Great-Eight-Island-Land, was the entire earth,
surrounded by water and small islands. Even the sky, they believed,
was very near to them.

So near was the sky to Japan, they believed, that long, long ago an
arrow that was sent up from the earth pierced through the sky and made
a hole in it. Through that hole in the sky came falling down to earth
the trees, bushes, herbs, and all the living creatures. All things
on earth came, in that way, from the sky called Heaven.

Since all these things on earth came from Heaven, one would conclude
that Heaven was filled with just the same things that one sees on earth.

That was exactly what the Japanese of long ago believed.

They believed that life in Heaven was very much the same as in Japan,
only much nicer.

They also believed that there was a world right under the earth where
there was also life and people as on the earth, only it was not as
nice.

The entrance to the Underworld was open once upon a time so that people
on earth could go down there for a visit. But one day an earthquake
closed the entrance to the Underworld with a big stone.

Long ago there was also a bridge to Heaven and people could go up there,
too, for a visit. But that bridge broke down and was never, never mended
again.

In those days the religion of the Japanese was very simple. They had
no images, they had no sacred books, they had no commandments, and
they had no priests. Like the early Chinese, they believed that the
stars, the moon, the sun, the mountains, the rivers, the thunder and
the rain all had spirits that could do good or evil if they wanted
to, and to make them do good they had to be worshipped. Therefore the
Japanese worshipped all these things.

If they wanted rain, they went out to the river and prayed to the river
to give them rain. If they wanted the rain to stop and the sun to shine,
they would go out and pray to the sun.

Of all the early religions in the world we know of, there is none quite
so simple as Shintoism was in those days in Japan.

Besides worshipping nature, the Japanese also worshipped their Mikado.
To the Japanese their Mikado is not a human being like themselves,
but he is more like the Sun, the Moon, or Mount Fuji. He is a being
that, like the gods, must be worshipped.

Why the Japanese worshipped, and still worship, their Mikado, is explained
in the Kojiki and the Nihongi (The Records of the Ancient Masters,
and The Record of Japan), that were written about 1300 years ago.

After the world was formed, so the story in these Sacred Books tells,
there were many gods and spirits. And in the Seventh Generation of
the Gods lived Izanami and Izanami, who were also gods.

One day Izanagi and Izanami stood upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven
talking to each other.

"I wonder what is down below us," said Izanami.

"I wonder," said Izanami.

So Izanami took the Jewel-Spear of Heaven, lowered it into the air
and swung it around as a blind man might swing his cane in a strange
place. Suddenly the spear splashed into a mighty ocean.

When Izanami raised the Jewel-Spear of Heaven the salty water dripped
from it and, dried by the wind, became hard and formed an island in
the middle of the sea.

"Let us go down and live on that island," said Izanami.

"Let us go down," said Izanami.

And so they went down from the Floating Bridge of Heaven to live on
that island. There they created the Great-Eight-Island-Land, and there
they gave birth to The Three Noble Children: The Sun-Goddess, and her
brothers, the Moon-God and the Storm-God.

The Sun-Goddess, called Amaterasu-Omi-Kami, also had a family. And
her grandson, Jimmu Tenno, became the First Emperor of Japan.

That is why the Japanese worship their Mikado. To this day they believe
that their Mikado is a great-great-great-grandson, the one hundred
and twenty-fourth grandson, of the Sun-Goddess Amaterasu-Omi-Kami.

By teaching that the Mikado was the grandson of the Sun-Goddess, the
old religion of Japan, Shintoism, made its followers believe that it
was their religious duty to be loyal to their ruler. And by teaching
them to worship the mountains and the valley of Japan, Shintoism made
its followers great lovers of their country.

In this manner, the old religion of Japan joined Patriotism and Religion
into one. And even today the National Flag of Japan has upon it a red
sun to show that theirs is the Land of the Rising Sun where once lived
the Sun-Goddess Amaterasu.

3. PRINCE GAUTAMA ARRIVES IN JAPAN

Early in their history the Japanese learned from the Chinese how to
cultivate the land and grow rice, how to take care of the silk-worm
and make silk, how to write, how to paint, and how to do many other
things.

And whilst the Japanese learned from China how to do things, they also
learned from them how to think and what to believe.

The teachings of Confucius, the Great Sage of China, came to them and
taught them Ancestor-Worship.

Not only did China send across to Japan the teachings of their own
Confucius, but when Buddhism, the Religion that came to them from India,
became very strongly rooted in China, they sent out missionaries farther
East, through Korea and Japan.

The King of Korea, about 1300 years ago, was a Buddhist. And he sent
to the Mikado of Japan an image of the Buddha made of pure gold. Some
of the Buddhist Sacred Books came with it.

The Mikado, to show his reverence for these gifts, had a temple built
especially for the Golden Buddha and the Sacred Books.

When the temple was built, the Korean King sent Buddhist priests to
Japan to explain their religion.

And so the Buddha arrived in Japan as a gift from one King to another.

But it was not the Buddhism that had left India about a thousand years
before. When the teachings of the Buddha left home they taught people
to live simply, to follow the Eight-fold Path, to do away with Idol
worship.

As Buddhism travelled over the Himalaya Mountains, over Tibet, through
China, through Korea, and into Japan, it was slowly changed by its
followers. The Buddha himself became an idol to be worshipped. And
many idols were added to surround him.

The Buddha left home as a beggar, and arrived in Japan as a Prince.
And an army of shining idols came before him, and an army of glittering
idols followed behind.

When the simple Japanese saw the colorful and rich parade of idols,
and heard the wonderful stories of the Buddha's life, they admired
it all, and many became Buddhists.

Before very long Buddhism had temples in every town in Japan and became
the greatest religion there. It even threatened to drive Shintoism
out of the land of its birth.

But Shintoism taught the worship of the Emperor, and so the Emperor
helped to keep it alive amongst the people.

Yet more important in saving Shintoism in Japan was the fact that the
old religion made friends with Confucianism, and together they worked
out rules of how the nobles ought to live. That is known in Japan as
BUSHIDO, which means: The Ways of the Knights.

4. THE WAYS OF THE KNIGHTS

Just as China was almost always a peace-loving country, Japan, in the
early days of its history, was always at war. They fought with the
Koreans, they fought amongst themselves, and they fought their neighbors
and enemies farther north.

In a country where there is much war, the soldiers are greatly admired.
So in Japan the soldiers, or the Warriors as they called them, became
the heroes of the country. And it was an honor to belong to the class
of Warriors. The leaders of these Warriors became the Nobles of Japan,
called the Knights.

The Knights of Japan were not only patriots and warriors, they were
also scholars and gentlemen. These gathered and worked out a sort of
manual as to how a man of their class, a Knight, ought to live and
how he ought to behave. Confucius, they said, was an Ideal Gentleman.
They took his teachings and, with them as their guide, worked out the
Rules of Conduct for the Knights. These were called BUSHIDO.

The rules of Bushido are many, but the most important are the Ten Ways
of a Gentleman:

A Gentleman should love JUSTICE;
A Gentleman should have COURAGE;
A Gentleman should be BENEVOLENT;
A Gentleman is always POLITE;
A Gentleman is HONORABLE;
A Gentleman is LOYAL;
A Gentleman has SELF-CONTROL;
A Gentleman searches for WISDOM;
A Gentleman has LOVE OF LEARNING.

After some time the Rules of Bushido began to be explained in a way
they were not meant to be explained. Bushido taught that a Knight ought
to be honorable, but the later Knights explained it to mean that a
Knight ought to kill himself when his superior officer died. In order
to defend his honor each Knight carried a sword whenever he went out
of his house. By and by, a Knight did not leave his home without at
least two swords dangling at his sides. They began to look upon the
sword as sacred and worshipped it.

In 1868, for many political reasons, the entire class of the followers
of Bushido were done away with by the government of Japan. And five
years later they were prohibited from carrying the swords that distinguished
them and that were their special mark of honor.

But the influence of the Ten Ways of a Gentleman, as taught by Bushido,
is still felt in the life of Japan today.

5. IN JAPAN TODAY

When the first golden image of Buddha arrived in Japan there were few
people in that land. On all the 4200 islands there were fewer people
than in New York City at present. But their numbers grew and grew,
and today there are nearly 80,000,000 people under the flag of the
Rising Sun.

When the Japanese became a great and powerful nation in the East, people
in the West wanted to know all about them. What do these Japanese look
like? How do they dress? What are their manners? What do they think?

But few people of the West knew anything about the Japanese. And many
went to the islands of Japan to find all these things out for themselves.
Some of these travellers in Japan wrote books of what they saw and
heard in the Land of the Rising Sun.

In most of the books the travellers tell that the first three things
about the Japanese they noticed were:

The Japanese love of nature;

The Japanese love of art;

The Japanese love of learning.

No people in the world, they recorded, are such lovers of nature as
the Japanese. They love the mountains, they love the rivers, they love
the forests, and, most of all, they love flowers. Children in Japan,
when quite young, are taught how to arrange flowers in vases. There
are holidays and festivals in their land to celebrate the blooming
of some of their trees. And they grow many cherry, plum, and peach
trees not so much for their fruit as for their blossoms.

The Japanese love of flowers is equalled by their love of poetry and
painting. Not until one has seen the inside of a Japanese home, we
are told, can one realize how important art is to them. Their simple
homes are arranged beautifully. All those who can afford it, try to
own prints of famous paintings. Children are taught to understand what
makes a beautiful thing beautiful, and to love it.

But far greater than their love of nature and art is the Japanese love
of learning. They have borrowed their knowledge from other nations,
but whatever they learn, they change to suit their own particular needs.
And the Japanese are always eager to learn new things.

Why the Japanese are so fond of nature, of art, and of learning, few
books explain. But the explanation lies in their religions.
The Japanese, like the Chinese, might be said to be followers of "Three
Teachings": Shintoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Through Shintoism the Japanese learned to love nature. They built their
temples to the nature gods high up on the mountain sides, and came
there to celebrate various festivals. Dressed in their most beautiful
clothes they streamed in gay crowds to these temples in Spring and
Autumn. They saw the trees when the first buds of spring began to swell;
and they saw them when the autumn painted the leaves with burnt copper
and interlined them with dull gold. They saw the rivers overflowing
in the spring, and they saw them in the summer when the face of the
water was as smooth as the worshipped mirror of Amatesaru-Omi-Kami,
the Sun Goddess. All these things in nature they saw from childhood
and came to love dearly.

Through Buddhism they learned to love the beautiful in art.

When they first started to worship the Hindu Prince Gautama, they began
to make images for his temples, to arrange flowers on his altars, and
to paint pictures for his shrines. The bells of the Buddhist temples
rang softly in the morning and in the evening, and inspired the artists
of Japan to make beautiful decorations for their Hindu Prince. In that
way the people of Japan learned to appreciate and love all things beautiful.

Through Confucianism the Japanese gained their love of learning.

From the Sage of China they learned that a good man always adds new
knowledge to the old knowledge, and they followed his teachings closely.
From him, too, they learned to admire self-control, to cultivate good
manners, and to develop a sense of humor.

Just as the man who loves learning, might also love art, and might
also love nature, so, in Japan, some of the people follow all three
religions, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shintoism, at one and the same
time.

Though Shintoism is dearest to the Japanese because it is their own
and their oldest religion, Buddhism has the greatest number of followers,
and Confucianism has the greatest influence.

In Japan today, as in China today, we find the greatest influence on
the lives and thoughts of the people coming from one who did not teach
anything new, but gathered the teachings of his forefathers; who did
not teach anything about God or Heaven, but taught how people ought
to live on earth; and who in his own life was a great example and model
for the Good Man.

Little did Shuh-liang Heih the Valiant dream that his child, Ch'iu,
born in Lu, in the District of Tsow, would become the teacher of two
great Empires!

ZEN BUDDHISM

There are many sects among the Buddhists. The Buddhists of Thailand
and Ceylon are Quite different from their brothers-in-faith in Japan
and Mongolia. Those of the South follow Hinayana, whereas those of
the North follow Mahayana, which is more complicated in its ritual
and beliefs.

And both branches have many sects which, though there is no strife
among them, differ greatly in their way of following the teachings
of the Buddha.

There is one sect, found mainly in Japan and influenced greatly by
Shinto, which is so different and lofty in its ritual and practices
that it has attracted wide attention in the Western world. It is called
Zen Buddhism. The Zen Buddhists differ not so much in what they believe
as in how they practice their beliefs. Central in their ideas is the
conviction that one cannot learn the truth about the world from Sacred
Books, and that truth resides in every one of us; but to discover it,
we must lead a contemplative life, live simply, not be overjoyed when
successful nor too depressed when met by adversity. And, above all,
we should strive to do all things with dignity and beauty.

The Zen Buddhists depend on intuition to guide them; and the enlightenment
they seek is of an ineffable and therefore mystic nature. They are
respected everywhere for carrying into practice what they profoundly
believe, even though the explanation of their beliefs is conveyed through
mystic riddles.
 
 * Origin: Magna Borealis Lux - Edmonton AB (403) 475-6061  (760:35/765.0)