Shinto: the Religion of Japan and What We Can All Learn from It

Shintoism, along with Buddhism, is the main religion of Japan. In something very rare in modern religion, Shintoism and Buddhism get along perfectly fine. Not only do the two religions peacefully co-exist, they embrace each other, co-operate, and, in most cases, share the same real estate. One way of thinking about it is that Japanese people are Shinto in life and Buddhist in death. Weddings, births and new years are celebrated Shinto; funerals are marked in a Buddhist fashion. But what is Shintoism and how does it apply to me, even if I have no intention of converting?

Shinto literally means ‘the way of the gods’. It was dubbed this in the 6th century but was practiced with no name long before that. It is a religion for the common people. Shrines are built and festivals are held. Rites, such as the Coming of Age (which occurs at age 20) are also celebrated. There is no single leader: no pope or similar figure. There is no holy text: no Torah or Bible.

Though there is no holy text, most shrines will obey the following guidelines.

To be grateful for the blessings of the gods and the benefits of the ancestors and apply oneself to the Shinto rites with sincerity and purity of heart.

To be helpful to others in the world at large and to seek the advancement of the world.

To bind oneself with others in harmonious acknowledgement of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish in peace and prosperity.

Take a look at those three items. There isn’t a religion in the world that wouldn’t benefit from at least partially applying those three guidelines. Shinto gets along so well with Buddhism, why can’t other religions incorporate some of these aspects?

Be grateful for the blessings of the gods. Whether or not you believe in gods, goddesses, supreme beings or whatever, you should be grateful for what you’ve got. You may not have the best car in the world, but at least you have a car. If you don’t have a car, at least you have a bike. If you don’t have a bike, you have legs, or crutches, or a wheelchair. Our lives would be a lot happier if we focussed on what we have that is good, rather that what we don’t have that would be better.

Be helpful to others and seek the advancement of the world. How great would it be if we would all help each other? Christianity is good at helping people, but some Christians don’t seem to care about the world at large. “It’s not our concern since we’re going to b raptured anyway.” No, you’re wrong. We all have to share the Earth and take care of it.

Bind with others in harmonious acknowledgement of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish in peace and prosperity.

While Shinto is specifically Japanese, this tenet can be applied to other countries as well. Partisan bickering, the red/blue state split. I recognize the importance of differing opinions, but there comes a time when we must put aside all these petty things and work together for the betterment of the country, the world as a whole.

While I neither expect or want people to read this and convert to Shinto, I think it would be great if we all found out about other religions, other world-views and saw how we could apply things from those religions to our daily lives. All religions are, at the core, based around some kind of benefit to humanity. We shouldn’t be afraid of other world-views, we should embrace them.

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