I was interested in comparing the pantheistic Shinto to Religious Humanism which is also pantheism but only materialistic. Read The Essence of Shinto from 2006 by Motohisa Yamakage who is the 79th descendent of Shinto Masters in Yamakage Shinto and also a graduate in Economy.
Shintoism is an originally Japanese spiritual movement that blended with Buddhism when it came to Japan around the 6th century from China and therefore also has Confucian and Daoistic elements. It is pantheistic and non-personal in character but spiritual not religious since there is not really any canon or doctrines. There is a head God or Kami that is closely linked with Nature but also other inferior Kamis which to some mean a polytheistic character although the head Kami gives it a pantheistic touch. There is a clear supernatural component and as Descartes said about Christianity you don’t need intelligence or knowledge to practice Shintoism. It is all about mental attitude. Ethics and esthetics are closely intertwined.
Shinto has no founder. The mental attitude—as opposed to the words and sermons—of the priests that are deeply committed to the devout life can move many hearts. Shinto has no idols. Shinto has no organization. They don’t have temples but shrines. Shinto begins and ends with harai. The art of restoring balance. Also central in Shinto is misogi or purification. There are four types of purification, seimei seichoku: clean, bright, right and straight. Bright also means happy whereas straight means honest. Seimei means a clean and happy attitude of inner mind that is achieved by purification. Seichoku means right action or behavior as well as the social aspect of being right, not committing any crime or offense, and behaving with honesty openness and frankness towards others.
There is life after death and the body is in essence just discarded as unclean after death. Burials are too unclean for taking place at shrines. Purifying the mind means purifying our words and thoughts and straightening our way of thinking and way we experience reality. For it is always so easy for human minds to expand lazily and limitlessly and in so doing lose stability.
The priest of Shinto is therefore supposed to radiate a certain charisma which he or she obtains from generating a mental attitude where words and thoughts are purified. It is more important that they radiate this attitude than that they impress people with words. I can’t help thinking about if it is possible to clean one’s thoughts or not. How do we know what to discard in order not to lose creativity? In my mind it would be important to have one’s mind as a laboratory for the preparation of speech and writings so one cleaning procedure is what to retain in the spoken language or writings. It is obviously possible to remove profanities from processing but not from memory so they might still have unknown effects. By keeping one’s mind active on more noble pursuits it would seem one could generate better ideas?
It is not clear from the book whether or not thoughts are supernatural or part of the body. You go to a shrine to have a Kami descend on you after having cleaned yourself but there is talk of a dualism with body and spirits. Thought processes might therefore be spiritual in character. In Religious Humanism, like Spinoza originally suggested, they are part of the body but might not be material in the sense of consisting of atoms but rather being results of atom processes. In Shinto they might think they want to harmonize thoughts with Kami and thus the need for purification. In Religious Humanism this would not be so important.
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