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Shinto

Category: Mystic groups and systems

Hokusai

Shinto or kami-no-michi is  a set of practices and beliefs practised in Japan which is based on spirituality.  The word Shinto ("Way of the Gods") owes its origins to the words "shin" meaning "spirit" or kami; and "to" meaning a philosophical path or study.

According to the US’s library of congress there are about 119 million ‘observers’ of Shinto in Japan.  I suspect this is an underestimate. The vast majority of people in Japan who take part in Shinto rituals also practice Buddhism – the two are clearly not  in opposition, because most Buddhist practises are geared either towards spiritual experience in this life or codes of conduct that contribute towards making it easier for you to get it.

It is a true spiritually based ‘religion’ -  though it would not be strictly correct to tarnish it with the brush of some sort of religious movement, as the whole objective is to enable people to be in touch with the spiritual world on a constant basis without needing the paraphernalia of intermediary priests to get there.  As belief systems go, and in its original pure form, it is about the closest one is ever likely to get to true spirituality.

Some history

As a consequence of its protective policy Japan developed one of the most comprehensive, beautiful and complete spiritual cultures of any nation.  The culture was rich in symbolism, and artistic beauty as well as being spiritually hugely advanced.  For more details see Japanese mysticism a section that explores all the systems in operation in Japan.

Basic beliefs

Basic moral tenets

 

The basic religious tenet embodied in the Shinto religion is ‘Don’t hurt’.  Don’t hurt your fellow humans, don’t hurt your fellow creatures, don’t hurt the planet  or the universe. Shinto teaches that any deeds that have inadvertently hurt other people, other creatures, and the planet on which we live create impurity that must be ritually cleansed.  The cleansing is not only for one's own peace of mind, but is also an act seeking forgiveness for the hurt done.

Where the hurt is a deliberate act, it is regarded very seriously.  There is a very high priority placed upon the moral implications of disobeying this code of honour.  When broken, the Japanese ‘throw themselves on their swords’. [Would that our politicians and business leaders would do the same!].

There is not one rule for the rich and one for the poor [as there appears to be in western society], the higher you get the greater your moral responsibility.

Energy - Ki

Ki is the Japanese Kanji equivalent of Qi, in effect,  the Chinese character corresponding to qi is pronounced ki. It has the same definition.  According to Wikipedia ‘the Japanese language contains over 11,442 known usages of "ki" as a compound’.  In other words, there is the underlying belief that ki underpins a great deal of what is both ‘physical’ and non physical.  The character Ki is used, for example, in combination with other characters,  to denote various feelings as well as sensory experiences like taste and smell. The similarity with other beliefs can be seen here – the idea of the energy in various states depending on what has been done to it.

Spirit - Kami

The Japanese believe that all physical things are animated by kami.  Western commentators clearly do not understand kami, as the interpretation you usually see [often laced with a certain condescension] is that a kami is a spirit like an elf or a fairy.
No, this is not what the Japanese believe, nor what kami is.

 

Whilst we ‘see’ or perceive the physical world with our hardware senses, there is a software world of animating functions.  Kami is the software – it is equivalent to the prana of Indian thought and the ki or chi of Chinese thought.  Kami is software and underpins everything, which is why the Japanese system of Shinto reveres all things and the kami that works it.
Again, you will find western commentators trying to pigeon hole Shinto labelling it as ‘animistic’ without understanding the word itself.  They use it in a derogatory sense, but in an odd way the word is quite a good one, kami animates the universe – the software of the spirit world animates everything  - people, animals, reptiles, birds, fish, plants and all the more abstract "natural" forces in the world (mountains, rivers, lightning, wind, waves, rocks).

Shinto teaches that everything contains kami.  When translated this often gets wrongly described as everything has a god or spirit.  All the functions [the programs] of the universe are collectively called yaoyorozu no kami.  This gets translated as "eight million kami", also wrong, the term is intended to mean ‘too many to count’ – there are billions and billions of software functions that animate the physical hardware objects in the universe.

Mirrors are an important symbolic object in Shinto.  They are frequently used as sacred objects because they symbolise many of the qualities of the spiritual world – pure, reflective, radiating Light, reflecting the pure nature of spirit.    The mirror also represents another important aspect of the Shinto belief that everything in the physical world has its spiritual equivalent in the spiritual world – it is an exact match – but it is just in a sense ‘reversed’.  

The Trinity

 

The Trinity is recognised in Shinto.  It is described in the ca. 712 Kojiki. The Creator is symbolically represented as Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and the Created as Izanami-no-Mikoto (female).  The assumption is made in the story that a considerable amount of creation had already taken place, and the two were called on by a number of the ‘gods’ – Intelligences  - to create a new archetype of a Higher spirit, the new ‘land’ of Japan’.  Thus the clan of the Japanese was depicted symbolically as an island.

They were given a spear with which they stirred the Water, water remember is symbolically spirit, and when removed water dripped from the end, an island was created in the great nothingness. So a Japanese archetype was created.  The Higher spirit archetype of the Japanese clan.

When they wished to bear offspring, they performed a ritual each rounding a pole, male to the left and female to the right, the female greeting the male first. They had 2 children (islands) which turned out badly and they cast them out. They decided that the ritual had been done incorrectly the first time. They repeated the ritual and then gave birth to the ‘8 perfect islands of the Japanese archipelago’.  Westerners are apt to take this literally as meaning the land itself, but an island is a DNA clan – a tribe if you prefer, the Higher spirit of an archetype.

The little clans of Japan symbolically represented as islands, but actually Higher spirit archetypes, are looked on as symbolic of paradise.

There is more to the story, which also shows the recognition of the software copies of the implemented world and the land of ‘death’ – that is birth on Earth.  Most ancient cultures look on birth as a form of death because we are consigned to the physical world and as a consequence  leave our spiritual home.

The symbolism of the sun and moon is also well known.  The painting below by Kunisada purports to be a harbour scene, but it isn’t.  The figures should show you that.  The twin towers are symbolic………..

Shinto Ninjutsu web site
Amaterasu Omikami also known as Ohiru-menomuchi-no-kami is one of the principal deities in Shinto cosmology. Her name, Amaterasu, is composed of the Japanese elements ama “heaven, sky” and terasu “to shine,” hence “shining over heaven.” In mythology, this is the name of the sun goddess who rules the heavens.  Amaterasu is the child of Izanagi and Izanami (creator gods of Japanese mythology). According to Japanese Mythology, she was born from the left eye of Izanagi as he purified himself in a river and went on to become the ruler of Takamagahara.

The Higher spirit

The spiritual world is believed to be a unity of higher spirits – ours and everything else’s higher spirits.  The belief system is very similar to that of the Polynesians – even the symbolism is the same with an infinity symbol used to represent the Higher spirit – the male and the female aspects being conjoined.  Your higher spirit in other words is both male and female.

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques
Certain numbers offer secret teachings in Budo and Ninpo Taijutsu and eight is one of them.  If you place the figure eight on its side you get infinity.  In other words, this is an alphabetical, alpha omega continuity which also signifies a chain – the chain of life

The Floating world, elements and levels

The Floating world is not, as some western commentators seem to portray it, the illusory nature of life, or the floating markets, or the brothel districts of Japan.

The floating world is the spiritual world.  It is celebrated in the art style of ukiyoe, which literally means pictures of the floating world.  The term has again been used wrongly to simply mean Japanese woodblock prints, but ukiyoe were used to try to capture the nature of the spiritual world and all its symbolism.

In Shinto, the spiritual world is divided for the purposes of navigation into levels and layers of vibrational energy and also ‘cardinal directions’.

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques
East West South North Up Down: 6  directions + Kyojutsu = 6x6; 36 methods of escape, Tonso no Jutsu.  The mystical power of six way Kuji

The levels are sometimes represented by colours – most notably the colours of the rainbow 

Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Aether

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques.
One day, I was asked, "what colour is Shinobi colour?”
I answered immediately, "Rainbow-colour of course, the colours of a prism. They blend with nature’s colours, don’t they? The colours of heaven, of earth, of humans, right?
If you want to depict Ninjutsu, these are the colours you use, you paint with Shichiho Sanpo colours, colours used to disguise your thoughts!"
A beautiful arc of red/orange/yellow/green/blue/indigo/violet - although it seems that these tones do not have universal currency outside Japan. I hear that the people in some countries regard the rainbow as five-coloured or three-coloured.
If you get children around the world to draw rainbows, it is fascinating to observe how both the colours and shapes demonstrate infinite variety.
As I mentioned earlier above, there is a secret teaching in which perfection is described in terms of the 'seven lights’ i.e. a rainbow.

In addition to the use of the rainbow to represent the spiritual levels of vibrational energy there is another symbolism employed -  that of the Chinese elements.   Shinto recognises both the levels and layers and the elements of wood, fire earth, metal and water.

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques
What can one use as a shield?  One can use the 5 elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) the 5 rings, the 5 ways (the way of enlightenment), the 5 arts, the 5 teachings, the 5 Confucian virtues (benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and sincerity)

 

In the following quote Dr Hatsumi appears to talk in riddles – but you need to know the symbolism wall, shield, boundary etc.  These quotes help to also show that the symbolism described here is shared by all the Japanese mystic systems.

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques.
… what pervades all of these is the idea of ‘Yugen’ – a world of subtle, dark beauty.
Photographs which are out of focus are more attractive because they have more ‘Yugen-ness’.  If the photographer focuses carefully and takes a clear picture, in most cases they will end up with no more than an ordinary result.  That is why it is better to attach filters.
You could say that it is better to create a form of wall or barrier.  Thinking about it, shields are a requisite part of life; the filters in photography function somewhat like shields themselves

Hokusai

Here are the Ninja methods for travelling out of body in the ‘mist

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques.
Hiding in the mist (muton no justu) with seeking steps (saguri-aruki).  Ninja exploit the Kamae of Taijutsu and practise walking in a way which leaves no openings

and another reference

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques.
Few people have been taught the Kasumi no Den – messahe of the mist – known as Shinbo – ‘rue enduring stick’.  You project a shadow image of yourself into the Void

The Spiritual path

The Japanese Shinto path was a spiritual path, a description of life’s journey as well as one’s spiritual progress.  One could be a ‘hero’ or follow the contemplative’s path and become the equivalent of a Buddhist monk.  The stages of life and the stages of the spiritual path were represented allegorically by the four seasons see four seasons and the hours 

  • Spring - Novices were considered to be at the stage of spring – the equivalent in Hindu terms to the ‘student’. 
  • Summer - The Hindu ‘householder’ stage in which one earned money and had family and contributed to society was the Summer stage of your life. 
  • Autumn - The Hindu ‘forest dweller’ stage in which one withdrew a little from society and learned more of the spiritual aspects of life was the Autumn season. 
  • Winter -  was the time of the true spiritual seeker or one who had attained enlightenment or moksha or nirvana and known in Shinto as Juji .  The reason so many Japanese paintings and drawings by the acknowledged masters contain snow scenes is because they are representing spiritual truths, not pretty views    

The objective of all spiritual travellers is to avoid reincarnation and to move up to higher spiritual levels after death.  The following may mean nothing to you but you must be familiar with chess to understand 

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques.
Fushin Manpozu – if it keeps going, even a pawn can be queened

Mask and costume are used extensively in Japanese theatre – kabuki and No as well as other forms.  And masks are known as representative of the personality that hides the true Higher spirit.

   

Shinto techniques

Not all the techniques that can provide a spiritual experience are described in detail on this website.  In yet other cases, I could find so little detail on the technique that I could provide no description for the site – the kagura  trance dances come within this category. 

In yet other cases, it is clear that the modern day technique has become hopelessly degraded in its intention and practises and thus no surviving record of the real effects and practises exist.  But for those where at least some remnants of the heritage have been preserved, I have provided a fuller description.  I regard it as something of a tragedy that Japan has lost its traditions in this area as it appeared to have an extremely comprehensive system 

  • Visiting Shrines and sacred places - Certain places are designated as sacred in Shinto - sacred natural sites, shrines, and kamidana – a kamidana is a home shrine.  So if we compare these with our sacred sites, they are places where it is probably easier to have a spiritual experience because of the geography, the fault lines, the plants there and so on.
  • Listening to bells and gongs – many temples and shrines had extremely low frequency bells and gongs.
  • High altitude climbing – it is given no name in Shinto as far as I am aware, but high mountains are revered, both for their symbolic association and their effects, and shrines are to be found on them.
  • Kotodama (words with a magical effect on the world) - Kotodama are chants or mantras.  I have provided a more generic section on chants and mantras and their use.
  • Misogi – is the practice of purification by ritual use of water while reciting prayers.
  • Kagura - Kagura are the ancient Shinto ritual dances of shamanic origin. There are purification kagura dances and dances that re-enact myths and legends.  There are also however, a few dances that were used to invoke spiritual experience.
  • Katsugen udon/furube - Within Shinto are a number of what are loosely called ‘regenerating techniques’.  Haruchika Noguchi, the founder of the Seitai movement incorporated these techniques within his practices and gave them a secular twist.  He renamed them katsugen udon.  These techniques are however only a shadow of the true techniques which are more correctly termed furube.  They are techniques similar to those used by the quakers and shakers.
  • Kokyu-ho -  is a breathing technique that is part of the overall martial arts practises of Aikido.  Ninjutsu has equivalent techniques, there are a number of breath control variants.
  • Drums and drumming as well as flute playing.
  • Hot tubs – equivalent to the warm bath as a generic technique.
  • Contempation and detachment techniques – I could find no descriptions of these techniques but there is an indication they are similar to the Buddhist contemplation/meditation style techniques, so a description has not been included.

Dr Masaaki Hatsumi  - The Way of the Ninja – Secret techniques.
Every week, I would leave Noda on Saturday, take an overnight train from Tokyo and be treated to Sensei's teaching all through Sunday, returning from Kashihara (near Nara) , on the Sunday night train.
Back at home, I would bring myself to the 'zero point' where the self or ego no longer gets in the way, and do just as my lifelong master had told me, continuing to dedicate myself to intense practice. All the while, I could hear Sensei's words still echoing in my ears
"The true essence of the martial ways lies in virtue,"
"Martial arts are a path for perfecting yourself as a human being."
Perfection demands persistence, and there is also a secret teaching in which perfection is mentioned with reference to seven lights, i.e. the colours of a rainbow.

Observations

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