Reasons for Shinto and Buddhist coexistence in Japanby Rit Nosotro
Compare Buddhists temples and monks verses Shinto shrines and priests? Why are these religions so compatible in Japan?
Though Buddhism is more complex in its teaching and Shinto shrines are more complex in structure, both Buddhism and Shinto coexist with each other in Japan.
Buddhism originated in India and came to Japan through China and Korea. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Buddha and the main goal is to purify one’s inner self. At first, Buddhism clashed with Shinto but now they exist together peacefully. Buddhism has many temples all over Japan. Most are not used as monasteries any more but mostly used to store and display sacred Buddhist objects. Shinto is the native religion in Japan; it is based on honoring the ancestors and its teachings are relatively simple. But Shinto shrines are more complex than Buddhist temples. Shinto priests/priestesses also have greater freedom than Buddhist monks.
Shinto and Buddhism, two names that any history reader would have come across
at least once or twice when exploring Asian history. They are actually two ancient
religions practiced in Japan that have coexisted for centuries. Despite their
coexisting together, and their possible influence on each other, the two religions
are in fact quite different.
Buddhism originated in India and is a religion based on the teaching of Buddha. Buddha’s teachings are all basically inner experiences and teachings relating to the mind, which explains the name Buddha, meaning “Awakened One.” The art of Buddhism is a method thought to be able to improve the worth of human life by teaching that one should work to improve his inner self rather than his outer, physical, self. One of the main components of Buddhism is meditation, a process used to clear the mind and bring the mediator peace and happiness. Supposedly after one has meditated long enough and brought true peace to his mind he/she will be able to remain in a state of constant happiness. It is said that Buddhism started when Gautum Buddha, a wandering ascetic, sat down beneath a tree in Bodhgaya to meditate deciding not to move until he had achieved spiritual enlightenment. Three days later his goal was achieved and the bodhi tree under which he sat, though it has been destroyed many times both naturally and unnaturally, has continued to resprout many times since. It was that fateful day that began the Buddhist pilgrimages. There are between four to sixteen main Buddhist pilgrimage sites. The most important being Lumbini, the city in which Buddha was born to a royal family in 556 B.C.E. Another important location is Sarnath in the Ganges Valley of India, the location where Buddha proclaimed the Law of Faith and taught the main aspects of Buddhism. As a Buddhist one is taught to avoid too much pleasure of austerity. Buddhist monks study the teaching of Buddha diligently and live a solitary life without the common pleasures of marriage, physical pleasure, alcohol, and entertainment. As a symbol of their religion they shave their heads and wear traditional monk robes so others may know who they are. Buddhism spread from India and into Japan by means of China and Korea, and was welcome by the rulers with open arms. However due to its complexity the people had trouble fully accepting it, and it tended to clash with their native religion, Shinto. Fortunately in due time the two religions were able to exist together peacefully, and even compliment each other quite well. Buddhist temples, a place of worship, are located all over Japan. Kyoto, one of Japan’s largest cities, has thousands of Buddhist temples. Though few temples today are still used as monasteries, they are still used as placed of worship and also are used to store and display sacred Buddhist objects. There are six parts to the temples starting with the main halls, which is used to display the sacred objects. Secondly is the lecture hall, usually called the Kodo, which are used as places of meeting and for acts of worship. One of the more familiar pieces of the temples is the Pagodas
…a structure that originally began with Indian stupas. A pagoda is usually around three or five stories high and holds remains of Buddha, such as a tooth or bone as a symbol of representation. The gates make up the forth section and mark the entrance to the temple. Often there is one main gate and possibly several other gates leading up to the main one. Hung in its own little shelter lies the temple bell which is rung 108 times every New Year’s to signify 108 worldly desires of Buddhists. Last but not least lies the cemetery where many people visit their ancestors throughout the year. Obviously Buddhism is a complex religion in both its philosophies and its temples. Yet it remains one of the largest religions in the world, and one of the main religions of Japan.
Shinto is the other main religion of Japan, and is also Japan’s native religion, existing in Japan long before Buddhism. Unlike Buddhism, Shinto does not have a creator or sanctified scriptures. Also Shinto is not preached or spread around it is already rooted deep within Japan’s cultures and traditions. The gods of Shinto are known as “Kami” and are said to be sacred spirits that take on different forms and ideas such as fertility, wind, rain, or even mountains. Supposedly when someone dies they become kami and are greatly respected by the family members left behind who look to them for guidance. Great shrines are built to harbor the kami of great people. The most important kami in Japan is that of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. One thing that makes Shinto unlike other religions is that it does not focus on what is right and what is wrong, nothing is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. It also teaches that humans are naturally good and evil spirits cause any evil done. It is for this reason that most Shinto rituals are meant to ward off evil spirits by means of prayers, purifications, and offerings to kami. Shinto priests or priestesses, who perform the rituals, usually live in the Shinto shrines, equivalent to what would be considered a Shinto temple. Shinto shrines are places of Shinto worship and homes to the kami. Shinto priests and priestess are permitted to marry and have children just like anyone else. The priests are often aided by a miko, a young, pure, woman usually the priest’s daughter, during the rituals or other tasks. The Shinto shrines, just like Buddhist temples, store sacred objects that represent the kami. However, unlike the sacred objects of Buddhism that are often on display the sacred objects of Shinto are stored away in the innermost chamber where they cannot be viewed. The Shinto shrines actually are more complex than the Buddhist temples. The entrance to the shrine is marked by one of more Torrii.
Though they come in different colors most torrii are made of wood and are painted orange and black. On each side of the torrii rest the Komainu, a pair of statues often made to look like dogs or lions, though Inari (rice kami) shrines use foxes instead. After entering the shrine one is required to used the purification through,
where one must clean his or her mouth and hands before entering. In the center of the grounds rests the main hall and offering hall, which, though they do not look like it, are actually two buildings put into one. The innermost portion of the main hall is where the sacred objects are kept securely. The offering hall is where people go to pray or make offerings. Located outside is the stage, where bugaku dances or no theater (a very old traditional form of Japanese theater) are preformed. Some visitors might take the time to visit the Ema, a wooden box shaped structure where people write their wishes on wooden plates and hang them on the Ema, hoping that they come true. Omikuji can always be found at shrines. Omikuji are randomly drawn slips of paper that tell fortunes. If one ties the fortune around a tree branch it will bring good fortune or even ward of bad fortune. Often at shrines a tree can be found covered with the small slips of paper. Last of all is the Shimeniwa, a straw rope with strips of gohei, zigzag strips of paper, strung across it. They are used to mark the boundary of something considered sacred, such as the torrii gates or a very old tree. To make things complicated Shinto shrines range from a long list of different groups, such as Inari (rice kami) shrines or even Hachiman (kami of war). On a religious level Shinto is actually very simple, much more so than Buddhism, though memorizing the many forms and pieces of the shrines is certainly more complicated.
Today these two religions contently exist in modern Japan, though through an in-depth analysis the two religions are quite different. Buddhism is complex and teaches how to achieve total enlightenment, and is based on the journeys and teachings of Buddha. Shinto on the other hand is more like a culture than it is a religion and is simple to follow without making any journeys and reading multitudes of scriptures. Not to mention the differences in the priests/priestesses and monks. As a Buddhist monk one is forced to deny themselves certain pleasures of life such as marriage and entertainment. Shinto priests and priestess are allowed to marry and have families of their own, to enjoy living a more normal life in certain ways.
It is not amazing how two completely different religions can easily exist together. In Japan, Buddhism and Shinto coexist with each other partly because neither of them make an exclusive claim to the truth. In contrast, Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Islam also requires adherents to follow exclusive doctrines which make it unable to blend with other religions. Whether inclusive like many Eastern religions, or exclusive like Christianity and Islam, the important distinction is truth. Since logic requires that they cannot all be true, which one worships the one true God?
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Japan-guide.com/Shinto shrines. Japan-guide.com. 04/23/04 < http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2059.html>.
Japan-guide.com/Shinto. Japan-guide.com. 04/23/04 < http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2056.html>.
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