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Thoughts on The Shinto Religion and Its Philosophy -- What Can be Learned From Them

Updated: May 28


(For more on religion, here are some materials I wrote: https://www.philosocom.com/post/thoughts-on-prayer


Synopsis by Mr. Ogbule Chibuzo Isaac

The article discusses the Shinto religion, a prominent Japanese faith that emphasizes rituals and respect for the kami (spirits) in the natural world. It compares this with Western religions like Christianity and Islam, promoting a sense of community and respect for diverse perspectives.
Shinto's unique blend of religious practice and atheism allows it to coexist with other belief systems, such as Buddhism and Confucianism. The article highlights the importance of Shinto's emphasis on practice over belief, personal responsibility, and community service.


Shinto: A Path Without Dogma, Beyond Belief


The Shinto religion stands apart from many others in its remarkable freedom. Unlike its Western counterparts, built on singular divine authorities and core beliefs, Shinto offers a path without inflexible dogma or mandatory beliefs. Its essence lies not in unwavering faith, but in the practice of ceremonies and rituals.


This characteristic makes Shinto particularly fascinating, especially when compared to Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam, where faith is the cornerstone of adherence. In Japan, where Shinto is the most practiced religion (while having some presence overseas), many individuals engage in its rituals and customs without necessarily subscribing to its specific beliefs. This disconnect, uncommon in other religions, highlights the unique flexibility and adaptability of Shinto.


An Unbound Path, A Web of Spirits, and A Nation's Folklore


Shinto, the "Way of the Gods," expresses a different kind of truth. Unlike the rigid structures of many religions, it offers an unbound path, less concerned with unwavering faith and more with the practice of rituals and respect for the countless spirits, the kami, that weave through the fabric of existence. Your faith, or lack thereof, matters less than the deep respect Shinto compels you show to these invisible forces, each a supervisor of some aspect of life. The Shinto rituals are but a way to show respect to these spirits.


This lack of dogma and central authority sets Shinto apart. No founders, no prophets, no afterlife rewards or punishments. Just a vibrant tapestry of shrines scattered across Japan and in some places around the world. There is even one in a small European country called San Marino.


Each one of these a haven for a specific kami. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene slopes of Mount Fuji, these spirits, the kami, are said to exist alongside us, guiding and influencing our lives. These havens are also meant to serve as links between the earthly realm and supposed spiritual realms.


During World War II, this reverence for the kami reached a great peak, with the Emperor himself declared a living kami, an embodiment of the divine. Generally, the Japanese Imperial Family is considered to be descendents of the Kami themselves. With the fall of the Japanese Empire by the allied powers, Emperor Hirohito had to issue the Humanity Declaration, denouncing his divinity.


This unique position, though no longer officially recognized, still resonates with some Shinto sects, Japanese monarchs as divine, like with the Shinto Taikyo sect.


But Shinto's true strength lies in its adaptability. Its open embrace of other philosophies, like Buddhism and Confucianism, allows it to coexist and even blend seamlessly with other belief systems. This flexibility fosters a sense of community and respect for diverse perspectives. Arguably, the practice of shinto rituals can be compared to mindfulness meditation, which allows us to appreciate the many features of exisence and even potentially solve the Paradise Paradox.


In essence, Shinto offers a path without pressure, a faith/religion without dogma. It's a vibrant meditation of spirits, mindfulness towards of existence, a celebration of tradition, and an excellent way to nurture respect towards your surroundings.


Unveiling the Kami, Spirits of Shinto


Imagine a world unseen, a layer of reality woven with invisible threads. In this realm, according to Shinto, dwell the kami, countless spirits that infuse every aspect of life, according to Shinto philosophy. Their presence is said to permeate the universe, govering it. Even a force of nature can be regarded as a kami.


The number of kami is as vast as the imagination itself. Some estimate it to be around 8 million, even though that number is actually associated with infinity. This can serve reflection of the boundless energy that flows through the cosmos, symbolizing the infinity of the universe. Whether one can actually directly communicate with these spirits remains a mystery, but Shinto offers a path to influence their impact through rituals and festivals.


These vibrant ceremonies are not simply displays of cultural heritage; they are a bridge between the seen and unseen, a way to express gratitude, seek blessings, and maintain harmony with the kami (which can be seen as: Maintaining harmony with reality). Offerings of rice wine, music, and dance create a sacred space where humans and spirits commune, forging a connection that is supposed to transcend the limitations of our physical senses.

The Emphasis on Practice


The relationship between Shinto and its practitioners is fascinatingly unique. Many who participate in Shinto rituals and visit shrines do not necessarily identify as strict followers. As such, Japan is one of the most atheistic countries in the world. Ironically, yet factually, this does not contradict the fact that Shintoism has an overall following of a little bit over 100 million. This means that, in a rare exception, you can be both a religous devotee and an atheist.


This may seem ironic, especially when compared to religions like Judaism, where outward expressions of faith are often deeply intertwined with personal belief, leading to the ethnic Jewish Paradox.


This difference speaks to the core of Shinto's philosophy. It is less about subscribing to a specific set of doctrines and more about living in harmony with the natural world and the spirits that inhabit it. Respectful conduct, honoring traditions, and participating in rituals are seen as ways to cultivate a life of balance and well-being.


Shintoism teaches us that we can practice morality, like respect, without the needing of having specific beliefs or feelings, as morality can be practiced with technique. As such, you can even be "dead inside" and still be a respectful, moral human being. It's a matter of choice, of conduct, while the person behind it, stands pale in comparison.


A Philosopher's Enchantment with Polytheism


As a philosopher, I've been exploring the vast collections of human belief systems, resorting once to even have a conversation with a self-identifying sociopath in order to understand their mentality. Polytheism, with its multitude of gods and deities, offers a unique perspective on the divine. It allows for individual interpretations, acknowledging the diversity of human experience and the multifaceted nature of the universe.


In contrast, the Abrahamic religions, with their singular God and systems of reward and punishment, present a more structured and codified approach to faith. While both hold profound truths and offer paths to meaning, the flexibility and inclusivity of Shinto's polytheistic framework can be particularly captivating.


Exploring the Unseen


Shinto invites us to peek beyond the veil of the material world, to consider the possibility of a reality that's filled with unseen forces. It is a call to appreciate the interconnectedness of all things, to cultivate a sense of reverence for the natural world, and to engage in practices that foster harmony and balance.


Whether or not you choose to embrace its tenets, Shinto teaches us that the universe may hold more mysteries than we can ever truly fathom, justifying the rationale behind Socrates' self-professed ignornace.


A Gentle Path of Harmony


Shintoism stands apart from many religions in its refreshing lack of dogma and emphasis on personal responsibility. Unlike Abrahamic faiths with their rigid doctrines and concepts of sin and punishment, Shinto offers a gentler path, weaving together reverence for nature, community service, and self-improvement.


the Shinto concept of the sin and also the concept of the Shinto ethics have no identical difference from the secular sin or social ethics is taught through the social education in order to support the continuous development of the community.

While Shinto acknowledges the concept of misfortune, it doesn't frame it as divine retribution. Instead, it emphasizes restoring harmony with the kami, the spirits that permeate the natural world. This restoration comes not through penance or guilt, but through proactive acts of good: participating in community festivals, volunteering at shrines, or simply showing respect for the natural world.


Unlike religions with strict doctrines and centralized authorities, Shinto does not pressure to conform to many rigid beliefs, and rituals and ceremonies are often open to anyone, regardless of personal beliefs of any kind. All you are required to do is to perform the ceremonies and maintain your dignity. This openness makes Shinto one of the most tolerant and inclusive religions in the world, fostering a sense of community and respect for diverse perspectives.


As a philosopher, I appreciate Shinto's focus on personal responsibility and self-cultivation. It aligns with the core philosophical pursuit of understanding the world and ourselves, and finding ways to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Shinto's emphasis on harmony with nature resonates with ecological philosophies, while its emphasis on community service echoes social and ethical philosophies.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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