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Shinto - Development

Although Shinto does not have a sacred scripture like the Bible or the Quran, it does have two highly revered texts whose origins date back to the eighth century. The 'Kojiki' ('Records of Ancient Events,' compiled 711-12 AD) and the 'Nihon Shoki' or Nihongi (720 AD) are the two oldest historic works upon which all other histories of ancient Japan are based. So it would appear that these two works were written closely the one after the other. These two derived some of their material from the still older Genealogy of Emperors. Attempts have been made to construct a systematic creed of Shinto upon the basis of the time-honored myths recorded in the two books, but it is in vain to try to organize a system out of a primitive kami nagara faith.

These earliest texts date from the eighth century AD, several centuries after Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the sixth century from Korea. These texts provide semi-mythological histories of Japan — tracing the lineage of emperors back to Amaterasu, the Sun goddess. The fact that there is no trace of the origins of Shinto or its founder hints that it also was a story invented by the compilers to fill the imagination of the people, using whatever was possible in their context. John Breen and Mark Teeuwen trace the origins of Shinto to a specific moment in Japan's medieval period when religious leaders began reading the term "jindo" in a new way — ie as "Shinto" — in order to distinguish themselves from the explicitly Buddhist framework that had previously constituted the framework for the court worship of the kami.

The only knowledge of the origin of the Kojiki comes from the preface by its author, Futo Yasumaro [660-723]. This preface records that Emperor Temmu, who reigned from 672–687 AD, decreed that a new book should correct the falsified genealogical records of the leading Japanese families. In this way, the genealogical myths of the competing clans were incorporated into the genealogical myth of Tem-mu’s Yamato clan. It was written by the courtier Yasumaro at the behest of Empress Gemmio (708-715).

Shotoku Daishi, its traditional author, compiled the Nihongi in thirty “books” that resemble modern chapters in size. Its special concern is to show that the Teika reforms of 645 AD, which brought Shinto under stricter government regulation, resulted in greater obedience to the way of the kami. Futo-no-Yasumaro, who wrote the Kojiki, was also one of the scholars who composed the Nihongi. Yet the contrast between the two books both in form and in content will be noted by the most careless reader. In the first place, the language of the Kojiki appears to be the vernacular of the date of its composition, although it is composed in Chinese characters whose phonetic and idiographical uses are combined in a quaint and often ingenious manner. The Nihongi is written in a Chinese style as pure and dignified as its authors could make it, for they were evidently emulating the historical writings of China.

The Nihongi from its first page abounds in anachronous and foreign matters, and gives the precise year, month and day of the occurrence to nearly every one of the events it contains, while it has been proved that no date before about 500 AD can be accepted without criticism. The records of the Nihongi grow more complete and authentic as they come nearer the year 697 where they end, while those of the Kojiki, although the book closes at 628, begin to lose their narrative detail from 488, until they practically disappear by 532. In 681 the Emperor Temmu ordered six Princes and six ministers to compile the "Accounts of the Emperors" and write "various matters of antiquity." Of all these records, it is unknown how much was still remaining in 720, when the Nihongi was written, but it is plain that the latter could not have been what it is without them.

The name 'Shinto' was not given to it until the introduction of foreign religions. Turning over the pages of ancient history, the word occurs for the first time in the following passage in the 'Nihon Shom' ('Annals of Japan,' compiled in 720 AD): "The Emperor Yomei (586 AD) believed both in Buddhism and Shinto." Here Shinto means the indigenous cult, as distinguished from Buddhism and Confucianism.

Later ages idealized the beginnings, and read back into early stages of belief the interests which characterized later times. Original documents are long lost, and scholars had to work with very fragmentary material. Distinctive traces of its myth and ritual appear from as early as the third century BC. The Kojiki's description of the reign of legendary Emperor Sujin (c. 97-30 BC) reports that ritual worship was carried out at important tactical locales such as mountain passes before advancing with an army. Ritual worship (matsuri) is a central element of Shinto, and banquets held to celebrate the building of a new hall can be seen in the Nihimuro utage of Kumaso Takeru in the records of Keiko's legendary reign (c. 71-130 AD).

Though Shinto occurs a few times in the old writings it was not used with the later meaning. It signified the way of worshiping, the manner of reverencing the doctrine that the gods founded Japan. Though the term occurred before AD 740, it signified no system of religion. As the name of a faith it was first used after AD 804.

The Buddhist theory of honji-suijaku (“original substance manifests traces”) pervaded practically the whole of Shinto. The theory of honji-suijaku, transmitted from China to Japan, became the theoretical foundation for considering Japanese kami as “manifest traces” (suijaku) or counterparts of the “original substance” (honji) of particular Buddhas and bodhisattvas. In the Nara period Hachiman was considered both a kami for Shinto and a bodhisattva for Buddhism. In later periods almost every Shinto shrine considered its enshrined kami as the counterpart of some Buddha or Buddhist divinity.

Early in the ninth century the celebrated Buddhist priest, Kukai (Kobo Daishi), compounded out of Buddhism and ShinW a system of doctrine called Rydbu Shinto. The salient feature of this mixed creec was the theory that the Shinto deities were transmigrations of Buddhist divinities, Thereafter, Buddhism became the national religion, which position it held until the days of the Tokugawa shoguns, when it was supplanted among educated Japanese by the moral philosophy of Confucius, as interpreted by Chutsz, Wang Yang-ming, and others.

The Shinto cult was in steep decline by the 800s, though its continued use by the imperial court prevented the complete absorption of kami worship into Buddhism. In the ninth century the blending of two fundamental doctrines of Shingonese Buddhism with the primitive Japanese worship produced Riobu-Shintoism. About AD 930 Japanese Buddhism taught that there was difference between Buddha and Japanese gods. Shinto was performed in Buddhist temples, and Buddhism seized religious power.

Shinto, which lacked its own scriptures and had few prayers, as a result of syncretic practices begun in the Nara period, had widely adopted Shingon Buddhist rituals. Between the eighth and fourteenth centuries, was nearly totally absorbed by Buddhism and became known as Ryobu Shinto (Dual Shinto). The Mongol invasions in the late thirteenth century, however, had evoked a national consciousness of the role of the kamikaze in defeating the enemy.

Shinto awoke from the dogmatic slumber which it had enjoyed under the name of Ryobu Shinto, and made an attempt to systematize itself. Kitabatake Chikafusa (1293-1354), the chief commander of the Southern Court forces, tried to show the divine descent of the Imperial sovereigns, and vindicate kami- worship as essential to the preservation of national order. In this teaching, he became a forerunner of the royal Shintoists of the 18th century. Kitabatake Chikafusa's Chronicle of the Direct Descent of Gods and Sovereigns (Jinno shotoki, 1339) was a political tract supporting claims of the Southern Line. Written in reign of Emperor Gomurakami, Godaigo's successor, the opening line describes Japan as a "divine land" [shinkoku] and throughout affirms Shinto mythology of Kojiki, Nihon shoki, to support claims for superiority. "Japan is the divine country. The heavenly ancestor it was who first laid its foundations, and the Sun Goddess left her descendants to reign over it forever and ever. This is true only of our country, and nothing similar may be found in foreign lands. That is why it is called the divine country. ... Only in our country has the succession [of rulers] remained inviolate, from the beginning of heaven and earth to the present. It has been maintained within a single lineage, and even when, as inevitably has happened, the succession has been transmitted collaterally, it has returned to the true line."

This Jinno shotoki (Chronicle of the Direct Descent of the Divine Sovereigns) emphasized the importance of maintaining the divine descent of the imperial line from Amaterasu to the current emperor, a condition that gave Japan a special national polity (kokutai). Besides reenforcing the concept of the emperor as a deity, the Jinno shotoki provided a Shinto view of history, which stressed the divine nature of all Japanese and the country's spiritual supremacy over China and India. As a result, a change gradually occurred in the balance between the dual Buddhist-Shinto religious practice. Between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, Shinto reemerged as the primary belief system, developed its own philosophy and scripture (based on Confucian and Buddhist canons), and became a powerful nationalistic force.

In the 1480s the entrepreneurial shrine priest Yoshida Kanetomo (1435-1511) created the “one & only” Shinto (yuiitsu Shinto - Prime Shinto), claiming that “Shinto” preceded and was superior to Buddhism (a reversal of the traditional view). Only at this point can one speak of “Shinto” as an entirely autonomous tradition. Kanetomo asserted that Japan is the root of all civilization, China the branches and leaves of this root, and India the flowers and fruits of this root.

The Tokugawa government [1600-1868] adopted a definitely centralizing policy, designed to prevent the rise of any political or social factor to unmanageable magnitude. Religions of any potency were, therefore, either paralyzed by generous patronage or put under proscription. The oppressive policy of the ShOgunate government caused religious and spiritual lassitude on the one hand; but, on the other hand, it produced a strong reaction on the part of the adherents of those religions which the government had neglected and overlooked. Such was the case with the Shintoists. Since the time of Dengyo and Kukai, Shinto had lost its pristine purity and preserved a merely nominal existence under the shadow of Buddhism. Now Hayashi Rasan ( died 1657), officially a Confucianist, made an attempt to free Shinto from the 'defilement' of Buddhism; but the Shinto taught was strongly tinged with Confucian philosophies.

The enthusiasm and the intolerance showed by the disciples of Chinese philosophy produced a reaction in Japan, and this culminated in the revival oi Shinto, during which process the anomalous position occupied by the shogun towards the sovereign was clearly demonstrated, and the fact contributed materially to the downfall of the Tokugawa.

It was by Ieyasu himself that national thought was turned into the new channel, though it need scarcely be said that the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate had no premonition of any results injurious to the sway of his own house. After the battle of Sekigahara had established his administrative supremacy, and after he had retired from the shogunate in favor of Hidetada, Ieyasu applied himself during his residence at Sumpu to collecting old manuscripts, and shortly before his death he directed that the Japanese section of the library thus formed should be handed over to his eighth son, the baron of Owari, and the Chinese portion to his ninth son, the baron of Kii. Another great library was subsequently brought together by a grandson of Ieyasu, the celebrated Mitsukuni (1628-1700), baron of Mito. This profound study of ancient history could not fail to expose the fact that the shogunate usurped powers which properly belonged to the sovereign and to the sovereign alone. But Mitsukuni and his collaborators did not give prominence to this feature.

It was reserved for four other men to lay bare the facts of the Mikado's divine right and to rehabilitate the Shinto cult. These men were Kada Azumamaro (1668-1736), Kamo Mabuchi (1697-1769), Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), and Hirata Atsutane (1776-1834). Associated with them were other scholars of less note, but these are overshadowed by the four great masters. The eternal endurance of the dynasty of the Mikado is a complete proof that the "way," called Kami no michi or Shinto, infinitely surpassed the systems of all other countries. The Mikado is the sovereign appointed by the pair of deities, Izanagi and Izanami, who created this country. Whether he be good or bad, no one attempts to deprive the Mikado of his authority. He is the Immovable Ruler who must endure to the end of time, as long as the sun and moon continue to shine.

By the seventeenth century, Shinto began to emerge from Buddhism's shadow through the influence of neo-Confucian rationalism. In 1700 a Shinto priest founded "pure" Shintoism, declaring that his doctrine was the one given by the gods, and that everything relating to Buddhism was but delusion. Pure Shinto differed in rite and ceremony from Buddhism, imperceptibly in doctrine. Between 1776 and 1843 two reformers endeavored to restore the original faith. Thev taught that the teachings of existent Buddhist and Shinto sects were deceptions. Their fundamental doctrines were that Shinto was transmitted through the first parents of the Japanese to the progenitor of the mikados; that the primitive faith should be studied in the Kojiki and the Nohongi; and that Buddhism and Confucianism, while useful in India and China, were man-founded, and useless in Japan, which the gods had from the beginning blessed peculiarly.

Hirata Atsutane (1843) who claimed Shinto as the only true religion, asserting that Japan and her Imperial household, as standing in a right relation to the Creator and the Ruler of the universe, were the special objects of divine favour. All other religions he denounced as false or deteriorated. He had a large following, especially among the samurai, and contributed greatly to the Restoration of the Imperial government.

In the 19th century, religious beliefs arose which claimed the name of Shinto, but which really had little connexion with the ancient system of that name. Probably the best known and most worthy leader was Kurozumi, who preached on the four themes of divine revelation, prayer, providence, and honesty. He proclaimed also that the goddess Amaterasu was the fountain-head of all life, and that man must be in constant communion with her. Many other systems, such as Konko, Tenri, and Remmon, are but old superstitious practices under the guise of Shinto worship.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:18:48 ZULU