I watched a short video called Shintoism: Mystical Spirit of the East. It started out by saying that in Shintoism, rice paddies are themselves sacred and damaging them in anyway is forbidden. It...

I watched a short video called Shintoism: Mystical Spirit of the East. It started out by saying that in Shintoism, rice paddies are themselves sacred and damaging them in anyway is forbidden. It goes on to say ancestor worship too is central to Shinto.

Shinto in Japanese means "Way of the Gods. It is Japan's native religion. The emperor of Japan, lord of the heavens, allegedly descends from the gods. He is just one of a host of sacred deities, spirits, animals, plants, mountains and seas which make up the Kami, the divine community that is at the central foundation of Shinto religion. The Japanese reverence for nature corresponds to the emphasis on the cosmic in Indian traditions and the awareness of harmony in Chinese traditions.

So my question is: what are your thoughts on this story and how does it compare to stories you know?

Asked on by mlitcher13

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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The myths and stories you've mentioned here are common to many indigenous faiths. These stories express a certain worldview and reflect certain values.

For example, you mentioned the sacredness of rice paddies in Shinto. We can ask, what might this reveal about the worldview and values of the people expressing this though? One observation we can make is that in Shinto, the line between sacred and secular is not so sharp. So, "sacred" doesn't mean something only done in temples or shrines. Everyday objects like rice paddies also are sacred.

We see this worldview reflected in many indigenous faiths. In Brahmanic (Hindu) tradition, cows are venerated. Indigenous cultures of the Pacific venerated snakes. Other indigenous cultures hold reptiles, birds, etc. in veneration. This veneration acknowledges the natural world itself as sacred. Mountains, rivers, trees, flowers: these are kami (spirit). According to this worldview, sacred and secular go together. There is no separation between body (physical form) and soul (spirit).

Ancestor worship is another widely practiced indigenous custom. In Shinto, traditionally, the Japanese house wife throws a handful of rice just outside the doorstep first thing in the morning as an offering to the ancestors. The West African Yoruba people ritualistically recite the ancestors' names and pour libation of palm wine. Hindu and Buddhist liturgical chants often begin or end with a recitation of the entire ancestral lineage of teachers.

Finally, you mentioned the story of the emperor descending from the heavens. The god-king figurehead is found in nearly all ancient empires. The Caesars of Rome; the Pharaohs of Egypt, and the Sultans of Constantinople were all revered as gods in the flesh. Shinto practices along these lines were very similar to the god-king practices of these other regions.

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