Friday, October 14, 2011

A Brief History of Shinto (part 2)

And now it's time for...

Academic Post #2
A Brief History of Shinto (part 2): Buddhas Are Leveled-Up Kami, Kami Are Leveled-Up Buddhas, All of Them are Confucian, STOP SCREWING UP MY SHINTO

Where we left off last time, the Imperial Line had been linked to the Sun Goddess by way of the Kojiki and nobody outside of the court really knew.

Then Buddhism showed up.  

Well, actually Buddhism showed up before that—the “official” account of Buddhism’s arrival in Japan dates it to the mid-6th century.  I mostly left it out of the equation beforehand to keep things from getting needlessly complicated.  

In any case, suddenly there was Buddhism!  Bam!  Buddhism, unlike the kami-worship Japan was used to, had a body of sacred texts and temples and a priesthood and rituals and doctrine.  Buddhism was shiny and awesome and famous throughout East Asia by this point, and kami worship was kind of amorphous and not particularly flashy.  Needless to say, Buddhism was embraced almost universally.  The imperial court adopted a Buddhist ritual calendar...and performed rituals to the kami as well, but these rituals were almost always subordinate to the Buddhist ones.

This is a perfect illustration of one of the interesting qualities of East Asian religions: they tend not to be exclusive.  While you can’t be both Muslim and Christian, there was (and still is) no problem with worshiping both Buddhas and kami.  In fact, Buddhism pretty much integrated kami-worship into it.  Many Buddhist temples had shrines for kami on their precincts, and some kami were even integrated into the Buddhist pantheon.  People worshiped kami and Buddha side by side, and almost all of the time they didn’t (or couldn't) differentiate them from each other.

Of course, there had to be an explanation for why the kami and Buddhas could be worshiped together, and the prevailing theory for a very long time was called honji suijaku (本地垂迹), which is generally translated as “original essence, manifest traces.”  The basic idea of this theory was that the kami were incarnations or manifestations of the Buddha, whereas the Buddha and bodhisattvas* were the “original” or “pure” essence of divinity.  Other prevailing theories included that the kami were also stuck in the cycle of death and rebirth,** and they needed people to pray to them (and Buddhist priests to perform ceremonies for them) so they could “level-up” to being Buddhas and escape the cycle.

Of course, there were a lot of people who came up with different theories. Some of these people even started calling kami worship Shinto, so I can finally start using that word a little.  Instead of being boring, like the boring book I have to read for class, and listing all of the different schools of thought without telling you anything important about them, I’ll give some general trends that occurred.

Reverse honji suijaku!  It’s not that kami are lame versions of Buddhas, it’s actually that Buddhas are lame versions of kami!  Buddhas have to become enlightened, but kami are born divine.  Clearly the kami are better!

Japan is the source of all the everythings!  Sort of like reverse honji suijaku on steroids.  Not only are kami the true essence while the Buddhas are the manifest traces, Japan is the trunk of the tree while China is the branches and India is the flowers.  Using this analogy, clearly all religion came from Japan!***

Shinto is Neo-Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism is Shinto.  Due to a lot of complicated stuff that I don’t have time to get into, Neo-Confucianism**** rose in popularity starting in the 17th century.  The Neo-Confucians recognized a potential ally against Buddhism (which was pretty clearly crazily powerful; I might talk about this at some point, but you should all go read about it either way) in the Shinto theorists, and so there was a lot of reimagining Shinto in a Confucian light (and reimagining Confucianism in a Shinto light).  A lot of theorists would pick single qualities (like “honestly” or “sincerity”) which they felt exemplified “traditional” Japanese values and write extensively about those.  Ironically, given the intense amount of mixing with Confucianism going on, this focus on “traditional” Japanese values in Shinto helped to reinforce the idea (later emphasized by the National Learning scholars) that it had existed unchanged since time immemorial.

Ew, there's all this other stuff my Shinto!  Once people began to gain an awareness of Shinto as a separate entity from Buddhism (although exactly what that entity was comprised of…nobody was quite sure), there were, of course, people who were horrified at how polluted Shinto had become.  They wanted to cut the Buddhist and Confucian influences out…but, of course, what exactly these influences were, nobody could agree on.  But everyone knew they were bad and they should be gotten rid of.

And then National Learning showed up, but I'll save them for next time.

…meanwhile, the common people had very little idea of the debates going on, and continued to worship the kami and Buddhas as they always had.

Further Reading
Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions by a whole slew of people
Shinto in History by a whole slew of people
Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume One edited by William Theodore de Bary
Sources of Japanese Tradition Volume Two edited by William Theodore de Bary
Because everything is better in two volumes.
Pretty much anything by Kuroda Toshio, but especially "Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion," which can be found in Religion and Society in Modern Japan, among other books

Seriously, the first thing my advisor gave me to read when I was writing my thesis was one of Kuroda's papers.  His work has so much controversy surrounding it (more in Japan than in the US) and upsets some people terribly, which is a good reason to read it in and of itself.
Although the focus of the book is the Meiji, War, and Post-War periods, the introduction has some information on kami worship in the Tokugawa period. 
Confucianism and Tokugawa Culture, especially the chapter entitled “Masuho Zankō (1655-1742): A Shinto Popularizer Between Nativism and National Learning.” 

...yes, half of those titles are in italics while the other half are underlined.  Blogger is being dumb at me.  Thus the sudden font change.  Grr, Blogger, grr.

*For anyone unfamiliar with Buddhism, a bodhisattva is someone who gains enlightenment but decides to stay on Earth to help other people gain enlightenment instead of moving on and becoming a Buddha.

**Super fast Buddhism explanation 101!  Everybody’s stuck in the cycle of death and rebirth. You die, and then you’re reborn as something different. If you were a good person, you’re reborn at a higher level, like as an emperor if you were previously a peasant. If you were a bad person, you’re reborn at a lower level, like as a worm or a fly.  Being trapped in the cycle is bad because you keep dying and being reborn and it’s all so very pointless.  However, if you gain enlightenment, you can escape the cycle forever!

***If you think this sounds crazy, wait ‘til I get to National Learning and how Jesus came to Japan to study.

****A branch of Confucianism inspired mostly by the writings of Zhu Xi.  You should read about it.

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