Category Archives: Worldview

A Modern View of Shinto:  Scholar and Shinto Priest Minoru Sonoda

Chichibu-Jinja

Entrance of Chichibu Jinja. Photo by Commons Wikimedia

Preface

Dr. Minoru Sonoda (薗田/稔) is chief priest of Chichibu Jinja (秩父神社) Shinto shrine in Saitama, as well as professor emeritus of Kyoto University and professor at Kogakkan University. His doctorate in religious studies is from Tokyo University.

Dr. Sonoda is chairman of the International Shinto Research Association for the exchange of research with people overseas who are studying Shinto. Although Dr. Sonoda is identified with Shinto, he promotes the idea that Shinto is not a “religion” in the Western sense of the word. Rather, Shinto is a type of community tradition that has naturally developed. Instead of being an individual faith-based activity, Shinto is community, culture, and heritage closely tied to nature. When put this way, doesn’t it seem that Shinto is far from being exclusive to Japan, and instead can be understood and practiced by people around the world?

Interview

An interview conducted by Satsuya Tabuchi appeared in SPF Voices Newsletter of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in 2006. Click here for the full report in English. An article about Dr. Sonoda appears here. Click here for Chichibu Jinja’s home page.

Here are some highlights of the topics discussed with SPF. We presume that Dr. Sonoda, as Shinto priest, used the term kami which was translated into gods. Since the word kami does not accurately translate into the Western word gods, we prefer to keep the term kami. 

Kami, unseen spirits behind the scenes

Kami abide in specific places such as sources of water or other places that are important to life. Kami are unseen to the human eye. What is sacred “lurks in the depths of the forest. It is a psychic center behind the community, not in the middle. Even if Japan’s gods don’t have form, they dwell within pure objects as spirits.”

Culture and agriculture

Shinto is the product of agrarian culture. The word culture comes from the Latin colere meaning to inhabit, cultivate, protect, and honor. People who settled peacefully in a particular place developed culture. People grow crops and receive their life. Receiving life and giving thanks for it is how Shinto views life. This world view developed naturally in the agrarian society.

Nature and life

Human beings, imbued with life by nature, live together with nature. Shinto honors the preciousness of life.

What is life?

“Life isn’t something that lasts just one generation. Life is life precisely because it’s passed on from parents to children. This is the most valid way for human beings to view life.”

Afterword

Dr. Sonoda is proactive in the chinju no mori sacred forest movement. What is chinju no mori? Mori means forest. Chinju is written 鎮守. The first character 鎮 is read as shizumeru, to calm the spirit; the second character 守 is mamoru which means to protect. Thus, we may say chinju no mori is a forest whose tranquility is protected. In other words, let’s protect the peace and serenity provided us by forests.

Related to this is the shinrin yoku trend, often translated as “forest bathing.” Shinrin is the compound word, forest-grove, and yoku simply means to bathe. People are going to forested areas for personal peace and tranquility as well as for proven health benefits.

 

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Kimi no Na Wa and Musubi

kumihimo musubi S

Preface

Kimi no Na Wa is an extremely popular and powerful anime movie directed by Makoto Shinkai. We say “powerful” in that it is thought-provoking of matters outside the ordinary limits of time and space.

Musubi.  Kumihimo is a Japanese braiding method for making decorative and functional cords, and it is depicted in several scenes in the movie. Musubi is a knot, a tying together, of connecting people and things. The photo shows two kumihimo cords in a musubi knot.

Motohisa Yamakage has taught Koshinto through books such as The Essence of Shinto. Yamakage Sensei writes, “Musubi means to unite or bind together. … the concept of musubi signifies the proliferation of life and spirit. … the very process of creating and giving birth to life and spirit is described as musubi and we [Koshinto] place it in very high regard.”

Time and Space.  We have related the Tanabata Festival tale as the weaving of time and space. This is an observance since early Jomon times that takes place in the seventh night of the seventh lunar month, when the moon is only half-full and the stars in the Milky Way can clearly be seen. The word tanabata means a kind of weaving loom. So picture a fabric being woven with threads of warp and woof. The threads of the warp represent the flow of time, and the shuttling of the woof creates space.

Kimi no Na wa (君の名は) is an international hit movie, entitled Your Name in English. The warping and entangling of time and space is the theme of this metaphysical movie. Perhaps that’s why millions of people find the movie so intriguing.

In today’s essay, we consider how the movie conveys the message of Musubi through the imagery of braiding.

Early on in the movie, we see that Mitsuha lives with her sister and grandmother in a very small town in the rural land of Hida. Grandmother is priestess of an old shrine which has as its goshintai sacred object a megalith in the center of a meteor crater. Mitsuha serves as miko-san shrine maiden and performs a ritual at the shrine. Grandmother is also teaching Mitsuha to braid cords in the style of kumihimo. What, we wonder, is the significance of these elements?

Musubi in Kimi no Na wa

Grandmother’s explanation of Musubi uses the imagery of kumihimo. In one scene, Mitsuha and her sister are going with their grandmother on a pilgrimage to the sacred place of the megalith. On the way, Grandmother is explaining Musubi. We have restored the original word, kami, to the subtitles.

Musubi is the old way of calling the local guardian kami.

Tying thread is Musubi. Connecting people is Musubi.

These are all the kami’s power.

So the braided cords that we make are the kami’s art and represent the flow of time itself.

They converge and take shape. They twist, tangle, sometimes unravel, break, then connect again.

Musubi-knotting. That’s time.

Musubi

From the above, we can see that the concept of musubi is that of gathering and connecting. Grandmother has explained how people are connected in time and space, and she stresses the time element. This is the basic theme of the movie.

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David Bohm:  Wholeness and the Nature of Reality 

The question of whether the world we live in is a simulation of some other has recently been raised in the media. For those of our readers who, too, are pondering the nature of reality — and we think that includes most of you — we recommend the study of David Bohm’s work.

Dialogues with Scientists and Sages

imgres-3We first learned about David Bohm in the book by Renee Weber, Dialogues with Scientists and Sages: The Search for Unity, Routledge, 1986. Philosopher Weber interviewed a number of exemplary people of our time: Lama Govinda, Rupert Sheldrake, David Bohm, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Father Bede Griffiths, Ilya Prigogine, Stephen Hawking, and Krishnamurti. This book can be truly transformative and although out of print, should be on our bookshelves to be read and reread. Bohm himself was greatly affected by the Eastern views of Krishnamurti.

David Bohm

220px-David_Bohm

David Bohm, 1917-1992, was a prominent quantum theoretical physicist who had studied and worked with Einstein and Oppenheimer. He made a number of important contributions to quantum mechanics, relativity, plasma theory, and ontology theory. Ontology is the branch of metaphysics and philosophy that is concerned with the nature of reality. His work challenged conventional physical thought and offered an innovative approach, so innovative as to be little understood nor accepted by the mainstream. His work, unfortunately unappreciated until now, will surely become more widely known in this century.

Wholeness and the Implicate Order

imgresDavid Bohm was an extraordinary physicist whose great work, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, was published by Routledge in 1980. In the Introduction of this book, he wrote:

  • “I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment.”
  • “How are we to think coherently of a simple, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing both thought (consciousness) and external reality as we experience it?
  • “Clearly, this brings us to consider our overall world view, which includes our general notions concerning the nature of reality along with those concerning the total order of the universe, i.e., cosmology.”
  • “My suggestion is that a proper world view, appropriate for its time, is generally one of the basic factors that is essential for harmony in the individua and in society as a whole.”

Topics in his book include the following:

  • Ch. 1 Wholeness as a world view compared with fragmentation world view.
  • Ch. 2 Language can be noun-based or verb-based, divisive or unitive.
  • Ch. 3 Reality as an underlying universal movement/process; world view in which consciousness and reality are not fragmented from each other.
  • Ch. 4, 5, 6 Technical subjects
  • Ch. 7 Consciousness and the enfolding-unfolding universe

There is an important Appendix at the end of Chapter 1 on the Western and Eastern forms of insight into wholeness. Here, he notes that in the East, the immeasurable was seen as the primary reality, for measure is a thought of man. “When measure is identified with the very essence of reality, this is illusion.” It is the immeasurable that Bohm calls the implicate order.

What the West can do, Bohm states, is to

  • “develop new insight into fragmentation and wholeness [that] requires a creative work even more difficult than that needed to make fundamental new discoveries in science, or great and original works of art.”
  • “assimilate [the great wisdom from the whole of the past, both in the East and in the West] and to go on to new and original perception relevant to our present condition of life.”

In the rest of the book, Bohm lays out the results of his own creative work. We, now, can take up the reins and move ahead into greater wholeness and harmony in our world view and in our lives. This is one of the great books of the twentieth century.

David Bohm and F. David Peat:  Science, Order, and Creativityimgres-2

This book was published in 1987. It is a more descriptive book and may be easier to understand. It takes up topics such as creativity in science, what is order?, the implicate order, consciousness, and creativity in the whole of life. Certainly well worth reading.

D. Bohm and B.J. Hiley, The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory

imgres-1The Undivided Universe by Bohm and his long-time collaborator was published in 1993, a year after Bohm’s passing. This epitome of Bohm’s work elucidates the implicate order and its role in quantum theory, as well as in consciousness.

  • “As we develop this idea, we shall see that the notion of enfoldment is not merely a metaphor, but that it has to be taken fairly literally. To emphasise this point, we shall therefore say that the order in the hologram is implicate. The order in the object, as well as in the image, will then be unfolded and we shall call it explicate. The process, in this case wave movement, in which this order is conveyed from the object to the hologram will be called enfoldment or implication. The process in which the order in the hologram becomes manifest to the viewer in an image will be called unfoldment or explication.”
  • “What all this suggests is that our most primary experience in consciousness actually is of an implicate order. And our perception of the explicate order is constituted mostly by a series of abstractions from this.”
  • “The implicate order is not only the ground of perception, but also of the actual process of thought.”
  • “All of this is clearly compatible with the notion that the basic order of the mind is implicate and that the explicate arises as a particular case of this implicate order in much the way that we have suggested.”

Links

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“Dying Gods” of the Japanese Worldview

Okunomichi:  We have just come across an essay by  Yamaori Tetsuo, a distingished scholar of religious studies. Written originally in Japanese, its clear English translation evokes in the Western reader a better understanding of what it is to be Japanese. We offer a few paragraphs and suggest that the full essay be read at http://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/a02903/.

Keywords: Environment, worldview, religion, mythology, Shinto, kami, society.

The Japanese World View: Three Keys to Understanding

by Yamaori Tetsuo

“Along with a sense of transience, the natural environment also fostered a comforting awareness of the cycle of the seasons and the rebirth that invariably follows death. Flowers bloomed in the spring, leaves turned color and fell in the autumn, freezing winds swept the trees bare in the winter. But invariably the old year gave way to the new, and spring arrived once again. The knowledge that sunny days inevitably followed cloudy ones gave people the strength to live from day to day. Armed with this awareness, they learned to face life with grace and patience, flexibility and fortitude, and to face impending death with quiet acceptance, returning to the earth to become one with nature again.”

“Shintō is translated “the way of the kami,” and the kami of Japan are very different in character from the divinities with which most Westerners are familiar. From prehistoric times countless kami were believed to dwell deep within nature, in the mountains, forests, and waters of the archipelago. These were not anthropomorphic beings with distinct personalities and physical attributes. The vast majority were nameless but potent spirits of the sort believed to inhabit places and objects of all kinds. For that reason, there was a tendency to refer to them collectively, as kami-gami, rather than in the singular.”

“In ancient Japan, however, the relationship between mythological and historical events was viewed quite differently. In the Japanese cosmology, human society was subject to the same laws and rhythms as the deities who helped found it. For this reason, the Japanese viewed the origins of their country in a very different light from the kind of historical view common in the West. …The perception that the kami died just as human beings enabled the Japanese to view myth and history as seamlessly linked and nurtured a distinctive view of the cosmos, of life and death, and of the human condition.”

“What is the relationship between dying gods and a political system predicated on pluralism? Both reflect a view of the cosmos, human life, and human society shaped by a keen awareness of the impermanent, ever-changing nature of the world in which we live.”