Shintoism And Zen Buddhism

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Imagine Japan as a tree, towering and powerful. The most overlooked are the roots, as they are typically unseen by the human eye. Pushing past the reservations, roots are a vital part of the survival for a tree; without the roots, there would be no nutrients, no stability, no peace. Japan set a precedence of adaptation and harmony with coexisting beliefs. Shintoism is as old as the birth of civilization on Japan and changed by the beliefs of Taoism, Confucianism, and the spiritual path of Zen Buddhism.

Shintoism is shrouded in a cloud of mystery, and getting down to the roots is crucial to understanding modern-day Japanese societal beliefs. Beliefs, also known as values, are the core of how society works. Values build culture and culture distinguishes societies from each other. Beliefs are ideas held by a single person, whereas culture creates a theoretical lawbook of how a single society should run and what is deemed normal. Both of these concepts exist and build upon each other and if one was gone, the crumbling of modern society would be inevitable. Taoism is a philosophy that believes what guides humanity is the innate sense of togetherness.

Taoism holds change, adaptation, and development in high esteem, but in a very critical way. The primary interests of Taoism are strong commitments to competitive self-interest, radical autonomy, and disengaged freedom, (Preserving One’s Nature 599). The core value of Taoism is to yield to the laws of nature rather than societal ideals and finding inner peace through nature, (Hancock, Doc). Confucianism, created by Confucius, is the most popular eastern philosophy. Fittingly, Confucianism is possibly the most influential philosophy over Shintoism. In fact, this philosophy is followed today in a high percentage in East Asia. This belief concretes the idea of family, and education into the culture. The core values of this belief are to treat others with respect, work with intention, and to hold education in the highest esteem, (Hancock, Doc). These values create family pride, something to strive towards, and discipline.Zen Buddhism was put in place in the government, but the roots are important to be known. Buddhism holds many beliefs, and that is seen the interworking of it all.

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There are Four Noble Truths, Five Precepts, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Six Realms of Existence. The Noble Truths deal with philosophy, the Five Precepts are commandments, the Eightfold Path is values, and the Realms consist of categories of deities. Focusing on the first three is crucial to understanding Japanese modern society.The Noble Truths are four categories of philosophical belief. The first, “All life is marked by suffering,” (Hancock Slides), speaks on how life cannot be lived without some hardships. The second, “Suffering is caused by desire and attachment,” (Hancock Slides), talks on how suffering is an innate sense in people and though it is not necessarily an evil thing, is thought to be caused by the humans wants. The third, “Suffering can be eliminated,” (Hancock Slides), speaks with the intention of conveying that even though suffering is an innate sense and is inevitable, it can be avoided by thinking in a new way and changing one’s actions. The final and fourth philosophical thought, “Suffering is eliminated by following the Eightfold Path,” (Hancock Slides), relates the religion with the desired way of life.

The concepts of these philosophical ideas are all centered around the idea that the religion of Buddhism is one that can help with the hardships of life and can deter them by one’s following.The Five Precepts are the equivalent to commandments in Christianity, rules to follow. Although sin is not exactly an idea placed upon one in Buddhism, these are rules that are followed without a conviction. The first rule, “One shall not kill,” is self-explanatory, the killing of another is immoral and unequivocally evil. The second rule, “One shall not steal,” denounces all sorts of dishonesty as untrustworthiness creates suffering. The third rule, “One shall not engage in sexual misconduct,” creates a conversation on the importance of consent in a culture where sex is given a wary eye and is seen as undoubtedly obscene. The fourth rule, “One shall not lie,” denounces dishonesty and untrustworthiness again, these traits are seen as the helping hands of the feelings of suffering and the entire creation of hardships in life. The fifth rule, “ One shall not use intoxicants,” gives a hefty lean towards sobriety because when you are, you can think the best thoughts and have your best actions, (Hancock Slides). Although none of these rules place ahead of each other in importance, they all are well-rounded actions that if followed will increase the satisfaction of life.The Eightfold Path describes the influences that Buddhism has on your life and what changes. The first three influences of the path are Beliefs, Aspirations, and Speech.

These three affect how one would think and one would influence others. The next two, Conduct and Livelihood, influence the way others see one through the way one’s actions are made. The next two, Effort and Mindfulness, effects what one will get out of living one’s life; the common phrase “You give and you get,” is very comparable to these two effects of Buddhism. The last one is Meditational Alignment, and this refers to the practice of meditation in this religion; People that follow the Buddhist faith often practice meditation, which is act of letting the mind return to a state of peace and letting your inner being clear and become one with one’s own physical self, (Hancock Slides). These effects are something to be sought after and are reasons that the Buddhist faith is so prevalent, especially in East Asia.Although Buddhism was and is very popular, it has fathered a different religion. Zen Buddhism is the religion of choice in Japan after Shintoism, the two coexisting together and influencing each other. Zen Buddhism is a form of Buddhism that is more spiritual, excelling in art, peace, poetic literature, and togetherness.

The wave of Zen Buddhism popularity in Japan is known to have created the artistic revolution. Zen Buddhism was even put into law to influence a shift of faith in the citizens, (JBF 56). The way of the Shinto is known to be complicated and simple at the same time. Shinto is polytheistic, with god-like higher beings created after aspects found in nature; examples of which being, “Wind, Rain, Mountains, Trees, Rivers and Fertility,” (Japan-Guide Shinto). Considered to be one of the most optimistic faiths, there is a defining belief that there is no true good or evil and that humans are born good. The landmark architecture that Japan is almost always Shinto Shrines or related to Shinto in some way, shape, or form. Shintoism is the oldest influence of Japan, but the most influenced at the same time. Taoism creates a sense and connection to nature and the Shinto gods. Confucianism creates strength amongst family and a sense of purpose through loyalty. Buddhism creates a more influential push toward absolute peace in society. Zen Buddhism creates an absolute draw towards things like art, peace, literature, and all things advancements. Because Zen Buddhism and Shintoism are so connected with peace, the overwhelming majority of Japanese citizens consider themselves either following Shinto, Zen Buddhist, or aspects of both. At the end of the day, peace holds the most power in the world of Japanese Culture.

Work Cited

  1. “A guide to Japanese Buddhism,” Japan Buddhist Federation. Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc,
  2. Hancock, Lori. “Chinese Philosophies,” Google Docs, Google Classroom.×4-g-jffB3_5RqL5KuMeEZnL7dYgnFyNsgwRq20Yb64/edit
  3. Hancock, Lori. “Religions ppt,” Google slides, Google Classroom.
  4. LEE, JUNG H. “Preserving One’s Nature: Primitivist Daoism and Human Rights.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 34, no. 4, Dec. 2007, pp. 597–612. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1540-6253.2007.00447.x.
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