Buddhism and Shintoism: related, yet something entirely different
Hordes of typical modern house moms, all into meditation and becoming ‘zen’, sushi and let not forget tattoos and signs like the Jin/Jan. All originating from eastern religions and cultures that most of us western people don’t really know about. What is the ideal place to learn about where these cultures and beliefs are from?
For us, it was clear that one specific city was suited for this quest, because of its traditional culture mixed with an accessible modern lifestyle: Tokyo.
To understand typical eastern, Japanese culture, we need to understand that one thing that defines Japans culture: Shintoism and Buddhism. Let’s get right into it.
The oldest and biggest Japanese religion is called Shintoism, which means ‘way of gods’. There isn’t a lot known about the exact origins of Shintoism, but according to ancient books, the religion dates back to as far as 500 bC. By then, Shintoism was basically an umbrella term for already existing myths and legends.
The connection between Shintoism and Buddhism
Around 600 bC Buddhism started to spread through Japan. Shintoism partly emerged with Buddhism, because the rulers predicted it would be deal to mix some traditions up. For example, Buddhist rituals became mainstream in Shinto religion, and sacred objects were moved to Buddhist temples. Devine and godly creatures from the Buddhist religion were also integrated into the Shinto culture. Later, the government implemented Shinto rituals into the state calendar on its turn, making sure the Kami would take care of the Japanese Shinto. In this way, the Japanese got used to live by two religions without any collision.
For hundreds of years, this balance was kept more or less the same. Until 1868. By then, the Japanese government decided to renew its leadership for a stronger, more united Japan. This reorganization is called the Meiji. One of the ways they reorganized was by completely separating Buddhism from Shintoism. Buddhist objects were removed from Shinto shrines, gods and other divine Buddhist creatures were no longer considered godly. With it’s authenticity restored, Shintoism was now the state religion. However, this absolute Shinto purity did not last for long, as some of the recently forbidden imagery and divine creatures were reintroduced back into Shintoism. Meanwhile, Shintoism kept being the state-religion as it promoted love for Japan.
Shintoism during world war two
As a state religion, Shintoism lasted until the surrender of Japan in 1945, at the very end of the second world war. The new constitution, made by the United States, forbid state religions. Not only did it interfere with the basic principles of democracy, but it was also slightly modified to back the nationalist agenda of the pre-ww2 government.
These days, Shintoism is still Japans biggest religion. During our stay in Tokyo, we noticed that the enormous metropole still has a significant number of Shinto shrines all across the city. Even these days, there are still traces that lead back to the times when Shintoism was mixed up with Buddhism. One of those are the many similarities between the Shinto shrines and the Buddhist temples. Examples of these similarities will be covered below.
Even though Buddhism originally came from Nepal, it’s the second-biggest religion in Japan: approximately 70% practices Buddha rituals. With 80 to 90% of the Japanese also practicing Shintoism, it becomes clear that Japanese both are practiced together. Buddhism however, has a few big differences in comparison to Shintoism. While Shintoism originally a collection of nature-gods and myths without a main god, Buddhism is mostly about Buddha and his teachings.
Siddharta Gautama, Buddha´s name before he became enlightened, was born around 2600 years ago in a Royal Nepal family. Even though he was destined to become king, he left home when he saw the misery in the world. In Bodh Gaya, India, he meditated for 49 days. He didn´t wake up like his old self, but as The Buddha, ´´The Enlightened´´. Being enlightened, he created the four noble truths, the foundation of Buddhism.
Buddhism and Shintoism among modern youth
What’s typical about the statistics about the Japanese people, is that almost everyone practices Buddhism or Shintoism. However, most students we spoke (Two Japanese girls and 10 students form the Genki Culture and Arts school) didn’t see that much practices of religions. Upon further research about this phenomenon, we discovered that among young Japanese, Buddhism is steeply declining. This falls in line with the comments of the two Japanese students and the other ten students of the Genki Culture school. Buddhist monks are forced to make their religion more attractive to the younger, resulting in a Buddhist cafe for example. Meraud and i visited one and spoke to a monk there, where we spoke about this topic.
Even though Shintoism doesn’t face a similar fate, it’s status among young Japanese is a lot like the Buddhist one. Even though many youngsters would ‘oficially’ be Shinto, most of them do not practice it in their daily lives. They rather tend to just follow some of its rituals. Weddings, for example, are usually celebrated the Shinto-way, as weddings represent purity and newborns. Meanwhile, the opening of the new year and many funerals are usually held the Buddhist-way as the new year has all to do with scaring evil spirit and funerals with dead. Shintoism doesn´t want to deal with these kinds of impurities, while Buddha will. Its often said that, due to a lack of rules, Shintoism is rather a way to live by than a ‘real’ religion. it’s said that the correct and polite attitude of the Japanese, in general, is caused by thousands of years Shintoism. And that is what Shintoism embodies: not necessarily love for one god or belief; but for family, nature and it’s countless deities and Japan itself.
Check out the tool below to have all of the main differences summed up.