Buddhism is an international religion practiced by numerous people, many of which practice pacifism to attaining the ultimate form of Zen, or inner peace, which is met through contemplation, meditation and relaxation exercises. It is almost unilaterally synonymous with the symbol of Buddha. Buddha is the representative and namesake of Buddhism, which is practiced in China, Japan, India and the United States to name a few distinct locations.
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Shinto on the other hand is native to Japan, and as such almost exclusively practiced in Japan, and whereas Buddhism contains an individual as its namesake, Shinto practitioners hold the belief that nearly every living thing holds a spirit. All told there are well over 800 different spirits in Japan according to Shintoists. Based upon the description above, we will now delve into the differences between Shinto and Buddhist temples, and how worship is carried out in each of them. One fact that may interest you is that most weddings are carried out in Shinto tradition, while most funerals are conducted via Buddhist tradition. There are similarities and differences in both practices, but the two theories maintain a fundamental difference which we will describe in the paragraphs following. The question is not so much why but how in this discussion. Shinto Shrines People visit Shinto shrines to pay respect to spirits known as Kami, which each respective town or village has a local one, and is the primary purpose for a shrine, or to pray for good fortune.
Over the years numerous elements of Buddhism and Shinto have melded together, but there are several characteristics that make a Shinto shrine unique, to name a few, they are; Torii-the gate of the shrine, which are often red or orange in color, Komainu-a pair of dogs or lions at the gate of a shrine except in the case of Inari shrines they are foxes rather than dogs, Purification trough-used to clean the hands and mouth prior to entering the main worship hall, Ema-booths where people may leave prayers in the hopes that the gods may answer them, Omikuji-are slips of paper with “daikyi” (good luck), or “daikichi” (misfortune) visitors take one in the hopes that good luck may be attained or that misfortune may be averted. Along with the features of shrines, there are also numerous types of shrines ranging from Imperial-state sponsored shrines, Inari-recognizable by foxes at the gate and dedicated to kami of rice, Hachiman, -dedicated to the kami of war, Sengen-dedicated to Princess Konohanasakuya, the deity of Mount Fuji, and Tenijin-popular among students preparing for entrance exams. Shrines are referred to as such, but they are temples just like the Buddhist version. People visit them on holidays and special occasions rather than on days of the week. Each shrine may contain several sub-shrines and may take up as much area as several thousand acres.
In Shinto, there is a large emphasis on purity and cleanliness. Part of the process here is that is impossible to attain harmony if we are fettered by the outside influence of the world. There is a large focus on cleaning of the hands, mouth and body. This is accomplished ritualistically via bathing, hand washing and standing under waterfalls. Ritual is one of the largest parts to Shinto, and no better example exists than the cleanliness portion.
As previously mentioned, Shrines are temples, but the two are quite different despite the similar name. Buddhism is the older religion, and has a higher occurrence of structures. The basic structure of a Buddhist temple originated in India, they come in a few basic shapes, which include; Stupa-the original dome or bell-like structure that was meant to contain ashes and relics and constructed out of mud bricks. They eventually became more elaborate with depictions of the life of prince Siddhartha on the outside, Pagoda-developing in China, as the stupa grew taller and narrower, they are eight sided structures, (after the eightfold path of enlightenment), containing an odd number of stories-between three and thirteen. In Japan, small stone pagodas exist in cemeteries and are five stories representing the cycles of life and the void, Monastery-, Theravidin shrine, sparse flat structures that is primarily used for meditation, may be adorned with a Buddha- and Thai Temple-are small structures that appear in nearly every town.
Although native to Japan, Shinto shrines are on the decline in Japan, with only about 80,000 remaining. This is roughly equivalent to the number of convenience stores in Japan. This is due in part to the merging of Temples and Shrines in the latter part of the 19th century. Since Buddhism became more popular for worship, there has been a decline in Shinto practioners. Shinto at its core is a commune with nature and a search for inner tranquility. There is not an established regimen such as a scripture, as it more of an intuition than a anything. Buddhism brought with it a sort of iconography that may be easier to grasp especially in the modern age where seemingly everyone is glued to a personal electronic device nearly 24/7. It is not to say that Buddhism is bad, simply that it incorporates slightly different procedures than does Shinto. (Tamashige, 2013). Much like Shinto and its end-goal of attaining harmony the basic tenets of Buddhism teach about simplicity. Through simplicity the way may be found through the basic tenets of the religion which are: 1) Sila Composed of two principles-the value of equality, and the golden rule and is found in other major religions. 2) Samadhi equates to mindfulness, concentration and focus. 3) Prajna-Wisdom and enlightenment. Practice of these basic tenets will lead to the four basic truths of Buddhism, which I will describe incredibly simplistically 1) Dukkha-suffering exists. 2) Samudaya-The desire for material thig s is the cause for suffering. 3) Nirodha-Thee end to suffering comes when the mind ceases to desire. This is sometimes also known as Nirvana 4) Magga-In order to end suffering you must follow the eightfold path. Conclusion Although the two religions co-exist for the most part with each other, upon further examination the two schools of thought are relatively different. Despite this fact, it is still important in the history of Japan that each idea is maintained as it important within American culture to maintain the different practices of Christianity. Fundamentally it is a question of perspective, and if we all begin to look at everything the same, we may all eventually lose some of the qualities of innovativeness and adaptability that make humans unique in the world. If you look at the tenets of both Shinto and Buddhism, especially in the times we live in it may become plain that much of the struggles we face are self-inflicted, and we must all appear to be quite loathsome and masochistic in our ways. Why else would we choose to maintain so many possessions, and create so much waste? Surely, we must desire to suffer.
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Tamashige, S. (2013, May 16). Seeing where Shinto and Buddhism cross. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2013/05/16/arts/seeing-where-shinto-and-buddhism-cross/#.Wgpjb7aZPzU
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