Comparative Aspects of Shinto and Daoism
Shinto and Daoism have a fascinating relationship. Shinto is the first major religion of Japan, and Daoism of China. While there are immense differences between the two, from origin to theology, Shinto and Daoism are uniquely different, and at the same time share many traits. Some of which were incorporated into Buddhism, the successor of the two religions.
Shinto, unlike Daoism and Buddhism was not first a philosophy, but a mythology, present in some clans in Japan. In roughly 500 BCE the Yamato clan adopted this mythology, calling it the Shinto religion, meaning “The Way of the Gods”, in hopes that this would spread throughout and help unify Japan. The Yamato clan soon became the Yamato dynasty, and Shinto was the official religion. Since there is no founding individual or group, Shinto is sometimes referred to as a natural religion, the exact origins of the mythology are unknown. Daoism began as a philosophy; the first literary work, Dao De Jing meaning Book of the Way and Its Power, roughly emerged around 551 BCE. Lao Zi, which translates to Old Master, is assumed to have written this. It wasn’t until 142 CE, after the Way of the Celestial Masters was founded that Daoism became a religion. The differences here are that Shinto was never a philosophy, but a mythology. It did not have a religious text. Daoism was the opposite, first being a philosophy and having a religious text.
Shinto is a polytheistic religion, with no omnipotent god. All the gods are part of the kami meaning God or Spirit, and it is believed that everything in nature is encompassed with kami. In the Shinto faith the Emperor is a descendant of the Sun Goddess, he represents the Sun, but is not a god himself. “It is man, who appears not as a creature of the gods, but as a child born of the kami.” (Picken 11). It was believed that the Emperor was in contact with the kami, and through ceremonial practices would enter into communication with the Kami to gain knowledge over what sacrifices and or ceremonies needed to occur to restore balance to the kami. Daoism had a similar belief of how balance is restored and understood. It is called Yin and Yang. Yin, being passive, cold and feminine. Yang, being active, hot and masculine. Like kami, Yin and Yang represent opposing energies, when in harmony with each other they restore balance. When there is an imbalance, restorative measures must be taken. In some forms of Daoism, when there was too much ‘positive’ energy present something negative, like murder, would be imposed. However, this is only in extreme cases. One of the major differences is that Kami is a multitude of gods which are energies, whereas Yin and Yang is simply energy, and the gods are separate. Both are connected to the balance of energy in the physical and metaphysical realms. Unlike Shinto, the Daoism gods are not considered eternal but are purely emanations of celestial energy.
Both Shinto and Daoism have many ceremonies and rituals throughout the year. Many of these ceremonies take place to restore balance and harmony. Shinto rituals have many rules, and happen in a specific sequence depending on the type of ritual. They always include purification, prayer, offering, and entertainment for the kami. Daoism rituals are expensive, several day long events. They consist of music, dance, meditation and communication with the celestial gods. They often included hundreds of people, each household paying in money for the ritual. Both Daoism and Shinto include large, elaborate demonstrations in rituals and ceremonies that are carried out in very different ways.
Nature is extremely important in Shinto and Daoism. Shinto believes that every aspect of nature is composed of kami. If there is a natural disaster, it is assumed that the kami energy is unbalanced. There are many purification processes that involve nature, specifically involving water. Another...
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