SHINTO AND BUDDHISMShinto is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people. It remains the oldest form of faith of the Japanese people. Since ancient times, the Japanese have worshiped all the deities of heaven and earth, such as mountains, islands, rocks, and trees. They have also paid their heartfelt respect and gratitude to their ancestors. There is no sole, absolute god but multitudinous gods in Shintoism.
Shinto has no founder and no official scripture. The gods are enshrined in shrines and household altars of each house. Some of them are gods of nature such as fire, wind, water, seas, mountains, rivers, rocks, and trees. Others are gods that appear in traditional myths, the sprits of historical figures or various ancestors.
When Buddhism was introduced in the late 6th century, it became the Japanese state religion according to national policies. Since then Buddha was transformed into a Japanese deity, a new different form of god, and coexisted with the Shinto gods. In the 8th century, Buddhist temples were often attached to Shinto shrines; a temple was built in a shrine and a priest of that shrine would read Buddhist sutra in which Shinto events took place. ( Syncretism of Buddhism and Shinto).It lasted until the decree of Shinto-Buddhism separation by the Meiji government (1868). Under this decree, some Buddhist priests’ halls and statues were destroyed on Miyajima, but many of them were protected by Shinto and Buddhist priests and related people.
BELIEF IN MIYAJIMAMiyajima, the island itself, has been worshipped as a god since ancient times, as people have sensed the aura that surrounds the whole island. Due to this sense of awe of the island, the most prominent shrine was not constructed on land but on a seashore of the island. (593 A.D.)
The present shrine’s pavilions (the Shinden style of architecture) were constructed in 1168 by Taira-no-Kiyomori, a general of the late Heian period, who deeply worshipped the Itsukushima Shrine.
The more the power of the Heike clan grew, the more people, not only of the Heike families but also the imperial and noble, visited the island from the capital of Kyoto, and with them they brought Heian culture, such as Bugaku dancing, and architecture to the island. The Heike clan’s Buddhist sutras, armor, swords and ancient treasures of the shrine are on display in the treasure hall.
The vermilion O-torii Gate and shrine buildings with the deep green, heavily forested Misen Forest as a backdrop have remained intact and appear just as they did in the Heian period.
TORIIThe vermilion-colored O-torii Gate, which is known as a symbol of Itsukushima Shrine, marks the border between a sacred place and the secular quarter.
One of the theories about the origin of the torii is as follows. When the Goddess Amaterasu hid herself in the heavenly cave (ama no iwato), the world was shrouded in darkness. The other spirits arranged for the "eternal long crowing birds" (cockerels) to roost and crow, and then Amaterasu came out of the cave and the world regained the light. Since then people made roosts for cockers in front of shrines and that may have been the origin of the torii.
THE APPROACH TO THE SHRINEThe approach to the shrine starts from its torii gate. When we pass the gate, we bow to be prepared for the visit. The approach of the shrine is not paved but earthy, stone-flagged, or cobbled.
LANTERNSLanterns which we often see at shrines and temples, were introduced from Baekje, an ancient city of Korea, in the Nara period. They are dedicated to prayer for the help of Gods. They are usually made of stone, copper, or iron. We often see stone or copper lanterns outside shrine or temple buildings.
KOMAINU (KORAI INU)Komainu are a pair of lion-like guardian figures placed at each side of a shrine or temple entrance, or a worship hall, and are believed to ward off evil spirits. The original form of the komainu is said to be stone lions of the Ancient Orient brought to Japan via China and Korea. The Great Sphinx in Egypt, Merlion in Singapore, and Shiisa in Okinawa have the same origin. One of the statues with its mouth open is male and the other with its mouth closed is female. Some of them have horns. Usually Komainu are in sitting posture, however, you can find standing (bottom up) komainu in the rear of the Itsukushima Shrine, which represents good luck.
THE VERMILION COLOR OF THE SHRINEThe vermilion color of the shrine and of the O-torii is considered to keep evil spirits away. As for Itsukushima Shrine, the shrine buildings are coated with vermilion lacquer, which is also efficient as protection from corrosion.
CHOZUBefore worshiping at a shrine, visitors rinse their hands and mouth with pure water at a chozuya to purify their bodies. First, take a ladle in your right hand, and scoop water and pour over your left hand. Shift the ladle to your left hand and rinse the right. Shift the ladle again to your right hand and scoop water to pour it over one’s palm. Take a small sip of water to rinse your mouth. Wash your left hand once again. Return the ladle face down to the chozu bowl.
SHIMENAWAShimenawa is a rice-straw rope with shide paper strips. It marks the border between a sacred place and the secular quarter. The origin is said to have begun when the Goddess Amaterasu was taken out of the heavenly cave (ama no iwato), the God, Futodama-no-mikoto closed the entrance of the cave with shimenawa rope, to prevent Amaterasu from reentering.
Today Simenawa is used to prevent bad luck and evil spirits from entering. Shimekazari (straw rope decoration) put at the entrance on New Year also has the same meaning.
SHIDEShide is a zigzag-shaped paper strip, often seen attached to shimenawa, tamagushi, haraegushi, and gohei. It used to be made of cotton. Now Japanese paper is usually used as a replacement.
SAKAKI (Cleyera japonica)Sakaki are sacred ever-green trees used as offerings in shrine rituals.
In ancient times, people believed that gods dwelt in plants, and descended especially to spiky-leaved plants.
HOW TO WORSHIP
- Proceed toward the altar.
- Offer some coins or bills in the offering box.
- Bow twice deeply.
- Clap your hands twice.
- Bow once deeply, express gratitude and pray for fulfillment of your wishes.
PRIESTSA priest is a person who relays someone’s prayer to the gods.
When the priests enter the shrine in the morning they first take a bath to cleanse their bodies. Then they visit the Marodo Shrine and the Main Shrine and start their work.
EMAIn olden days, people offered the best horse of the year in each region to the gods. In the beginning of the Edo period, it became quite common to offer horse paintings on wooden tablets and then various kinds of paintings were offered to shrines. Some of the paintings were drawn by famous Kano or Tosa school painters. You can see some of them in Senjokaku.
OMIKUJIOmikuji literally means "to realize the will of God". In ancient times when people decided important affairs about national festivals and policies, they drew omikuji a sacred lottery, to read the will of God. Kamakura era Omikuji are used to tell someone’s fortune.
BUDDHISMBuddhism is one of the world’s big three religions, along with Christianity and Islam. Buddhism was brought into being around the 5th century BC by Siddhartha Gautama. The doctrine of Buddhism is the dogma Siddhartha Gautama, who has become a Buddha. Buddhism in Japan is influenced by Confucianism and Taoism. Also syncretism of religions has been long practiced in Japan, which incorporated Shintoism with Buddhism.
Until the Meiji Restoration, people worshipped Shinto gods, while belonging to their family temple. That’s why there are many temples as well as shrines on Miyajima.
ZENZen is one of ascetic practices, which has been long performed in India. This is a practice, unifying mind and body in meditation to attain a spiritual state of nothingness, which means to put everything else out of one's mind. It is important to keep steady breathing and good posture.
There are several different leg positions that are possible in zen meditation. The most stable of all the positions is the full lotus, where each foot is placed up on the opposite thigh. The right hand is placed in the left hand, palms upwards, with the tips of the thumbs slightly raised and gently touching. (Dhyāna Mudrā)
Keep the back straight, slightly bent forward to allow the diaphragm to move freely. the shoulders should be relaxed and the hands can be put in one's lap. The eyes are half-open and kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you. Try belly-breathing. Exhale gently and deeply, inhale and control your breath.
Zen meditation is not only for mind-body unification but also Zen itself has recipes of enlightenment.