5 shinto which developed no significant notion of the

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Unformatted text preview: s, mountains, oceans—all may be kami. According to ancient usage, whatever seemed strikingly impressive, possessed the quality of excellence, or inspired a feeling of awe was called kami.5 Shinto, which developed no significant notion of the fate of the life spirit after death, has from its origins been overwhelmingly concerned with existence in this world. The kami, for the most part, are associated with life as a vital, creative force; and in this sense Shinto contrasts sharply with Buddhism, which takes a darkly pessimistic view of the world as a place of suffering and misery. Shinto also has little concept of the ethical as a means to measure human behavior, but instead considers the misdeeds of people, along with various physical defilements and natural disasters, to be essentially visitations from without that must be handled by special rites, such as exorcism and purification. Purification or lustration (of a kind presumably dating back at least to the time of the Chinese observations on the people of Wa) is particularly important in Shinto; in fact, it is the principal act performed at Shinto shrines both by worshipers and by priests. There are basically two kinds of purification rituals in Shinto, the external and the internal. External or physical purification (kessai) is most commonly done by the worshiper, upon visiting a shrine, by the symbolic act of rinsing his mouth and hands with water. Internal purification or exorcism (harai), on the other hand, is exclusively the preserve of the priest, who normally performs it by waving a wand. When a priest thus purifies a person, it is thought that his spirit is restored to its original, pristine and upright nature. A practice in Shinto that has always been an important feature of the social lives of the Japanese is the matsuri or festival. In the most basic of such festivals a kami (represented by some object or emblem) is transported in a portable shrine, usually on the shoulders of a team of young men, in a journey through a village or about a locale. The mood is one of joy...
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