Shinto and Buddhism, plumbing and carpentry

Cassiel C. MacAvity

    Or, if one prefers, instead, Buddhism and Shinto, plumbing and carpentry.

Plumbing And Carpentry and Faith Or Religion.
Plumbing And Carpentry

Plumbing And Carpentry and Faith Or Religion.
    The two main issues addressed here are What Everyone Knows, and, The Grand Concept.

    In many instances, What Everyone Knows is accurate . . . And, What Everyone Knows can be completely wrong and remain so because, of course, it's What Everyone Knows. With The Grand Concept---itself often an example of What Everyone Knows---there is only The Grand Concept, because The Grand Concept takes up all the operational and intellectual space . . . . And there are instances where The Grand Concept is correct, but reality also is that two quite different concepts can interlace and both occupy the same area of attention.

    The linking of the two religious labels with "mere" plumbing and carpentry actually involves plumbing and also electrical installations, vs carpentry and concrete, albeit without adding more words to the title. Consider constructing a 33 story building, for use by at least a thousand people a day, but using only plumbing and electrical conduits to create the building. Once done, how exactly are people to make use of the construct, especially at the higher levels? Likewise, some arrangement of concrete and carpentry can reach 33 stories, provide floors to walk on, and stairs to reach those floors, except with no electricity, there are no elevators, with no plumbing, there are no kitchen sinks or bathrooms. There are very definite reasons why daily use building, construction, and operation involves both plumbing and carpentry. And with the intermix of the two, that itself is a particular example where two quite different concepts can interlace and both occupy the same area of attention.

    For other overall observations, there are American physicist Richard Feynman and British writer Terry Pratchett.

    From Pratchett's book, Jingo:
    71-hour Ahmed was not superstitious. He was substitious, which put him in a minority among humans. He didn’t believe in the things everyone believed in but which nevertheless weren’t true. He believed instead in the things that were true in which no one else believed.
    With Richard Feynman, a situation he faced is that there were theories of light vs the reality of how light really occurs. There are practically outright statements that light is either a particle or a wave, and Feynman basically stated that well, no, so far, those are just stories. Speculation regarding light being a wave or particle is making up metaphors to try and explain light, even as light just goes and does what it does regardless of what is claimed by some official story.

    And another Pratchett quote, from Pyramids.
    Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn’t believing. It’s where belief stops, because it isn’t needed anymore.
    One issue very much involved in What Everyone Knows is actual religious practice vs mere faith. What Everyone Knows is that faith is religion and religion is faith. The two aren't just synonymous, they are utterly identical and everyone believes that.

    Keep remembering that observation about belief.

    And while remembering seeing vs believing, let's have a look at faith, and then after that, let's have a look at religion.

    Keep remembering that observation about seeing.

    For The Grand Concept of Faith---which Always Must Be the same thing as religion---Faith always involves Some Person, where Once Upon A Time, Some Person announced The Faith, and told all the details, and therefore everyone will believe in The Faith, and Having Faith will be called Religion. Of course, in a number of cases, well, there isn't a handy Some Person, but instead there is or are The God(ess((e)s). The God(ess((e)s) have or has always been and always will be, and What Everyone Knows is that there are a bunch of stories about The God(ess((e)s) and these stories provide the details of What Everyone Knows. A regular feature of several versions of The Faith is the claim that all one needs is The God(ess((e)s), hallowed be thy name(s), where no concern occurs about personal life, what one does, or where one is, because all is provided and created by The God(ess((e)s).

    For those instances where different people have different respective sets of The God(ess((e)s) and multiple stories as well, those who believe The Faith have no problem with this. For someone who believes in The Faith, all the stories of The Faith are The One True Holy Scripture What Everyone Knows And Does Not Question. In turn, all those other stories from somewhere else are all called Mere Myths, where What Everyone Knows is that Mere Myths are Primitive Superstition and therefore are inferior to The Faith and Will Be Replaced By The Faith.

    Et Cetera.

    In addition, the clams of one faith or another do often involve worshipping one of those deities, or more, but faith also involves the reverse. Faith can also mean equally vehemently denying that there is or can be any deity or related occurrence---After all, if an individual can not prove to another that there is no particular deity, then that insistent denial without proof is also a form of mere faith.

    So a quite ongoing issue with mere faith is that it winds up involving some body of information with no way for any separate person to verify any of the information. Furthermore, after one has been told what just may be a pack of lies, one is required to also repeat the entire story to others as being verified truth. As an act of faith, all other people are also absolutely required to accept, as definitely proven fact, each item of all of the conglomeration of the unverifiable. In short, a core tenet of faith is that random hearsay is fact.

    When mere faith is declared to be fact, particularly when some story telling of that faith is written out and called scripture, then by the same reasoning, one knows that Superman exists, protects, and takes care of everyone, because one can read about it in the scripture that is the latest issue of a Superman comic book.

    When such blind adherence to some such random story occurs on a large scale, that becomes organized faith, often as a faith based denomination. A regular occurrence with a large scale organized faith denomination can be found as a form of a large scale, faith based, live action role playing game that one can call Dungeons And Deacons; Regularly with this type of D&D, the gaming campaign play takes the form of a large crowd with assigned gaming campaign roles of Sitter In Pew, Singer In Choir, Collector Of Donations. A common shared focus for all these D&D gamers is the Stander In Pulpit, who is usually also the Deacon Manager, or DM. For such denominational game players, the regularly scheduled D&D campaign events are sometimes daily, often weekly. The point of being seen at any such gaming events is to thus assure oneself and others that one is taking part in the overall faith.

    Of course, even ongoing participation fails to solve the two biggest ongoing central problems anytime that mere faith is declared to be a Deity Supported Fact: One problem is that a recurring explanation of any continuing success in history by a large scale organized faith is that a successful faith is just an opinion that had its own army. Also, because of the uncertainty guaranteed by faith, a facet of faith is that when considering the possible schisms in any faith that will occur over enough time, the smallest number of such schisms that will occur is equal to the number of participants. With this in mind, therefore, one rather obvious axiom is that any one faith is thus completely interchangeable with any and every other faith. What someone may do because of some faith is a different matter, but to do is actual action and practice rather than faith, mere faith is merely faith.

    Between playing Dungeons and Deacons, and that bit about providing proof, the D&D players can start to resemble particularly rabid sports team followers, except that the sports fans keep having an advantage that the D&D players will never make up for; sports activities actually happen, and can be documented. For every D&D proclamation that NameOfDeity Will Provide!!, any sports aficionado has the ability to pull up actual sports statistics involving actual and witnessed games. When the followers of two different sport teams start screaming at each other regarding the superiority of one team over the other, there can always be the next game to settle the argument. When one or more Dungeons and Deacons players start demanding that all must believe simply because Some Person says so, there is no followup game or demonstration to prove the point, because, well, the lack of any and all actual proof to show any other person is exactly what mere faith consists of.

    When looking at occurrences of such blind What Everyone Knows---and what “everyone” plays as a variety of self reinforcing D&D---, there is a saying that's turned up in a faith called Christianity that is something like Going to a church makes you a Christian the way going to a garage makes you a car. Absolutely, of course all variations on this are equal, such as mosque/Muslim, temple/Buddhist, ashram/Hindu, etc./Etc. Turning Pratchett around, merely believing is indeed not seeing, is not being aware, is not having the knowledge. Anyone can believe anything without a single shred of reality, and many do.

    At that point one has returned to the joke about money for sex, except this time the joke reads: What do think I am, gullible?? And the punchline is: Oh, we've established that you're gullible, now we're just discussing the amount.

    And then there is religion.

    For situations of genuine, actual religion, such comes from the ongoing personal religious practice of an individual, and that individual's ongoing, reflective, direct, personal experience, in what ever form that may take for whichever person. Of this, a personal religious practice often can and does have the same mythos and trappings of some large organized faith, however, the reason that the personal religious practice supersedes mere faith is because the conscience and practice of the individual always takes precedence over that mere organized dogma of mere faith. Because of this issue of the personal experience and awareness taking the lead, the ongoing root of an actual religious practice isn't whatever instances of things that go bump in the nighttime, an individual's actual and ongoing practice comes from whatever that goes bump in the daytime. In response to that, there can be someone whose reply is that things just don't go bump in the daytime, absolutely everything can be researched and explained and logically solved by reason and reasoned out rationality---or if reasoning still doesn't explain what's happening, there is always the old standby of I don't believe that!!! The complication there is that while a good deal of assorted occurrences can be researched and explained---and after that one just goes to denial---, there still are also the situations where that explanation gets rather too interesting for a denier to successfully handwave it away. Because of those situations, there are people who are just like 71-hour Ahmed; They actually are substitious because belief really is an empty concept. Such a person knows from direct experience that empty belief is something to be discarded.

    A number of years ago, I met up with someone who has a very definite personal religious practice, with absolutely no doubt of her being entirely religious, without even a trace of mere faith. In her case, on rather regular occasions, she would have Jesus Christ, the center of the Christian faith, turn up and matter of factly announce to her that one event or another was going to occur to her, or near her, and much of the promised events were going to be complicated or difficult. On another hand, he would also note that even regarding some major upheaval that she was going to be quite in the middle of, she was going to come through with everything being just fine, at least for her. And, as a very particular note of her practice, quite regularly, in her experience, everything would turn out exactly as described, every time. Pratchett again: She didn't have any belief in Jesus, she had the ongoing seeing.

    My personal direct religious experience is not the same as hers, albeit I definitely have my own. While I rather expect that quite a lot of people also don't have the same experience as the woman I was chatting with, those people certainly possibly have had some sort of very personal experiences of their own. Of such experiences, they have quite certain knowledge of what they have encountered, but probably just like the woman, they have no way to show or prove any of that experience to another, where the experience can only be told of to another.

    With faith, the ongoing problem is that there always has to be some focus on the details of the faith that always get demanded by someone else, rather than the practitioner being able to rely on experience. With faith, as long as some separate other keeps having to be involved, one then has only faith to rely on for any verification. With a religious practice, there may be many who are together doing a practice, but even with the many individuals doing the one practice, each individual is doing an individual practice. And, as always, the main issue will remain the individual who actually does that practice rather than merely relying on mere belief.

    A recurring facet of mere faith as opposed to an actual religious practice is fundamentalism, with a demand that only very particular occurrences and beliefs are all that is allowed to exist. Noting an American revolutionary named John Adams, Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. Faith claims to be truth, and the fundamentalist demands that faith be considered fact, but actual fact keeps being a part of reality. In reality, there are people who need to move lots of stuff about, and there are people who need to move far faster than just running. For the person with the heavy and large lifting, the reality is that a large powered vehicle will be large enough to easily carry and move things. For the need for speed, a car with more recent development rather than earlier development can reach immense speeds. The fact of a vehicle is and will always be; can some random vehicle do what is needed? If not, there will be a different vehicle. The fundamentalist is the only one who will insist that the only allowable car is a Ford model T that is painted bright pink with sparkles, and anything else is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!!!!!

    One complication that does come up with this sort of study and search for actual experience and actual religious practice is the person who claims to be trained, claims to be an expert, but who can not even begin to describe what to do. When encountering someone who seeks to do a practice---and above all test that practice---, the most that the poser ever comes up with is to merely and emptily announce, over and over again, that This process is going to take a lot of time. Merely repeating such a statement, and only such a statement, to someone else is not a way of teaching. Instead, it is a stalling attempt by someone who has nothing to offer but obfuscation and obstruction, done by someone who can't teach, by someone who refuses to teach, by someone who merely demands to be seen as an expert. Quite correctly, the one and pretty much only response to such a non-teacher is to ask what is the process, what exactly does one do that will take a lot of time. In addition, the actual student will also and pointedly remind and keep reminding that the sooner one starts on that practice which will take time, the sooner one will arrive.

    ---Of course, what would be nice is to have that rather obvious non teacher finally realize the rather obvious truth of being a complete fake, being a revealed fake at that, and with that realization, finally also start on that practice. At least one will then have a fellow student to work with. Usually though, the pretentious pretender will finally just start screaming curses at one and then stomp out the door.

    Rather in turn, a handy example of actual religion as opposed to mere faith would be the concept of the Cooperation Circle, as created by Bishop William Swing and the United Religions Initiative (URI). According to a URI webpage on Cooperation Circles:
    A URI Cooperation Circle is a self-governing group of at least seven members from at least three religions, spiritual expressions, or Indigenous traditions—including atheists and agnostics.

    Cooperation Circles work on two levels: by tackling important community issues their members care about, and by giving people of different backgrounds a chance to work together. As members work side-by-side on projects that benefit everybody, the resulting interpersonal connections transcend harmful stereotypes and lay the foundation for peaceful coexistence and appreciation of diversity.
    With a Cooperation Circle, someone who is religious can carry out some realization or intent that is inspired by that genuinely personal occurrence of religion. At the same time, when working in a Cooperation Circle, that religious practice has the advantage of filtering out anyone who has only faith and is required by that faith to have nothing to do with anyone outside of that mere faith.

    Noting that the Abrahamic faiths do have a rather large footprint with the overall topic, there are indeed some references which quite point out that difference between the declarations and showboating of mere faith as contrasted with the practice and occurrences of actual religion.

    In Judaism's Tanakh, there is Melachim I 19:12-13:
    12: After the earthquake fire, not in the fire was the Lord, and after the fire a still small sound.

    13: And as Elijah heard, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and he went out and stood at the entrance to the cave, and behold a voice came to him and said: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
    In the Christian testament, there is Matthew 6:5-6:
    5: And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    6: But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    And there probably are some other similar references elsewhere as well.

    Direct personal experience vs mere hearsay is the absolute bedrock of that unbridgeable gulf between mere faith and actual personal religious practice. Particles vs waves are just stories about light, even as light does indeed continue doing whatever light really does. Regardless of all the frantic handwaving of mere faith, any personal religious practice involves only the facts of that individual's experience and awareness, where what is supporting the practice is that entirely of that individual's experience and awareness.

    Going in Latin alphabetic order and taking Buddhism first, there is a good deal of What Everyone Knows about Buddhism, but when reality arrives, things get rather uncertain from there.

    In many cases, What Everyone Knows is The Grand Concept that Buddhism is faith, Buddhism means having faith in some Buddha, and therefore Buddha is a god and one worships Buddha . . . or something like that . . . . .

    Or in actuality, or not something like that.

    A basic set of facts---or much repeated story bits---is that there was a fellow named Gautama who lived around 500 BCE, or so, in what is now Northern India, or so. Following a good deal of training which basically served to clear out a lot of philosophical underbrush, he arrived at or stumbled into a practice of enlightenment, of going from day to day with none of the encumbrances of the unenlightened . . . . which is indeed a very general summary of what is called the Buddha-Dharma. Of the Buddha Dharma, an extremely general overall summation is that the Buddha-Dharma is the practice of becoming and then remaining being fully enlightened. Being fully enlightened is the practice and experience of having direct awareness and understanding of all that is, as it actually is, rather than only going along with random guesses and some idea of What Everyone Knows. A recurring bit of commentary about Buddha-Dharma and being enlightened is that once Gautama became enlightened, he wasn't really certain if he could really teach what he now practiced, given that the practice is described as subtle, deep, and hard to grasp. On another hand, the observation was also made that there would be some who would be able to learn and do the practice anyway.

    Sometime in the early 21st century, someone else had an observation about enlightenment:
    Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It's seeing through the facade of pretense. It's the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.
    In the meantime, regardless of being a subtle concept, what is involved is a form of religious practice rather than mere faith. The point of what Gautama practiced and taught, the point of the Buddha-Dharma, is for the practitioner to also become a buddha, and then continue on through whatever may occur while being and remaining a buddha. What definitely does not occur in Buddhism is the worshipping of a buddha. What also does not happen is a hope that some deity or other entity is going to be on hand to do something helpful---if that does actually happen, great, but that's not the practice. Just as seeing is not merely believing, in the practice of the Buddha-Dharma, there is only that ongoing personal direct awareness and experience.

    By about the 400s CE or so, a new interpretation came up with a general label of the pure land.

    The essence of the pure land dogma is that if someone is a properly devout worshipper of some particular buddha, when the follower dies, that buddha will ensure that such a person will be reborn in that buddha's Western Paradise. Note that locational reference, it's about to come up again. Once the devout is in that Western Paradise with that buddha, then the devout can go about becoming enlightened.

    There are many, many, theories and studies and much research regarding how the pure land doctrine got started, and where it may have come from, but one set of observations does come to mind. As noted, Gautama is considered to have first taught about 500 BCE, with Buddhism then spreading out from what is now northern India, or so. In turn, about 500 years later and off to the west from India is the rise of of the worship of a fellow named Jesus Christ, such worship called Christianity, starting on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and then moving west from there, to Rome.

    The essence of the Christian dogma is that if someone is a properly devout worshipper of particularly Jesus Christ, when the follower dies, Jesus Christ will ensure that such a person will join him in Paradise. Note that the eastern coast of the Mediterranean is in the western direction from India. Once the devout is in that paradise with Jesus Christ, then the devout can at that point remain in that paradise.

    While noting that Christianity and the pure land doctrine require only a change in labels, one also notes that while all Roman roads do lead to Rome, other roads lead elsewhere. The various parts of the Silk Road, running from the Mediterranean all the way to China, had already been established by 100 BCE. Even as Christianity travelled west, it certainly also would have travelled east, and syncretism has always been the order of the day---Just ask the Romans about the Greek gods, for one example.

    The pure land dogma as contrasted with Gautama's personal practice is an example of a recurring Buddhist version of What Everyone Knows, in that the pure land involves a system of organized faith rather than a personal religious practice. While the pure land dogma did develop, in doing so, a personal religious practice basically morphed into a form of mere faith, being instead Buddhianity, rather than Buddhism. At the same time though, actual Buddhism did continue.

    There is a story with a name of The Flower Sermon, which tells of Gautama simply holding up a flower without comment. Many of the monks sitting with him at the time are puzzled and relatively frantically try and think through what must be going on. However, one of the monks simply smiles and is declared by Gautama as being the one who understands the moment--and the issue was not being able to smile. That monk more or less became Gautama's successor, and is credited as the first of the Zen practitioners. He did understand the moment, but there was and still is that bit about subtle, deep, and hard to grasp.

    Jumping forward to the 1600s CE and moving to Japan, there was a Zen master named Bankei, where he gave talks to assorted large groups, and a number of those talks were recorded by one or more of his followers.

    Bankei states that all that one needs from moment to moment is provided by what he called The Unborn Buddha Mind. In at least one talk he comments that when a child is born, then simply by existing, that child automatically is in and acts in the UBM. From there, things do tend to go awry because those around the child teach the child to exchange the UBM for something else. As far as what the UBM does, of what the point is, one example that Bankei gives is that while everyone there is listening to him, everyone is also hearing the birds chirping nearby. However, when the birds chirp, no one is suddenly wondering what that odd noise is, the thought just floats up as Bankei is talking, those are birds that are doing the chirping. The source of the thought and the effortless understanding comes from the UBM, where the sound of rain is understood as rain, birds are understood to be birds, the understanding is just there, no effort is needed. All one needs is to be and stay in the Unborn Buddha Mind, and go on through one's day.

    In more modern terms, one's breathing and continued heartbeat are not considered concerns, they just keep going. As somewhat of another modern example, there are the times that someone hops into a car to take an extremely familiar drive, the person is extremely distracted by some issue, the issue keeps getting thought about pretty much exclusively even as the person is at the wheel of the car. In time, the person arrives at the destination, and sometimes the person realizes that there is no memory of actually doing any of the driving, but the person arrived safely and at the correct destination anyway . . . . . So, in a sense, the person clearly was not driving at all, and thus, in a sense, the UBM that is always present was doing far more driving than the person was.

    There is a concept with assorted names such as No Mind, the No Mind, no mindedness, there is a Japanese term of mushin no shin, which gets abbreviated to just mushin, with a meaning of mind without mind. For the driver who successfully and safely got to a destination even through less than ideal attention was going on, the no mind is what would have been doing the driving. As a further contrast from an actual religious practice vs mere faith, when doing a practice, one does---there may be some recurring bits of consciously doing step A, then B, now do C, but the focus is on the doing. In enough time of doing, a variety of muscle memory becomes engaged . . . and thus there is the action of no mind being an example of doing that gets done.

    Noting that issue of labels such as "Buddhism" and what is clearly "Buddhianity", there are a number of people who are indeed doing a practice where the Buddha-Dharma definitely comes to mind. At the same time, a recurring situation is of a very definite practice that is being done rather than merely worshipping, but very few, if any, mentions of Buddhism: Specific instances will have their own details, but regular occurrences are people will say that actually, no, they are not Buddhist. Often, the practitioner will actually point out that “Being Buddhist” is having that label called Buddhist, whatever that may mean, where instead, what is actually occurring is a moment to moment practice of the Buddha-Dharma . . . or so. In many cases that have occurred over time, even a label of Buddhism may not even come up, where there may be some different long term label, or there may be nothing more than some overall explanation of This Thing I Do. Again, the issue is the personal practice; from moment to moment, the important matter is what occurs in the ongoing personal awareness, never mind what someone else may do or say.

    Much more recently than the 1600s, a fellow named Eckhart Tolle wrote a book called The Power Of Now, telling of his personal experiences, what he had learned to do for himself, and what any and all others can also do in the same way. A gist of what he comments on is that as someone goes from moment to moment, there is only the now, the moment that is currently going on. Yes, there is whatever has occurred previously, and in time another something will occur, but the only ongoing concern for any individual is the current moment, and keeping one's self in the current moment.

    As Tolle comments in his book;
    I woke up in the middle of the night. The fear, anxiety, and heaviness of depression were becoming so intense, it was almost unbearable. . . . Every thing was totally alien and almost hostile. . . . And the thought came into my head, “I can’t live with my self any longer.” That thought kept repeating itself again and again.

    And then suddenly there was a “standing back” from the thought and looking at that thought, at the structure of that thought, “If I cannot live with my self, who is that self that I cannot live with? Who am I? Am I one—or two?” And I saw that I was “two.” There was an “I” and here was a self. And the self was deeply unhappy, the miserable self. And the burden of that I could not live with. At that moment, a disidentification happened. “I” consciousness withdrew from its identification with the self, the mind-made fictitious entity, the unhappy “little me” and its story. And the fictitious entity collapsed completely in that moment, just as if a plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What remained was a single sense of presence or “Beingness” which is pure consciousness prior to identification with form—the eternal I AM. I didn’t know all of that at the time, of course. It just happened, and for a long time there was no understanding of what had happened.
    Quoting from a 2003 Telegraph Magazine interview with Tolle, what one should do is
    . . . “not to stop thinking, but to step out of being completely entangled in the stream of thinking”. This, he believes, “is the the real meaning of spirituality. People still think spirituality is having certain belief systems — in God or angels — but ‘spiritual’ means to be able to step beyond the conceptual reality in your head. In other words, accessing the dimension of stillness within yourself.”
    As a somewhat simplified overview, Eckhart Tolle's commentary is Bankei's UBM, 400 years later and written by Tolle in English, instead of having someone taking notes in the Japanese of the 1600s.

    A number of additional examples turn up here and there. In 2004, an Australian named John Safran did a variety of faith as seen by comedy overview called John Safran vs God. In one sequence, he visits someone in India who is said to be a Hindu guru who has the understanding of the meaning of life. When Safran asks the guru his questions, the guru and his followers reply by asking of Safran who is Safran talking to when Safran says he is talking to the guru. A particular point is made that:
    There is no relation between him and the body. If you want, you can ask the body . . . When one loses his individuality, through action and wisdom, he becomes free. . . .
    After a bit, Safran comes up with a nice and direct question of What is the meaning of life? The guru seems stumped, and finally just walks out without an answer, where by that point one of the followers has already stated Whatever has to be said, it will take time. It cannot come in a hurry. . . . It takes time. Noting Tolle, noting Bankei, and going back to Gautama, there was and is still that bit about subtle, deep, and hard to grasp. And, as that guru was reminded, also, subtle, deep, and hard to explain.

    One person who has an excellent approach to that explaining issue is another contemporary commentator named Loch Kelly. Kelly has trained with a number of others, where noting that issue of labels, he teaches what he calls nondual mindfulness.

    Echoing Bankei, Kelly points out the advantage of direct experimentation and practice instead of random faith based speculation. He recommends to just declare that something just is, and then very proactively test for the presence or personal direct experience of that something---and quite obviously, as with faith, if what is claimed never appears, then it rather probably does not exist. What Kelly notes, as with Bankei, is that one should consider that one is a buddha already, consider that one already can have the awareness of what is, one just needs to particularly do the ongoing practice, and then then very particularly keep doing that practice.

    Yes, there is the question of what is indeed that actual practice, and Kelly quite echoes Tolle, where the practice is to immerse in awareness rather than get lost in thought: Not even facetiously, and quite directly from Buddhist commentary, Kelly notes that thinking is merely another form of sensing, along with sight, hearing, smell, etc. Very particularly, yes, thinking occurs, but thinking is what one does, thinking is not what one is. At that same time that one is using thinking, rather than being thinking, there is that issue that thinking is the sense that doesn't have a handy off switch---hearing uses the ears that can be covered, smell uses the nose that can be plugged, touch is wherever one feels a physical touch, and then thinking just keeps occurring in one's head, or seems to. Because of this lack of an off switch, Buddhism has another term for thinking; The chattering monkey..

    Given that the chattering monkey does indeed keep chattering, Kelly has as a starting point the matter of using thinking to solve problems. When solving a problem, especially one that has not been encountered before, that does tend to involve thinking, doing analysis, creating a solution. In turn, given that practice of becoming detached from thinking, rather than attempting to stop thinking, Kelly asks a very particular question. While you are being aware that thinking is just a tool, while you are being aware that one is not that which does the thinking:

    How does everything feel when there are no problems to solve?

    ---Quite particularly, the question does not ask what to think about when all problems are solved, the question asks: What is one aware of when thinking is not needed, how does one feel when thinking is not used? When I first heard the question, I was immediately aware of a very violent flinch away from the question. And no one around me had moved. And I also had not moved, and I, me, the one observing, was not the one who flinched. In my case---and probably anyone else---that chattering monkey would have been the one who flinched.

    Why, yes, Kelly does have a couple of books out as well, his first being an effective technical manual for humans called Shift into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness.---the book is rather literally an effective tech manual, a matter of reading through the instructions for what to do. Rather than do what is admittedly a good deal of general handwaving in trying think one's way to something that is subtle, deep, and hard to grasp, treat the whole issue as awareness being something to practice, rather than something to think about. He offers a variety of testing exercises to directly focus on that ongoing awareness, or, as Bankei put it, the Unborn Buddha Mind. His approach is to offer a number of variations that one can test out, where if the first isn't a match, drop that and move to the next.

    From there, and with that in particular awareness---rather than “in mind”---, Kelly has a particular description about doing the ongoing practice: As one goes through all the actions and occurrences of a typical modern day, treat the practice as something physical to soak oneself in and indeed marinate, marinate, marinate.

    Keep referencing based on awareness rather than intellectual analysis, go to where the awareness just is, abide in the Unborn Buddha Mind, be in the now, and marinate, marinate, marinate. At the same time, Kelly also points out that one should not just disappear into a perfectly lovely haze, Oooh look at me, I are meditating, I are. Doing that is what a teacher of Kelly's refers to as stupid meditation. The actual practice is indeed to marinate, marinate, proactively interact with all around one and do not disappear into a haze, marinate, marinate, marinate.

    Echoing what was said by the followers of the guru whom Safran was talking to, Kelly has a further reference to Tolle and the idea of It takes time:
    Tolle’s story is an example of sudden, unintentional awakening. For me and for many others, the same process happened more gradually, through a series of shifts.

    While the idea of sudden awakening may hold a strong appeal, we need to remember that Eckhart says that it took him ten years to integrate his awakening. I know many people who’ve had similar experiences of awakening but were never able to integrate them. This kind of identity transition does not fit into our conventional cultural understanding of human growth, and so these individuals who experienced sudden awakenings had no context in which to place them. Their experiences were too foreign for them to categorize and make sense of. Many did not have the resources (books and people) that described the process of going through this kind of consciousness shift. Most of these people didn’t know how to familiarize themselves with and stabilize in their new sense of Being.
    Of that fellow from several paragraphs back who points out that enlightenment isn't simply some entertaining amusement ride, his name is Adyashanti, and he is another instructor who teaches in parallel with and is an associate of Kelly.

    There is yet another observation that the practice of doing awareness will keep being beyond thinking, being beyond what can be described with words, being subtle, deep, and hard to grasp, and this is another comment by Adyashanti. He was doing a bit of question and answer after giving a talk, and someone asked him to describe enlightenment. This telling is paraphrased from memory, but his immediate reply was something to the effect of Yes, no problem, it's . . . . . . . . . No, that's not it . . . no, that's not going to describe it . . . no . . . not that either . . . I . . . I don't really have a description, nothing I can think of is quite correct . . . Remember that guru that John Safran was talking to? Effectively, Safran had the same question.

    And there is a story---another one of the Buddhist ones---that underlines doing the practice, doing what is actually needed as it is needed as part of the practice, nevermind what someone may claim must be some practice or lack of it. The story more of less tells that:
    One day Subhuti was resting underneath a tree when flowers began to fall about him. As he looked around to see where the flowers were coming from, he saw that the gods were the ones throwing the flowers, and so he asked why. We are giving praise for your discourse on nothingness, the gods whispered to Subhuti. But I have given no such discourse, replied Subhuti. Exactly, said the gods. The blossoms continued to shower upon Subhuti as rain.
    Overall, the point isn't oblivion: Seeking or doing nothingness is much more an observation that if there is no gain in adding to a situation, then don't add anything, and then practice that on all scales and levels of what one does and is . . . as needed, in what situation. And, at times when there is something to do, an email, the groceries, thinking about some logistical issue, going for a walk, then while still doing the practice of awareness/nothingness, just go and do that email, the shopping, the thinking, the walk.

    In noting this practice of awareness over thinking, a set of tools, parameters, concepts that one can make use of include:
Considering balance
Where and what is location
The Unanswered Questions

    For considering balance, as a contrast to thinking, consider where does balance occur, how does it work? Yes, for an infant, or someone with some physical issue, balance is a matter of difficulty, but then even in the difficulty, what is balance? One with balance is aware of having balance, of standing and walking without falling over, but in doing so, one doesn't have to think about balance, but one is very aware of balance, and just does balance.

    For noting location, consider that one is aware that one is. As a part of that awareness, consider being aware that there is a house that is some great distance away. Consider where is the house specifically, what is the one and only direction for pointing to the house? Well, if one is aware of the relative geography, all one needs is to point towards the house. Now consider having hopped into a plane and flown to where the house is, albeit the nearest airport is actually a bit past where the house is. Once one arrives at that airport, with the house location being somewhat a constant, one then has to apparently reverse references and point in the opposite direction, but then the reality is now that the house is in a different direction to point towards. Now consider not just arriving at the house, but in being inside the house. At this point, one is aware that one does exist and presumably has some location. However, regarding pointing in the one direction towards that house, when one is inside the house, what always the one and only direction to point at the house?---There isn't one. The person doing the pointing is not the same as the house.

    Again with location, if this seems a repeat of what the guru's follower told Safran, it is. A popular answer is indeed going to be that a body does indeed exist, a person can indeed get pointed at, when one points to oneself, one does not point at another . . . except, keep noting that house. One may have a house and live in a house, but as one notes by going to that house and then going away from the house, a person is not a house. What about a car? Certainly there are those where the all time focus is The Car---usually a particular brand name car. Except that the car owner existed before getting the car, and in time, the owner is rather likely to get a different car, or even get a second car, which rather underlines the issue. If one is one's car, then when one has two cars, which car is the person? A person is not a car. What about clothing? The same occurs. One wears and then changes one's clothing, one is not the clothing. So one is now back to that body, which generally has two arms, two legs, two hands, two feet, and all the rest. In turn, if one should lose a hand, is the person now gone? No. If someone is missing a foot, is the person missing, no. These days, with advances in medical options, one can replace the liver, lungs, heart, kidneys, and still the one does not vanish with the missing organs. Thus, one is not one's body, and just as one uses thinking and is not the thinking itself, one's body is the same as that house and there is no established location that one can be located at.

    For the Unanswered Questions, well, when noting direct experience, and direct certainty, there are all The Really Big Questions: What happens when I die? Why and how is everything created? What are the winning lottery numbers? For questions such as those, there is a story that one day someone went to Gautama, and the telling of the story amounts to I went to Gautama to ask him The Big Questions, and he says he won't tell me the answers, and I don't like that!!!! There are several variations on the particular story, with names like The Shorter Discourse With Malunkya or With Vacchagotta on Fire.---And Vacchagotta isn't actually inflamed, he and Gautama are just discussing the concept of fire.

    The stories have variations on the questions, but the questions are all on the scale of What happens when I die? What happens to the earth sometime? When did the earth get created? And so forth. According to the story, Gautama's reply is that the Unanswered Questions are all unprovable What Ifs and therefore there is no reason to answer them. One can and maybe will someday have a direct experience that answers one or more of those questions, but even then, that isolate person is still not going to be able to transmit that direct experience to another because language and thought aren't enough---and, also there is that point that perhaps that knowledge doesn't even exist in the first place. Until that direct experience may occur, the issue isn't denial of knowledge, the issue isn't that one only gets The Big Secrets when [Name Of Deity] says it's OK. The issue is that none of the big questions ever have anything to do with this moment, with being and staying in this moment, with having the awareness of this moment and thus then acting or not acting based only on one's intelligence as guided by one's experience.

    As one continues on, the thinking about Stuff does just occur, thinking is indeed very useful, let it occur rather than attempt to shut it down. Yes, the mind will wander, but the awareness is known of and can be pulled back into one's proactive attention. When the attention wanders, do pull ongoing awareness back into place, and with that awareness, marinate, marinate, marinate. One rarely has to choose between talking to someone or standing upright, balance just happens as the conversation gets thought about. Marinate in the awareness and while doing so, type up an email. Marinate, marinate, go shop for groceries. Do the practice of the awareness, go about the day, with the awareness, marinate, marinate, marinate. A concept can be subtle, deep, and hard to grasp, but when one is always proactively doing the concept as one does other passing stuff, then in time the practice becomes the default, and everything else is then blended into and will come from the practice.

    And in doing an ongoing practice of direct personal experience, practicing ongoing awareness rather than mere belief and mere faith, doing such is definitely not some sort of Buddhianity. What Everyone Knows is that something that is called a religious practice obviously has to involve worshipping some god or several . . . except that the ongoing reality is that What Everyone Knows actually happens to be quite wrong.

    Rather as with Buddhism, Shinto also involves a good deal of What Everyone Knows, albeit if some particular someone actually does know anything of Shinto. For this section on Shinto, one of the issues with learning of Shinto is that it is indeed Japanese, in the sense that if one is fluent in Japanese, fine, but if not, then one has to rely on a lot of translation to some different language.

    Because of that issue of translating out of Japanese and, in this case, into English, a good deal of the research for this section came from a number of books, particularly:

Shinto, The Kami Way, Sokyo Ono
Japan's Holy War, Walter Skya
A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine, John K. Nelson
An Introduction to Shinto, David Chart
Shinto Practice for Non-Japanese, David Chart
Explaining Shinto, David Chart

    Very much in the research, there is a fellow named David Chart. David was born and grew up in Britain, and at some point began to study Japanese. After awhile, he moved to Japan to do a year long further study of Japanese. The year ended, he stayed. He is now naturalized Japanese and works for an organization called Jinja Honcho, which David has described as being something like the Shinto version of The Vatican, if Shinto had an actual Vatican. David's commentary is online in quite a few years of ongoing online posting, and some of his assorted essays have been combined into book forms, quite discussing assorted aspects and history of Shinto.

    Regarding Shinto and what Shinto consists of, just as with Buddhism, one will usually start with some version of What Everyone Knows: Shinto is The Japanese Faith and therefore is The Religion that is called The Way Of The Gods, and everyone in Japan worships these gods. The Really Big God is actually the Goddess Of The Sun, and is The One Who Created Japan. Another Really Big God is the Emperor Of Japan, who is documented as being The Direct Descendant of The Sun Goddess, and that is how the Emperor Of Japan is therefore A God, and therefore Everyone In Japan Worships The Emperor.

    In short; No.

    And in some cases, Noh.

    Shinto got started somewhere, or several somewheres, on the Japanese islands. Shinto got started at some time, but the minutes of that founding meeting got lost or apparently were never even written down. There are quite a number of variations of what is considered to be Shinto, and there is a lot of political history that has occurred in Shinto, however, by the current times, each of the variations remains distinct only in that there are different practice variations. These days none of the variations are considered to be The Original Shinto or The One Twue Weally Ultimate Shinto.

    Shinto has no scripture, so to speak. There are a number of collections of Shinto references and legends that date from the 700s CE, the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki, and then again even the Nihonshoki has a number of conflicting variations of the original legends. While one notes those conflicting details in that commentary, the documents definitely are descriptions from the 700s of already quite preexisting Stuph We Do And Stories We Know, rather than being something merely thought up at the time because someone decided to write a novel. Of archaeological studies of different locations in Japan, there is evidence of quite developed Shinto practice as far back as the 300s CE. Again, if there were any notes taken at the 300s CE meetings, the secretary subsequently lost 'em.

    As far as What Shinto Does, Chart has a couple of particular summations in his book Explaining Shinto.
    When I try to briefly describe Shinto, I say that it is “the native religious tradition of Japan”. . .

    First, every word of the definition is controversial. Some people object to “the” on the grounds that there are other traditions that are not Shinto. Some object to “native” on the grounds of external influence, or even origin. Some object to “religious”, and some of those people are Shinto priests. Some object to “tradition”, either because they think there is no single tradition, or because they do not think it has enough history to claim that title. And some object to “of Japan” because they think it is more localised than that, or, in other cases, because they think it is part of a broader tradition that can be found in other countries.
    And from a bit later in the same text:
    I read, somewhere, a story about a Shinto priest at an international conference of religions who was asked “But what is your theology?”. He is said to have paused, and then replied, “We have no theology. We dance”. I have no idea whether the story is true, but it captures the reality well.
    With no theology, no scripture, and dancing done by a priest, what about some average practitioner? What does some quite totally random person do that is the practice of Shinto?

    Another book by Chart is called An Introduction to Shinto. Of words in this next excerpt that turn up such as torii and jinja, a torii is the gateway that marks the formal entrance to a jinja. A jinja is the name for what is basically a Shinto temple, basically---A particular jinja might be just a fenced off area with no building and just a torii.
    . . . here I want to describe the basic rites involved in visiting a jinja to pay your respects to the kami.

    First, you stop just outside the torii, and bow very slightly before going through. Once you have passed through the first torii you are within the sacred precincts of the jinja. . . . .

    At the purification font, bow very slightly, and then take one of the ladles with your right hand and fill it with water from the font. . . . .

    Walk along the sacred path until you reach the prayer hall. . . .

    Bow very slightly, then ring the bell and throw a small amount of money into the collection box. . . .

    Next, bow deeply twice. . . . After bowing, clap loudly twice, . . . . Finally, bow deeply once more.

    You then leave the jinja along the sacred path. When you reach a torii, you should turn back to face the prayer hall, and bow slightly.
    At the very least, for the most basic practice, all one needs to do is that single person visit to a jinja, purify, bell and coin, bow and clap, and leave. And one only does that when one is so inclined, be that a couple of times a month at some time of one's choosing, be that every day, whatever the individual wishes. Looking online at websites for what are probably rather small jinja, one can see specific reminder notices that the first of the month is coming up, so the jinja is doing some special program because it's the first of the month. And of course, while attending the event, one can do one's monthly or so practice.

    There are larger scale activities that occur at or in the vicinity of a jinja throughout a year, such as particular celebratory festivals which are called matsuri. However, matsuri are particularly arranged and scheduled events for the entire local community, which anyone can attend, whether one practices Shinto or not. Matsuri definitely are not some sort of weekly occurrence where all are expected to show up strictly to demonstrate affiliation. In addition, one can set up one's own personal altar at home, and do the practice with that. If an individual does have an interest in something more involved, given a particular issue or specialized prayer that one wishes to have done, one can get in touch with the priests at the jinja. Granting an assessment of the details, a priest will be more than happy to set up whatever is needed. When arranging for such a more detailed occurrence, one should expect to make a resultingly larger donation to the jinja than just the tossing of a five yen coin, but then more effort and detail would be involved with such an additional request anyway.

    Thus, Shinto is not some large scale faith variety Dungeons and Deacons game campaign, but instead, it remains a very personal observation and practice. And very particularly, the point is that the participating practitioner is actually doing the practice,

    Oh, yes. And also in Shinto, there are the kami.

    In Shinto, the kami are the reason for going to a jinja, doing one's practice at home or so, and are pretty much as close as one gets to the D&D variety of faith, faith, faith . . . . but very particularly, kami does not mean god. In some cases, the immediate local kami will be That Waterfall Over There, where when a kami is some very obvious physical object that one can stroll towards for a closer look, well, there is zero faith involved because, well, that kami is right there in plain view.

    The complicating bit from there is that kami does have a number of assorted meanings and examples and situations. Very much so, the matter of what are the kami goes back to that story about Feynman and what is the nature of light, and notes the observation that Shinto is very Japanese because, well, the original terminology is all in Japanese.

    And now, back to Chart, and back to Explaining Shinto:
    Expressing many central ideas in Shinto in English is hard, because of the problems with translation.

    There are two kinds of problem. One is relatively straightforward: things that are used in Shinto that simply did not exist in English speaking countries, at least until very recently, and thus have no established English name. The other is rather harder. There are quite a few important concepts in Shinto that do not match up well with any concept in English.
    Of Kami, the following is pulled from Chart's book An Introduction To Shinto.
    The best definition of “kami” may be “what you venerate when practising Shinto”, because Shinto places much more emphasis on what you do than on what you believe. One widely accepted explanation is that “kami” refers to anything that has an outstanding impact on people’s lives, including the kami that appear in the ancient legends of Japan, spectacular natural phenomena such as mountains, oceans, and waterfalls, ancient trees and woodlands, and exceptional human beings.

    The nature of kami is also very ambiguous. On the one hand, they are generally thought of as invisible spirits. On the other hand, Mount Fuji is literally a kami according to some traditions, not just the home of an invisible spirit who is the kami of Mount Fuji. (Of course, some other traditions do say that Mount Fuji is the home of the spirit.) Similarly, some kami are human beings, and there are a number of kami venerated today of whom there are many surviving photographs, while other kami have no traditional form at all. . . . .

    Although kami are powerful, they are not all-powerful. A number of ceremonies are intended to increase the power of the kami, and many kami are known for being particularly powerful in certain areas, such as scholarship, healing, or farming. Even so, it is not right to think of a kami as being the kami “of” scholarship, for example, because any request can be taken to any kami. Similarly, kami are not all-knowing. One standard form of Shinto ceremony is an announcement ceremony, to tell a kami that something has happened, and a number of important festivals take the kami round an area, in part to show it what is happening and how the area is doing.

    Nor are kami necessarily good. There is a very old tradition in Shinto of venerating kami because they are frightening and dangerous, in the hope that the veneration will persuade them to refrain from causing disasters. . . . Thus, the fact that someone or something is venerated as a kami does not necessarily mean that Shinto practitioners think that the kami is admirable, or should be imitated. . . .

    By now, it should be clear that “god” is a very bad English translation of “kami”. “Spirit” is better, but still not good, because it decides the ambiguity between the mountain and the spirit in favour of the spirit. This is why I do not translate the word at all. It is also why I talk about “venerating” kami, rather than “worshipping” them. “Worship” is very strongly associated with the idea of an all-powerful creator god, the source and standard of good and evil. “Venerate” is less common, but it is sometimes used for people who have done something that is very impressive. It is, therefore, a better match to the attitude of many fervent Shinto practitioners to the kami. The kami are powerful and important, and must be treated with respect, but they are not the centre of the universe, and did not create it.
    From later in the book:
    Furthermore, the kami are believed to enjoy the offerings of food, sake, and kagura (sacred dance) made during matsuri, and to listen to the norito (prayers). Often, they are believed to answer those prayers.

    Looking at Shinto practice, then, we can say that kami are treated as if they are invisible spirits that exist at a particular place, and that are consciously aware of what happens there. They also treated as having the power to answer prayers, by healing illnesses and ensuring success in business, for example. It is difficult to say how many adherents of Shinto actually believe this, but they behave as if they do. . . . .

    . . . . there are two categories that are particularly commonly taken to have spirits that serve as kami. These are natural phenomena, and ancestors. Natural phenomena include mountains, rivers, springs, waterfalls, wells, and trees. Animals are not commonly venerated as kami, although they are often venerated as the servants of the kami, and it is not uncommon for kami to take animal form in the myths. Ancestors are exactly what they sound like; many of the kami mentioned in the myths are the notional ancestors of clans that were important at the time, and your ancestors become protecting kami of your family a few months after their death. . . . . .

    . . . . There are some ancient kami who appear to be the spirits of artefacts, such as houses or boats. Even more unexpected is the kami of Tamakazura Jinja in Nara Prefecture, who is a fictional character in The Tale of Genji. Tamakazura is not legendary, but fictional: The Tale of Genji is a novel, and was always known to be a novel. The setting is contemporary with the author, but none of the characters existed. While the Catholic Church would never canonise Father Brown (from G. K. Chesterton’s short stories), as saints are, at least officially, not fictional characters, fictionality appears to be no bar to being a kami. Whatever her origins, Tamakazura is a kami now.
    And also:
    In 1956, to mark the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Jinja Honcho, the organisation created and adopted a text that laid out the fundamentals of Jinja Shinto as a religion. My translation is as follows.
    Principles of a Life Honouring the Kami

    The way of the kami (Shinto) is the great way of the eternal heavens and earth, cultivating a noble spirit and serving as the foundation for the creation of peace and harmony. We fulfil our duties by revering the will of the kami and continuing the teachings of our ancestors, bringing the heart of the way ever more into practice, to increase the welfare of the human race. Here, we state these principles to make our goals clear, and aim to promote the great way through their practical application.

    We carry out matsuri in bright and pure sincerity, offering thanks for the blessings of the kami and the gifts of our ancestors.

    We serve others and the world, establishing the world as the bearers of the words of the kami.

    United in harmonious fellowship under the will of the Tenno, we pray for the prosperity of Japan and for the peaceful coexistence and flourishing of the world.
    Differences between Japanese and English make this translation, as with any other, difficult, and so you should not closely analyse the nuances of the translation; they almost certainly differ, in important ways, from those of the original. . . .
    ---Of that reference to the Tenno, the Tenno is the Emperor of Japan, but then, while the Emperor is certainly very involved in Shinto, he is in no way the or a central focus of Shinto.
    One important ambiguity that does not translate is in the final principle. The word I have translated “the will of the Tenno” is “Omikokoro”, which literally means something like “Great Honourable Heart”. I have translated it this way because that is how it is normally used by the Shinto establishment, but the Japanese is ambiguous. It does not, for example, have a close association with direct orders, and it can also be used to refer to kami in general, not to the Tenno. Thus, it would, linguistically, be legitimate to remove all direct reference to the Tenno from the principles, although that would be misleading at present.
    So for a variety of summary: There is Shinto, where there are kami, but sometimes kami means That Big Tree Over There and definitely does not mean god. Also, there are priests in Shinto, and sometimes a priest will say that there is no religion involved.

    So much for all sorts of varieties of What Everyone Knows.

    There is another set of observations that apply by about this point in the discussion, that of:
Actual practice
Parallel practice
Situational worlds
---Particularly, the latter two actually bring in interesting issues of actual practice.

    Actual Practice: Having a look at the matter of practice, there is a short movie with some interesting commentary and a title of Japan: Where Gods Aren't Gods and Worshipers Aren't Religious (Shinto Explained). And, in the movie, Chart is a guest commentator, and the question is raised of Are Japanese "religious"? The comments are made that only 3% of Japanese claim to be Shinto, only 36% claim to have any religion at all, and most of them are Buddhists. Further statements are made that in the UK, about 70% of people say they're Christian---with a clarification of about 60% actually---and about 3% go to church---with a clarification of more like 5%. In Japan about 3% say they're Shinto, and about 70% go to jinja.

    In another movie that Chart provides commentary for, Shinto In Everyday Japanese Life, the comment is made that;
    They also don't think of a lot of things they do at jinja as religious activities. In fact, last year, an area in Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu did a survey of all the priests there, and only half of them thought that Shinto was a religion. So if something has to be consciously religious, in order to be Shinto, about half of all Shinto priests aren't doing Shinto.
    There is another comment that rather fits in with all the careful sorting out of meanings. From the wiki page on Shinto;
    Determining the proportions of the country's population who engage in Shinto activity is hindered by the fact that, if asked, Japanese people will often say "I have no religion". Many Japanese avoid the term "religion", in part because they dislike the connotations of the word which most closely matches it in the Japanese language, shukyo. The latter term derives from shu ('sect') and kyo ('doctrine').

    Official statistics show Shinto to be Japan's largest religion, with over 80 percent of the country's population identified as engaging in Shinto activities. Conversely, in questionnaires only a small minority of Japanese describe themselves as "Shintoists."
    Noting that faith leads in one direction, where personal religion leads in a different one, for these two comments, there is a very handy different phrasing that is available. Instead of exactly what was just quoted, let us consider slightly different wording:
    In fact, last year, an area in Kumamoto prefecture in Kyushu did a survey of all the priests there, and only half of them thought that Shinto was a large scale organized faith . . . .

    . . . . if asked, Japanese people will often say "I have no faith" . . .

    . . . . Official statistics show Shinto to be Japan's largest personal religious practice, with over 80 percent of the country's population identified as engaging in Shinto activities . . . .
    And regarding kami again, noting Chart again:
    . . . . One widely accepted explanation is that “kami” refers to anything that has an outstanding impact on people’s lives, including the kami that appear in the ancient legends of Japan, spectacular natural phenomena such as mountains, oceans, and waterfalls, ancient trees and woodlands, and exceptional human beings.

    . . . On the one hand, they are generally thought of as invisible spirits. On the other hand, . . . .
    Therefore, in Shinto, there are the kami, and the kami are all around, but definitely aren't declared by Shinto practitioners to Be The God(ess)((e)s). In turn, the expectation is that one should regularly do something involving kami, just the same.

    With these in mind, one possible analogy for Shinto is an actual practice of keeping in touch with one's cousins---and an important point is definitely that of cousins, plural--- . . . Get on the phone, say hullo, tell the latest news, see what information may come to mind . . . in this case, certainly there may not be much of a reply from the cousins that a jinja is the focus of, however, continuing to keep in touch with one's cousins can be quite beneficial . . . . . . . .

    Parallel Practice: When it comes to parallel practices, this doesn't mean Shinto variations or somewhere in Japan. At the same time, when one sees there are a number of instances floating about elsewhere of feathers, webbed feet, a flat bill, and quack, ahiru does come to mind. And regarding a particular parallel instance, there is a study and extension of a particular set of practices that one person has done which has since proceeded to start its own growing area of study and practice.

    As a very extremely general approximate overview, Shinto posits that the kami are and one keeps in touch.

    There is what's generally described as Chinese ancestor worship, apparently with a number of different forms. There certainly can be a form of My Grandpa, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . . but given what has turned up in a number of assorted cultures, what if worship is the wrong term, where Grandpa was a really good businessman when he was alive, and two generations later, the grandson wants to consult with the known family business expert?

    In Roman Catholicism, there is the practice of having saints, saints, saints---being assorted individuals who have been particularly extremely religious and who died at some point previously---and where according to Catholicism, one can more of less consult with such saints to get things done. Catholicism is one of the sects of Christianity, and therefore a matter of faith, faith, faith . . . . but just the same, there is that model of consulting with saints . . . .

    In a number of locations there is a practice with a name such as Voodoo, Voudon, whatnot---in Wikipedia at the moment there are listings for West_African_Vodun, Hoodoo_(spirituality), Louisiana_Voodoo, Haitian_Vodou---where in some form or another of these, one does note variations, but rather often there is some form of the lwa, often being ancestral spirits, which come into the ceremony, usually by turning up in one of the participants, and thus are available for consultation.

    There is a book and a documentary called The Jew in the Lotus which tells of an eclectic collection of American Jewish practitioners having a several day conference in India with the Dalai Lama. At one point a rabbi is describing Jewish mystical concepts where an angel of Jews is talking to an angel of Tibet. At that point, the Dalai Lama suddenly got even more interested, noting discussions of guardian devas with whom one could be paying attention, consulting with, from day to day.

    And also for that promised very particular reference, in the 1950s and '60s, a fellow named Bert Hellinger was a Jesuit missionary in and among the Zulu in South Africa. During his time among the Zulu, what he found is that when the the Zulu would comment on consulting with the ancestors, it wasn't a metaphor. What was done probably didn't involve digging into a grave, but apparently very accurate ancestral consultation did occur. A number of years later and after leaving the Jesuits, Hellinger became a psychotherapist and developed a system, method, tool, research process, whatnot, with a name of systemic constellations.

    When one looks online to see discussions of systemic constellations, there is rather a lot of assorted vaguery and handwaving in trying to describe what is going on. Feynman discussing metaphors about light comes to mind again. Just the same, a fairly reliable expectation is that at some point in someone's notes there will be a description that is some form or summary of There you are minding your own business, and then along comes a flood of someone else's data.

    What happens in a formal constellation is that of a group of people, each is somehow given a role, a representation, something of the sort. The role can be someone's grandfather, can be a client with a question, can be assorted concepts such as The Future or Success In Exams, can be entire nations---of what is referred to as nation, a current government can indeed be a role, but usually nation means The Entire National History And Population Of Some Geographical Area Dating From Whenever Founding Date To Now---A role can be pretty much whatever or whoever is of interest that needs to get looked at. And a facet of assigning roles is that on many occasions, additional accompanying roles start turning up, so more representatives get added in. Very importantly, while the representative has the role, that representative can matter of factly report what the representative is aware of from moment to moment, related to that role---A very common occurrence is the role is assigned blindly---the representative is given a role, but has no idea what the role is, and can only report what information turns up, with no idea of particular significance. Another observation is that regardless of any participant's lack of familiarity with the content of a role or of the rest of the constellation, the information that the participant reports rather tends to be completely accurate, as if the role were the one standing there and reporting, rather than the representative.

    As far as an explanation of how that information turns up, so far, that definitely involves absolutely immense amounts of handwaving. In simple terms, so far, no one knows how it works, but everyone does keeps noting what does occur. However, one easy observation is that wearable MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, does exist or is being developed. Doing quite a number of constellations, with all participants undergoing MRI during the process, might prove quite informative.

    Situational Worlds: Of the issue of situational worlds, Shinto states that kami are, but then from there, where are kami? In this, Shinto involves two different areas, Kenkai and Yukai, the everyday visible world, and the everyday invisible world.

    For quite a number of faiths, there is the here and now that everyone is in. At the same time, what is more important in such faith is someplace elsewhere, often where [Name Of Deity(ies)] is said to be located, sometimes with assorted believers, or maybe sometime there are other assorted locations where other events occur, all such depends on the vagaries of whatever random faith. In the case of Kenkai and Yukai, both are the here and now, at the same time, and keep occurring, and there is no other location---In assorted Shinto legends, there are indeed some occasional references to something like additional upper and lower worlds . . . . and there is also lots of discussion of what those references might actually mean and when did they really appear in Shinto.

    Now, what does one do with a statement that kami inhabit an invisible world and one does interact with such kami? When being told that kami are sometimes in the form of natural occurrences, consider seeing the wind---one can feel a breeze, where one does not see it, because wind is invisible. One can see what the wind does, and during a tornado or hurricane or typhoon, once can certainly see what can result from a lot of very intense wind, but what about seeing only wind? Another example is that of doing electrical work: At all times, an electrician is going to behave as if there is some sort of very lethal kami that is constantly running through the wires, a kami that the electrician does not want to ever encounter in person---The electrician sees the results of the kami being present, lights go on and off, a microwave oven or a heater provides heat, motors turn. But, if the electrician grabs a live wire with bare hands, the electrician is then quite likely to encounter that kami once, and then also head off to the invisible world. And also, in a world where you know something in particular can exist and be present all around you, but not be at all visual, consider seeing an entire corporation that one is considering working at---one can see the assorted logos, buildings, people, but what of the complete overall whole? And, noting what occurs in constellations, a role in a constellation doesn't stroll into a room and start handing out sheets of paper with briefing notes. Just the same, constellation participants regularly show reactions as if someone is indeed handing out written out instructions.

    Another way of looking at the situation of conceptual worlds is of pyramid variety hierarchy vs theatre: According to the hierarchy model, everyone has a place and is required to be in that place, the lower level people are below the higher level people, the higher level people direct and command the lower level people, and at the top of the pyramid is The Big Name, where in the case of rather a few faiths, The Big Name is The God(ess((e)s). The hierarchy is declared to be the only concept that can exist, everyone is usually permanently in place, there is no way for someone lower down to ever be the top of the pyramid, that is just the way things always are. One who is visible just has to accept by faith that yes, there really is some invisible entity that is at the top of the pyramid, in the meantime, just stay where you are and do what you're told and that invisible one up there that you've never seen will be happy with you.

    Now by contrast, and particularly noting an idea of overlapping visible and invisible worlds, consider theatre, and sometimes particularly improvisational theatre---where the audience and the actors are the visible world, with the theatre staff being the invisible world. .

    In the visible world, there are the audience members and the actors, where the audience members show up to see the actors, and the actors show up to be seen by the audience. The actors do stuff on stage, with the audience watching and sometimes commenting, where the theatre production can not exist without both. Only with an actor carrying out a role can the audience see what occurs in that role. One has to be an audience member or an actor for the production to occur.

    And then making up the invisible world, there is the theatre staff. At the front of the house, there are the ticket sellers and the ushers. In the back of the house, there are the stage hands, the director, the costumers, the building support staff . . . and more . . . and granting the variations of a production, all of this staff is needed to have the theatre occur with the audience and the actors. The audience members may never see most or all of the theatre staff and only see each other and the actors, the actors also may never really see or directly work with a good deal of the theatre staff.---Yes, the theatre staff do exist, but all their jobs could be done by people dressed in black, wearing gloves and masks and showing zero certainty that there is an actual person there.

    With this view of overlapping visible and invisible, the closest to a hierarchy that occurs is that a director can be giving directions to get a play created, but only orders the actors about, not the ticket sellers or the audience. Once the play is created and rehearsed, the director is done. At that point often a stage manager then steps in, running the show as an absolute dictator---a god, if one likes---, but still the stage manager has no command over the ticket sellers or ushers. The theatre manager is in control of the theatre and operations, but does not run the stage or the production. There is no hierarchy to the audience, there are people in seats---in many theatres, some seats may be better than others, but consider a theatre in the round with just one ring of seats.

    And, in turn, there are audience members and actors who then turn around to do ticket sales and ushering, who become stagehands, who run a stage. There are the theatre staff members who see a play or act in one . . . . Those in the invisible work have the power of running the theatre, opening the doors, turning on the lights, keeping the production going, but they themselves are not the production, the production details can only occur with the audience and the actors. With the practice of the buddha-dharma, there are the quite visible practitioners and buddhas, where yes, there are the unanswered questions, they are deliberately, intentionally, left invisible because operating a spotlight or opening a curtain has nothing to do with being an actor or an audience member. In Shinto, the practitioners and temple staff visibly do what they do, where invisibly there is a practitioner's reactions and understanding of the kami . . . and of course, equally invisibly, only a kami would be able to report on being a kami.---Yes, when trying to apply an actual practice of visible and invisible, there is going to be the question of any actual swapping between the visible and invisible worlds. Then again, on one hand, there are assorted anecdotes that rather fall into the unanswered questions category, and then on an other hand, this paper is definitely being written in the visible world and is not going to be able to be written as invisible . . .

    Location is another issue of What Everyone Knows, and certainly has instances of The Grand Concept. As Chart comments regarding a definition of Shinto,
    . . . And some object to “of Japan” because they think it is more localised than that, or, in other cases, because they think it is part of a broader tradition that can be found in other countries.
    Variations happen and research by reading has shortcomings. Granting that, when digging around in print and online, there are those assorted non-Japanese locations noted above with rather a good deal of Keeping In Touch With The Cousins. What about actual Shinto? One non-Japanese location is Amsterdam, in The Netherlands. Amsterdam comes up due to Paul de Leeuw, a Dutch Shinto priest who trained with the Yamakage Shinto School and who has done Shinto ceremonies and corporate ground breaking in Europe since around 1981. In turn, there is Saipan, where the Saipan Katori Shrine is in the Northern Marianas United States Commonwealth. Saipan may be a bit obscure, so how about Hawaii? For Hawaii, there is the Wakamiya Inari Shrine, the Izumo Taishakyo Mission, Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha – Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu, and also the Hawaii Daijingu Kyodan, and apparently some others. In Granite Falls, Washington, on the US mainland, there is the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. In Los Angeles there is Shinto Shrine of Shusse Inari in America, where the website states that there isn't yet a formal jinja location, but there is a YouTube channel.

    In turn, with Shinto being a matter of noting kami, many different jinja can have the same kami as a particular focus. At the same time, whether in Japan or out, many different jinja will have different kami enshrined at them, one's mileage definitely will vary:

    At the Izumo Taishakyo Mission one finds Okuninushi-no-okami.

    At Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha - Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu there is quite a list of kami, including Ohmono nushi no kami, Michizane Sugawara, Takenouchi sukune no mikoto, Takitsuhime no mikoto, Minakanushi no kami, Ukatano mitama no O-okami, and O-owatatsumi no kami.

    At Daijingu Temple of Hawaii, the website states:
    The kami enshrined in the Hawaii Daijingu Temple are many; The Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the myriads of kami who flank Amaterasu Omikami, the national father George Washington, the nation’s restorer Abraham Lincoln and other men and women of distinguished services, King Kamehameha, King Kalakaua, and other men and women of great services to the state of Hawaii.
    ---Yes, while noting that kami are sometimes documented, notable, historic figures, the kami at that jinja do include the American presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, along with Hawaii's King Kamehameha and King Kalakaua.

    Washington state's Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America lists Sarutahiko-no-O-Kami, Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, Amaterasu OmiKami, Ugamitama-no-O-Kami, and also includes America Kokudo Kunitama-no-Kami (protector of North American Continent) and Ame-no-Murakumo-Kukisamuhara-Ryu-O (Kami of Aiki-do and the circulation of KI between Heaven and Earth).

    Occasional questions turn up online asking if Shinto can take place outside of Japan. Taking the United States as a definitely large example, from what I can see, there is indeed one definite reason why Shinto is not practiced in the United States on a large scale, and only one reason: That one reason is indeed only that fact that Shinto is not practiced in the United States on a large scale.

Plumbing And Carpentry
    As noted way back at the start, according to The Grand Concept, there is only The Grand Concept. Extending from that bit where people claim that faith is religion and vice versa, a part of that is The Grand Concept that once one locks into just one faith, there can only be that one faith, there is nothing else possible, etc, etc. Except that faith and religion are two separate occurrences, and the religious practice of an individual is going to depend entirely on that individual, what that individual chooses, what that individual encounters.

    A recurring observation of Japanese religious practice is a summary of "Born Shinto, marry Christian, die Buddhist", but in no means is this a matter of ricocheting through assorted stages during years of Being Japanese. One is born, and the news goes out among the situational and extended cousins that there is another cousin in the family. At some point the new cousin gets taken to the neighborhood jinja so that the new cousin can be formally introduced to the long established old cousins. Time goes on, and one's awareness and being aware of who and what is around one tends to increase and get refined. When one can get an all out ultimate awareness of what is around, one facet will quite include keeping in touch with the cousins---The story is that even if the Buddha-Dharma is subtle, deep, and hard to grasp, Gautama decided to see who else might learn. For the practice of awareness by everyone in general, unless one is a complete and utter hermit, there is at least just saying Hullo to someone.

    In time, relationships and marriage happen, and big family gatherings will get even bigger when two sets of families are involved. At that point there are indeed all those bigger than usual buildings that people go to for really large games of Dungeons and Deacons. At the times that a D&D game isn't being held, all that space does tend to be available to rent and even include all those pews to sit on. Often there is even an aisle between two sets of pews, one for each set of family. And in the front of all that seating, there is that spot where the Stander In Pulpit goes, where the marrying couple thus also get to become the center of the shared attention. After the wedding, that is indeed where more of the cousins come along, where again the news goes out of the new cousins, even while continuing to practice the most extensive awareness that one can.

    Finally, in time, one's ongoing religious practice of awareness does extend to getting some actual answers to those unanswered questions. Again, even if symbolic or metaphoric, at that point one moves on to become a kami for one's descendants.---And while noting again that much very detailed and rigorous research remains to be done on and in systemic constellations, in enough time there may be someone who wants to consult with grandpa or grandma sometime after grandpa or grandma has long since achieved awareness of being a kami . . . . .

    A basic and ongoing reality of a personal religious practice is that when one's personal practice overrides some variety of The Grand Concept, there is nothing that can or will be done to change that---Always remember that quote from John Adams, and after all, How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, once they've seen Bugtussle? Such a displacement over What Everyone Knows occurs with both Shinto and Buddhism.

    Instead of being mere faith, a general overview of Buddhism is that the Buddha-Dharma is a religious practice of ongoing awareness and overall detachment. The practitioner continues to be aware of passing thoughts, peoples' occurrences, faith based delusions, and remains separate from all such while continuing through and past all of that. In Shinto, again, rather than some faith oriented What Everyone Knows, a general overview of Shinto is that the Shinto practice is a regular focus on, more or less, as it were, keeping in touch with one's cousins. Even when such can be seen as purely symbolic and metaphoric, again, unless one is a complete and utter hermit and never encounters anyone else, one should expect that those nearby will note that a practice of some sort gets done. When one is one practitioner among many, then there will be that matter of everyone noting that others around them are doing the practice, being in the crowd during the large matsuri, being in line going into the jinja to toss the coin, ring the bell, do the bow and clap and bow---Even if the focused upon cousins might be symbolic, there are going to be the extended metaphoric cousins that one is in line with.

    Of Shinto and Buddhism together, doing active awareness is not an exclusive action that prevents everything else. Whatever is the nature of occasionally checking in with one's cousins, that too is certainly not going to be exclusive. Going back to those numbers of What Japanese Do, while there are the complications of being certain of such numbers, when looking at Japanese religious practice one gets such results as the percentage of Shinto practitioners being up to 96%, and the percentage of Buddhist practitioners being 67%. Granting that Buddhianity will get lumped in with the Buddhism, What Everyone Knows claims that such exclusive practice numbers must obviously be wrong. In this case, what is wrong is What Everyone Knows. As a matter of detail for these instances, one actually has to practice being aware as a part of being in touch with one's cousins, and when being in touch with one's cousins, one has to practice being aware.

    The two main issues being addressed by this paper are the problems with What Everyone Knows, and, in turn, The Grand Concept. What everyone knows is that faith is religion and there is only the one belief . . . . or not.

    With Buddhism and Shinto, definitely as general overall observations, there is being aware, in having all the awareness of all that is, and along with that, there is keeping in touch with one's cousins, where in this case, that means all the cousins. These two different foci are quite different religious practices from each other with pretty much no faith involved at all. Each of the two can relate to each other quite well, and by no means does one have a way to displace the other.

    In many instances, What Everyone Knows can be perfectly fine, and sometimes can actually be accurate . . . And in turn, there are indeed many instances where The Grand Concept is indeed accurate. However, reality also is that instead of always having only one monolithic label, there are times when two quite different concepts can interlace and both can occupy the same area of attention.

    And with Buddhism and Shinto, they do.


©Cassiel C. MacAvity

--This is just extra space added to let the links work . . .