August 29, 2007

The Kami of Shintoism

Shinto, a popular religion in Japan that recognizes the existence of invisible (but existent) nature spirits, is really the heart and soul of the Japanese people. Shinto  has no official  founder nor scriptures as in Hinduism or Christianity. However, although the Japanese would deny it,  over the centuries it has been influenced by  the Chinese school of Taoism.

The  "Shinto gods" are called kami, and basically these are the protector gods or protector deities we find mentioned in many cultures. Every city, state, town and country has them….whether or not you believe in them, whether or not your religion acknowledges them. An invisible world of chi beings exists (doing their thing ) alongside our own.  The "Dragon King," supposedly in charge of rain for a region, is one such example as are some other powerful spiritual beings that make their homes in rocks, lakes and so forth.

Cultivate a bit and you’ll start to encounter these beings, made of chi, who have their own jobs in the world separate from your own. For instance, one of the watchman deities for a city looks like a walking stick with wings that flies from here to there checking on things  see if there are any problems. Other deities have human forms, and others not. There are beings  that produce plagues, beings involved with natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, … the categories of beings are too numerous to enumerate.

There are countless such beings in  the world that you can only see once you open up your chi channels and attain samadhi, and there is an intersection of interlocking interests between the kami and human world at times. Not always, but at times. If you cultivate you can make friends with such beings on a personal level. If you have the Tao, you end up teaching them.

Shinto shrines are simply  places of worship or places that pay homage to the kami.  Not places of worshipping the kami, as they don’t have the Tao either, but of respecting them and hopefully creating better relationships with them.

When a king went to a mountain in ancient times to make offerings to heaven, the kami would be there to observe the proceedings, as would the higher level Desire Realm beings responsible for protecting the nation. A nation has karma, and some of it can be changed by human and non-human efforts. If the king offered sacrifice and asked for assistance in case of a famine, drought, flood and so forth, they’d do what they could in their power to help matters if the karma of the people merited it. That’s why the prophets in the Bible would urge people to repent and change their ways, because  only then would they develop the merit for a new fortune to arise. All nations have protector deities….what happens is not just the result of human affairs.

Do kami exist? Of course. Most cultures do recognize them, but remember – they do not have the Tao. Even most heavenly gods and goddesses don’t have the Tao.

There are thousands of types of invisible sentient beings in this world alone, not to mention other worlds and realms. Even Christianity recognizes invisible higher celestial beings  – angels, archangels, archai, thrones, dominions, powers, cherubim and seraphim – which can sometimes, according to Aquinas, assume corporeal forms. Kami, if they cultivate, can sometimes do this as well, including the protector deities of towns and villages….and countless stories from countless cultures talk of a kami who suddenly appears out of nowhere to a good, virtuous man and advises him on some problem or difficulty. India and China are full of such stories.

Of course, the kami are still very low level beings in terms of the cosmic scheme of things. Most are still just Desire Realm inhabitants without any major degree of samadhi. Make friends, but don’t worship. They’re still trying to cultivate to the Tao, too.

So that’s kami for you.

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