Shinto is often described as the indigenous faith of the Japanese people. It is probably more correct to define Shinto as being the indigenous faith of the human race that has been preserved by the Japanese people.
Different than many religions of the world, Shinto has no founder and no body of sacred writings which its adherents must follow, and this aspect of Shinto reveals that it was the primordial faith of the human race. The idea of a religion having a founder and its practitioners must follow a set of “sacred” writings can only be defined as someone from an advanced civilization sharing its culture with an uncivilized people. Think about it for a second. Although religious mythology throughout the world may vary, there is one point that is consistent among these; all of the world’s “prophets” that carried a “divine message” had to deliver such to an uncivilized people, or a nation that fell in discord with the way of heaven and earth.
Shinto reveals there was a time when man held the standard of its creator, after the ways of heaven and earth. It was a time of innocence, though concerns over the basic human needs and survival were always prominent in the mind of man from his beginning.
While it may be difficult for some to imagine the life of the human race during a time of such innocence, if we were to reflect on the basic aspects of life that preoccupied man during times of remote antiquity, the vision is easy to capture. Families worked as a unit to acquire food, shelter, and clothing. In such an environment, life was simple and egoless.
It was in this egoless state that the clarity of man’s role in the universal scheme of things was easily seen. Human existence could not be possible if nature did not provide man with food, sustenance, and shelter. Based on such, it is evident that man was dependent on its primary parents, the Earth, the Sun, and other aspects of nature that life, and its sustaining qualities were all made possible. Following the way of the gods, is following the science of life. It was during the 6th century A.D., after Mahayana Buddhism had taken root in Japan, that this science of life was called Shinto in effort to distinguish this primordial faith from foreign spiritual practices that were gaining popularity in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The term Shinto is composed of two kanji, “shin” meaning divine, gods, or spirits, known as Kami, and “to” meaning path of study, the way, a derivative of the Chinese term tao. The term Shinto was used to describe the practices of the indigenous people of Japan, and in some ways these practices resembled many of the rites practiced by Taoists who entered Japan from China. Taoism is another faith that borrowed much from the nature cults existing in China. The Encyclopedia of World Environmental History, Volume 3, by Shepard Krech, states the following on page 1111:
“Many scholars now believe that Japanese actually borrowed the word “Shinto” from an eighth-century Chinese word for Taoism…In the eighth century, the Yamato state that Taoist priests travel to Japan from China, and in time the entire Japanese conception of empire and even the cult of emperors themselves took on a Taoist flavor. Nonetheless, early Japanese probably did not identify, isolate, and categorize Shinto as their “religion.” Rather, for a people who lived close to nature on a wild and mountainous archipelago, Shinto probably constituted everything they knew and sought to know about the natural world.”
Krech’s observation confirms points presented in our discussion. First, the indigenous practices that relate to the nature cults of Japan, which were later called Shinto, were not viewed as a “religion” in the modern sense of the term, but was in fact the science of life. Secondly, we learn that “Shinto probably constituted everything they knew and sought to know about the natural world.”
Different than present-day opinions, it is modern man who has regressed during recent times and become primitive in his thinking. He is now a terror to the very thing that sustains his life, nature. His ego dictates that he is superior to the very thing he needs to survive. The ego of modern man has led him to categorize those who followed the ways of the gods as primitive. It is a sad state of affairs indeed, for he has lost his way and does not know how to communicate with the world around him, something that every living creature in nature can do. It is interesting to note that even in the insect world, there is a relationship between creatures of different kinds, plant life, and the heavenly bodies. Unfortunately, the ego of modern man has made it appear that the reverse is true, where the nature cults of old were not advanced in their knowledge and were primitive in thinking.
While the ego of modern man has led to the massive destruction of Earth’s ecological system, he attempts to reinforce his egotistical views on the world by exalting the religions of the handicapped. A religion whose adherents believe in morbid concepts, like the creator of our entire universe requires a human sacrifice to forgive man, and still be considered a god of love. Another hypocritical belief is that the creator of our entire universe would actually command one nation to go out and kill every man, woman, and child, of an opposing nation in order to acquire some land. It is in the propagation of these so-called religious ideas that we find the plights of an egotistical sociopath accepted as the actions of an intelligent being. After establishing a spirit of disillusionment by spreading such morbid propaganda around the world, modern man then attempted to invalidate his own point of origin in an effort to appear superior. Today, we find this hypocrisy has finally spread to areas of academia as seen in the modern definition of Shinto itself. Many Western sources have implied that Shinto began around 700 A.D. This is a ridiculous claim since we know that Shinto has no founder or sacred body of scriptures. If Shinto has no founder how can it be given a said date of origin? Efforts such as these clearly illustrate how propagators of various morbid systems of spirituality try to make their degrading theological views actual fact. It is a very sad thing indeed.
Shinto is the science of life. The indigenous people of Japan knew it as such, and incorporated in it are all aspects of life, including philosophy, religion, and science. Shinto is not a belief system, but the life you lead. There are many Japanese people who view religion as a system of control, or for the emotionally handicapped. It is due to such that many Japanese people will say they are atheists. This view does not make them less spiritual in their approach to life. But systems that appear separate from life are viewed as schemes to rob the spiritually malnourished. The fact that “Shinto” itself is not a religion, but a way of life, can be seen in its most scientific aspect, namely, the Kami.