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BI 3223 Worldviews, Lipscomb University

Unit 6A

Asian Worldviews (part 1)




General info:

  • “Hindu” named after the Indus river
  • India has 17 major languages and 22,000 dialects; Hindi speakers are the largest but not a majority.
  • In 2023, India passed China to become the world’s most populous country, estimated at over 1.425 billion people.

The Trimurti, three major Hindu gods (since the middle ages)

Brahma the Creator: Brahma is sometimes said to be self-created, or born from a lotus out of Vishnu’s navel, or hatched from the cosmic egg. After the act of creation, he has little prominence, often referred to as “grandfather,” aloof, unaware or unconcerned about the consequences of his actions. He is often depicted with four heads: as his daughter/consort Sarasvati tried to avoid his lustful gaze, other heads grew up in each direction that she ran.

Vishnu the Preserver of cosmic order (dharma): represented with blue skin and four arms. Vishnu appeared on earth in nine previous avatars (or incarnations; avatar means “descent”) during the present Great Age, with one still to come. At times he has appeared as a fish, a turtle, a brahmin priest, a warrior. His most famous incarnation is Krishna, called the “slayer of demons,” still the most popular of all Vishnu’s incarnations. Krishna appears as a major character in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata (see below).

Shiva the Destroyer: also god of fertility. He has three eyes, for one day his wife Parvati playfully covered two of his eyes and the universe fell into darkness; he created a third eye to restore light. This eye destroys by fire. Dancing Shiva symbolizes the eternal movement of the cosmos, but also he dances to bring about the destruction of maya / illusion (i.e. this world) at the end of each kalpa (see great ages below). Hindus do not think of Shiva as evil but as a necessary aspect of reality and the cycle of life.

The teaching of Hinduism

Hindu religion is more philosophy than doctrine. There is no authoritative hierarchy or clergy; the religion is highly decentralized with multiple sects, perfectly acceptable to Hinduism (in contrast to the regrettable divisions within Christianity). Hinduism claims that there are different spiritual paths for each person (Kinsley 7).

A practical definition of Hinduism: performing the duty (dharma) of one’s stage in life and social status (caste).

  • Dharma means many things in Hindu thought, but the principle meanings are duty, righteousness, law, and cosmic order.

Other important terms:

  • Karma = moral law of cause and effect (deeds of past lives determine conditions of the present)
  • Samsara = rebirth according to the nature of a person’s karma; what we are now is the sum of all we have done in the past
  • Maya = illusion, false ideas of reality

Dharma and caste

Dharma means fulfilling one’s duty in one’s station in life, which is determined by birth not merit. Each person is born into a distinct caste, depending on the karma from the past lives. There is no crossing over or intermarrying from one caste to another, as this would disrupt the social order. Brahmins are the highest caste because they have faithfully executed their duty in a previous life; lower castes must have served society poorly to be born into their caste, but if they perform their duty in this life, they have hope of being reborn to a higher caste. Thus dharma focuses on maintaining social and cosmic stability (Kinsley 84).

The caste system is supported by the myth of the giant Purusha from whose head brahmins (holy men) were created, nobles and warriors from his arms, farmers and merchants from his stomach, and peasants from his feet, an example of how mythology preserves the values of a society by rooting present practice in the ancient past, but also can be seen as a means of maintaining the status quo to benefit those in power. Later was added a fifth category, “Untouchables” relegated to carrying out very menial and polluting work related to bodily decay and dirt.

In its preamble, India’s constitution (1950) forbids negative public discrimination on the basis of caste. However, caste ranking and caste-based interaction have occurred for centuries and will continue to do, more in the countryside than in urban settings and more in the realms of kinship and marriage than in less personal interactions. Although some educated Indians tell non-Indians that caste has been abolished or that “no one pays attention to caste anymore,” such statements do not reflect reality.

Reincarnation (samsara)

Are human beings always reborn as human beings?

  • According to the ancient Vedic literature, no. Some are, but others are promoted to still higher forms beyond our present experience, and others are degraded to lower species. Sometimes, for example, we see a person living just like a pig. According to the Vedic teachings, such a person, already practically a pig in consciousness, may get the body of a pig in his next life. To reincarnate as an animal, or in a state of ignorance where the soul identifies with the impulses of an animal, even a cow, is not recommended as an auspicious path to take.
  • The Vedic writings say that there are 8,400,000 species, most of them lower than human. In the lower species, the living beings always act precisely as nature dictates. They have no choice. A horse always acts like a horse, a tree like a tree. You never see a tiger stealing oranges. So the living beings in lower species always advance to species higher. Slowly, one step at a time, they are promoted by nature from one species to the next.
  • But human life affords us greater choice. We can live in harmony with nature’s laws, or we can violate them. And accordingly we may be promoted or degraded. The human life is therefore meant for spiritual realization and for gaining freedom from the cycle of birth and death. No other species offers us this opportunity.

Since we don’t remember past lives, what could be the use of them? They wouldn’t teach us anything.

  • The Vedic scriptures don’t tell us that the only purpose of reincarnation is to learn. According to the Vedas, the living entity forgetful of his eternal relationship with Krishna wants to enjoy the material world, so Krishna affords him repeated opportunities to try to do so. Sometimes the living entity wants to experience the enjoyment of flying, so Krishna may grant him the body of a bird.
  • But spiritually, whatever gains one makes are never lost. If one takes up the path of spiritual advancement but fails to complete it, he may be granted a birth in a pious family or a wealthy one. Or, still better, he may be born in a family of transcendentalists. He then revives the spiritual consciousness of his previous life and again tries to make further progress.
  • By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he automatically becomes attracted to spiritual principles—even without seeking them. And when he engages himself with sincere endeavor in making further progress, he is gradually freed of all contaminations. Then, ultimately, after many, many births of practice, he achieves perfection and attains the supreme goal.

BRAHMAN, the one true reality

The teachings of the Upanishads (8th century BC) are the latest and most philosophical addition to the ancient Vedas (12 century BC). They emphasize the quest for redemptive knowledge, truth that sets us free:

Three main ideas:

  1. existence in this world is sorrowful
  2. no escape from this life to death but rebirth (samsara)
  3. only means of salvation / final escape is knowledge of supreme truth, BRAHMAN
  • The Upanishads take a more philosophical approach to the gods. The many gods are only aspects of the one reality, BRAHMAN (not to be confused with Brahma, the creator or brahmins as holy men).
  • BRAHMAN is the spiritual essence underlying all reality, the only All the gods are only aspects of BRAHMAN, only an illusion in comparison to the one reality. This is the insight of the Upanishads, recognizing an ultimate unity in the multiplicity of gods and all life.
  • BRAHMAN is one, limitless, impersonal, indefinable, without qualities, eternal, unchanging, inactive (complete in itself thus no need to act).
  • BRAHMAN is present in all people in the form of the atman or soul. We must realize that BRAHMAN and atman are one, that our essential self transcends our individuality, our limitations, even our death; this realization brings release (moksha) from illusion.
  • Seeing the world as full of particulars, individuals with egos acting in competition, life as diversity and change – all this is maya (illusion).
  • Release (moksha) from the endless cycles of illusion does not mean “non-being” (a Western concept). In Hindu thought, existence in this world is characterized by the illusion of polarities (good/evil, light/dark, male/female, being/nonbeing) whereas BRAHMAN is beyond these distinctions. (Kinsley 12, 94)

Cycles of time

There are four ages (called yugas):

  • The first lasts 1,728,000 years
  • The second lasts 1,296,000 years
  • The third lasts 864,000 years
  • The fourth lasts 432,000 years (this last age is Kali yuga, our present age beginning 5000 years ago)

Each age sees a decline in virtue (dharma) from the previous. As told in one parable, in the first golden age, dharma stood on four legs like a table, but in the second age it stood only on three, in the third age on two, and now in the present age only on one, thus all but one fourth of the world’s virtue has vanished in the present age.

These four ages, as lengthy as they may seem, are only a small part of the great cycle of time:

  • 4 ages = one mahayuga (great age), 4,320,000 years, after which creation will rest (return to a state of non-differentiation, all being one) for one mahayuga.
  • 1000 mahayugas = one day of Brahma (or one kalpa), 4,320,000,000 years, after which Brahma sleeps and creation rests for one kalpa.
  • Brahma’s lifetime = 100 years of his days and nights: 4.32 billion x 365 x 2 x 100 = 311 trillion years, after which Shiva dances, all things including Brahma dissolve and nothing exists for an equivalent time, then it all begins again.
  • Against such immense scale, one single lifetime becomes insignificant.


Bhattacharji, Sukumari. The Indian Theogony. 1988.

Ions, Veronica. Indian Mythology. 1967, 1983

Kinsley, David. Hinduism. 1982.*

Knappert, Jan. Encyclopedia of Indian Mythology. 1995.

O’Flaherty, Wendy. Hindu Myths. Penguin, 1975.

Stanford, Ann. The Bhagavad Gita. 1970



Buddhism follows the teachings of Prince Gautama Siddhartha, known as the Buddha or “the Enlightened One” who lived in the sixth century BC. His followers believe that, although others can attain enlightenment, only one Buddha comes into each age to teach others the way.

Siddhartha adopted some of the beliefs of Hinduism but changed others (Ch’en 11-12).

  • He kept the belief in reincarnation based on a person’s karma from the previous life.
  • He believed in the cycle of the great ages.
  • He agreed that salvation was final release from the endless cycles of rebirth.
  • He added to the idea of karma that not only our actions but our intentions also matter.
  • He rejected the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas (13th century BC), as the only source of religious truth.
  • He rejected correct performance of rituals as a means of salvation.
  • He protested against the caste system.
  • He denied the existence of the soul (atman).
  • He preached the Middle Way, avoiding both extremes of gratifying the senses in a pleasurable life and of asceticism, extreme self-denial, punishing the body (he experienced then rejected both ways in his life).

The ultimate goal of Buddhism is nirvana, freedom from suffering and rebirth.

Nirvana: the complete cooling of the passions, the extinguishing of the flame of desire. Is nirvana a state of complete nonexistence or at least some consciousness? Siddhartha said that since we cannot know for certain by empirical observation, he refused to speculate on something we cannot understand in this life (Ch’en 60).

Four Noble Truths:

  • Life is suffering.
  • Suffering is the result of desire, craving for passion, pleasure, power (these lead to rebirth)
  • We can attain the state of no suffering (nirvana) by ridding ourselves of all desire.
  • One must follow the Eight-fold Path.

Eight-fold Path consists of three dimensions (Ch’en 33, Lester 82):

  1. Morality
    1. right speech: no falsehood, harmful talk, abusive language, frivolous words, idle gossip
    2. right conduct: no killing (do not destroy life), stealing, illicit sex
    3. right livelihood: avoid occupations that harm others, selling alcohol or drugs, prostitution, killing animals, deceitful astrology or fortunetelling
  1. Wisdom
    1. right views: to have insight into things as they really are, that all existence is suffering, all existence is impermanent, there is no permanent self or soul.
    2. right intention: good will toward all living beings, compassion for suffering, sympathetic joy in the happiness of others
  1. Mental discipline (we won’t go into specific details of meditation)
    1. right effort
    2. right mindfulness
    3. right meditation

Hinduism teaches that the soul (atman) is one with all reality (BRAHMAN) and once the person fully accepts this truth, he is liberated. In contrast, for Siddhartha, there is no permanent self or soul that returns in each rebirth. Belief in a permanent soul is a deceitful delusion, for it gives rise to attachment, egoism, desire for self, which leads to suffering. What we think is the soul is merely a composite of five things: body, feelings, perception, predispositions, consciousness. Each of these changes constantly so that we are not the same person from moment to moment. Why attach such importance to this transitory entity? When we accept the idea that what we call the self is nothing but a stream of perishing physical and mental phenomena, then we destroy our selfish desires and self-interests, and instead of suffering from anxieties and disappointments, we enjoy peace of mind.

How then is a person reborn, if there is no permanent soul? Buddhism explains (not always clearly) that a person’s karma is reborn in another being, but with some connection to the previous life, just as one torch can light another; they are the same and different fires (Ch’en 44-5).

The Six Realms of Existence

  1. The Human Realm is the only one in which one’s choices (good or bad) affect one’s future. In all the others, one is either being rewarded or punished for one’s previous actions in a past life.  One’s present human condition (e.g., wealth, social status, physical and psychological qualities) is based on one’s past karma, but one’s present choices also determine one’s future.
  2. In the God Realm or Heavenly Realm (actually there are many heavens), a person enjoys the rewards of a life filled with good karma. There is no suffering, pain, or fear. One may exist in a heaven for a long time (some say 30,000 years) but eventually, the person will leave heaven to be reborn in the human realm again.
  3. The Asura Realm: Asuras are a lesser form of divine being. Those reborn in this realm lived mostly good lives but harbored feelings of jealousy, rivalry, and conflict with others. In this realm, one enjoys certain pleasures but not as great as in the heavenly realm. Asuras can see into the heavenly realm, realizing its advantages, and thus experience envy and dissatisfaction.
  4. The Animal Realm: Rebirth as an animal is the result of past sins (bad karma). One works off this debt of sin by being hunted, ridden, slaughtered and eaten as an animal. Animals behave on instinct, not moral decisions, so they cannot generate good karma; they are simply working off the bad.
  5. In the Ghost Realm, restless spirits (pretas) are tormented by hunger and thirst, the result of greed and stinginess in previous lives.  Ghosts remain in the places where they used to live, but cannot be seen by the living, thus suffering frustration, loneliness, and despair.
  6. In the Hell Realm, one is punished for one’s evil actions. There are different levels of hell in which particular sins are punished in appropriate ways. Punishment can last a long time (perhaps 60,000 years) but is ultimately impermanent, and when one’s term is up, one is reborn to try again.

Some Buddhists are atheists. Others believe in the existence of gods but they are no different from humans, living out cycles of life working off their own karma. These gods are not worshipped but used as aids in meditation (Ch’en 32). Siddhartha left it up to each follower to believe or not in the gods. As “salvation” depends on efforts of the person and not divine help from above, belief in the gods is unimportant; we must save ourselves. “Be lamps unto yourselves; rely on yourselves and not external aid” (LaFleur 98, Hunt 139).

Sin is whatever harms oneself or another (it does not involve offense against a deity). The worst sin is egoism. The condition of our lives is due not to sin but to past karma. Buddhists seek enlightenment, not forgiveness.

How did the world begin? Siddhartha considered speculating about such matters fruitless and devoid of religious merit, as it offers no benefit for improving our lives.

Three major schools of Buddhism:

  1. Theravada (“the Way of the Elders”) remained faithful to the original teachings of Siddhartha; today found in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
  2. Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”), found today in China, Korea, Japan, developed new teachings.
  3. Vajrayana (“Diamond Vehicle”) or Tantric Buddhism is practiced mostly in Tibet. (Ch’en 62):
  • Theravada Buddhists revere Siddhartha as a great human being but do not worship or acknowledge any gods. Mahayana Buddhists regard the Buddha as an eternal being who is the embodiment of universal truth, rather than just a human teacher. Some in Mahayana may worship the Buddha and call on him for aid.
  • Theravada Buddhism seeks enlightenment for the individual, and advocates the meditative monastic life as the path to salvation and liberation, a path reserved for those few (the monks) who can give up all to follow its austere practices. In constrast, the Mahayana school focuses less on self-improvement toward personal enlightenment, and more toward becoming a bodhisattva, someone destined for enlightenment but who delays his entry into nirvana and stays behind to help others find it as well (the Buddha was one of these teachers). This person is characterized by compassion, love, and altruism. They strive for the end to all suffering, not just their own. Seeking nirvana for oneself alone is selfish, egoism, thus self-defeating, since nirvana means ridding oneself of all selfish desires. Those who strive for their own happiness will never attain selflessness (Lester 87).
  • Enlightenment is attained not by strenuous discipline, but by living a life of compassion for others in devotion to the Buddha. The focus of Mahayana changed from self-salvation to helping others.
  • All men and women, not just an elite few, have the capability of becoming enlightened. (Theravada Buddhism reserves enlightenment only for monks.)
  • Nirvana is not nothingness, but Sukhavati, “the Happy Land” (more like heaven)
  • Zen Buddhism in Japan is a sect of Mahayana.
  • Vajrayana Buddhism developed out of Mahayana Buddhism around 500 AD, and follows sacred texts called tantras. Vajrayana’s main claim is that it enables a person to reach Nirvana in a single lifetime rather than working through numerous reincarnations before achieving salvation. Vajrayana Buddhism involves esoteric visualizations, symbols, and complicated rituals that can only be learned by study with a master. This explains why Vajrayana Buddhism is also referred to as Esoteric Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism lays great emphasis on mantras (incantations), mudras (hand gestures) and mandalas (diagrams of the deities and cosmic forces). In the West, Tantric Buddhism is known primarily for the sexual practices of certain Tantric sects from India, whose adherents strive to transform erotic passion into spiritual ecstasy. In this branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, followers are taught not to suppress their desires but to indulge in them. (



Ch’en, Kenneth. Buddhism: the Light of Asia. 1968.*

LaFleur, William. Buddhism: a Cultural Perspective. 1988.

Lester, Robert. Buddhism: the Path to Nirvana. 1987.*



  • The English name derives from K’ung Fu-Tzu, “Master K’ung.” His real name was K’ung Ch’iu, 6th century BC teacher (contemporary of the Buddha).
  • Confucianism refers to K’ung’s teachings as well as those of his followers, especially Meng Tzu (Mencius) and Hsun-tzu who systematized his teachings a few centuries later.
  • Religion or philosophy? The Chinese don’t make this distinction. Religion is a form of education (same word chiao), its main purpose to instill moral values.
  • Confucianism has no priests, no creed of official doctrines, no public worship, no revealed scriptures
  • K’ung edited the Five Classics, including the I Ching or Book of Changes, used to divine the future.
  • The Analects were composed as sayings of K’ung, recorded by his disciples.
  • In China Confucianism was discouraged after the last emperor of China was overthrown in 1912, and outlawed by the Communists in 1949. But its values still permeate the society, as well as other Eastern countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam.

Human nature:

  • All share a common human nature received from Heaven (another name for God), implying natural equality of all, in contrast to social status, family heritage, civilized (Chinese) or “barbarian” (everyone else). “Within the four seas all men are brothers” (Analects5).
  • Human nature is basically good, although capable of both good and evil, and must be taught the correct way. If virtue is instilled in the person, there is no need for laws. The best form of teaching is by example: “If you [the ruler] desire what is good, the people will also be good.” (Analects19) But conspicuous wealth and greed at the top will teach those below to be dissatisfied and to steal: “If the people are in want, their prince cannot enjoy plenty alone” (12.18).
  • Hsun-tzu was not so optimistic about human nature. Man is naturally evil, the good in him is artificial (that is, it doesn’t come naturally but must be learned).
  • Man possesses conscience, an inner faculty of moral discernment, a sense of right and wrong common to all.
  • The universal virtue is jen, benevolence, kindness, charity, similar to agape love in Christianity (but without the supreme example of Christ). One is not truly human unless he practices jen. Before K’ung, jen was considered an aristocratic virtue, the kindness a superior shows to an inferior. K’ung transformed it into a universal virtue which should apply to everyone.
  • Four other cardinal virtues: correct behavior (li), honesty (xin), integrity (chih), knowledge
  • Five key hierarchical relationships: father/son, ruler/subject, husband/wife, elder/younger brother, friend/friend (only one among equals). K’ung prioritizes these, as love/respect of a son for a father/ancestor comes before loyalty to ruler or conjugal affection.
  • The family stands as the foundation of the social and political order. Jen applies foremost to family members, before all others. In some cases, K’ung said that loyalty to family might come before obeying the law (for instance, if a father has committed a crime, the son should not turn him in). The ancestor cult has continued throughout centuries, stabilizing the clan. Marriage and children are seen as a moral duty, continuing the line of the ancestors. Each day the eldest son reports family news such as births, deaths, or honors to the ancestors. Mourning the dead traditional lasts 25 months, and may require abstinence from sex, wine, special food, and music.
  • Jen extends to politics as well, benevolent leadership, selfless devotion to the people. The mandarin, or government official scholar, must learn Confucianism no matter what personal religion he followed.
  • Li involves acting appropriately, especially in social rituals which define a person’s status in relation to others. Observing our proper roles maintains social harmony (see more notes below).
  • Society works well if each person understands his proper role and acts accordingly. “Let the ruler be a ruler and the subject a subject.”
  • “To regard everyone as a very important guest … Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you” (Analects23).
  • During the Han dynasty (200 BC – 200 AD), Confucianism was revived and became the official state doctrine, with certain changes: the emperor was considered supreme ruler, the son of Heaven. Yin/Yang became important: Yin is the dark, negative, feminine force, Yang is dynamic, positive, masculine. Both are necessary for balance. [ Both sides contain some of the opposite.


  • Some Confucians are atheists, but K’ung himself seemed to believe in the existence of a supreme being, called Lord-on-High or Heaven, although he refers to God infrequently. K’ung’s focus is on human self-improvement.
  • Before 1912 in China, the emperor would offer an annual sacrifice to Heaven and earth. Only the Son of Heaven, the emperor, could offer this sacrifice.
  • Confucianism has no doctrine of creation, except to say that Heaven is the source of all that exists.
  • “He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray” (Analects19).
  • According to Meng Tzu, Heaven lies within the human heart, an immanent force, the source of ethical values.



Ching, Julia. Chinese Religions. 1993.

Ching, Julia. Confucianism and Christianity: a Comparative Study. 1977.

Hoobler, Thomas and Dorothy. Confucianism. 1993.



  • Dao [also “Tao”] means “the way,” the way of nature, the Ultimate Reality that existed before the universe and continues to guide it. The Dao is not a supreme being, but a cosmic principle permeating all aspects of life.
  • About 30 million Daoists today, most in China and Taiwan (compared to 300 million Buddhists)
  • The true Dao cannot be expressed in words, only experienced. Teachers help to point the way, but each person must find his/her own Dao.
  • The principles of Daoism balance those of Confucianism: reclusive seeking after truth vs. worldly, social concerns. A person may exhibit Confucian values in their professional life, but resort to Daoist values at home.
  • Legendary founder (who may not have existed): Lao Tzu (“the old one”), contemporary of Confucius, thought he worried too much about politics and social life rather than the inner life; supposedly wrote the Dao De Jing, 81 short poems addressed to the ruler: “Be weak, let things alone,” counseling humility and noninterference in the people’s lives (not popular among strong rulers). “The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to. It is content to take the low places that people disdain. Thus it is like the Dao.”
  • Chuang Tzu, another sage, added to the teachings with stories that illustrate his ideas.
  • Daoism adopted the belief in yin/yang to represent the duality and balance of nature, such as male and female.
  • A healthy body is the first step in achieving spirituality. Practices such as acupuncture and Dai chi (slow movement exercise) originated in Daoism.
  • Wuwei, “to do without doing,” existing without conscious effort as nature does. In Daoism simply living, getting along as nature does, comes before achievement. Pride in accomplishments brings people low. Water is soft and yielding but breaks the hardest rocks as it seeps slowly into the ground, unnoticed, without fuss.
  • Philosophical Daoism has no gods or immortal soul, no rebirth, no afterlife. Religious or popular Daoism sees gods everywhere in nature (almost like animism), also demons.



  • Shinto originated in Japan (no known founder). The word Shinto is actually Chinese for spirit (shen) and way (Dao).
  • In Shinto, spirit beings (kami) govern all aspects of nature. Kami refer to gods (such as creators Izanagi and Izanami and the sun goddess Amaterasu) but also spirits that animate all things: sacred places such as Mount Fugi, rivers, waterfalls, kamikaze (divine wind). The sacred text Kojiki (712 AD) mentions 8 million kami, eight being a sacred number meaning “countless.” Kami can be friendly but also troublesome such as demons (oni) and ghosts (obake). All kami have both dangerous and gentle qualities, depending on the circumstances.
  • Some kami live in the sky but descend to earth to visit their shrines. A person must ritually bathe before approaching a shrine. Major shrines are completely replaced every 20 years with one of identical design. The old shrine is torn down but its pieces are used in other shrines as they remain holy. Replacing the shrines gives the sun and harvest goddesses new vigor.
  • Ancestral spirits are revered as kami in household shrines (replaced annually). Family members offer incense and small bowls of rice to the dead. At the fall festival of Obon, the dead return to their ancestral homes.
  • Some like the Emperor Meiji (who led 19th c Japan into the modern world) become the focus of popular cults. Those who die in war are especially revered.
  • Shinto teaches the principle of wa “benign harmony” between humanity and nature. The whole is more important than any part. The group takes prominence over the individual. One must maintain tatemae (“face”) for the sake not of oneself but of ie or the household; one must not shame the family, especially the ancestral spirits. For slight offenses one may bow deeply, or offer a gift; for serious, suicide is considered appropriate. When an entire group fails, all take responsibility: if the bullet train is late, every employee apologizes to the passengers.
  • Taking off shoes before entering a home respects wa, as the home is a sacred space.
  • Shinto has coexisted with Buddhism for 1500 years. Many Buddhist gods are worshipped as kami. Shinto is a syncretistic religion, allowing for much ambiguity. Shinto focuses on worldly matters such as family, procreation, spiritual purity and physical well-being, whereas Buddhism places greater emphasis on salvation, escaping the burdens of this life. Many Japanese practice both religions and see no contradiction. The Buddhist goal of suppressing personal desire does support the wa subordination of individual to the group.
  • Sumo wrestling derives from an ancient ritual honoring the kami.
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