Re: Shinto beliefs and Hinduism

Mr. Ranganthan:

I may (likely) be second-guessed by other responses to your questions,
but I will give this a shot and we'll see if some knowledgeable
readers will add detail. Don't hope for too much; this nwsgrp is not
much noted for thoughtful, 'scholarly' discussions but is
characterized by heated, knee-jerk reactions by some very frequent


ranga@cs.umd.edu (M.Ranganathan) wrote:

>I visited Japan once some years ago and I walked into several Shinto
>temples. I was struck by a similarity between Shinto rituals (at least
>in the temples I visited) and Hindu rituals (for example ringing
>the bell as one enters the temple). Is this similarity merely co-incidental 
>or is there some basic connection between the Dharma and Shintoism?
It is likely, IMO, that such a perceived similarity is merely
coincidence ... unless one wishes to look at the universal aspects of
human religious beliefs as stemming from deep archetypes or other such
Jungian sources. For instance, the gesture known as *gassho* in japan
(and found widely throughout the world), the placing together of the
palms of the hands in front of one's face or upper chest (perhaps
accompanied by bowing the head), is also typically recognized by
Christians in the West as a posture of prayer. This does not mean that
the meanings given to these gestures are exactly the same in each
religion's context! (In Thailand, this i simply how one says 'hello!'
-- although it of course in deeply rooted in that nation's Buddhist
The superficial appearances of similarity between cultural phenomena
can easily be misinterpreted, which is why the discipline of
Anthropology had to outgrow such a tendency many years ago, when
Western scholars went out among 'native' peoples in search of
knowledge about Human diversity and often came up with absurdly
misguided interepretations due to their own European 'ethnocentrism.'

There is no discernable *special* similarity between Shintoism and
Hinduism. There are perhaps some similarities in comparison to other
teachings like Buddhism, but to the best of my knowledge the belief in
reincarnation (or transmigration) is not one of them; an important
>What are the "basic beliefs" of Shintoism ? Is it a polytheistic religion ?
My explanation will be very broad. Yes, Shinto could be called
"polytheistic" but is more typically labelled "animist." Like many
other indigenous belief systems that were later subsumed by or
coexisted with imported beliefs, Shinto was less *universal* and more
*localized* than a teaching like Buddhism. Shinto included a belief in
gods ("o-kami") dwelling in streams, rocks, trees, and other natural
features. There are local spirits, and there are important gods that
dwell in specific places (important national shrines) that are
believed to 'guard' the entire Japanese nation.  In that sense, it
would be absurd for a non-Japanese living outside Japan to *convert*
to Shintoism -- which is mostly concerned with japan and the japanese
as a special *chosen* people.

Lacking a vast system of philosophy like that which characterizes
Hinduism, Buddhism, or Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs, Shinto is for
most Japanese now, I think, a way of being connected to their deceased
relatives and ancestors. It may have been developed into more of an
organized philosophy in recent times, as when the gross corruption
known as State Shinto was forced upon the japanese as the ideological
basis for warlike aggression (at the onset of the Second World War). 

Shinto does not offer a very satisfying teaching about the issue of
Death (for instance, dead bodies are *impure* and Shinto is very
preoccupied with *pollution* ... in that sense, like Hinduism, yes)
and therefore most funeral services came to be conducted as Buddhist
rituals. There is much more to this topic but I am being brief here.

>What is the relationship between Shintoism and Budhism ? What percentage
>of Japan in Shinto/Budhist/Christian ?
See above; many japanese are married in a Shinto ritual and buried in
a Buddhist one. Buddhism came to Japan (from China) and was gradually
accepted not in place of all Shinto beliefs but in co-existence with
them, which of course is typical of Buddhism historically. The
centuries since have seen a blurring of the distinctions between the
two religions, a degradation of Japanese Buddhism, and the theft of
Buddhist ideas by Shinto (yes, it's a strong word) so that at present
it may be difficult for the unschooled person to distinguish between
those things which were originally Buddhist and those which were
Shinto. The majority of Japanese profess to be "Shinto/Buddhist" or
they profess to be just one or the other. I sometimes wonder if many
ever question which one they are or care about the real ideological
conflicts between the two. Responses from some Japanese?

A very small but growing minority of Japan profess to be Christians.

Hope that this info has clarified the issues involved in the questions
you have posed. I do not claim to be a scholar of Shintoism or of
Hinduism, and I am a Buddhist lay person (not a priest and not a
professional scholar) but I have studied these issues rather deeply
and I will stand by the points I have made here. If I seem to some
persons to be hostile or prejudiced on the subject of Shinto, I would
have those who say so explain why Shinto is closely connected to the
most regressive, nationalistic (even fascistic) right-wing-extremist
elements and groups in japan today. Much as, I regret to note,
Hinduism is so associated in India (and Islam in the Muslim/Arab
world, and Christianity in the USA and Europe ...) ... :)


soren a.  <sorentino@computer.net>
no disclaimer here ...
****Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have, and the mica
	on the side of a rock has.****     -Walt Whitman