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TOP  >  What is Shinto?  >  4-h. Sins and the Concept of Shinto Ethics
Jinja Shinto (Shrine Shinto)

Sins and the Concept of Shinto Ethics

Shinto was originally a natural religion which became into existence in a village community. So, the concept of a sin or of ethics is also formed according to the value system of the community: that is to wish prosperous continuation and development of the community. It is the same consciousness to hold rites and festivals.

Accordingly the Shinto concept of the sin and also the concept of the Shinto ethics have no identical difference from the secular sin or social ethics which is taught through the social education in order to support the continuous development of the community.

Historically, it was the time of Emperor Suiko, the 33rd Emperor (593-628) when Japan started to rise as a nation, forming its administrative structure, from the stage of a united clans under the emperorship. It was between the eras of the 38th Emperor Tenchi and the 40th Empeor Tenmu (661-686) when Japan could proceed a step farther to become a state with the centralized government. The form of the Shinto rituals is considered to be established at this time including Haraekotoba. In this Haraekotoba, which was chanted for a purification ceremony at that time and is still chanted, the sins are listed and they are categorized into two: Amatsu-Tsumi and Kunitsu-Tsumi. At this time, Ritsu (or the criminal law) were established under the influence of the Chinese Law of the Tang Age. It is convenient to see these laws in order to look at the Shinto concept of the sin and those sins which were prohibited by the secular laws. The most grave sin called Amatsu-Tsumi described in the Oharae is those deeds which were committed by Susanowo-no Mikoto, the brother deity of Amaterasu Ohmikami, the supreme Kami. According to the myth, he was so rejoiced by being able to prove that he had no ill feelings against his sister deity, Amaterasu Ohmikami, that he committed vulgarity such as destroying the paddy fields of Amaterasu Ohmikami to have crop for Niinamesai (Rice-crop rite), the weaving shop where the cloths for the deities were woven and also several other violent misdeeds. It means that all these deeds were against divine festivals. It is described in the myth that because of these vulgarity, a part of Susanowo's assets was taken away from him and purged from Heaven. According to the Ritsu, these deeds correspond to the sixth sin which is described as one of the grave eight sins: the sin to destroy a shrine and to steal divine object. Stealing of the symbolic object of the divine spirit was ruled to be punishable by death and other destructive deeds were ruled to be punishable by exile. These punishment almost correspond to those which was given to Susanowo-no Mikoto.

The other sins described as Kunitsu-Tusmi include injury, murder including infant murder, incest, poisoning, cursing. At the same time, natural hazard brought by a thunder, the birds, and the reptiles (creeping things) are included in Kunitsu-Tsumi. It means that all the human deeds and natural hazard which endanger continuity of a community are considered to be Kunitsu Tsumi. These human deeds were punished by the law as crimes at the time of Ritsu (the criminal laws). In the case of natural hazards, people tried to wipe off the evil elements by holding religious rites. Traditionally in Japan, a religion has never had its own commandments which are different from the secular laws mentioned before. The religion has always put its main value on the continuity and development of a community. It is a historical fact that, since the secular laws were established, Shinto has performed as a religion which believes in the rites of purification in order to pacify negative forces both man and nature have, and to strengthen positive forces for constructing a better community.

The ethical nature of religion in the Japanese society has not been changed basically even by the Meiji Restoration (1868) when Japan started to have the contact with the western world in order to modernize the country. The secular statutes provides with sins and regulate punishments against them. On the other hand, Shinto does not have any prescriptions expressed in the negative form of 'Should not ....', but has the teachings by the emperor who is the central figure to execute divine rites have been considered to be the base of the ethics. The Imperial Rescript on Education written by Emperor Meiji was its concrete expression. The virtues listed in the Imperial Rescript were firstly the loyalty towards the country, then, the ethics which should be observed in a family, that means, appreciation and respects for parents, to have an amicable relation with brothers and sisters, to have harmonious relationship of a couple. Then it goes with harmonious relationship in a society. Trust in friends, discretion and modesty, fraternity, intellectual development and to contribute in a society with this intellectual ability. It can be safely said that Shinto is a religion to believe that man should directly succeed the activities of Kami.

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