Eastern Philosophy is increasingly becoming a central aspect of Western thought, philosophy and spiritual belief. Due to a globalized and high-tech world, information rapidly spreads from one country to another. At the same time, the demographics of countries are changing with growing populations with both Western and Eastern heritage. In addition, many individuals who have grown up in a Western society continue to search for answers to make their lives more whole and satisfying. Buddhism and Shintoism are two very different forms of Eastern philosophy, with the former being easier to understand with Western thought.
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion of the world after Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. Gautama Siddhartha, also called Buddha or “enlightened one,” founded Buddhism in 525 BCE in Benares, India. He was raised in Hindu tradition but began to reject some of this philosophy’s dogma, such as the cast system, the existence of a hidden, permanent self and the concept of God as a personal divine being. At the age of 29, he left his wife, child and well-to-do life to seek the truth about unsolved problems about birth, sickness, old age and death (Horizon, 1969, p. 40)
One night as he sat under a Bodhi tree, he gained enlightenment about his existence. He recalled his previous reincarnations, see how the good and bad deeds of the living led to their subsequent lives, and realized he no longer had the basic needs of hunger, thirst and fear, was free of suffering, and had reached Nirvana and would not be reincarnated again. Instead of living in seclusion, he roamed throughout India teaching.
Buddhism teaches that humans are trapped in a repetitive cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. One’s goal is to escape from this cycle and reach Nirvana through meditation, selflessness and self-mastery. Then the mind reaches complete liberation and non-attachment and suffering ends (Horizon, 1969, p. 41)
Shintoism is an ancient Japanese religion, that is still followed by many today, that starting in approximately 500 BC based on nature worship, fertility cults, hero worship and shamanism. Its name came from the Chinese words “shin tao” or “The Way of the Gods” later in the 8th century. The Shintoism creation stories concern the Kami or deities who gave birth to the Japanese islands. Their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans. One of their daughters, Amaterasu Omikami or “Sun Goddess,” became the ancestor of the Imperial Family the chief deity, and her descendants united the country (Religious Tolerance).
The Shintoism philosophy deeply reveres and worships ancestors. All humans are considered “Kami’s child,” and therefore all human life and nature is sacred. Followers seek the will of Kami to have sincerity and a true heart and act in a way that is best for the group. The most important aspects in life are tradition and family, nature, worship of Kami and peace (Religious Tolerance).
Shintoism is very different from Buddhism, because it is based on a philosophy of a nation, Japan. Other major related differences include ancestral worship, that centers around the Imperial Family, the philosophy’s lack of discussion regarding death, and the emphasis on goodness and cleanliness instead of pain and suffering. One expresses thankfulness for all that is good in the world. In present-day Japan, both the philosophies of Shintoism and Buddhism are followed, much due to the Buddhists being responsible for funerals and burials that is not done by the Shintoisms, as well as the concepts of life after death (Religious Tolerance).
It is much easier for a Westerner to relate to the Buddhist philosophy, since many of its teachings are closer to those of the Judeo/Christian teachings. Also, essentially all followers of Shintoism are Japanese, thus it is difficult for a foreigner to embrace this philosophy. Unlike most other Eastern or Western beliefs, there is no book like the Bible or Koran to help a person gain more information about the religion. Rather, it is conveyed from generation to generation by experiencing the rituals together as a group.
Increasingly, Buddhist attitudes of peace, mindfulness and care for all living creatures have come to be the concern of many groups in the West. There are numerous Buddhist centers across Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North and South America, which continue to attract the interest of Westerners in all walks of life.
Horizon Book of the Arts of China (1969). New York: American Heritage Publishing.
Religious Tolerance Org. Shinto. Website retrieved October 29, 2006. http://www.religioustolerance.org/shinto.htm.
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