Shin Mei Spiritual Centre

The sacred forest

In Shinto, we recognize sacred spirit as being present in many aspects of nature, but especially in trees.

In ancient times, there were no shrines. Priests recognized and marked especially sacred areas in the forest and invoked the kami to reside in the trees. Prayers and rituals were then done at these sacred sites in the forest.

I’ve always felt a special connection to trees; a noble, old growth tree always called to me to touch it, to press my hands against the trunk and absorb the energy of this old wisened spirit. When I first visited Tsubaki Grand Shrine near Suzuka, Japan (Shin Mei Spiritual Centre is a bunsha, a branch shrine of Tsubaki Grand Shrine), the towering firs and cedars that pervaded the shrine grounds reached out to my soul.

I particularly like the following writing which explains that the Shinto shrine had its origin in the forest as the result of recognizing the divine presence of the Kami:

In the “Local History of Inaba”… No shrine building is there. The land covered with a group of thick trees is regarded as the divine presence of the Kami. Villagers say that the scale of this Kami is extraordinarily large. An oracle says: “The scale of my figure is a s large as the forest, and therefore, cannot stay ion an ordinary shrine buildings: so no shrine building is to be built.” [ Dr. Hiroshi Kurita, Tokusen Shinmei Chō, 1899, p. 633]

That is, the spirit of Kami is present in the forest itself. The thick forest is none other than the ancient Shinto shrine.

The Forest Walking Meditation trail has this same sacred presence. As you walk along the trail, open your spirit to receive the brightness, purity, and blessings of the kami that reside in the trees throughout the forest.  You will receive renewal from the kami.

As you know, here at Shin Mei we offer practice in both Shinto and Tibetan Buddhist traditions. I sat with Lama Rabten to have him share his view of the spirituality of the forest. Here is his explanation:

In Buddhism, Nagas are minor deities that reside in nature, such as in water and in trees. If we are respectful and approach the Nagas with pure spirit, we can receive help and benefits. So when we walk in the forest, please make prayers and offerings to the Naga.

We invite you to come walk the Shin Mei forest trail; quiet your mind, offer prayers, and receive the blessings and protection of the kami.

Shimenawa on sacred tree

In the Shin Mei forest, a particularly notable and majestic Arbutus tree is adorned with a shimenawa and shide.  A shimenawa is a large, twisted rope of rice straw which is hung to mark sacred items or locations. “Shime” means to hold or embrace, and “nawa” means rope. The shide is a folded paper in a zigzag or spiral shape, which symbolizes the energy that spirals between heaven and earth. 

Shimenawa between two trees at prayer location

There is also a shimenawa hung between two trees at the first Prayer Stop, marking a particularly sacred spot to offer prayers.