Shinto is based on spontaneous awareness of the Divine in all of creation—including mankind, other sentient beings, living nature such as trees, and natural matter such as mountains, rivers, and other formations.
“Shinto” literally is comprised of two kanji: 神, pronounced shin or kami and meaning deity, and 道, pronounced to or michi and meaning way, road, or path. Thus, shinto literally means “the way of the kami,” or the path of the divine; it is also commonly read as kami no michi which also means the “way or path of the kami.”
The kami are a myriad of spiritual beings, more akin to the western concept of angels. These spiritual beings, or kami, have existed since the beginning of creation. As the universe congealed and took form, various spiritual beings came into being. Over time, as the universe further developed and the Earth was formed, mankind came into being as descendants of the kami. Thus we, as humans, have within us the primordial kami nature, although we are confronted by innumerable challenges throughout our human existence. Thus, we turn to spiritual beings for inspiration, guidance, and protection. In Shinto, these spiritual beings are called kami.
Since human beings are descendants of the kami, the kami are our ancestral spiritual deities. Thus, we as humans have inherited the same divinity within us; we are innately as pure and bright as our ancestral kami. However, we develop, acquire, and commit various impurities (tsumi or kegare) through our own actions, through actions that happen to or upon us, or through being in a situation or place with negative energy. It is important that the concept of tsumi or kegare differs from that of “sin.” The western notion of sin has a more judgmental connotation, whereas tsumi is not a judgment of iniquity, but a negative or impure blockage to the divine that is present within each one of us and is abundant throughout all creation. More specifically, “kegare” describes an impure condition or state of an individual (either of one’s self or of others). “Tsumi,” on the other hand, refers to impurities that exist in relationship between two persons or groups. Tsumi are actions or disorders that occur or exist between one’s self and other people or between one’s self and nature.
Shinto practice, then, centers on sweeping away the impurities by purification of ourselves and of our surroundings in order to remove obstacles and to return to our natural purity and radiance. Purification of our self and of our environment enhances our sense of internal radiance; purification of our community and our world enhances cooperation, tolerance, and peace.
Shinto has no doctrine that dictates specifically how this should be done or under what rules we should live our lives. Neither is there a central figure or founder who has imparted teachings to serve as the basis for the religion. Instead, through the rituals and prayers one must use introspection and intuition to discover the true path. This requirement to be a central part of the discovery and the process makes the wisdom achieved more clear and more internal, rather than followers receiving a pre-defined teaching.
Shinto’s scripture is Nature. The original Shinto shrines were sacred groves of trees. An area was purified, and through ritual chanting the kami were entreated to descend to the sacred site, alighting on the tops of the trees and creating a connection between Heaven and Earth, between sacred and temporal. Even for us, as modern mankind, the experience of being in an old growth forest or by a pristine, pounding waterfall, can certainly invoke awareness of the sacred.
In Shinto this awareness of Great Nature, Dai Shizen, is central to mankind’s understanding of his relationship to the rest of creation. Great Nature goes beyond nature as trees, rivers, and living beings; it encompasses all of creation, including living nature as well as matter such as rocks, mountains, and natural formations. “In Shinto there is no separation between the universe and divine creative spirit. The universe is divine creative spirit extending itself as matter and as life.”1
A follower of Shinto, then, acknowledges the sacredness of all creation and attempts to live a life that confirms and enhances this divinity within himself as well as in his community and environment. A commitment to the Shinto path does not exclude other spiritual beliefs, nor does it conflict or oppose other spiritual traditions. For example, a Shintoist may, and often does, practice Buddhism as well.
The way of Shinto is the path of the kami; it is an acknowledgement of divinity throughout our world and a personal commitment to live one’s life with the spirituality and brightness of the original kami of creation.
Shinto is very simple—you are living now. You should appreciate your life. You are sustained by the kami. Be appreciative and live with gratitude. When you really feel this, and you vibrate the words of your prayers, the kami will see you and you will have infinite power, courage, and strength. You will be filled with ki from Heaven.