Jainism And Shinto: Comparative Analysis

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The Jainism and Shinto religions are just two religions of over four thousand in the world today, and with so many religions it can be hard to distinguish between them all. Commonalities can be found between each religion, Christianity was separated into different sects such as Catholicism and Oriental Orthodoxy, while keeping similar foundations. However, many of them differ on the foundations and beliefs that they each hold. Jainism and Shinto are two of these religions that differ from one another, from their central belief system and deities, how their belief system creates order and meaning for them, and their ritual practices and ethical views.

Jainism began in eastern India around 500 BCE with Mahavira, otherwise known as Mahavir meaning Great Hero. Their central belief is karma, with no deities, they instead practice living their lives good and they will reduce their karma, while bad actions will result in accumulated karma. Karma, according to Fisher and Rinehart in their book Living Religions, “is actually subtle matter – minute particles that we accumulate as we act and think” (122), and the ultimate goal of Jains is to eliminate all karma in order to reach kevala. Kevala is the point of ultimate understanding of one’s self and the liberation of their body. Jains are able to achieve kevala through the use of three principals: ahimsa, aparigraha, and anekantwad. The Jains follow these principals as guides to help them reduce their karma throughout their lives.

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Shinto is believed to have begun in the 6th century CE when Buddhism came to Japan and provided an influence on the creation of Shinto. There are some deities that Buddhist worship that can also be found in Shinto kami, which are the spirit deities that Shinto worships. The native phrase Kami no Michi is used to express Shinto as meaning ”Way of the Gods (or Spirits)” (Littleton 6). Shintos believe that the deity spirits govern the natural world, that when one’s physical body passes, that they too become kami in which their ancestors will pay their respects to, resulting in an infinite number of kami that are worshipped. Shintos believe that kami are what makes up nature and all that it encompasses, from mountains and rivers, to grass and trees, that this nature should be revered. Motohisa Yamakage in The Essence of Shinto explains “the Japanese people have loved and revered nature as a gift from Kami since ancient times” (29), which should be treasured and appreciated.

The three basic principals in Jainism help to guide them on their path to eliminate karma. The non-violence principle is ahimsa, it teaches that the world is filled of living beings, large and small, and that harm should not be done to any of these beings. The principal of non-attachment is aparigraha, which teaches that to live minimally and without attachments, even to people, can aid in removing karma by reducing attachments to the physical being. The last principle, anekantwad, teaches non-absolutist, that to remain open-minded to all possibilities and judgement is essential to avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, which results in negative karma. The Jains follow these principles on their daily lives, and even take twelve vows, such as vow of nonviolence, the vow of truthfulness, and the vow of limiting one’s possessions (Fisher and Rinehart 127) to name a few, to reduce their karma and purify themselves before their physical body deteriorates.

Shinto does not have a founder; thus, they do not have a doctrine to guide them or to learn from, no commandments or vows to follow, and no one object of worship. Instead, Shintos have three values that they follow: how contact is made toward kami, how respect and gratitude is made toward kami, and lastly, how each grows spiritually based on their contact and reverence toward kami (Yamakage 32). Unlike Jainism, Shinto does not believe in the karma good and bad of actions, though they do recognize the existence of it good verses bad actions, according to Yamakage, “Shinto is free from notions of sin and guilt” (44). Instead, Shinto focuses on tsumi, which is the impurity and misfortune quality (Fisher and Rinehart 231) that arises due to contact with negative forces or spirits, or ill will and harm unto others or the environment. There are many ways to purify one’s self after these impurities, such as the ceremony oharai, in which a Shinto priest branch of the sacred sakaki tree, tied with white streamers, is waved to purify the area (Fisher and Rinehart 233).

Works Cited

  1. Fisher, Mary Pat and Robin Rinehart. Living Religions. 10th ed. New York City: Pearson Education, 2017.
  2. Gale: A Cengage Company. Jainism: Beliefs, Practices, and Cultural Impact. Farminton Hills: Gale, 2018.
  3. Littleton, C Scott. Shinto: Origins, Rituals, Festivals, Spirits, Sacred Places. New York: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2002.
  4. Yamakage, Motohisa. The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart. 2nd ed. New York: Kodansha USA, Inc, 2012.


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