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Shinto: The Way Home (Dimensions of Asian Spirituality)
 
 

Shinto: The Way Home (Dimensions of Asian Spirituality) [Kindle Edition]

Thomas P. Kasulis
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Nine out of ten Japanese claim some affiliation with Shinto, but in the West the religion remains the least studied of the major Asian spiritual traditions. It is so interlaced with Japanese cultural values and practices that scholarly studies usually focus on only one of its dimensions: Shinto as a "nature religion," an "imperial state religion," a "primal religion," or a "folk amalgam of practices and beliefs." Thomas Kasulis’ fresh approach to Shinto explains with clarity and economy how these different aspects interrelate.

As a philosopher of religion, he first analyzes the experiential aspect of Shinto spirituality underlying its various ideas and practices. Second, as a historian of Japanese thought, he sketches several major developments in Shinto doctrines and institutions from prehistory to the present, showing how its interactions with Buddhism, Confucianism, and nationalism influenced its expression in different times and contexts. In Shinto’s idiosyncratic history, Kasulis finds the explicit interplay between two forms of spirituality: the "existential" and the "essentialist." Although the dynamic between the two is particularly striking and accessible in the study of Shinto, he concludes that a similar dynamic may be found in the history of other religions as well.

Two decades ago, Kasulis’ Zen Action/Zen Person brought an innovative understanding to the ideas and practices of Zen Buddhism, an understanding influential in the ensuing decades of philosophical Z

Synopsis

Nine out of ten Japanese claim some affiliation with Shinto, but in the West the religion remains the least studied of the major Asian spiritual traditions. It is so interlaced with Japanese cultural values and practices that scholarly studies usually focus on only one of its dimensions: Shinto as a "nature religion," an "imperial state religion," a "primal religion," or a "folk amalgam of practices and beliefs." Thomas Kasulis' fresh approach to Shinto explains with clarity and economy how these different aspects interrelate. As a philosopher of religion, he first analyzes the experiential aspect of Shinto spirituality underlying its various ideas and practices. Second, as a historian of Japanese thought, he sketches several major developments in Shinto doctrines and institutions from prehistory to the present, showing how its interactions with Buddhism, Confucianism, and nationalism influenced its expression in different times and contexts. In Shinto's idiosyncratic history, Kasulis finds the explicit interplay between two forms of spirituality: the "existential" and the "essentialist."

Although the dynamic between the two is particularly striking and accessible in the study of Shinto, he concludes that a similar dynamic may be found in the history of other religions as well. Two decades ago, Kasulis' Zen Action/Zen Person brought an innovative understanding to the ideas and practices of Zen Buddhism, an understanding influential in the ensuing decades of philosophical Zen studies. Shinto: The Way Home promises to do the same for future Shinto studies.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3133 KB
  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Latitude 20 (26 Jun 1905)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0091M9PM2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #631,621 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Shinto: The Way Home would appear to be aimed at the serious student rather than the casual reader who merely wants to understand a little more about a different way of life. It explores the history of Shinto from prehistory to the current day, and goes into much detail about "feeling Shinto" - the ways in which it is possible to regard and practice Shinto.

I was a little disappointed that the book did not really address all the ways in which Shinto permeates Japanese life, though it does relate a typical visit to a Shinto shrine. The book does thoroughly discuss Shinto philosophy however, and explains the interesting fact that although the Western world regards Shinto as a religion, the Japanese generally don't. It also explains in detail how a philosophy essentially based upon an appreciation of life, beauty, and mystery could be distorted by the state into a force that drove Japan to declare bloody war on the rest of the world.

I purchased this book as part of my research for a short story, needing to know how the Shinto way is practiced and what its beliefs are. Fairly soon I realised that S:TWH was not going to be the best text for that particular role, but I persevered a few pages at a time (I didn't find it an easy read!), and came out at the far side feeling pleased that I had read it. I learned a lot.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable insight into everyday Shinto 21 Nov 2005
By Robert Self - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
More than just a primer on Shintoism, Kasulis has authored an intelligent and indispensible book on understanding Japan and the Japanese. My neck muscles were getting tired from the constant nodding with assent at the many revelations (Ah! Naruhodo!) Few philosophers have been quite this successful in making the apparently mystical appear quite comprehensible.

The key point is that Kasulis successfuly explains the everyday joys of Shinto (which is what practioners actually relate to) rather than bogging down in doctrine that few Japanese are actually concerned with. A doctrinal approach to Shinto this is NOT, so if your goal is to know Susanoo no mikoto from Amaterasu Ômikami, then this may not be your best book on the topic. But to UNDERSTAND Shinto, you can do no better.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep Insights into The Nature of Religion, using Shinto As An Example 25 Oct 2007
By Thomas J. Webb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I generally expect books like these on the subject of Anthropology to be either dry and merely informative on one hand or dim-witted and missing big, important points on the other. This book was neither!

The author, not content with describing surface characteristics of Shinto or describing it in classical religious studies terminology that is biased towards religions such as Christianity and Islam, spends a great deal of time developing terminology and concepts that are unique to Shinto and these types of primitive religions.

Not only does he delve into the very psychology of religion, he discusses the oft-neglected relationship between intellectuals who invent ideology and folk beliefs that are simply passed down over the generations.

The most important thing to get from the book for a Westerner is essentialist/existentialist "split" the author talks about (though he later says the two forms overlap considerably), especially since the former is vastly dominant in Western/Abrahamic religions.

Overall, well written and easy to read (he goes over things and refers back to previous chapters to keep continuity) and highly recommended for anyone into Japanese history, world religions/anthropology or the psychology and nature of religion.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly interesting 8 Aug 2006
By Adrian Tan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Spoke to a prof from University of Hawaii. Requested an introductory list on Eastern philosophy. Was pointed to this very clearly-written book for Shinto.

Found the book unexpectedly interesting -- in particular its first chapter, on Shinto spirituality: fertile food-for-thought for philosophy of religion (eg, definitions of "religion" and "spirituality", and nature of religious experience), as well as novel take on mental dualism.

The remainder of the book: essentially a survey of the history of Shinto -- less interesting philosophically, but still engaging as a case study of religious development. I do feel, on having read the book, that I've travelled miles in my understanding of Japan.

What does Kasulis say? He distinguishes "existentialist" from "essentialist". In "Mary is a comedian", the description is "existentialist" if you're describing (ie, Mary tells a lot of jokes) but "essentialist" if you're commenting on Mary's nature (ie, Mary tells a lot of jokes *because* she is a comedian). Kasulis wants (if I'm reading him properly) to "rescue" Shinto -- to separate an existentialist Shinto heart from an essentialist and expansionist ideology.

The middle section covers some 1400 years of Shinto development, along with forays into Japanese history generally. It's fascinating, but biased towards the existentialist yay, essentialist boo position. And there are worries here. On the one hand, maybe you're won't find a summary this short, and this comprehensive, without this level of vagueness; on the other hand, the glossing-over, and neatness of explanation, might raise the suspicion of skewed narrative. I just don't know enough Japanese history to fairly judge.

Here's my own glossed-over summary of some key points:

Chapter 1: When people disconnect from capacity for awe, they feel homeless. Shinto spirituality is about learning to feel "at home" with spiritually encountering mystery -- and not trying to explain away such experiences. Awe can come upon you suddenly, or can be found in the everyday; can be caused by nature (a glorious sunset), or by the manufactured (the original Magna Carta); and can be associated with joy or fear. Such presences are "kami". Kami is interdependent with the material, not separate from it. Shinto marks places that are specially able to give rise to feelings of being part of and "holographically" reflecting the whole. But one requires a "mindful heart": Shinto practices nurture sensitivity and responsiveness. Kasulis also discusses whether Shinto counts as a "religion" or is a cluster of folk beliefs.

Chapter 2: Shinto themes (including naturalness, simplicity, purity and taboo, purification, and separateness and communal solidarity) are part of the warp and woof of everyday Japanese life.

Chapter 3: Time immemorial up to eighth century. Native religion was in part animist, but "kami" was also associated with forces of nature. Shinto myths lack a cosmic struggle between good and evil. Kasulis contrasts two key eighth-century collections of folk traditions ("Nihonshoki" and "Kojiki") and touches on connections of the former with justifications for empire.

Chapter 4: Eighth to nineteenth centuries. Growth of essentialist Shinto was contravened by Buddhist-Shinto syncretism. When Buddhism waned, Shinto attempted to build an original philosophy -- the "Native studies" movement, exemplified by Motoori Norinaga, who spent three decades interpreting Kojiki.

Chapter 5: 1801-2002. Hirata Atsutane rendered Shinto suitable for expansionism, by, inter alia, emphasizing the emperor as holographic entry point and introducing afterlife reward. Starting with Hirata Shinto, the government supported an essentialist ideology of "State Shinto", which involved, for instance, distancing Shinto from Buddhism, and a religion of "Shrine Shinto", whose practices were compulsory and whose beliefs were equated with being Japanese. The allied powers could not dismantle State Shinto entirely: Kasulis discusses the Yasukuni shrine.

Chapter 6: It's difficult to separate "existentialist" and "essentialist" in Japan. Also, the existential/essential distinction can be applied to many, if not most, religions, and there's frequently a power struggle in terms of the dominance of one or the other.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and Eye-opening! 10 Mar 2007
By A. Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Kasulis' book 'Shinto' is probably the only book out there that takes an indepth philosophical look at this Japanese religion. While it is essentially philosophical in nature I think it'd also be interesting to anyone wanting to learn more about Shinto. He looks at historical, sociological, and even spiritual factors in his book. I find his discussion on whether Shinto is actually a religion to be most fascinating. To our Western eyes it seems doubtful that Shinto functions in any way resembling what we call 'religion'. However, with a close examination of the difference between 'orthodoxy' and 'orthopraxis', as well as a consideration of the etymology of the word 'religion' in the Japanese context I was convinced that Shinto is definitely a religion. Reading this book has been informative, stimulating, and has given me an inside look at how this relgion operates in the Japanese person's life. Books that can do all those things are rare - that's why I highly recommend it!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mildly disappointing 16 Aug 2009
By Will Jerom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be mildly disappointing. If you are looking for a general, historical overview of the development of Japanese religion (without much central focus on Shinto), this book would be for you. The author manages to submerge the actual discussion of the Shinto religion into a background of the historical development of its relationship to Buddhism and Confucianism. This history is important, but for those looking for direct detailed information about Shinto beliefs, rituals, kami, (in short, Shinto itself) I would look elsewhere. Some important historical context is learned from this book, but it does not succeed much in portraying a vivid descriptive account of the Shinto faith. Kasulis' theory of the "existential vs. essentialist" approach of religion I found wholly uninteresting; either he is defining terms too finely or choosing the wrong terms to label them. I could recommend this book only of background historical, contextual importance only,
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