So, I finished Zen and Shinto...
Some context: the book was published in the early sixties, so it contains some injunctions against the anti-shinto legislation in the constitution of Japan that was ratified post World War II. Aside from that, the book purports to use Shinto’s natural tendency towards syncretism, illustrated by the explication of how Shinto allows one to be both Shinto and another religion simultaneously, as a middle ground between the competing economic forces of Capitalism and Marxism.
This point, of using Shinto as a meeting ground, isn’t taken in the specifically theological (if we can even say Shinto is theological, which the author refutes) sense, but in the sense of methodology: as Shinto is seeking a place without dogma, one that finds it’s origins in the vitality of natural existence, Shinto is a way focused on living in harmony with nature.
In this vein, he goes on to describe Shinto as a sort of communal religion, one that is practiced in part by living in a Japanese community, and in part through the specialized rituals. This communal religious notion is metaphysically solidified from the argument that all things are descended from the Kami and, as such, we are all participants in Shinto, albeit unconsciously. It is at this point that the author explicates the politics of Shinto, making the argument that the divinity of the people of Japan flows from the Kami, through the emperor, and into the people in much the same way that the sun illuminates all that it shines upon.
One of the interesting observations that the author makes is with regards to Marxist theory. Now, this isn’t something I know practically anything about, however, the author makes the point that Shinto theory would reject any kind of alienation from man’s product of his labor because, at ground level for Shinto, man is not distinct from nature: it is from nature that the raw materials of man’s products arise concurrently with man himself, so the author asserts that in the Shinto perspective, one can never be alienated from his products.
I can’t claim to agree or disagree with some of the points raised in the text without a thoroughgoing re-read and breakdown of the book, but upon just finishing it, I find it an interesting application to Shinto theory: especially interesting is the way in which the author weaves Jung, Heidegger and Marx into his discourse on Shinto. In essence, the author, through his conversation about Shinto syncretism, turns the traditional philosophical game on its head: rather than watering down the Eastern tradition and forcing it into the West, the author preserves the integrity of the Western traditions and views them through the lens of Shinto.
One of the better passages in the text has to do with self-expression and analytic skill: the author states that the Japanese internal thinking can be of no benefit unless the Japanese find better ways to express their internal thought. That is, the author argues for education in Western forms and modes in order to develop a universal capacity for self-expression: his point is not that the Japanese should abandon their own self-expressions, but it is necessary to learn to communicate Shinto through the words of the west.
I find myself in slight agreement with this proposition: there is much to be learned from Eastern philosophy by the West, if Western intellectuals would pause to attempt to treat the East as valid in its own right. Barring a sudden upheaval in the traditional canon and the discourse of Western thought, learning to communicate clearly the ideas of the East through Western language may be the best bet. However, I, like the author, would beg caution in that the language of the West does not come to supplant the essence of the East.
What is necessary, as derived from this text, is an understanding of western means of self-expression: the nature of Shinto, it has been argued, is such that it will be made manifest through the expressive capacity of the individual in such a way as to allow others to rightly ascertain the essence of that is being communicated. I think, in the author’s discussion of Kotodama, this is what they were getting at: no matter what the mode of self-expression, Shinto’s nature is such that the essence of Shinto will be communicated through the words of the practitioner.
These are just my quick thoughts on the book: when my copy gets here, I’ll probably produce something more refined.