Religious Beliefs

Do adherents of Shinto believe in salvation or an afterlife?

Salvation is not a question of deliverance from the present human condition into a realm beyond. Shinto tradition teaches that the solution to the human predicament is just the reverse: sincere worshippers welcome the kami into the world of everyday concerns. Salvation therefore means making the ordinary sacred so that life here and now becomes the best it can be. Ancient traditions tell of another world, a realm beyond this one, called the High Plain of Heaven (takama-no-hara). It is a happy state, Heaven (ame), a spiritual land connected to Earth by a wondrous bridge. That mythic realm overflows with life and fecundity (tokoyo-no-kuni). Devout worshippers invoke the kami down, recalling how they descended before time began to bring the sacred land and its people into existence. There is also a netherworld, a most unpleasant state called the Land of Darkness (yomi-no-kuni). Ruled by death, that land is filled with wretched pollution and impurity. To that land worshippers dispatch troublesome spirits and hope their prayers and attentiveness to the rites of ancestor veneration will keep the negative forces at bay. Most people today do not believe that the dead end up in one or other of the realms beyond this world. Nevertheless, certain fundamental criteria determine whether an individual spirit will be content or disgruntled after death. Those include the ethical quality of one’s life and one’s attentiveness to avoiding the impurity attached to taboo behavior. Some speak simply of a “world beyond view” (kakuriyo), an otherwise nondescript state of being after this life.


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