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A common denominator in all if not most of the world’s religions is the quantifier of an overarching ethical system, or singular belief that can summarize what a religion teaches. It is this ethos that is the underlying system of teaching practitioners the values of right and wrong, as well as how to discern between behaviors of the two.Theologists may often quote a parable like the Golden Rule, where the distinctive message is “treat others as you would like to be treated” and within the scriptures and practices of Hinduism and Shinto, there can be seen this common denominator. Whilst these two particular religions share common practices and beliefs, they are equally diverse and pragmatic in their value system. Both have origins rich in history and transformation through the centuries, however, each also remain loyal to their original ethics.Alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, Hinduism is one of the world’s most practiced religions, whilst Shinto has taken its roots from its Buddhism cousin. It is perhaps significant that both religions have a parallel existence with Buddhism, and share some commonalities with the practice. Despite this, Shinto and Hinduism differ in their views of death and the afterlife, as well as the motive we may adopt to our here and now. Where one speaks of reincarnation and using compassion to guide our present life; the other speaks of being only within the present and appeasing those spiritual influences which may affect it. As we examine the ethics behind these two religions, we will understand the importance ‘death’ plays in their contrasting features.The complexities of Hinduism are highlighted by its pantheon. “Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, involving one in every seven human beings. Unique among all major religions in that it does not proselytize, Hinduism also does not profess one right way, one set of beliefs, or one correct system of ethics” (Huyler, 2001). It is a religion which is arguably monotheist and polytheist at the same time. Many refer to it as henotheistic – or one that believes in a singular God, but many deities are accepted as well. It is this pantheon which governs many tangible aspects of one’s daily life – such as wealth, health, power and education. Hindus believe in ritual and festivals honoring some of these deities, but in essence it is the celebrating of the two halves – light and dark, male and female – which is the root of these practices:“The combination of male and female energies in one goddess or god also is common in Hindu religion and is referred to as Ardhanareeshwarar. The complementary nature of the two energies is valued in Hindu society and is deemed essential for achieving balance within the gods and within mortals” (Polisi, 2004).From morning rituals, to festivals such as Diwali and Holi, Hindus celebrate the divine through this co-existence and equality, in a country where “countless millions pray to the rising sun, considered masculine, while standing in or pouring water, viewed as feminine. In acknowledging the two, they also acknowledge the One, for in Hinduism the supreme deity is the absolute complement of opposites–dark and light, wrong and right, good and evil. By beginning each day in such ways, Hindus attune themselves with the universe and validate their place within it” (Huyler).Aside from this acknowledgement of light and dark, there are three basic beliefs, or laws to Hinduism: Dharma, Karma and Samsara. There are many others, but it is the fundamentals of these particular three which lie at the basis of the ethics of Hinduism, and play a significant contrast to those of Shinto. In its simplest terms, Dharma is the act of following one’s duty or destiny in life. How we go about this, by our actions and their consequences are reflected in Karma; whilst the cycle of life and death, or reincarnation, which this might procure is our Samsara. If someone has lived a bad life, or one filled with negative actions, then they are believed to reincarnate as something lower – like an insect or beast – as punishment. (Current, 2003). Hindus believe in the existence of the soul, and it is this that moves from one lifetime to another:;“The outer or gross body (skin, bones, muscles, nervous system, and brain) is said to fall away. The subtle body sheath (composed of karmic tendencies, knowledge, breath, and mind) that coats the jiva, or psychic substratum, also begins to disappear. After death the jiva initially remains within or near the body before it completely departs from the body to eventually enter an otherworldly reality conditioned by one’s susceptibility to earthly sensual cravings. When these cravings have ceased, the jiva enters a temporally blissful existence until, at a karmically determined time, it takes on a new physical body and is reborn.” (Kramer, 2003).;The ultimate destination in this cycle of reincarnation is a final unity with the Supreme Being, or the god Brahman. Ideally one who wishes to achieve this state must continue a life of good Karma in order to continue reincarnating up the ladder, rather than down it. It could be argued that this belief is similar to the Shinto belief of living in the present, but in contrast, Shinto do not believe in reincarnation, nor reflect too deeply on the afterlife, merely on  the existence of the soul.Shinto was once considered the state religion of Japan, until after World War II when it was ‘downgraded’ to a popular religion. The traditions of Shinto remain evident in Japanese culture, however, with many festivals, holidays and rituals still revered and celebrated by the population. Unlike Hinduism, Shinto beliefs surround not a singular God or pantheon, but are more centered towards the soul, or animism. Practitioners concentrate not on living a doctrine for a better afterlife, but rather on one that rewards in the present and current life.Without a set dogma, Shinto has picked up concepts over the centuries from neighboring religions, including Buddhism, and as evolved into a set of rituals and ideals that holds nature at its highest accord and able to affect kami, or spirit as equally as a person or emotion. Shintoists do not outwardly profess their beliefs, but rather live by their creed. Rituals often blend nature and kami together, as is described of the festival of Kangensai, or wind and string instruments:“This festival is an uncanny blend of boldness and grace, nonchalance and rigour. At its heart stands the image of a shogun at the height of his power, faced with a fading destiny and the yearning to perpetuate the golden age of the Heian.” (Takenishi, 2001).As Hindus believe in Karma and living through compassion and good actions, Shintoists hold purification and purity in the same light. There are elaborate rituals and rites governing purification, some involving holidays and certain kami, whilst others are as simply adopted in daily meditations and rites. The concept is the same, however, in that to be cleansed of negativity and impurities, is to give way to positive influences in one’s life:“No moral notion of sin exists in Shinto. Death is not the “wages of sin”, that is, the outcome of evil-doing. Rather, because purity is valued above all else, evil is defined as that which is “pollution”. The primary pollutions are sickness, blood, and death” (Horton, 2003).Theologists will argue that Shinto and Buddhism are strongly weaved together with many beliefs being shared or adopted by one or the other. Japanese society does not try to untangle the two, as one may distinguish between sects of Christianity instead; Japanese culture passively adopts rituals and practices of each. It is this peaceful combination which is similar to Hindus belief that no religion is or can be considered wrong or incorrect, but rather to be accepting of all belief systems and deities.Since Shintoists do not believe in an afterlife, or actively have a dogma which has a pronounced ritual of death, it is not uncommon to see the deceased become kami, or be revered as kami. “Occasionally deceased people have become kami, when the deceased were thought to be angry with the living or because of the circumstances surrounding their deaths” (Horton). Such examples include a political activist who was exiled, then later ‘pacified’ with a shrine because of his association with natural disasters occurring in Japan.Perhaps the significant difference between Hinduism and Shinto lies in the power the afterlife has in a practitioner’s daily life. Where Hindus live this life in good faith and strive to have good Karma in order to reincarnate favorably, Shintoists work and acknowledge the influence of kami on this lifetime and to affect their current life, instead of one they have no surety of knowing exists. Despite the belief in reincarnation, the affect Karma has on a Hindu’s life results in the same as a Shintoist. Both strive to lead good lives, or follow their Dharma – arguably this means both will act with good intentions and compassion if for different reasoning. Neither will condone violence as a means to a good life, and in both, there is a moral objective to retain a set of principles that involve compassion and tolerance.It is perhaps notable that both religions are not strictly monotheist, and this could be a factor in their passive natures, yet violence has been an inherent part of their histories. It has been suggested that “for believers these wars are “situational moments of divine-human cooperation,” a type of sacramental action performed in accordance with transcendent goals and in the service of justice, peace, and human redemption” (Burns, 2006). In modern times, both Hinduism and Shinto have shown more compassionate faces when it comes to religious tolerance, yet in Japan in particular, there is a collision of state and belief, as many would like to return to a greater emphasis of the Emperor within Shinto customs, rather than the passive nature the religion has reverted to in recent centuries. Shinto in particular has grown into various sects, whilst Hinduism remains effectively the same – despite development of dogma over the centuries. Both religions however have a strong tie in Buddhism, sharing similarities or histories. The Hindu concept of Samsara is evident in Buddhism; and Shinto was greatly influenced by the emergence of Buddhism in Japanese society.Religion is predominantly finding and adhering to beliefs which better one’s life, and follow a dogma we can agree with. From a Jungian perspective, “it is rather the “sum total of conscious and unconscious existence,” or the “God within us.” To assert that one knows God and that this knowledge is absolute and objective is to identify with one’s subjective experience” (Burns).  Through meditation and ritual, and their reverence of Kami and nature, Shintoists are able to acknowledge their self. Hindus, in turn, utilize a dogma where there Dharma and how they achieve it is how they inadvertently assert the ‘God within’. Both are religions which look to how action affects life and how one conducts themselves, rather than teaching through fear and parables of the past as are seen in other religions. The commonality of these religions is that they echo what Jung believed was the path needed for mankind to achieve a higher level of consciousness:“Jung’s words, written more than fifty years ago, speak prophetically across the decades: “The only thing that really matters now is whether [humanity] can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness, in order to be equal to the superhuman powers which the fallen angels have played into [our] hands.””(Burns).Despite their fundamental differences, Hinduism and Shinto are religions who share an ethical centerpiece in Buddhism, and the simple belief that good action, will affect greater than causing harm, or ill-will.In examining the background and winding histories of these two religions, it is easy to see how they share a common creed in “do unto others as you would have done to you.” Shintoists do not hold it in high regard to take another’s life, whilst Hindus believe in Karma affecting their journey to transcendence. Whilst both share ties with Buddhism, Hindus believe in a structured pantheon as well as one God being overruling all. They are accepting of other belief systems, and prefer to believe in the affects of both masculine and feminine, rather than just a singular composite having more power in the universe than another. Shintoists also believe in such a dogma, except they see the relevance of purity and impurity affecting the kami, or spirit, rather than both having a place in this world. Purity and cleansing rituals have a deep root in Shinto rites and impurities such as pollution, sickness and decay are things which are unwanted and of negative influence. These negative influences, in turn need to be affected or the associated kami appeased, in order for them to go away.Religion is a personal concept and one that also creates divides, as equally as it breaks down barriers. Religious ethics often follow a similar vein when it comes to how one should lead their life – regardless of a belief in the afterlife or not. Despite their contradictions to one another in concepts of reincarnation and acknowledgement of masculine-feminine opposites sharing a place in life, Hinduism and Shinto beliefs still share common ideals in how to conduct one’s life, as well as how to achieve final transcendence.;

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