Not only do the two major religions — Buddhism and Shinto — coexist peacefully in Japan but they also overlap in a practical sort of way that is uniquely Japanese. While the other world religions are literally and metaphorically battling it out for supremacy, “My god is bigger than your god,” the Japanese make no such distinctions. God and deities exist only to help people overcome hardships here on earth, or ease their way into heaven.
Often these religions share the same space. So it’s not unusual to find a Shinto Shrine within the courtyard of a Buddhist temple. And since I began my visit in a temple, the difference between the two religions was explained it to me in typical Zen fashion – very simply. The two religions divide themselves neatly along two lines: Life and Death.
Shinto, an animist religion, deals with life: the celebration of the New Year, marriage, special prayers for children at the ages of three, five and seven, a coming-of-age ceremony at twenty, special prayers for family issues, and prayers for success in business or studies. Deities are found mostly in nature, and sometimes as past emperors or empresses. Buddhism assists the dead as they move into the next life and comforts the living.
The standard practice when visiting a temple or shrine is to purify one’s self prior to petitioning the Buddha or the deities residing there. Ritual purification occurs in two ways depending on where you are. When visiting shrines, usually the act of passing under three torrii (gates) and walking along the gravel path to the haiden (hall of worship) is enough to purify one’s self before arriving at the honden (main hall) where the kami (gods) reside.
There is also purification through water (chözuya) at both temples and shrines. The traditional way is to take a ladle and fill it with water from a tap. Pour the water over the left hand, and then transfer the ladle to pour the water over the right hand. Next, pour water into a cupped hand, purify your mouth and spit it out. The last step is to let water run down the ladle handle to purify it. In all cases, make sure the water is spilled on the ground next to, and not back into the basin, so as not to contaminate it.
The act of praying is just as simple. In the temple, you toss a coin into a box in front of the altar, put your hands together, offer your prayer and then back away. Prayers in a shrine are offered in a similar fashion. You toss a coin in the box, clap twice to let the deity know you’re there, put your hands together, offer a prayer and then bow once.
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Temples and shrines sell omikuji, fortunes written on slips of paper. Fortunes are dispensed in a random fashion via a special box containing numbered sticks. Since I was there, I thought I would try my luck and so I shook the box and not one but two sticks popped out. Great, now I’d have to choose. Was I choosing the right one?
I closed my eyes drew one stick and gave it to the attendant. She gave me a slip of paper with my fortune on it. So far so good, I thought. There are four kinds of fortunes dai-kichi (big luck), kichi (luck) sho-kichi (small luck) and kyo (bad luck). In essence, the best is kichi. It means that things are not only good but they are going to get better.
Sho-kichi, the fortune I pulled, made the young attendant wince. “Oh, mmm,” was all she said. Such a grave expression on such a young face made me nervous. And then seeing my anxious expression, she gave me a small smile. “It’s okay,” she explained. “Bad luck now but good luck later.” She explained that things were bound to get better soon if I acted in a disciplined manner and was conscious of my actions. “Better soon,” she said. .
Hmmm. This fortune could only refer to my love life of course and it corroborated what Shelly the Seer saw in New Orleans when I pulled the Nine of Cups. There was something big in the offing; I just had to be patient and pay attention. https://cafegirlchronicles.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/date-with-destiny/
The little attendant instructed me to fold the paper and tie it to a nearby tree thereby letting the wind disperse the bad luck. My little paper slip joined hundreds of others who would share similar fates or worse: kyo (bad luck). Good fortunes are meant to be tucked into a wallet for safekeeping. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this latest stroke of fortune – and then I thought about Shelly. “You play the hand you’re dealt” or, in this case, the stick you draw. So be it, I thought….fonce as my French friends would say. (Push ahead!)
As I was contemplating the little tree, I didn’t feel the small hand tapping my shoulder until it became much more insistent. I was surprised to find the little attendant standing behind me smiling. She pointed in the direction of a small pavilion – there was a wedding – “For you. Very lucky.” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Its significance was not lost on me: perhaps this was a new beginning for me too.
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