Shinto

The Japanese expression nakaima o ikiru originates from Shinto and means to live in the Now. Psychologically speaking man rarely lives in the Now; his thoughts continuously stray into the past or future. And even when he is focused on the task at hand, he is so immerged in it, that there still is no awareness of the present moment he is in. His life passes by without the light of self-awareness. To live in the Now means to realize, I am here, in this moment. It is an effort to observe yourself in the passing moment.

Amaterasu coming out of her cave

















Amaterasu is the Sun-Goddess, the most important deity in Shinto. Her name means 'shining heaven' or 'she who shines in the heavens'. When her brother the storm-God Susano no Mikoto, who symbolizes the lower self, ravaged the earth, she retreated to a cave because he was so noisy. She closed the cave with a large boulder. Her disappearance deprived the world of light and life and as a result, demons ruled the earth. Amaterasu symbolizes the light of Presence. When this is lost, the demons — the thoughts and emotions going round in our head — are controlling our life in the state of sleep or darkness. The other gods used everything in their power to lure her out, but to no avail. Finally it was Uzume who succeeded. The laughter of the gods when they watched her comical and erotic dance, aroused Amaterasu's curiosity. When she emerged from her cave, she saw her own brilliant reflection in a mirror that Uzume had hung in a nearby tree. Uzume and the mirror both symbolize a pure heart that desires to be present. The mirror or the heart has no dust — the ten thousand 'I's — so it can reflect the image of God (Presence).

What is the process of the cleansing of the mirror of the heart? It is an unending battle with one’s ego, whose purpose is to distort reality. -- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher)

A shimenawa on a tree

Places that are sacred for the Shinto religion are marked with a shimenawa (special plaited rope). The ropes are placed at the entrances of holy places to ward off evil spirits, (evil spirits symbolize thoughts or I`s that take away one`s awareness of the present moment) or around trees to indicate presence of a god. A tree is an ancient symbol for a heart that reached presence, and is called the tree of life.

I have become one with the tree of life. My glory rises like the mountain peak. I have realized the Self.
-- Upanishads (Hindu text)

The pieces of white paper that are cut into strips and hung from these ropes are called gohei; they symbolize purity in the Shinto faith, the purity of prolonged presence.

I am pure, pure, pure, pure! I am he who saw the completion of the Sacred Eye in Heliopolis.
-- Egyptian Texts, Going Forth by Day

A shimenawa at the Grand Shrine of Ise

The rope symbolizes remembrance of God, which means the God inside oneself, one`s Higher Self, through the effort of being present.

Separation of God is like a well; remembrance of Him is the rope. -- Shams (13th c. Persian Muslim)

Separation of one`s Higher Self is like being in the darkness at the bottom of a well. One can climb out of it by using a rope.

Behold now, what a wondrous order and what a wondrous sequence that has an obvious imprint of celestial wisdom. Thus was completed our God-created prayer as a threefold and unbroken cord, wisely and intelligently, braden and woven. -- Philokalia , Monks Callistus and Ignatius

A shimenawa at the entrance of a home

Shimenawa are also put at the entrance of peoples house at the beginning of the New Year.

Those who cling to Allah, cling to an unbroken rope.
-- Al-Busayri (7th c. Muslim

The New Year is a symbol of renewal. Before the Meiji Restoration (1873), the Japanese New Year was celebrated according to the Chinese lunar calendar (February 3 for the year 2011). The Chinese New Year goes together with the end of winter and the beginning of spring, symbolizing the end of the state of sleep and the beginning of the state of Divine presence.


Egyptian image of six men holding a cord, Leiden, The Netherlands.

In this image six men are pulling the boat of Ra, the Sun-God, with a rope. They are pulling the boat through the Amduat — the underworld or the night, symbolizing the state of psychological sleep — to enable Ra to shine again, during the day (the state of presence).

The gods take hold of the rope, which is in the bark. -- Egyptian Texts, Book of Amduat (9th Hour)

In the section on The breath of Life it was explained that esoteric traditions represent the duration of one breath as an animal or man. In this image the six men symbolize six breaths taken with self-remembering.

The monk Kuya, by Kosho, Rokoharamitsuji temple,
Kyoto, Japan

In this wonderful statue of the Monk Kuya we see the same symbolism. Kuya is repeating the name of Amida Buddha six times, symbolized by the six figures coming from his mouth, connected with a wire. It represents a mantra to be reborn in the Western paradise of Amida Buddha, the state of Divine Presence.

Connect your daily practices of remembrance one to another, like links in a chain. -- Jamaluddin (7th C, Sufi and poet)

One day symbolizes one breath; the night is the inhalation and the day represents the exhalation.

You will find the day spoken of as the breathing. -- Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c. French abbot)

If one starts to pay attention to thoughts other than the name of Amida, one will forget to keep one`s awareness on the present moment and the links are broken. The reminder to be present Be is not acted upon, and one returns to the state of sleep.

To be, or not to be - that`s the question. -- Hamlet, by Shakespeare

Japanese characters for shimenawa

The left character for Shimenawa means attention or concentrate on. The middle character means to connect while the right character means rope. One can translate Shimenawa as a rope to connect one`s attention. When saying six reminders to be present, one tries to not allow other thoughts to interrupt one`s attention on the present.



Akebono performing a sumo ritual

Heart-Head Dogu, Jomon period (10.000 - 400 BC)



Sumo wrestlers wear the same rope with gohei attached, when they perform a ceremony before they start the bout.

O Hold fast, all of you together, to the cord of Allah and do not scatter. -- The Koran



A ritual with large hoop of rice-straw in a square Torri, Imamiya-jinja, a Shinto shrine
















Some Shinto shrines have a ritual using a shimenawa in the form of a loop. One passes through the ring three times to wish for prosperity and health in the second half of the year.

People pass through the loop three times (left, right and straight) making the shape of the sign of infinity ∞.

One walks through and around the ring to the left and then through and around again to trace a figure eight, with one`s path. The number eight is the infinity sign on it`s side, and stands for immortality, which means being beyond time.

He who has completed the sixth day, has with Gods help, brought his own actions to a successful conclusion. His Sabbath is his intellects utter transcendence of created beings. But if he is also found worthy of the eighth day, he has risen from the dead; that is, from all that is sequent to God. He experiences the blessed life of God, who is the only true life, and himself becomes God, by deification. -- Philokalia, Maximos the Confessor

The eighth picture of the ten ox herding pictures is an empty circle, symbolizing the absence of the lower self and the presence of the Higher Self, which is characterized by emptiness.

God (the Higher Self), whose love and joy are present everywhere, cannot come to visit you unless you (the lower self) are not there. -- Angelus Silesius (17th c. German mystic and poet)
Step aside Hafiz, you are blocking the way. -- Hafiz (14th c. Persian poet)

The number eight is a symbol for immortality and emptiness.

The number eight relates to the emptiness of the eight winds. -- Chinese Texts
Om is the best of all essences, deserving the highest place, the eighth. -- Upanishads (Hindu text)
The level that transcends the physical is eight. -- Talmud (Jewish text)

Through this ceremony one is said to erase the bad-luck and misfortune suffered in the first part of the year. The belief in the efficacy of these rings originates in the ancient Chronicles of Bingo Province (now Okayama Prefecture) in which the hero, Somin Shorai, was advised by the Moon-God Tsukuyomi no Mikoto, to protect himself from an epidemic that had been raging, by fashioning a hoop out of reeds and wearing it around his waist. One can see such rings around the waist of a sumo Grand Champion or in the sumo ring itself. Source: The Ancient Rite of Chinowa Kuguri at Tsukuba’s Hie Shrine

The inner meaning of protecting oneself from an epidemic is protecting oneself from the state of sleep, in which we spend our day. The state of sleep is likened unto an illness and the cure for this illness is being present.

When actually receiving the teachings, you should regard yourself as a patient, Dharma as the medicine, and the spiritual master as the physician. Listening to and firmly practicing the Dharma should be regarded as recovering from the sickness. -- Gampopa (founder of theTibetan Buddhist Kagyu school, 12thc.)
Gathering medicine means gathering the true sense of the essence of consciousness within oneself. This is done by first quieting the mind to still the impulses of arbitrary feelings. When stillness is perfected there is a movement of unconditioned energy. This is the energy of true sense and its first movement arising from stillness is called the return of yang. -- The book of Balance and harmony, by Li Dao Chun (13th C. Taoist master)

What makes one unhappy when experiencing bad-luck and misfortunes are the arbitrary feelings, the many I`s, that one has about the bad-luck that has befallen one, rather than the bad luck itself.

For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. -- Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

If one could stop these thoughts and emotions, or separate one`s feeling of 'I' from these thoughts and emotions, one would continue with the next moment of one`s life, without being controlled by these 'I's. Instead, one would use the thoughts and emotions as fuel to launch into a state of presence, as a rocket uses fuel to launch into space, after which it sheds off the fuel container. One does this by quieting the mind , which means to only listen to 'I's that remind one to be present and not listen to any other thoughts. In the state of presence that is the result, one is not effected by the misfortune, because the lower self is passive and under control. This is true happiness, true richness, true health. If one had the ability to achieve this regularly, one wouldn`t want to exchange it for all the money in the world.

The reason why the sage meets suffering without being sad and encounters pleasure without being happy is that he has lost self. When you attain to emptiness, even the self is lost, so what further thing can there be that is not lost? -- Bodhidharma (1st Chinese partriarch of Zen Buddhism)
I am not this body, I am not this mind, I am not these emotions, I simply observe, I am the eternal witness.
-- Zen master

The inner meaning of the ceremony of walking three times through the straw hoop is, to be present by keeping one`s attention focused on the present, symbolized by the shimenawa, which means a rope to connect one`s attention. One does this through the use of a mantra, symbolized by the circle. One transforms friction into presence and in this way, one is purified of, or protected from the many I`s going around in one`s head.

Wedded rocks, symbolizing the two Shinto Gods Izanami and Izanagi, near the Grand Shrines of Ise























Wedded rocks symbolize Izanami — the heart — and Izanagi — the mind — united in presence. The heart provides the desire to be present and the educated mind provides the tools and skill.

The union of the mind with the heart is a union of the spiritual thoughts of the mind with the spiritual feelings of the heart. -- Bishop Ignatii, Philokalia
If I accept the fact that a god is absolute and beyond all human experiences, he leaves me cold. I do not affect him, nor does he affect me. But if I know that a god is a powerful impulse in my soul, at once I must concern myself with him, for then he can become important… like everything belonging to the sphere of reality.
-- Carl Gustav Jung

The rocks are connected with a shimenawa, symbolizing a mantra. The two rocks also symbolize the beginning and the end of this mantra, like the two Kings of Light. There is a square Torii (a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance or within a Shinto shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the profane to the sacred, the transition from sleep to Divine Presence) on top of the big rock, symbolizing that a state of prolonged presence has been reached.

A couple in tantric union, 19th-20th century, India
















In this Indian painting we see the same symbolism portrayed by a couple engaged in physical union. Physical union is a symbol for the spiritual union of the mind and the heart, creating a state of Divine presence, in which the Higher Self or God is awakened in a state of union, as opposed to the state of plurality of the lower self. Their bodies make a square showing that prolonged presence is occurring. Physical union is also used to symbolize union with the Divine.

When Sufi poetry mentions separation from, or union with, the beloved, the Sufi understands it to mean separation from or union with God. -- Al-Ghazali (11th c. Persian mystic)
In the esoteric expression, sexual desire in particular is used as a metaphor for the practitioner`s desire to unite with the deity, Great Bliss referring to the accomplishment of unity with the universe symbolized in the deity.
-- From the book 'Shingon, Japanese Esoteric Buddhism' by Taiko Yamasaki
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