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May 22, 2012

Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished

Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished by timtak
Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

In front of many Shinto shrines there are many stone lanterns. They have the shape of lanterns. They have windows in them representing the sun and the moon. But perhaps it is more appropriate to say that they are copies of lanterns because, in the vast majority of cases the simulated lanterns are never lit. They may appear to be fake lanterns, containing nether candle, nor any sort of lamp. So what are they doing there?

It seems to me that these lamps draw attention the visual or qualia field of consciousness, or in other terms, "the mirror of the sun goddess".
It was this mirror that became the first copy-that-was-not-a-copy, in Shinto mythology. Amaterasu, the Sun-Godess appeared to have been fooled by it, tricked out of her cave, but was she? Was she perhaps not a mirror all along? Certainly when the first imperial ancestor left her company for Japan he was given, as a senbestu of sorts or keepsake, a mirror, which the first emperor was told to worship as if it were the original.

his mirror or field always extended, and in a sense alight, while we are awake, and can not be turned off other than globally by death, unconsciousness and sleep. The lanterns in front of Shinto shrines are thus never extinguished and in a way shiny brightly, even or especially in daylight. So bearing that in mind, are these lanterns copies of lanterns, or really lanterns after all?

Some people believe that words mean ideas and that these ideas are somehow both in the mind and in the world (or the mind of god). They believe furthermore that the meanings of words are not copies, but always authentic in each and every instantiation. The Japanese may believe that the world they see is both in the mind and in the world (or the mind of a different type of God). In that case perhaps "copies", such as copied horses or copied shrines, are not copies at all but the real thing.

Further Reading

Derrida, J. (2011). Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserlfs Phenomenology. Northwestern Univ Pr.
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.

Posted by timtak at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2012

"Chinkon" and Inhaling the Earth

Chinkon literally means something like "sinking the soul" or "putting the soul down into the body", or perhaps again "pacifying the soul (so that it does not fly off somewhere?)"

In Shinto, as in many other religions, the soul of humans comes from the outside, from the divine.

Chinkon uses the characters for "sink" (chin, shizumu) and "soul" (kon, tamashii, spirit, mind, perhaps self), and refers to the notion that for humans to be human, to exist at all, to have a soul, they need to take into themselves the divine.

Shinto says that we need to make sure that our soul stays inside us. And that we need to take in the divine, periodically, especially at New Year, when Japanese eat Rice Cakes and get an new amulet from their Shrine and by this means, take in the spirit, effecting a rebirth.

Yanakita (1990) says that in the past these amulets were more natural (small stones, leaves, pieces of branch) that were taken from the shrine area as a vector for the spirit. The belief that trees in the vicinity of shrines contained magical properties continued into the nineteenth century (Hearn, 1894, p305; Herbert 2010, p.100). Yanagita (1975) and others also point out that the "Ihai" in Buddhist altars, or mitama in Shinto altars, were originally derived from the same pieces of spirit-containing-wood so that a person while alive would receive their soul as amulet/tablet/stone/stick and after death this would be returned to the shrine after a suitable period of prayer and purification.

In the Chinkon rite carried out by the emperor of Japan under some interpretations the soul of the imperial ancestors is inherited and refreshed anew by the ritual putting on of clothes (Orikuchi, see Mayer, 1991). The use of clothes to change the self is not limited to, but perhaps especially prevalent in, Japan (Calefato, 2000, p19-20). Watsuji (1937) models the self or "persona" upon a mask which is worn. McVeigh's "Wearing Ideology" (2000) describes the variety of ways in which clothing, especially uniforms are used to regulate, control, express and define self in modern Japan.

Needless to say Shinto is also about purification too. In Shinto people periodically sends out the junk, and takes in the divine. The purification is achieved by rituals often involving waving sticks with lots of pieces of zigzag shaped paper at the end, getting into water, or waterfalls, or simply by cleaning oneself and ones immediate environment - folks usually clean and effectively repaint their houses at the end of each year.

This notion of the need to take into oneself the divine, is as above, quite common in many religions.

I was just thinking to look up the notion of what might be called "chinkon" in Christianity.
[There are many ways in which people take into themselves the divine in Christianity too
1) In the far Eastern Church *at least* humans are human and not beasts, not just body, because they have taken in (chinkonned?) the logos of God.
2) The body of Christ as consumed, eaten, in mass. (The Japanese too eat and take inside themselves the sun goddess at New Year in the form of "mirror rice cakes")
3) 'The realisation' that God is already inside them, that they have a relationship with God who is always omnipresent, even or especially party to ones thoughts. In Christianity, perhaps, the 'Chinkonning' of the soul is thought to be *not* a sinking in of the divine, and *not* an actual ontological movement of the divine, but an epistemological realising that the divine was there all along. This may be a difference between Shinto and Christianity.]

Chinkon refers to the taking in of a bit of Kami, a copy of Kami, (bunshin, bunrei) into oneself, that is or becomes oneself. I am most familiar with the teaching of a Shinto-offshoot-cult called "Kurozumikyo" where, as in the page you referenced, the practioners attempt to inhale the sun or sun goddess. In the page you referenced they are inhaling the entire earth. This becomes their soul. Their soul is a part/copy/another sun. This in Kurozumi-Kyo is the sun or mirror which is the Sun Goddess.

In Shinto the spirits are infinitely partionable, like dividing a fire (Norinaga, see Herbert, 2010, p99) in a way that each of the portioned parts are (almost?) equivalent to the whole. That way for instance, the spirits (kami) enshrined at one place can be taken to shrines at other places and be in both places.

In the Kurozumi view, in a sense we are the Sun Goddess, we have a sun of hers, a mirror of hers, which is her, as our soul.

Generally in mainstream branches of Shinto one takes in something divine, generally these days simply by buying an amulet, and and prior to that also attempts to expunge the impure (via lots of waving of pieces of paper, etc).

It seems to me that the practice of inhaling the earth or sun may be, philosophically, similar to a phenomenological 'transcendental meditation' especially as understood by the Japanese phenomenologist and Zen practitioner Kitarou Nishida.

Husserl the German phenomenologist, claimed that if we just attend to phenomenon and quiet/stop or "bracket away" our interpretations of phenomena then we are left with a mass of sense datum AND our awareness that we are aware of this sense datum (Husserl, 1960, p.25) . Nishida (having practised Zen meditation) on the other hand said that if you turn off all interpretation then there is no awareness of oneself interpreting the sense datum, but that that soul and world meet at and as that sense datum, or at what the German physicist Ernst Mach called the visual field (see also). Nishida went further than Mach (who he quotes in the preface to "Philosophy of the Good") in that he argues the individual is inside the sensations rather than the other way around*.

Heisig (2004) claims that Nishida, like medieval German philosophers and believed in a "mental mirror" with "no tain" (the tain is the silver bit on the back of the glass). Alternatively it
might be argued that the soul and the world is, or meets at the tain.

The breathing exercise may be an attempt to come to this realisation. The breathing itself may quieten interpretive thought and the inhale of the world/sun may make us attend to the visual field or phenomenological totality of consciousness.

I think that the rowing in the next part of the exercise (as many other repetitive actions in the Japanese martial arts) may require the practitioners to visualise himself, to awake in himself "riken no ken" (Yusa) the ability to see himself from a point outside himself and yet of course inside himself - an internalised external gaze, as demonstrated in through experimental social psychology (Cohen & Gunz, 2002; Cohen, Hoshino-Browne, & Leung, 2007; Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008).

*"For a long time I had entertained the thought of trying to explain everything using pure experience as the only existent (jitsuzai). At first, I tried reading Mach, but was not at all satisfied. Subsequently.... I came to believe that one could escape solipsism thinking that it is not the case that the individual comes before experience, but that experience is prior to the individual and that experience is more fundamental than the distinction of the individual." (Nishida "The philosophy of the Good," preface, cited and translated by Michael Santone)

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Posted by timtak at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)