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Shinto Concept of Sin (Tsumi) and Impurity (Kegare)

ShintoconceptofSinandmpurit.jpgIn Shinto, there is no concept of original sin or karma. Ancient Japanese considered all unhappy or unfortunate incidents, such as diseases or natural hazards, as sins. Yet, they were not caused by the individual, but arose from external factors. They considered sin to be something which adhered to people externally. So, people might be purified at shrines according to rituals known as oharae. The mechanism is expressed in the saying. “Hate the sin, but not the sinner.”

In Japanese mythology, there is an episode featuring the male kami, Izanagi. When his spouse, Izanami, died, he missed her so much that he went down to the other world of the dead. As a result, he himself became impure. Realizing this, he purified himself on returning to this world using water in order to revitalize himself. Izanagi thus became pure, and remarkably felicitous happenings occurred as result of this act of purification, namely the birth of three of the major deities of Japan, Amaterasu-ômikami (the kami of the Sun), Tsukuyomino-Mikoto (the kami of the Moon) and Susano-no-Mikoto.

This episode implies that the act of purification is the source of energy and productivity, and is essential not only for the salvation of the individual but of the nation. This is the reason for the Shinto emphasis on purification.

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