Musings of a Shinto Rishi

I came across this wonderful interview with Florian Wiltschko, an Austrian Shinto negi (priest) based in Japan courtesy Akshay Alladi. I was struck by some of the similarities in Wiltschoko’s worldview and my own sanskaras- the approach to life I was taught by my elders, particularly my mother.

“[Japan] is rich and the seasons colour the natural landscape in beautiful ways. Maybe that’s why a monotheistic belief system did not evolve here,” he says. “The bounties of nature, on the other hand, were seen as being the workings of divine forces that needed to be respected and cared for.” This struck a chord. It’s a very Dharmic sensibility and worldview.

There’s also the challenge of adaptation and change, without losing the essence. Incorporating good ideas, discarding the bad ones, but all the while maintaining the core spirit. Wiltschko’s observations are based on the interactions between Shinto and Buddhism, but the same would seem to apply to modern Hinduism, which has over the centuries blended Vedantic and Shramanic metaphysics with folk tales and traditions. It’s a complex mélange and trying to describe it precisely to non-Indians reminds me of the parable of the blind men and an elephant.

What is noteworthy about Wiltschko is that he is a priest by profession. In my compartmentalised mind, there are gurus/yogis and then there are pujaris/purohits/archakas. The former are philosophers and the latter are pedants. There is some experiential basis for this, but perhaps some of it is also a function of my own biases. I “lost” religion in my teenage years through my twenties and identified as an agnostic classical liberal, only to “rediscover” it in my thirties. The religion that interests me is still quite rationalistic: a Vendantic Monism based principally on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, with an interest in Buddhism, Kashmiri Shaivism and Yoga. It is certainly not ritualistic. Temple visits are only to admire the architecture. The privileging, as it were, of jnana marga (the path of knowledge) over bhakti marga (the path of devotion).

But perhaps there is wisdom in customs and rituals too. There need not be a neat bifurcation between the high philosophy and the riti-riwaj. Jnana marga and bhakti marga are not mutually exclusive.

“It’s very important to maintain a positive inner spirit,” Wiltschko signs off. “You might say that it’s my mission or my calling to contribute to maintaining this spirit.” The words of a modern Rishi.

[The writer tweets @paragsayta]

4 Replies to “Musings of a Shinto Rishi”

  1. Hinduism is not one sided , one book , one way religion.
    It is a conglomerate of the experience s philosophy’ s and rituals of many individuals and communities over a millennium.
    The hindu has the world view , that all those who took little seeds from him and grew their own huge trees like Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism are for the hindu still part of his flock.
    Even though many of them may not want to be so, because the benign evergiving mother has been so maligned and so misunderstood.
    These e, p, r are extremely diverse but are able to not only co exist, but also interact and appreciate and accept belief s and communities very different from them.
    This inbuilt huge diversity, and ability to accept dissenting views is the reason that India took to democracy easily compared to its neighbours.
    But open ness and diversity can only survive if ALL sects respect each other boundaries.
    And no one sect tries to change the boundaries either by force or by insidious means.
    Hinduism is an “attitude”.
    Like for example the TMC MP saying ” Jai shri Ram ” is a war cry but Jai Siya Ram is devotional.
    In older times no hindu would ever say or even think such a thing.
    A hindu may claim to be a worshipper of Lord Shiva, but he will show deep reverence and equal respect to a worshipper of Lord Krishna.
    A hindu is able to comprehend the underlying unity among the various sects ,religion s. and nature.
    The philosophical moorings of Shinto are very similar to Hinduism.
    But the westerner, the left wing hindu the Evangelical have reduced Hinduism to only
    1. Caste and 2. Idol worship.
    Where as the harmony and diversity of Hinduism is so much deeper.
    It actually survives on
    1. The law of karma
    2. Underlying unity among all living creatures. That thing which we call “life”.
    3. Breaking away from the cycle of life , rebirth
    4. Also it is not a system based on belief, but on action or karma.
    If you do a wrong action no amount of belief can save you from its consequences.
    This is the basis of morality coming from within not being required to be imposed from outside.

  2. @Anon- while there is an element of truth to what you say, I respectfully disagree with a couple of aspects:
    First, yes, there is a lot in the scriptures that is elevating, it is also true that there are aspects of both the texts and the practice that are less edifying, particularly on the question of caste. It is not just a western/leftist etc. conspiracy. I agree that there is an element of reductionism, particularly amongst the woke left/Marxists, but there are also genuine liberal/Western/Hindu reformist critics who do not have mala fide intentions. We need to be able to see the truth, look at the evidence, acknowledge legitimate criticism and reform.

    Secondly, on the question of tolerance, again there is a lot that is admirable historically, but we must question whether we are actually regressing in this regard. How tolerant have we been lately towards our fellow Muslim citizens in particular? Given the evidence both in terms of actual incidents and public and private discourse, it does not seem that we are on a sustainable path of mutual respect and tolerance. It is not possible to look at the facts and conclude that the Hindus are not at least partly to blame for this.

    We need to celebrate what is good, but we also need to introspect and reform the bad / jettison the negatives. It isn’t all somebody else’s fault. We must also look at ourselves in the mirror and look to improve with humility.

  3. as you had an experience of rediscovering ur religion faith – in 30s – (Maybe their is still time for me)
    As i firm non believer i find such instances – which i know r numerous as fascinating.
    I would ask you –
    Would you want to blog about that transformation ?

Comments are closed.