DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G102-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 17, 2019, from

3. Purification

Shintō is a religion of rituals (see Ritual), and one of the central rituals is purification. The importance attached to purification in Shintō is readily observable, for example, in the procedures followed in preparing for worship and in worshipping. In approaching a shrine, one first performs ‘external’ or ‘outer’ purification – thus making oneself ready to enter the presence of the kami – by rinsing the mouth and hands with water at an ablution basin. Inside the shrine, the priest performs ‘internal’ or ‘inner’ purification in the form of exorcism by reciting prayers and waving a wand. Reflecting primitive, pre-ethical attitudes, Shinto regards both manifest defilements – such as bleeding, disease and death – and acts of evil or wrongdoing as ‘pollutions’ that must be ritually cleansed. Purification effects renewal: through purification, things are returned to their original states and proper identification with the kami is re-established.

Manifestations of the concern for purity and purification, deriving primarily from Shintō, can be observed in countless aspects of Japanese behaviour and life even today. The great attention given by the Japanese to bathing and general cleanliness is the most obvious of these manifestations, but they can also be found in such practices as the scattering of salt – a form of ritual purification – by sumo wrestlers before their bouts and the constant ‘cleansing’ of the utensils used in the tea ceremony. Although the tea ceremony, as it evolved during the medieval age, is generally thought to derive its spiritual essence from Buddhism, especially Zen, it is also thoroughly infused with Shintō or, more precisely, Shintō-like rituals of purification. We see this not only in the cleansing of the utensils but also in the precise and careful handling of water and fire, both of which are important agents of purification.

Citing this article:
Varley, Paul. Purification. Shintō, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G102-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

Related Searches



Related Articles