Rule Of The Dead

Oct 13, 2021Blog, Culture, Shinto

Rule Of The Dead

It’s now evident to the reader that the ethics of Shinto were all comprised in the doctrine of unqualified obedience to customs originating from the Domestic stage of ancestor worship.

Ethics were not different from religion, religion was not different from government, and the very word for government signified “matters-of-religion.”

All government ceremonies were preceded by prayer and sacrifice, and from the highest ranking in society to the lowest common person all were subject to the law of tradition. 

Traditional Tea Ceremony - Land Of The Rising Son

To obey was piety, to disobey was impious, and the rule of obedience was enforced upon each individual by the will of the community to which he belonged. 

Ancient Japanese morality consisted of the minute observance of rules of conduct regarding the household (Domestic), the community (Communal), and the higher authority (State).

These rules of behaviour mostly represented the outcome of social experience; and it was scarcely possible to obey them faithfully, and yet to remain a bad man. 

These mandated social conventions commanded reverence towards the Unseen, respect for authority, affection to parents, tenderness to wife and children, kindness to neighbours, kindness to dependence, diligent and exactitude in labor, and thrift and cleanliness in habit.

5s活動 - Land Of The Rising Son

One can still observe these ancient conventions alive and well in modern Japan today, although no longer mandated, they exist in the Japanese as a matter of the evolution of Japanese civilization founded up on these moral edicts.

Though at first morality is signified no more than obedience to tradition, thereafter, tradition itself gradually became identified with true morality. 

To imagine the society created from such social conditioning is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend.

Among the Occidental, religious ethics and social ethics have long been disassociated, and social ethics along with a gradual weakening of faith, have become more imperative and important than religious ethics.

Most Occidental, sooner or later in life, understand it is not enough to keep the ten commandments, and that it is much less dangerous to break most of the commandments in a quiet way than to violate social customs. 

However, in Old Japan there was no distinction tolerated between ethics and customs or between moral requirements and social obligations, convention identifies both, and to conceal a breach of either was impossible, as privacy did not exist. 

1876 map of japan - Land Of The Rising Son

Moreover the unwritten commandments were not limited to a mere ten; they numbered by hundreds, and the least infringement was punishable, not nearly as a blunder, but was considered to be a sin.

Neither in one’s own home or anywhere else could be ordinary person do as he pleased in Old Japan; and the extraordinary person was always under the surveillance of zealous dependents whose constant duty was to reprove any breach of the the unwritten convention of Japan. 

The “religion” capable of regulating every act of existence by the force of common opinion requires no catechism.

Early moral custom must be coercive custom. 

But as many habits, at first painfully formed under compulsion only, become easy through constant repetition, and at last automatic, so the conduct compel through many generations by “religion” and civil authority, tend to eventually become almost instinctive.

お辞儀方法 - Land Of The Rising Son

It is here where the influence of Shinto accomplished wonderful things, and where evolved a national type of character worthy, in many ways, of earnest admiration.

The ethical sentiment developed in the character of the Japanese differs vastly from that of the Occidental.

The character of the Japanese developed to adapt and adhere to the necessary social requirements. 

For this national type of moral character was invented the name Yamato-damashi; the soul of YAMATO.

The old province of YAMATO was the seat of the early emperors, and was figuratively used for the entire country. 

One may correctly, with less of a literal translation be expressed:

The Soul Of Old Japan

The great Shinto scholars of the 18th and 19th century put forth their bold assertion that conscience alone was a sufficient ethical guide. 

They declared the high quality of the Japanese conscience a proof of the divine origin of the race.

Japan Foundation Day - Land Of The Rising Son

These declarations are surely just a product of their time.

Nevertheless, as Japanese society has evolve, the Japanese themselves recognize the truth in having an inclusive mind when welcoming other into our country and Japanese society.

Indeed, all global citizens are welcome to take a long look in the mirror while recognizing the existence of one’s own moral compass already inside, and then use this compass as the intrinsic guide for one own words and behaviour.

Fundamentally, all (unless you are a narcissistic psychopath), intrinsically understand right from wrong within the context of one’s up-bringing, early societal indoctrination, and doing whatever is necessary to satisfy Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Five Levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - Land Of The Rising Son

When venerating one’s own ancestors, one must make sure that the dearly departed grandfather or grandmother doesn’t have to take out the proverbial switch, metaphorically speaking, as she and the rest of the ancestors continues to watch over the clan with stern affection, and the will to adhere to the prescribed social conventions, and commonsensical tenets of any civilized society.

Japanese Civilization - Land Of The Rising Son

Based Upon

Japan,  An Attempt At Interpretation

Published 1904

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn

Rule Of The Dead