Reflections on “Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth,” Stuart D.B. Picken

ShintoMeditationsWhy did I choose to read this book?

It was another of the slightly cheaper items on my extensive wishlist of Shinto-related books. Plus I liked both the idea of Shinto-based meditation, and was hoping this book would give me more ideas about how to meditate Shinto-style.

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It is a very, very slim volume that includes a sparse overview of Shinto as an earth-based religion, some suggested group rituals involving “Shinto” prayer, and a little information on misogi purification, and some anecdotes by the author.

What did I particularly like about it?

It’s quite nicely presented, with a pretty layout and typeface.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Unfortunately, I found the entire book to be a disappointment. For those who already know the basics of Shinto, it offers nothing new in its brief summary of what Shinto is, and is more concerned with interpreting Shinto for Western readers and as an environmental movement than exploring what Shinto means the Japanese. Rankin does something similar in Shinto: A Celebration of Life, but does so far more successfully.

Then there are the “meditations,” the part that I was most looking forward to. These “meditations” actually seem to resemble group rituals (they are scripted as such), and I couldn’t see how they were really connected specifically with Shinto, as opposed to generic earth-worship. The “meditations” are all based on different elements such as earth and rivers and stones, but in fact, aside from a few small changes, they are all very much alike, copying the same wording over and over again. I have never seen so much repetition in a collection of rituals, and in such a small volume (let’s not forget it costs £11.99 from Amazon), to fill up most of the pages with repetition is unforgivable.

As for the content of the rituals themselves, they are unremarkable. There’s nothing apart from dialogue – no interactions between participants, no visualisations, no gestures or movements, and the wording is also rather dull.

The section on misogi at the end was slightly more interesting and more detailed, but this information can be found elsewhere. The final words on Shinto in North America are again disappointing – I didn’t find that I learned very much at all about the history of Shinto in America or the fascinating and important Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America.

If you want to read a book on authentic Shinto prayers and ritual, I would recommend Llewellyn Evans’ Shinto Norito: A Book of Shinto Prayers. It’s much, much better.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

In all honesty, it didn’t. It simply taught me that when it comes to books on Shinto, you very often get what you pay for.

Would I recommend this book to others?

No. If you want a book on Shinto ritual, read Shinto NoritoIf you want a book on Western and environmental perspectives on Shinto, read Shinto: A Celebration of Life.



Filed under Shinto / Japanese Religion

4 responses to “Reflections on “Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth,” Stuart D.B. Picken

  1. Sounds like a generic nature spirituality/New Age author who is unfamiliar with how to do ritual (I also belong to a UU church and this is how they tend to be) .

    • Hah, never heard of this term before! 🙂 I have no problem at all with non-Japanese adopting Shinto, explaining Shinto for non-Japanese, or adapting Shinto to fit with their own culture. That’s all a natural part of how spiritual beliefs grow and spread. Equally I have no problem with the author of this book writing about his interpretation of Shinto – that’s fine by me. The only problem I had was the book just wasn’t very interesting or deep or informative or useful to me.

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