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The practices of Shinto revolve around purity. It is by means of stripping away unclean thoughts and habits that our true inner kami can shine and wondrous things can come into being. This theme of purity can be found in several Shinto myths.
In one version of a famous Shinto myth, where Izanagi-no-Mikoto visited the Land of Yomi (the Underworld) in an unsuccessful effort of trying to save his sister-wife Izanami-no-Mikoto, the Nihongi states the following:
“But, having visited in person the Land of Yomi, he had brought on himself ill-luck.”
In ancient Shinto mythology the Land of Yomi was seen as a world of darkness, an unclean place that was also associated with the land of the deceased. It is a place of blasphemous sights to the mind of man and once one has eaten the Fruit of Yomi they cannot return to the Land of the Living.
After Izanagi-no-Mikoto escaped from the Land of Yomi, he is recorded, in both the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, to have engaged in a cleansing rite which produced several beneficent deities. (There are some accounts which attribute Amaterasu-Ohmikami, Tsuki-yomi-no-Mikoto, and Susanoo-no-Mikoto to the union of Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto.) From this example, we learn that visiting the Underworld was considered the cause of ill-luck. On the other hand, the acts of cleansing and purity produced beneficent deities, which was symbolic of good luck. This has caused some to wonder, what in the Shinto perspective on the practice of masturbation?
One of the goals of Shinto mysticism is the cultivation of the inner self, the inner kami, which is nurtured through certain rites of purification. Any acts of impurity in Shinto metaphysics are discouraged for such reasons. It is through such acts of purity that we come into knowledge of the wondrous and divine world. Based on such, we can see that one of responsibilities of the Shinto initiate is to maintain this state of “emotional” purity by the way we lead our lives, our thoughts and actions. Before continuing further into our discussion, it is important that we clarify certain misunderstandings, in regards to Shinto, which are being promoted on the internet due to a misunderstanding of this metaphysical system.
It is probably due to the fact that Shinto has no said founder or body of scriptures that many non-practitioners have inaccurately reported that Shinto has no said moral code and etc. From a Shinto perspective any religion that has a founder and is based on a scriptural text, also has a history of a civilized person teaching an uncivilized people “god’s law.” The other popular misconception about Shinto thought is that it involves the worship of many “gods.” Shinto mysticism recognizes that everything in nature radiates a certain measure of influence in its said environment. This “influence” is measured and calculated and given an esoteric name so that it can be cultivated in such a way so as not to interfere with man’s survival, but work as an aid to such. Words of power, commonly described as incantations and prayers, are used in this process of cultivating the objects that appear in one’s environment and experience. When an individual comes to a true understanding of Shinto, they learn to appreciate that the “spirits” spoken of in its mythology are the energies and emotions that radiate from the stars, forces of nature and etc. For a further definition of this process, please read our article about the kami. This being said, the act of masturbation is measured in Shinto by its metaphysical properties, which would associate such a practice with the Land of Yomi, and is seen by the initiate as a form of pollution to those engaged in the practices of purity. Let us expand on this thought a bit further by analyzing two Shinto myths that discuss such in parable.
Shinto mysticism appreciates a healthy form of sexuality occurring between man and woman. Ancient Japanese records report that it was by the union of Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto that the eight islands of Japan were produced. In this case, Izanagi-no-Mikoto represented the forces of Heaven and Izanami-no-Mikoto represented the forces of Earth. Here we see that in early Shinto thought, the movement of Heaven and Earth, creating the eight islands of Japan, is a reference to the bagua, often discussed in the Art of Ninzuwu. This shows us that a healthy sexual relationship between man and woman is aligned with the “way of the gods.” Later, Izanami-no-Mikoto died and entered the land of Yomi after giving birth to the Fire God, Kagu-tsuchi.
Izanami-no-Mikoto’s birth of the Fire-God, Kagu-tsuchi, which resulted in her death, was symbolic of the misappropriate use of sexual energy. This can be gleamed form the meaning of the name Kagu-tsuchi. Wikipedia reports:
“The name Kagutsuchi was originally a compound phrase, consisting of kagu, an Old Japanese root verb meaning “to shine”; tsu, the Old Japanese possessive particle; and chi, an Old Japanese root meaning “force, power”.”
Here we see that Kagutsuchi means a “shining force,” which can be equated to lust. This is further proven by what is later recorded in the myth concerning Izanami-no-Mikoto in the Nihon Shoki, we read:
“In one writing it is said: “Izanagi no Mikoto followed after Izanami no Mikoto, and, arriving at the place where she was, spoke to her and said: ‘I have come because I sorrowed for thee.’ She answered and said, ‘We are relations. Do not look upon me.’ Izanagi no Mikoto would not obey, but continued to look on her. Wherefore, Izanami no Mikoto was ashamed and angry, and said, ‘Thou hast seen my nakedness. Now I will in turn see thine.’ Then Izanagi no Mikoto was ashamed, and prepared to depart.”
Izanagi-no-Mikoto could not leave the Land of Yomi because of her misappropriate use of the sexual force, and eaten of the fruit of the netherworld. Her husband, Izanagi-no-Mikoto, could leave the Underworld, as he did not eat the Underworld’s fruit and kept the fulfillment of his sexual desires within the marriage arrangement. However, Izanagi-no-Mikoto still faced ill-luck because he ventured in the realm of the Land of Yomi even though he didn’t it of its fruitage. What does this mean?
In one section of the account, Izanami-no-Mikoto replied to her husband: “We are relations. Do not look upon me.” Later we read that Izanagi-no-Mikoto did not obey and continued to look at his wife, where she is said to have replied: “Thou hast seen my nakedness.” Izanagi-no-Mikoto had engaged in sexual relations with his wife during her time of menstruation. Due to such, Izanami-no-Mikoto not only became known as a deity of the Land of Yomi, but a menstruating-goddess as well. Here we learn that sexual acts can lead to varying degrees of impurity, or pollution for the Shinto initiate. There is one myth recorded in the Art of Ninzuwu literature that discusses the act of masturbation and how it is seen in Shinto cosmology.
In the Yi Jing Apocrypha of Genghis Khan exists an old Ainu myth called the Hunter and the Netherworld. The myth is quite figurative in its presentation, so we thought it best to comment on the myth as we read along certain section of the story. The Hunter and the Netherworld myth begins as follows:
“During the Age of the Gods, there lived a brave young man who was a skillful hunter. The people in the world of this time, believed that the young man was an heir of the Divine-Lords. These are the scriptures of the ancient tribe of man that has survive since the days of remote antiquity. One day, the skillful hunter took to the chase of a large bear, deep in the mountains of that particular world. The bear ran endlessly, but the young hunter did not waver in his pursuit.”
In the myth the use of the term “skilled young hunter” represents the initiate who has learned appreciation for the world of nature, a trademark of Shinto mysticism. The large bear in the account represents his desire. He is noted as being a “young hunter” or a fertile young man. The bear is a sacred animal in Ainu cosmology and for a large bear to enter his experience represents a strong sexual desire, and the “hunt” itself is symbolic of such. Let us read on.
“The young hunter remained steady in the chase and the bear was cunning in its movements, not allowing the hunter to get close enough to shoot it with poisoned arrows.”
The young man kept entertaining certain sexual desires in his mind, but did not act upon these, as he could not “get close enough to shoot his arrows.”
“At last, the bear disappeared and fell down a hole in the ground. The young hunter followed the bear and found himself in a large cave. Towards the far end of the cave was a gleam of light, and the young hunter did follow in this direction, as he found himself in another world.”
The young hunter followed the light of his arousal until he entered state of lust, “another world.”
“There existed everything that can be found in the world of man, but this was a place of unearthly beauty. There were trees, houses, villages, and human beings. The young hunter wasn’t concerned about any of these things. He was still in pursuit of the bear, which had by now vanished.”
The young hunter became so intoxicated with his fantasies of sexual arousal that his sense could no longer determine such as a desire and his state of being became that of lust. This is what is meant when it says the “bear, which by now vanished.”
“He thought it best to seek such in the mountains that stood in the distance of this new underground world. The young hunter took flight up a valley. Exhausted and hungry after the long pursuit, the younger hunter was delighted to find the fruit of a mulberry tree and a few grapevines nearby.”
The young hunter became fully consumed in lust and could no longer resist any temptation that would appear in his experience. Interestingly, we see the appearance of a grapevine in this portion of the myth. When Izanagi-no-Mikoto was trying to escape the Ugly Females of Yomi, it is said that he threw his black headdress down and it became grapes.
“Suddenly, the young hunter was able to look at the other side of himself and was horrified to find that he was transformed into a snake. His cries and groans were like the hissing noise of the snakes. In disbelief his mind was petrified. How could he go back to the land of his parents, where snakes were hated? He would surely die in the attempt of such a thing. No cure for this curse came to his mind. The young hunter had to creep back to the entrance of the cave that led back to the world of man. At the foot of the entrance, he saw a pine-tree of enormous size and height, and there he fell asleep.”
After eating the grapes and partaking in the act of masturbation, a heavy weight of guilt fell on the young man. He was no longer filled with lust and was able to see his actions for what they really were, symbolically depicted by his seeing himself as a snake.
“During his sleep, the Divine-Lady of the pine-tree appeared to him in a dream, saying: “It saddens my heart to see you in such a state. Why did you eat the poisonous fruits of the Netherworld? If you climb up to the top of this pine-tree and fling yourself down, then you may, perhaps, become a human being again.”
The young hunter received a message from one of the kami. The pine tree is a sacred symbol in Shinto mysticism as it is used for its purifying qualities. The appearance of this “divine lady” in his dream shows us that the young hunter was reminded of his obligations as a Shinto initiate and of the rites of purity.
“The younger hunter, now a snake, awakened and was filled half with hope and half with fear. Yet, he was determined to follow the advice of the Divine-Lady who appeared to him in his dreams. Gliding up the tall pine-tree, he reached the top-most branch. After hesitating for a few moments, he flung himself down. When he awakened from the crash, he found himself standing at the foot of the tree. Nearby, was the body of an immense serpent, ripped open, so as to allow the young hunter a way to climb out of it.”
The young hunter begins to examine the situation and sees that he was truly possessed by desire and seeks to repent for his actions.
“The young hunter offered up thanks to the pine-tree, and made divine symbols in its honor. He retraced his steps, finding the way in which he entered the Netherworld. After walking for some time, he reached the world of men and the top of the mountain where he had first pursued the bear that he never saw again.”
This show us that the young hunter had a deep knowledge of spiritual things as he was said to make “divine symbols” in appreciation of the Divine Lady of the pine tree. Thereafter, he was able to review his steps and proceed up the mountain where he first saw the bear. This means that his path was not of true repentance as he somehow was able to justify his actions and convince himself that he could return to the top of the mountain, a place held for worship.
“During the night, while the young hunter was asleep, the Divine Lady of the pine-tree appeared in his dream once more, saying:
“It is time for you to return to the Netherworld. The bear you were chasing, was a spirit-woman of the Netherworld. She deceived you in order to gain your hand in marriage. You must now return to her.”
The young hunter awoke, but a terrible sickness had over powered him. A few days later he returned to the Netherworld a second time. He never returned to the land of the living.”
Different than Izanagi-no-Mikoto, the young hunter never purified himself in water. Yet he carried on making “divine symbols” and etc. it was because of this reason that the young hunter never left a state of depression, symbolized by the Netherworld.
When a person is said to have eaten the fruitage of the Netherworld and can never return to the Land of the Living, it represents a state of depression that is difficult to overcome. What happens is that the emotions that we meditate on begin to take a life of their own and remain a part of our aura, which these new-born independent emotions now use as a gate to gain access to the Land of the Living while keeping the individual confined to the Netherworld.
When we take into consideration that our emotions is what ancient practitioners of the Art of Ninzuwu equated to as “spirits” then the process described earlier becomes very clear. The Yi Jing Apocrypha of Genghis Khan states:
“Our prayers are our thoughts and feelings. This is the true meaning of any prayer or incantation. The prayers said in temples are exercises for the mind. It is nothing more than the practice of getting the mind to focus on a beneficent thought or feeling for a certain amount of time. This is a practice of mental endurance, not prayer. Once we leave the temple, our prayer begins and is found in our thoughts and feelings. Prayer is a magical act.”
When we are overcome by desires stemming from unclean places, the Land of Yomi, we are in effect praying for such situations to occur. Once we have eaten of the fruit of the Underworld, we give birth to an emotional state or “spirit” that will seek to return to its parent though possession of the said host. Since this “emotion/spirit” is actually produced by the victim, it is able to seduce the victim for it knows its parents tendencies extremely well. This principle can be applied to various unclean acts, but specifically to masturbation, as the energy behind such actions have a stronger influence over one’s experiences. Once, when I was trying to quit smoking, another unclean act, it baffled me that during my attempts of quitting, I would often find brand new, unopened packs of cigarettes several times throughout the day. I had created an unclean spirit that sought my return to the Underworld, which would lead to another state of depression. Further admonition is given to us in the Ivory Tablets of the Crow:
“Know then that these feelings keep the spirit a prisoner in the house of flesh. They will make a blasphemy of the mind, so that the spirit becomes a worshipper of the same feelings that bind him. They often change into the shapes of gods and make the mind its disciple. There are also the feelings that inspire men. These too act as his gods. They seek to free the spirit from its slavery, but it is confused because the mind worships a false god.”
Masturbation, like other unclean habits, is not an easy cycle to end, once started. However, in the Art of Ninzuwu the symbolic river of Izanagi-no-Mikoto’s cleansing rite is always with us.
The symbolic river of Izanagi-no-Mikoto’s cleansing is the use of words of power. We are not always in control of our thoughts or the emotions that latch on to us, but we can control our words. In Shinto, by virtue of the principle of kotodama, words vibrate a power and are themselves living beings that can aid us and work as a “Watcher,” ridding our minds of negative thoughts and emotions. Dr, Jerry A. Johnson once wrote:
“A word is the center of an idea, just as an idea is the center of a mental image. The mind subconsciously molds itself around the prevailing mental image or attitude, and then proceeds to draw from the outer world for material from which to build in accordance to the belief. Therefore in magic, words are considered to be living beings. A word’s meaning is its spirit, and its sound is its body. If you ignore either, you weaken its innate power.”
We are blessed that in the cultivation of purity in the dream, we can make use of the Vasuh language in such regard and in perfection of the practice of the Art of Ninzuwu. Stay blessed.