The Spiritual Autobiography Essay
One of the fascinating characteristics of Japanese religion is the syncretism of its traditional religions, foremost of which are Zen Buddhism and Shinto. In Journey In Search of the Way: The Spiritual Autobiography of Satomi Myodo, Satomi gives a mesmerizing look into the spirituality of Japan, through the eyes of what seems at first an unlikely witness. Satomi’s experiences are untypical for a Japanese woman in the Meiji era, considering that she was the only daughter of her parents.
Petty (2004) argues that by being an only child, Satomi received her parents’ whole investment of expectations and dreams, a burden of responsibility in any society. Thus she was subjected to experiences that a village girl at that time would normally not have, such as her education in Tokyo, her subsequent unwed pregnancy or her arrangement as a Kageki actress. Her unique encounters as both a Shinto miko and a Zen nun are an insight to the mixture of the two religions in modern Japan. When Satomi first engaged in ascetic practices, she was doing it to prepare herself to become a miko.
Initially, she was not satisfied with her experience, rather describing herself afterwards as no better off than she was before. This purification process is not unique to the Shinto religion, but her struggles can be classified as more of a shamanistic nature reflecting her encounters with the kami. Satomi continued to engage in an ascetic lifestyle afterwards, in her discovery of Zen. According to Nixon (2000)
“At this point Satomi’s asceticism is less severe, and she consciously relates it to her practice of meditation, but it serves a similar function – i. e. , one of deliberately frustrating a lower level structure of dependency, in order that the dynamisms of a higher level of personality might emerge, as indeed they do with her first kensho experience. ” (par. 14). Although she found true enlightenment and spiritual invigoration in the practice of Zen, her initial experience in purifying the spirit with Shinto has given her prior introduction to the life she will lead as a Zen nun. Additionally, Satomi’s failures and accomplishments in her role as a woman in the Meiji-era society gave her the character and persistence needed in her pursuit of satori.
By practicing zazen, Satomi found great peace and joy, something she was searching for since the very beginning. It can be argued, however, that her Shinto preparation was a stepping stone towards finding enlightenment. Her first kensho experience, at fifty-nine years old came late in life, and her dedication towards this experience made her a model of achievement in any religious path. Zen and Shinto were at the time of Satomi separated, with Shinto following the Kannagara no michi tradition that was used in pre-war Japan to instill a nationalistic spirit on the Japanese.
From the start however, the influence of Buddhism on Shinto is apparent and the best example would be the description of Kannagara no michi as teaching a primal state of natural and spontaneous harmony with the kami, to which one might return by abandoning human desire and artificiality. This incorporation of beliefs is characteristic of the faith of modern Japanese people today, which take Shinto and Buddhist teachings as part of the culture and spirituality of Japan. Satomi’s account is clear and vivid, giving justice to the setting and context of her life’s story.
The Journey In Search of the Way: The Spiritual Autobiography of Satomi Myodo is a very good reading on the religions of Japan, and especially in relation to the role given to women.
R E F E R E N C E
Nixon, Laurence. (2000). A Dabrowskian Analysis of a Japanese Buddhist Nun [Electronic Version]. The Dabrowski Newsletter, 6(2). Petty, Genevieve. (2004). A Wild Woman in Buddhism: A Critique of the Life of Satomi Myodo. Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://poeme. memory-motel. net/academic/satomi. pdf
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