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Le Défi magique, volume 2

 | 
Massimo Introvigne
, 
Jean-Baptiste Martin

Nouvelle sorcellerie et monde des esprits dans le japon contemporain

Different forms of spirit mediation in Mahikari and Shinnyo-en: shamanism east and west

Catherine Cornille

Résumé

Les « nouvelles nouvelles religions » (shinshinshukyo) japonaises des dernières décennies représentent un retour des croyances et pratiques religieuses les plus anciennes du Japon. La cosmologie et l’étiologie de ces religions sont basées sur l’idée de l’interaction entre le monde des esprits et celui des vivants. Mahikari et Shinnyo-en, deux de ces religions qui sont aussi présentes en Occident, proclament que la plupart des problèmes sont causés par des esprits troublés qui possèdent les vivants ou transmettent leur karma sur un descendant. Cette croyance en la causalité spirituelle remet en évidence le rôle central du shaman, du médiateur entre le monde spirituel et le monde des vivants. Mais dans les nouvelles religions japonaises, le rôle du shaman a été modifié et institutionnalisé pour servir l’idéologie et les intérêts des différents mouvements. Chez Mahikari, les fonctions traditionnelles du shaman de transmission et d’interprétation des messages sont séparées. Alors que l’esprit parle à travers la personne possédée, c’est le dirigeant qui interprète les messages. Dans Shinnyo-en, la communication avec le monde spirituel passe à travers des médiums professionnels. Alors que dans Mahikari, la possession est involontaire et nuisible, chez Shinnyo-en, elle est délibérée et sans conséquence pour le possédé. Shinnyo-en rejoint ainsi plus directement l’ancienne tradition japonaise du shamanisme. Comme les messages des esprits se rapportent souvent à l’éthique et aux besoins du mouvement, la médiation des esprits sert de puissant moyen de contrôle et même de manipulation des membres. Puisque le diagnostic des problèmes est fait en termes de possession, la solution offerte dans les nouvelles religions japonaises est naturellement une forme d’exorcisme. Chez Mahikari, le pouvoir exorciste est réparti parmi tous les membres, alors que chez Shinnyo-en, il est réservé au dirigeant central du mouvement. Ceci peut expliquer la plus grande popularité de Mahikari en Occident.

Texte intégral

1The figure of the shaman or miko forms an integral part of the history of Japanese religion. In a worldview which directly relates human fate to the state of spirits, the mediator between the human and the spirit worlds plays a crucial role. By communicating with the spirits, he or she can discover the ultimate origin of diseases and misfortunes and often thereby solve them. Shamans thus traditionally fulfill both an etiological and a thaumaturgical function.

  • 1 This division in Shinto and Buddhist new Japanese religions is mainly for convenience sake. In fac (...)

2In the course of the century, this age-old tradition of shamanism has become institutionalized in many new Japanese religions. The leaders of these religions connect their calling to spirit possession or to direct communication with the spirit world, and manifest healing powers. A fascination with the spirit world is particularly characteristic of the new Japanese religions1 (shinshinshukyo). The restoration of Japanese national pride in the early seventies included a return to the traditional Japanese worldview and values. In this way the figure of the shaman regained importance.

3But just as the styles and functions of the traditional shamans differed, so do those of the new Japanese shamans. The various new Japanese religions thus exhibit different forms of institutionalized shamanism or, in other words, of organized communication with the spirit world. This becomes clear when one compares the role of the mediator in Mahikari with his role in Shinnyo-en. Mahikari, founded in 1959 by Okada Yoshikazu, belongs to the Shinto group of new Japanese religions, while Shinnyo-en, started in 1939 by Shinjo Ito and his wife, is regarded as a Buddhist new Japanese religion. Both new Japanese religions relate the origins of all problems to the spirit world and propose a sure solution to these problems through particular forms of mediation.

  • 2 Membership numbers are very difficult to procure, partly because of the large turnover in the new (...)
  • 3 There are, of course, other organizational and strategic variables which determine whether or not (...)

4Another element common to Mahikari and Shinnyo-en and to their respective new forms of shamanism is that neither has limited its activities and fields of operation to Japan only. Both new religions have developed active missions in the West. Shinnyo-en established its first temple in Hawaii in 1967, while Mahikari’s first training center, or dojo, in the West was established in Paris in 1971. From those places, both movements have spread at different speeds and with varying success over the rest of the Western world. In Europe, Mahikari has between ten and twenty thousand members, while the appeal of Shinnyo-en has been mostly limited to Japanese living abroad2. Since both new religions are based on similar worldviews and laws of causality, one determining factor for this variation in the success of their expansion may lie with their particular forms of shamanism3.

1. Spirit-causality

5In continuity with the Japanese tradition, both Shinnyo-en and Mahikari believe that spirits are the main cause of disease and misfortune. The founder of Mahikari ascribed eighty per cent of all diseases to spirit causality, whereas Shinnyo-en does not specify or limit the number. Restless spirits are believed to take possession of and afflict the living, either out of ignorance or revenge. These spirits may belong to ancestors, the victims of ancestors, or to one’s enemies from previous lives. Descendants inherit the karma of their ancestors. The living then suffers a pain homologous to a problem which tormented the ancestor; e.g. pain in the back, the stomach, or the head is then related to an ancestor falling from a ladder, dying from stomach-cancer, or suffering from migraine respectively. Often the malevolent spirit may be that of someone who has been wronged or victimized by an ancestor, for example the ancestor’s mistress or enemy. According to Mahikari, a single spirit may cause misfortune and death to several persons within the same family.

  • 4 This derives directly from the inari-or fox-cult which used to be very popular in Japan.

6As both Shinnyo-en and Mahikari believe in reincarnation, present suffering may also be seen as a recompense for the pain inflicted upon others in one’s own previous life. A woman who cannot find a husband may then be believed to have betrayed her husband, a woman who cannot get pregnant to have aborted a child, and one who is beaten to have been a man who beat his wife in a previous life. Both Shinnyo-en and Mahikari continue the ancient Japanese belief that the spirits of people who have died a sudden violent death may continue to haunt the place of death and possess anyone who visits that place. Clear traces of ancient Japanese folk traditions may also be found in the belief that people may be possessed by the spirit of animals, often that of a fox4. A person may also become possessed by the spirit of a dog that he or she has killed. In the possession rationale, a mixture of personal and inherited karma may thus be operative.

  • 5 Young, R., «Magic and morality in Modern Japanese exorcistic Technologies» in Japanese Journal of (...)
  • 6 Ibid., p. 29.

7These theories of spirit causality may be seen as totally incongruous with both the Western religious tradition and with contemporary mechanistic rationality. Nonetheless, they do seem to hold a certain appeal for Westerners. This may be understood in terms of the redistribution of guilt and responsibility which it entails. In projecting the cause of one’s problems upon an external realm or in a past life beyond one’s own control, the person may feel a certain relief (or at most self-pity) at being a victim rather than responsible for one’s suffering. With the growth of the belief in reincarnation in the West, people may more easily understand present suffering as a recompense and satisfaction for bad karma accumulated in previous lives. A certain consolation or reconciliation may moreover be generated from the fact that current suffering is seen as repayment and as the guarantee for a happy rebirth. The very fact of making hitherto senseless suffering intelligible goes a long way toward making it tolerable. Richard Young points out that «Spirit belief draws a tighter net of causality around the experience of what the world-at-large calls misfortune or plain bad luck»5. While the sciences have come very far in understanding how things and people operate and can be fixed or healed, they do not answer the question why this person must suffer from this particular affliction, or why that particular child had to die. Its explanatory function might then be seen to start where that of traditional mechanical rationality falls short. Young also argues that «rather than an archaic cognitive anomaly, contemporary spirit-belief might better be understood as an expanded rationality with its own modality of logic»6. From this perspective, the belief in spirit causality need not necessarily clash with Western scientific rationality. The search for an ultimate explanation or rationalization answers to universal needs. And though the answers provided by new Japanese religions as Shinnyo-en and Mahikari are foreign to Westerners, they may exercise a certain appeal in despair. Still, this belief is generally integrated in the West not on purely rational grounds, but as the corollary of the magical healing sought.

2. New Forms of Shamanism

8The strong belief that spirits are the cause of disease and misfortune implies the need for mediators between the human and spirit worlds. Both Shinnyo-en and Mahikari thus came to develop some form of shamanistic ministry. Trained members became authorized to determine the origin of the problem in the spirit world, and to intercede with the spirits. While traditional shamanism was by nature a marginal or, at most, a semi-institutional reality, the new forms of shamanism became highly institutionalized. Members gradually climb through the organizational hierarchy and may then be trained to become mediums or interpreters of spirit messages. They are chosen or appointed, less by a particular deity or spirit than by the leader of the movement (though in the eyes of the members there is little difference between the two.) While traditional shamans operated independently and in the service of the people, the new shamans serve the interests of the movement within which they operate.

9In Shinnyo-en, the continuity with the ancient Japanese tradition of shamanism is very explicit. The Buddhist Shingon tradition to which it traces its roots has always been particularly linked to the Buddhist tradition of mountain asceticism or shugendo. In Shingon temples, miko or yamabushi (mountain ascetics) appear occasionally to perform divination or healing rituals. In 1946, Shinjo Ito instituted the function of reinosha, or medium. It was not until 1959, however, that the function may be said to have been fully developed. It was established as the highest rank attainable after passing through the stages of daiji, kangi, and daikangi. Within the rank of reinosha there also developed a certain hierarchy corresponding to ritual authority.

10The ritual life of Shinnyo-en is centered around different forms of mediation and consultation called the sesshin training. Each of these sesshins has a specific price (ranging from 500 yen for the elementary sesshin which members are supposed to attend at least twice a month, to 2000 yen or more for the higher forms of sesshin).

  • 7 When I participated in the Koojo sesshin in Osaka in 1990, I was told that the spirits of my ances (...)

11The most elementary form of sesshin training is the kojo sesshin. Anyone who has attended five ceremonies of Shinnyo-en (and signed a membership paper) may attend this. Members sit on their knees in a square meditating on the founder with eyes closed. The reinosha perform certain mudras or hand gestures and particular body-movements which bring them into a state of trance and communication with the spirit world. In this state, the reinosha may receive messages «by hearing» or «by intuition». In Shinnyo-en, the possessing spirit is only vaguely identified, but the message does pertain to a particular person. The spirit messages are here very short and usually relate in a general sense to the state of the ancestors in the spirit world, and to the teaching and propagation of Shinnyo-en7. In a higher form of sesshin, the kojo sodan, the member may specify what kind of message he or she wishes to hear (with the alternatives remaining limited to messages relating to the teaching, to the direction of others, or to making up for a failure to attend the previous month’s sesshin). The sodan sesshin is a private consultation in which the member may present personal problems such as those relating to study, physical pains or disharmony in the family. After listening to this problem, the reinosha then enters a trance and transmits the message. In the tokubetsu sodan, very deep or difficult problems are dealt with. The highest form of sesshin is the kantei sesshin, which consists of divination. Here, the reinosha is believed to receive messages which relate to the distant future. Members typically request a kantei sesshin when planning to build a house, travel, or get married.

  • 8 From the pamphlet «In pursuit of truth» printed and distributed by Shinnyo-en.
  • 9 It is also said that the founder is spiritually superior to the reinosha. While the latter have po (...)

12By 1989, the year of the founder’s death, about 500 members had received the rank of reinosha. Since then, this number has more than doubled. This sudden increase in the number of mediums may be related to the disappearance of a strong central authority in the movement. While Shinjo Ito was alive, his own charismatic authority was sufficient to insure such centrality in the movement. After he died, authority seems to have become gradually more diffused and the function of the reinosha more important. In Shinnyo-en, the reinosha fulfills a central role in the life of the members. He or she may function as spiritual master, psychologist, and infallible guide in personal, relational, educational, professional, and financial matters. Unmistakably, this involves the risk of decentralization and splintering which is inherent in a movement in which shamanism is dispersed among the members. To ensure loyalty to the movement, the reinosha’s power of mediation, called Bakku-Daiju, is said to be derived from the spirits of the deceased family members of the founder, the Ryodoinsama. Kyodoin, the first son of the founder who died in infancy, is said to have departed «for the spiritual world in order to open the way to the Shinnyo Spiritual World... He achieved instant communication with ancestral souls owing to the consecration of his life, which laid the foundation of the present Sesshin training»8. The death of the second son, Shindoin, is believed to have broadened the spiritual path and strengthened the power of Bakku-Daiju. The wife of the founder passed away in 1967, the year that Shinnyo-en was first propagated outside Japan, in Hawaii. Her death was then interpreted as a sacrifice to make salvation accessible to all. This belief thus binds the reinosha to the movement doctrinally. Members are called to express their gratitude for certain shamanic services, not to the reinosha, but to the founder and his family9. In practice, loyalty to the movement is maintained and enhanced through a gathering of all reinosha which takes place twice a month. There, the reinosha train and encourage each other, and are stimulated to work toward achieving an ever higher rank within the movement. Only a very small core of members are believed to have reached the very highest rank of reinosha.

13Another measure to guarantee the centralization of authority is through the regular rotation of reinosha. Reinosha in the West, for example, change post every six months. The Shinnyo-en mediums are thusfar exclusively Japanese. This has been a stumbling block to the propagation of Shinnyoen in the West. While the foreign identity of the reinosha may furnish an aura of mystery in turn increasing their power, the practice of mediation is also less direct. Shinnyo-en states that reinosha may communicate with Western as well as with Eastern spirits because their messages are transmitted in meta-linguistic form. But in the West the spirit messages need to be translated, which compromises their immediacy. Further, Japanese reinosha are less in touch with problems and sensitivities particular to Westerners. This poses limits on the important psychological component of their function. Some members of Shinnyo-en therefore believe that the breakthrough of their movement in the West awaits the formation of Western reinosha. The metaphysics of the spirit world (the vicarious role of the Ryodoinsama) may however also constitute an obstacle for Westerners. As the leaders of Shinnyo-en often complain: «Westerners always have to first understand and believe before they are willing to experience».

  • 10 The meaning of the prayer is said to Ire unimportant. The language is believed to be that of the g (...)
  • 11 This spell-like diction is repeated at the end of the first part of every session of okiyome.

14In Mahikari, a more derivative form of shamanism became institutionalized. Here, the mediator does not him-or herself enter into trance, but communicates with the spirits which manifest themselves through possessed members. While in theory everyone is possessed, spirit manifestations occur relatively rarely. It usually happens during the first part of the ritual of okiyome, which consists of the transmission of the Divine Light. Here, the recipient and the administrator of the Light sit on their knees facing each other. The former has the eyes closed and the hands folded in front of the chest while the latter recites the Amatsu Norigoto, a prayer the sound or vibrations of which are believed to stir the spirits10. For ten full minutes, the Light is then transmitted to the forehead, called «point 8» in the anatomic terminology of Mahikari. This is the place where the possessing spirits are believed to reside. By transmitting the Light spirits are weakened and may consequently manifest themselves (furei). This becomes apparent through spirit movements (reido) ranging from slight movement of the hands or blinking of the eyes, to violent shaking of the head, arms, and trunk, and crawling or jumping around the room. The possessed person may start speaking in a strange voice or in a foreign tongue. However, the words spoken directly through the possessed person are to be mistrusted. Spirits are said to be mean, cunning, and mendacious. That is why only trained ministers are allowed to investigate the spirits (reisa.) Average members are allowed no more than the continued transmission of the Light, and the loud exclamation of Oshizumari, which means «Still, be quiet,» while waving the hands over the contours of the receiver’s body as if to physically shake off the spirit’s presence11. The possessed person in Mahikari is thus not considered to be a medium.

  • 12 The belief in spirit possession here becomes a mere structure.
  • 13 An incarnation as a woman is considered to be inferior to that as a man. And women who do not fulf (...)

15Only those who have experience with the spirit world are allowed to interrogate the spirits and to interpret their messages. This authority is generally given to the dojocho, or leader of the training centers (dojo), to all advanced leaders or kanbu, and to the special ministers of Mahikari, the doshi. They have been trained by the movement to discern the identity of the possessing spirit, the cause of displeasure leading to possession and, eventually, the nature of the demands. The investigation of spirits occurs by asking specific questions to which the spirit may respond by nodding, writing on the floor, or by speaking in a peculiar tongue or with strange intonations. The spirit is usually identified as that of a relative, or as that of someone who was acquainted with a relative. Mahikari members are required to submit details on their family tree to the organization. The reason for possession may be revenge and/or a shortcoming in the individual (e.g. a stubborn person is believed to attract stubborn spirits, a greedy person greedy spirits). In either event, the interpretation of spirit possession becomes an invaluable way to inculcate the values and norms of the movement. Even when the person is merely the victim of revenge, he or she is reminded or warned of what to avoid in order to protect one’s descendants from becoming victims in their turn. When a member’s shortcoming is said to have attracted a certain spirit, he or she is directly confronted with the ideal presented by the movement12. The values advocated by Mahikari are the traditional Japanese ones of obedience, humility, gratitude, love, harmony, and women’s submission13. The opposite of these attitudes is believed to be the cause of possession and misery in oneself or one’s descendants. The possession rationale thus becomes a powerful tool for reinforcement of the values and practices of the movement. And the person who interprets the possession thus acquires the authority to direct and control the lives of members.

  • 14 Mahikari has come to spread very rapidly on the Ivory Coast and in Antilles, places which have a l (...)
  • 15 He seems to have seen in the child of one of the members of Mahikari the new saviour, an idea whic (...)

16While the rationale of spirit possession is accepted by Mahikari’s Western members as well as those in Japan, the manifestation of spirits is much rarer in the West than in Japan or in the African countries14. Spirit manifestations, however, are in general not given much publicity in Mahikari. Even though they function as evidence for the theory of spirit causality, spirit manifestations are not particularly encouraged, and members are not supposed to elaborate upon them. The less frequent occurrence of manifestations in the West is interpreted at best in terms of the shyness of Western spirits, and at worst in terms of their stubbornness. While Mahikari has attempted to install Westerners in the position of dojocho, and has trained a few Western members to become doshi, the vast majority of mediators of the spirit world or interpreters of spirit possession remain Japanese. The distribution of the authority to interpret the spirit messages engenders certain risks. The spirit investigator may come to read messages which are contrary to the teaching and to the hierarchical structure of the movement. That is why total and unquestioning loyalty to the organization is indispensable. This has caused some problems in the West. The Belgian dojocho of Brussels had to resign (in 1987) when his prophecies and interpretations became too unorthodox15. While several Western doshi have been trained in Japan, few have been given the authority to function in the West.

17Since the interrogation of the spirits depends on the spirits’manifestation, the role of the spirit investigator is less obtrusive than that of the reinosha in Shinnyo-en. But in both traditions, the authority of the one who communicates with the spirits is absolute.

3. Exorcism

  • 16 Cf. Tsushima, M.; Nishiyama, S.; Shimazono, S.; and Shiramizu, H. «The vitalistic conception of sa (...)
  • 17 Both new religions reject this term, partly because of its coercitive connotations.

18The appeal of the transmission of spirit messages lies not so much in their cognitive status as in their soteriological value. The discovery of the identity of the spirit and the reason for possession merely serves to deliver the person from the malevolent spirit and to restore health, wealth and/or harmony. The new Japanese religions have been characterized as «vitalistic,» geared toward bringing about salvation here and now16. It is their ability to fulfill concrete and practical expectations which accounts for their success. Since both Mahikari and Shinnyo-en attribute the cause of the problem to spirit possession, the solution will logically consist in some form of exorcism17. The attraction of these new Japanese religions is then determined –in the West even more so than in Japan-by the credibility and the effectiveness of these rituals. Their propagation occurs predominantly by word of mouth, on the basis of the experience and witness of others.

  • 18 It is believed that the Ryoodosama, the spirits of the founder’s family members, search for the pa (...)
  • 19 It is said to be the «discovery» of the ancient scripture called the Nirvanasutra by the shinjo It (...)
  • 20 Emphasis is placed not so much on the amount offered as on the attitude which seeks to give as muc (...)
  • 21 Since all documents require the name of the person through whom one has been introduced to Shinnyo (...)

19In Shinnyo-en, it is the central leader of the movement who performs the ritual of exorcism. The reinosha merely diagnoses the problem while the power to solve it remains in the hands of the highest authority. (This deferral is another means to ensure the centralization of power in the movement). After discovering the spirit cause of a problem through the mediation of a reinosha, the member sends requests for prayers and intercession (accompanied by a donation) to the central leader who then performs the purification ceremony both for the spiritual world (oseyaki) and for the members themselves (ogoma). The former is believed to bring about the elevation of the spirit whose bad karma is at the root of a particular member’s suffering18, while the latter prevents future suffering by purifying the member from present evil karma. As for the oseyaki, it is believed that the spirits of the departed children and wife of the founder (the Ryodoinsama) search for the malevolent spirit and lead it to a higher spirit world. Members participate in these rituals by reciting verses from the Nirvanasutra, and by chanting the names of the Ryodoinsama19. This ritual is an adaptation of the traditional Shingon Homa-or fire-ritual. While the ogoma also purifies participants, the accumulation of further bad karma is prevented mainly through the three observances prescribed by the movement. There is first the practice of gohoshi, the sweeping of public places as an expression of helping others and of purifying oneself. In Japan, members rise early in the morning to clean streets, stations, etc. In the West, this is done more discretely within the Shinnyo-en confines. A second observance is kangi, the offering of donations to the organization. This is presented as an expression of detachment from material goods. In addition to the money paid for every sesshin training, members must pay monthly dues and donations20. The third practice is called otaske, and consists of sharing Shinnyo-en with others, or recruiting new members21. Advancement within the hierarchy of Shinnyo-en depends on the diligence with which these practices are observed. Ambitious members may thus come to dedicate their whole life to the movement.

  • 22 Cf. the title of Winston Davis’book, Dojo, Magic and Exorcism in Modem Japan (Stanford: Stanford U (...)
  • 23 The questionnaire which 200 Belgian Mahikari members responded to indicated that about 23% had joi (...)

20In Mahikari, the entire first part of the practice of okiyome may be seen as an exorcistic ritual22. It is part and parcel of the manifestation and investigation of spirits. Transmission of Light to «point 8» is believed to gradually weaken and then exorcise the possessing spirits. In this process, the weakened spirit may come to manifest itself. This presents an opportunity to instruct the spirit in the teachings of Mahikari, and to convince it to leave the body. But even when the spirits do not appear, the transmission of Light is believed to purify and protect the member from harmful spirits. While the investigation of spirits or interpretation of spirit messages is reserved for certain authority figures, the practice of exorcism may be practised by all members. At the end of a three-day course of initiation, new members receive an amulet, called omitama, which empowers them to transmit the Light. This Light is believed to purify not only the person who receives, but also the person who transmits the Light. Every member is hence encouraged and motivated to transmit Light as much as possible, at all times and places. The means for purification and healing is thus directly available. It furnishes members with a sense of magical mastery of reality. The practice of okiyome may be appealing, not only as a means to become cured oneself, but also as a technique to heal, protect, or save others. It is thus often adopted on purely altruistic grounds23.

21The credibility of the Mahikari purification ritual in the West may lie partly in its quasi-physical dimension. The Light which is exchanged between two individuals may be easily visualized. The administrator of the Light holds the palm of the hand at a short distance from several particular points on the receiver’s body. This enhances its power of suggestion and may appear as an extension of medical treatment.

  • 24 Very detailed accounts of tests are provided to «scientifically» established power of the Light to (...)
  • 25 I develop this argument more elaborately in my «The Phoenix flies west. The dynamics of the incult (...)

22In the West, Mahikari seeks to be as inconspicuous as possible. While members in Japan may approach people or be seen giving okiyome in public places, in the West they are told to be discrete. Groups of members may get together to transmit the Light to particularly polluted places (e.g. buildings, cities, rivers, places where calamities have occurred.) But instead of chanting the Amatsu Norigoto out loud, they may whisper it; and instead of holding the hand up high to transmit the Light, they might merely open the palm in a particular direction. Purification of food when eating in a restaurant may be accomplished by holding a hand under the table instead of above the food. In this way, the practice of okiyome continues to be the essence of Mahikari in the West. It is presented less as a ritual than as an art or a technique, the efficacy of which can be scientifically shown24. Mahikari emphasizes that the transmission of Light is effective regardless of the worldview or beliefs of those involved, and that it may be practised by people belonging to any religious tradition. This makes Mahikari more acceptable and appealing to Westerners for whom the metaphysical background of the new Japanese religions is radically foreign. The practice of okiyome may be adopted as one more healing technique after all medical and paramedical methods have failed. Metaphysical doctrines are then gradually integrated, as one becomes more and more involved in the movement25.

  • 26 Among the members of Mahikari who filled out my questionnaire, 67 claimed to possess an altar for (...)

23The ritual traditionally seen as the surest way to avoid spirit possession is the worship of ancestors. Until recently, every Japanese home had its altar for the ancestors, its butsudan or kamidana, where offerings of food, flowers, and respect were made daily. This was to pacify the ancestors and to prevent them from taking possession of a family member in order to fulfil their needs. This practice has receded somewhat with the rapid economic growth of Japan, the process of urbanization and of change in the traditional Japanese family structure. In new Japanese religions such as Shinnyo-en and Mahikari it is restored. Food, drinks, tobacco, and money may thus be offered to fulfill the ancestors’desires and debts in the spirit world. It is believed that the ihai, or tablets on which the posthumous name of the deceased relative is engraved, absorb the substance of these elements in the form of vibrations. While there was originally some hesitation about introducing ancestor worship in the West (for fear of its alienating effect), Western members of both Mahikari and Shinnyo-en have readily adopted it26. It offers an additional means to save oneself and to help ancestors, once the belief in spirit causality has been integrated.

Conclusion

24The new forms of shamanism developed in new Japanese religions such as Mahikari and Shinnyo-en have found a widespread appeal in Japan. While Japanese society has become urbanized and secularized, the traditional belief in the spirit world, and its (mostly negative) causal relationship upon the world of the living is still strongly ingrained within the religious consciousness of the Japanese. The new forms of mediation provided by the new Japanese religions thus remain appealing. Whereas the traditional shamans are few and far between, Shinnyo-en and Mahikari offer forms of mediation which are readily accessible. The institutionalization and popularization of the function of the shaman imports elements of both expediency and risk to the new religions themselves. The words of shamans are traditionally regarded as divinely inspired and absolutely binding. In serving the values and interests of the institution, the new shamans may then become powerful agents of direction and control within the new religious movements. Yet, at the same time they present the threat of schism. Shamans may feel called by the deity to deviate from the teaching of the movement and to start a new religion (this is how, for example, Mahikari evolved out of Sekai Kyusei Kyo.) To preclude this risk, measures of structural and doctrinal nature are taken to keep the shamanistic figures dependent upon, and subordinate to the institution.

25While the new Japanese shamans respond to innate sensitivities and needs of the Japanese, they represent more of an anomaly in the West. Though the notions of spirit possession and exorcism are not absent from Christian terminology, the systematic projection of the cause of all misfortune and disease upon the spirit world seems to contradict the Western spirit of rationality. However, Richard Young’s understanding of spirit causality as an extension of mechanistic rationality may explain the appeal which the new Japanese shamans may exercise also upon Westerners. The belief in spirit-causality then takes over where scientific rationality stops. It provides certain psychological benefits and rational consolation. The projection of the cause of suffering upon conscious, willful agents in the spirit world relieves the individual from guilt and responsibility, while making suffering itself meaningful. In viewing present suffering as a form of redemption, as satisfaction for sins committed by oneself or by one’s ancestors in a previous life, a reconciliation with the present and hope for the future may be generated.

26However, the appeal of new Japanese religions in the West is based, less on doctrinal grounds than on practical or pragmatic ones. This may be illustrated by the much stronger appeal of Mahikari in the West. Both traditions provide a purification ritual which is believed to magically bring about health, wealth, and harmony. But whereas in Shinnyo-en this ritual is imbedded in an elaborate metaphysics, Mahikari emphasizes the immediate efficacy of the ritual, regardless of the person’s worldview or beliefs. While in Shinnyo-en, the power of purification is reserved for the central leader, in Mahikari it is distributed among all members. The reinosha in Shinnyo-en only have the power of divination and of determining the spirit cause of a particular problem. In Japan, the figure of the reinosha is highly appealing as personal guide and therapist. He or she provides direction in psychological and social as well as practical and economic affairs. For Westerners who have no tradition of interaction with the spirit world, it is harder to believe that spirits may be infallible guides in all these matters. Whereas Shinnyo-en has thus popularized the etiological aspect of traditional shamanism, Mahikari has emphasized the thaumaturgical aspect. In Mahikari there are ministers authorized to communicate with the spirits. But only following upon the condition that a spirit manifests in a particular member. And since these manifestations are rare in the West, the theory of spirit-causality and speculations on the spirit cause of a particular problem are stressed to a lesser degree. Mahikari then becomes one more alternative healing technique. Thus, only a rather watered down version of traditional Japanese shamanism filters through in the new Japanese religions in the West.

Notes

1 This division in Shinto and Buddhist new Japanese religions is mainly for convenience sake. In fact, all the new Japanese religions are syncretisms of Shinto, Buddhist, Shamanistic, Confucian, and Christian elements.

2 Membership numbers are very difficult to procure, partly because of the large turnover in the new Japanese religions.

3 There are, of course, other organizational and strategic variables which determine whether or not a new religion will find appeal in the West.

4 This derives directly from the inari-or fox-cult which used to be very popular in Japan.

5 Young, R., «Magic and morality in Modern Japanese exorcistic Technologies» in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 17 (1990): 33.

6 Ibid., p. 29.

7 When I participated in the Koojo sesshin in Osaka in 1990, I was told that the spirits of my ancestors were at peace, that they were happy that 1 had discovered the true teaching of Shinnyo-en, and that I had to work hard toward the dissemination of the teaching.

8 From the pamphlet «In pursuit of truth» printed and distributed by Shinnyo-en.

9 It is also said that the founder is spiritually superior to the reinosha. While the latter have polished one side of their personality, the founder has polished all sides.

10 The meaning of the prayer is said to Ire unimportant. The language is believed to be that of the gods, and hence untranslatable.

11 This spell-like diction is repeated at the end of the first part of every session of okiyome.

12 The belief in spirit possession here becomes a mere structure.

13 An incarnation as a woman is considered to be inferior to that as a man. And women who do not fulfil the traditional female role of wife and mother are believed to suffer from bad sexual karma.

14 Mahikari has come to spread very rapidly on the Ivory Coast and in Antilles, places which have a long tradition of spirit possession, deeply ingrained in the culture. The fact that spirit manifestations occur more frequently in countries which have a long tradition of interaction with the spirit world seems to support Winston Davis'thesis that spirit manifestations, like glossolalia, is a learned behavior. In Dojo, Magic and Exorcism in Contemporary Japan, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980, pp. 136 ff.

15 He seems to have seen in the child of one of the members of Mahikari the new saviour, an idea which does not concord with the teachings of Mahikari.

16 Cf. Tsushima, M.; Nishiyama, S.; Shimazono, S.; and Shiramizu, H. «The vitalistic conception of salvation in japanese new religions: an aspect of modern religious consciousness·, in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6 (1979): 139-161.

17 Both new religions reject this term, partly because of its coercitive connotations.

18 It is believed that the Ryoodosama, the spirits of the founder’s family members, search for the particular spirit and bring it to a happy and peaceful place.

19 It is said to be the «discovery» of the ancient scripture called the Nirvanasutra by the shinjo Ito which was the occasion for the foundation of the movement. In reciting this sutra, it is believed that one can become enlightened «through the pores of the skin».

20 Emphasis is placed not so much on the amount offered as on the attitude which seeks to give as much as one can. There are special envelopes for these donations on which members write their name and address, etc., so that the administration keeps track of how much every member has given.

21 Since all documents require the name of the person through whom one has been introduced to Shinnyo-en, the leadership is informed of every member’s proselytizing efforts.

22 Cf. the title of Winston Davis’book, Dojo, Magic and Exorcism in Modem Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980). This book has been the object of controversy and Davis the object of certain persecution by Mahikari.

23 The questionnaire which 200 Belgian Mahikari members responded to indicated that about 23% had joined out of purely altruistic reasons.

24 Very detailed accounts of tests are provided to «scientifically» established power of the Light to, for example, make plants grow faster and keep food from rotting.

25 I develop this argument more elaborately in my «The Phoenix flies west. The dynamics of the inculturation of Mahikari in western Europe· in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies vol. 18, 2-3 (1991) 265-285.

26 Among the members of Mahikari who filled out my questionnaire, 67 claimed to possess an altar for the ancestors.

Auteur

Université Catholique de Louvain.

© Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1994

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