Biocentrism was defined by Lanza and Barman (2010) as the belief or view that the needs and rights of human beings are not more important than those of other living things. The biocentrism concept puts great emphasis on equal consideration for all living things within the ecosystem. Biocentrism beliefs and theories have closely been associated with indigenous traditional practices like Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Shinto. The aim of this essay is to compare the idea of biocentric worldviews found in Shinto and Hinduism practices. The essay is going to discuss biocentrism concept which is inherent in tradition of Karma in Hinduism and kami in Shinto beliefs.
Principle of kami in Shinto practices and beliefs says focus on power of nature and the universe. Kami, according to Ono and Woodard is defined as the spirit that was created from heavens and is present in all objects. The uniqueness of Shinto tradition lies in the belief the spirits of kami live all animals and objects of the universe. Shinto believers assert kami is found in inanimate animals, objects, physical features as well as plants. With relation to biocentrism, kami concept has resulted to acceptance of biocentric perspective in plants and animals by members of those communities that practice Shinto. Shinto believers have great reverence for all plants and animals as they believe the kami spirit dwells in all living things and objects.
According to the teachings of Shinto, believers might consider, selected animals, plant species and physical features like rivers to be spiritual shrines. Normally, these are animals or objects that have demonstrated abilities that are supernatural. These organisms and objects are normally conserved and guarded by Shinto believers. In contrast to western traditions and religions, advocates of Shinto look at the environment with all its constituents as being of a similar status as humankind. The biocentrism concept is demonstrated in Shinto culture through direct identification of kami with nature. Kami also manifests itself via the elements of nature like mountains, animals, rivers and plants. Existence of kami, within all these elements of nature symbolizes a unification of all things that dwell in the universe. As such, Shinto teaches the adoration and worship of the essence of nature. Ono and Woodard (2004) made the assertion the belief that kami dwells in all living things is what has led to adoption of a mindset that is biocentric where, human beings no longer are looked upon as the dominant organism in cosmic system.
Kokoro, is a concept that is related to kami closely which Underwood (2012) interprets as the concept that interlinks responsiveness between the universe and an individual. Kokoro requires the believers of Shinto to exercise responsibility in their activities throughout the world. Kokoro as such, acts as the code of conduct with its role being strengthening kami tradition in society. As such, the practice of Shinto has contributed to an intimate relationship between Shinto believers and the different elements of environment such as animals, plants and the existing physical features.
Ethical Implications of Kami Belief
Kami principle is directly attributed to realization of self-awareness among Shinto believers. Shinto’s doctrine of kami emphasis importance of appreciating oneself as well as objects in the universe. Yamakage (2012) makes the argument that belief that kami exists in all living things and objects present a direct link between the environment and spiritual world. The spiritual world, through kami has been transformed into bodies of plants and animals. Co-existence between humans and constituents of the ecosystem has contributed to interaction that is harmonious between flora and fauna in the ecosystem.
According to Yamakage (2012), kami has its center on the beliefs of righteousness, essence as well as divine authority of spirit. The concept that kami resides in all things further causes establishment of fair judgment system among community members. This has helped promote Shinto belief that all members of the community possess the kami spirit. Further, the practice of Shinto led to a communal ceremony where believer of Shinto who have perished get honored by members of the community who are living. According to traditions of Shinto, individuals who demonstrate spiritual devotion in their lifetime and undertaking Shinto traditions are honored through being proclaimed as kami upon their deaths. Through stipulating the expected code of conduct, kokoro makes provision of ethical guidelines that uphold obedience amongst the believers.
The doctrine of Karma, according to Ratnakar (2005) is a major fundamental pillar in Hinduism. Based on Hinduism teachings, karma states that the actions of every individual and their thoughts result to the appropriate outcome in their lives. The outcome can either be experienced immediately, in near future or in some cases, in the afterlife. Through incarnation, the soul of an individual continues its journey suffering repercussions of karma till the soul obtains spiritual righteousness that is known as Moksha. Based on karma principle, all living things undergo karma. Consequences of Karma can further be mitigated by following dharma teachings. Referring to the writings by Lanza and Berman (2010), Sanatana dharma outlines spiritual practices and the duties expected of all Hindus. Hindus who have faith in the principles of karma and doctrines of dharma play crucial role in development and creating awareness of biocentric worldviews. As such, a large percentage of Hindus have adopted vegetarian diets. Hindus who are vegetarians are motivated by incarnation and karma beliefs that they could be hurting their relatives who might have transformed into animals in their afterlife. A small section of Hindus have already demonstrate their commitment against harming animals and they are known as Jains. These are pure vegetarians and they forbid believers from harming living organisms regardless of the form.
Ethical Implications of the Karma Doctrine
Hinduism tradition has resulted to ethical consequence to Hinduism believers. Ratnakar (2005) observes following the principle of karma, the actions of an individual are related directly to their consequences, the largest percentage of Hindus practice righteousness and embraced harmony. The fear of incarnation as a lowly creature in majority of societies of Hindus has contributed to the birth of communities that are socially upright. A study carried out by Lanza and Berman (2010) indicated that a large percentage of Hindus are vegetarians. They resort to consume vegetables so as to avoid causing harm to animals. Vegetarians have also indirectly contributed to maintenance of ecosystem since they reject meat consumption. As subjects of karma, Hindus have also adopted conservative and friendly approach in their relationships with both wild and domestic animals. Hindus as well strive to offer animals that are under their care proper treatment in exchange for positive karma consequence in future. Karma concept further has led to widespread non-violence in communities that are dominated by Hindus. Also, Lanza and Berman (2010) wrote that one of the major campaigners of non-violent culture was Mahatma Gandhi. During his fight for freedom of India from the British, he differed with many since he used a non-violent approach.
Similarities between the Concept of Kami and Karma
Concept of karma in Hinduism shares similarities with Shinto concept of kami. Both these concepts lay emphasis on the role played by the universe in balancing coexistence between the different elements of the environment. According to Yamakage (2012), kami concept focuses on revelation of the presence of the spirit in all objects. In the same manner, karma demonstrates the universe’s power in all earthly thoughts and actions through rewarding all thoughts and actions. These two concepts are a demonstration of biocentrism principle. Underwood (2012) stated Shinto believers worship animals, plants and physical features but they also believe that in turn, nature worships them. This concept place man in a class that is similar with all other objects of the universe since Shinto teachings mention superiority between human beings and other objects.
Reference to karma doctrines also indicate the laws of cause as well as effects that apply to all things. Hindus therefore, are convinced mistreatment of animals can lead to incarnation that is unfavorable in the afterlife. In depth, analysis of these two concepts reveals the two traditions focus on individuality. These two concepts do not mention the role of parties and society in relation to moral ethics. Kami illustrates the spirit dwells in the body of every individual. Also, the concept of karma mentions the consequences of actions taken by individuals. As such, the law of effects and cause takes consideration only where the choices and actions of an individual are concerned. Individualistic nature of these two concepts indicate the role of a believer’s effort in attainment of spiritual state and self-righteousness.
Differences between the Concept of Karma and Kami
Though both doctrines of kami and karmi can be termed as guiding doctrines to believers of Shinto and Hinduism respectively, traditions inherent in kami do not mention incarnation concept. Rather, the principle of karma is connected tightly with the concept of incarnation. Karma consequences are likely to be experienced by believers in afterlife. Referring to Lanza and Berman (2010) through incarnation, Hindus strongly believe that they might be transformed to other organisms in their afterlife.
Further, the presence of spirits within the organism demonstrates the belief of kami from the karma doctrine. According to Shinto, kami is a spirit that dwells within all organisms and objects in the universe. Further, the spirit reveals to the believers true wisdom regarding the universe. Karma however, does not entail spiritual possession of influence of a God. The believer, solely has the responsibility of their own actions. Believers of karma as such as guided by moral beliefs and spiritual code of conduct while making choices between what is right and what is wrong.
Kami concept does not mention consequences of actions that are unethical while in karma, there is belief the consequences are stated clearly as a subject to actions and thoughts of believers. The principle of karma is as such dominantly based on consequences of an individual’s actions. Further, the doctrine elaborates good deeds attract positive consequences while immoral actions are punished through suffering and misfortune. In contrast, the Shinto tradition does not recognize any absolute frame of wrong and right. The actions of a person are judged according to the context of surrounding and conditions in existence.
Both Shinto and Hinduism religions are similar because of their consideration of biocentric world view of the environment. Biocentrism in Hinduism is demonstrated through practice of karma tradition while Shinto practices biocentrism via doctrine of kami. The concepts of kami and karma uphold biocentric views through recognition of fundamental role of all living things and objects in the universe. Kami beliefs are aimed at establishment of righteous and spiritual state within the living things and objects.
In the same manner, Hinduism belief of karma aims at establishing caution and care in believer’s actions as they interact with their environment. The traditions of karma and kami share similarities and differences in the manner they approach the concept of biocentrism. However, both of these traditions emphasis the awareness of fundamental role played by both animals and plants in attainment of a lifestyle that is spiritually balanced. These two traditions as well offer guidance and wisdom on the manner in which living things can enjoy full life enjoyment in the world without the need to overlook the needs and values of other parties that are within the environment.
Lanza, R. & Berman, B. (2010). Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are The Key To Understanding The True Nature Of The Universe. Dallas, TX: Ben Bella Books.
Ono, S., & Woodard W. (2004). Shinto the Kami Way. North Claredon, VT: Tuttle Publishing.
Ratnakar, P. (2005). Hinduism (Evolution and Current Practices).New Delhi: Lustre Press.
Underwood, C. (2012). Shintoism: The Indigenous Religion of Japan. Yorkshire: West Yorkshire: Pomona Press.
Yamakage, M. (2012). The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart. New York City, NY: Kodansha USA.