The Body of God
“The most appropriate type of daily life for me was a day-by-day world destruction.”
“When you look at the world with knowledge, you realize that things are unchangeable and at the same time are constantly being transformed.”
-- Yukio Mishima
It is said that before all things were divided and differentiated and put into their place, there was only the egg of the cosmos, bursting with the germ of creation but dark and obscure. Containing all the potentialities of the universe, the egg began to drift apart. The lighter elements rose to become the heavens and the thick, heavy sediment settled down to become the earth. Thus were things first divided.
In those days Shining Heaven shared the upper realms with her brother and lover, Moon Bow, Moon Reader, the Exalted. He, who had been created when his father washed the sinful contagion of the Underworld from his eyes, had been invited to a feast prepared by Uke Mochi, the goddess of food. She vomited forth fish and rice from her mouth. She blew beans out of her nose. And she pulled millet out of her asshole. The Moon was so repulsed and disgusted by her method of preparing food that he savagely killed her and bathed in her blood. When Shining Heaven saw this foul deed she banished her brother from the sky and he dwelt forever after in darkness and wickedness.
Later, Shining Heaven warred against her other brother, Summer Storm. In his wrath, he laid waste to heaven and earth. At the height of his rage, Summer Storm tore the skin from a pony and cast its flayed body at the loom of Shining Heaven, killing her handmaiden. In her grief and horror, Shining Heaven cursed the world and withdrew to a cave by the sea. Days of darkness and terror followed and all the creatures and spirits wept bitterly. The gods came to beg Shining Heaven to return her light to the world but she turned away from them.
First, the god of mirrors came and hung a great bronze mirror upon a branch of the holy tree. The mirror reflected things as they truly are. But Shining Heaven would not leave her cave. Then, the god of jewelry came and he covered the holy tree with five hundreds pieces of carved jade, which sparkled like the stars in the sky. But Shining Heaven would not leave her cave. Finally Mirthful Dawn came to coax Shining Heaven from her cave. She stood upon an overturned wooden bathtub and began to dance. Slipping her dress from her smooth shoulders, Mirthful Dawn caressed her round breasts and pink nipples. The other gods and spirits were so moved by the joy and beauty of Mirthful Dawn that they all began to laugh. Hearing their laughter, Shining Heaven peeked her head out of the cave to see what was so funny. And, smiling, she came out of the cave and kissed Mirthful Dawn.
Summer Storm, repentant, knelt at the feet of his sister and presented her with his sword, Grass Cutter. So their feud ended and the Sun returned to the sky.
Later, when war threatened to shatter the land, Shining Heaven sent her grandson Ame-nigishi-kuni-nigishi-amatsuhiko-hiko-ho-no-ninigi-no-Mikoto to the people bearing three gifts, Grass Cutter, the sword of Summer Storm, the mirror of wisdom and truth, and the wealth of the earth, embodied in a carved piece of jade. By these gifts would all people know the descendants of Shining Heaven.
For more than 1,300 years, the Ise Jingu Shrine in Japan has been one of the holiest sites of worship for the Shinto goddess Amaterasu, the Shining Heaven. The shrine is also said to house the Yasakani no Magatama, the carved jade jewel, which, in addition to the sword and mirror, comprises the Imperial Regalia of Japan. Every twenty years, the Ise Jingu Shrine is destroyed and rebuilt in precisely the same manner, according to the same building techniques, which uses joined wood, rather than nails, to connect massive slabs of solid cypress. The destruction and reconstruction of the shrine is imbued with the utmost ceremonial and ritual significance, accompanied by days of festivities. Wood from nearby groves is carried through the streets of the local villages and every community member who attends the ceremony is given two white stones to place within the shrine when the reconstruction has finished.
By endlessly enacting and repeating the destruction and recreation of the Ise Jingu Shrine, the Shinto concept of impermanence and flux is brought to life. Traditions are kept alive through repetition. The gods are honored by honoring the cycles of the seasons, which dictate when offerings are given, and by honoring the process of life and death itself. This is how humanity joins in the cosmic action of the universe. The source of the sense of loneliness and alienation that is felt by modern humanity is, of course, being left out of the processes of the cosmos. Or rather, let us say, that modern humanity perceives itself to no longer have a role.
Rituals like those of the Ise Jingu Shrine also ensure that traditional knowledge and traditional skills are preserved. To understand tradition is to see that flux and stasis are, in fact, complementary forces, rather than opposing ones. There is movement in stillness and vice versa. In this regard, it is especially clear that modernity is fundamentally a temporal category.
As Guenon puts it, “This indeed is the most conspicuous feature of the modern period: need for ceaseless agitation, for unending change, and for ever-increasing speed, matching the speed with which events themselves succeed one another.” Cycles, which define the traditional sense of time, the sense of time of the earth, and the sense of time which governs the gods, imply movement within a stable context. Modernity, on the other hand, as Guenon suggests above, summons the demon of linear time, which rushes forward with no sense of restraint. We see quite clearly now where all this speed has led us.
At Ise Jingu, the shrine is always being built anew. Successive generations contribute to its creation. That is to say, the experience is always occurring in the present, dynamically, with access for all. But, by rebuilding the shrine precisely as it was, the present is always linked profoundly and intimately with tradition and those who came before. Tradition is the path we walk to return to the gods and the land. But tradition is not a matter of conservation. Thus, if the Ise Jingu Shrine had been preserved in its original form, it would only serve as a relic, a ruin, a symbol of a time long since past, decrepit. Ultimately, it would be without meaning in the present. No, the priests of Ise Jingu have recognized that for tradition to have power, it must be alive today.