I Hope One Day You Will No Longer Be Afraid

       I have been spending a considerable amount of time in Japan lately. Before my first visit to Japan in October, I didn't even know I wanted to go there. I discovered my desire for Japan only upon my arrival. I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming feeling, like I had stepped into a country filled with perfect people who were all created by a Moon Goddess and lived in Moon Land of Perfection.
       Perfection is just everywhere, in Japan: in their geography, their culture, their society, their people, their infrastructure... and when I say "perfect" I don't mean the nonexistence of flaws. But when I say "perfect", I mean the harmony of everything. The absence of harmony and flow is imperfection. Japan doesn't have that. Japan is perfect.
       Of all the things about Japan that I could sit down and write about today, I am choosing to write about something that really strikes me hard. And that is on the matter of religion.

A little Shinto Shrine outside a small establishment in Kyoto.

       At first, you visit Japan and you feel like their temples and shrines are there for novelty, there as tourist attractions. But you stay longer and you begin to realize that their temples and shrines are not for you; rather, they are there for the worshipful people of Japan.
       Their ornate shrines and breathtaking temples of worship are very personal entities that exist because this is in fact the religion of the people. You go there with your camera and your selfie stick and you realize that little old ladies and little boys and girls and salary men and businesswomen and anime cosplay teenagers are all paying visits to these temples and shrines because they believe in the entities that are enshrined there. They want to go there to pray. That's where they pray every day, or every week, or every semester before exams...
       The local Japanese populace visits their temples and shrines in order to pray, to worship, to praise. I would watch them arrive at the temples and shrines while I was in Japan: their fervent hand gestures, their solemn faces, their respectful countenance, their eager hearts!

A man leaving his prayer/s at a Shinto shrine. 

       These beautiful people who are so respectful and desirous of beautifying their society, the lives of other people, and their country as a whole, bow down to pray to stone images of mice and cats and rabbits and bears! Small beings that we consider to be insignificant in nature. I am not used to this. I am used to bowing down before Gods who are "almighty, omnipotent, all-powerful, and 'the One True God." In fact, I used to always believe that being God was about "being the best at everything." And then I became used to growing up in a culture wherein "being the best at everything" was how you attained your own status as a "god". Just look at all those CEOs!
       Religion is an incredibly undeniable element of human society and the human psyche. Just think: The only real constant element of humanity, through the ages, is the concept of God: of having a God (or Gods), of worshiping, of praying... people have always prayed. People have always looked upwards and asked for help, for favor, for guidance. No matter the tribe, the nation, the color of skin.
       But I believe that we only become as good as the Gods that we believe in. Or nearly as good. Or perhaps we only become as good, or nearly as good, as the type of system of belief that we put our trust in.
       The three Abrahamic religions of today, which are the most widespread of religions on our planet, each proclaim utter ownership of the word "True God." These Gods are jealous, vengeful, wrathful, and they expect you to come up to par to the rules they have set. And then they don't stop there; because they further expect you to require the same of the people around you. In other words, they tell you, "This is what the One True God is like and other people should know this and believe this and you shouldn't be friends with anyone who doesn't do what I say they should do." And that is basically it.
       When we put our trust in Gods who are "the best", it goes to follow that we will pattern our own minds along this pathway and think that our own religion is the best, or the only one true way. We're not going to be considerate of what other people believe, or what they hope for, because we won't even want to be their friends.

Me, sitting at a Shinto shrine on Mt. Fuji.

       This world is vast. Just vast, really. On the one hand, we have human beings murdering one another in the name of "The One True God", and on the other hand, we have human beings wanting the best for each other and their society, because they pray to mice and foxes.
       Why do we judge people's goodness entirely dependent upon which God they are worshiping? Are we in a contest to compare who has the better God? If a person who worships a rabbit is good to you, truly good to you, would that be of less impact on you than the cruelty of a man who worships one of the main centerfold Gods of this world? Would you not care to weigh the goodness of the rabbit-worshiper, because his God is merely a rabbit? Would you be quick to forgive the cruelties of a Jewish man or a Christian man or a Muslim man, because his God is a major player in the arena of religion? How are we calculating the value of goodness, in our world today?
       I have a thought that runs through my mind: What if all of the Gods are friends, in reality? With our human minds, we have pitted the Gods against one another, as we pit ourselves against one another (we have made our own Gods in our own image). But what is the likelihood that all of the Gods that do exist, are against one another's systems and are in a contest to show who is more powerful? Really? Is it really all that childish and cumbersome? Really now?
       What if all the Gods that do exist, are actually existing in harmony and unity? What if Jesus and Allah and Jehovah and Rabbit and Mouse and the Tao and the Universe are all hanging out together right now, and the only thing that they want-- the only thing that they really, really want-- is to see whom amongst the human race has a good heart?

Makeshift Shinto shrine on Mt. Fuji.

       What if Jesus is saying, "Let's say I am the Only Way"; and then Allah says, "And I'll say I am the Only One"; and then Jehovah says, "And I'll say my people are the Chosen Ones"; and then Mouse says, "Then I'll just be a mouse on a hill with a stone figure"; and then they all say, "And we'll see who worships Mouse in all of his smallness and insignificance. Let's see who prays to Mouse for help, even if he's just a Mouse." And then what if they are all just there, hanging out together, waiting to see the quality of the hearts of man... waiting to see who is too proud and who is truly humble?
       Who wants to identify himself with the most powerful God? Of course everyone. Who wants to identify himself with a rabbit or a mouse? Hard to find that one. The latter is smaller, is humbler, is quieter, is simpler. Much, much simpler. Something a small child might pray to.
       What if Eternal Pradise is a lot more important and a lot more significant and a lot more complicated than just believing and putting all of your trust in the one God who says He's the Only Way or the Only One or that He has made you the Chosen One? What if arriving into the Heavenly Paradise one day is actually about being a simple-hearted person? A humble person. A person who is okay with praying to a little mouse? Because what if that's the kind of person who possesses the heart of gold? The person with a heart of a child!

Geisha praying at one of the shrines at Kiyomizu-dera, in Kyoto.

       No man or woman should be afraid to think, to explore, to ask. The moment that these three things cause fear in the heart of a person, that is the moment a person should realize that he/she is being kept away from all of the other forms of truth that are out there. There are many truths in the world, and you will never find any of them if you think that you already have the only one that exists!
       I am extremely humbled to have witnessed a culture of people who are innately altruistic, fervently respectful and considerate, who force no one else to follow in their own religions. Have you ever heard of a Shinto forcing you to go to Shinto Shrine? Nope. Have you ever heard of a Buddhist forcing you to go to rub Buddha's belly? I don't think so. Like I said, we are only as good as the Gods we believe in. Or, as the systems set in place by man for us to understand them. I mean, what if Jesus and Allah and Jehovah are actually really chill Gods who really just want the best for everyone and everything, but then some people who needed to make money wrote some laws and said, "This is what the Big God says!" and vĂ³ila! The rest is history!
       The most humbling act to witness, in a lifetime, is a person praying to the statue of a mouse. A little old lady or a little kid, drinking from a stream of water they believe was sent by Heaven to help them, or bathing in incense they believe was sent by Heaven to bring them mercy. It's not insignificant; it might be small, it might be little, but it's Earth-moving. It's beautiful.

Kyomizu-dera "Pure Water Temple"; the place of magical streams.

       I hope that one day you will be able to visit Japan, to watch and to think deeply about what you see there. I hope that one day you will be shaken to your core and that you will never be the same person again. I hope that one day you will ask questions, seek answers, and that you will no longer be afraid. Let's all hope this, together.

If you want to follow my Japan travels, head on over to my Instagram account for an immersive experience.
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