The spirits of Kami protect the dead during the transition to the other world (yukai)

During the period of transition from this world to yukai, the hidden world of subtle energy, the spirit-soul is at its most vulnerable. It can be likened to a delicate butterfly, at the moment of emergence from its chrysalis. Therefore, there are spirits entrusted with the task of protecting the spirit-soul from danger at this time.

In most cases, the spirits of deceased ancestors or friends of the dead come to meet and greet the dead. These spirits in turn receive instruction from higher ranks of spirit so that they may give useful guidance to their dead relatives or friends. In Japan, the spirit of Kami (shinrei) of the ubusuna jinja, or local shrine, protects each locality and usually assumes the role of this higher-ranking spirit. Those who are spiritually aware will be sure to enjoy the protection of the spirit-guide that emanates from that local shrine, and this spirit will help them through their transition to the other world.

However, even for those who derive benefit from the spirit-guide, it is necessary to conduct the funeral ceremony at the local shrine. Thie is where the spirit of Kami sits, assuming a role akin to the governing officer of Hades. Wherever it is held, a Shinto funeral service always involves the ritual of “informing” the ubusuna jinja. Even if the funeral service is held in accordance with a different religious or spiritual tradition, the death should be reported to the local shrine.

Protected by the spirit-guide, the dead person prepares for the transition to yukai, the other world. He or she enters the life in the other world after being given various instructions and help. In the case of a person suddenly dying in an accident, for example, that person will probably not be aware of his or her death. In this situation, the spirit-guide gives kind support to that person and escorts his or her spirit to the other world.

It is often asked what happens after death to those who have committed evil deeds, or who can be described as truly evil in their conduct and attitude. Their spirit-souls are impure and cloudy, releasing unclean vibrations, and so they gather together at dark, cloudy places that reflect their inner state. They are dragged into the world of illusion, delusion, and suffering, which is the only appropriate place for such spirits. However, it is very rare to find this kind of contaminated spirit. Most people eventually move to yukai, even if they have to go through a process of temporary atonement for purification.

Here it is important to be aware that this other world, yukai, is not the world of the higher spirits. Rather, it is the spiritual equivalent of a beautiful flower garden. In certain schools of Japanese Buddhism, this concept also exists and is called gokuraku jodo, the pure land of paradise. However this is conceived of as a place of non-action, whereas in the other world of Shinto, spirits can be actively engaged in a wide range of projects.

Yuri Chekalin

Yuri Chekalin

Yuri Chekalin is a Professor of Tokyo University, History Department, and a Political Analyst.

He also works as a commentator for Fitzroy Magazine.

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