Kannagara is a core principle of Shinto and can be interpreted in a number of ways. It can be written with many kanji including 随神、神随、神在随、随在天神、乍神、神長柄、神奈我良、and 可牟奈我良. It is a concept that is difficult to pin down, as with much of Shinto. The expression ‘kannagara no ōmichi’, meaning ‘the way in accordance with the will of the kami’ is used as an alternative name for Shinto itself and was frequently used after the beginning of the Meiji period (1868).
In simplistic terms Kannagara refers to the nature order. Those who understand Kannagara know the divine, other humans, ourselves and what ethical ways in which we should live. The very philosophies of Shinto originate in Kannagara; sincerity (makoto), honesty (tadashii) and purity.
Kannagara is the acceptance and understanding that we are all part of Great Nature (Dai Shizen) and part of a web of life that is continuously flowing. It is the knowledge that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves; something beyond our material illusions of wealth, status and self-importance.
It is the feeling of standing in a forest looking up at trees which are hundreds of years older than us, watching the sun rays shining through their brilliant green leaves, dust particles shimmering in the light like small fairies. It is the feeling of laying on our back in a field and looking up at the night sky, wondering how it is that we are blessed to live on this small planet we call Earth when the Universe is so vast and unexplored. It is the feeling of being out in nature and in that moment feeling truly a part of the nature world; somewhere we can forget about our job or career, studies, woes and troubles and just feel part of the natural order.
Kannagara is the understanding that we are simply one species on this planet and that we owe it to the Earth to live our lives as ethical as we can, protecting our home for future generations, survival of our species and of the many others that share this planet.
It is the knowledge that human development through technological advancement is not inherently bad as is an expression of our nature and our own human evolution. The creation of new technology that aims to help our species in our time on Earth is a positive aspect of our evolution, whilst creation of technology that aims to kill or harm is against Kannagara and will hinder us as a species.
Kannagara is knowing that nature is not always benign and we must accept that nature disasters happen. This is part of the ways of Kannagara and we need to surrender ourselves to nature, not fight it. Of course, we can do our best to adapt ourselves and our homes against nature disasters the best we can, as long as it is done in accordance with nature.
Being ignorant of Kannagara is believed to cause negative feelings, mental and physical health, hatred and jealousy in humans. As we become more entwined in the latest fads and technology, focusing our live on the temporary instead of the permanence of Dai Shizen, we are turning away from Kannagara and thus, the Kami.
We must live our lives in accordance with nature as we are blessed to live here and now on this beautiful Earth. This planet that is suspended in a cosmos of the unknown, of energies and concepts we can barely imagine and science which we are completely guessing at times. We may never know how the Universe works and perhaps we are not meant to. Instead, we need to turn more attention to our home planet and protect it as it is, before it is too late. Shinto is more relevant than ever, as is the concept of Kannagara.
This image is titled ‘The Pale Blue Dot’. That tiny blue pixel there? That is our home, in a photo taken by the Voyager 1 more than 6 billion kilometers away. It is only 0.12 pixels in size, caught in one of the scattered light beams resulting from taking the image so close to the sun.
I will finish this article with a beautiful and awe-inspiring quote by the astromer Carl Sagan:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
– Carl Sagan, 1994
Fukui Yoshihiko at Kokugakuin University http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=1202
Shinto: A Celebration of Life by Aidan Rankin, 2010