Monday, November 26, 2007

Applied Shinto: Musubi and Kannagara

(For my introduction on why exactly I'm using Shinto philosophy and terminology, click here for the preceding post. I may expound on my almost certainly poor interpretation of Shinto philosophy, but for now let me define some useful terms from it.)

As the basis for further essays I'll be writing, I first want to define two terms that serve as the foundation:

I believe there is a fundamental quantity that can be used to describe and link broad aspects of human progress. Perhaps the closest term for this quantity might be made by stripping away the authoritarian overtone from the word "order" -- using it more as the opposite of "entropy" than that of "lawlessness". But more than that, this quantity is constructiveness, intelligence, elegance, goodness, beauty, and complexity all rolled up together.


I've been looking for a single word to describe this broad concept because I think the preceding English words are specific cases of a single thing. All of them have to do with what I think of as progress: of things proceeding in the right and proper way, of optimizing the use of what is available for the greatest good. I think it's useful to define a word for this because it seems like there are a million arguments about a million topics -- politics, morality, business, design, etc. etc. -- that I am finding are best approached with the same basis for evaluating what is productive and counterproductive, right and wrong, a benefit or a hindrance.

Fortunately I think there's one good word for this concept: musubi.

I have read musubi defined as "the spirit of creativity", but there is a lot more behind the word in Shinto philosophy, with refinements and extensions of the concept that describe how it functions in the world. In its various forms and applications, it seems a very good fit for this concept, this quantity, that I want to discuss. So grasping my new word, I will begin:

I believe that musubi applied to human endeavors defines the magnitude and direction of the arrow of human progress. Great men and women bring more musubi to the world than others. Successful businesses create it and increase their wealth. A well-designed machine is musubi made physical. Great artists clearly express the spirit of musubi in their work. Musubi makes the world go 'round -- better living through musubi -- Vorsprung durch Musubi the Germans might say.

Applied Shinto: An Introduction

Part of the reason I started this webpage was to give me an outlet for some essays centered around a certain concept that I've become fairly obsessed with. I've been collecting notes for these essays, expanding outward from this central concept, but I've been increasingly hindered by one problem: I couldn't think of a word for it.

This has irritated me to no end for two reasons.  First, that the English language, which I'm kind of a fan of, hasn't seen fit to develop a word for this concept that I believe to be very important; and second, that it's damn hard to write about something you don't have a word for. So to solve the latter problem, I decided to pick a more-or-less arbitrary word, "umami", for a while simply because it was a word in Japanese for a concept (a fifth taste sensation) that apparently the English language also hasn't seen fit to develop a single word for. I even started to justify the choice by likening the "meaty" umami flavor to the "meatiness" of topic of my essays, but that just made me more frustrated not less.

Otorii at Itskushima Shrine

I think I've found my word however, and in discovering it I learned that I (unsurprisingly) am not the first person to become obsessed with this concept. I was on the right track though because the word is at least in Japanese, and the concept seems to underlie much of Japan's native religion, Shinto.