Monday, May 11, 2009

Shangdi - East meets West

Often times it is said in Japan that Christianity is a western religion.  However, today there are likely more Christians in China than there are in the U.S.  The biggest objection though is that in the beginning, there was one God, one Creator God, both in the east and in the west, and that fact is clear to see if you look into ancient history.

"ShangDi," in Chinese, is the Creator-God in ancient history.  This surely appears to be "one and the same as the Creator-God of the Hebrews.  In fact, one of the Hebrew names for God is El Shaddai, which is phonetically similar to ShangDi. Even more similar is the Early Zhou pronunciation of ShangDi which is ‘djanh-tigh’ [Zhan-dai].4 Another name for their God which the ancient Chinese used interchangeable with ShangDi was Heaven (Tian). Zheng Xuan, a scholar of the early Han dynasty said, “ShangDi is another name for Heaven (Tian)”.5 The great philosopher Motze (408-382 BC) also thought of Heaven (Tian) as the Creator-God:
‘I know Heaven loves men dearly not without reason. Heaven ordered the sun, the moon, and the stars to enlighten and guide them. Heaven ordained the four seasons, Spring, Autumn, Winter, and Summer, to regulate them. Heaven sent down snow, frost, rain, and dew to grow the five grains and flax and silk so that the people could use and enjoy them. Heaven established the hills and river, ravines and valleys, and arranged many things to minister to man’s good or bring him evil.’ 6
Today, Chinese Christians still remain truly eastern, as they trace the Creator God back in their histories and call God, "Shangdi" in respect to His love and deeds for them in the past.

Incidentally, the earliest recorded histories in Japan (the Kojiki) also describes the creation, by three deities and chiefly by the deity in the center of heaven.  Like the Chinese, the emperor of Japan since ancient times was an object of worship.  However, the emperor in China became such because originally, he was the only one who could act as a priest to make sacrifices to Shangdi.  Shangdi was believed to be too holy for just any person to approach.  Slowly, instead of worshipping Shangdi, the emperor, whom they could see, was worshiped.  It is interesting to note, however, that Shangdi was never to be represented by an image or by an idol.  (Learn more here.)

Lastly, it is important to look at the writings which both the ancient Chinese and the Japanese still use today.  They give us many clues as to the thought processes of these ancient peoples.  The following is a chart that shows some of the similarities between the Bible and the kanji characters still used in Japan and China today.
Chinese characters
Here are three other interesting kanji:
魔  This character means "evil" or originally, "tempt".  You can see two trees and hiding below them is an "oni", an evil monster -an orge or a demon.  The top and left lines show "hiding".  In Genesis, Satan hides in the trees to tempt Eve.
船 This character means, "ship", especially a large ship.  A smaller ship would be 舟   A larger ship would be one where there are eight mouths (the top means "eight" and the bottom box means "mouth")  Many believe this is because there were eight people on the ark, in which Noah made.  This story is not just a Bible story - in various forms it can still be found in almost every ancient civilization.


Kyle said...

Interestingly, Amida Buddhism seems so close to Christianity in concept (Amida being an "intecessor" through which his believers are given salvation and entrance to paradise, based on faith, no less) that I can't help but wonder if it was somehow influenced by Christianity. I'm not sure if the first missionaries to Japan were aware of this movement, since it might have gone a long way towards relating the concepts of Christianity to them.

Mark and Maki said...

I have wondered the same thing. I will try to research and find out myself. Tell me what you find also.

Of course the main difference between this and Christianity is that we give our whole lives to Christ, whereas most believers in this strain of Buddhism simply believe that chanting a few specific words to Amida will save them.