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The rituals of purification are characteristic of every culture, tradition, and religion since people always need certain instruments to restore their spiritual cleanness after possible interrelations with unclean entities. It is also important that the recovery of human purity justifies such socially needed action as forgiveness. The reason is that purification eliminates all the consequences of one’s improper deeds and makes a person free from them. The present paper is an attempt to analyze the ritualistic purification in Hinduism, Chinese Buddhism, and Shinto through the prism of religionist and reductionist methods.

The Hindu ritual of purification

The Hindu purifying ritual is being held with the use of magnetized water that rids a person or thing from the bad energy and fills it with the good one. It is important that this ritual is performed “among the Brahmins only and not generally among other castes” (Ayyar 50). Thus, a priest (Brahmin) magnetizes the water through the recitation (Japam) of proper mantras. The water should be located in a vessel with a cocoanut as well as mango leaf that will be used to sprinkle it. After Japam, a Brahmin sprinkles the water with a mango leaf and, in this way, purifies everything that contacts with the magnetized liquid drops. After the end of the ritual, “the presence of Varuna – the God of water – is invoked there with proper rites” by the priest (or priests) who conduct it (Ayyar 49). In this way, the purification eventuates.

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The religionist interpretation

From the religionist point of view, the water in the described ritual of purification performs at least two functions: it makes good energy to replace the bad one and serves as a purifying mean analogously to the everyday use of water. Thus, it is clear that the ritual represents the spiritual parallel of physically dirty things washing. At the same time, it is important to note that “a Hindu never begins his Pooja or worship of any deity without bathing,” and, in the same way, nothing can be realized without the ritualistic purification (Ayyar 48). Those people who participate in the mentioned spiritual ceremony will feel that all of their previous sins and mistakes leave, and, consequently, the power of invoked Varuna will fix everything. In this way, the ritual, in fact, is one of the main ways to provoke KRATOPHANY because it serves as a base for all of the other rites that have more concretized direction. At the same time, the HIEROPHANY of Varuna is optional since the main point of the ritual is the purification, not the invocation of particular god.

The reductionist interpretation

Following the reductionist interpretation, the most important detail of the ceremony is its performance by the Brahmins only. It means that solely the highest caste has the AUTHORITY OF RELIGIOUS SPECIALIST to make things and people pure and, in this way, to restore their relationships with the society in general. The primary function of the ritual purification looks very clear: it serves as an instrument of social control, which only the top caste uses. The Brahmins may exclude anything from the social space (by curse, for example) and restore it (by purification). It is clear that the mentioned ritual existed as a part of conservative Hinduism that was a RELIGION OF STATUS QUO. Certainly, the same concerned the political meaning of purification since the Indian HOMO RELIGIOSUS demanded the justification of most part of the political decisions through the ritual mentioned above.

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The ritual of purification in Chinese Buddhism

The Chinese Buddhist ritual of purification is being realized through the sprinkling of water, which people who possess the AUTHORITY OF RELIGIOUS SPECIALISTS previously bless. As Gildow claims, first, “mantras and spells from scriptures are employed to empower sweet dew [holy water],” and then this water is being sprinkled on the places and things that have to be empowered (96). In the same way, lama may use the water for the cleansing of some abstract things without concrete physical realization, for example, events, demonstrations, ceremonies (Gildow 96). The ritual of Opening the Radiance, which means the revealing of dharma (the world order and law) through the procedure analogical to the one used for water empowerment, follows the previously mentioned ceremony.

The religionist interpretation

The participants of the rituals of Sprinkling the Water and Opening the Radiance would feel the presence of “Buddhas and Bodhisattvas” whose bodhi (charity) helps people to see and understand dharma. It is clear that, originally, Buddhism was an ATHEIST or at least NONTHEIST religion but, in its Chinese interpretation, it became a POLYTHEIST one integrating the initial Chinese pantheon into the Buddhist teaching. In this way, the KRATOPHANIC orientation of both rituals is obvious, especially in the context of empowerment as their main goal. It is also clear that the application of divine power to places changed their status from PROPHANE to SACRED ones and, in this way, altered people perception of them. The mentioned rituals provoked the enlargement of the sphere of the SACRED in the Chinese people consciousness.

The reductionist interpretation

The rituals present a way to justify the dominance of the social class of the lamas who only have the right to provide them. Despite the revolutionary character of Buddhism in India, its Chinese interpretation became an instrument of the social elites that allowed their empowerment. In this way, the empowerment of any purified place or object means the empowerment of the lamas class since it demonstrates their ability to improve the reality and shows the social level of their credibility. Thus, the ritual analyzed contributes to  protecting STATUS QUO in both religious and social spheres. Regarding the political meaning of the rite, it is less significant because the Chinese Buddhism has never been the state religion.

The ritual of purification in Shinto

The Japanese ritual of purification called harae is being held in order to cleanse two aspects of the spiritual dirtiness: tsumi (human personal misdeeds) and kegare (objective unclean substance that may make an object dirty independently of one’s misconducts) (Bowring 273). In this way, harae as a universal way to clean spirit includes also exorcism but is not limited by it. First, a priest reads norito (a ritual prayer directed to kami). Then, he uses water, salt (and other things like amulets as well as scrolls with sacred texts in particular situations) in order to make the object of the ritual clean. Thus, with the power of the kami, a priest achieves needed result (Bowring 273). It is important, besides, that the rite is primarily based on the MYTH of gods Amaterasu and Susano-o: the latter tried to capture the power in Heaven but his sister, queen Amaterasu, the Solar goddess, banished him away (Bowring 274). Through the conduct of the ritual, the Japanese HOMO SYMBOLICUS often address the MYTH that was the first occasion of the ritual realization.

The religionist interpretation

The ritual described represents a way to provoke KRATOPHANY through the appeal to kami. Shinto is a POLYTHEIST religion, and, thus, a proper ritual may invoke many gods but, actually, the main point of it is to use their good power in order to save people from the evil influence. The use of water and salt introduces an appeal to physical washing and cleaning, and, at the same time, it should be regarded that on the first place of the ritual stands the prayer. This detail allows making an assumption that a priest asks kami not to provide some power but to clean the object needed. It is the reason for the optional use of amulets that can attract kami in difficult cases.

The reductionist interpretation

The reference to the myth of the political struggle between Amaterasu and Susano-o in the context of ritual of purification allows providing of the political interpretation of the rite. In Medieval Japan, the Emperor possessed the highest AUTHORITY OF RELIGIOUS SPECIALIST because he was considered to be the heir of Solar Goddess Amaterasu. In this way, the parallel between him and the Goddess who is the first practitioner of the ritual purification is almost clear. The ritual appears as the instrument of the RELIGION OF STATUS QUO since it serves as a way to justify the imperial oppression of those who deny the existing political order.

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Through the analysis provided, it is clear that the ritual of purification may be interpreted in various ways depending on the method used. In my opinion, all of the rituals described were relevant to those societies where they were in practice. Thus, it is impossible to prefer one of them. At the same time, as a researcher who interprets the rituals as an OUTSIDER, I understand them through the limited prism. Among my recurring biases are, for example, the understanding of spiritual rituals as the reflections of physical washing and the underlining of political connotations while a person who belongs to the mentioned cultures, i.e., an INSIDER would perceive them in a completely different way. The reason is that INSIDERS live within the symbolic space of the tradition, and thus, rituals constitute their social reality being undoubted and accepted as the social reconsideration of the traditional MYTHS.