Compare and Contrast Kami and Shen, the Japanese and Chinese Words for God

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Compare and Contrast Kami and Shen, the Japanese and Chinese Words for God


The words kami in Japanese and shen in Chinese both are translated into English as the word god. Although they both refer to somewhat similar supernatural elements, they are by no means identical to each other. Chinese shen is an abstract term referring to spirits and relating to abstract thoughts such as the heavens and the afterlife. In contrast, kami are very often related directly to a person or actual object and are worshiped in a hope for more day-to-day help or this worldly benefits. In order to help explain the relationship between kami and shen, I will first explore the similarities between the two terms, then discuss the unique characteristics which
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All three of these concepts, especially the first and the third, are very abstract concepts. Because they are difficult to understand through natural reasoning, they are seen as mystical.

The first category of shen, human spirits, can also include the human soul. These are spoken of in Chinese literature such as "The Scripture of the Yellow Court" which documents specific deities (shen) living within the human body. "The spirits of the liver, lungs, and spleen are above, representing Heaven, as contrasted with the navel… representing the underworld of matter and generation" (Kroll 362-3). This document goes on to cite the roles that many of the shen living inside of you perform. "And the sacred estrade of the heart will prove an everlastingly impregnable structure" (365). Of the spirits inside of you, the most important are those of the heart. The "Simple Questions of the Yellow Emperor" also describes the heart as the most important: "The heart functions as the prince and governs through the shen; the lungs are liaison officers who promulgate rules and regulations; the liver is a general and devises strategies (qtd. in Schipper 100). This passage again designates the heart as the ruler of the body and assigns specific roles to the individual…