The common understanding that Shinto is Japan's “indigenous religion” makes it difficult to raise the question of when and how this Shinto emerged as a religious identity distinct from Buddhism. This article argues that Shinto arose from a Buddhist cult that incorporated the kami as jindō, rather than from the classical court cult that created a distance between Buddhism and the kami, and that defined the latter as jingi. This Buddhist jindō cult had obvious parallels in other Buddhist states (notably in the Burmese cult of nats), and a comparative approach is essential if we are to understand the dynamics at work here. To explain Shinto's emergence, we must, first, recognize and analyse its origins in jindō and, second, address its medieval dispersal from the royal court into the periphery – another process that can be fruitfully compared with Burma's nat cult.
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