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Interview Gary Cox - Equinox
French version - version française
Gary Cox, at the entrance of the Fushimi Inari Taisha
Passionate about Inari-Okami and kitsune, Gary Cox wishes to transmit his faith by informing people about the nature of this Japanese kami. Even though he probably was the first non-Japanese private to be untrusted with a wakemitama (divided spirit of a kami) from the Fushimi Inari Taisha, he has not forgotten the beginning of his journey. As an American, he had to face some westereners' difficulties, and wishes to avoid other believers to meet these kind of pitfalls. He developed an international network "Inari Faith International", opening this spirituality to anyone.
Enthousiast and invested, he is always willing to answer any question about this cult, while continuing his researches and relaying these traditions to people.
- (online soon) www.inarifaith.org
How did you get interested in spirituality ?
I was raised in a moderate Methodist household, and I am really grateful to my parents for instilling in me the importance of spirituality from a young age. However, the Christian faith never really clicked with me – as a child I was more attracted to the experiential aspects of faith, such as ritual and esotericism (this is really one reason why, if I were a Christian, I think I would be Catholic). I also held a rather secret interest in other gods and spiritual beings that were referenced in the Bible. And finally I was just a really logically- and scientifically-oriented person, and I found it immensely difficult to reconcile this with the supernatural claims of the Bible and of the Christian god.
As I got older and came into high school, I started actively researching and exploring other religions. Now that I think about it, this really got kicked off when a group from the local mosque came to visit our church for an inter-faith dialogue. In his talk with us, the imam had a very heavy focus on nature and science, and how this was a big part of Islam. That visit opened my eyes to two things: First, by actually having people from another religion come to visit us, it made the fact that there *are* other religions available to me readily apparent. And second, I think that the imam’s discussion about nature, science, and spirituality piqued my interest in finding a spiritual path where the nature and faith go hand-in-hand, as opposed to being two contrasted things.
I quickly realized in my research that eastern religions, very broadly and generally speaking, tend to do a much better job of this than their western counterparts… and to me this was very important. When I first discovered Shinto it was actually from seeing it represented in anime (Inuyasha) in this very nature-oriented fashion. The more I read about Shinto, the more I was profoundly moved by how Shinto was a natural religion as opposed to a supernatural one. It is full of mysticism, yet all of the Kami are of this world – they literally are the divine energies of this universe, as opposed to a “man in the sky”, so to speak, who created the universe. The Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto Shrines in Japan, actually does a very good job of summarizing this diametric difference between western and eastern religions here: http://www.jinjahoncho.or.jp/en/publications/civilization/index.html
Shinto : a choice, an evidence, a family tradition ?
Shinto is very deeply ingrained as part of the Japanese culture – it’s not a “religion” in the typical sense of the word. Rather, it is a traditional way of thinking, a way of viewing the world, and a way of living in harmony with nature and each other. It is certainly not only a family tradition, but also a national one, a tradition of a whole people. For this reason, there is a certain “conventional wisdom” that only Japanese people can practice Shinto, and that it can’t really be a “choice” by a non-Japanese person to practice. However, in the last several decades this idea has started to be challenged, thanks in large part, I think, to the opening of Shinto shrines in the west, the ordainment of non-Japanese priests, and the membership of these shrines by non-Japanese as well as Japanese people. This is still a process that has a long way to go though… but we are seeing a lot of progress. In 2013, for instance, I became one of the very first non-Japanese to be granted custodianship of a wakemitama – “divided spirit” – of Inari Ōkami by Fushimi Inari Taisha.
Did shinto led you to Inari-sama or did Inari-sama led you to shinto?
I found Shinto first, and discovered Inari-sama as one of the kami of Shinto. However, I don’t know if I’d say that Shinto “led me” to Inari-sama… I think it was Inari-sama’s arrangement that I find Shinto, and then Inari-sama via Shinto.
How would you define yourself in terms of spiritualy and esoteric practice ?
The Inari faith is an inherently syncretic and esoteric one…. It can be especially difficult to assign labels to Inari-sama’s shinja (followers). I would say though that I am certainly a more Shinto-oriented shinja (opposed to Buddhist-oriented), since I find the Shinto spirituality more suited to me, as it is especially life affirming. I am a proud and active member of Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, whose gosaijin (enshrined kami) have a strong connection to Inari Ōkami. The shrine also has a secondary shrine on the grounds dedicated specifically to Inari Ōkami, which I help improve and maintain. Of course, I also have ties to Fushimi Inari Taisha as the kanjo recipient.
In the past, I ran a student group at a major university for Pagans and members of western esoteric practices. I also studied western esoterica in school. And also in the past I considered myself Wiccan for a time. As I mentioned earlier, I was always drawn to esotericism, and I have found that this is especially prevalent in much of the Inari faith. So this is certainly a part of my private practice – however these things are not “by the book” jinja Shinto, but fall more under the umbrella of folk Shinto Inari practices… While these are very important parts of the Inari faith, I don’t tend to emphasize these aspects as much publicly.
How did you learn shinto basis and subtilities, and how to practice it, being a non-japanese ? Was it hard to find serious sources ?
Shinto spirituality is something that you can definitely learn the basics on from reputable sources. The key there is “reputable”, as there is a plethora of non-reputable ones. Many people have a tendency to use anime as their primary source for learning. While there are in fact some good anime to learn about Shinto from (such as Gingitsune), there are too many bad ones, and it shouldn’t be anyone’s main source of information.
Honestly the best English source out there on general Shinto today is Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America and their head priest, Rev. Koichi Barrish, as well as the books that they recommend and sell on their website. A number of other Japanese Shinto authorities, such as Jinja Honcho and Ise Jingū, also have very good English websites. This is how I learned much of what I know and understand today. In France there is also a new Shinto organization and resident priest in Paris now, and I imagine that he would be a great starting point for French sources.
For Inari-specific things, the extremely important source in English is The Fox and the Jewel by Dr. Karen Smyers. I’m not sure if this book is available in French yet, but I hope so!
Much of the subtleties, especially the spiritual ones, are best-learned in-person by visiting a shrine or a Shinto ceremony. Although we can get an idea from books and correspondence, Shinto is very much an experiential tradition. There is much that is extremely difficult to transmit via words, sounds, or images… for certain things, it is like trying to describe the color blue to someone who has never seen. So my first shrine visit (Meiji Jingū) was really just as important as all the sources I had read… and then the first Shinto ceremony I participated in (Chohai at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America), also as important.
Who where you ten years ago, and who will you think you’ll be ten years ahead ?
Ten years ago, I was in high school and just getting ready to go to college. At this point I was very interested in Shinto and Japanese culture. I wanted to be a traffic engineer, and thought I would be in Japan in ten years, maybe working for the government as a transportation engineer. Well, in college I found traffic engineering to be too “dry” and lacking in the human element for my tastes, and changed to broadcast engineering. Today, I am a broadcast engineer in California, but I am still just as devoted to Shinto as I thought I’d be ten years ago… and I think that being in the west, I am in a greater position to help Shinto’s and Inari-sama’s spread to the west.
Ten years from now, oh goodness! I would love to have established a solid base for Inari-sama’s followers in the west, and made the faith more accessible. We are just starting to see that now with the association, and as we do things like raise money for a torii to donate to the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America Inari shrine. I’ve also done some work in getting translations of the Inari norito (prayers) made, so that westerns can understand what it is that they are praying and gain some insight into the faith.
Perhaps this is a side-effect of being a shinja of Inari-sama, lol, but I really enjoy my career and wouldn’t give it up for anything. One day I do hope to train to become licensed as a priest of Inari Ōkami, but I would want to do that in a way that doesn’t impact my career too much. I trust Kami-sama to guide me in my life’s path and show me the right way…
I certainly hope to become fluent in Japanese in ten years, which I’ll need to do to attain that!
How do you live your commitment and your faith in everyday life ?
Of course there is morning and evening prayers before enshrined Inari Ōmitama (wakemitama) at my altar. This consists, at the minimum, of offerings of rice, water, and salt in the morning, as well as recital of norito (spoken prayer) and personal prayer in the heart and meditation. But that’s only a few minutes of each day… The harder thing to do is to live and apply this faith in everyday life. The prayer named “Inari Norito” spells out the basics on how to do this: “From morning to night, I will apply myself. I will neither slacken in my profession, Nor be neglectful.”
Going beyond the basics though, we also have to always honor Kami-sama in everything we do, and remember that we, as well as everyone else, are children and divided spirits of Kami-sama. Maintaining a positive outlook, a positive character and energy, and striving to help people and society, even when it is not so easy to do. And in business, this means conducting ourselves honorably and remembering that there is more to business than money.
Do you sometimes misbelieve ? If so, how do you deal with doubts ?
It’s natural for everyone to doubt from time to time – healthy, even. However, the beauty of Shinto is that even when all faith is lost, the core of the spirituality is still there. Inari Ōkami and all of the Shinto kami aren’t supernatural entities. The way they manifest themselves to us from time to time, even through things as simple as prayer, may require critical evaluation. However, at Kami-sama’s core, there is nothing supernatural. Kami-sama is the universe, the forest, the animals, the forces of wind, storms, the life-giving power of the sun, and the life force within all living things. In the midst of doubt, we can turn to these unmistakable and “physical” facets of Kamisama to maintain our faith.
What is the most important for you, a free and sincere faith, or spiritual traditions' respect ?
I believe it is possible to whole-heartedly have both. Spiritual traditions require absolute respect -- *especially* when it is the tradition of another people. That said, one’s personal faith does not have to wholly tied to one specific tradition. For instance, many Japanese practice both Shinto and Buddhism. These people can practice a sincere, personal faith that is neither wholly Shinto nor Buddhism, while also respecting both traditions and carrying them each out in their proper ways. This is especially relevant to Inari faith, since it is so syncretized between Shinto and Buddhism.
Have you been impressed by any particuliar people along the way ?
I have really come to admire the Rev. Koichi Barrish of Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. He has devoted his life not only to Kami-sama but also, perhaps most crucially, to what he believes in.
How do you deal with people who don't understand or share your faith ?
Shinto is especially difficult for westerners to understand. If someone doesn't understand but is open to trying to understand, then I always explain as best I can! As for people who are hostile or close-minded, we can only pray that they become more tolerant, and Kami-sama help reform their heart positiveness and brightness.
What led you to create an association ?
Before I founded the association, I saw that there were many people around the world drawn to Inari Ōkami, but that there were some difficulties. First, there wasn’t an open, widely accessible community that anyone online could reach. I have practiced faith totally alone before, and know that it’s not the best feeling.
Being part of a community of like-minded people, even if they aren’t there in-person with you all the time, can really provide a solid base for people to grow and share in their faith in and love for Inari Ōkami.
I also wanted to provide a single, public set of resources for Inari shinja outside of Japan. Things like norito (prayers) and their translations into English, as well as introductory and explanatory articles on Inari faith, have been difficult for the western speaker to find, especially freely. I am trying to change that.
What are your near and long term goals ?
In the near term, the goal is to finish the group’s website and have it online (as opposed to soley a Facebook group, although that will remain quite active!). After that the next goal is to register the group as a legally recognized, non-profit organization. Once that is done, we will be able to raise funds to do things such as commissioning norito translations and assisting the building and improvements of international shrines. (We are actually donating a torii to the Inari shrine at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America by raising money through a third party crowdfunding site… we are over half way to our goal!)
A little farther down the line, we are of course also very interested in organizing in-person events and activities. Right now this is rather difficult to do, since our members are spread out very far geographically. However there are a few spots already that are starting to look promising, density wise, and so I definitely have hope for the future!
Would you have any advice for our readers ?
Always, always be yourself. Don’t be something that you’re not just to appease others. You will be so much – immeasurably – happier that way. It took me many years to learn this… and when I did, it opened the way to my faith in O-Inari-sama. Listen to your heart and intuition.
Who would you like to see interviewed in your place ?
I think a Japanese Inari faith practitioner would be a very interesting comparison, and might compliment this interview well!
Dominike Duplaa's question : Can truth be personal, as many New Agers claim ?
Ohhh… that is a really interesting one, honestly. I could go on all day on this subject, but basically I believe there are “universal truths” and “personal truths”. A universal truth is one that is readily apparent to everyone. For instance, the oceans are usually blue… most people agree on this. But when we get into spiritual matters, especially the more esoteric ones, there isn’t always an absolutely “right” or “wrong” answer on things. We are dealing with matters far beyond human comprehension. It is like if you are an ant living in an ant farm, and so you only have ever experienced travel in two dimensions. You could not possibly even conceive of the existence of a third dimension! It is the exact same for humans, except the numbers are three and four, rather than two and three.
Because of this, two people can have different, even contradictory, personal truths, while both are still correct. Going back to the ant farm analogy, suppose you have one ant looking out through the ant farm glass, and another ant on the opposite side of the ant farm also looking out the glass in the same direction. There is a cube sitting in front of the ant farm, and each side of the cube is painted a different color. Because the ants are looking out from a different perspective and aren’t capable of fully comprehending the nature of this third dimension (depth), some of the colors they see will be different. But both ants are correct.
Of course, it is also quite possible to be completely wrong. For this reason, it is always good to seek out guidance from others.
Your question for the next interviewee ?
Why do bad things happen to people?
Interview par Lya
Dernière édition par Lya le Dim 8 Fév 2015 - 18:16, édité 1 fois
"Les humains ne préservent pas les choses sacrées, pourquoi celles-ci les sauveraient-ils ?"
Avatar : Journey's End, de Shirotsuki
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Pratiques magiques/ spiritualité : Apprendre et comprendre.
Thanks for this interview, very interisting and need to know more about Shinto Faith.
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Lya are writing a record, for the 15, about Inari
Thank's a lot for this interview. I really liked the ant's analogy about truths
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