When I visit the local shrine, it is not an act of religious devotion, though it might look that way. When I throw my coin, bow twice, clap twice, and speak, it is simply an act of existing as a human in the world, in the honest state of not knowing how existence works, humbly accepting my smallness in the very bigness of it all.
I know neither how the greater universe operates nor the significance of this life. Or my place within it, for that matter. These things are both unknown and unknowable, and that is fine.
In the context of universal infinite immensity, the shrine is vanishingly small. We as humans even more so. In visiting the shrine, I seek to bridge the gulf between small and large, to open up and momentarily touch boundlessness.
Saying a prayer at the shrine has, to me, a distinct and profound significance. Stepping up to the saisen bako1 on the steps of the shrine feels like stepping up to a microphone wired to a celestial transmitter. There, I can speak my small-t truth into the greater, big-t Truth of all existence.
If or where or by whom prayers may be heard, or if they are heard at all, I do not know. The significance of the act is in the sending, like throwing bottled messages overboard into the sparking waters of the cosmos. They are not addressed, nor are they meant for any given recipient. I have no control over where they may wind up, or by what route they might arrive. It is possible that they will never arrive anywhere at all, drifting forever towards the horizon of being, while that horizon simultaneously and endlessly recedes. This, or any other outcome, is perfectly fine.
It is, to me, about the grounding gesture of surrendering to something much greater than myself and saying what needs to be said in the moment, in the manner that seems correct. I am able to speak what I need to speak, to transmit the things I need to express, and after one final bow, am able to depart the shrine and walk home with the road feeling ever-so-slightly more substantial beneath my feet for having broadcast my honest truth.
A wooden chest with a grated top found at shrines and temples where one throws coins as offerings ↩︎