The Shinbashira’s Sermon at the Spring Grand Service 2011

May I express my sincere appreciation for the effort you have made to return to Jiba from near and far to attend today’s Spring Grand Service. The Service having duly been concluded, I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you. May I, therefore, have your attention for a short while.

On January 26, we perform the Spring Grand Service to commemorate the day when Oyasama withdrew from physical life. This is not to say that the significance of the Spring Grand Service is the same as that of the memorial services conducted in the world at large, services that are intended to honor and commemorate the memory of the deceased. Rather, we perform the Spring Grand Service in order to fully appreciate and take to heart the Parent’s intention embodied in the day of origin of this Service, return our thoughts to the hearts and minds of the early followers, critically reflect once again on our way of following the path, and check and readjust the orientation of our minds, so that we can take new steps with a fresh mind to respond to the Parent’s intention.

Chapter 10 of The Life of Oyasama, entitled “The Portals Opened,” contains a detailed description of the events that were happening at the Residence during the tense lead-up to that fateful day. I want to start by going over the main sequence of events covered in that chapter.

The first thing that happened is that on January 1, 1887, when Oyasama came out of Her bath, She staggered momentarily. To the worried people around Her, She said: “It is a sign that the world is going to move.” Nothing serious happened that day. Yet, on January 4, Her health suddenly took a critical turn, so the followers made an inquiry regarding the divine intention through Izo Iburi. They received the following stern response:

Sah, sah, the time is fully ripe and pressing. I have already told you everything but you have not understood at all. No matter how much I explain, there is no one who understands. This is My regret. You must reflect deeply on the life of doubt which you lead. Sah, if the words of God were false, this path would not have continued for forty-nine years until now. What I have told you until now has been shown. With this in mind, reflect. Sah, shall I withdraw? Shall I end it all?

This Divine Direction points to the fact that even the followers who had already received all the teachings, seen things unfold exactly as Oyasama had said they would before their very eyes, and managed to follow the path could not fully trust Her words. The passage also shows how impatient She must have felt with the way they were. This passage, incidentally, is the first entry of volume 1 of the official edition of the Osashizu, The Divine Directions.

Startled by that Divine Direction and realizing that this was due to their error of not performing the Service, which Oyasama had long urged, on the excuse of police oppression, the followers began to perform the Service in apology every day, from the following day, although behind locked gates, in secrecy, at night.

On the night of January 8, the followers had discussions, which lasted until the morning, when they made a decision to put two-parts weight on worldly affairs and eight-parts weight on the affairs of God and to put their hearts into the performance of the Service, thus fulfilling the dictates of the Divine Record. Perhaps, their resolve was accepted, for Oyasama began to feel better and even spoke directly to them. On the 10th, however, Oyasama’s health appeared to have failed again. The followers, therefore, made an inquiry as to whether they should perform the Service during the day as well, instead of just at night as they had been doing.

Thus, in response to Oyasama’s physical condition, which had its ups and downs, those close to Her discussed things together and made inquiries about the divine intention as the occasion arose. Driven by a single desire to have Oyasama recover from Her illness, they took pains to find a way of serving that would be acceptable to Her.

The followers were fully aware of Oyasama’s intention in urging them to perform the Service. Yet, out of fear of the repressive measures by the authorities, they could not bring themselves to perform the Service. Oyasama was confronting them with Her own grave physical condition in order to urge them to make up their minds to perform the Service.

One of the Divine Directions given during that time told the followers: “I have already taught you everything up to now. . . . No longer shall I direct you to do this or that. It will be up to the mind of each person.” Thus, Oyasama told the followers to proactively ponder and have discussions by basing themselves on the teachings already provided and using the Divine Model as their guide so that they could live up to the Parent’s expectations. It seems to me that Oyasama was demanding that the followers grow out of being totally dependent on Her in every matter.

After the followers repeatedly pondered and discussed things together, the first Shinbashira went to Oyasama’s bedside to make his inquiry before dawn on January 13. She said: “. . . if you do not understand I shall tell you. Listen carefully, listen carefully.” Then the first Shinbashira said, “There is a problem with the performance of the Service.” He also said, “It is difficult to perform the Service because of the civil law.” Moreover, he said, “Please give us a directive that will uphold both the directions of God and the laws of the country.” He thus confided his anxiety to Her. However, instead of giving him any concrete instructions about what he should do, Oyasama said such things as, “For forty-nine years, I have been teaching you and showing you in the Divine Model step by step.” Thus She repeatedly instructed him only in the fundamental principles, urging him to base his pondering and actions on the path of the Divine Model as well as the teachings that had been provided since the founding of the Teaching.

At this, the first Shinbashira requested a postponement, saying things like: “We shall practice for the performance of the Service every night,” and, “We wish to build an institute and practice the Service.” Yet, Oyasama told him, “Simply to stop is wrong.” She went on to say: “Because I say, ‘Now,’ you must do it now. Time is pressing. Do you understand?” Oyasama would not budge.

It was when the first Shinbashira asked Her about his three greatest concerns regarding the Story of Creation that the following Divine Direction came:

Sah, sah, because Tsukihi exists, the world exists. Because the world exists, things exist. Because things exist, your bodies exist. Because your bodies exist, law exists. Although the law exists, to resolve your minds is primary.

Thus explaining how the world came to be, Oyasama taught him that it was of primary importance to make a commitment to be in full accord with the intention of Tsukihi, God the Parent, who created the universe. She was telling him not to misunderstand the basis for how to ponder and make decisions.

Today—unlike those days—there are no laws that prevent us from performing the Service, but there are various things that could make it hard for us to be thorough in being single-hearted with God. This is not simply limited to the matter of the Service. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a common occurrence for us to find ourselves in situations where our human thinking might lead us astray from the course of the path. I think we must not forget to reflect critically on our way of following the path as the occasion arises, asking ourselves whether we may be causing Oyasama feelings of regret or impatience.

The Divine Direction I quoted a while ago is not intended only for the early followers who were close to Her. It also provides us at the present time with the basis for pondering that we should always recall at every opportunity.

After the followers’ earnest discussions, pondering, and inquiries, there was some relief in Oyasama’s condition. Starting on January 18, the followers performed the Kagura Service and the Dance with Hand Movements every night while praying for Oyasama’s recovery.

Then on the night of February 17, which is to say, the lunar calendar date of January 25, the following Divine Direction was delivered:

Sah, sah, I shall begin to level the ground completely. Sah, sah, with the portals opened, opened, I shall level the ground all over the world. Sah, I shall step out to level the ground. Sah, sah, shall I open the portals and level the ground? Shall I close the portals and level the ground?

The phrases “level the ground” and “step out” have a very positive ring to them, indicating that Oyasama Herself was proactively going out to provide Her workings throughout the world. The Life of Oyasama goes on to give an import of that Divine Direction, saying:

In the eyes of God the Parent, all human beings are brothers and sisters. From the standpoint of the soul, there is not the least bit of difference between the high and the low. If all people in the world meet with one another on the level of equality, as true brothers and sisters, the world of the Joyous Life will begin. In other words, God wishes to bring the minds of all people to the same level.

Thus Oyasama was saying that She wanted to remedy the situation where there were the high and the low even though all humans, as children of God the Parent, have souls that are equal. To accomplish that, She said that She wanted to free people’s minds from the feeling of high and low.

The next day, namely, the lunar calendar date of the 26th, was the day of the Service on which the Service performance had taken place each month. The followers were unable to bring themselves to perform the Service out of fear of severe measures by the authorities, yet Oyasama sternly urged them to implement the Service performance, saying: “Sah, now, at this time, I am in haste. . . . [D]o you fear the law, the law? [Or do] you fear God?” Eventually, the followers prepared themselves for a possible arrest, wearing two sets of underclothing and two pairs of tabi socks, and started to perform the Service. Miraculously, no police officers came to interfere; thus, they were able to complete the Service performance.

The followers were elated, thinking that Oyasama would surely make a recovery. The news they heard was totally unexpected: Oyasama had withdrawn from physical life.

Why did Oyasama withdraw from physical life despite the followers’ prayers and expectations? They naturally must have assumed, from a human point of view, that now that they had performed the Service in accordance with Her intention, She would recover from Her illness and continue to provide them with Her direct guidance as before. However, what She was demanding of them was the spirit of single-heartedness with God in which to bring themselves into full accord with Her intention, as well as the implementation of the Service, which is the fundamental component of the path of single-hearted salvation. Oyasama accepted the Service that they performed in the spirit of single-heartedness with God, fully prepared for any consequences they might face. I think She withdrew from physical life because She was able to assure Herself that, now that they had come this far, they would eventually be able to complete and perfect the Service.

I believe that Her message was that all the teachings to be given had already been given to them, that a model of how to follow them had been shown, and that, therefore, based on those teachings and in the light of the Divine Model, they ought to ponder, have discussions, and make progress on the path of world salvation.

The followers initially could not bring themselves to perform the Service because of the repressive measures by the authorities, yet Oyasama confronted them with Her own illness to help them grow spiritually and guide them eventually to the point where they could boldly perform the Service in broad daylight. This process of guidance represents the final training that concluded the fifty-year Divine Model. We can learn various things from this training. One of them, I believe, is that we can find an exemplary model of and useful pointers on how to train and develop human resources for the path.

Those of us who guide and nurture others first need to properly explain all the main points of the teachings as well as provide a model of how to put them into practice. Thereafter, however, rather than giving instructions on each and everything, it is important to help the people ponder personally over the teachings so that they can become convinced of the teachings and make them their own. Further, we should encourage the people to proactively think about and decide what to do and how to do it in order to accord with God’s intention, so that they will be able to act without needing to be told. In this regard, it is vital for us to carefully respond to any questions and worries the people may have in order to ensure that they can let go of their anxieties and concerns.

In that process, they will probably go through trial and error and may even run up against an impossibly difficult situation. Yet, to a certain extent, we need to watch over them patiently—although, if they seem about to deviate from the path, we must not forget to sternly tell them what they should base themselves on, as well as instruct them to uphold the course of truth without misunderstanding the order of priorities.

More than anything else, what needs to be at the foundation of these efforts is the parental love that desires people to grow to the point where they follow the path sincerely and earnestly and become Yoboku who can help others be saved—the parental love that spares no effort to help them grow spiritually.

Through the training that Oyasama gave the early followers, we are also taught that, in situations involving more than one person, it is very important for all people involved to discuss things together. Moreover, such discussions should not merely be for exchanging opinions. Rather, the people should repeatedly discuss how to near the divine intention, asking themselves how they can make themselves acceptable to God the Parent and Oyasama.

As for those who are being nurtured and trained, Oyasama’s training suggests that they first need to gain a clear understanding of the teachings given to them and to closely follow the exemplary model provided.

I think that Oyasama’s training also teaches a fundamental attitude that should be adopted by those who make a proactive, personal effort to achieve spiritual growth.

Considering how the early followers managed to overcome their worries and dilemmas and set about performing the Service—fully prepared to face any consequences that might befall them—I believe that Oyasama was teaching that the objective of training and nurturing human resources for the path is to guide them to the point where they can let go of their self-centered imaginations so that they can bring themselves into total single-heartedness with God and act in full accord with the divine intention.

In the wake of this totally unexpected situation—namely, Oyasama’s withdrawal from physical life—the followers were grief-stricken. However, they were able to pull themselves together thanks to the following Divine Direction:

Sah, sah, I shall level the ground. Has everyone assembled, has everyone assembled? Listen and understand well. All that I have said until now was put into a container of truth. But now God has opened the portals and stepped out. Because of My love for you, My children, the Parent shortened Her life by twenty-five years to step out and save the world from now. Observe well. Observe well what the path has been and what the path will become. . . . Sah, there was a thing I had intended to give to My children but I was not able. I shall bestow this truth on you step by step hereafter. Remember this well.

Osashizu, February 18, 1887

The Divine Direction told the followers that Oyasama would level the ground throughout the world so that there would be no high or low. It went on to say that out of Her parental love for Her children, all human beings, She had opened the portals of the Shrine and stepped out in order to work for salvation throughout the world and that, for that purpose, She would bestow the truth of the Sazuke on more and more people.

Leveling the ground throughout the world is a truly huge undertaking. I feel even more strongly how grand Oyasama’s intention is when I imagine the way the precincts of the Residence were surrounded by fields and bamboo thickets in 1887, as described in a Divine Direction delivered on March 13, 1907:

This property, this precinct, was in the middle of a field. For twenty years, with great hope, the Seki encouraged the growth of the path. . . . The rear of the property was a bamboo thicket. The houses were demolished. The bamboo thicket that had stood for generations was taken out.

In order to respond to Oyasama’s intention, our early predecessors endeavored to spread the teachings and worked for the salvation of others and, under the guidance of the everliving Oyasama, they were blessed with many instances of wondrous salvation. As a result, the teachings spread like wildfire in the decade starting in the late 1880s. Thereafter, a great many people who followed in their footsteps devoted themselves to the path and sowed seeds of sincerity in the face of considerable difficulties. We must not forget that it was thanks to their efforts that Tenrikyo could gradually lay out its framework as a religious organization and eventually develop to its present form.

Today, the Sanctuary, the precincts, and other facilities are incomparably larger and finer than in the early days. Also, not only have the Three Scriptures and doctrinal writings been published, but educational and training institutions have been enhanced and improved. Yet we should not only feel grateful to our predecessors but also be committed to making full use of the fruits of their great efforts, further developing what we are provided with, and handing down to the next generation the intention embodied therein.

The enormous undertaking of leveling the ground throughout the world entails making the teachings accessible all over the world. This means that we must greatly increase the number of people who implement the teachings and convey and spread the teachings. Rather than simply rejoice that Tenrikyo finds itself in far more fortunate circumstances today than in the past, it is vital for us to be fully aware that the path of world salvation has barely begun and to focus our minds more sharply on the tasks at hand.

The leveled ground that God the Parent speaks of does not simply refer to a world that has no inequality or injustice. God the Parent desires to see the world of the Joyous Life where all people live in harmony and help one another, based on the fundamental truth that all human beings are brothers and sisters as equal children of God the Parent. It is a world that is filled with brightness and vitality.

From this perspective, while it is important to level the ground to ensure that there are no high mountains or low valleys, an even more important issue may be to address the fact that interpersonal relationships and emotional bonds, which should be seen as a prerequisite for the leveled ground, are becoming increasingly weak. Nowadays, even the bonds between family members, who should help one another and trust one another more than anyone else, seem to be fragile, to say nothing of the relationships among neighbors. God the Parent says:

Hereafter, if all of you throughout the world save one another in every matter,

Know that Tsukihi will accept that mind and will provide any salvation whatever.

Ofudesaki XII:93–94

We Yoboku need to respond to the intention of God the Parent, who desires to see a world where all people help one another in any and everything. We ought to convey the truth of universal brotherhood not only to our family members and others close to us but also to more and more people in the world at large and, in this way, we should expand the circle of mutual help and spread the Joyous Life, starting with anyone close at hand. I cannot help but think about the gravity of our responsibility as Yoboku.

On this day today, I want to ask all of you to renew your pledge to respond to the divine intention to level the ground throughout the world. Please take to heart once again and fully appreciate the Parent’s intention that is packed into this day and continue working spiritedly this year while bearing in mind the importance of serving in a way that is acceptable to Oyasama. With this request, I would like to conclude my remarks today. Thank you very much for listening.

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