100th Anniversary of Sectarian Independence

This year marks the 100th year since Tenrikyo achieved sectarian independence. In 1899, with the first Shinbashira Shinnosuke Nakayama as its core, Tenrikyo began putting serious efforts into attaining independence from the Shinto Central Bureau. After filing a petition for sectarian independence with the Home Ministry for the fifth time, Tenrikyo was granted permission to become independent on November 27, 1908. It had taken about 10 years to achieve independence. During that decade, Tenrikyo was subjected to state interference, and various kinds of restrictions were imposed by the government. Although the process leading up to independence involved indescribable hardships, it enabled Tenrikyo to organize itself as a religious group based on the Divine Directions, thereby consolidating the foundation for the path today.

In the sermon at this year’s Autumn Grand Service, the Shinbashira referred to the movement to attain sectarian independence. He said, “I feel that this movement, far from being a mere historical fact, has a much greater significance.” He continued, “If we become complacent about our organization and systems and neglect our efforts at the deeper levels of inner substance, we could undermine the achievements of our predecessors, who built the foundation and framework by making painstaking efforts.” How should we Yoboku understand the intentions of our predecessors who devoted themselves to attaining sectarian independence? Let us take this opportunity to briefly review the history of the path leading up to independence and reflect on the intentions of our predecessors including the first Shinbashira so that we may deepen our faith and make spiritual growth.

The December 1908 issue of Michi no Tomo magazine, printed 100 years ago, reports how delighted the entire Tenrikyo community was. The editorial reads: “Tenrikyo is now independent! Four million followers are overjoyed.” The service commemorating independence, conducted on February 19 in the following year, 1909, was attended by about 100,000 followers who returned to the Home of the Parent despite a severe storm. After the service, hundreds of fireworks were set off, and followers bearing lanterns filled the church precincts in celebration.

Movement to Gain Sectarian Independence: Its Origin and History

During the decade from 1899 to 1908, petitions for independence were submitted and rejected time and again. There was even a time when our predecessors felt they might have to relinquish their hope for independence. Whenever they faced difficult knots, however, they asked for Divine Directions and held discussions with the first Shinbashira as the core. In this way, they managed to keep their spirits up and continued to file petitions for independence.

The biggest obstacle that Tenrikyo faced in the process of attaining independence was the Meiji government’s policy on religions. From the outset, the government was determined to make Shinto the state religion and was wary of Tenrikyo, whose teachings were far different from Shinto. Particularly, Tenrikyo’s Story of Creation contained some parts that were incompatible with Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters”) and Nihonshoki (“Chronicles of Japan”), which were supposed to prove the divinity of emperors. Faced with Tenrikyo’s rapid growth as a religious group, the government began to keep an eye on it and tried to oppress it.

Tenrikyo’s affiliation with Shinto had begun in May 1885, when it was recognized as a sixth-degree church under the Shinto Headquarters. Around 1881 or 1882, the authorities’ control over Tenrikyo became increasingly severe, and police officers came to the Residence to search the premises day or night. Oyasama was arrested and put in jail on a number of occasions. In order to avoid Oyasama’s arrest and imprisonment, the followers wished to attain official recognition as a religious group. The movement to establish a church arose among them and, eventually, Tenrikyo affiliated itself with the Shinto Headquarters. In the midst of this movement to establish a church headquarters, Oyasama withdrew from physical life on the lunar-calendar date of January 26, 1887.

The decisive incident that stimulated the movement to establish Tenrikyo Church Headquarters was Oyasama’s First Anniversary Service, which was stopped by the authorities on the grounds that Tenrikyo did not have official permission from the government. This led the predecessors to ask for a Divine Direction and begin making preparations to file a petition for official recognition. Because the petition for permission to establish the church headquarters had previously been rejected twice by Osaka Prefecture, they decided to file the petition with Tokyo Prefecture, where the staff members of the Shinto Central Bureau could easily lend them a hand. Their plan was that, after obtaining permission, they would move the headquarters to Nara Prefecture, where Jiba is located. Thus, they submitted the petition in Tokyo, and permission was granted on April 10, 1888, which was only a month or so after Oyasama’s First Anniversary.

Tenrikyo Church Headquarters, which was to be directly supervised by the Shinto Central Bureau, was then relocated to Jiba in July, and its inauguration ceremony was observed in November.

Subsequently, regional churches were established one after another in many parts of Japan. As the Besseki system was organized, Tenrikyo expanded rapidly. Oyasama’s Fifth Anniversary, which was conducted in 1891, drew more than one hundred thousand followers. Soon after, Tenrikyo became a first-degree church under the direct supervision of the Shinto Central Bureau.

Oppression and Attack

Tenrikyo’s rapid expansion alarmed some sectors of the public. A number of newspapers and magazines posted libelous and damaging articles. The government, too, began to strengthen its surveillance over Tenrikyo. As early as 1891, the authorities ordered stricter control over Tenrikyo. Finally, in April 1896, the Home Ministry issued a directive that sought to suppress Tenrikyo. This directive was specifically directed against the Tenrikyo Church, and the oppression resulting from it dealt a great blow to the whole Tenrikyo community. Some churches were closed and some important staff members at Church Headquarters left Tenrikyo.

It was only after Tenrikyo recovered from these setbacks and the followers regained their vitality that Tenrikyo began the movement to attain sectarian independence. In May 1899, the head of the Shinto Central Bureau suggested that Tenrikyo file a petition for sectarian independence because Tenrikyo, besides being different from Shinto in its doctrine, was then prosperous and well qualified to be an independent religion.

According to the first petition for sectarian independence, which was submitted to the Home Ministry in August 1899, the followers maintained that missionary work and administrative affairs could not be carried out freely under the supervision of the Central Bureau, whose teachings were fundamentally different from those of Tenrikyo. The response from the Home Ministry was severely negative. Given the situation surrounding Tenrikyo at that time, the Home Ministry not only refused to grant permission for sectarian independence but was even searching for a way to punish Tenrikyo.

The Home Ministry required Tenrikyo to have a systematized doctrine and an institutionalized organization. Thus, Tenrikyo Church Headquarters began to compile The Doctrine of Tenrikyo and formulated a plan to open Tenri Seminary so that Tenrikyo could become sufficiently well organized to be an independent group. Subsequently, Tenrikyo published the Meiji kyoten, or the Meiji version of The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, which complied with the state demands. In August 1904, a third petition was filed along with this version of the Doctrine. However, that petition was also rejected and the Tenrikyo Church was asked to actually implement the proposed changes. In December of the same year, a fourth petition was submitted. Due to interference by the Police Bureau, whose chief officer had naively believed the rumors about Tenrikyo, the fourth petition was also rejected. After working to dispel the chief officer’s misunderstanding, Tenrikyo filed a fifth petition in March 1908. According to this document, too, Tenrikyo was seeking independence because Tenrikyo’s doctrine was fundamentally different from that of Shinto and Tenrikyo’s affiliation with the Shinto Central Bureau would cause a great deal of misunderstanding in training and supervising the missionaries.

Divine Directions Teach the Basis of Mind

On November 27, 1908, Tenrikyo finally achieved sectarian independence. Tenrikyo was the last among the religious groups formerly belonging to the Shinto Central Bureau to become independent. The second to the last group to attain independence was Konkokyo, which had begun making preparations for its petition about the same time as Tenrikyo. Konkokyo’s independence, however, was granted in 1900, thus showing how difficult it was for Tenrikyo to win independence.

During this long and difficult process of working toward sectarian independence, Tenrikyo managed to organize itself as an independent religious group by institutionalizing itself, establishing and improving various facilities, and systematizing its doctrine. The most precious outcome of this process was the Divine Directions that our predecessors were able to receive concerning the basis of mind every time they faced a difficult knot. People tend to rely on secular power and get carried away by their human thinking especially when they are dealing with the government. The Divine Directions always reminded the predecessors that the path was begun by Oyasama alone and had continued to that day despite all kinds of difficulties. They were constantly instructed to settle that point in their minds and carry out their endeavors while basing themselves on Oyasama’s Divine Model.

The Honseki, Izo Iburi, passed away for rebirth in June 1907, the year before independence. Yet the experience of being guided through difficult knots by the Divine Directions delivered through the Honseki enabled the predecessors to maintain the teachings despite being coerced to “comply with the law” under the state’s strict control over religions, which lasted for a long period of time. That experience also helped the Tenrikyo community to immediately engage in “restoration” when the war came to an end in August 1945.

In his aforementioned sermon that referred to the movement to attain sectarian independence, the Shinbashira told the congregation, “I feel that we need to ask ourselves whether or not we are really living up to our predecessors’ intention, enthusiasm, and endeavor, living as we do in circumstances where we are guaranteed the freedom of belief and are able to follow the path in full accordance with the teachings.” Taking these words to heart, let us reflect on the way we are following the path today and, with a fresh mind, make further progress toward the Joyous Life.

Share this article:

Comments are closed.