Sermon at the Oyasama 120th Anniversary Service

May I begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to all of you for returning to Jiba from near and far, both from within Japan and from overseas, to attend the Oyasama 120th Anniversary Service. May I also thank you very much for the sincere efforts you have devoted through your respective roles to the work of single-hearted salvation by performing the pre-anniversary activities for which we set aside “three years, one thousand days” leading up to the anniversary. Thank you very much indeed. I truly appreciate all your efforts. As I wish to take this opportunity to share some of the thoughts I have today, may I have your attention while I deliver this talk.

I am deeply moved that we have been able to duly perform the Kagura Service and the Dance with Hand Movements. The reason I say so is that back in 1887–on the lunar-calendar date of January 26, 1887, to be precise–it could not be taken for granted that the Service could be duly performed. I cannot help turning my thoughts to the feelings and anxieties of the early followers who undertook the performance of the Service on that day in response to the first Shinbashira’s instruction: “Only those should perform who are willing to risk their lives” (The Life of Oyasama, p. 237). They put on two sets of underclothing and two pairs of tabi socks before they set out to perform the Service in prayer for Oyasama’s recovery. She must have accepted their firm and sincere resolve, for She is reported to have appeared contented as She listened to the Songs for the Service and the sounds of the musical instruments before peacefully withdrawing from physical life at the end of the Service.

About one year prior to that–which is to say, in January 1886–the mere fact that a group of followers had performed the Dance with Hand Movements at their lodgings across from the Residence resulted in the arrest and twelve-day detention of Oyasama in the middle of winter, despite the fact that She was quite advanced in age. Remembering that incident, the people must have felt it nothing short of a miracle that one year later, on January 26, 1887, they were able to duly complete the Service without interference from the police, even though they were performing it in broad daylight with the musical instruments included.

The performers were in high spirits upon completing the Service, for they were convinced that Oyasama would now make a complete recovery. Yet they were told the devastating news of Her withdrawal. The shock and despair they felt are beyond our imagination.

A short while later, however, the grief-stricken followers managed to pull themselves together, and they asked for a Divine Direction. The following words were delivered:

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. When I asked whether I should open the portals or keep them closed to level the ground, you answered, “Please open the portals and level the ground.” I have done as you wished. 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.

The Life of Oyasama, p. 240

Hearing these words, the followers were relieved to realize that, although Oyasama had withdrawn from physical life, She would remain everliving and continue working for the salvation of all humankind.

Concerning what it means to “level the ground,” the Ofudesaki says the following:

All of you throughout the world are brothers and sisters. There should be no one called an outsider.

Ofudesaki XIII:43

Those living in the high mountains and those living in the low valleys: their souls are all the same.

Ofudesaki XIII:45

Unaware of this, the thought in the minds of all human beings is that there are the high and the low.

Ofudesaki XIII:47

If only this is clearly understood, the root of rebellion will be cut off.

Ofudesaki XIII:49

These verses teach that the idea that there are the high and the low among human beings gives rise to conflict and strife. In the eyes of God the Parent, all human beings are equally beloved children, and nothing is more painful than to watch them fight and hurt one another. The verses say that, if all human beings truly settle in their minds the fundamental truth that they are equal children of God the Parent and are thus brothers and sisters, no conflict will ever arise.

In the Divine Direction I quoted earlier, Oyasama explained that She was setting out, with the portals of the Shrine opened, to make the world level, and She told the followers, “[I shall] save the world from now.” Because the Service is the fundamental means of saving the world, She had strongly and sternly demanded the followers’ implementation of the Service, even confronting them with Her own physical disorder to have them perform the Service.

Another means of salvation is the Sazuke. Yet it was on very few people that Oyasama had directly bestowed the truth of the Sazuke, the Divine Grant for others’ salvation from illness. I can perceive a profound intention on Her part when She says, “[T]here was a thing I had intended to give to My children but I was not able.”

Later, when the Besseki system was instituted, the truth of the Sazuke began to be bestowed ever more widely. As increasing numbers of Yoboku, equipped with the truth of the Sazuke, strove to spread the teachings and help others be saved in an effort to make repayment for the blessings they had received, wondrous instances of salvation, which were proof of the everliving Oyasama’s workings, appeared in more and more places. The path attained such rapid growth that it is often described as having spread like wildfire.

Let us now take this opportunity to once again appreciate the depth of the training Oyasama provided even by bringing about Her own physical disorder during the period leading up to Her withdrawal from physical life. To do so, we will use The Life of Oyasama as our reference point.

Chapter 10 of The Life of Oyasama, entitled “The Portals Opened,” starts by saying that Oyasama staggered momentarily as She came out of the bath on New Year’s Day, 1887. She is quoted as saying, “It is a sign that the world is going to move.” These words seem to foreshadow some significant change in circumstances.

In July of the previous year, that is, 1886, She had told the followers:

It will grow dark in the four directions until nothing can be seen. When this happens, it will not do to be hazy about the hand movements of the Service. So practice the hand movements of the Service!

The Life of Oyasama, pp. 213-214

Oyasama was warning the followers that some grave difficulty was about to occur. With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that the sentence “It will grow dark in the four directions until nothing can be seen” was probably referring to Her withdrawal from physical life. To the followers at the time, however, such a turn of events was not imaginable since they were convinced that, while others might not, She would certainly live to be 115.

On January 4, when Oyasama’s health suddenly took a critical turn, the followers made an inquiry about the intention of God. Then the following words were delivered:

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?

The Life of Oyasama, pp. 220-221

Then Oyasama stopped breathing, and Her body suddenly became cold, shocking everyone. Realizing that this was due to their error of not performing the Service, which She had long been urging, the followers began a daily performance of the Service the following day to offer their apologies, although it was conducted in secrecy under the veil of night.

Thus unfolded a heartrending dialogue between Oyasama, who consistently demanded the performance of the Service, and those close to Her including the first Shinbashira, who, though fully aware of Her wishes, were unable to bring themselves to implement the Service because they were worried about the authorities’ oppressive measures, which could pose a danger to the safety of Oyasama, who by then was quite aged. Every time they received a Divine Direction, they responded by repeatedly discussing the situation together in order to polish their minds and near Oyasama’s intention.

We understand that chapter 10 of The Life of Oyasama is entirely concerned with Her effort to hasten the followers’ implementation of the Service. Yet reading it once again has made me aware that the word “Service” does not actually appear in the Divine Directions cited in this chapter.*

Like the ones I have already quoted today, the Divine Directions in this chapter seek to make the followers realize the pressing urgency of the situation facing them and repeatedly tell them how they were failing to understand anything, how everything had already been taught to them and shown to them, how they ought to ponder deeply based on those instructions, and how Oyasama was ready to stop providing any further instructions.

In the wee hours of the morning of January 13, the first Shinbashira, Shinnosuke Nakayama, who was faced with a painful dilemma, went to Oyasama’s bedside to make an inquiry. Among other things, he told Her: “There is a problem with the performance of the Service.” In response, Oyasama told him, “[D]ifficulties will serve to settle things truly.” She also said, “[O]ver the past forty-nine years, has not the way of sincerity been shown?” She repeatedly emphasized how important it was, particularly when faced with difficulties, to ponder, settle the mind, and implement what needed to be implemented in the light of both the teachings provided since the founding of the Teaching and the journey taken along the path over those years.

During his dialogue with Oyasama, the first Shinbashira referred to what was troubling him most when he said: “You taught us that the souls of the instruments and models of human creation were born at this Residence, that You descended to this Residence because it is the Jiba where the creation of human beings and the world began, and that the souls of the rulers and our souls are the same. If we are asked about these points, how are we to answer? We do not know. We cannot defy the law.”

The three points he mentioned are all related to the story of creation. It appears that already by that time the story of creation was regarded as problematic by the authorities since it was incompatible with the official national myths found in the ancient chronicles. This problem, incidentally, was to resurface subsequently during the period we call “Adjustment,” which began in the 1930s, when the Eight Verses of the Yorozuyo and Songs Three and Five were banned because they contained material related to the story of creation.

Yet the story of creation is so important that it could even be seen as providing the foundation for this path’s teachings. The Ofudesaki says:

Now that I shall work salvation unknown until now, it is necessary to make the origin known.

Ofudesaki IX:29

Making the origin known is exactly what the story of creation does, for it reveals who created humanity and for what purpose, as well as when, where, and how.

The ramifications of this story include a number of important teachings on such things as the goal of human existence, namely, the Joyous Life; the fact that God and humankind are the Parent and children, all human beings being brothers and sisters; the meaning of husband and wife; and the ten aspects of divine providence. Above all, the story of creation explains the truth of the Service. Indeed, we may even say that the first Shinbashira’s inquiry might have affected the fate of Tenrikyo.

In reply to the first Shinbashira’s inquiry, which expressed his painful inner turmoil, Oyasama taught him in gentle and simple language, saying:

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.

The Life of Oyasama, p. 231

These words provided not only the followers at the time but also those in later generations including all of us today with an important basis for pondering and making decisions–a basis that must never be forgotten.

Later, the first Shinbashira was to weather all kinds of difficulties including the oppressive measures resulting from the Home Ministry’s so-called “secret directive,” the lengthy negotiations with the government and other authorities over Tenrikyo’s application for sectarian independence, and newspaper articles slandering Tenrikyo. Remaining faithful to the teachings at all times, he made painstaking efforts to bring the path to the fore and spread it widely in the teeth of all these difficulties. While doing so, he must have brought to mind time and again the instruction he had received directly from Oyasama in 1887.

Today, there are no legal restrictions on any aspect of our faith including our performance of the Service, nor do we need to worry about any external interference from any source. Yet, even today, what is primary remains the same as in the early days–it is to maintain our resolve to be in accord with the intention of Tsukihi, God the Parent, at all times. Compared with those days when the followers feared persecution and interference by the police, we live in an age when we are extremely fortunate. Still, today’s followers may well have their own internal conflicts in trying to follow the path. For example, some may find themselves wedged between the teachings and the demands of social customs or obligations. Some may feel disheartened by the lack of understanding and cold attitude that they perceive in some people. I suspect, however, that the real problem does not lie in external factors such as I have mentioned but arises from one’s own mind. There is an endless list of motives we might come up with for deviating from the path of single-heartedness with God, such as those based on self-interest, the need to save face, ideas of inconvenience to oneself, and other self-serving considerations.

If we are to follow the path in accord with God the Parent’s intention, an indispensable prerequisite is to make the effort to inquire into what that intention is in the ordinary course of daily life. This means that we need to base all our ponderings and decisions on the teachings, maintain our resolve to be in accord with God’s intention, and make sure our actions reflect that resolve.

In the final period before Oyasama’s withdrawal, the early followers held many discussions while working at allowing their minds to mature based on the careful and repeated Divine Directions they were receiving, and they spent a month performing the Service every day after dousing themselves with cold water in prayer for Her recovery. Then came the lunar-calendar date of January 26–the 26th being the day on which the Service had taken place each month. Finding themselves torn between Oyasama’s urgings for the Service to be performed and the authorities’ vigilant watch over the activities at the Residence, the followers made an inquiry about the intention of God. Then they were told:

I instructed you to do it immediately. Sah, now, at this time, I am in haste.

The Life of Oyasama, p. 236

They went on to receive rather stern words: “Do you fear God or do you fear the law?”

At about noon, Oyasama’s condition grew extremely critical, and the followers’ resolve finally became firm. They began to perform the Service, now prepared for any eventuality.

What Oyasama taught through the series of Divine Directions we have been looking at is, first and foremost, the importance of performing the Service–a fundamental component of the path of single-hearted salvation–exactly as it was taught. She also taught the importance of fortifying our resolve to remain in complete accord with God the Parent’s intention regardless of any obstacles that present themselves.

Another thing She taught is the attitude of proactively seeking the basis for our ponderings and decisions in Her teachings and Her Divine Model and trying to achieve implementation with firm resolve. It is not enough to do something just because we are told to do it. If we only do things because someone tells us to do them, we would not achieve anything in the absence of someone telling us what to do. Then even a minor obstacle might shake our resolve or make us give up on a goal we set.

Oyasama had always taught the weighty truth of the Service and urged its implementation by both Her spoken and written word. Yet, in the final days leading up to Her withdrawal, She did not explicitly tell the followers to perform the Service. Rather, She told them to reflect on the teachings already provided for them over the previous forty-nine years, as well as bring to mind the path of the Divine Model, so that they could perceive the divine intention, strengthen their resolve, and take it upon themselves to implement what God was teaching them. I cannot help thinking that She provided this training out of parental concern for the future of the path, as She was about to set out to guide the followers in Her role as the everliving Oyasama. This training is intended for all of us today as well.

In anticipation of the 120th Anniversary of Oyasama, I announced Instruction Two to encourage all followers of the path to work together to attain a level of spiritual growth that would bring joy to the everliving Oyasama while orienting their minds toward that shared goal. In that Instruction, I emphasized the importance of “cultivating the mind of saving others” and “implementing salvation work.” In more concrete terms, I called upon all Yoboku to make a practice of sprinkling the fragrance of the teachings and helping others be saved.

Although the actual way of carrying out these activities may have varied from one Yoboku to another depending on their positions and roles, I trust that all of you have experienced the joy of being shown the blessings your efforts have called forth. Such an experience will, I believe, pave the way for promising buds to spring forth.

Today marks the end of the activities for which we set aside the pre-anniversary period. However, let us not forget that on the day of origin of Oyasama’s anniversaries, She said, “[I shall] save the world from now.” Likewise, today hardly represents the end of our path to spiritual growth. Rather, it marks but one milestone on our long journey toward the great goal of realizing the Joyous Life for all humankind as intended by Oyasama.

As I mentioned a while ago, we are fortunate to have the teachings that Oyasama spent fifty years providing for us and the path of the Divine Model that She demonstrated through Her own example. Let us make proactive efforts to always bring to mind Her teachings and Her Divine Model, use them as the basis for pondering how to live in accord with the divine intention, and actually live our lives on this basis, for it is these efforts that will ensure that we are guided by the everliving Oyasama. As we continue making such efforts each day, we will begin to see the next, reliable guidepost come into view.

Oyasama’s intention is nothing less than single-hearted salvation. Taking to heart how fortunate and blessed we are to be embraced and guided by Her parental love, let us as Yoboku embody that parental love ourselves and convey the voice of the true Parent of humanity to people who are confused and troubled because of a lack of a dependable guide. Let us reach out to those who are suffering from illness or other problems and invite them to join us on the path to the Joyous Life. This is our supreme mission and the source of our greatest joy.

I would like to suggest that we take advantage of this important juncture represented by the 120th Anniversary to reflect on the way we have been performing our tasks, take a fresh look at our goal, and pledge together that we will walk the path spiritedly and with a fresh mind so as to respond to the Parent’s intention.

We are, as we agreed before, considering this year as the year of the 120th Anniversary of Oyasama, and we are committed throughout the year to giving expression to the results of the efforts we have made in anticipation of the anniversary. Let all of us perform our tasks in such a way as to ensure that the Home of the Parent always has a lively atmosphere with many people returning to Jiba and that this year will be a significant year that will provide a springboard for a new departure. I now want to conclude my remarks by sincerely asking all of you to continue following the path spiritedly. Thank you for listening.

* Translator’s note: In the English version of The Life of Oyasama (p. 229), one of the Divine Directions reads: “[T]o settle the mind is to settle the Service performers.” However, the corresponding part of the original says, “kokoro sadame no ninju sadame,” without explicitly referring to “tsutome,” the Service.

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