Sermon at the Spring Grand Service

May I express my sincere appreciation for the trouble you have taken in returning to Jiba to attend today’s Spring Grand Service for the 170th year of the Teaching. As we have just been able to duly perform the Service, I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you. May I, therefore, have your kind attention while I deliver this talk.

Exactly one year ago today, we performed the Oyasama 120th Anniversary Service. Seeing last year as the year of the 120th Anniversary, we then strove to ensure that the Home of the Parent maintained a lively atmosphere with many people returning to Jiba throughout the year.

With the new year having begun, we are now going through what we might call ordinary times. However, this is not to say that we can now slacken our efforts. Rather, as opposed to working together and focusing our energies on our special, committed drive associated with the anniversary of Oyasama, we are to pay our total attention to performing the respective essential tasks that our own roles and positions always entail.

Every time we commenced the activities leading up to an anniversary of Oyasama, we have said that a critical juncture was upon us. Yet I believe that the event we bring to mind when observing the Spring Grand Service, namely, Oyasama’s withdrawal from physical life in 1887–as well as the days that preceded that event–must have represented the most critical juncture imaginable.

To the early followers who revered Oyasama as God and adored Her as their true Parent, nothing could have been more painful or agonizing than Her withdrawal. From Oyasama’s point of view, however, the final days of Her physical life were meant to complete Her fifty-year endeavor to lay the path of single-hearted salvation. Having conveyed God’s intention by both spoken and written word, demonstrated the Divine Model through Her own example, and made all arrangements for the path, She was now putting the finishing touches to the followers’ training to ensure that they were ready for a new stage where She would guide them in Her role as the everliving Oyasama.

In more concrete terms, She was strongly urging them to perform the Service, even by confronting them with Her own serious illness. In addition, through Her repeated urgings to perform the Service, She was teaching them the stance of mind that everyone aspiring to follow this path should always keep sight of in any situation.

The situation at the Residence immediately before the performance of the Service on the lunar calendar date of January 26, 1887, is described in The Life of Oyasama as follows:

This day [the 26th], on which the Service performance had taken place each month, was especially significant because now, through Oyasama’s condition, God the Parent was urging the performance of the Service. A great number of worshipers from neighboring villages and districts had assembled. Moreover, the police were keeping strict watch. A single mistake would result in the arrest of the ailing Oyasama. Caught in this dilemma, the disciples could not decide what to do.

So they made an inquiry as to the intention of God. Then they received the following sternly worded Divine Direction:

I instructed you to do it immediately. Sah, now, at this time, I am in haste. Some of you say, “Respond to God’s will at once.” Others say, “Be prudent.” Still others say, “Wait awhile.” Sah, sah, concerning the one thing, do you fear the law, the law? Do you fear God or do you fear the law?

This part of The Life of Oyasama vividly captures the tense and agonizing circumstances in which the followers could not bring themselves to perform the Monthly Service as they should out of fear of the authorities’ interference sanctioned by law. After receiving the Divine Direction, however, those who felt ready for any punishment put on two sets of underclothing and two pairs of tabi and resolutely set about performing the Service. Their only concern must have been to respond to Oyasama’s intention so that She would recover from Her illness. From Oyasama’s own perspective, however, She was trying to have the followers fully understand how important it was to perform the Service exactly as taught regardless of any obstacles, for the Service is the foundation of the path of single-hearted salvation. To ensure that they understood this, She was training them even by confronting them with Her own critical physical condition.

Starting in early January 1887, Oyasama’s health problem prompted those close to Her to hold many serious discussions and inquire about Her intention on a number of occasions. Oyasama’s intention, as She consistently made clear, was that the followers should perform the Service, but they were also concerned about the authorities’ strict interference. The tensest of moments arrived before dawn on January 13, when the first Shinbashira presented himself at Oyasama’s bedside to ask for instructions. Confiding his anxieties to Her, the first Shinbashira said, “It is difficult to perform the Service because of the civil law.” He also said, “Please give us a directive that will uphold both the directions of God and the laws of the country.” Later, he remarked, “We cannot defy the law.” He made several references to the law in the course of his dialogue with Oyasama on that occasion. In response to his inquiries, She carefully explained the relationship between God’s intention and the law as follows:

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 Oyasama emphasized that the most important thing was to set the mind to accord completely with God’s intention. However, this was not to say that we could break the law. The point She was making was that, before getting caught up in how our actions are restricted by the law, we must remember how to order our fundamental priorities in any situation. This passage, I believe, was not merely intended for those who were present at the time but for all people following in their footsteps, as well, including all of us today. Indeed, Tenrikyo was later subjected to restrictions resulting from national religious policy, making it impossible to convey Oyasama’s teachings or perform the Service exactly as intended by Her. Such restrictions, in fact, lasted for considerable periods of time. Yet because our predecessors followed the path without losing sight of the spirit of Oyasama’s instructions, we are today able to perform the Service and convey the teachings to others exactly as taught by Her.

Another Divine Direction delivered on that day says:

If there are no difficulties, the mind cannot be truly set.

Unless we are faced with a difficulty, it is human to neglect to do what we should be doing, even if it is something very important. Particularly if what we ought to be doing is something not easy to carry out, we tend to come up with one excuse after another to procrastinate or postpone dealing with the task. Only when a serious difficulty confronts us do we squarely face what we have to do and begin to understand the essential nature of the situation so that we can make up our mind to carry out our task. The important thing is to bear in mind what is essential even in ordinary times instead of forgetting about it once the crisis is over. Whether we conduct ourselves in accordance with this basic principle in the course of daily life will make a huge difference when a crucial moment arises.

In Japan at present, we are guaranteed freedom of religion, which means that we are able to perform the Service without having to worry about any interference from the authorities. Yet, because we live in such a fortunate time, it is all the more important for us to always bear firmly in mind the spirit of Oyasama’s instructions and earnestly perform the Service so that it can be accepted by God and make God spirited.

A Divine Direction tells us:

A broad path is easy to follow, and a narrow path is difficult to follow. Yet, because you pay attention when you follow a narrow path, you are not likely to injure yourself. When following a broad path, on the other hand, you may trip and fall. The reason you trip and end up injuring yourself is that you are not paying attention.

Osashizu, October 5, 1896

It may sound paradoxical to say that you are not likely to injure yourself when following a narrow path, which should be more difficult to follow than a broad path. Yet this means, of course, that you are unlikely to injure yourself because you are paying attention to make sure you do not take a step off the path. When walking a broad path, however, you do not pay attention, so you are more likely to injure yourself.

Today, there are no legal restrictions imposed upon us. However, we cannot say that there is absolutely nothing that militates against us following the path exactly as Oyasama taught it. One example that comes to mind would be the current of the times. Referring to the general tendencies present in society, it reflects the hopes and desires of the people living in the same time period. Even though the current of the times has no power to force us to do anything, it is easy to imagine ourselves identifying with it, accepting it, and sometimes even getting swept along by it.

At present, there is a growing tendency to think that all is well if the present is well for oneself alone, but we must not lose sight of the fundamental reference point that we, as followers of Oyasama’s teachings, should always base ourselves on. That is, we should try to see how Oyasama would think and how She would act and behave. We should ask ourselves these questions at every opportunity.

There are, I am sure, other obstacles that can confront us as we try to follow the path intended for us. Although there must be a plausible-sounding explanation for why each of those obstacles exists, ultimately they all boil down, I believe, to human thinking or the state of mind that gives priority to one’s own convenience. If we allow ourselves to get caught up in such human thinking and lose sight of the basic principle that should be guiding us in ordering our priorities, then not only will we deviate from the path, but we may hinder the path itself. I therefore suggest that, no matter what is happening, all of us constantly bear in mind the dependable guide that Oyasama taught us–the guide on which all our decisions and ponderings should be based.

As has already been announced, we will be holding the Seminar for Successors in twenty-five sessions starting in August this year. The two-night, three-day seminar is intended for those between the ages of twenty and forty–including the children of church head ministers–who are expected to carry the path forward in the future. Judging by the age bracket, one might say that this seminar is really intended for people who are already most active rather than future successors. That is all the more reason why I hope that its participants will further deepen their faith so that they will be able to implement the teachings with a stronger conviction. As for those of you who are responsible for sending them to the seminar, may I ask you to bear in mind that it is designed as an opportunity? It is meant to provide younger people with an opportunity to strengthen their connection with their churches and increase their enthusiasm for participating in their churches’ activities. Yet the seminar will only bear fruit if you continue making sincere efforts to help guide them. I, therefore, want to ask for your close cooperation in this regard.

Given the path’s aim of building the Joyous Life World by saving all humankind, it goes without saying that it is indispensable to carry out the “vertical mission”–that is, handing down the teachings from parents to children–besides spreading the teachings to new people. The effort to pass down the teachings should be directed not only toward the intended participants in the Seminar for Successors but toward all Yoboku’s children. We must impart our faith to our children and to our grandchildren under the conviction that our duty is to ensure that the children of every Yoboku grow up into Yoboku.

Moreover, I hope that we can hand down the teachings in such a way that virtue will grow in each succeeding generation. In order for this to occur, however, it is important to teach and guide the younger generation by showing an example of a way of living that befits followers of the path through the way we live our own lives. I believe that there are things that cannot be explained in words, whether spoken or written. I want to ask you to convey those things through your actions, through your own implementation.

In Anecdotes of Oyasama, we can find many exemplary models of how we should lead our daily lives as Yoboku or how we ought to conduct ourselves as befits followers of this path. Whereas The Life of Oyasama is intended to make clear the truth of Oyasama, Anecdotes of Oyasama provides a vivid portrayal of Her as the Parent of the Divine Model through many stories about Her boundless parental love. Some of these stories concisely summarize essential points of our faith, and others teach and explain in an easy-to-understand manner what we should keep in mind if we are to live as followers.

In the Ofudesaki, it is Part XV that urges the implementation of the Service in the strongest terms. This part was written in 1880, the year in which anecdote no. 74, entitled “Following God’s Path,” takes place. We read in that anecdote:

Oyasama vigorously urged the performance of the Service in the autumn of 1880. When people were hesitating to comply with Her words because it was a period of strict vigilance and interference by the police, Oyasama sternly urged them to comply through this Timely Direction:

Crushing God’s path by excessive concern for man’s obligations is not the path at all. The true path consists in standing up for the path of God, not for the path of man. Sah, will you crush the principle of God and stand up for the principle of man? Will you not stand up for the principle of God rather than the principle of man? Now answer one of these.

This Timely Direction is worded in a stern manner reminiscent of the Divine Direction delivered on January 26, 1887, which I quoted earlier–the one that preceded the Service performance on that day. The Timely Direction recorded in this anecdote refers to the “principle of man” and “man’s obligations” in place of the “law” mentioned in the 1887 Divine Direction. The expressions we have here can convey a much wider range of meanings than the word “law.”

The followers who received this Timely Direction in 1880 were still unprepared for the performance of the Service. Taken aback, they held discussions and asked for God’s further guidance with regard to an insufficient number of performers of the Service and their lack of practice in performing it, while at the same time doing what they could to prepare for it. As if to respond to their worries, Oyasama is reported to have said:

Sah, sah, musical instruments, musical instruments. For the present, even if you play “two” in the place of “one,” or “three” in the place of “two,” God will forgive. God will accept the harmony of the hearts of the performers. Understand this well.

The followers, according to this anecdote, were relieved to hear these words and started performing the Service joyously. The anecdote clearly brings out Oyasama’s warm parental love for us, as well as Her sternness in demanding our conformity to truth.

Each story recorded in Anecdotes of Oyasama has profound meaning, which becomes increasingly clear and allows us to feel ever closer to Oyasama as we read it over and over. Further, these anecdotes are not at all stories of bygone events with little relevance to us but deal with many topics and issues that we encounter in our own lives. The anecdotes provide us with excellent examples of how to live the teachings. I therefore suggest that you read them repeatedly and ever more deeply and make full use of them in your daily lives.

I trust that many of you have been able to make great strides in your spiritual growth through the pre-120th Anniversary activities, which started upon the announcement of Instruction Two, as well as the activities promoted during the year of the anniversary. I am sure many have been blessed with having wonderful blessings shown. On the other hand, these anniversary-related activities may have brought to the attention of some of you problems and issues that you or your churches have to address. It is when we do our utmost to achieve goals we set that we can develop our strength, come to clearly see where we stand, and identify our strong and weak points.

The year of the 120th Anniversary is over but, rather than sitting back and resting, we would be well advised to continue working to further strengthen our conviction of faith and enhance our capacity to implement the teachings. Also, where issues and problems have emerged, it is necessary to make a conscious effort to address them, taking corrective and supportive action, rather than leaving them as they are. We may say that we have now entered a period when we should be laying the foundation for the future–an effort that may not immediately bear fruit and may be likened to sowing seeds.

As I have said elsewhere, Oyasama’s anniversaries are milestones on our long journey toward the Joyous Life of all humankind. These anniversaries are key junctures at which we are to once again ensure we fully understand our ultimate goal and to review the direction in which we are moving, so that we can make further progress by encouraging one another and joining our efforts. Considering how far away our destination may lie, we could feel disheartened at times, wondering how long it might take to complete our journey. Given the present state of the world, it may take a very long time. However, this does not mean that we are utterly unable to savor the Joyous Life until the entire world is reconstructed as the Joyous Life World. As those of us who are aware of God’s intention continue implementing Oyasama’s teachings and trying to savor the Joyous Life, we will find joyous living gradually emerge and spread in wider and wider circles as intended by God. Those of us who are Yoboku should lead this endeavor, which can unfold from our churches in various countries and areas.

Although the anniversary-related activities have now come to an end, I hope that you will maintain the “mind of saving others,” which you have nurtured and cultivated through such activities. I want to ask you to give full expression to the “mind of saving others” by proactively reaching out to those who do not have a dependable guide, sprinkling the fragrance of God’s intention on them, administering the Sazuke to those with illness, and listening to any problems that people have. In this way, you can work for the salvation of others. I am hoping that these efforts will lead to the enhancement of your performance of the service and your work to spread the teachings, for these tasks constitute the core of your churches’ activities in ordinary times. In terms of building on the anniversary-related activities and further invigorating the Tenrikyo community in the years ahead, how we perform our tasks this year will be truly significant.

I would now like to conclude my remarks by asking all of you to set out anew in high spirits toward making this year truly meaningful.

Thank you for listening.

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