—Would you tell us about the measures taken by Tenrikyo Church Headquarters in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic?
First of all, I would like to express my deepest sympathies for those who lost their lives due to COVID-19 and, as a follower of the path, I pray to God the Parent and Oyasama for the quick recovery of those who are suffering from the infection.
Many people are suffering from the pandemic. Experts in various fields are working hard to tackle the situation. Under the current circumstances, Church Headquarters has implemented a series of measures to help prevent the spread of the infection.
On March 3, a prayer service was held at the Main Sanctuary. We conducted it with the wooden clappers and the counter in the hope of serving as a model for those who might wish to perform a prayer service at their churches, fellowships, and homes.
As the number of coronavirus infections increased toward the end of March, it became difficult to welcome a large number of people from all over the country into the Sanctuaries. Due to fears of infection, only head ministers of directly supervised churches and diocese superintendents were allowed to attend the March Monthly Service and Spring Memorial Service representing all other followers, who were asked to worship at their respective places.
The Oyasama Birth Celebration Service and the April Monthly Service were to be performed in the same manner. However, the state of emergency initially announced on April 7 was expanded on the 16th to include the entire nation, urging people to refrain from crossing prefectural borders. Therefore, the Oyasama Birth Celebration Service was attended only by the Service performers and directly supervised church and diocese heads who had already been in Jiba by the 17th, and the April Monthly Service only by the Service performers.
Also, we decided to not accept new Shuyoka students for the session that was to start in May, to postpone courses and lectures, and to cancel the Children’s Pilgrimage to Jiba. These decisions were based on the guidance given by the authorities and advice from experts in various fields regarding large gatherings of people.
I would like all followers to understand that these decisions reflect the expectation that those who are in Jiba are firmly resolved to fulfill their roles in Jiba and the hope that those based in regional churches and fellowships and other followers will serve as Yoboku in their respective roles and positions.
Now that the infection has spread so extensively, people’s reactions to COVID-19 seem to fall into two main categories. For instance, we are encouraged to put on a mask, but the reason people wear a mask seems to be different from person to person. Some people put on a mask because they worry about getting infected while others wear a mask out of concern that they might spread the infection. These behaviors appear outwardly the same, but the motives behind the actions are quite different. If your motivation is to not infect others, that means you care about and are considerate of others. This sense of caring and consideration can develop into the mind that desires to help save others. In contrast, if you worry about yourself, you try to protect yourself. Once your attention focuses on your own safety, you become nervous about other people’s behavior. That mindset will cause you to complain about and criticize others’ shortcomings.
Under the current circumstances, people are not able to freely go inside the Main Sanctuary even if they make a pilgrimage to Jiba. However, I hope that people will not be caught up in the idea that they cannot go inside the Main Sanctuary. Rather, I hope that people will focus on the fact that they can offer their prayers from wherever they are. Personally, I believe that loving-kindness in praying for others is a vital key to overcoming the great knot of the coronavirus. The important thing now is to cultivate this loving-kindness for others.
—What is your understanding of infectious diseases like COVID-19 in terms of the teachings?
The Ofudesaki refers to several infectious diseases, the first of which is smallpox. This term appears seven times in the Ofudesaki between Part VI and Part XIII, which were written by Oyasama between 1874 and 1877. It is worth noting that in Part VII, which was written in 1875, this disease is mentioned three times. In that year, Oyasama identified Jiba and taught the songs and hand movements for the verse containing the phrase “Ichiretsu sumasu Kanrodai (the Kanrodai which purifies all humankind equally).” Oyasama thereby completed teaching the Service in its initial form.
In Part VII of the Ofudesaki, we read:
What do you think this Service is? It is from My single intent to save you in childbirth and from smallpox.
What do you think this salvation is about? I shall teach the Service to free you from smallpox.
By this Service which teaches the path quickly, all minds in the world will be purified.
How are you hearing this talk? It is solely about the preparations for the salvation of the world.
These verses assure us that, if we perform the Service, we will be protected from smallpox, and our minds will be purified. I feel that God the Parent’s loving-kindness, which is at the root of the Service, is expressed through these verses.
The Service of the Kanrodai is performed at Jiba. Receiving that truth, we are allowed to perform the service at local churches, fellowships, and homes in the same spirit that the Service of the Kanrodai is performed. If we are able to develop loving-kindness as much as possible while performing the service, it becomes a genuine prayer for the salvation of the world. I believe it is vital to emphasize this point now.
Next, let us take a look at the following Ofudesaki verse from Part XII, which was written in 1876:
What do you think this salvation is? It is My assurance of your freedom from smallpox.
Prior to this verse, we read:
From now, Tsukihi requests you, everyone in the world, to replace your mind firmly.
To explain what kind of mind it is to be: it is none other than to save the world single-heartedly.
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.
We are assured of every kind of salvation when we lean on God the Parent and perform the Service. However, through these verses, it seems that we are further instructed to unite ourselves and to nurture the mind of mutual help and consideration. That is to say, we are encouraged to replace our minds with a mind of loving-kindness.
Moreover, we are taught:
If a true resolve comes to your mind, and you do not turn away from the words of God,
Then Tsukihi will firmly accept this mind and directly hasten your salvation.
Do not think of this salvation as being trivial. It is the principal matter of the Divine Record of Nihon.
These verses indicate that, if we do not turn away from “the words of God” so that we can pray together for one another and replace our minds with the mind of kindness and mutual help, God will surely accept our minds and provide us with blessings and workings, which will become “the principal matter of the Divine Record of Nihon.” This appears to be what we should convey. That is to say, what we need to realize now is the parental love of God the Parent, who desires us to replace our minds with a mind of loving-kindness through the knot of infectious disease.
Regarding cholera—another infectious disease—the Ofudesaki says,
The world is saying that it is cholera, but it is Tsukihi informing you of the regret.
This verse is in Part XIV, which was written in 1879 when there was a terrible cholera epidemic in Japan. With regard to the change of the names referring to God the Parent in the Ofudesaki—“God,” “Tsukihi” (Moon-Sun), and “the Parent”—Part XIV is the part in which God changes the name from “Tsukihi” to “the Parent.” In this verse, we are taught that cholera represents a message informing us of the regret of Tsukihi.
Earlier in Part XIV, we read:
The mind of Tsukihi hastens day after day, but the minds of you close to Me are only depressed.
Why are you depressed? It is because those in high places know nothing.
Unaware of this, the whole world follows them in all matters and is depressed.
As suggested in these verses, God’s “regret” seems to be over the “depressed” mind of human beings. After talking about cholera, the Ofudesaki goes on to say,
Whatever may happen, there will be nothing to fear, depending on your mind of sincerity.
By saying, “[T]here will be nothing to fear, depending on your mind of sincerity,” God the Parent assures us that, as long as we can transform our depressed mind into a spirited one, we need not worry about anything.
Further, we read:
When the regret of the true Parent comes out, perhaps no one knows the way to settle it.
But if you are truly sincere, I shall teach you everything whatever.
Then, we are taught:
I earnestly request you to take this path. The Parent assures you, so there is no need for worry.
Do not wonder what this is about. I need musical instruments for the Service quickly.
Now today, whatever you may do, you need not worry, for the Parent assures you.
An important point to note here is that these verses express God the Parent’s deep heart.
In the fifty-sixth in a series of lectures on the teachings held in the East Center Wing of the Oyasato-yakata building-complex, the second Shinbashira gave a talk on the Ofudesaki, in which he mentioned that the Ofudesaki changes the term referring to God the Parent from “Tsukihi” to “the Parent” in Part XIV and said:
What God the Parent is working to hasten out of parental love is single-hearted salvation, which is to say, the completion of the Service. In order to help achieve that goal, what we need to do is put all other concerns aside and take actions exactly as instructed by the Parent because the time has already come for that. This is what it means to follow the faith. The Ofudesaki is saying, “The Parent will take care of all other concerns, so commence the Service!”
Here, God the Parent hastens us to perform the Service. Yet, rather than resorting to the authority of God or Tsukihi by forcefully commanding us to perform the Service, God the Parent expresses loving-kindness through using the term “the Parent” in the Scripture while encouraging us to perform the Service. This is one of the features of Part XIV. When we read this part, therefore, we must ponder deeply over this point. In other words, this part explains how we human beings can absolutely trust in and rely on the Parent and what state of the mind can connect us to the Parent.
The second Shinbashira says that Part XIV describes the mind of children who implore the Parent for salvation and teaches the loving-kindness of the Parent and the way to connect our minds to God the Parent. Although cholera—a frightening infectious disease—is mentioned to encourage us to replace our minds, we are assured that there is no need to worry, for the Parent is undertaking salvation.
I feel that the loving-kindness of the Parent is something that far surpasses human love. These Ofudesaki verses assure us that we are saved so long as we rely on the loving-kindness of the Parent and become spirited.
—Given the loving-kindness of the Parent, what should we followers keep in mind?
In the Divine Directions, the term “kindness” is used often. We read, for instance,
Kindness is the basis that enables you to nurture people’s minds.
Osashizu, May 16, 1900
This Divine Direction says, in effect, that the basis for world salvation can be established through kindness. In the Divine Model of Oyasama, we find that She always welcomed those who came to Jiba with kind and gentle words, saying, “Welcome home” and “Thank you for your efforts.” Pilgrims then felt that Oyasama is the true Parent. Instead of explaining the doctrine or giving guidance, She at first held their hands and rubbed their back while speaking kind words. This kindness is the basis for world salvation.
Also, we are taught as follows:
To save others requires the mind of sincerity. Even one word of kindness can express the mind of sincerity.
Osashizu, 1888 [exact date not recorded], supp. vol.
The mind of sincerity can be put into practice with one word of kindness. Thus, we are encouraged to always use kind words. Conversely, as we make efforts to use words of kindness, we can transform our minds into the mind of kindness. In other words, if we consciously try to use kind words, we can nurture the mind of sincerity that is accepted by God.
Currently, we are not able to see people face-to-face, but we can still use words of kindness by talking to people on the phone, the Internet, and social media. It is important to make every effort we can.
Regarding the state of the mind, there is the mind of kindness and the mind of fear.
Osashizu, January 13, 1892
Even if we see and experience the same thing, it is up to individuals whether to use the mind of kindness or the mind of something else. That means that the current situation can be regarded as an opportunity for us to ponder what state of mind we want to nurture and use.
A knot is a juncture where changes occur and where we make changes as well. There may be followers whose conviction of faith will falter and waver under the circumstances that prevent them from attending monthly services for two to three months. That is all the more reason for us to ponder over what kind of words we speak to them. If we nurture the mind of kindness, we would say: “Don’t worry. It will be okay. Let’s work together to overcome this knot. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.” If we fall short, we might end up speaking stern words, saying: “What are you doing? Pull yourself together!” What manner we choose will make a difference to the way things will be after this knot comes to an end. God the Parent surely accepts our sincere efforts if we try to transform our minds into the mind of kindness.
—How should we understand the current difficulties that people are facing throughout the world?
All of us human beings are at risk of novel coronavirus infection. Nobody can tell who will be infected and who will not. Under the circumstances, socioeconomic status and other such factors do not matter at all. As we all share the same danger, we can think of the situation as an opportunity for all human beings to realize that we are brothers and sisters and that our bodies are things we are equally borrowing from God the Parent.
We human beings tend to blame and accuse others when something bad happens. As a follower of the path, what we should do is nurture the mind that allows us to see the situation as guidance from God the Parent and cultivate the mind that can help save people who are suffering. That will become the basis for receiving the blessings that bring a settling to this great knot.
Let us now shift the focus to what is going on in the household. Due to the authorities’ request for everyone to refrain from going out, children are not able to go to school as freely as before. Parents may have blindly believed that, just by sending their children to school, they can ensure that the children are provided with education, but they now know the matter is not that simple. Likewise, we might have assumed that simply sending our children to the events and activities of the Boys and Girls Association and the Students Association was sufficient to ensure that they received nurturing and guidance. We need to change the way we think about nurturing children. As a matter of course, it is still vital to invite as many children as possible to the events and activities in an effort to bring them joy, and school education continues to play an essential role. However, perhaps we should not be complacent about those things. Behind what is happening now, there probably is parental love that desires to encourage us to reflect on the way we think about nurturing and guidance.
Also, there might have been a tendency for husband and wife and for parent and child to confine themselves to a narrow role and to assume that they are fulfilling their responsibilities by merely playing their limited role. We must use the current situation as an opportunity to correct this tendency. Let us cultivate a sense of loving-kindness and consideration among family members and proactively help one another. I feel that more and more people are beginning to notice the importance of family and mutual help. Now is a chance to develop a capacity to pay attention to the things that we never used to notice. I hope that we will thereby be able to cultivate a sense of loving-kindness.
—Lastly, would you give a message to the followers of the path?
At local churches and homes, it is now easier for parents to teach children why we perform the service and why we have faith in this path. Exerting layer upon layer of this effort will lead to nurturing the successors of the path. Without getting caught up in formality, we should convey whatever is necessary to our children in a casual manner in the course of our daily lives.
The same thing can be said of maintaining a relationship within a church community. If you are a head minister, you should call your followers and ask how they are doing. Even just one word will do. Even if you are not able to call all the followers of your church, that is fine. We can rest assured that, so long as we make efforts to cultivate the mind of kindness and to exert it, God the Parent will help us by taking care of the rest. Instead of being discouraged due to the lack of choices currently available, we should pay attention to what we can do now and appreciate it with an open heart. I believe that that is the way of thinking that is appropriate for us who follow the path.
So far, I have talked about the mind of kindness and the importance of change. Under the current circumstances, however, it seems difficult to make external changes. What we can seek instead is internal changes. What enables us to change internally is performing the service. Even if the kanzane (the symbol of worship) is not enshrined in our house, we can still perform the service, facing toward Jiba. We are currently unable to engage in door-to-door missionary work or gather together to do hinokishin, but that is fine. There are other things we can do. For example, we can read books that explain the Scriptures and the teachings if we want. We may find a new perspective for understanding the teachings and become spirited. Since the spirited mind is the mind that accords with the intention of God the Parent, we can achieve spiritual growth by continuing to make such efforts.
There is no need to worry even in the face of this great knot so long as we rely totally on God as we do whatever we can to nurture the mind of kindness and to develop the spirited mind.