Insights into the Anecdotes: Zenroku Okamoto (1849–1912) and His Wife, Shina, (1856–1912), Anecdote 86 “Great Salvation”

The Anecdote (Summary)

 

Shina, wife of Zenroku Okamoto of Nagahara Village in Yamato Province, had seven pregnancies. However, only two children, the eldest son, Eitaro, and the youngest daughter, Kan, survived.

Sometime around August 1881 a farmer named Tarobei Imada—who owned about six hectares (15 acres) of rice fields in Shoji Village, about four kilometers (2.5 mi.) from Nagahara Village—send a messenger to the Okamotos with the request: “We recently had our first son, but are having difficulty nursing him because of lack of milk. We realize this is an unreasonable request, but will you please take care of the child and nurse him at your home?”

Unfortunately Shina had no more milk of her own by then, so she could not accept this other child. The Okamotos declined. “But please, couldn’t you somehow take care of him?” was the repeated plea. Being at a loss for an answer, Shina returned to the Residence at once and was received by Oyasama, who said: “No matter how much money you may have, or how much rice you may have in the storehouse, it cannot be given to an infant. There is no greater salvation than to care for and raise another person’s child.” “Yes, I understand. But I don’t have any milk anymore. Should I undertake to care for the child nonetheless?” Shina inquired. Then, there were these words from Oyasama: “If you just have a sincere desire to take care of the child, God will give whatever is needed because the gift is in the omnipotent hand of God. You need not worry.” Hearing these reassuring words, Shina resolved to rely on God completely. She told the Imadas, “I will take care of the child.”

The child was brought from Shoji Village at once. Shina was astonished when she saw him. He was now more than three months old. Yet—skinny and without the strength even to cry—he was barely able to whimper. Shina embraced the child and tried to nurse him, but her milk would not flow so soon. She was worried for a while because she did not know what to do. This continued for two or three days, and then, marvelously, her milk began to flow. Thanks to her milk the child grew stronger day by day and became quite healthy.

Later Shina took this robust child to the Residence. Oyasama embraced him and rewarded Shina with these words: “Shina, you have done a good thing.” Shina personally experienced the truth that one can receive God’s blessings by following Oyasama’s words faithfully. Shina was then twenty-six years of age.

 

Following Oyasama’s Words Faithfully

By Yoshihiro Okamoto, Head Minister

of Asahi Grand Church

 

Born on November 24, 1849, in Nagahara Village (now a section of Tenri City known as Nagahara-cho), Zenroku was the eldest son of Jujiro and Rui Okamoto. Having been engaged in farm work for a number of generations, the Okamoto family was one of the richest in the village with many fields in their possession. I would like to begin by looking at the day of origin of the Okamotos’ faith.

 

Becoming Single-Hearted with God through the Eldest Son’s Illness

At the beginning of 1864, Chushichi Yamanaka’s family members and relatives gathered at the bedside of his wife, Sono. His elder sister, Rui Okamoto, was also present. Doctors had given up on Sono. As she approached death, someone said to Chushichi, “Why don’t you visit the God in Shoyashiki?” He visited the Residence with desperate hope and, subsequently, Sono received a wondrous blessing. Rui, who had witnessed the entire course of the matter, told her husband, Jujiro, about it and as a result the Okamoto family embraced the faith. Jujiro visited Oyasama with Chushichi and started to follow the path earnestly.

In 1865, when Sukezo of Harigabessho Village advocated a heretical doctrine, Jujiro accompanied Oyasama to his house along with Izo Iburi, Chushichi Yamanaka, and Isaburo Nishida, even though he was still in the early stages of faith. He received a folding fan of black ribs from Oyasama the following year. He frequently visited Her until he passed away for rebirth in 1878 at the age of sixty.

After Jujiro’s passing, his eldest son, Zenroku, succeeded him as the head of the family. Zenroku was artless and honest and also had a large, robust physique. It is said that the villagers admired him, calling him “an expert in rice planting.” During this period, he stayed away from the faith for a year or two. The reason might be that he was busy as a village official. His wife, Shina, however, was visiting the Residence regularly, thus enabling the Okamoto family to keep connected with the faith.

In 1879 a cholera epidemic swept through Yamato Province. Zenroku’s eldest son, Eitaro (aged 7), suffered a high fever and had cholera-like symptoms. If someone suffered from cholera in a village, that village had to be immediately quarantined. Zenroku, who served as the village head, was not only worried about his son but also concerned about causing trouble to the villagers. He felt at a loss and went to consult his uncle, Chushichi. Chushichi made an inquiry through the Invocation of the Fan and said: “Why don’t you follow the path earnestly as your parents did? If you visit the Residence, your son will be able to recover and even eat a rice cake.” Zenroku attentively listened to the teachings of the path that his uncle conveyed to him—intent on achieving a replacement of the mind. That night Zenroku was late, and someone from his worried family came all the way to the edge of the village to meet him.

Zenroku pledged to carry on his parents’ faith and devote himself exclusively to the path. By the time he arrived home, Eitaro’s fever had subsided, and he was sound asleep with color back in his face. It was said that, having seen the vivid blessing with his own eyes, Zenroku faced north toward the Residence and put his hands together to express his gratitude.

 

Both Husband and Wife Relying Completely on God

True to his pledge, Zenroku quit his farm work and dedicated himself to the work of the path, overjoyed at his son’s salvation. Because he was so enthusiastic about the faith, the villagers spoke ill of him, saying: “Mr. Okamoto has now been deluded by the old lady Miki in Shoyashiki. He will be in trouble in the future. How foolish he is!”

Zenroku always visited the Residence to engage in various tasks. Among other accomplishments, he contributed to the establishment in 1880 of the Tenrin-O-Kosha and took part in hauling the stones for the Kanrodai in 1881. He also served as head of a fellowship named “Eishin,” which was formed in Nagahara Village.

His wife, Shina, also followed the path faithfully. When she received Oyasama’s red garment from Her, Oyasama said: “Wear it when you go home. On your way home through Tanbaichi town, wear it over your kimono and dance all the way.” Shina carried out Her instructions with simple openness, taking a risk that she might be arrested. (See Anecdotes of Oyasama, no. 91, “Dance All the Way Home.”)

Having received Oyasama’s deep parental love, the Okamotos realized the importance of true sincerity with which to rely totally on God, and they advanced their spiritual growth.

By around 1885 or 1886 a number of fellowships had been formed in villages in the vicinity of Jiba. Also, some fellowships were undergoing reorganization or consolidation. Zenroku talked with Yaichiro Ino, Tamizo Ueda, and others and held a meeting inviting seventy heads of fellowships from nearby villages in order to form a new fellowship through consolidation. After several meetings, Chusaku Tsuji was chosen as the first head of the fellowship, which was named the Hinomoto Fellowship. Zenroku was first appointed as vice head and later became the second head replacing Chusaku. Over time the fellowship developed into a church, which eventually became what is now Asahi Grand Church.

 

Raising Children to Be Happy

The anecdote appearing at the beginning of this chapter took place in 1881, at a time when Zenroku and his wife started to follow the path single-heartedly. A person from a farming family in a neighboring village visited the Okamotos and asked them to look after a baby who had been born prematurely. Since Shina had already stopped producing breast milk, the Okamotos refused the request at first. However, the desperate plea eventually persuaded Shina to ask Oyasama what to do.

Oyasama said: “No matter how much money you may have, or how much rice you may have in the storehouse, it cannot be given to an infant. There is no greater salvation than to care for and raise another person’s child.” She added: “If you just have a sincere desire to take care of the child, God will give whatever is needed because the gift is in the omnipotent hand of God. You need not worry.” After Shina decided to rely on God, her milk began to flow marvelously so that she was able to raise the baby.

It seems that the anecdote is often quoted in reference to foster parenting. From my perspective as someone who shares the Okamoto family’s faith, what is important about the faith journey of Zenroku and Shina is that they accepted Oyasama’s words with simple openness, never forgot the gratitude they had felt when their child was saved, and performed any task they could while steadily following the path. This attitude of faith, I feel, was the key to changing the direction of their lives and enabling them to work for the salvation of others.

Today’s society is overloaded with information, which I think makes it more difficult to grasp the essence of things than it used to be. Therefore, even those of us who are Yoboku might lose our way at times. Living in this day and age means that we need to repeatedly ask ourselves how strongly we—and our family members—feel the blessings of God and how earnestly we are following the path. We would also do well to share with others how we were saved.

Zenroku and Shina were blessed with seven children. Yet only two of them survived, namely the eldest son, Eitaro, and the youngest daughter, Kan. Moreover, Eitaro suffered from a serious illness. This seems to indicate that the Okamotos have a causality that prevents their children from growing up. My father often told me that he and my mother were the first Okamotos to be blessed with having all their children survive and grow up. When my eldest son was two years old, he almost drowned in a pond. This accident brought home to me our family’s causality—which I had thought I understood—and has been my driving force to continue the faith.

Sometime after Shina started looking after the baby entrusted to her care, she returned to the Residence. Oyasama was pleased and said, “[Y]ou have done a good thing.” Each time I read the anecdote, I am touched by Oyasama’s deep parental love and renew my pledge, as a head minister and a Yoboku, to exert my utmost sincerity in helping nurture as many children as possible in a way that ensures that they are happy.

From Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete—gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie, published by Tenrikyo Doyusha Publishing Company

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