Heading toward the Next Goal in Unity of Mind: Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs Zensuke Nakata Speaks about the Future Course of the Path

On August 27, Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs Zensuke Nakata gave a talk on the future course of the path at a meeting attended by resident staff members of Church Headquarters, heads of directly supervised churches, heads of dioceses, members of the Assembly, and committee members of Tenrikyo associations. The meeting was held to bring together followers in leading positions to unite their efforts to rise to the challenges surrounding the path under the banner of sharing the same goal in anticipation of the next “three years, one thousand days” season, which will begin in three years’ time. As a measure to curb the spread of novel coronavirus infection, the event was held in seven separate venues, with Rev. Nakata’s talk being livestreamed to other venues from the 4th floor of the Tenrikyo Administrative Headquarters (South Left Wing 1 of the Oyasato-yakata building-complex). The participants sanitized their hands before entering the venues as well as wore masks and maintained social distancing during the talk.

Rev. Nakata began his talk by emphasizing the importance of pondering over what is being urged by God the Parent through the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused us to cancel most of our events and activities. He then said, “We should not only ponder over this great knot individually but also share our understanding of it within the larger Tenrikyo community as we seek to tackle the challenge in unity of mind.”

He moved on to talk about how we must come up with new ways to conduct church activities and salvation work if we are to respond to the changing circumstances in society. He said that, while Tenrikyo has not experienced major difficulties in the form of government oppression or interference involving the distortion of the teachings or a ban on the Service over the past 75 years, it has gone through different forms of challenges as a result of the changing circumstances in the world. As far as the Japanese context is concerned, Rev. Nakata pointed as examples to the aging population and the rise of diverse forms of family, both of which became prominent in Japan from around the early 1990s. He noted that these changes in society, which can have a direct impact on Tenrikyo’s vertical mission, coincided with the time when the number of followers began to drop. He then said: “I assume that each of us now has a sense of urgency, thinking that we cannot just continue with business as usual. It is about time for us followers of the path to make a resolve for a fresh start with a shared understanding of urgency so as to be able to respond to the changes in society.”

In speaking about the “three years, one thousand days” season for the 140th Anniversary of Oyasama, which is to be observed in 2026, Rev. Nakata first revisited a meeting that took place in October 2016, the year when the 130th Anniversary of Oyasama was observed. Noting that the meeting had called on the heads of directly supervised churches and dioceses to set the 140th Anniversary as a milestone and carry out activities with a shared sense of purpose over the next 10 years, Rev. Nakata spoke about what we need to keep in mind in carrying out our activities: “In order for us to come closer to the realization of the Joyous Life so desired by God the Parent, we must lay a firm foundation that will allow the younger generation of the path to follow the path of single-hearted salvation with a strong sense of pride and confidence. The roles and responsibilities that we must fulfill are therefore quite huge as we cannot afford to postpone addressing the downward trend.”

Rev. Nakata moved on to talk about the major knots that have been shown to us after the 130th Anniversary of Oyasama. He referred to the incident that took place on July 26, 2017, when the upper sections of the Kanrodai were knocked down by an intruder, as well as the illness that was shown to the Shinbashira—the core of the path—in 2018. Rev. Nakata shared his reflections on these major knots as well as the coronavirus pandemic, saying that, although we have pondered what we have been urged to do through these occurrences, we might have totally misunderstood the meaning of God the Parent’s urging. “We are indeed fortunate because it is not as if the teachings are being distorted or the performance of the Service is being banned. It is important for us to do our best in performing our duties whenever we can by following the Divine Model. Let us first and foremost implement the teaching ‘Save others’ straightforwardly in our day-to-day lives,” said Rev. Nakata, adding: “Let us lean on the everliving Oyasama as we pray for the full recovery of the Shinbashira as well as seek to make the knots that are shown to us a springboard for the further progress of the path. Let us therefore firmly settle in our mind a shared understanding of our purpose and once again make a firm resolve.”

Rev. Nakata then began to speak about setting a common goal for all Tenrikyo followers as they embark on a journey toward the next milestone in unity of mind. Noting that the 150th Anniversary of Oyasama is to be observed in 2036 and the 200th Anniversary of Tenrikyo in 2037, Rev. Nakata expressed his hope of showing Oyasama the progress the followers have made by making one another ever more spirited as they move forward on the journey of single-hearted salvation. He then added: “Having a common goal does not mean everyone will be doing the same thing. Church Headquarters will announce concrete goals and plans, but each church is expected to find its own ways to carry out the work of single-hearted salvation.”

He then elaborated on the idea of setting a common goal in relation to an anniversary of Oyasama. “The lunar calendar date of January 26, 1887, when Oyasama withdrew from physical life to hasten universal salvation, represents one of the most significant knots of the path,” said Rev. Nakata, adding: “By receiving the truth of the day of origin of the anniversaries, we set aside a period of time for a decisive effort to conduct our activities more intensively than normal times so as to advance our spiritual growth. This is what the pre-anniversary seasons are about.” Rev. Nakata then shared his reflections on how the construction of the Home of the Parent and pilgrimages to Jiba gradually became the main activities during the pre-anniversary seasons from around the end of World War II and remained so until the Centennial Anniversary of Oyasama. The emphasis began to change after the observance of the Centennial Anniversary, he said, as the focus during the pre-anniversary season of “three years, one thousand days” leading up to the 110th Anniversary was to allow each church to ponder over the significance of the anniversary and conduct its activities for single-hearted salvation. He then emphasized the importance of settling our minds by saying: “We are indeed very fortunate that the everliving Oyasama is working for us. What is most important for us is to settle our minds and seek to respond to Her parental love that continues to guide us. This will in turn bring peace of mind to Her.”

Rev. Nakata then spoke about the need to make appropriate adjustments to certain aspects of Tenrikyo’s church system. “As one of the adjustments, we are in the process of having the medo (symbol of worship) of inactive churches returned to Jiba,” he said. “As a possible next step, we are consulting with directly supervised churches about integrating the truth of church names. This is probably the first time in the history of Tenrikyo that something like this is being undertaken. In order to move forward into the future, we are discussing the issue of churches that are finding it difficult to carry out their activities or maintain themselves, with a view to integrating those churches into churches with which they are affiliated. The medo of the churches being integrated will be returned to Jiba. The purpose of this undertaking is to bring together and integrate those churches’ strengths—which are currently spread out—so that their head ministers’ families and their Yoboku and followers can conduct their activities without worry or anxiety as they move forward along the path spiritedly far into the future.”

Director-in-Chief Nakata addressed concerns about the possible implications of the undertaking, saying: “All Tenrikyo churches have a history that includes the efforts and achievements of their founders and of others who worked with them. Given this, it is entirely understandable that the members of churches whose medo is being returned and whose truth of a church name is being integrated could not bear to see this happening. However, if we take an honest look at the actual state of our churches, we cannot simply ignore the current situation surrounding the medo of some churches—a situation for which we feel terribly sorry when we think about our predecessors’ efforts—or the lack of spiritedness of those belonging to those churches. I would like to suggest that we regard the integration of the truth of church names as involving adding the history of all the efforts and achievements of the church being integrated to the history of the church into which it is being integrated so that everyone belonging to these churches can follow the path together from this point on.”

He went on to explain further: “Churches that are eager to make a fresh start and strive toward the blessings of the fruit of their work of single-hearted salvation will undoubtedly do their utmost in this regard. Some other churches will probably be inspired by such churches to redouble their efforts, as well.” He stressed that spiritedness in the mind and a clear goal to work toward would certainly make it possible to put forth the kind of efforts that would be accepted by God. “To move forward, we need to transform the negativity in our minds into positivity and join our efforts together,” he said. “I very much hope that we make a decisive change in the way we follow the path with the aim of starting anew at this juncture.”

Rev. Nakata then outlined the direction in which the churches should proceed as the Tenrikyo community moves toward the 150th Anniversary of Oyasama and the 200th Anniversary of Tenrikyo, which he mentioned earlier as a possible timeframe for fresh endeavors. He said: “I have proposed that we do everything we can to show Oyasama a new level of our spiritedness as we move toward the dual anniversaries. However, who should do what and what should we be like in order to bring joy to Oyasama? It is most important for us to think about and envision what we would like the Tenrikyo community to look like when the anniversaries come.”

He said: “We can start by thinking about exactly who will be at our churches in 16 or 17 years. What sort of people may have become part of our church communities by that time? What sort of problems and challenges in society will our churches be addressing? We can begin by giving thought to these questions.”

Rev. Nakata gave an example, saying: “Often churches set the goal of having a sufficient number of people to perform the service as soon as possible. This goal has to do with appearance. It is, of course, an important goal of a church but, in the end, such a goal cannot be achieved unless the church works to make sure that its members actually engage in salvation work. The ultimate goal of a Tenrikyo church is single-hearted salvation. It involves helping people in society who are facing difficulties and challenges. In fact, all activities of the path are interconnected when considered from the point of view of salvation work.”

Director-in-Chief Nakata spoke about a subtle difference of perspective with regard to church activities. “The purpose of nurturing young people and children in Tenrikyo is to help them grow into those who will contribute to single-hearted salvation, not particularly into those who will help manage and maintain our churches. The latter is a side result, not the intended outcome. Tenrikyo’s nurturing of people should not be inward-looking but outward-looking. At present, however, almost all our activities, not just those related to nurturing young people, seem to be inward-looking. In fact, even the effort to spread the teachings—which may appear to be outward-looking—often seems to be inward-looking. Since everything is static now during the pandemic, we have a perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board and make a fresh start,” he said.

Rev. Nakata suggested that churches could build on their own strengths and characteristics. He said: “Every church is different in terms of its locality’s characteristics and features, as well as its history and present activities, not to mention the specific people and age groups involved in its church community. There is no need for all churches—or, for that matter, for all local Tenrikyo communities, whether based in regions or districts—to conduct exactly the same activities, which would entail ignoring the differences such as those I have mentioned. It is true that it is important for different church affiliations and different local Tenrikyo communities to cooperate together, reach out to and give encouragement to one another, and be aware of one another’s activities and efforts. Given that there is only one Tenrikyo community from the point of view of society at large, it is necessary, at times, for all of us to carry out activities involving the entire Tenrikyo community so that society can see that we are moving forward in unity of mind. In the sense that we are all devoting our efforts to single-hearted salvation, all of us who are following the path are connected by one common activity. However, it goes without saying that we are carrying out different activities in terms of the specific efforts we make to help people with health conditions and other challenges.”

He went on to point out that, even now, there still are many Tenrikyo churches that are lively and thriving. “This suggests that there are ways in which our churches can conduct their activities effectively,” he said. “It is likely that successful churches are carrying out their salvation work in a way that is matched to the needs of the world. If we look around us, we see many in society today who are facing challenges and are desperately seeking help. We ought to pay attention and do what we can to give help where it is needed most. There must be many ways in which our churches can build on their strengths,” he said.

Rev. Nakata then elaborated on this point, saying: “As our practice of administering the Sazuke indicates, salvation work always involves someone we try to help. We would do well to pay more attention to the world around us to become aware of the challenges facing people nearby, and we should learn about the nature of their challenges and difficulties. We ought to reach out to the people we have noticed, making it our priority to help save them. As for explaining the teachings to them, it can wait until after the initial stage. I believe that conducting our activities while focusing on the needs of people facing challenges—without prioritizing what we think they need—will, ultimately, increase our churches’ strength to do salvation work,” Rev. Nakata said.

“Another thing worth bringing up,” he went on, “is that none of our churches has the capacity to accomplish everything on their own. However, if you look at churches that are carrying out their activities in a way that is lively, I think you notice that their activities have their own particular characteristics. For instance, some churches are focusing on the Boys and Girls Association activities, which are intended for children but which help these churches reach out to the children’s parents. On the other hand, some churches are paying particular attention to the elderly. Again, some churches are focusing on parents and children, as well as husbands and wives. Some churches are conducting activities aimed at helping their local communities in some way. Some churches are trying to help people who are socially maladjusted or those who have committed crime. There are also churches where some members have taken an interest in some specific medical conditions or social issues, perhaps as a result of their personal encounters with them, and have studied those areas. It seems that these people have gained a certain level of expertise in their particular areas and are able to help those facing such challenges. Through efforts and endeavors such as these, many churches seem to be playing active roles in the work of single-hearted salvation.”

Rev. Nakata then clarified his remarks, saying: “Please do not misunderstand what I am saying here. Paying attention to society and studying some specific areas does not mean studying something professionally or undergoing professional training in some field. Rather, what I am suggesting is that we can engage in salvation work in a way that focuses on certain areas and gain experience in those areas. We do not need to become experts in specific areas; rather, we should try to acquire knowledge that we need in order to do what we do as experts in salvation work. Our role is to perform salvation work. When we need specialized knowledge of a certain area, we can ask experts in that area. Conversely, experts often show respect to the perspective and spirituality offered in the path as they seek, for example, to help their patients recover.”

He went on to say: “Exactly what sort of church do we want our churches to be? What sort of activities do we need to conduct if our churches are to become that sort of church? I would like to see answers to these questions explored from various points of view. Although today’s talk is rather abstract, I believe that, if our individual churches set clear goals for themselves and come up with concrete and easy-to-understand plans for how to implement the teachings in daily life to achieve their goals, they will be able to enrich their church substance. Then these churches will not only be able to gain acceptance and understanding from the wider community but also receive requests for advice and help. This can lead to new people joining the church communities and being saved. As these people grow spiritually, they can then, in turn, start to play a role in salvation work by helping others with challenges familiar to them by building on their own experience of being saved. If, in this way, similar causalities bring people together to create a positive cycle, that will be a wonderful blessing. I would encourage you to work toward that sort of church where such joy of salvation flows forth.”

Rev. Nakata stressed the importance of looking in a positive direction, saying: “The dual anniversaries are only 16 or 17 years away. It is important, first of all, to transform our outlook and achieve a new level of spiritedness with which to work toward the anniversaries. It does not matter if what you do is small; it is spiritedness that counts. What is important is how we are going to near the Joyous Life as we move toward the future. This will require both young people’s spirited strength and older people’s solid capability to provide care and guidance,” Rev. Nakata said.

Director-in-Chief Nakata went on to speak about another aspect of the significance of churches. He said: “There is one more request I would like to make. It concerns the truth of churches. As we continue into the future, I believe we need to put greater emphasis on each individual church from now on when we think about the activities of the path. That is to say, each church, I think, needs to shine more brightly. To people in the local community where a church is located, this church represents Tenrikyo. To its followers, the church is the focal point that connects them to faith; it is everything to them.” He then quoted the following passage from the Divine Directions:

The truth of Church Headquarters and the truth of the churches: these are a single breath. Unless you settle this unity in mind, Heaven cannot work.

Osashizu, December 13, 1906

This passage, he said, indicates that every Tenrikyo church has very great significance since its truth and the truth of Jiba are “a single breath.”

“There are many overseas regions from where people may or may not be able to make one pilgrimage to Jiba in a whole lifetime,” he said. “Churches in such regions are also churches that have truth that is ‘a single breath’ with the truth of Jiba. Those churches, in particular, would do well to take pride in being what they are,” Rev. Nakata said.

“The same,” he continued, “applies to churches in this country. The permission to establish churches in different regions was given in order to provide facilities to promote single-hearted salvation. When a crucial moment is at hand, people may not be able to make a pilgrimage to Jiba immediately, but they can immediately visit a local church to offer prayers if there is one nearby. Again, despite wishing to make daily pilgrimages to Jiba, most people find themselves faced with the fact that physically it is very far away. A regional church’s major significance is to provide a center for salvation work and a place for daily visits. Followers whose churches are far away should be able to find a church nearby since there is at least one Tenrikyo church in any region in this country. Even if they do not belong to their local church, they are able to make daily pilgrimages to Jiba through that church in a spiritual sense; this is possible wherever they are in the country. All regional churches are connected to Jiba as ‘a single breath’ through Jiba’s permission for their establishment; therefore, Yoboku and other followers in different regions are able to stay connected to the truth of Jiba so long as they remain connected to their local churches.”

Director-in-Chief Nakata then emphasized the significance of a church head minister’s role, saying that, if general Yoboku and followers cannot easily return to Jiba, all they need to do is visit their local churches as frequently as they can and that this makes it indispensable for head ministers to strive to dedicate the truth of their sincerity to ensuring that the truth of their churches and the truth of Jiba are indeed “a single breath.”

“It goes without saying that the outward appearance of churches, such as their size, does not matter at all,” Rev. Nakata said. “In the sense of being the only Tenrikyo church in its particular locality, every church is equal, whether it is a grand church or a branch church. Anyone can receive the truth of Jiba by visiting any Tenrikyo church, and this significance of our churches’ existence needs to shine through more brightly. I would like to ask all churches to strive in this regard so that they can confidently share this significance with people,” he said.

Toward the end of his talk, Rev. Nakata emphasized the need to think about specific people for whom we conduct salvation work or set concrete goals each day so as to make genuine progress on the path. He then called on the participants to make preparations for the upcoming journey in a way that will allow them to seize the moment when it comes. He spoke about how he would like us to walk on the path of spiritual growth in a way that will enable us to bring peace of mind and joy to the everliving Oyasama while always following Her as our model at any time in the future. He then said: “Now is the critical time for us followers of the path. Let us pull ourselves together and settle our minds by following the guidance of Oyasama. Let those of us who are assembled here today unite our minds. We can certainly overcome the current challenge if we can genuinely bring our minds and strengths together.” He concluded his talk by saying: “If we can have a bud sprout from this knot through our efforts, it will certainly benefit us as well as those in the younger generation. Now is not the time for us to come up with excuses or try to meet this challenge by solely relying on human thinking but is rather a season in which we must decisively settle our minds to make a fresh start by relying on Oyasama.”

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