Special Interview with Directors-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs and Religious Affairs: What Head Ministers Should Do Now Ahead of the “Three Years, One Thousand Days” Period Leading Up to the 140th Anniversary of Oyasama (Conducted on April 20, 2022)

At the New Year’s meeting this year, the Shinbashira said that we will perform the 140th Anniversary of Oyasama in four years, in 2026. In response to this, Church Headquarters established the Preparation Committee for the 140th Anniversary of Oyasama in February and, within the committee’s structure, the Salvation Work Committee in April as part of the effort to ensure that all followers can carry out the pre-anniversary activities in a unity of mind.

With about six months left before the “three years, one thousand days” period starts in January 2023, an interview was conducted with Director-in-Chief of Religious Affairs Yoichiro Miyamori and Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs Zensuke Nakata to ask them about what head ministers should do now and what attitude they should have in preparing for the anniversary.

—On January 4, 2022, the Shinbashira said in his New Year’s address, “I believe that in many ways it is important to observe Oyasama’s anniversary in order to develop the path, so it is my intention that we will conduct the 140th Anniversary of Oyasama.” What should we head ministers do in light of these words?

Rev. Nakata: First, we would do well to think thoroughly about how to respond to the Shinbashira’s words as soon as possible and how to carry it out in an orderly manner. I think that it is important to get started that way.

The pre-anniversary periods leading up to Oyasama’s anniversaries are when all followers and Yoboku put in a lot of work. As head ministers, who are to take the lead on the path, we are now in a stage where we need to think about what to do as we move toward the period. There are three points to bear in mind as we think about this.

The first point is the reason why we conduct Oyasama’s anniversaries. We head ministers need to firmly settle in our minds the significance of Oyasama’s anniversaries, which is the basis for the pre-anniversary activities.

The second point is to make sure that we know and understand the current situation and state of the churches we are entrusted with. How do we view the upcoming 140th Anniversary of Oyasama in the context of the long passage of time as we work toward the Joyous Life? In April last year, I talked about the “Future Course of the Path” and encouraged everyone to envision the future state of us and of our churches from a long-term perspective in the context of moving toward the major knots or turning points represented by the 150th Anniversary of Oyasama and the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the Teaching and to advance forward in an orderly manner in order to realize the visions. I think that we can view Oyasama’s 140th Anniversary as a knot or turning point as we move toward such goals. In this regard, we have to make sure that we understand our current state and that of our churches. Without doing this, there is no way we can envision our goals.

The third point is to mentally prepare ourselves for the pre-anniversary activities. I would like us to settle our minds and be determined to go through the period while being strict with ourselves. I believe that it is important to be first mentally prepared and have a determination to go through the “three years, one thousand days” period, no matter what, before thinking about a specific spiritual resolution. If head ministers are not determined and mentally prepared, our followers will not understand what they should do.

The Significance of Oyasama’s Anniversaries

—Would you tell us once again about the significance of performing Oyasama’s anniversaries?

Rev. Nakata: It goes without saying that the day of origin of Oyasama’s anniversaries is the lunar calendar date of January 26, 1887, which is the day when Oyasama withdrew from physical life. It is important for us, as the children, to ponder deeply over and settle in our minds the intention and the parental love of the Parent who provided us with that event. We would like to firmly settle in our minds the significance of observing Oyasama’s anniversaries every ten years in addition to performing the Spring Grand Service every January.

The day of origin of Oyasama’s anniversaries is the last day of the fifty-year Divine Model. The Life of Oyasama describes in detail the dialogue that took place between Oyasama and our early predecessors including the first Shinbashira in the lead-up to that day. I feel that, through that dialogue, we are taught the most important and difficult part of the path of faith. Also, God said that Oyasama withdrew from physical life but is continuing to work, now as ever before, by virtue of Her eternal life. Her withdrawal must have made the early followers extremely sad and lonely. It must have been utterly unbelievable for them.

We can get to know the situation at the time by reading The Life of Oyasama but we only know the everliving Oyasama who does not have a physical body. Even if we learn about our predecessors’ sorrow and difficulties, we forget them once we close the book. I think that this is the same for those who will follow this path in the future. That is why we should engage decisively in the pre-anniversary activities so that, through receiving many blessings from Her, we may feel closer to the everliving Oyasama and experience the great warmth of the parental love with which She guides us.

—In your sermon at the Spring Grand Service this year, you talked about the difference between memorial services held in remembrance of those who passed away for rebirth and the anniversaries of Oyasama.

Rev. Nakata: I was not exactly trying to explain the difference as such. Since I was feeling that as the time went by there were more and more people who did not know what Oyasama’s anniversaries were all about, I wanted to emphasize that Oyasama’s anniversaries had nothing in common with memorial services for those who passed away for rebirth.

We perform a memorial service for people in general to commemorate the achievements and virtues of those who passed away for rebirth. There might have been a similar aspect to Oyasama’s anniversaries initially. Now, however, none of those who lived when Oyasama was physically present is alive, and there is no one who physically saw Her or heard Her voice. That is why we have to thoroughly seek Oyasama’s Divine Model, image, and mind every ten years by performing Her anniversaries. We cannot say that we are following the path if we are deviating from Oyasama’s path. I hope you keep in mind that this is an important part of understanding the significance of performing Oyasama’s anniversaries.

How to Go through the “Three Years, One Thousand Days” Period

—What are your thoughts about how to go through the “three years, one thousand days” period starting next year?

Rev. Miyamori: A Divine Direction tells us:

I speak of nothing difficult. I do not tell you to do anything difficult or to do something without a model to follow. There is the path of the Divine Model for everything. It will not do that you cannot follow the path of the Divine Model. . . . You might not be able to take the path if I tell you to follow for fifty years or thirty years. I do not tell you to follow twenty years or ten. Just three of the ten years. It will be good if you follow the path for just three days. I tell you to follow the path for just one thousand days. . . . Whoever follows the path of the Divine Model exactly, his path will be accepted by Me the same as a Divine Model.

Osashizu, November 7, 1889

This passage tells us to make layer upon layer of efforts, however small they may be, to follow the Divine Model, which Oyasama spent fifty years demonstrating. However, since it is difficult for human beings to go through the whole fifty years in the same way as Oyasama did, it is taught that, if we decisively follow the Divine Model for three years, God will accept our sincerity as though we followed the whole Divine Model of Oyasama.

We are to do our utmost to go through the three years, a period that is even said to be so short as to be like three days. Parents will be happy to see their children making their best effort to accomplish something even if success seems unlikely. I think that Oyasama is watching over us in this way. So we would do well to have Oyasama see us striving toward the Joyous Life even for three years, a length of time said to be just like three days. Then we will be shown God’s blessings in the form of the new development of the path.

From this perspective, we have set aside a period of three years for the pre-anniversary activities in the past as instructed by the Divine Direction, and I would like us to make decisive efforts for a special period of three years to prepare for the next anniversary, as well.

—What are your thoughts, Rev. Nakata?

Rev. Nakata: A Divine Direction says:

I must have you summon up decisive courage, decisive strength, and decisive wisdom and step onto the path of decisiveness.

Osashizu, May 8, 1907

As we are taught, I think that we can exert our utmost efforts when we have a special period to conduct decisive activities. So it is important for us to set aside three years for special efforts and keep up the same level of decisiveness for three years.

It will be difficult to keep working in such a manner without a firm determination to go through the three years. Therefore, we need to resolve to do our best for three years at the start of our pre-anniversary activities in January next year.

—You mean that all head ministers should start together to decisively work in a unity of mind.

Rev. Nakata: I would like to make that point clear.

What It Means to Follow the Divine Model

—I now understand that it is important to set aside three years and follow the Divine Model decisively. Then what exactly does it mean for us to follow the Divine Model?

Rev. Miyamori: The first half of Oyasama’s fifty-year Divine Model was the time when Oyasama plunged into the depths of poverty, with none of Her relatives, acquaintances, or neighbors understanding Her actions. The second half was the period when She was persecuted by the authorities.

Oyasama went through this path in order to make known to everyone the existence, the workings, and the truth of God the Parent, whom nobody had known. She showed us that She would do whatever it took to help people understand. Although preparing for Oyasama’s anniversary essentially means to follow Oyasama’s Divine Model, what is important for us now is to reflect on whether we are making our best efforts to help people around us gain understanding in the same way as Oyasama did.

In addition, there is something that She sought to hasten even by shortening Her term of life by twenty-five years after going through the fifty-year path. That is the performance of the service and the implementation of salvation work. It is important for us to devote ourselves to these tasks.

I think that there are two key aspects to following the fifty-year Divine Model. One is to have the same thoughts and feelings as Oyasama as we do our utmost to help those who do not understand until they understand. The other is to strive to realize what Oyasama urged us to realize even by confronting us with Her withdrawal from physical life.

—What do you think, Rev. Nakata?

Rev. Nakata: We often use the phrase “follow the Divine Model,” but I think that there is a difficulty where the more you think about it, the less you understand. It probably does not mean to mimic what Oyasama did, but if it is not a simple mimicking, then what does it mean to follow it?

At this point, what I think it means is to fully understand why Oyasama left us the Divine Model and to follow the path in a way that She would approve of.

That is to say, it is not something that can only be done by those who work exclusively for the path. All of us who serve as Yoboku can try, in our own positions and roles, to follow the Divine Model in a way that is acceptable to Oyasama. How to do this can differ from one person to another. So I think that it is important for everyone to ponder over what it means to follow the Divine Model. At any rate, we should live our life brightly and spiritedly every day so as to bring joy to Oyasama. The most basic thing to do, in this regard, is express our gratitude and make repayment for the blessings we receive. I hope that all Yoboku of the path will use this idea as a starting point as they think about how to follow the Divine Model in their own positions and roles.

Rev. Miyamori: I think that what Rev. Nakata spoke about is the basic thing to do. Then we can start by working with those who are around us and then reach out to those who are not. We are taught the following:

Villagers I wish to save at once,
But they do not understand My heart.

Mikagura-uta IV:6

Even if we work hard with those around us, results may not be favorable. In fact, we may see the fruits of our work somewhere far. Yet, as it is taught in the verse that says “I wish to save [villagers] at once,” those around us are the ones we need to convey the path to sooner than others. In other words, the principle of the path could be such that continuing to make efforts to convey the path to those close to us may lead to the fruits of our work being reaped somewhere far away even if no immediate outcomes seem forthcoming. I think that we should carry out the pre-anniversary activities under the catchphrase “To those close to us.”

Human beings cannot fully understand the logic of God’s blessings; we may not necessarily see an outcome immediately after we do something. I think that more often than not we do not see immediate results. In that sense, what is of importance is to keep making efforts to convey Oyasama’s teachings to those close to us every day. Even if no immediate result appears there, I believe that we will be blessed with results somewhere as long as we keep working on our tasks every day, however small our efforts may seem.

Using a Knot as an Opportunity to Grow Spiritually

—By the way, we cannot ignore major troubles such as the pandemic, social and economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, and the wars. In light of the circumstances of the world now, what do you think are God the Parent and Oyasama asking us to do?

Rev. Nakata: Currently, we are being shown the global knots such as the continuing coronavirus pandemic and the wars.

I believe that each of us is urged to think about what we should do. As there are people in different roles and positions in the world, including those who are directly affected by or involved in the knots, I do not think that everyone in the world should do the same thing, whether it is a direct or indirect action. With this in mind, all of us who are Yoboku would do well to thoroughly think about what each of us should do.

Suppose that one way to implement the teachings would be to provide direct help to those who need it, but let us think from our perspective as Yoboku. Currently, we see many things happening in the world that are contrary to Oyasama’s teachings of the Joyous Life. I believe that it is important for us to have a firm conviction that the goal of human existence is the Joyous Life and that, to that end, we should follow the true teachings in a way that will lead to a world without COVID or wars.

We are to aim for the Joyous Life. When it is realized, there will be no outbreak of any infectious disease or wars. We are to straightforwardly follow the path of the Divine Model, which leads directly to the Joyous Life. To that aim, we are to follow the path of single-hearted salvation, which entails the single-hearted performance of the service. The number of people who implement these basics needs to increase, so let us straightforwardly put into practice what we are taught while striving to encourage more and more people to join us in working toward the Joyous Life. In fact, these efforts will also result in our churches becoming ever more lively. Therefore, our churches should aim for this goal and fulfill what they should do by doing what they can in a way that can be accepted by God. We can then have God be spirited and receive God’s blessings in our salvation work. I think that we first need to resolve to make these efforts.

—What are your thoughts, Rev. Miyamori?

Rev. Miyamori: Why do global pandemics and wars occur? They occur surely due to the divine intention, but it may be extremely difficult for us to think about what God is telling us to do through them and what we should do specifically.

Yet, the cause of every dispute must be a collision of different opinions that are each believed to be correct by those who hold them. I think that such an attitude of trying to impose one’s own views on others does not accord with God’s intention.

This refers to not only major events like wars but also even minor problems that occur in workplaces, communities, and families—including those between a husband and wife, parents and children, and a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. As we increasingly come to use our minds in a way that accepts our own opinions only and rejects other people’s, such a use of the mind may eventually lead to global disputes. Therefore, I think that it is important for us Yoboku to always ponder over what state of mind we should maintain.

—I think that it is also necessary to view the current state of the world in the context of the anniversary season. What kind of understanding should we share as we anticipate the pre-anniversary activities?

Rev. Nakata: I think that now is a time when all followers of the path should move forward.

In addition to significant global challenges like wars, there are various major troubles inside the path. These include the knot of the Kanrodai and the Shinbashira’s illness.

Returning the truth of church names was something Church Headquarters initiated, and it was not something that happened naturally. However, it was made clear to us that we were in a situation where we had no choice but to do so. I think that we clearly realized that there were areas where we had fallen short. It was then that the global troubles started to confront us. I personally feel the urging of God the Parent, who I think is saying things like: “You still do not understand? Get up and get to work.” I hope that everyone else also feels this way.

If we look at people around the world, we see that there are many people who truly need help. When we consider whether we are adequately responding to their needs in our salvation work, we find that we are falling short in many ways. Of course, it is impossible for one person to reach out to all people who are suffering in the world. Thus, we need to cooperate with one another and work together to help as many people as possible to receive the blessings of salvation. I think that we have been given major assignments to focus on in this anniversary season.

Visions for Churches

—What kind of visions should churches have and aim for as we engage in the pre-anniversary activities from now on?

Rev. Miyamori: One characteristic of our path is that we make a spontaneous request of God regarding anything. Our churches, too, are established after we make a request to receive the medo, or a symbol of worship. I think that such a request involves settling one’s mind and making a resolve. When we made a request for permission to establish a church, God only granted it because of our settled mind and our resolve. We must continue to maintain this understanding from generation to generation.

However, things are the other way around today, and we have the understanding that churches are where we grew up. We may be following the path because we are told to do so. We have to be careful about this point.

Churches are places where we follow the Divine Model of Oyasama, which may entail some hardships and involve different ways of doing things from the rest of the world. However, there are times when we find joy in our work. We may have more days when we cannot be joyful, but those of us who live in churches can from time to time savor the kind of joy other people cannot experience.

For example, head ministers may find joy when they see a newcomer sitting in the back of the worship hall during monthly services and wonder who the person is. Other occasions include when they bring someone to Jiba for the first time and submit an application for the Besseki lectures. There are many other such occasions. I think that we need to be aware that we are following the path where we can savor the kind of joy other people in the world cannot experience.

—What are your thoughts, Rev. Nakata?

Rev. Nakata: There are many ways to think about visions for our churches. For instance, it may concern how churches should look. It may involve a change in followers’ attitudes even if the members are the same. We can also think about changing something in light of where we stand now. Some churches have many followers who run businesses or those who do farming. Each church has its own features and regional characteristics. One way to think about our visions would be to take the local situation into account as we consider what kind of church could bring joy to the people in the local community. I think that it is necessary to think about a vision in light of various conditions.

Making our churches lively and increasing the number of followers who visit there is one vision that we should aim for. Before increasing the number of service performers, we need to have followers who come to our churches even if they cannot perform the service. In time, they may begin to attend monthly services, return to Jiba, and start listening to the Besseki lectures. Eventually, they will start serving as service performers. Of course, alternatively we can ask people to participate in performing the service from the beginning so that they will not miss the season. However, I believe that we should prioritize making people feel comfortable visiting our churches so that anyone can come and go including even onlookers, in addition to the head minister, lay ministers, and Yoboku.

Tenrikyo churches are to take root in ordinary people’s lives. Churches are not places where only clergymen or ascetic practitioners live. There are many people with illnesses in churches, and the churches themselves may have some troubles. Ordinary people in the world may sometimes wonder, “Why does this person do this despite being a Tenrikyo follower?” However, God guides such people to Tenrikyo churches, saying, “You have done this, so you need to become a better person by following the teachings of the path.” This is why we have been accommodating those who are suffering. So, we should be able to make our churches easy for anyone to visit.

For example, when churches plan to start “children’s cafeteria,” some people may say: “What are you trying to achieve? You want to do social welfare work?” I do not think such a reaction is appropriate. We can easily get to know the outcomes if we ask those who manage children’s cafeteria. Parents, adults, and various other people in their communities often start coming to churches that open children’s cafeteria because their children enjoy the experience, and their communities positively acknowledge the presence of the churches. I always hear that the initiative is advantageous in spreading the path.

Indeed, we need to do something in order to advance forward. I am not talking about doing social welfare activities; I am talking about taking some actions in order to have many people visit our churches and make our churches needed by our communities. I feel that there will be no development of churches if we just perform the morning and evening services by ourselves and conduct a monthly service every month.

Let me add one more thing. The current state of the path, including the fact that we are returning the truth of church names, provides us with opportunities to once again think about the fact that church names, faith, and the path have a truth of eternity. However, I feel that many people in the Tenrikyo community are yet unaware of this way of looking at it. It may be partly because of the tendency to think about churches only from the perspective of our own generation.

We cannot reach the Joyous Life unless we keep the perspective of endless generations. God is looking at the path in a much longer perspective than our lifetime—in the perspective of hundreds or thousands of years. It is never an easy task to maintain the path for endless generations with human power but, as we are taught the path toward the Joyous Life, head ministers who take the lead on the path first need to maintain the perspective of endless generations. The future of the churches needs to be envisioned based on such an understanding.

—You said that churches should be easy for people to visit and open to anyone. I think that the upcoming pre-anniversary activities will provide us with an opportunity to make our churches like that.

Rev. Nakata: Regarding the future visions for our churches, even if we try to think about them, some of us may have no idea how to envision them.

Let’s say that there are enough service performers who can perform the service perfectly. Everyone goes out to sprinkle the fragrance of the teachings and engage in salvation work. There is no one who is unwilling to administer the Sazuke. When an occasion arises, they perform the prayer service, and people regularly visit the churches, which have boys and girls association activities as well as young men’s association gatherings that are attended by young people. Older people are also fulfilling their roles. If the vision of our churches is like this, all churches will eventually become grand churches.

A grand church is a collection of different branch churches, and this is why a grand church is capable of doing everything. Realistically, it will be difficult for a regular church to do everything, and I think that it does not have to. This is why it is difficult for us to think about the ideal visions for our churches when asked about them.

—I think that everyone wants to know what the ideal church is like.

Rev. Nakata: We may not know what the ideal church looks like at this stage, but we should be able to know it, because God the Parent and Oyasama have a concrete vision. Let’s say that the ideal church has the score of 100 points. When asked about the score of our churches, I think that none of us will say that we score 98 points. We will give a more humble answer. If someone says that his or her church scores 20 points for example, it will be difficult for this church to aim for 100 points at once. It may be better to aim for 30 or 35 points.

However, even if this head minister wants to get 30 points, it is also impossible to do so all at once without first reaching 21 points. Yet, if the head minister lets his or her guard down, the score will go down to 19 or 15 points. At this point, I would like head ministers to envision what it takes to get 30 points and what their churches may then look like.

—For example, if my church becomes a church where all people can administer the Sazuke, this is 5 points. Am I correct?

Rev. Nakata: Yes. We can decide the scoring criteria by ourselves. I have a feeling that many people are aiming for 100 points in a vague way. Although they have no clear picture of how a church that scores 100 points looks, they are aiming for the score because they are told to. Even though they do not know what it means to score 100 points, they are trying to reach that level without a clear picture. If they are doing that, it cannot be said that they are taking it upon themselves to aim for 100 points. They believe that it is the way it is because they are told so. They are trying to achieve perfection they do not even understand. That is why they get tired. They should be looking for something that can make them spirited. I think that we are still in such a stage.

—Then it must be hard as we will not see the results of our effort or feel rewarded forever.

Rev. Nakata: In fact, we have been shown many blessings. I think that we are not quite grateful because we feel that blessings are not shown in areas where we want them. Many people are feeling that way, which is unfortunate.

What We Should Do Now As Head Ministers

—Would you share your thoughts once again on what kind of mental preparations we should make and what we should do now as head ministers in anticipation of the pre-anniversary activities that will start next year?

Rev. Miyamori: A Divine Direction says:

The truth of a church name has been bestowed in each community, so that it is almost as if there were one at every street corner.

Osashizu, February 1, 1897

It can be said that the phrase “street corner” refers to the street corner of life or the one that will guide people to Jiba. In other words, churches of the path are like street corners that will guide people to Jiba, like guideposts.

If so, I believe that the role of head ministers is to guide various people to Jiba. In addition to sprinkling the fragrance of the teachings and engaging in salvation work as we move toward Oyasama’s anniversary, we head ministers should guide people so that they can get close to Jiba and the intention of Oyasama. I think that we need to make sure that we have a true awareness of this role. That is to say, we are at a stage where each one of us head ministers should be aware of how to go through this year and the “three years, one thousand days” period before the pre-anniversary activities start.

Also, we human beings tend to ask for reasons for whatever we see. Let us head ministers make up our minds to do something and put it into practice. If someone looks at us and wonders why we are doing it, they will spontaneously ask us why. I think that it is important to have others ask us why we do what we do.

We would do well to settle it in our minds to do something—even if it is not something big—that makes our followers or non-followers wonder why and say, “The head minister is working on something every day.” We should work on this kind of actions and implementations now before the “three years, one thousand days” period starts. Then by the time the “three years, one thousand days” period starts, those around us will be asking us: “Head minister, what is it that you are doing every day?” and “Why are you doing it?” I think that it is important for us to start taking that kind of action now.

—What are your thoughts, Rev. Nakata?

Rev. Nakata: As I said at the beginning, we should prepare ourselves this year to let as many people as possible make a good start in January next year when the pre-anniversary activities for the 140th Anniversary of Oyasama begin. This is the intention of Church Headquarters, and I hope that head ministers understand this point and make sure that they fulfill their roles.

As I said earlier, we need to think seriously about increasing the number of fellow followers of the path by encouraging people to visit our churches, follow the path, and aim for the Joyous Life, as well as by helping those suffering be saved by God. The number of followers is currently decreasing, so it will be difficult to fill the roles of monthly services all at once. We have to increase the number of followers one by one.

We may feel pressured if we are told to increase the number of those who participate in performing our churches’ monthly service. But that will be a result of our efforts. We can proceed one step at a time. We would do well to try to increase the number of people who can understand the teachings and follow the path together. We can start by increasing adults and children who are willing to practice the faith and who have an awareness of being followers one by one. We are at a preparatory stage.

Therefore, I would like all of us head ministers to settle firmly in our minds the truth of Oyasama’s anniversaries so that, when the pre-anniversary activities start next January, we will be able to answer such questions from our followers as: “What is Oyasama’s anniversary?” or “What exactly are the “three years, one thousand days” activities?”

Of course, some head ministers will experience the anniversary season as head ministers for the first time, and we are different in age. Our ways of looking at things may differ depending on our generation or experience. Young people can learn through trial and error and they can deepen their understanding as they grow older. Yet, when they have gained their understanding, they may not be able to work in the same way as before. When they are young, they need to learn from older people’s experience. When they are old, they need to be helped by young people. In other words, a unity of mind is important in this path. Let our churches achieve a unity of mind across different generations. It will be reassuring if all of us can share our visions for our churches and voice our opinions through discussing our ideal visions for churches.

In any case, I would like us to settle our minds firmly and go through the “three years, one thousand days” period with decisiveness. I hope that we head ministers are absolutely clear about the significance of the pre-anniversary activities and about our visions for how we want to be in three years as we make preparations now to fulfill our roles.

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