132. To Be Eaten Deliciously (oishii to iute)
Nakata, Yamamoto, Takai and other people who worked at the Residence went to catch small fish in a nearby brook from time to time. There they often caught loaches, chub, shrimps, and other brook fishes. When they cooked them in soy sauce with vegetables and showed them to Oyasama, She picked up the biggest one and said, as if She were talking to a child:
“Allow yourself to be eaten deliciously by everyone, and come back the next time, advanced.”
Then She told the people present there:
“Thus, when you persuade the largest one to consent in this way, it is natural that afterward all will consent.”
She further taught:
“Everyone, when you eat them, please say, ‘delicious, delicious,’ to them. If you eat them with delight, due to the principle of giving joy, the next time they will be advanced. Each time they are reborn, they will progress closer to man.”
Oyasama gave these same instructions whenever there were rabbits, pheasants, mountain fowls and other game given as offerings by various fraternities.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 108-109
My research / take
Anecdotes no. 132 is another story in which Oyasama is described talking about the notion of rebirth (an earlier one is Anecdotes no. 110).
What makes this particular story different is it suggests that animals can be eventually reborn as human beings after they are eaten by people “due to the principle of giving joy.”
Sato Takanori, a researcher at Tenri University who specializes in environmental studies, has written:
This story suggests to me that the word “delicious” [oishii] exists to express our appreciation to small fish when they enter our bodies as food, absorbed in the form of nutrients, and supports our health by becoming our blood and flesh. In other words, these living organisms turn into molecules that are absorbed and are reborn [saisei] as a different kind of organic material that supports the human body. This is truly an archetype of rebirth. It is possible to consider that the “life” of the small fish helps replace and maintain the “life” of human beings (p. 40).
I should mention Sato sensei wrote this while making a case about how Oyasama’s teachings are compatible with the Three R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle).
After the above paragraph, he goes on to write on how the instructions attributed to Oyasama in Anecdotes no. 112 — “Do not waste even a single vegetable leaf. Leftovers will nourish you. It is not gluttony” — are directives to reduce consumption by making the best use of what we have.
Yet the passage I cite above suggests to me that it may be admissible to regard the notion of rebirth as a metaphoric reality instead of a metaphysical one.
Moving on, the mere mention of “loaches” in Anecdotes no. 132 reminds me of Tenrikyo’s Story of Creation. According to this sacred narrative, loaches are the “seeds of human beings” (IV:123).
I assume the claim is allegorical only and is said to represent the theological value/claim that because loaches can be easily cleaned of mud despite spending most of their lives in it when they are washed with water, human beings can erase negative spiritual elements when they devote themselves appropriately to God.
The Story of Creation also mentions that “human beings were reborn eight thousand and eight times as worms, birds, beasts, and the like” (Chapter Three, The Doctrine of Tenrikyo).
A Tenrikyo publication entitled Ikiru kotoba (Living words) elaborates on Oyasama’s last set of instructions as follows:
It has been taught that human beings have been born and reborn an uncountable number of times as worms, birds, beasts, and the like since the original beginning until today. Everyone’s life is supported by innumerable lives carried over from the distant past (p. 156).
Lastly, the notion that it is only appropriate for us to express our appreciation to the food that helps sustain us in addition to the people who helped bring the food to our plates (the people who grew/caught, transported, sold, cooked, and served it to us) has been already covered on Tenrikyology.com by another Sato sensei (Koji sensei). (The link is provided below.)
Before I end, I must mention it is heartening for me that unlike other faiths, there are no dietary restrictions of any kind that Tenrikyo followers are expected to adhere to.
(Although it should be mentioned that Tenrikyo followers are more than always free to make and follow any dietary resolutions of their own.) I can only imagine what it would like if I were to become a vegan.
It was just the other evening when I looked down at a vegetarian dinner my wife had prepared out her concern for my health and I was filled with a sudden inexplicable sadness.
At first I did not know why I was so sad. Then I thought, “Where’s the meat?” and went straight to the fridge to find a suitable supplement to my rice.
Thank God for salmon flakes! I’ve discovered I can be really cranky if I go without meat or fish for too long.
Satō Takanori. 2000. “Mono wa taisetsu ni.” In Oyasama no oshie to gendai — Oyasama go-tanjō nihyaku nen kinen kyōgaku kōza shirīzu 1998 nen. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, pp. 29-43.
Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō kyōso no oshie. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
Sato Koji’s Omichi no joshiki: Saying “Grace” (Itadakimasu)
Chapter Three, The Doctrine of Tenrikyo