New York Center May 2006 monthly service kowa translation

I’ve decided to upload the English version of the “sermon” I gave almost two years ago at New York Center. It has some personal and other information that hopefully some of you out there might find interesting.

I originally wrote and gave it in Japanese (and translated it myself) since the majority of the people who attended monthly service during my short stint at the Center were Japanese-speaking followers. Michael Yuge tried to talk me into giving it in English since it was rare to have a “sermon” that wasn’t in Japanese.

I didn’t listen for some reason. What made me do it? I’m not sure anymore. I think it was because I didn’t like the idea of having Rev. and Mrs. Morishita to don the interpretation devices while I was talking. I wanted to speak to them from the heart, directly and personally.

Some translation-related issues: I really don’t know why kowa is translated as “sermon.” Kowa is a word that doesn’t have the kind of baggage that is attached to “sermon.” Sekkyo is a Japanese word that has this kind of baggage and I find nothing wrong with rendering it as sermon, but kowa? I have my qualms but that’s the convention we have at the moment. The kanji used to write it (講話) suggests it means a “talk amongst a fellowship.”

I’ve heard some people call kowa a “lecture” but I find this to be a little strange as well. “Lecture” makes me think of school. I wonder if we can’t call it a “post-service address/talk” since we call naorai a “post-service meal.” Just one more thing to consider in the future.

I readily admit that it is more of a faith experience speech (kanwa) in substance than a “sermon” (kowa). Yet I tried to structure the talk in a conventional manner. It starts with an episode from Oyasama’s physical life (i.e., hinagata or Divine Model) and I tried to apply the theme of Jiba with my family’s faith history and personal experience.

On reflection, I don’t think the message I wanted to convey (returning to Jiba is important and it enriches your life) comes across very well. I also wonder about whether all the elements really belong together in the same talk or not.

Mrs. Yaeko Morishita did mention later that the way my talk flowed wasn’t different from how ministers do it in Japan. So I admit it’s really “Japanese” in the way that it flows and it probably would have ended up quite differently if I had written it for an English-speaking audience in mind.

I’ve recently come to a tentative conclusion that the Japanese language tends to be less rigorous intellectually than English and this allows for more leaps in logic that could never fly for English listeners. Either that or many Tenrikyo ministers aren’t really very good at structuring their ideas.

Mrs. Yaeko Morishita happens to be gravely ill at the moment so my motivations behind uploading this sermon on Tenrikyology are quite complex to say the least.

Yet I must say I really like the confessional section at the end where I talk about all the ways I screwed up at the Center. It’s really funny and brings back fond memories. I truly believe faith experience speeches and “sermons” are places to expose your faults and talk about the things you are embarrassed about.

At the same time they should not to be used as opportunities to talk about all the good things we have done or to criticize others. The metaphor that is often used is that of planting seeds and weeding a garden. We don’t want to dig up the good seeds (deeds) we’ve planted; we want to keep them covered deep in the soil (and thus leave them unsaid, even unrecognized).

Confessing our faults and mentioning our mistakes in front of others is not unlike uprooting the weeds in our (spiritual) garden. This ideal of covering our good deeds and exposing our mistakes runs in direct opposition to what our social instincts tell us to do.

It is such counterintuitive teachings like these that help demonstrate there is much more to Tenrikyo than meets the eye. Here we find just another of the many crucial elements that are often too easily lost and overlooked when practicing the faith on a daily basis.

Note: Satoru Sasaki helped me out with editing the Japanese. If I’m not mistaken, Michael read the English simultaneous interpretation.

English translation of New York Center’s May 2006 monthly service kowa (delivered on Sun, May 7)

I never imagined that I would be given an opportunity to deliver a sermon here at New York Center after being a temporary live-in staff for less than five months. But since Rev. Morishita has assigned me to give the sermon this month, I humbly ask for a moment of your time.

Today, at New York Center’s May monthly service, my thoughts go back to an event that took place on the 26th of the fifth lunar month of 1875: “the identification of the Jiba.” This marks the time our Foundress Oyasama first clearly identified the Jiba, the spot where God the Parent began the creation of humankind.

According to The Life of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo, on the 25th of the fifth lunar month of 1875, Oyasama said the following:

Since tomorrow is 26th of the month, the Residence must be swept very clean (p. 96).

The people who were gathered around Her followed Her words and took the utmost care to sweep the grounds of the Residence. Then on the next day, the 26th, at around noon, Oyasama walked the precincts of the Residence. Her feet were drawn to a particular spot were She could not move forward or to the side. After marking this spot, She instructed Her daughter Kokan, Gisaburo Nakata, Ichibei Matsuo, Masu Tsuji, Yosuke Horiuchi and others to walk the same area blindfolded.

When they did so as asked, each of them were similarly drawn to and stopped at the same marked spot. At first, Masu Tsuji’s feet did not stop, but when she tried again while carrying her daughter Tomegiku (six years old), her feet stopped at the spot like everyone else. When we realize that two years later, Oyasama taught Tomegiku Tsuji to play the koto for the Service, we can see that a profound causality (innen) connected Tomegiku to the Residence.

Oyasama clearly identified the Jiba, the Home of all the souls of humankind, in this manner. As you may know, the Kagura Service is conducted around the Jiba on the 26th of each month for the Monthly and Grand Services of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. The Jiba is marked by the pillar of heavenly dew, the Kanrodai, and the Main Sanctuary was built so that people can worship from the four directions.

My faith can be traced back to the day my grandmother Shizuko Hiraga returned to Jiba around the year 1948 and saw the Main Sanctuary for the first time. It took ten years for a minister by the name of Tsuru Watanabe to finally have my grandmother to make her first pilgrimage to Jiba. No matter how many times my grandparents told Rev. Watanabe to stop coming, she never let this prevent her from making her visits. But during those ten years my grandfather passed away when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima in August 1945.

As time went by, the Hiraga family was helped by Rev. Watanabe in many ways and was indebted to her. Rev. Watanabe requested my grandmother to accompany her son to Church Headquarters where he was to receive divine sanction to become the next head minister of the church. My grandmother accepted the request and accompanied this young minister to Tenri, and it was the first time she went anywhere north of Okayama Prefecture where she went to sewing school.

Only the North and South Worship Halls were built at the time, but my grandmother sensed something when she saw the Main Sanctuary of Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. Back in Hiroshima, which was a stronghold of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism, Tenrikyo was often derided as a deviant religion. Those who did not believe in Jodo Shinshu were often treated as second-class citizens. But upon seeing the Main Sanctuary, my grandmother felt that there was no truth to the rumors that Tenrikyo tricked people into joining the faith.

She felt that the teachings had to be authentic to have inspired followers to build such a structure. Soon after my grandmother encouraged my mother to enter Shuyoka, or the three-month Spiritual Development Course in Jiba, when she was just 16 years old.

Thinking back to Oyasama’s “identification of the Jiba,” we must realize this occurred just a year after She began Her mission to the “high mountains.” Oyasama’s mission to the “high mountains” refers to the beginning of the persecution and interference of the Path by law authorities. A particular Ofudesaki verse written in 1874 reads,

Those who come here to summon or to investigate, come because it is God’s intent.


Thus, this persecution and interference of the Path began because of God the Parent’s intention. Also in late 1874, instead of concealing Herself from the increasing persecution, Oyasama donned Her red kimono to openly show She was the Shrine of Tsuki-Hi (God). So when Oyasama identified the Jiba, we must presume that She was wearing Her red clothes. We can only imagine the extent which the identification of the Jiba, the center of our faith and the source of world salvation, filled the hearts of our predecessors with encouragement. At first I wondered why the identification of the Jiba took place at such a relatively late point in time. However, out of their Parental love, God and Oyasama constantly instructs us according to our spiritual maturity. Thus the timing of the identification of the Jiba was greatly important toward Oyasama’s hastening for the completion of the Service.

In his sermon at Oyasama’s 120th Anniversary Service, the Shinbashira said:

Today, there are no legal restrictions on any aspect of our faith including our performance of the Service, nor do we need to worry about any external interference from any source…. Compared with those days when the followers feared persecution and interference by the police, we live in an age when we are extremely fortunate.

Truly, we live in a fortunate age. In Japan and the United States, the law of the land guarantees freedom of religion. Also, no matter how far we live from Jiba, 48 hours is ample enough time to return to the Home of the Parent. I feel that because we live in such a fortunate time, we ought to make that extra effort to maintain a physical connection to Jiba.

My mother is and my grandmother was quite vigilant about maintaining such a physical connection. They were vigilant enough about this aspect of their faith that they made sure I made my first pilgrimage to Jiba 30 years ago for Oyasama’s 90th Anniversary from Honolulu when I was just five months old. I am convinced it is because I have inherited such a faith from my mother and grandmother that I was provided the chance to come here to New York.

God the Parent has provided me with the opportunity to return to Jiba at least once a year for the last four years. Last year was an exceptionally special year as I was able to return to Jiba two times. When I made a pilgrimage to Jiba during the Autumn Grand Service for the first time in six years, I also met Rev. Morishita at my followers dormitory. He had mentioned New York Center needed help and offered me a chance to become a live-in staff.

If anyone had told me last October that I would be in New York during the New Year and Oyasama’s 120th Anniversary, I probably would have laughed and brushed the idea off as nonsense. But forty years ago, the third head minister of Myodo Grand Church, Rev. Yoshinori Kashihara, had once asked my mother to go to New York when she was about my age. Rev. Morishita was actually in charge of applying for my mother’s visa, but it was never granted. I have also heard that my grandmother and great-grandmother on my father’s side were born in New York. So I felt a mysterious causality at work so I readily accepted Rev. Morishita’s offer to become a live-in staff at New York Center.

When I think about it, I think Rev. Morishita had a lot of guts to allow someone as immature and unqualified like myself to become a live-in staff. Less than a week after I got here I yelled at him in frustration when I accompanied him on one of his missionary tours of the East Coast. I got completely lost several times over when driving the children to the Cultural Institute and they ended up being late for their Saturday Japanese language class. I also scratched the door of Rev. Morishita’s vehicle against a tree. In March I received guidance from God the Parent when I threw my back and was put temporarily out of commission. I also broke 13 offering dishes after last month’s service. Fortunately this happened before the April Pilgrimage to Jiba so Rev. Okui and members of the New York Women’s Association were able to bring back a new set of dishes in time for today’s monthly service.

These are only a handful of the kind of missteps I have made so I fear I have caused much trouble for Rev. and Mrs. Morishita and everyone here at New York Center. But I have gained a lot of precious experiences and hope to use them as my spiritual sustenance as I walk a path single-heartedly devoted to God. In about a week, I will return to Jiba and head back to Honolulu in August. Hopefully I will see most of you at this summer’s Tenri Forum in Jiba. If not, maybe someday here in New York. Thank you very much for your kind attention.

*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.