Question no. 5: What goes on in the Foundress’ Sanctuary?

Q: Recently I had the opportunity to pass through Tenri City. (It was quite a nice place.) As we drove past the Foundress’ Sanctuary , my teacher—a Zen monk—told me that there is a television in the sanctuary in case Oyasama gets bored. Is this true? More generally, what is believed to go on in the sanctuary, and is it meant to resemble Kukai’s sanctuary at Koyasan?

submitted by Avery M.

A: Thank you for the interesting questions, Avery! Only designated individuals are allowed inside what is called the “Foundress’ Residence” portion of the Sanctuary, so while I haven’t seen this with my own two eyes, because Oyasama is treated as though She is still physically alive there, she allegedly gets the daily paper, she is served cooked meals, her bath plus bedding is prepared every evening, and I have heard she does have a television.

I am not sure how her attendants can tell whether she is “bored” or not or even know what kind of programming she enjoys, but whaddya know?

But your question whether or not this is similar to how Kukai is treated at Koyasan is certainly interesting, for certainly there are some parallels, with some important differences.

My understanding is that according to Shingon belief, Kukai did not “die” but entered a state of prolonged meditation until the arrival of Miroku (Maitreya). But empirically speaking, my understanding is that Kukai is in a mummified state and monks of a certain rank are given the responsibility of occasionally changing his robes.

In Tenrikyo belief, Oyasama did not “die” but “withdrew from physical life,” and that her soul or spirit resides at the Foundress’ Residence. A series of revelations (through the Honseki, Izo Iburi) dictated to followers that if they treated Oyasama as if she were physically present, she would bless them immensely. The lengths to which her attendants treat her as if she was physically there (as described above and also in an excerpt below) is amazing even to followers such as myself.

Empirically speaking, her remains were initially buried at Zenpukuji, the Jodo sect parish temple of the Nakayama family. A Tenrikyo cemetery (o-bochi) was later constructed and her remains were relocated there. This is an important point about the Foundress’ Sanctuary: It is not considered a mausoleum but a place the “everliving” Oyasama makes her home. Her remains lie elsewhere.

Also, while a set of red kimono is brought each morning to Oyasama’s altar in the Foundress’ Residence to “wear,” they are just placed in front of the altar. This is a notable difference with how is Kukai treated.

The red cloth is later cut up to make the o-mamori or “Proof Amulets.” An interesting distinction between Tenrikyo o-mamori and ones from other religious traditions is that one can only get a Tenrikyo o-mamori once in a lifetime; it can’t be replaced if it is ever lost or ruined.


Update: I would also like to add excerpts here from a lecture by Moto Nakayama that was published in the annual English Michi no dai (no. 19) entitled “Oyasama Is Everliving” with some hope it may shed a light on what goes on in the Foundress’ Sanctuary (and note the intended audience are Tenrikyo followers):


“A Day in the Foundress’ Sanctuary” by Moto Nakayama

We are all aware that Oyasama provides Her guidance and blessings for those who come night and day out of their wish to be near Her and to obtain Her saving grace, but many of you may not know the details about how She spends each day. Today, therefore, I want to draw on my experience as one of Oyasama’s personal attendants in order to explain Her daily schedule to you. I hope my explanation will help you feel ever closer to Oyasama.

Oyasama’s daily schedule begins when She is awakened for the morning service. Please bear in mind that Her daily timetable is not uniform throughout the year, since it revolves around the hours for the morning and evening services, which vary from season to season.

Each morning, Oyasama wakes up 30 minutes before the morning service. There are exceptions such as New Year’s Day, when Her attendants must awaken Her at 4:00 a.m. so that She will have time to take a bath and be ready for the New Year’s day Service, which begins at 5:00 a.m.

Ordinarily, however, we awaken Oyasama 30 minutes before the morning service. First, we escort Her to the washroom, where She washes Her face and arranges Her hair, and we make ourselves available to assist Her. After serving Her a cup of tea in the parlor, we escort Her back to Her bedroom, where She changes from Her bedclothes into Her normal attire. Then, about ten minutes before the morning service, we escort Her to the Goten, Her seat in the Foundress’ Sanctuary.

She remains seated there until we return later in the morning in order to escort Her to Her living room, where we serve Her tea and confections. The hour for this varies with the season.

When She has finished Her tea, we escort Her back to Her seat in the Foundress’ Sanctuary. At 11:00, we serve lunch to Oyasama. The hour for Her lunch is the same all year around, whereas the hours for Her breakfast and dinner vary with the season. After finishing lunch, She remains seated in the Foundress’ Sanctuary.

Some time later, we announce that it is time for Her bath and escort Her to the bath at the back of the Foundress’ Residence. While She is bathing, we clean the Goten, Her seat in the Foundress’ Sanctuary.

Following Her bath, She proceeds to Her living room, where we serve Her tea and confections. She then returns to Her seat in the Foundress’ Sanctuary.

She is served dinner before the evening service, and then, one or two hours following the evening service, depending on the season or on special functions, She is escorted to Her bedroom and retires for the night.

These are the main activities in Oyasama’s daily schedule. We should not forget, however, that Oyasama has many things to do while She is seated in the Foundress’ Sanctuary. One of these is to breathe the rice that is offered to Her, thus enabling it to become the sacred rice (goku) that is granted to us. In addition, when the Shinbashira [*note: the spiritual and administrative leader of Tenrikyo] bestows the Sazuke or sanctions (o-hakobi), Oyasama is always present. She is also in attendance for wedding ceremonies held in the Foundress’ Sanctuary and for lecture meetings conducted in the Foundress’ Hall. In particular, She welcomes the many followers who continuously come to Her, which includes all of you. For those who come in search of Her saving grace, She listens to their troubles and helps them attain salvation by answering their questions. Needless to say, these answers come in the form of the things that arise in their minds, or in the form of the things that they see and hear, after worshiping Her.

Because Oyasama spends Her entire day working single-hearted salvation, we feel we must take special care to ensure that Her needs are met and that She is comfortable in every respect. Her rooms are equipped with such things as a desk, writing brushes, ink, and paper, as well as a sewing box. She is provided with a charcoal brazier in winter and a fan in summer. Her bedding is heavily padded in winter to keep Her warm and lightly padded in summer to keep Her cool. Nowadays, Her rooms are also equipped with heating and air-conditioning so that She may be comfortable all year round. In other words, we are careful to provide Her with all the furnishings and comforts that our families have in their own homes.

(end of excerpt, from pp. 29–32))

Hmmm. . . while the translation of the speech does say “we are careful to provide Her with all the furnishings and comforts that our families have in their own homes,” there is no explicit mention of a television set. I thought we might have some confirmation about the television set in the excerpt, but I was wrong. Oh well.

Update #2: Yet I heard once that a follower donated a blue disc DVD player to Oyasama circa 2010 and her attendants were figuring out how to use it, so I would assume she has a television!

I think I’ll refrain from making any comments on Moto sensei’s explanation here but the part about Oyasama washing her face and arranging her hair does imply a belief that Oyasama, in “post-withdrawal” metaphysical form, seems to maintain the shape of her human form of her “physical” life.

Moto sensei then goes on to describe how the red kimono that is offered before Oyasama is prepared as well as an explanation of how her meals are prepared. She also covers the instructions of Tamae Nakayama (first president of the Tenrikyo Women’s Association, granddaughter of Oyasama, and wife of the first Shinbashira) in regard how Oyasama’s attendants are to serve her.

Among the significant ones include: “Do not merely go through the motions of serving Oyasama. You must serve Her with all your heart” (p. 40).

While I would love to type all this up, I’ll refrain at this point. But I thought the following excerpt that contains Moto sensei’s dream encounter with Oyasama might be a good addition here:

I want to take a minute to relate an experience I had. In 1974, I began working at the Foundress’ Sanctuary. Shortly thereafter, I had a dream one night. In the dream, I had bid Oyasama good night and was performing my night duties when I noticed a trail of water drops in the hallway leading to Her bedroom. It looked just like the trail of water drops we leave behind us when we get out of a pool after swimming. When I saw the water drops, I was shocked and thought: “Oh, how careless to have spilled water here! I must wipe it up quickly.” I started to dash off to get a towel when I heard a voice say, “You think that I am fast asleep, but actually I have just returned from across the sea. You need not worry.” Then I awoke from my dream with a start.

It seemed to me that the vision and voice had been far too clear to dismiss as a dream. So the following morning I went to the Foundress’ Sanctuary and examined the hallway I had seen in the dream, but there were no traces of any water drops. Still not willing to let it go at that, I asked one of the women who had been on duty the previous night if anything unusual had occurred. Looking at me with a puzzle expression on her face, she answered that everything had been perfectly normal. Nonetheless, this dream made me feel that Oyasama never rested from Her work of single-hearted salvation.

Considering the time differences around the world, it is only natural that when people in this country are sleeping, there are people in other countries who are just waking up or who are already in the middle of their workday. Thus Oyasama must perform Her workings throughout the world without a moment’s rest. We are taught that God the Parent, Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, appears in the heavens as Tsukihi (Moon-Sun) and on earth as Oyasama, and that God the Parent and Oyasama are one in truth. For me, the words “I have just returned from across the sea” proved the truth of these teachings.

(end of excerpt, from pp. 47–48)

Bibliographic info

Nakayama Moto. 1998. “Lecture Commemorating Oyasama’s 200th Birthday: Oyasama Is Everliving.” Michi no Dai (English), pp. 25–57.

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