The following is an excerpt from Omichi no joshiki [Tenrikyo Fundamentals] (pp. 11–14) by Koji Sato 佐藤浩司, assistant professor at Tenri University and instructor at Tenri Seminary. Note: This translation is tentative and may require further revision.
No Distinction Between Female Pine or Male Pine
In 1886, Eigoro Furuta 古田栄五郎 was a fishhook wholesaler who managed an extensive, prosperous business. His business was once considered the most successful of its kind in Tokyo. One day Eigoro visited the home of Sasuke Uehara 上原佐助, who would later become the first head minister of Azuma Grand Church 東大教会.
Eigoro was deeply impressed upon hearing the teachings of Tenrikyo for the first time. But the teaching that really opened his eyes was: “All human beings are all God’s children. Therefore, everyone in the world are brothers and sisters. There is no high or low. There is no distinction between female pine or male pine.”
Eigoro then went home, turned to his wife Kiku and apologized, saying: “I am sorry for calling you just by your name. From now on, I will treat you with more respect.”
He thereafter called his wife “Kiku-san” for the rest of his life. Eigoro later became the first head minister of Ushigome Grand Church 牛込大教会 and thus was in a position to lead many people. But it is said that he always addressed others by adding “san” to everyone’s name.
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It was 1911 when Raicho Hiratsuka 平塚らいてう (1886–1971) — a pioneering Japanese feminist — declared, “In the beginning, woman was the sun.”
As Hiratsuka’s words suggest, women had their light obscured by thick clouds for countless years. After the prehistoric age, the emergence of agriculture produced a gap between the rich and poor. Human beings began to fight amongst themselves for honor, wealth, and property. This contest of physical strength led to the establishment of male-dominated societies.
It took a very long time for the modern concept of equality between women and men to take root. Although Western ideals of freedom and equality were imported during the late 19th century as a part of the “civilization and enlightenment movement” (bunmei kaika), the first time women were given the right to vote in Japan was after World War II. Laws guaranteeing women the freedom to enter the profession of their choice were put in place here fairly recently. It must be said that the path toward true equality between women and men has just begun.
The Founder (Foundress) of Tenrikyo, Miki Nakayama, who followers call Oyasama (“beloved Parent”), was a woman who once lived Her life as a typical wife and mother. In 1838, upon becoming the “living Shrine of God,” She was elevated to a position that made Her the Parent of all humankind. She thereafter taught the teachings to bring forth the salvation of humankind, not only through Her spoken word and Her writing brush, but also through demonstrating them Herself through Her daily actions. Oyasama guided Her followers with the true teachings and challenged many social conventions that discriminated against women. In the Scripture the Ofudesaki (The Tip of the Writing Brush), Oyasama wrote:
Of these trees, I do not say whether female pine or male pine. Tsukihi has an intention for any tree.
The meaning of this verse can be interpreted as, “For the salvation of humankind, also called the construction of the Joyous Life, human resources (or Yoboku, literally ‘useful timber’) are required to serve as God the Parent’s arms and legs. God the Parent will make no distinction in the physical size, social status, sex, or age of these Yoboku. Yoboku will be found, drawn, cared, and nurtured to serve as useful resources according to God the Parent’s intent.”
During Oyasama’s physical lifetime, a work called Greater Learning for Women (Onna daigaku) — written by philosopher Kaibara Ekiken (or Ekken) 貝原益軒 — was used widely as a textbook to educate young women on how to behave. Among its contents were: “The nature of women is that of yin (negativity). Yin is dark and embodied in night. Therefore, women are intellectually inferior to men. It is important for women to humble themselves and follow their husbands in all matters.”
Once we consider that such was the standard during Oyasama’s physical lifetime, we gain a better understanding how truly revolutionary Her teachings were. Oyasama’s teachings predated Hiratsuka’s declaration by 70 years. Eigoro Furuta, like many others, strove to live a life based on Her teachings after coming into contact with them caused him to reconsider the validity of the traditional roles imposed upon women and their place in a marital relationship.
Reference: Ozaki Eiji 尾崎栄治. Kokoro atsumete. Tenrikyo Ushigome Daikyokai.
- Next installment in this series: “Please Allow Me”
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
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