One of my motivations in starting this new feature stems from having inadvertently pushed Oyasama (Miki Nakayama) into the background here on Tenrikyology with the various series and translations I concentrated on ever since this site was launched in September 2007.
I hope to rectify this to some degree with this new feature where I plan to blog on Anecdotes of Oyasama, adding background information when I can as well as commentary when it inspires me.
One may be apt to assume that The Life of Oyasama (what you would call the “official” biography or hagiographic text on her life) would be a more logical place to start instead of Anecdotes of Oyasama since the former outlines her life in detail in a chronological sequence whereas Anecdotes is a collection of 200 stories that lacks a cohesive narrative that neatly connects them all. There are a few motivations/reasons behind my choice:
- I feel the current translation of Anecdotes is overdue for some updating; the conventions of translating certain terms have changed since it was done (in 1977). As I blog along, I will compare the current translation with the original Japanese and point out any portions that I feel require updating or improving. (Update Sept 26, 2010: This has become less and less a concern as this project went along.)
- While I plan to do a series on The Life of Oyasama, I feel that the time is not right yet. There are many commentaries on this text in Japanese and I have not begun going through them. I still have much more research to do before doing beginning a series on The Life of Oyasama.
Yet this does not necessarily mean I have a firmer grasp of Anecdotes compared to The Life of Oyasama.
Nevertheless, the lack of a single narrative that connects one story to another in Anecdotes is what makes blogging it so advantageous: While I plan to blog Anecdotes from cover to cover in numerical sequence, if I come across something later that illuminates a particular anecdote/story I already covered, I still will be comfortable enough to add a “supplemental” post several months (or years) afterward.
This might not be so easy with a commentary blog on The Life of Oyasama, which I feel requires a more disciplined and deliberate approach to writing.
On the Text
Before I dive into the actual content of Anecdotes, I’d like to take some time to discuss the nature of the text itself. One widespread misconception about Anecdotes is that it is one of the Tenrikyo “Scriptures.”
In Tenrikyo, the term “Scripture” (genten [原典]) is only reserved for the following religious texts the Ofudesaki, the Mikagura-uta, and the Osashizu. While Anecdotes of Oyasama certainly is a text with great religious significance1, it is only afforded with the designation as a “supplemental text to the Scriptures” (jun-genten).
I have once seen “jun-genten” translated as “quasi-Scripture,” which admittedly made me fall on the floor in irreverent bursts of laughter. Certainly, “jun-genten” does mean “quasi-Scripture” in a literal sense, but the difference between “genten” and “jun-genten” in the Tenrikyo tradition cannot be emphasized enough.
While the manner in which the three Scriptures were revealed differed2, the Tenrikyo tradition ultimately maintains that God is the author of the Scriptures, making them sacrosanct.
Whereas the jun-genten or supplementary texts to the Scriptures (which include The Doctrine of Tenrikyo and The Life of Oyasama) contain instructions attributed to God/Oyasama that are not necessarily found in Scripture, the authorship of the jun-genten ultimately falls in the realm of human effort and are theoretically open to the possibility of being edited and revised.
(A note here: “Human efforts” though they may be, it must be said there was a serious endeavor by those involved to have these supplemental texts to be true to the spirit of the Scriptures as much as possible.)
Anecdotes of Oyasama was published in 1976 in year of the 90th Anniversary of Oyasama, nearly 90 years after Oyasama’s “withdrawal from physical life” in 1887.
In this sense, the accuracy of some of these stories could be called into question. Regarding this issue, in the “Foreword” written by the third Shinbashira, Zenye Nakayama, we read:
Among the stories which appear in Anecdotes are those submitted by the descendants of those followers who were actually involved and who recorded the event. Others that were submitted were not recorded by the principals but were told and retold by them to their children and grandchildren. Because some time has passed since the actual events, there are also stories which were told by the principals to others who then wrote them for submission. It is therefore natural that one may have reservations about the veracity of some portions of this volume. In this regard, the Anecdotes cannot be said to have the same weight as the Ofudesaki or the Mikagura-uta.
(Anecdotes of Oyasama, i.)
The quote above also helps demonstrate the notable difference between the Scriptures and “supplemental texts” like Anecdotes. But since I do not really have the resources to check the “veracity” of each story, I’ll just presume that they represent our best understanding of what occurred and what Oyasama said in certain situations unless I have a good reason to believe otherwise.
The former Shinbashira does write afterward, “I believe… that the spirit of Oyasama has been passed on to us through these anecdotes” (ibid. ii).
The gap between Oyasama’s physical withdrawal and the publication of Anecdotes does not appear to be too much a concern in the Tenrikyo tradition as Oyasama’s direct compositions survive as the Ofudesaki and Mikagura-uta.
To compare Tenrikyo’s situation with other religious traditions: as much as 400 years passed between the historical Buddha’s entry into Parinirvana and the appearance of the first Buddhist sutras; the four Gospels are seen to have been written at least 20 to 30 years after the Resurrection of Christ.
Yet the majority of practitioners of these traditions rarely questions the time gaps or considers the lack of direct writings from their respective “founders” a significant issue.
My main concern in blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama is to investigate the religious importance of certain events and sayings that are recorded in this text as well as elaborating portions I feel are unclear to the uninitiated.
While the style of Anecdotes, mostly succinct stories whose length makes them easily digestible — ideal reading for our fast-paced modern world — their very succinctness leaves some things out, which I imagine has made more than a few readers scratch their heads in confusion.
Before I end this post, I’d like to include an excerpt from the 2007 Spring Grand Service Sermon by the current Shinbashira, Zenji Nakayama (link to first half and the second half where the quote appears):
In Anecdotes of Oyasama, we can find many exemplary models of how we should lead our daily lives as Yoboku or how we ought to conduct ourselves as befits followers of this path…. Anecdotes of Oyasama provides a vivid portrayal of Her as the Parent of the Divine Model through many stories about Her boundless parental love. Some of these stories concisely summarize essential points of our faith, and others teach and explain in an easy-to-understand manner what we should keep in mind if we are to live as followers.
I’ll try my best to pick up on the “essential points” or certain sayings that embody Tenrikyo values as I go along, mostly depending on writings and publications from Tenrikyo theologians and ministers, while occasionally depending on my intuitions as informed by my experience being raised in a mostly Tenrikyo household.
Come back in a few days for the first actual installment of this series!
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- The current Shinbashira Zenji Nakayama has expressed the religious importance of Anecdotes of Oyasama in the following manner: “Each story recorded in Anecdotes of Oyasama has profound meaning, which becomes increasingly clear and allows us to feel ever closer to Oyasama as we read it over and over. Further, these Anecdotes are not at all stories of bygone events with little relevance to us but deal with many topics and issues that we encounter in our own lives” (from 2007 Spring Grand Sermon — link to first half and the second half where the quote appears). ↩
- To elaborate on the way the three Scriptures were revealed, while the Ofudesaki was directly hand-written by Oyasama, it appears she transmitted the Mikagura-uta orally and taught its accompanying dances in person before others preserved it in written form. The Osashizu, on the other hand, consists of what are considered God’s oral instructions as delivered by Oyasama and Iburi Izo between January 4, 1887 to June 9, 1907. Though there are a few passages from the Osashizu in 1887 that are written record of Oyasama’s words, the vast majority of these passages were delivered through Izo after Oyasama’s “withdrawal from physical life” on 1/26/1887 (lunar). ↩