Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 7

7. Offering with a Sincere Heart

The following occurred at a time when the Nakayama family was living in the depths of poverty. One day at the end of the year, a follower brought some small, beautifully made rice cakes in the finest of boxes and said, “Please, offer this to Oyasama.” Kokan, Oyasama’s youngest daughter, promptly took it to Her. Oddly, Oyasama only said:

“Oh, is that so?”

and did not seem to be particularly pleased.

About two or three days later another follower came. She brought out a package in a plain kerchief and said, “Please, will you offer this to Oyasama?” In it were only a few sweetened rice cakes in a bamboo wrapping. Kokan as usual took it to Oyasama. Thereupon, Oyasama said:

“Please, offer it to God the Parent at once,”

and seemed very pleased.

The following fact became known later. The follower who had brought the finely made cakes was well to do. She had made some rice cakes for New Year’s, and as there were some left over, she took them to the Residence as an afterthought. The follower who had brought the plain cakes was poor, and barely able to make enough rice cakes for New Year’s. However, her family said, “This is also the blessing of God the Parent. First of all, let us make an offering.” They took the first freshly made rice cakes to the Residence.

Oyasama had known what was in the heart of each of these two persons.

There were many such incidents. Later, many followers began to bring the rare seasonal foods grown in their localities to Oyasama when they visited Her. Oyasama always appreciated the sincere heart with which the followers brought these offerings more than the offerings themselves.

Further, when things were presented to Her with arrogance, She often gave them to those nearby. When, on occasion, She did eat them, She said:

“It has no taste at all. It tastes as though we are forcing ourselves to eat when we do not want to eat.”

Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 3–4

My take

Allow me to fill in the narrative between the last anecdote and this one: not long after Haru and Sojiro Kajimoto were wed in 1852, Zenbei Nakayama, Oyasama’s husband and head of the Nakayama household, passed away (on 2/22/1853, lunar).

Despite the fact the family was in mourning, Oyasama sent her daughter Kokan (still a teenager) to Osaka, where she stood on street corners and chanted the name of God, Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, to the accompaniment of hyoshigi (wooden clappers). Masa, Oyasama’s eldest daughter, wed Jisuke Fukui around this time. Also in 1853, the main house on the Nakayama property was dismantled.

1854 marked the start of the Grant of Safe Childbirth, with which Oyasama “opened the path to all miracles of salvation” (The Life of Oyasama, p. 35). By offering this grant that guaranteed a mother a harmless childbirth in an age before modern medicine when giving birth was potentially fatal for a mother and her child, Oyasama gained the reputation of being a “living goddess of safe childbirth” within several years.

Then, Oyasama fulfilled God’s instruction to “fall to the depths of poverty” sometime around 1855 when she mortgaged the last of the rice fields that belonged to the Nakayamas. Although Anecdotes 7 is not dated, it can be assumed that the incident it describes occurred sometime between 1855 and 1861. The Life of Oyasama describes on the bottom of p. 33 about the first instance of someone making an offering rice to to her “as a token of thanks” to God, but this incident is not dated either. (1861 just happens to be the date given for the events described in Anecdotes 8.)

Okay, on to the content of Anecdotes 7 itself: This story embodies the Tenrikyo ideal that it is not the content of one’s offering but rather the one’s sincerity or “flavor” (i.e., state) of mind that God/Oyasama finds joy in. Although the first follower makes an offering of rice cakes that was more splendid in appearance than the second, it was this second offering that pleased Oyasama more. By being a mere “afterthought,” the first offering does not embody the sincerity the second one has.

Though meager in appearance compared to the first, the second batch of rice cakes were offered by a poorer family who were filled with appreciation at the very fact that they were able to pound rice cakes at all and gave credit to God and Oyasama. Thus, they were motivated to take the first, freshly-made batch to the Residence.

When I was a live-in for a time at the Tenrikyo Mission Headquarters of Hawaii, I remember how each freshly-made batch of food sold at the annual bazaar was taken immediately to be offered at Oyasama’s altar. A copy of the monthly periodical Makoto/Origins (Japanese and English editions) were also offered at Oyasama’s altar before they were distributed to the congregation. I wonder: Do they continue the practice even though they hold the bazaar at a different location than before?

This story also reminds me of a few passages I have read from Omichi no kotoba by the late Yoshikazu Fukaya. (Its English translation is expected to be published later this year.) Consider the following:

“[C]ontribution” is not something we do because we can spare the time and energy to do so. Rather, the term connotes doing our very utmost and giving all we have. Far from being something we do because we can, contribution is something we try to do even if it is hard to do; it involves doing whatever it takes. Contributing such sincerity is, indeed, of utmost importance.

Omichi no kotoba, p. 264 (online version)

We also have words that can be paraphrased as follows: “It is the remaining one-tenth after nine-tenths are gone that will become the seed that will multiply ten thousandfold” (refer to Osashizu, June 12, 1890). A significant amount of determination is necessary to contribute nine-tenths of something one has. Certainly anyone who does so must be said to have a mind of sincerity. However, we are taught that it is precisely the sincerity that makes a person contribute the last one-tenth that fundamentally allows him or her to receive the protection of a single seed multiplying ten thousandfold.

Omichi no kotoba, p. 272 (online version)

Thus, in Tenrikyo, the ideal is for one to make offerings not because one can afford to, but to express one’s gratitude in the form of monetary offerings or devotional labor (hinokishin) exactly when we are hard-pressed for money or time. Quite an ideal to live up to!

I have to admit I’ve been somewhat tight-fisted with my dough as of lately…. just taking advice from an old Howlin’ Wolf song in the present financial downturn! Ahhh, I must admit it’s best to stick to listening to the blues than actually to live them out.

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


Further reading

  • The Life of Oyasama, Chapter Three, pp. 25–35