8. By a Slight Illness
On May 6, 1861, Koto Nishida had a toothache. She left home to visit an Inari temple in Senzoku. Senzoku lies to the north of her house, but she was walking to the east without intending to do so, and happened to meet a friend of about the same age. This friend had married into the Okuda family in Bessho. She asked Koto where she was going, and then told her that if she would pay a visit to Shoyashiki, any illness could be cured. So Koto made a pilgrimage to Shoyashiki at once. She arrived toward evening. Oyasama greeted her:
“Welcome home. I have been waiting for you.”
“I have given you guidance by a slight illness only.”
Then, telling her the divine teachings, Oyasama gave her the sacred powder of roasted grain. By the time Koto got home after listening to the divine teachings, the toothache had completely stopped. She did not pay a visit to Shoyashiki for some days. Then, her eyes began to hurt violently. Immediately, she visited Oyasama, who said to her:
“I have given you guidance through an illness.”
Oyasama taught Koto the divine teachings step by step, and prayed for her. The pain stopped by the time Koto left to go home.
For the following three days Koto visited Shoyashiki to clean the Residence, bringing her lunch with her. That was the beginning of her faith in Tenrikyo. Koto was thirty-two years old that year.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 4–5
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“Nishida Koto was the wife of Isaburo, who donated eight tatami mats at the construction of the Place for the Service. Bunkyu 1 would be 1861, seven years before the first year of Meiji. The construction of the Place for the Service was completed in 1864. [This story is based on the] recollections of Nishida Yoshimatsu, age 73, in 1953.”
I have already filled in much of the historical narrative leading up to 1861 last time, but it might be good to note once again that Oyasama first began to offer the Grant of Safe Childbirth after 1854 (when she first “tested” it on her daughter Haru) and the Nakayama family arguably reached “the depths of poverty” in 1855 when the last of their rice fields were mortgaged away for the next ten years.
While it is not mentioned here, according to The Life of Oyasama, the Nishidas, who are considered Oyasama’s first converts1, were from Ichieda Village. (Currently a section or chō of Yamato-Koriyama City, located about 1.6 kilometers or one mile west from the heart of Ichinomoto or 3.2 kilometers or two miles from Jiba according to the map from Reference Materials for The Life of Oyasama. Google Maps labels the area north of the Tenri Tollbooth on the Nishi-Meihan Expressway as Ichieda-cho ).
The Tenrikyo jiten claims that Senzoku was an actual place name in what is now Ishikawa-chō, Yamato-Koriyama City.2 But since this very story is the only time this place name is mentioned in Tenrikyo literature, I would like to see further evidence before I can accept this without some skepticism on my part. This is because I have to wonder if there was a possibility that the “Inari temple” mentioned here was a branch of the “Senzoku Inari Shrine” in Tokyo rather than being an actual place name. (I feel that it is too much of a coincidence for them to share the exact same kanji.)
If this is the case, then it is inaccurate to designate the Inari here as a “temple.” (There is nothing in the Japanese that clarifies the Inari here as a temple or shrine.) Inari is a complex object of devotion in Japanese religion: Inari can equally be identified as Shinto or Buddhist, it all depends where he or she (yes, Inari can be either male or female) is enshrined.
Because of this ambiguity regarding Inari’s religious identity, there is a high possibility that the shrine/temple mentioned in this anecdote does not exist anymore, destroyed during the violent purges in the early Meiji period (1868–1912) that followed the outlawing of the “mixing” of Shinto and Buddhism. (This process of disassociating Shinto from Buddhism is often referred to as Shinbutsu bunri). I would concede, however, it may have been more than possible for the area around the Inari shrine/temple to have been named “Senzoku” for the very fact that it was affiliated with the Senzoku Inari in Tokyo.
In any case, instead of heading in the direction that would have taken her to the Senzoku Inari, Nishida Koto heads east and bumps into her friend Mrs. Okuda from Bessho Village. (Currently a section of Tenri City where dormitories belonging to Aichi, Saikai, Abashiri, Furuichi, and Ochi grand churches are located.) When Mrs. Okuda learns about Koto’s toothache, she lets her know about Oyasama, who has apparently gained the reputation in the area of being able to cure any illness by this time. Koto then turns toward Shoyashiki Village to pay Oyasama a visit. Oyasama gives her some sacred powder of roasted grain, otherwise known as hattaiko, an early form of sacred gifts or goku.
I would like to spend the remainder of this post discussing the words Oyasama is said to have expressed to Koto at this time.
(1) “Welcome home. I have been waiting for you.”
If we presume Anecdotes 8 is accurate in its historical depiction (for it is based on at least a second-hand oral account 92 years after the actual event it describes), we have an account of Oyasama saying “Welcome home” from as early as 1861, much earlier than the dates when she set down the teachings that revealed the Jiba as the “origin of this world” in song or writing.3
Granted, a strict, orthodox theological stance would insist the tenet that establishes the Nakayama household as the homeland of humanity can be traced to the time of creation when human beings were “conceived” at the very physical space that Oyasama later identified as the Jiba. Yet it I think it is more than possible to make a theological distinction between when a certain tenet was “established” and “revealed.” While empirical evidence for when such religious tenets were “established” can never be found (not to mention the actual claims of any religious tenet for that matter!), the time of their “revelation” can be verified to a certain degree with textual scholarship.
In any case, if it were ever possible, it would be quite illuminating to be able to know what each person thought as Oyasama greeted them with the words “Welcome home. I have been waiting for you.” I would assume that many may have felt strange to be greeted in this manner while others were deeply impacted by them.4 Setting aside the question whether these words were ultimately “true” or not, I think it can be compellingly argued that they do help convey an air of mystery that suggested Oyasama knew things that were otherwise inaccessible to ordinary beings.
(2) “I have given you guidance by a slight illness only” and “I have given you guidance through an illness.”
These words embody aspects of Tenrikyo’s theological stance on illness, which are also articulated in Scripture, most notably the Ofudesaki (see 2:7, 22–23). What I find interesting about the phrase that is rendered in English as “guidance by/through illness” (“mijo ni shiraseta“) is that Anecdotes 8 is the only instance where I can find this exact phrase in Japanese in Scripture or any of the “jun-genten” (supplemental texts to the Scriptures), with the exception of a few similar phrases appearing in the Osashizu.5
Although I find no major objection to how this phrase is presently translated, “mijo ” means “body” or “physical condition” in addition to “illness,” and “guidance” is usually the English equivalent of “tebiki.”
The verb “shiraseta” (past tense of “shiraseru“) might be best translated as “inform,” making “I informed you [of God’s presence or existence?] through your body/physical condition” another possible translation of the phrase “mijo ni shiraseta.” Such a translation gives a slightly different nuance compared to “guidance,” but ultimately, the two possibilities are hinting at something deeply similar.
Koji Sato has written elsewhere on the different ways illness is understood in Tenrikyo theology: in addition to “guidance” (tebiki) and a form of communication from God (“shirase,” the nominal form of shiraseru), the Ofudesaki teaches that illness is God’s “care” (teire; I prefer “tending”), “road signs” (michi-ose), “call to service” (yo-muki), and “admonition” (iken) (173–174). The Ofudesaki also presents illness as God’s “urging” or “hastening” (seki-komi).6
Anecdotes 8 here depicts Oyasama explaining to Koto that her toothache functioned as her (and therefore God’s) way of drawing her to Jiba. The cause of the subsequent pain in her eyes is also explained the same way and allows Oyasama to reveal more of God’s teachings to her.
It is also interesting to note how Koto was motivated to return to the Residence for three consecutive days to listen to the teachings, bringing her own lunch and helping with cleaning.
Was this act of devotion done out of her gratitude for being healed of her pain or motivated by her deep impression of what Oyasama taught her? In any case, it appears to be an early example of hinokishin at a time before we have the first compelling evidence when Oyasama first used the term.
Certainly, I personally find that the suggestion of illness being a form of “divine guidance” or “communication” must come across as more compassionate to those in the midst of suffering compared to claims the pain or illness is a manifestation of “a misuse of the mind” (a Tenrikyo explanation more appropriate for people who have been with the faith for some time) or even worse, divine punishment.
Koto’s subsequent spontaneous action of helping out at the Residence indicates the forward-looking, constructive quality of this particular teaching.
- Next installment in this series: 9. According to the Parents’ Minds
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Satō Kōji. 2004. Omichi no jōshiki. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo.Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- _________. 1996 . The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo (third edition). Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1993. Hinagata kikō. Tenri, Japan: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- _________, ed. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō kyōso no oshie. Tenri, Japan: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Tenrikyō Kyōgi oyobi Shiryō Shūseibu, ed. 1982, 1985, 1987. Osashizu sakuin, 3 vols. Tenri: Tenrikyō Kyōgi oyobi Shiryō Shūseibu.
- Tenrikyo Overseas Department. 2000. Reference materials for The Life ofOyasama. Tenri: Tenrikyo Overseas Department.
- See Hinagata kikō, p. 84, note 1. ↩
- I should note here that the word “naname ni” (diagonally) has been omitted from the 1976 translation. Since we don’t simply say we go “diagonally north” in English, it would be more accurate here to have “northeast” instead of simply “north.” ↩
- The “Welcome home” here in Japanese is not a translation of the conventional greeting “o-kaeri nasai” as one may normally expect upon arriving in Jiba today, but “Yo kaette kita na,” a phrase that to me evokes a deeper sense of intimacy. The Jiba is referred to as the “origin of this world” in Song Five of the Mikagura-uta (composed in 1867) and the place where God created human beings in Part 17 of the Ofudesaki (written circa 1882). ↩
- A Tenrikyo publication entitled Ikiru kotoba expresses the following sentiment: “Jiba is the Home of the Parent. Despite the hardship they endured to make the return trip to Jiba, once people reached their destination and received these words, they were all filled with a sense of relief that brought joyful tears to their eyes. They were so overwhelmed with Oyasama’s compassion that it motivated them to go back to their respective locales to make efforts toward helping and nurturing others” (p. 42).
Unfortunately, the same publication offers no citations to firsthand sources for the reader to turn to that would support these claims that people felt “a sense of relief” or “overwhelmed” upon hearing the words “Welcome home” from Oyasama. ↩
- The Scriptures are: the Ofudesaki, the Mikagura-uta, and the Osashizu. The jun-genten are: The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, The Life of Oyasama, and Anecdotes of Oyasama. The Osashizu sakuin lists seven passages containing “mijo ni shirasu” or related phrases (p. 2403). ↩
- See “Divine Guidance” or Chapter Six of The Doctrine of Tenrikyo for more reading on this very subject. ↩