16. The Child’s Concern for the Parent
Kiku, mother of Isaburo Masui, became ill. Her condition gradually worsened and reached the critical stage. After waiting impatiently for daybreak, Isaburo left Izushichijo Village early in the morning and, walking about five and a half kilometers, he returned to the Residence. When he was received by Oyasama, he asked, “Please, save my mother from her illness.” Oyasama replied:
“I am sorry, Isaburo, in spite of your request she cannot be saved.”
As this reply came from Oyasama Herself, he excused himself from Her presence, saying, “I see, I understand,” and returned home. However, when he saw his mother suffering from illness, he was overwhelmed with the thought, “Oh, I want her to be saved at any cost.”
Therefore, he again returned to the Residence and asked earnestly, “Please, I beg of you, I wish to have my mother saved however difficult it may be.”Oyasama replied again:
“Isaburo, I am sorry, she cannot be saved.”
When Isaburo was so told by Oyasama, he was convinced for the time being that nothing could be done. However, when he came home and again saw his mother suffering, he could not bear to sit by and do nothing.
So again, he trudged back the five and a half kilometers. When he arrived at the Residence it was already dark. He was told that Oyasama was already in bed, but he implored again, “I understand that my mother cannot be saved but somehow, please, save her.” Then, Oyasama said:
“The child comes for the sake of his parent to ask that the life, which cannot be saved, be saved at whatever cost. This is sincerity itself. If sincere, God will accept.”
With these gracious words, Kiku, Isaburo’s mother, was saved from the life that could not be saved otherwise, and lived to be eighty-eight.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 11–12
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“Reference is Koshiro Masui’s Osashizu katari gusa.
“One chō 町 equals 109.09 meters. Fifty chō equals 5.45 kilometers. FYI: One ri [里] equals 36 chō.”
According to an article written by Koji Masui sensei, a fourth-generation descendant of Isaburo, his mother first brought him on a pilgrimage home to Jiba in 1864. Isaburo is said to have accompanied his mother on a number of occasions thereafter to help with farm work at the Residence. Isaburo is said to have been granted an audience with Oyasama and often returned to the Residence by himself when his mother could not (ibid.).
Yoshitsugu Sawai, a professor at Tenri University, has written that the faith of the Masui’s eventually helped lead to the founding of Harumichi Daikyokai (2003, p. 145). Both Koji Masui sensei and Sawai sensei date Anecdotes 16 as 1864, the year after Kiku made her first pilgrimage home to Jiba.
Summary of Anecdotes 16
I find that Anecdotes 16 is utilized in many Tenrikyo sermons; it’s probably one of the better-known ones from Anecdotes of Oyasama. Although I usually offer my comments for each selection from Anecdotes, I will refrain from doing so for this one since the events it describes are pretty straightforward (and because I think I went a little overboard lengthwise in my comments last time).
I will instead turn to two Tenrikyo authors for their insight regarding the religious importance of Anecdotes 16.
The story is simple enough: Isaburo, age 15 (according to the traditional manner the Japanese counted age), sees his mother Kiku suffering from an illness until her condition is critical. Possibly remembering how his father was cured from asthma when Kiku went to Jiba for Oyasama’s help, Isaburo decides to wait until daybreak to return to Jiba himself.
After traveling five and half kilometers from Izushichi to the Residence, Oyasama says she is sorry to inform him that his mother’s condition was beyond help. Resigned to this fate, Isaburo goes home. But upon seeing his mother suffer in front of his eyes, he found that he could not sit still and returned to Jiba once again to ask for help.
The second exchange between Isaburo and Oyasama is essentially a repeat of their first. Oyasama is pained to tell him that Kiku’s illness is beyond God’s help. Isaburo goes home again but is stirred to make a third trip to Jiba. (It might be noteworthy to mention here that by this time, Isaburo has journeyed between his home and Jiba five times, a distance roughly equaling 27.5 kilometers or about 65% of a marathon.)
Although it was already dark and Oyasama had retired for the night, Isaburo makes a third desperate plea for help. Then, Oyasama says: “The child comes for the sake of his parent to ask that the life, which cannot be saved, be saved at whatever cost. This is sincerity itself. If sincere, God will accept.”2 Kiku is saved and lives to the ripe age of 88.
Commentary on Anecdotes 16 from Koji Masui and Yoshitsugu Sawai
On the blessing Kiku received, Koji Masui sensei writes, “The extent of Kiku’s and Isaburo’s joy must have been inexpressible.” He then suggests it offers the following lesson for those of us living in the present, “I believe that it teaches us that there is no other path to salvation other than to cling to Oyasama, dedicate ourselves with a of sincerity, and have Her accept our mind of sincerity.”
Yoshitsugu Sawai sensei also picks up on the theme of “true sincerity,” writing that Anecdotes 16 illustrates a precedent of God accepting a mind of true sincerity that desired for another to be saved (2003, p. 147). He then quotes a passage from the Kakisage that is translated as follows, “The mind of saving others is the real truth of sincerity alone and, by this truth of saving others, you are saved.”
There was something in how Sawai sensei quoted the passage that suggested to me that an alternative but equally viable interpretation of this passage was possible. I translate this alternative interpretation of this passage as: “The mind that wishes to save another is the real truth of sincerity alone and, this wish to save another is the truth that allows the person to be saved.”
After the Kakisage quote, Sawai writes, “If one has the mind of true sincerity that wishes to have another be saved at all cost, God the Parent will assuredly accept such a mind and work accordingly” (ibid.).
(2) Filial piety
Another religious theme Anecdotes 16 helps illustrate is the importance of filial piety (oya-koko). Oyasama acknowledges Isaburo’s devotion to his mother as “sincerity itself” and proclaims that God has accepted this sincerity, allowing Kiku to be cured of her illness. The importance of a child’s devotion to one’s parent is stressed in many traditions, Confucianism in particular, yet the importance of filial piety in Tenrikyo takes on a heightened significance since God and Oyasama, are in a sense, Parents of the entire human race.
Koji Masui sensei refers to filial piety as “the seed of salvation,” and, concerning a general trend of weakening ties between parents and children he sees in society today, he writes: “Have we not failed to remember our indebtedness to our parents who protected and raised us since we were brought into the world? Although we may recognize our indebtedness to our parents all the more when we are blessed with our own children, being young is not an excuse for neglecting to practice filial piety. Isaburo was guided by Oyasama from a young age and was taught [the importance of] filial piety. Does not this teach us that we ought to live and bring joy to our parents from an early age?” (2008)
Sawai sensei also strongly emphasizes Isaburo’s age of 15 in particular since this is the very age when God is said to consider each individual as a mature adult (2003, p. 147).3 A passage from the Osashizu states that God protects a person until 15 “according to the state of their parents’ mind and from the age of 15 according to the state of their own mind” (August 30, 1888). Isaburo had reached the age when God granted him protection according his very state of mind — one that sincerely longed for his mother to be saved at all cost — which was accepted by God and allowed his mother to be blessed with a full recovery.
To conclude, I offer two quotes from the two senseis that each have great implications for Tenrikyo followers.
First, Yoshitsugu Sawai writes: “For each of us who have been provided a firm, spiritual foothold in the turmoil of modern society, we are increasingly demanded to reflect to modern society a way of life that is based on Oyasama’s teachings. In other words, as we can see in the story involving Isaburo Masui, one way to do this is to awaken to how we are kept alive in the embrace of God the Parent’s providence and live spiritedly with a mind that seeks to save others” (ibid. p. 149).
In closing, Koji Masui sensei expresses what may be considered an appropriate attitude concerning an event that especially has profound significance for him personally as a descendant of Kiku and Isaburo Masui, an event that may be compellingly regarded as the “day of origin” of the faith of Masui Isaburo.
Koji sensei writes: “It is a sobering thought when I think that the Masui household exists today thanks to the parental affection Oyasama displayed to Isaburo at his young age and how She worked to connect him to Jiba. I wish to deeply savor my indebtedness to God the Parent and Oyasama for the protection I receive on a daily basis that leads me splendidly as I walk the path of repaying this indebtedness (go-onhoji)4 with gratitude and joy.”
- Next installment in this series: 17. The Law of Nature
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Sawai Yoshitsugu. 2003. “Kazoku to shinkō: 16 ‘Kodomo ga oya no tame ni’.” In Itsuwa-hen ni manabu iki-kata. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, pp. 143–150.
- Masui Kōji. 2008. “Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete: gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie 1.” Tenri jihō No. 4067 (February 24, 2008), p. 3.
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 10: The Long Way Around
- The Footsteps of Our Predecessors, Part 18: If Sincere, God Accepts
- The Footsteps of Our Predecessors, Part 69: “If the Spirit Lives, the Body Will Live”
- Omichi no joshiki: Efforts That Are Consistent With One’s Words
- Omichi no joshiki: Mind of Sincerity
- Omichi no joshiki: A Pair of Folding Fans
- Takano, Tomoji. Disciples of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo, pp. 20–23.
- We may remember that in Anecdotes 10, Oyasama essentially taught her that, in contrast with some Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan that were renown for specialized blessings, one could “come to the Residence and receive salvation for every possible request” (Masui 2008). ↩
- I reserve my only comment on Anecdotes 16 in this footnote. I find that a key term here in the Japanese — “hakobu” in “kodomo ga, oya no tame ni hakobu-kokoro” (“The child comes for the sake of his parent”) — loses its religious meaning in this particular translation.
“Hakobu” is often accompanied with the term “tsukushi” (“contribution“) in its noun form — “hakobi” — and it is overwhelmingly translated as “dedication” in such cases. The term hakobu/hakobi can be tricky to translate since, while being a term imbued with religious significance in Tenrikyo, it still carries a range of secular meanings along with it (as these entries at ALC.co.jp help illustrate).
If I were pressed to revise the translation, I might render the phrase “kodomo ga, oya no tame ni hakobu-kokoro” as: “The child, whose dedicated heart prompts him to come for the sake of his parent…” ↩
- I previously touched on this particular Tenrikyo tenet in my discussion on Anecdotes 9. ↩
- I find myself flip-flopping a lot when it comes to translating go-onhōji. Here are other posts on Tenrikyology.com that touch upon this very topic: