17. The Law of Nature
Around 1866 or 1867, Oyasama often said:
“This path cannot be followed by human thinking. It is the path that is being formed by the law of nature.”
Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 13
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“[Reference is] Seibun iin by Chusaku Tsuji.”
First thing first: regarding “Sawa’s note,” I’m not completely sure if Seibun iin was ever published in Chusaku Tsuji’s name. The authorship of Seibun iin shō, the edition of this work that is most readily available today, is attributed to Masaichi Moroi. The second Shinbashira has written that Masaichi’s work was largely based on what he heard from Chusaku Tsuji and that he often ghost-wrote for Chusaku (Nakayama, p. 35).
Considering the meaning of Anecdotes 17 in its historical context
Anecdotes 17 here does not have an exact date, it just says, “Around 1866 or 1867.” Yet the historical context when Oyasama said the above teaching takes on a deeper religious significance when we take into consideration that “around 1866 or 1867,” she began composing the Mikagura-uta, the Songs for the Tenrikyo Service.1
By saying the path was “formed by the law of nature (tennen shizen),” Oyasama was proclaiming the path she was paving ultimately was not one that could be attributed to human design or effort. It can be argued that by frequently conveying the above words while the Mikagura-uta was in the process of being composed and taught (events that are described briefly in Anecdotes 18 and 19), Oyasama was in effect cautioning those around her from ever regarding the Songs she was composing as something that originated from human design.
Another important historical connection that can be made with Oyasama’s proclamation that the path she was establishing was “being formed by the law of nature” is the birth of her grandson Shinnosuke to her daughter Haru Kajimoto on 5/7/1866 (lunar). This event was significant in that Oyasama stated Shinnosuke was destined to become the first Shinbashira, or the spiritual and administrative leader of Tenrikyo at the time of his birth.2
I feel these two historical events provide a key to understanding the meaning of these words that have been attributed to Oyasama. For similar proclamations that the path she established was one being done so by God and not by human design can be found throughout the Ofudesaki.3
What is tennen shizen? Clues from two Satos: Koji and Takanori Sato
I will go on somewhat of a tangent here and analyze the term “tennen shizen” (also the Japanese title of Anecdotes 17.) a little further.
First of all, I find it intriguing that the translator of Anecdotes 17 decided to translate “tennen shizen” as “the law of nature” since Takanori Sato sensei goes on to some length to explain that the “shizen” of tennen shizen does not necessarily equate to what is overwhelmingly understood as “nature” or the natural world in modern Japanese.
Tennen shizen happens to be a set expression that appears in the Osashizu and is now overwhelmingly being translated as “natural spontaneity,” a phrase that I have no honest idea on what it’s supposed to mean.
Tenrikyo is said to be “the natural and spontaneous path” (tennen shizen no michi). Both the words “tennen” and “shizen” originally refer to anything that is or exists without human intervention.
The first part of “tennen” is “ten,” or “heaven,” meaning something that is exists due to the providence of an absolute being such as God.
On the other hand, “shizen” refers to that is or exists of its own accord. Everything that exists and occurs in this world does so because it was meant to. That God the Parent entered Oyasama and directly conveyed the teachings to begin Tenrikyo was something that was meant to happen (2004, p. 236).
Another Sato, Takanori Sato sensei of Oyasato Institute for the Study of Religion (Oyasato Kenkyusho), has done a study on the passages in the Osashizu that include the various forms of “tennen“, “shizen“, “tennen shizen“, and “shizen tennen” (2003).4
Citing two particular Osashizu passages5, he states that he feels the term “tennen” emphasized the importance of accepting a situation as it is (tannō or “joyous acceptance“) without worrying over it (as with a physical condition) or selfishly asserting one’s position (as in a dispute).
He writes, “One can conclude that the essence of ‘tennen‘ is to willingly acknowledge reality for what it is, stripped of anything that can be attributed to a human cause” (p. 90).
Such an understanding certainly seems to be deeply implicated in the words above (“This path cannot be followed by human thinking”) that have been attributed to Oyasama. It seems to suggest that following the path as Oyasama taught demands followers to avoid the trap of succumbing to human thinking, that is, the counterproductive way we often seek blame or demand some explanation for any misfortune that occurs to us. Rather, it is more productive for us, as Koji Sato sensei has written, “to accept everything exactly for what they are and live accordingly to what is and what will be” (2004, p. 237).
I have to question here, however, whether or not there is more to the teaching of “tennen shizen.” For I have to wonder if it is truly best to remain passive and accept one’s lot in a situation such as when one’s survival is at stake.
Thankfully, I have never found myself in such a circumstance where I have been forced to put the universal applicability of passive acceptance to test. Also, sometimes a stubborn inability to accept one’s situation as it is opens the door to constructive change, the creative destruction of outdated systems and infrastructures that beg for updating and replacing. Perhaps passive acceptance is only applicable when matters are clearly beyond one’s control and influence. (Just expressing some wayward thoughts that happen to come up as I write.)
Well, moving on, in discussing the lesson of an Osashizu passage from April 8, 19006, Takanori sensei writes: “Instead of worrying over one’s physical condition, it is important to openly accept the physical condition for what it is and to live each day showing consideration for others. I particularly feel that we should refrain from cultivating any thoughts that have no basis in reality or clinging onto reminiscences of our youth. I believe that a way of thinking that willingly acknowledges reality for what it is ‘the truth of nature’ (tennen no ri) and a way of life that follows this is the ‘natural path’ (tennen no michi)” (Sato T. 2003, p. 91).
A couple more quotes from Takanori Sato sensei and one from Ikiru kotoba to consider before I close:
“The world around us is a path paved by God. It is neither a path paved by learned men who had a mastery of academics in the human world nor is it a path paved at the whim of several individuals. Everything is a part of ‘the natural and spontaneous path’ (tennen shizen no michi) embodying God’s intention that was paved naturally and spontaneously” (ibid. pp. 92–93).
This largely echoes what I’ve already mentioned above. A notable difference is that Takanori sensei writes that “the world around us” itself “is a path paved by God.”
“This world was essentially created by and remains in the protection of God the Parent, and humanity is no different. I feel that we should never fail to remember that this world exists because of God’s creation and the workings of divine providence, and that the natural and spontaneous path is to go forward leaning on God with a natural state of mind that is not diverted by what we see immediately before us” (ibid. p. 99–100).
These statements are fairly consistent with the proclamation that the path as taught by Oyasama “cannot be followed by human thinking.”
“We human beings tend to rush for results, relying on our fallible wisdom and power. Tennen shizen — the natural and the spontaneous — describes the process of sowing seeds at the seasonable time, applying fertilizer when buds sprout, and finally reaping a harvest after we have given our attentive care in raising a crop. It is a process that demands time and effort. It is the same when it comes to faith. Just as plants go through a many different stages in their development, our faith becomes genuine when we overcome difficult situations (knots)” (Ikiru kotoba, p. 17).
This statement is a little different take on tennen shizen as discussed so far but it is nevertheless interesting in how tennen shizen can be connected with other Tenrikyo teachings and expressions, examples which include:”shun no ri (principle of the season)”, “fusekomi“, “shuri-goe (weeding and fertilizing)”, “buds sprout from knots“, even “ichiryu manbai (multiplying ten thousandfold).”
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Satō, Kōji. 2004. “Tennen shizen” In Omichi no jōshiki. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, pp. 236–242. (translation available upon request)
- Satō, Takanori. 2003. “Tennen shizen to shinkō: 17 Tennen shizen.” In Itsuwa-hen ni manabu iki-kata. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, pp. 83–100.
- 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. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō Oyasama (kyōso?) no oshie. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Fukaya, Yoshikazu. 2009. “The path of natural spontaneity / The natural and spontaneous path (tennen jizen no michi).” In Words of the Path: A Guide to Tenrikyo Terms and Expressions. Tenri: Tenrikyo Overseas Department, pp. 144–146. (online version)
- To be specific, in 1866 Oyasama composed the first section of the Kagura Service — Ashiki harai (later modified to “Ashiki o harōte“) tasuke tamae, Tenri-Ō-no-Mikoto (Sweeping away evils, please save us, Tenri-O-no-Mikoto — and the Twelve Songs in 1867. ↩
- See p. 53 of The Life of Oyasama for a short description of this event. ↩
- Among the representative verses that pick up on this theological theme in the Ofudesaki are 6:67–68, 7:52–56, 8:7–9, 9:1–3, and 12:64–70. Refer to John Lewis’ Natural Return website for an online version of the Ofudesaki. ↩
- Takanori Sato sensei has confirmed 273 appearances of the terms “tennen“, “shizen“, “tennen-shizen“, and “shizen-tennen” in their various forms (either on their lonesome or with “no ri” or “no michi” added) in the Osashizu. He actually has several charts in his article, with some charts that actually showing the appearances of these terms by year as well!
He found that the form that appeared the most was “tennen” (117 examples or 42.9% of the total), followed by “tennen-shizen” (43 examples or 15.8%), and “tennen-shizen no michi” (27 examples or 10.3%). The form with the fewest examples was “shizen-tennen no michi” (two examples or 0.7%) followed by “shizen no ri” (seven examples or 2.6%). Three forms actually had no examples or appearances in the Osashizu at all: “shizen no michi,” (simply) “shizen-tennen,” and “shizen-tennen no ri.”
He has concluded that tennen, in all its forms represented 55.7% (152 examples) and tennen-shizen 33.7% (92 examples) of the total. See chart on p. 87 of Sato T. 2003 and accompanying explanation on pp. 86–88 for more information. ↩
- The two particular passages in question are from April 26, 1900 and May 3, 1900, which, as of this moment, have not been translated into English. ↩
- This is another Osashizu passage that does not yet have an English translation. ↩