22. Writing the Ofudesaki
“You know there is the Fudesaki. What do you think of it? The seventeen parts of the Fudesaki were not completed in a short while. God spoke into my ears, saying, ‘Do not look at any writings, even the charge book from a bean curd shop.’ I wondered why. Then God said, ‘Brush, brush, take up the brush.’ I took the brush up for the first time at New Year’s when I became seventy-two years old. And when I took the brush up, My hand moved by itself. From heaven, God did it. After what was to be done was finished, My hand became numb and it could not be moved. God said, ‘Calm Your mind, and read this. If You find something You cannot understand, ask Me.’ I added brush strokes when I found something I could not understand. That is the Fudesaki.”
These were the words Oyasama told to Shirobei Umetani in Her later years.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, p. 16
Update (June 17, 2009): A tidbit of info I meant to add but forgot to in my haste to put this online. I assume not everyone out there readily knows what “bean curd” is. I think it is more readily known now as “tofu.” (I mean, we’re talking about 6.7 million hits vs. 895,000 on Google here.)
My take / research
Anecdotes 22 is such a straightforward description of events that I question my ability to add commentary of any value here. Nevertheless, it might be worthy to mention that the title “(O)fudesaki” apparently comes from a verse within the Tenrikyo Scripture itself and is also mentioned in the Osashizu.1
One particularly frequently quoted Osashizu passage goes as follows:
Until now, about everything, I taught by word of mouth. But you forget. Because you forget, I have informed you with the tip of My writing brush. The tip of the writing brush may seem light but it is weighty. You must not take it lightly. It is the basis of My teachings. It will not do to misinterpret it…. Concerning the truth I have taught you until now, the kana syllabary may feel soft, yet it conveys key teachings. The spoken word is easily forgotten. The written word is unlikely to be forgotten.
Osashizu, August 23, 1904
The above passage is often brought up since it has many key phrases.
To paraphrase: Although Oyasama taught the teachings through word of mouth, God had her set them in writing as well since people tended to forget what was taught. The Ofudesaki is also the “basis” of God’s/Oyasama’s teachings. The passage then touches upon how the Ofudesaki is written in the “kana syllabary,” overwhelmingly in hiragana, which was long considered a form of writing mainly used by women. Followers were thus warned about taking the content of the Ofudesaki lightly because serious and intellectual writing were largely written in kanji through Japanese history, not kana.
I would also like to mention that “Ofudesaki” also happens to be the title of a text written by Nao Deguchi, one of the “co-founders” of Oomoto, another New Religion that emerged in Japan. Nao Deguchi’s Ofudesaki is similar to Oyasama’s in that it is a text produced by “automatic writing,” i.e., the authorship of the text is ultimately not attributed to the person who physically wrote it but instead credited to an outside force.
In Oyasama’s case, the authorship of the Ofudesaki is attributed to Tenri-O-no-Mikoto (referred to in the Scripture itself as “Kami” (God/divinity), “Tsukihi” (Moon-Sun), and “Oya” (Parent)).
The author of Nao’s Ofudesaki is identified as a divinity by the name of Ushitora-no-Konjin. (Interestingly, this is the deity worshiped by the New Religion Konkokyo. It must be carefully noted, however, the tradition refers to their deity as “Tenchi Kane No Kami.”)
While biographies note that Miki Nakayama did learn writing as a child, Oomoto followers up the “automatic writing” ante somewhat by claiming that Nao was illiterate. (In some cases, her text was not written by brush, but by a nail on the walls of her home.)
The Life of Oyasama also describes the writing of the Ofudesaki as follows:
In consideration for us human beings who are apt to forget what we hear and so that the will of God the Parent would be available for us in its exact form for all time, Oyasama recorded it with Her brush. That Oyasama wrote in verse was also due to the deep parental love, so that anyone might find the divine will familiar, easily memorized, and easily acceptable.
According to sources from that time, whenever God the Parent urged,
“Brush, brush. Take up the brush,”
Oyasama took Her brush in hand and the brush sped on, during the daylight hours of course, and even in the dark of night, abruptly stopping when the revelation of God the Parent ended.
Finally, I offer a short history of the Ofudesaki as a sacred text. Oyasama began writing the Scripture in 1869, suspended it between 1870 and 1873, resumed writing in 1874, and completed its 17th and final “Part” in 1882.2
The Tenrikyo jiten mentions that Oyasama encouraged everyone who visited her to read and copy it (p. 132). However, in 1883, the first Shinbashira, Shinnosuke Nakayama, lied to police that it had been burned so he could protect it from being subject to their examination. This led the Ofudesaki to become a “hidden” text and Tenrikyo leadership (not Oyasama) officially claimed that it did not exist until it was finally published in 1928 accompanied with commentary notes. The Ofudesaki later became one of several texts that the military government ordered Tenrikyo Church Headquarters to recall in the 1930s. The Ofudesaki would not be publicly available until the end of WWII.
Finally, before I end this post, I offer some commentary to “Sawa’s note,” which I have presented a translation of in most posts in this series until now but chose not to do so this time. He mentions that there are 10 places where Oyasama “added brush strokes” to exterior volumes and encourages readers to do the same. I assume he’s referring to the “unnumbered” verses that Oyasama wrote in the exterior volumes — volumes of the Ofudesaki she gave to a number of followers in addition to the “original volume” that was kept at the Residence (the Ofudesaki we have now is, naturally based on this original volume) — but I’m not completely sure. He frustratingly doesn’t divulge any more information than this.
Until reading “Sawa’s note,” I presumed that the “added brush strokes” meant that Oyasama had actually added her own commentary to the Ofudesaki verses that are attributed to God, but this does seem to undermine the theological claim that Oyasama’s mind (kokoro) was that of God’s.
Nevertheless, if you think about it, Anecdotes 22 as a whole does suggest that Oyasama had some form of consciousness autonomous from God’s. The whole theological claim may actually depend on what “kokoro” eventually refers to: does it consciousness itself or a single, specific desire or thought? I wonder.
In any case, since I brought up the subject of unnumbered verses, I present the ones that I happen to know; the original Japanese verses in addition to English translations. (I know of only seven, not ten.)
Ofudesaki, unnumbered set （おふでさき号外）
The seeds of your sincere devotion sown day after day, I have certainly accepted.
The seed which God truly accepts will never decay through all eternity.
When these seeds sprout in the course of time, it will be the talk of all ages to come.
Kohon Tenrikyo Oyasama den, p. 120–121; The Life of Oyasama, p. 91.
(Ofudesaki, unnumbered set from Nagao family copy)
Though a shelter was built to block the wind, it is not secure. Quickly make arrangements it so it will be tight and secure.
Ponder the place where you will live for eternity. Resolve your mind and quickly settle.
Once you have settled, you will no longer be wanting for clothing or food, and the child will be quickly returned to you.
Once the child is returned to you this time, he will become the master carpenter of the nation.
Shinpan Iburi Izo den, pp. 52–53.
- Next installment in this series: 23. Saving from Tachiyamai Disease
Update: I have since realized that “added brush strokes” could mean that Oyasama added to exterior volumes in ten places an extra kana syllable that were omitted from the original volume kept at the Residence. According to A Glossary of Tenrikyo Terms, there are 14 verses found in exterior volumes not found in the original, not ten.
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, ed. 1997. Kaitei Tenrikyō jiten. 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.
- The Life of Oyasama, pp. 77; 124–169; 182–185.
- Fukaya Yoshikazu. 2009. “The Ofudesaki, The Tip of the Writing Brush” In Words of the Path: A Guide to Tenrikyo Terms and Expressions, pp. 23–24. (Translation of Omichi no kotoba, pp. 53–55.
- Groszos-Ooms, Emily. 1993. Women and Millenarian Protest in Meiji Japan: Deguchi Nao and Ōmotokyō. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University.
- To quote the verse in question:
I shall press, though not by force or word of mouth. I shall press by the tip of My writing brush (fudesaki).
To break up the title “Ofudesaki” into its most basic components: “O” is an honorific that reflects the reverence Tenrikyo adherents have for this Scripture; “fude” means (writing) brush; and “saki” means “tip.” (Thus giving us the English title, “The Tip of the Writing Brush.”)
Here are other appearances of “fudesaki” or “fude” in Scripture:
Whatever I may say or write by the tip of My brush (fudesaki), it is none other than directions from the mind of Tsukihi.
The truth recorded by My writing brush (fude): lo, it is seen! Your minds will be spirited.
What do you think this talk is about? If only the tip of My writing brush (fude no saki) begins to be seen…
If there be a path you do not understand, look and you will understand. All will appear as told in the Fudesaki. You wonder how the path will be and when it will be seen. All this is told in the Fudesaki.
Osashizu, June 24, 1887
Listen carefully. Anything whatsoever is the persuasion of God. In the Fudesaki, as well, I have already informed you of everything. You read it but do not understand.
Osashizu, May 7, 1889
During My physical presence, I entrusted someone with each and every matter. This is shown with the tip of My writing brush.
Osashizu, January 13, 1893
For a long time, over the years, I have instructed you. I have instructed you in the Fudesaki. There is not a single thing that is not covered by it…. I have told you that there would be a grave incident. There will be such days. Since you forget what you hear, I have instructed you in detail in the Fudesaki. There is not a single lie.
Osashizu, February 25, 1904
- Here is a timeline of the writing of the Ofudesaki’s parts by year:
- 1869 (Meiji 2): Parts 1–2
- 1874 (Meiji 7): Parts 3–6
- 1875 (Meiji 8): Parts 7–11
- 1876 (Meiji 9): Part 12
- 1877 (Meiji 10): Part 13
- 1879 (Meiji 12): Part 14
- 1880 (Meiji 13): Part 15
- 1881 (Meiji 14): Part 16
- 1882 (Meiji 15): Part 17