26. The Story of Linen, Silk and Cotton
In 1872, while staying at the house of Matsuo, Oyasama said to the couple, Ichibei and Haru, when they came to greet Her one morning:
“Both of you always wear formal clothes when you come to see Me. From now on just wear your everyday clothes. Would it not be more comfortable for you?”
When the two bowed their heads in appreciation, She taught them the following:
“Today I will tell you the story of linen, silk and cotton.
“The linen lets the breeze go through freely and does not stick to the skin. Therefore, there is nothing cooler or better to wear in the summer. However, it is too cold to wear in the winter. It is just for the summer. After being worn for about three years, it begins to discolor. If it becomes completely discolored, it is worthless. Even when it is dyed into a darker shade, the color is uneven. When it reaches this stage, it is as useless as waste paper.
“Silk, whether made into a formal coat or a kimono, is elegant. It is something everybody wants even though it is very expensive. However, do not become a person like silk. It is nice while it is new, but when it gets a little old nothing can be done with it.
“Now, when it comes to cotton, it is ordinary but is used by everyone. There is nothing that is so handy nor so widely used as cotton. It keeps us warm in the winter and it absorbs our perspiration in the summer. When it becomes dirty, it can be washed over and over again. When its color fades and it becomes so old that it cannot be worn any more, it can be used as a diaper or as a cleaning rag or even as sandals. To be useful until its original form no longer remains: this is cotton. God desires man to have a mind like cotton.”
It is said that thereafter Ichibei and his wife carved the word “cotton” in their minds and wore nothing but cotton throughout their lives.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 20–21
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“[Based on] the oral account of Haru Matsuo and notes from Shintaro Matsuo in 1974.
My take / research
I have already provided supplemental info last time concerning the Matsuos, the events that led them to embrace the Tenrikyo faith, and those leading to Oyasama’s visit to their home in my discussion of Anecdotes 25. The events described in Anecdotes 26 also occurs during this visit.
Thus, I will solely focus on the content this time around, largely referring to insights presented by theologian Hideo Nakajima sensei.
Oyasama gives a fairly straightforward instruction comparing various types of cloth and teaches that a person whose mind is similar to cotton is closest to God’s ideal. Nakajima sensei offers that to be “like cotton” is be a person who is always devoted to doing something for others (p. 136).1
Nakajima sensei also offers that because disposable diapers have become more prevalent in modern societies, it is an uncommon sight to see mothers hanging cotton diapers to dry. In the cities in particular, Oyasama’s teaching may not have the impact as it once had since one would have to go to a folk museum to see the kinds of sandals that are referred to in Anecdotes 26.
Nevertheless, he relates that while linen is especially comfortable to wear in the summer, it cannot be said to be a suitable material for all seasons. Further, when its color fades, it loses its value as a piece of clothing (p. 137).
Silk is a light (in terms of weight), beautiful, lustrous, and elegant material. Yet its elegant properties require it to be handled and washed with utmost care. Thus, it tends to be saved for formal occasions. Oyasama warns in her instruction not to become a person like silk. Nakajima sensei feels that this is Oyasama’s warning against obsessing over outward adornments or over a prim and proper but hollow beauty (p. 138).
In contrast to linen and silk, Oyasama explains that “God desires man to have a mind like cotton.” It is a material that is comfortable to wear for everyone. It is a material for all seasons and occasions. It is possible to wash it repeatedly as much times as it is needed. Even when it is bleached, it has an unique beauty of its own.
Nakajima sensei expresses the sentiment this may be attributed to an inner depth of cotton. Its applications are manifold, and Oyasama mentions that “There is nothing is so handy nor so widely used as cotton.” Nakajima sensei writes that cotton rags are the best one can find under the sun and one would only think of using rags made from linen and silk as a last resort.
That cotton is “a material for all seasons and occasions” makes it a symbol for functionality, durability, flexibility, adaptability, applicability, usefulness, and relevancy. This brings to mind the jack-of-all trades talents of some Tenrikyo senseis and ministers. While Tenrikyo ministers tend not be very articulate or theologically sophisticated, many of them have rudimentary skills in carpentry, preparing food, and other areas of practical expertise.
It is enough to make someone blogging about an obscure set of stories from an obscure religious tradition from an obscure island archipelago in East Asia feel woefully inadequate. (I kid! Everything but the feeling woefully inadequate part. This in turn makes me wonder what material my spiritual state could be compared to. Certainly not a piece of cotton! Maybe a worn out piece of rayon or nylon stockings.)
Nakajima sensei doesn’t offer his insight on Oyasama’s words that say cotton is “useful until its original form no longer remains.” Yet I would like to think that this instruction is quite important. While I have given an environmentally-conscious spin on these words of Oyasama elsewhere, I believe its main thrust is an encouragement to be of service to God and others from cradle to grave. Or, to say it a more Tenrikyo-like manner, to dedicate oneself to “the path of single-hearted salvation” within the duration God is lending the body to us.
It is a tall order for someone like myself who would like to do nothing more right now than to have a toasted bagel while window shopping at Amazon.com or surfing on YouTube. (I kid! Everything but the toasted bagel part.)
- Next installment in this series: 27. Happy Day
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Nakajima, Hideo. 2003. “Kokoro shinkō: 26 ‘Asa to kinu to momen no hanashi’.” In Itsuwa-hen ni manabu iki-kata. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, pp. 135–142.
- Tenrikyo Church Headquarters. 1976. Anecdotes of Oyasama, the Foundress of Tenrikyo. Tenri: Tenrikyo Church Headquarters.
- Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō Oyasama (kyōso?) no oshie. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 25: Seventy-Five Days of Fasting
- Sato, Koji. Omichi no joshiki: A Mind Like Cotton
- Takano, Tomoji. Disciples of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo, pp. 33–36.
- A Tenrikyo Doyusha publication entitled Ikiru kotoba (Living words) offers a similar sentiment:
“Linen and silk each have their good qualities. Although cotton may be ordinary compared to these two materials, Oyasama said: ‘There is nothing that is so handy nor so widely used as cotton…. When its color fades and it becomes so old that it cannot be worn any more, it can be used as a diaper or as a cleaning rag.’