27. Happy Day
On the morning of the tenth day of Oyasama’s visit to the Matsuo residence in July 1872, Ichibei and his wife went to Oyasama’s room to extend their greetings. Oyasama asked:
“Would you like to have God enshrined?”
Ichibei replied, “Yes, I would like to have God enshrined, but where would be the best place?”
Oyasama said, pointing Her finger to where the Buddhist altar was. It was so unexpected, like a bolt out of the blue, that Ichibei and his wife were speechless, thinking of their ancestors enshrined in the Buddhist altar. The couple exchanged glances and silently nodded their heads in approval. Ichibei asked, “Then where shall the Buddhist altar be moved?” Oyasama said:
“The ancestors will not be angry, nor will they oppose the move. Set it in a similar place in the other room.”
The other room was the old guest room. A carpenter was called at once to draw up plans for God’s altar in accordance with Oyasama’s directions. Preparations were made for the relocation of the Buddhist altar. The Buddhist priest was strongly opposed to their proposal, but they asked him to offer the prayer against his will. The relocation of the altar was completed that night without trouble. The following morning four carpenters came to build God’s altar.
“If you do not hurry you will not finish in time,”
Oyasama said to speed up the work. It was completed on the evening of the twelfth day of Her stay. The next morning, the couple went to Oyasama’s room to extend their greetings, but She was not there. When they went to the other room, they found Her sitting silently before the newly completed altar.
“You did well. This will be fine, this will be fine,”
Oyasama said, and then She went to the sickroom of their eldest son, Narazo, who was unable to move from his bed. As Oyasama sat beside him, She said:
“Your head must itch.”
She took Her own comb and began to comb Narazo’s hair slowly. Oyasama said as She returned to Her room:
“Today is a nice day, a happy day, because today God is to be enshrined,”
and She smiled happily. The couple was wondering how the enshrinement was going to be done when they heard someone at the front door. Haru went to greet the visitor and it was Shuji, Oyasama’s son. As soon as Shuji was escorted to Her room, Oyasama said:
“Arrangements for the enshrinement are complete, so please make the gohei, the sacred staff.”
When it was completed, Oyasama personally took the staff to the altar and offered Her prayers to sanctify it.
“God is going to be here also from today. How happy! This is truly wonderful,”
Oyasama said, overjoyed.
“I am returning home now,”
She said, and She returned to the Residence.
The Buddhist altar was completely removed from the home at a later date.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 21–23
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“Submitted by Matsuo Michihiro (Heian Daikyokai) in 1974.”
Although I have provided much background information relating to Anecdotes 27 previously in my discussion of Anecdotes 25, I will nonetheless go over once again that Ichibei and Haru Matsuo wished to receive Oyasama’s instructions concerning the illness of their eldest son Narazo.
According to Noriyoshi Matsuo sensei, a fifth-generation descendant of Ichibei and Haru, Ichibei especially doted on Narazo to the point Haru wished her husband would lavish his attention to his other children as well (2008). Narazo was devoted to academic learning to the point that he spent most his days in front of a desk. He expressed the desire to continue his studies in Osaka or Kyoto and have his younger brother take over the family occupation of farming.
In 1872, Narazo succumbed to tuberculosis. His condition worsened to the point where he became bedridden. According to Sato Koji sensei, “Narazo’s right leg had swollen to the point he was not able to move” (read the entire entry here).1
The Matsuos were initially denied the opportunity to have Oyasama help Narazo since the “senseis” who were at the Residence informed them that she was in the middle of a fast (which eventually would last 75 days). The Matsuos then returned to the Residence a second time to express the wish to somehow have Oyasama instruct them so that they could receive God’s blessing. When they were granted an audience with her, she told them, “Well, although I can’t say how things will turn out, I’ll go and pay a visit,” and traveled 18 kilometers to Higashiwakai Village on 7/2/1872 (lunar) and continued her fast throughout her stay.
On the second day of her stay, Narazo felt better and went to greet Oyasama in her room. She then asked him, “Narazo-san, what do you think is more important, your body or learning?”
Narazo answered, “The body [is more important]. But learning is also important.”
Oyasama then instructed him: “To give priority to the body is the first step in expressing your devotion to your parents (oya koko). Be sure to put your parent’s minds at ease.”
Oyasama went to Narazo’s room to comb his hair and instruct him further on the seventh, ninth, 12th, and 13th days of her stay.
Noriyoshi sensei then asserts that Ichibei and Haru must have resolved to entrust in God entirely and settled in their minds a faith exclusively devoted to Oyasama after they decided to wear cotton for the rest of their lives (as discussed last time regarding Anecdotes 26).
He writes that it was an unthinkable proposition to relocate one’s Buddhist altar since it was widely believed that one’s ancestors from successive generations protected the household. Yet Ichibei and Haru readily complied with Oyasama’s instructions to relocate their Buddhist altar after they accepted her offer to enshrine God in their home.
My take / research
In discussing Anecdotes 27, Koji Sato sensei notes the fact that Ichibei was not originally born a member of the Matsuo family (he was adopted through marriage) probably didn’t help and may have actually exacerbated matters concerning the relocation of the Buddhist altar. (When it came down to it, he was not related to the Matsuo family ancestors by blood.) Sato sensei also mentions the relationship between a household and its parish temple was a legally bound one with great social implications. (Refer to the link provided above or the one below to read more).
Relocating the Buddhist altar from the room “which served as the focal point of the house” was an act that reeks with symbolism, religious and otherwise. (I can almost hear academics who are inspired by what would probably be called Marxist literary theory jumping up and down. I can almost hear them say, “This is a clear example of Miki Nakayama extending her religious authority at the expense of the authority of the Buddhist clergy in Higashiwakai Village.”)
For a more Tenrikyo take, Noriyoshi sensei writes: “To have God enshrined in our home like Ichibei and Haru means to switch to a life in which we rely on God. By bowing to God in the morning and the evening in addition to living a life centered on God, we will certainly acquire a mindset and attitude that is wholly committed to God (Kami-ichijo) to the point that it becomes a part of us.
In other words, the day we have God enshrined in our home marks a critical juncture in life, when we change from a life exclusively devoted to human concerns into one that is wholly committed to God” (2008).
Noriyoshi sensei describes subsequent events as follows: Narazo recovered with the help of God’s wondrous protection during Oyasama’s 13-day stay. By the next year, he had become healthy enough that he began helping with farming. However, a cold aggravated his condition, causing him to pass away for rebirth on 7/15/1874.
He then reminds readers that when Oyasama left for Higashiwakai Village to save Narazo, she had said, “Well, although I can’t say how things will turn out, I’ll go and pay a visit,” which suggests that she may have ultimately known that Narazo would not be saved.
Noriyoshi sensei then offers his speculation that Oyasama had painstakingly instructed and guided them until they were wholly committed to God to the point they readily complied with Oyasama’s wish to relocate their Buddhist altar and put in one dedicated to God in its place. Narazo’s departure for rebirth must have broken their hearts. Yet this great knot spurned Ichibei and Haru to devote themselves even further and motivated them to visit the Residence more frequently.
In fact, Noriyoshi sensei describes that, when Oyasama told Ichibei and Gisaburo Nakata “Go to the Oyamato Shrine and ask about their deity” in 10/18742, Ichibei had debated with the shrine priests with such a fervor that Nakata pulled at his sleeve as a signal to show some restraint. Far from calming down, Ichibei took it a sign to dial up the intensity instead. (Granted, the episode may be representative of Ichibei’s scrappy nature as much as his level of devotion.)
Significance of Oyasama’s 1872 fast
I have previously noted how Oyasama’s fasts are regarded as her means to emphasize a particular set of religious truths within the specific contexts in which she abstained from eating particular foods.3
But before I offer my own personal insight on the ways this particular fast was significant, I would like to mention that Tatsuzo Yamochi sensei interprets the 1872 fast as an encouragement for ministers and followers to devote their utmost sincerity when they engage in salvation work.4
Yamochi sensei also considers the 1872 fast as significant for the fact that Oyasama’s daughter Haru Kajimoto passed away on 6/18, not long after she began it (and before she departed for Higashiwakai Village). He writes:
Oyasama underwent a fast lasting 75 days. One significance aspect of this fast is how She put Herself to the test and pushed Herself physically to the utmost limit before going out to do salvation work. Another significant development was that Her daughter Haru passed away for rebirth during this fast. Although I wish to discuss Haru’s passing in more detail below; I assume it was a terrible event in Her course of life. We can conclude that Oyasama underwent this fast with a strict attitude towards Her physical self because this was what She did in cases where She needed to correct misunderstandings that could potentially become serious issues in the future (pp. 240–241).
While I have already discussed the events leading up to Haru Kajimoto’s passing in some detail elsewhere5, Yamochi sensei appears to suggest that Oyasama’s fast places great emphasis on the importance of refraining from speaking any “cutting words” and “words of rejection,” the ultimate lesson that is associated with Haru Kajimoto’s untimely passing.
He writes: “[Haru’s passing] would later bring about misunderstanding in the eyes of those around Her. This is the reason why I believe Oyasama was so harsh on Her physical body with Her fast at this time” (ibid. p. 246).
Certainly, this in itself makes Oyasama’s fast from 1872 highly significant. Yet I feel the outcome of her visit to the Matsuos must also be taken into consideration as well. Oyasama’s seemingly offhand remark before leaving for Higashiwakai (“Well, although I can’t say how things will turn out, I’ll go and pay a visit”) suggests that she knew that Narazo Matsuo would not recover.
Nevertheless, she goes through the painstaking effort of instructing him and his parents in order to solidify their faith. It is somewhat noteworthy that Narazo seems to have passed away almost two years to the day Oyasama ended her stay. (Consider: Oyasama left for Higashiwakai Village on 7/2/1872 and stayed for 13 days. Narazo passes away on 7/15/1874. It’s too eerie to consider this a coincidence. A cynic would say the dates were fixed after the fact but I decide to accept the dates as they are given.)
Another important lesson I see Oyasama teaching in this instance which she continued a fast during her entire 13-day stay at the Matsuos is: even though she most likely already knew the outcome of Narazo’s fate (or precisely because she knew the outcome), she took the time to visit the Matsuos and instructed them with loving care.
Oyasama did not abandon Narazo’s illness as a lost cause but instead gave her utmost effort and took it as an opportunity to draw his parents closer to the path. Although Narazo was not blessed with a full recovery, the Tenrikyo concept of rebirth implies that he would be eventually reborn as a Matsuo family member in time and be provided another chance to devote himself to the Tenrikyo path.6
- Next installment in this series: 28. Clear the Path from the Bottom
*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.
- Matsuo, Noriyoshi. 2008. “Itsuwa no kokoro tazunete: gendai ni ikiru Oyasama no oshie 6.” Tenri jihō No. 4095 (September 7, 2008), p. 3.
- 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.
- Yamochi, Tatsuzo. 1984. Kōhon Tenrikyō Oyasama den nyūmon jikkō. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
- Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 25: Seventy-Five Days of Fasting
- Blogging Anecdotes of Oyasama 26: The Story of Linen, Silk, and Cotton
- Sato, Koji. Omichi no joshiki: A Mind Like Cotton
- Takano, Tomoji. Disciples of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo, pp. 33–36.
- I had previously wrote in an endnote a couple of posts ago that I wasn’t sure if the swelling of joints is associated with tuberculosis at all. Apparently, according to the entry on tuberculosis at Wikipedia, TB does not only affect the lungs but many other parts of the body as well. (I know, it’s a sign of laziness to depend on Wikipedia, but it’s so darn convenient!) ↩
- Described in The Life of Oyasama, pp. 86–88. ↩
- See my discussion on Anecdotes 25. ↩
- Here is an extensive quote from Yamochi sensei concerning the first of his interpretations of the 1872 fast:
At the start of the sixth lunar month of 1872, Oyasama fasted for 75 days. After about 30 days into this fast, She headed to the home of Ichibei Matsuo in Higashiwakai Village to engage in salvation work. This was described in the Ofudesaki as follows:
This time, I begin the single-hearted salvation after having tested it on Myself.
This verse is conveying that the establishment the path of single-hearted salvation was something that She did only after testing it Herself. The act of walking to Higashiwakai Village to engage in salvation work while conducting a fast for 75 days is a matter of life and death from a human perspective. Oyasama had undergone such a test that was a matter of life and death before going to save a person who was too ill even to drink water.
Wherever you may be, Tsukihi clearly sees your innermost heart. If your innermost heart accords with the mind of Tsukihi, I shall exert Myself in your favor forever.
As it is said in these verses, if one maintains the mind of sincerity even when hanging between life and death, God will provide free and unlimited protection. This has been tested by Oyasama Herself and shown in the Divine Model so that Her children can easily follow it (pp. 95–96).
- Discussed in my commentary on Anecdotes 6. I did, however, fail to mention that Haru Kajimoto’s passing took place when Oyasama was fasting, which I feel would place an even greater emphasis on a set of teachings that seem to have been largely overlooked in the Tenrikyo tradition so far. ↩
- Ultimately, a general Tenrikyo mode of interpretation would most likely attribute Narazo’s untimely passing to his inability to fully embrace Oyasama’s instruction to him — to place priority on his health and putting the minds of his parents at ease over continuing his studies. ↩