The following is an excerpt of “The Life of the Foundress” by Yoshinaru Ueda as it appears in Tenrikyo: Its History and Teachings (1966), pp. 18–21. Note that this excerpt has been slightly revised to reflect current translation styles.
The content below more or less corresponds what appears in The Life of Oyasama, Chapter Two.
[Oyasama, Miki Nakayama] the Foundress was born on lunar 4/18 in the tenth year of Kansei (June 2, 1798) at Sanmaiden, Yamabe County, Yamato Province. Her father was Masanobu Hanshichi Maegawa, and Her mother was Kinu.
As a child She was of a tender and kindly nature. When She was only 7, if She came upon a neighbor’s child crying, She would give the child all the sweets given Her by Her parents, and rejoiced to see it stop crying. When She was 8 or 9 years old, She would often call together the neighboring children younger than Herself on day when their parents were busy harvesting rice in autumn or barley in the spring and look after them so that their parents could devote themselves to the harvest. All the neighbors knew of Her act and were grateful to Her.
[Miki] attended the near-by temple school1 for three years from 9 to 11, and received the normal education of those days in reading and writing. Sewing She learned from Her mother, sitting beside her, and soon She became quite proficient at it. She was also talented in handiwork. Moreover She learned weaving unnoticed, and when She was 12 or 13 years old, She was exceptionally skillful.
When [Miki] was 13, it was arranged for Her to marry Zenbei Nakayama of Shoyashiki Village. After Her marriage, She was meek and faithful toward Her husband as well as tender and dutiful to Her parents-in-law, and applied Herself diligently to the household duties so as to me looked upon as an exemplary woman who exercised the three so called moral virtues of early rising, honesty, and [hard work]. Her parents-in-law were so satisfied with Her good nature that they left everything in Her hands when She was 16 years old.
When She was 24, the eldest Shuji was born, and soon after the first daughter Masa and the second daughter Yasu. She would weave all day long carrying Her baby on Her back. Occasionally She would weave a roll of cotton cloth with splashed patterns in a day. For most, this took two days to weave, but She was able to complete the work in one day.
She worked hard not only in doing such household chores as cooking, washing, and sewing, but also in the fields She did every kind of labor. As we are told in Her later reminiscences:
“In My childhood, I was not very healthy, but I came to do all sorts of farm work. The only exceptions were the plowing of rice fields and the digging of ditches. In all other work, I did twice as much as anyone else.”2
Since Her husband Zenbei was also of a kindly nature, She lived quite happily with him, and there are a number of anecdotes in which they gave helping hands to the poor.
Anecdotes displaying Her compassion
On one occasion, a thief sneaked into the storehouse and tried to steal a bag of rice. The servants discovered and seized him and were going to take him to the police station. She was awakened by the commotion and hurried to the scene. She released the thief, explaining to them that he must have been forced to steal by poverty, and that therefore he was to be pitied. She gave him some rice, forgiving him but admonishing him for his misdeed.
On another occasion, during the busy autumnal harvesting season an idle fellow was engaged as one the farm workers. As he did not work hard no one associated with him, but [Miki] treated him with kindness, appreciation and consistent affection, so that he eventually he reformed and became a diligent worker.
At another time during the busy harvest season, around sunset a woman beggar asked for alms at the door, carrying a baby on her back. [Miki] warmed some rice gruel and gave it to her and even offered Her clothing. Calling her back as she was about to go [Miki] said, “I have made a gift to the parent, but to baby on her back I have given nothing. How hungry it must be!”3 and so saying She took the baby to Her breast to nurse.
Saving a neighbor’s child
When She was about 31 years old, and a mother of three children, She heard that one of the neighbor’s children was suffering from lack of milk. [Miki], after each childbirth, had plenty of milk and She would often offer Her milk to any child in the neighborhood who was suffering from its lack. The child was the last of six brothers; his five other brothers all having died during infancy. Since he was the child of one of Her husband’s friends She took the child in as if it were Her own. However the child was seized with smallpox. She called the doctor and devoted Herself to nursing the sick child.
In 11 days, however, the disease proved to be black smallpox. Such a case was then regarded as incurable and the doctor was of the opinion that there was no hope of recovery. But She could not bear to have the child die under Her care, so She went barefooted every day for one hundred days to the near-by shrine to offer a prayer to all the gods of heaven and earth with a vow:
“Pray save the life of the child who is hopelessly ill with black smallpox and whom I have been caring for. Instead I am prepared, if it is the divine will, to sacrifice my two daughters, leaving behind the son as the heir of my family. And if that is not enough then I will willingly sacrifice my life for the granting of my prayer.”
This whole-hearted prayer made in full sincerity was heard. The next day, the child began to recover and soon was cured completely. Indeed it was a miracle. However, Her daughter Yasu who had been offered as a sacrifice in place of the child, passed away, when she was 4 years old. Later a third daughter Haru and a fourth daughter Tsune were born, but three years afterwards the latter also passed away.
According to the revelation of God the Parent later given through the lips of [Oyasama], [God’s] intention in taking away Her daughters was that it would be too great a blow to Her if [God] took away two of Her daughters at the same time; so [God] first took away the youngest daughter and, making her soul reborn, took her away again when she reached the age of 3.
While in this way [Miki] was leading a life of helping others, the preordained time, the time God the Parent had promised, revealing the ultimate teachings for saving the world, to bring it to [the Joyous Life], drew gradually near. And eventually on the morning of lunar 10/26, in the ninth year of Tenpo (1838), Miki Nakayama, in accordance with the revelation spoken through Her lips, became the Shrine of God the Parent.