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. 21–5. 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 Three.
Falling to the depths of poverty
[Oyasama] first urged the family that they should embrace poverty. [Oyasama] not only taught the family the need of poverty, but She Herself set an example by giving away Her dowry which She had brought to the family when She married, food, and then the clothes of family members.
When we part with things and wipe out our worldly desires, we shall have our minds enlightened, and then the path to the [Joyous Life] will be opened. But this was not all [Oyasama] urged; She went so far as to urge the family to sell the main house.
However, when it came to this point, relatives and friends felt they could not stand by. Paying frequent visits to the house, they trier best to dissuade Zenbei saying that only a fool would listen to his wife when it came to selling the main house, just because She wanted him to do so, and that if he did it, they would have nothing to do with him.
Reflecting upon what they said, Zenbei felt they were reasonable indeed. His wife might have been possessed by some spirit or gone out of Her mind. If the former, the devil must be driven away, and if the latter, She must be brought to Herself. So making up his mind, Zenbei dressed [Oyasama] in a white robe and himself similarly. Then he drew a sword and together with Her brother began to censure [Oyasama]. He said: “It is good to give to charity within our means, but I don’t know what excuse to make to our ancestors for your thoughtless demand. Further I am ashamed to show my face in public. You should think of the future for our children.” So he admonished Her repeatedly.
Then the voice of God the Parent followed, “It is not unreasonable for you to be frightened. But now is the time when I have come to save the world. So I ask you now to pass through the depth of the valley—it is not endless.”
Zenbei was of a kindly nature, and besides, he had already given his word so he accepted the words of God the Parent, and the matter was settled peaceably.
But for the Nakayama family, things came to a serious pass, and [Oyasama] also found Herself, as a wife and mother in a very difficult situation. Nevertheless, preaching the will the God the Parent since the arrival of the preordained time as the Shrine of God, and passing through the life of faith full of hardships, She opened the way for all people of the world toward salvation. Often She felt an impulse to throw Herself into a pond or a well, but at the last moment Her body would become rigid and unable to complete the action. “Don’t commit a rash act. Don’t act on impulse,” the voice of God the Parent would say to Her and after a moment She would find Herself able to move and back away.
In this way [Oyasama] went through hardships for as long as 15 years. Fifteen years after the opening of the way of faith, on 2/22, in the sixth year of Kaei (1853), Her husband passed away at the age of 66, [Oyasama] being then 56.
In the midst of this grief, the youngest daughter Kokan, nevertheless, followed the word of God the Parent, and at the age of 17, she went to Osaka to promulgate the holy name of Tenri-Ō-no-Mikoto to the world. She went on foot to Osaka accompanied by several attendants, and taking up lodgings in an inn near the Dotonbori Street, she proclaimed the holy name of God the Parent, chanting, “Namu Tenri-Ō-no-Mikoto” in the crowded streets, while beating wooden clappers. This was the first promulgation of Tenrikyo to the world.
Soon after the main house of the Nakayama family found a buyer from a village to the north. While the house was being torn down [Oyasama] served the helpers sake and some foods, saying, “Now I shall begin to build a new world. Celebrate the occasion with Me!”1
The helpers were all deeply impressed with Her cheerful attitude and said, “Everyone feels sad when one takes down one’s house for selling. We have never seen or heard of cheerfulness at such a time like this.”
At the depths of poverty
The following 10 years were the hardest and most troublesome period in [Oyasama’s] life of faith. Sometimes She had no grain of rice to boil. On one of those occasions, Kokan said, “Mother, we have no rice.”
To this [Oyasama] replied, “In this world there are those who are suffering, unable to eat or even swallow water despite food piled high at their bedsides. If we think of them, how blessed we are, for when we drink water, it tastes of water. God the Parent has blessed us with exquisite gifts.”2
In such miserable straits She lived vigorously and cheerfully. Sometimes [Oyasama] and Kokan spun cotton into yarn and made clothes to earn a living. Her son Shuji used to help in the spinning, and sometimes gathered firewood from the near-by mountains or carried about vegetables on his shoulder to sell in the neighboring villages. Through in such straits, when She saw a beggar She would give him the small quantity of rice which She had acquired with great difficulty and when She saw a woman shivering in the cold, She would take off Her short coat and give it to Her.
The Grant of Safe Childbirth
While She was passing through the narrow path of faithful life with such brightness of mind, filled with the parental affection for mankind, She began to become known as the god of safe childbirth. As it was stated in the Ofudesaki, Obiya (the grant of safe childbirth) and hōso (the smallpox healing) were the opening of [manifold forms of] salvation.
It began with the safe delivery granted to Her third daughter Haru, when she returned to stay with [Oyasama] to give birth to her first baby. Among the villagers, a woman named Yuki Shimizu was the first to be given the grace.
- Old translation: “I want to set about My task of constructing a new world. I wish you to celebrate My enterprise with Me.” ↩
- Old translation: “In this world there are many unhappy persons who cannot eat so much as a mouthful of food from the delicacies piled by their sick-beds, or even force a drop of water down their throats. Only think of these persons and you will find that we are indeed fortunate, for when we drink water, we can enjoy it. God the Parent has given us His bountiful gift.” ↩