The following is a translation of an excerpt from “Survey on the History of “Moto no ri” (The Truth of Origin) Studies” by Teruo Nishiyama.
A quest for scientific and cultural interpretations
Now that the religious interpretation has been completed with the establishment of Chapter Three of The Doctrine of Tenrikyo, what task remains to be undertaken? I feel that there ought to be a quest in two directions: toward scientific and cultural interpretations. Such is what the current age is demanding.
Although I mention scientific interpretations, differences among them will come up according to the field of the person conducting the analysis and research. In the work Tenrikyo kyori no gendaiteki kaishaku (A modern interpretation of Tenrikyo doctrine) being that the author Takeo Teramachi 寺町武夫 comes from a background in physics and electricity, he interprets the Truth of Origin from a perspective grounded in physics and his work shows his position in giving the Truth of Origin a modern spin based on this field. Although there are problems with the work from a doctrinal standpoint, I will give a few details of his conclusions that deal with the Truth of Origin.
In Genesis, it is described that God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils (2:7). Although people of the modern age who are used to scientific knowledge and rational thought may tend to ridicule this as a fairy tale, when one considers that the body of human beings consists of matter found on earth, there is nothing strange about what this narrative describes. The problem lies in how the narrative presents that the first human Adam came in the form of homo sapiens at the time of creation. In contrast to this, the Truth of Origin describes there were beings called loaches in the beginning, and human beings matured into their present form after the passing of a long period of time. Mr. Teramachi presents the process of the Truth of Origin in the following manner:
To put it simply, from the beginning there was no need to create human beings. This world is a world of probability. Thus, there is nothing strange from a probabilistic perspective for God the Parent take loaches as seeds and have the resulting life forms develop into the physical forms which human beings presently take. God the Parent saw this development coming about beforehand. Thus Mr. Teramachi argues that creation, as described sequentially in the Truth of Origin, is correct even from a scientific perspective.
However, since World War II molecular biology and life sciences have developed in leaps and bounds and has reached a high level. After all, the position in the life sciences can explain the emergence of life and its evolution without God as creator and describes a completely different world with religion. Although it may be fine for science and religion to ignore the other, as long as religion places its fundamental propositions on the emergence of human beings, there is no way that religion can remain indifferent to the general rules and principles of the essentially nonreligious life sciences.
In Catholicism, a man named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gained high praise for piecing together a multidisciplinary work on scientific principles and the theological principles of Christianity. Is it not possible for such studies to be come about in Tenrikyo? I feel that there is a necessity in this age to think that the momentum to spread the Truth of Origin to the world will emerge from such studies. However, accumulating an immense amount of scientific knowledge would be indispensable, making such a task impossible for just anyone. In science, a single mistake in one’s words can be fatal to one’s work.
Although Toshio Yamamoto 山本利雄 was trained in medicine, he has shown a deep interest in the life sciences as well. We can see his work as an attempt at a multidisciplinary, medical and doctrinal interpretation centered on the Truth of Origin. However, I do not fully know at this point where he places the relationship between doctrine and medicine.
Dr. Yamamoto presents rigorous research in a pair of series in the periodical Yonomoto entitled “Moto hajimari no hanashi no seimei kagaku-teki igi” (The significance of the Story of Creation from a life sciences perspective) and “Moto hajimari no hanashi no bunmeiron-teki igi” (The significance of the Story of Creation from the perspective of civilization) among other efforts. I will give a taste of what he has written:
“The Koki presents the grand intention behind life, the reason why human beings were created, and the way of life that gives true fulfillment. Thus this creation story can be said to have a life sciences side detailing the origin and advancement of life and a cultural-historical side that lays the foundation of human civilization.”
If we are to consider an interpretation from a bio-scientific side then what does the ‘fish’ (uo) ‘serpent’ (mi) that appears in the Truth of Origin actually represent? Dr. Yamamoto claims that from a life science perspective, they “refer to the emergence of cells that contain the built-in potential for qualitative evolution into human beings.”
Dr. Yamamoto’s strategy is to compare and identify the vocabulary of the Truth of Origin with the terminology of the life sciences. While he makes some interesting cultural interpretations, I will refrain from saying anything more. Yet one thing he happens to note is that in Genesis, humanity begins with Adam a single individual while in the Truth of Origin humanity begins from a collective group—loaches in the muddy ocean. We can consider that there is much future potential of the view that this will prove to be an important factor that determines the character of the future of human civilization.
The studies of Masao Higaki 桧垣正夫 also fall in to a similar style of interpretation. According to what I have heard, he is from Matsuyama City in Shikoku and is in the printing business. Although it seems that he has not received a formal education in the natural sciences, he has long studied the Truth of Origin with knowledge in evolution and genetics. Higaki understands the ‘loaches,’ ‘fish,’ and ‘serpent’ as they appear in the Truth of Origin as DNA or chromosomes. He has appraised the Truth of Origin as Oyasama’s early prediction of the discovery of the laws of genetics.
There has long been the thinking that there is truth to the Truth of the Origin because it matches with evolution. The interpretation of loaches as referring to cells has already existed since the Taisho period. This way of thinking is an attempt to support religious truths with the findings of science, but is this a good way of doing things? Science, after all offers hypotheses, with evolution being most representative of this. Although it may seem to have clear authority, the fact remains there is very little that actually proves this as fact.1 Unless this is firmly planted in mind, I feel that this will bring about confusion that is not favorable to religion. Although one can be convinced by Higaki’s studies that the Truth of Origin can be understood at the level of DNA, there remains a suspicion whether this is the only way the Truth of Origin is supposed to be understood.
What remains to be done are interpretations of the Truth of Origin from cultural or cultural-historical perspective. I feel there are two ways to do this, one is to look to the past and the other is to look toward the future. The former is to look the patterns of civilizations in the past and see them being reflected in the Truth of Origin. One can consider the studies of Kurauchi as falling into this category. The latter is a standpoint that seeks to advance the principles concealed within the Truth of Origin toward a theory of civilization. One would conclude such studies have rarely been done. There is the opinion that Akio Inoue is attempting to move toward this direction in his works on comparative culture studies of the Truth of Origin (Nanboku Afurika tsushin or South and north Africa correspondence) and missionary work in other cultures described Sekai shukyo e no michi.
Finally there is Tenrikyo shoshi (A short history of Tenrikyo) by Tomoji Takano 高野友治. This is an essay that attempts to build a starting point for the history of humanity from the point in time when God the Parent created human beings. According to the Truth of Origin, God the Parent created the world and humankind in order to see us human beings live the Joyous Life and share in this joy. One can call this a history of the Joyous Life, a view of history that considers the Joyous Life as the one and only theme that has motivated humanity since our origins. Hegel’s absolute spirit and Ranke’s ウェールズ・イリン may come to mind. Yet while Takano’s ideas may be grand, he presents little/scant tangible support and we must consider that this study has just begun. It nevertheless is an example of a cultural interpretation.
Steps to present “The Truth of Origin” to the world
I presented the prediction that from now on scientific and cultural interpretations will develop. This is because as world civilizations, scholarship, and knowledge progress, interpretations on the Truth of Origin cannot help but progress in response. This is what the age demands. In can in turn say that in order to present the Truth of Origin to the world, one must study fields of scholarship deeply and widely.
In other doctrinal fields, in most cases knowledge on Tenrikyo or religious understanding should prove to be sufficient. Comparative studies on other religions are not necessary or indispensable. However, when it comes to studies on the Truth of Origin, such a stance is insufficient. To rephrase this in another way, even if other fields prove to be exclusive (closed), there is a necessity for the Truth of Origin to be open (inclusive). The Truth of Origin is a world of potential where the fruits of all civilization and scholarship to flow into, and there must be a preparedness for these studies to lead to a hundred flowers blooming and a hundred schools of thought to contend with one another.
There is a verse in the Mikagura-uta that says, “When you go into the mountains, Take with you the wood master!” Although the word for “wood master,” arakitoryo, has been traditionally interpreted as referring to members of the Tenrikyo Young Men’s Association to be “pioneers of the path” that spread the name of God in places that are yet to hear it. But according to my arbitrary take on the meaning of this verse, scholars who make efforts to explore the mysteries that remain on the frontiers of all fields of study. We are not such scholars and cannot hope to become as such. However, for the Truth of Origin to be presented to the world, we only have to take these scholars with us. To put this in another way, I believe that God the Parent is hoping that Tenrikyo members with a progressive mindset can tie-up their efforts with world-renown scholars.
We have been told that when followers around Oyasama put their utmost efforts in writing—a task that they were not used to—and submitted them to Her, She did not give approval to any of them. It is then safe to say that if we were to aspire to study the Truth of Origin and submit the fruit of our efforts to the everliving Oyasama, She would probably not give Her approval to us as well. Yet we must agree that what the present age demands from us is the stance that we must take upon this task of advancing these studies as our own responsibility. The words of Oyasama telling us to “Compile a divine record,” echoes in my ears.
- Translator’s note: I don’t know if I like what Nishiyama is implying here… what about the accumulation of data from all subfields of science? ↩