104. Faith in God
In the middle of September, 1882, fifteen-year-old Yonetaro, the first son of Denjiro Tomita, then forty-three years old, was in critical condition from a recurrence of stomach ailment. The elder followers in Wadasaki Town sincerely prayed for his recovery. Within three days, he was wondrously saved. In gratitude, Denjiro returned to Jiba for the first time, accompanied by his mother, Jun Fujimura, who was seventy-six years old.
When Denjiro was led by an intermediary to have an audience with Oyasama, She asked him:
“Where did you come from?”
“I came from Hyogo,” he answered. Then Oyasama continued:
“You did? Hyogo is such a faraway place, I am happy that you have come.”
Further, she asked:
“What is your occupation?”
“I am a konnyaku* seller,” answered Denjiro.
Then Oyasama said:
“You are a konnyaku seller, then you are a merchant, aren’t you? A merchant must buy dearly and sell cheaply.”
She further instructed:
“Faith in God is to believe in God just as you do in your own parent who gave you birth. Then your faith will become genuine.”
Denjiro did not understand what was meant by “to buy dearly and sell cheaply.” It seemed to him that he would suffer losses and could not help but go bankrupt if he ever followed Her words. Therefore he asked one of the seniors at the Residence, who explained as follows. “When one lays in a stock of goods from wholesale dealers, one should buy somewhat more dearly than others to avoid risk of their going bankrupt or having some other trouble; when one sells goods one should sell somewhat cheaper than others, making only a small profit; then, one’s wholesale dealers will prosper and one’s customers will be happy; one’s shop will also prosper. This is the principle of mutual prosperity with no suffering of losses in return.” Now Denjiro understood.
On the same occasion, She granted him sacred paper** and sacred powder of roasted grain. He gave these to his mother, Jun Fujimura, who brought them home to the town of Miki. By virtue of these grants, marvelous healings occurred one after another, and the teachings spread all over Banshu Province thereafter.
* Konnyaku: a gelatin-like food made from the root of a certain plant.
** Iki-no-kami: literally, ‘paper of breath;’ paper which has been made sacred through the breath of Oyasama.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 87–88
Translation of “Sawa’s note”
“Denjiro Tomita was the second minister of Heishin Daikyokai. He was born in 1840 in the Fujimura household of Miki City, Hyogo Prefecture. Denjiro’s older brother, Kiyomatsu Fujimura, was the first director of Miki Shinmei-ko Confraternity (currently Miki Bunkyokai, an affiliate of Heishin. Miki Shinmei-ko paved the way for the later establishment of Yashiro, Kanzaki, and Uni grand churches.”
Insight from Kaneko Akira sensei 1: “Buy dearly, sell cheaply”1
It is possible to interpret the central message of Oyasama’s instruction “Buy dearly, sell cheaply” in several ways.
First, her words may be a reflection of the practical wisdom that “You get what you pay for” — that there is a reason why an item is expensive or not. An inexpensive item may not be as durable as an expensive equivalent and end up costing us more down the road. An expensive item may therefore be a more prudent buy and a better deal in the long run.
Second, these words certainly come away as a kind of ethical code on which one can operate a business. Ichiro Tsuneoka, the fifth minister of Chinzei Daikyokai, once presented his disciple Shigeharu Komai, the second president of Duskin Co. Ltd., with a piece of calligraphy that read: “If you buy dearly, goods gather around you. If you sell cheaply, people gather around you.” President Komai would later realize that Rev. Tsuneoka’s writing was based upon Oyasama’s words.
In Anecdotes 104, it is described that someone needed to explain to Denjiro Tomita that buying dearly helps support one’s wholesalers or suppliers and selling cheaply brings joy to one’s customers. “This is the principle of mutual prosperity with no suffering of losses in return.”
At first, the practice of buying resources dearly and selling products cheaply seems to be a “path of loss” at first glance, but it is actually a management strategy that what President Komai says “is not truly a path of loss” and allows one to reap gains in the long run.2
Nevertheless, Kaneko sensei insists that the concept of “buying dearly, selling cheaply” ought not to simply stop at being a source of practical wisdom or a management strategy.3 He argues that it is an idea that has something in common in managing one’s faith.
Insight from Kaneko Akira sensei 2: Faith and filial devotion
Kaneko sensei brings up how Oyasama also instructed Denjiro:”Faith in God is to believe in God just as you do in your own parent who gave you birth. Then your faith will become genuine.”
It may be noted here that Denjiro’s act of bringing his 76-year-old mother along on a thanksgiving pilgrimage to Jiba is considered as a sign of his filial devotion. Oyasama recognized this and taught him that faith in God was merely an extension one’s filial devotion. Furthermore, Denjiro was himself a parent who had just went through witnessing his son suffering from a stomach condition and very likely looking after him.
Here, Kaneko sensei refers to Komai Shigeharu sensei once again, quoting him as follows:
There are some parents who complain that, although they go through the pains of rearing their children, they might pass away before being properly taken care of in return — what a disadvantageous role parents have! This is a terrible misunderstanding. Parents should not raise their children expecting such return. Parents savor each moment of raising their children. By the same token, as long as we think we are taking a loss by taking a “path of loss,” we have yet to understand its true concept. On the other hand, we show true understanding when we take a “path of loss” with joy, without thinking that we are taking a loss.4
The path of loss that Komai sensei speaks of is not limited to the selfless act of taking on a loss in order to make someone happy. Rather, just as raising children can be a source of great joy for parents, the path of loss can also be a source of joy for a person operating his/her business despite the hardships it may entail.
Kaneko sensei suggests that faith, the act of devoting oneself to God, is not so different from being filial to one’s parents. In turn, this mindset then results in an awareness of what one’s parents/the Parent desires. Awareness of the parental heart and attainment of parental love then allows one to embark on a business regimen in which one buys dearly and sells cheaply. This is what Kaneko sensei believes Oyasama’s set of teachings related in Anecdotes 104 mean.
He also makes a connection between these teachings and the concluding set of instructions found in the Kakisage that speaks of the importance of “carrying on in [one’s] occupation each day” and filial piety; these two practices are said to be “one in the truth of heaven.”
To elaborate, theologian Yoshikazu Nakayama writes:
The last sentence of this passage says, “I teach that these two are one in the truth of heaven,” which tells us that carrying on in our occupation and practicing filial piety stand in a two-in-one relationship. Allow me to explain. The Kakisage places importance on our occupation, not because it offers us a means to earn our livelihood or a way to fulfill our personal ambitions or accumulate wealth, but because our diligence in our occupation is probably the very thing that most reassures our parents and sets their minds at ease. Carrying on in our occupation is, therefore, an expression of our filial piety. Only when we carry on in our occupation motivated by a desire to show devotion to our parents and bring them joy will these two “important” elements — our occupation and filial piety — genuinely be one in truth.5
My sense tells me that the instruction detailed in Anecdotes 104 — “Faith in God is to believe in God just as you do in your own parent who gave you birth. Then your faith will become genuine” — is only beneficial in a context in which reverence toward one’s parents is taken for granted. I would imagine that such words would ring hollow to those whose relationship with their parents is contentious or worse, fraught with a history of abuse.
As for the maxim “buy dearly, sell cheaply,” I can’t foresee this becoming a common business philosophy anytime soon. Modern corporations appear to gravitate toward minimizing costs and maximizing profit. Some attempt to maximize profit even at the expense of incurring enormous risk and damage. Many corporations seem to prize making profits over attempting to offer any goods or services that provide long-term value.
My skeptical side doubts that Oyasama, having been a wife of a peasant landowner who dabbled in cotton production in Japan in the 1830s, would have something like the concept of externalized costs anywhere near her radar despite the depth of her religious insight. Yet the side of me that is more sympathetic and accepting of Tenrikyo religiosity wonders if she in any way foresaw how the practice and ability of many corporations to escape paying the true costs for the resources and labor required to make their products (not to mention the disposal of said products) would trigger so much damage to the environment, to societies, world health, and general well-being. A large-scale implementation of “buying dearly, selling cheaply” (with a sizable emphasis on the buying dearly portion) may provide a way out before unbridled materialism and consumerism costs us dearly and exacts a price we are ultimately unable to bear.
Lastly, as for the idea of taking a path of loss that isn’t really a path of loss, my tepid experience at child-rearing so far feels like a path of constantly losing my temper and a path of slowly losing my mind. (Living with a three-year-old and 17-month-old appears to have such an effect on me.) I must thank my lucky stars that my wife finds much fulfillment in child-rearing and that she more than makes up for my stubborn and hot-headed tendencies.
- Kaneko Akira. 2006. “Shinkō to keiei: 104 ‘Keiei wa na’.” In Itsuwa-hen ni manabu iki-kata 2. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, pp. 155–161.
- Komai Shigeharu. 2002. Faith-Based Management: A Path of Loss is Not Truly a Path of Loss. Tenri: Tenrikyo Overseas Department.
- Nakayama Yoshikazu and Shiba Tahichi. 2007. Reading the Kakisage. Tenri: Tenrikyo Overseas Department.
- Information from this and the next section have been paraphrased/translated from Kaneko 2006. ↩
- President Komai himself has offered some commentary of his own regarding the concept of “buying dearly, selling cheaply” but I will save it for my discussion of Anecdotes 165. ↩
- Kaneko sensei mentions that the second interpretation of “buying dearly, selling cheaply” as a management strategy was already quite similar to what was taught in Shingaku sermons. He quotes a passage from Gido Wakisaka’s Yashinai-gusa (Essays on self-cultivation) as an example. ↩
- Komai 2002, p. 4. ↩
- Nakayama, p. 49. ↩
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