“Moto no ri” Through the Lens of Chinese Ideology by Nobuyuki Kaji 1

The following is a translation of an excerpt from “Moto no ri” Through the Lens of Chinese Ideology” by Kaji Nobuyuki.

Bibliographic info:

Kaji Nobuyuki 加地伸行. 1987. “Chugoku shiso kara mita Moto no ri.” In Koza Moto no ri no sekai 1: Moto no ri no ningengaku (The World of “The Truth of Origin”—Lecture Series One: The Philosophical Anthropology of “The Truth of Origin”), 61–80.

On the author:

Born 1936 in Osaka Prefecture. Graduated from the Department of Literature at Kyoto University. Following time at Koyasan University and Nagoya University, currently (1987) a professor at the Department of Literature at Osaka University. Doctor of Literature. Specialist in Chinese Philosophy. Notable works include: Shiki (史記 Records of the Grand Historian), Chugokujin no ronrigaku (The logic of the Chinese), Koshi—toki o koete atarashiku (Confucius: renewing the man, surpassing time).

Moto no ri” Through the Lens of Chinese Ideology

I have specialized in Chinese Studies, so there are many aspects of Tenrikyo doctrine that I do not know. Yet I would like to talk on important four expressions in Tenrikyo with a broad stance that views Tenrikyo objectively from the perspective of my studies on Chinese thought. I will first talk on the “Koki,” followed by the number “ku oku ku man ku sen ku hyaku ku ju ku,” then the term, “Kanrodai,” and lastly, on “denaoshi.”

On Koki no kenkyu

In his work Koki no kenkyu the second Shinbashira says that it was common to understand the “Koki” of the Doroumi koki (Chronicles of the Muddy Ocean) as meaning “ancient record” (古記). Yet he offers his suspicion that the word Koki cannot be limited to this interpretation. The second Shinbashira then writes that while it has been standardized and conveyed to mean “record,” it is difficult to comprehend its meaning in any passage. He points out how it is used as a verb especially in the Ofudesaki, offering his suspicion that the meaning of “ancient record” cannot be understood from the Japanese. Upon comparing the copied manuscripts of the several Doroumi koki that have been handed down to us, he argues that these are not “ancient” records per se:

“The oldest among the so-called books of the ‘Koki’ is from 1881 and manuscripts from this time to 1887 have been discovered. 1881 is still a time period in which the Ofudesaki was being written, and when we consider the point that 1887 was the year the Tenrikyo Foundress withdrew from physical life, I noticed that this must infer that the ‘Koki’ was a text that was to be a successor to the Ofudesaki…. From this assumption, we can understand the ‘Koki’ as a written record of oral instructions regarding doctrinal matters” and suggested that it would be better to render “Koki” as an “oral record” (口記)1

I feel that this mode of thinking on the Shinbashira’s part is extremely rational. Truly, one feels that a record of oral sayings is more reasonable than an ancient record. Nevertheless, I personally find that there is still something lacking in this interpretation.

As for other interpretations, there is Kazuta Kurauchi 蔵内数太, who writes that the Chinese character for “ancient” (古) is an amalgamation of the characters “ten” and “mouth,” which means repeated transmission from mouth to mouth, i.e., person to person and thus claims he has no qualms against Koki being rendered as “ancient record” (Doroumi koki ni tsuite “On the ancient record of the muddy ocean”). This is thought to be an interpretation from the oldest Chinese character dictionary Shuowen Jiezi (Shuo-wen chieh-tzu) from the latter Han dynasty (third century C.E.). However, according to modern scholarly interpretation, the character for “ancient” does not necessarily mean transmitting to ten mouths (i.e., persons) so I cannot help but think that Kurauchi’s interpretation is a somewhat forced interpretation.

Shingaku and “Kogi

If we are to question to what “Koki” is referring to, I conclude that it means “kogi” or “lecture” (講義). In his work Koki no kenkyu, the second Shinbashira quotes the following verse from the Ofudesaki,

Even until now, there have been teachings, ethical and ancient (shingaku koki), but there has been no one who knows the origin.

Ofudesaki 3:69

Here, the second Shinbashira renders shingaku [that is written in the Ofudesaki in hiragana] with the Chinese characters 心学.2 This left an extremely intense impression on me and became the catalyst which led me to conclude that “Koki” referred to “kogi.”

Yoshio Fujishima 藤島佳夫 writes that: “During Oyasama’s physical lifetime, there was a teaching known as Shingaku that had spread quite widely centered in Kyoto. In historical precedence we have been told that the first head ministers of Kawaramachi and Senba grand churches had entered the gates of such institutions” (G-TEN 4).

All traces of Shingaku can be said to have almost completely disappeared, but it was widely popular during the mid to late Edo period (1600–1867) into the Meiji period (1868–1912).

While I am a specialist in Chinese thought, I also have an interest in the history of Japanese thought. I have especially concentrated my research on Chinese studies in Osaka. Within this, I have an interest in Chinese studies academies such as the Kaitokudo and Shingaku associations such as the Shingaku Meiseisha.

Also, among the various attempts Tenrikyo made to establish itself as an independent religious movement during the Meiji period, there is the historical precedence mentioned by Tadamasa Fukaya 深谷忠政 in his Tenrikyo kyogigaku josetsu (Discourse on Tenrikyo doctrine and theology), “In May 1884, the Meishingumi in Osaka submitted a petition to the Osaka governor’s office entitled ‘Request to establish an institute for the study of Shingaku,’ but it was denied.”

The Tenrikyo foundress personally appears to have opposed to such compromising measures. I, however, am interested in this from a different perspective. That is because the fact that there was an effort to submit a petition to gain official recognition for Tenrikyo through dojos, places to learn Shingaku, meant that there were quite a few Tenrikyo followers at the time that had interest in Shingaku. On top of this, those who submitted the petition in Osaka in 1884 were part of a group named Meishin-gumi. In the beginning, Tenrikyo followers’ organizations took the form of “ko” or religious confraternities with names such as so-and-so ko or gumi. The “Meishin” (明心) that appears in this name means “to clear the mind/heart,” a central theme associated with Shingaku. This was connected with the school of Wang Yang Ming Confucianism in China and one must also give attention to the fact that this petition was submitted in 1884.

Shingaku gradually began to wane in the late Edo period. After the establishment of the Meiji government, elementary level educational institutions that existed until then were replaced by primary and secondary schools. Naturally, the private schools that taught Shingaku began to disappear. However, there was a renewed, restored interest in Shingaku in instances such as when the Taiseiha sect of Shinto requested permission to restore Shingaku with the establishment of a learning center (教場) in 1881.

I am not fully knowledgeable about the historical situation during this period. Nevertheless, I feel that seeing this petition to establish a Shingaku center in 1881 and the petition to establish Tenrikyo in 1884 is tied together somehow with Shingaku.

Shingaku as it pertains(ed?) to “Tenri”

It is a practice in Shingaku to hold lectures targeted for a large audience. Such lectures are called dowa. These dowa often took on the shape of discourses or stories and educated commoners on topics such as terms from the Analects or Buddhist doctrine. Many Shingaku related books were published and widely read in the late 18th to early 19th centuries, the time period which Tenrikyo founder Miki Nakayama lived.

As described in The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo, Miki Nakayama was an adherent of Jodo Buddhism before the founding of Tenrikyo and studied at a temple.3 This means that she was fully aware of the fundamentals of Buddhism, and one assumes that she was not entirely unconnected with Shingaku, which enjoyed great popularity among commoners at the time. Shingaku especially developed in Kyoto and Osaka, and because it was the scholarship of the common people, it is not a stretch of the imagination that she had contact with it.

This is where we can see an association with the word “Tenri.” In Tenrikyo shoshi (An abbreviated history of Tenrikyo) Tomoji Takano writes that the word Tenri was not very common in the late Edo/early Meiji period. However, this is a misinterpretation of the actual situation, for the word Tenri was widely known in society through Shingaku. At the time, there was a great debate within Tenrikyo over whether “Tenri” meant “Tenri” (天理 or natural law) or “Tenrin” (転輪 wheel-turning).

The conceptualization of the word “Tenri” came about in Chu Hsi Confucianism in China between the 12th and 13th centuries. Chu Hsi Confucianism was perfected in the 13th century and subsequently became the most influential school in Chinese ideology and was transmitted to and spread in Japan through Korea during the Edo period. Its infiltration was so thorough that if one were to name an orthodox form of scholarship in the Edo period, it would be Chu Hsi Confucianism. It is a matter of fact that one of the forerunners of Tokyo University, the Shogunate’s Shohei Academy, and the academies of each feudal domain based their curriculums on Chu Hsi Confucianism. It was almost a matter of fact for a person to be educated in Chu Hsi Confucianism in the Edo period. Yet there were people who were educated from an opposing position, and that was Wang Yang Min Confucianism.

To briefly state what Chu Hsi Confucianism was about, its position was that the real nature of any phenomenon could be explained by analyzing each stage of the said phenomenon. Its fundamental assumption was that there is nothing in this world that could not be explained in this manner. This would be a surface or external manner of examination. Wang Yang Min Confucianism, on the other hand, took the position of promoting the importance of an in-depth or internal manner of examining phenomena as a critique of Chu Hsi Confucianism.

The effort to fuse the philosophies of this Chu Hsi and Wang Yang Min schools of Confucianism together with Buddhism resulted in the creation of Shingaku. Consequently, Shingaku is a tradition unique to Japan that spread widely among free-spirited commoners during the mid-Edo period and beyond.

The term “Tenri” was mentioned very frequently in Shingaku. For instance, Ryuo Kamata 鎌田柳泓 (1754–1821) wrote extensively on “Tenri” in his work Shingaku oku no kakehashi (Bridge to the depths of Shingaku) such as: “Tenri never undergoes change or death” and “Watch the matters that arise from Tenri…” Since it was a work that was published when the Tenrikyo foundress was about 22 years old, one can presume that people who were interested in Shingaku at the time simultaneously had interest in the concept of “Tenri” as well.

Therefore, as I mentioned earlier, it is possible to speculate that the Tenrikyo foundress, who had an interest in Buddhism from an early age, also read Shingaku books. Of course, while one must look out for what was considered common knowledge at the time, I cannot comment any further because there are no sources that attest to this. Yet the point I wish to make here that it was a historical fact that Tenri was widely discussed in Shingaku at the time.


  1. Koki no kenkyu, p. ???
  2. Translator’s note: i.e., Shingaku, a philosophical tradition often referred as “Heart Learning” in English.
  3. Translator’s note: In the original, Kaji here wrote “adherent of Jodo Shinshu” which is obviously an error. I took the liberties to correct it in the translation.