“Moto no ri” Through the Lens of Chinese Ideology 2

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

Cosmological theories that developed in the Edo period

While Chu Hsi Confucianism primarily maintains the assumption that all phenomena can be explained through analysis, it is also significant for its cosmological theories 宇宙論. The Chu Hsi school of Confucianism was the first in the rich history of China to create an ideological system after connecting its ideology with the cosmos and refining it through debate.

Chu Hsi Confucianism developed in China and simultaneously in Japan, where aspects of European culture (which the Netherlands provided a window at the time), most notably geography and physics, added to the lively debate on the nature of the earth and cosmos.

Although the general view of the Edo period was an age when scholarship was oppressed, it was not the case at all. It was a time when various theories of the cosmos and the world were debated. For instance, Banto Yamagata 山片蟠桃 (1748–1821) developed his own unique cosmological theory that centered on a thesis that was virtually identical to the heliocentric theory. The introduction of natural scientific knowledge from Europe contributed to the livened cosmological debate from the mid-Edo period onward.

The development of cosmological theories also occurred within Shingaku. One example would be that much effort was directed toward collecting and discussing information on the natural phenomenon of a seed growing into a plant. The aforementioned Shingaku oku no kakehashi clearly includes a discussion on cosmological theory.

With this historical precedence in mind, there arises the speculation that the cosmology presented in Tenrikyo’s “Ancient Records of the Muddy Ocean” was not created overnight, but was devised by adding aspects of the various cosmological theories, worldviews, and Shinto-based myths such as the Kojiki. Thus I believe that there is much analysis that needs to be done on the cosmology of the “Koki” in the future; a necessity to consider it simultaneously with the cosmological issues Japanese thinkers grappled with between the middle to late Edo period.

Koki” refers to “Kogi

Although this is a substantial presumption on my part, I wonder if the Koki were koshaku lectures that were based on Shingaku. Koshaku were lectures that explained classical texts such as the Analects or The Book of Mencius. Even today, the expression koshaku o kuwaeru (literally, add to a lecture) is used to refer to explaining the basis or origin and adding notes or commentary.

There is then another type of lecture other than koshaku, which are called kogi. When one analyzes the characters to write kogi, it means to “give a lecture” (ko-zuru 講ずる) on the “meaning” (義 gi). The character “gi” refers to a meaning of a word, as can seen in the example of seigi (justice) which refers to “correct meaning.” Thus kogi refers to lecturing on the meanings of words. This reveals that kogi has an extremely strong emphasis and describes the act of starting one’s thoughts and opinions.

In other words, if Koki is rendered as “oral record” (口記) it is merely a written record of what was said. Yet if it is rendered as “lecture on the meaning,” it has a stronger nuance of transmitting and teaching the true meaning of a word. In Koki no kenkyu, the second Shinbashira writes:

“God, who began this world, teaches the truth. Never take it to be false.

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

So should it be, for there should be no one who knows the course of the path in the muddy ocean.

Ofudesaki 3:68–70

 As we can infer from the Ofudesaki, because the phrase is sequentially arranged as ‘Shingaku koki,’ (teachings, ethical and ancient), ‘koki’ here does not refer to anything in particular but a method or way of learning similar to Shingaku.”

We can paraphrase the above verses as follows: the Tenrikyo foundress read Shingaku texts but states that they do not express everything. Though she saw what Shingaku lectures were about, they show no knowledge of Tenri or the cosmos. There is perhaps no one who knows about these things. Further, there are verses in the Ofudesaki such as:

Never think this path is worldly common. It is the beginning of the Divine Record [Koki] for eternity.

Ofudesaki 5:18

When you have come onto this path, this will be the Divine Record [Koki] forever in Nihon.

When the Divine Record [Koki] is made in Nihon, I shall by all means manage Kara as I please.

Ofudesaki 5:31–32

Above all, the mind of Tsukihi desires a Divine Record [Koki] for Nihon.

If the Divine Record [Koki] is surely made in Nihon and spread widely, Kara will do as I wish.

Ofudesaki 10:87–88

All humankind, settle your minds and ponder. Prepare quickly to wait for the Divine Record [Koki].

When the true Divine Record [Koki] has been accomplished, Tsukihi will spread everything whatever.

Ofudesaki 10:92–93

Here, it is described that Tsukihi desires the Koki, which refers to the process of making something new. The reason for this is to have “Kara” do as Tsukihi “wishes” and to have humankind to “ponder” on it. Yet by verses 10:92–93 we fully understand that this Koki refers to “lecture on the meaning.”

Thus with these examples in mind, the word “Koki” as it appears in the Ofudesaki can be interpreted in most cases as “kogi” or “lecturing on the meaning.” This can be inferred on the basis that this “Koki” emerged from the backdrop of Shingaku philosophy that was active at the time.

On ku oku ku man ku sen ku hyaku ku ju ku

Next, on the issue of the number ku oku ku man ku sen ku hyaku ku ju ku (900,099,999), I once wrote a short article on the very same topic. The first thing I noticed was that lining up the same number should result in 999,999,999. It is a strange prospect for the tightly written Ofudesaki to have a number that is missing almost ten million from a “perfect” 999,999,999. However, this is understandable when one considers the classical Chinese numerical system. In ancient China, numbers were calculated by going from single digits to tens (ju 十), hundreds (hyaku 百), thousands (sen 千), ten thousand (man 万) and a hundred thousand (oku 億). Therefore the number oku, which refers to ten million today, originally meant a hundred thousand. With this in consideration, my position is that the number ku oku ku man ku sen ku hyaku ku ju ku is not 900,099,999 but 999,999.

I was once asked by a certain professor why the number “cho” (兆) was not added to create the number “ku cho ku oku ku man ku sen ku hyaku ku ju ku.” The number cho would equal one million [according to the classical Chinese numerical system]. Yet there appears to have been a belief that this number was too dignified a number to be used by commoners. For instance, the term tenka chomin (天下兆民) was a term solely used by rulers—the emperor in the case of Japan—and the term tenka banmin (天下万民) was used by the ruling classes at the time as represented by the daimyo or feudal lords.1 At present, the attitude toward verbal expressions is more relaxed. There is more freedom for people from all positions to express their opinions of political and economic issues directly relating to national interests. Yet for people living in the Edo period, there was difficulty in expressing oneself in writing and speaking, for a single wrong word uttered could result in decapitation.

Although this is mere speculation on my part, I wonder if the Tenrikyo foundress avoided the use of “cho” for such a reason.2 There may be those with an opinion that this should not be an issue since religious matters transcend those of the physical realm. Nevertheless, the Tenrikyo foundress was a sharp person, so I believe that she avoided the use of the word “cho” that had such political and status-related implications.

I would surmise that the words “cho” and “chomin” were created about four thousand years ago. For people at the time, one million was a number that surpassed the imagination. At that time “chomin” referred to the entire world. It has nothing to do with the historical reality of a rise in human population.

Further, the number nine conjures up the imagery of limitlessness. There are expressions such as tsuzuraori (九十九折), which means “meandering, winding,” and place names like Kujukuri Beach (九十九里浜) where the stacking of nines evoke the meaning of limitlessness. There is the possibility that the number ku oku ku man ku sen ku hyaku ku ju ku evoked such a meaning.

With the above in mind, I believe that not at all unreasonable to assume that the use of the number ku oku ku man ku sen ku hyaku ku ju ku was based on Chinese literature.


  1. Translator’s note: both terms essentially mean “all people under heaven” or “the whole nation.”
  2. Translator’s opinion: No avoidance! Very, very subversive on her part!