“Moto no ri” Through the Lens of Chinese Ideology 3

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

On “Kanrodai

I would next like to discuss “Kanrodai.” Of the possible Chinese characters that can be applied to Kanrodai, one candidate is “ganrodai” (含露臺), which means “terrace” in Chinese. In the past, there was no manner to differentiate the voiced and non-voiced consonants such as ga and ka, so there is no issue with this rendering from a Chinese studies standpoint.

The oldest reference to the word “kanro” or “sweet dew” appears to be from The Book of Lao-tzu, chapter 32: “heaven and earth unite together and send down the sweet dew.”1; <http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao/taote.htm>] There is a similar reference in another classic Chinese text, “The Conveyance of Rites” (禮運 Liyun) chapter from the Classic of Rites (禮記Li Ji), that reads: “koro will fall from heaven and reisen will spring from the earth.” This “koro” (ointment-dew) 膏露 is interpreted as having the same meaning and therefore a variation of the word “kanro.” This substance called koro will fall from heaven and reisen well from the ground. This “reisen” 醴泉 is thought to be a substance like sweet sake.

The ideas here may be best thought to be comparable to a waterfall where the aged sought comfort. However, these examples that appear in The Book of Lao-tzu and the Classic of Rites are modes of thought. It is unclear whether such phenomena truly existed so I would like to present a few examples from recorded history.

There is a record that claims sweet dew fell on the Mo Yang Palace 末央宮 during the first year of Yuankang in the Early Han Dynasty (65 BCE). The period name was renamed “Kanro” several years later to commemorate the event and various celebrations were held during these years. This is the first record in history of sweet dew falling. There are many other occasions when such an event was subsequently recorded.

This sweet dew rained on bamboo and pine leaves, leaving round drops of the substance on the leaves. It is said that the sweet dew rains when the emperor who rules the world at the time is highly virtuous and when the world is at peace. I examined records from the Early Han to the Song (960–1279) Dynasties and I assume the event continued to occur thereafter. Also, I found that the sweet dew did not only rain on bamboo and pine leaves but Emperor Wu 武帝 of the Han Dynasty (156–87 BCE) had actually prepared a vessel to collect it. I feel that this point may have a deep relation with Tenrikyo.

The Book of Han (漢書 Hanshu) includes a description of festivals in China at the time. One description says, “make a structure connecting pine beams, bronze pillar, a receptacle of dew, and 仙人掌 an immortal (xian) with his palms upward.” A person named So Lin 蘇林 added a commentary to this line that says: “The immortal holds in his palms a receptacle.” This receptacle (盤) the immortal is holding with his hands indicates a shallow, flat vessel that is used in flower arrangement. The comments express that the sweet dew is collected in this receptacle.

Further, the ancestor of the well-known calligrapher Yan Zhenqing 顔真卿 (709–785), a man named Yan Shigu 顏師古 (581–645), quotes a text called 三輔故事 as follows: “There was a receptacle of dew (承露盤 ch’eng-lu-p’an) at Jianzhang Palace建章宮.” The height of this receptacle to collect the dew is said to have been 20 jo and its width seven idaki. The pillar to support the receptacle was to be completely made out of copper. The dew that fell from heaven that collected in the palms of the immortal was drunk after being mixed with a piece of beautiful crushed jade. This concoction was drunk to live a long life. I take the receptacle that was 20 jo in height and seven idaki in width meaning to be a receptacle to collect the dew that was placed on the palms of a statue of an immortal supported by a pillar. One jo was a measurement equaling 2.3 meters at that time, making this structure about 46 meters in height. A single idaki is approximately eight shaku. Seven idaki would be 56 shaku or a diameter of about four meters. It is impossible imagine such a structure at first.2 There is another comment that notes a stand of pine beams was made. I imagine that a large structure was built.

Historical records reveal that Emperor Wu had built such a structure during the time, collected the auspicious dew that fell from heaven, and drank it mixed with crushed jade. Tales of Emperor Wu were widely transmitted in Confucianism, Buddhism, and the major Chinese religion known as Taoism. Recent research has shown that this Taoism has a close relation with Shinto. For instance, the Chinese characters to write Yamato (大和, meaning “great harmony”) and the term for the Japanese emperor, “tenno,” were originally Taoist terms. The fact that Shinto has a close relationship with the Japanese imperial family is self-evident. Thus, there are indications that the Shinto that centers on the imperial family had been influenced by Taoism. While there are no sources that reveal what prompted the Tenrikyo foundress to use the term “kanro” or how she understood it to mean, there was an image associated with it not unlike in my above explanation. It was not simply something she came up with on her own.

As for the word “dai,” I imagine it to be a tall stand. Perhaps it is a kind of building. I feel that there was the possibility that the Tenrikyo foundress came up with the image of the “Kanrodai” (literally, the stand of sweet dew) by combining this “stand” (dai) and “sweet dew” (kanro). The term “kanro” is not a special term. I feel that it is part of an oral tradition of something auspicious falling that anyone would have known.

Even today, the word “kanro” is used describe something that is delicious or sweet in Japan. But in China it is also a name of a certain medicine. It is said that partaking this medicine will moisten a person’s “five solid organs and six hollow organs” and allow them to live a long life. The term “kanro” also appears in Buddhism, most notably in the Lotus Sutra, where the phrase “kanro no joho” (literally, “purifying law of the sweet dew”) refers to a thankful teaching.

On “denaoshi

Finally, I wish to discuss the word “denaoshi.” There is a physical end known as death that human beings cannot avoid. Religion especially cannot avoid this issue, and I see the concept of denaoshi (“passing away for rebirth”) in Tenrikyo different from that of Confucianism and Taoism.

Buddhism has the doctrine of reincarnation. When the body dies a person is reborn accordingly to his or her actions through karmic retribution: a person that did good deeds ends up in a good place while a person who did bad deeds ends up in a bad place. For instance, there is the possibility of a human being to be reborn as another animal or an insect. A being that has repeated this process, savoring the suffering the existence over many thousands of years and becomes a superior human being can be “liberated” from the cycle of rebirth. This is what is implied in the term “nirvana.”

The cycle of rebirth is a cycle of suffering because it is extremely difficult to achieve this nirvana. Since this doctrine is pointing to the spiritual realm, it has no meaning when it comes to the physical body. In Buddhist practice, a body that stops breathing and dies is cremated. The soul is seen to have separated itself from the body.

However, such a mode of thinking does not hold water in China. In Confucianism, the essence that rules over the body is called 魄 and essence that rules over the mind is called 魂. After the death of the body, the 魂 is believed to return to heaven while the 魄 returns to the earth. The body is then buried in the soil. Although the body is reduced to bone, it is believed the 魄 return there. On the death anniversary of an individual, a ritual is conducted to summon the person’s souls. Smoke from nice-smelling, burning firewood is to entice the 魂 from heaven and nice-smelling liquor is used to entice the 魄 from the earth. The place where the 魂 return is the mortuary tablet. This is rebirth.

There are similar ceremonies in Japanese Buddhism since it has incorporated many Confucian elements, yet Buddhism originally lacked such ceremonies. When a Japanese funeral is over and the coffin bearing the deceased is taken out of the house, people usually cry. This is related to the concept of rebirth in Confucianism. In Buddhism, originally, the body was simply cremated and thrown away. There was no reason to cry. In Taoism, individuals trained to become immortals (xian). When an individual attained immorality, his 魂 separates from his body and he continues to exist as a spirit.

Since beliefs of rebirth in Confucianism and the attainment of immortality in Taoism were the main currents in China, Buddhism– which was once greatly popular–quickly lost its appeal. Thus, the Chinese have no belief in reincarnation or nirvana. Nevertheless, the Buddhism that was transmitted to Japan via China has the unique characteristics of mixed Confucian elements and rituals that summon spirits of the dead.

Islam and Christianity must have their own particular concepts of death apart from what I have described above. There are also a variety of ideas about death that are particular to each culture. Considering this, what can we make of Tenrikyo’s concept of death?

In the case of “denaoshi” in Tenrikyo, I get a Taoist feeling when it is alluded that human beings separate from their bodies in death as we may find in the “Ancient record of the muddy ocean.” And the idea of the “Joyous Life” as the greatest condition that can be attained in this existence is to me is quite Chinese and the same as Confucianism. In any case, I believe that the manner in which the issue of death is handled and reflected in human life plays a major part in a religion gaining people’s trust.

  1. Translator’s note: The Book of Lao-Tzu is better known as the Tao Te Ching 道德經. This particular translation comes from James Legge (Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 39) [1891
  2. Translator’s note: Maybe your measurements are wrong, dude!