178. Our Body is of Prime Importance (mijō ga moto ya)
“Where there is life, there is hope, it is said. The body is the foundation. Money is secondary. In the case of fire, one would take out as many valuables as possible, but one would not do so at the risk of burning one’s body. In the case of flood, it is the same. In the case of robbery, because life is important, one lets the robber have the money, even though one does so reluctantly.
“The same thing is true in the case of illness. One should give quickly to charity the things that are of secondary importance, and have one’s illness cured. But when the dust of miserliness is strong, it is like removing money from a fire even though one is in danger of death from burns. One saves the money and treasures but throws away one’s life. This is in accord with one’s mind. If by giving to charity what is of secondary importance one’s illness is cured, this is the principle of a disaster turning into a smaller misfortune. Understand well.”
This instruction has been handed down by word of mouth from Jirokichi Kita.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 141–142
Insight from Noguchi Shigeru
Noguchi Shigeru from the Oyasato Institute for the Study of Religion once compared the notion that “the body is of prime importance” to teachings from the tradition established by Ishida Baigan and others that is known as Shingaku or “Heart Learning” (pp. 50–51). Yet he notes the difference in how the same idea in Tenrikyo is informed by the central belief that the human body was something that is “lent” by God the Parent during one’s life (p. 52), a notion that is absent in Shingaku thought.
Noguchi also compares Anecdotes 178 with Anecdotes 114. In 178, Oyasama is quoted as saying, “In the case of robbery, because life is important, one lets the robber have the money, even though one does so reluctantly.”
In 114, Izumita Tokichi finds himself surrounded by three bandits. Although he was a powerful man who could have easily taken care of the bandits alone, the notion that the body was a thing borrowed, a thing lent, “flashed across his mind.” Izumita then took off his clothing, folded them neatly, and put his wallet atop the folded pile. The bandits, taken off guard and made uneasy by the burly Izumita’s baffling willingness to meet their demands, left without taking anything.
Noguchi notes that Kita Jirokichi, the man to whom Oyasama is said to have transmitted the contents of Anecdotes 178 to, was also a man relatively big in size (182 centimeters or six feet in height) who once went through sumo training and learned the secrets of the Yagyu school of swordsmanship. Regarding this, Noguchi writes:
What do these two selections from Anecdotes teach us when we look into their backgrounds and related passages from the Osashizu? No matter how physically tough one is or is blessed with social status or honor, the foundation of the body is made possible through God the Parent’s workings. I believe that these are strict instructions to deeply appreciate the teaching of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed,” and the importance of settling a sense of discretion in one’s heart (p. 54).
Although I found Noguchi’s article insightful, I nevertheless feel he has overlooked the central gist of Anecdotes 178. I consider the first paragraph on which he focused his attention merely the build-up to the central message contained in the second paragraph.
The first paragraph presents us with the following prospect: If we are faced with a fire or a flood, it is only natural for us to prioritize the body (our safety) over saving our belongings.
With this in mind, when we are faced with an illness, it is said the ideal response would be to likewise prioritize the body over one’s possessions. Yet this is surely not such an obvious solution to anyone who finds themselves in such a situation. (It may be more likely in this day and age to be alarmed at how easily one’s medical bills can spiral out of control because of a sudden illness.)
Anecdotes 178 instructs: “One should give quickly to charity the things that are of secondary importance, and have one’s illness cured. . . . [B]y giving to charity what is of secondary importance one’s illness is cured.”
Somewhere along the line, Oyasama’s instruction to “give to charity” when one succumbs to illness became missionaries’ entreaties to “give to the Tenrikyo organization.” I am not sure when or how this exactly occurred, but the transformation most likely took place during Tenrikyo’s exponential expansion circa 1888–1896.
As Tenrikyo’s quick growth must have required the availability of new sources of capital, this may not be such an unreasonable development from a strict utilitarian point of view. Yet, it must be noted that Tenrikyo increasingly came to be viewed by the Japanese public as an exploitative religion (a stigma that more or less remains to this day) after people miraculously cured by missionaries’ applications of the Sazuke enthusiastically donated their family assets in appreciation. Others regularly donated money in hopes to have God sever their bad karma so they could live the Joyous Life as God is said to have intended, a practice that remains in place today.
I suspect Noguchi may have purposely avoided discussing the second paragraph since it touches the notion of giving away money, a notion that has somewhat of a convoluted history in Tenrikyo.
Noguchi Shigeru. 2009. “Karada: 178 ‘Mijō ga moto ya.’ ” In Itsuwa-hen ni manabu iki-kata 3. Tenri: Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, pp. 49–57.