199. Just One (hitotsu ya de)
Sei Honda, an official of the Heishin Shinmei-ko Confraternity, returned to Jiba in 1882 for the second time. She had chronic abdominal edema and her stomach was beginning to swell. Oyasama told her when She saw her condition:
“Osei, Osei, it must be very trying to carry that stomach. But this is not the dust accumulated in your present life. It has been carried over from your previous lives. God will surely save you. You must not change your heart. You must not let go of this string at any cost. Since you know nothing about your previous lives, just ask God for forgiveness and just thank God.”
From that day on, Sei could not stay still when she thought of all the dust that she had accumulated during her past three lives. Despite her swollen stomach, she went forth every day to do missionary work.
Sei poured water over herself even on the coldest days in winter before going out. As people gradually began to come to her in increasing numbers, she would offer water in the sake offering-bottle at the altar and then give it to them. By this means marvelous healings took place one after another. For several years, she went forth with zeal to do missionary work. But in the autumn of 1886, when she was forty-nine years of age, her abdominal edema became worse until she was in critical condition. She suffered so much that she alternately said, “Please let me sit up,” and, “Please let me lie down.” Hisakichi Hashida, who was the head of the confraternity, returned to Jiba. Through the arrangement of Gisaburo Nakata he was granted an audience with Oyasama, who said:
“Let me lie down. Let me sit up. You must have heard her wrong. What she meant was to enflame the confraternity with zeal. She will not die. Go back quickly and perform the service sincerely.”
So Hashida hurried back to Kobe. For three days and three nights, day and night, six times in twenty-four hours, he performed a special prayer service for her recovery.* The third day came but there was no sign of improvement. Another series of the special prayer service was performed for three days and three nights, but her condition became worse. From the sixth day on, she clenched her teeth and slept for twenty-eight days as if she had been dead. During this period she was given sacred water daily, and three sacred sugar candies were cooked and given to her through a bamboo tube three times a day.
The doctor refused to come, saying, “She will die this time.” However, during those twenty-eight days she urinated so frequently that it must have been over twenty times a day. On the morning of the twenty-eighth day, her younger sister, Sue Nadatani, was changing Sei’s clothes. Sue noticed that her sister’s swollen stomach had shrunk to its normal size. She was so astonished that she shouted out. Hearing Sue’s voice, Sei opened her eyes for the first time and looked around. Sue asked, “Can you hear?” Sei spoke for the first time, “How thankful I am! How thankful I am!”
A thin rice gruel was cooked and given to her. She ate two mouthfuls and said, “It is delicious. How thankful I am!” She then ate two bowls of the gruel with some pickled plums. She ate grated yam next. Day by day Sei regained her strength. But she was just like a baby, wetting the bed, and her memory was very short.
About a month later, Kichigoro Kataoka, another official of the [confraternity], returned to Jiba in her place to report it. He was granted an audience with Oyasama, who said:
“It is natural. It is natural. She is just one year old. She was reborn without having to die. She is still young. She is only one. She does not know anything yet. She will not know until she becomes two or three.”
Sei had lost her memory completely. When sewing a kimono, she would make mistakes in the measurement. She could no longer play the shamisen, she was that bad. But within two or three years she gradually began to understand things, and from the fourth year she was so blessed as to lead a normal life.
Thus, Sei was given a second life at the age of forty-nine, and she lived on for thirty years to the age of seventy-nine, devoting herself to saving others with yet greater zeal.
* This service consisted of the seated service and the entire teodori, and was performed three times during the day and three times during the night. As it was performed in this way for three days and nights consecutively, the performers went without sleep or rest.
Anecdotes of Oyasama, pp. 156–158
Anecdotes 199 is quite an amazing story. Since I risk undermining its raw power by discussing it in too much detail, I’ll try to keep this post short.
The “Heishin Shinmei-ko Confraternity” mentioned above refers to the group otherwise known as the Hyogo Shinmei-gumi, which has been mentioned in passing in previous posts. It may be noted that the Hyogo Shinmei-gumi later became Heishin Bunkyokai (now daikyokai).
It is said that the efforts of Tachibana Zenkichi (mentioned in Anecdotes 94 and 115) led to the beginning of the Hyogo Shinmei-gumi. It has been said that members of this confraternity also participated in quarrying stone for the Kanrodai in 1881 (mentioned in Anecdotes 82). Other individuals who belonged to this confraternity were Masuno Shobei (Anecdotes 145), Tomita Denjiro (Anecdotes 104), and Shimizu Yonosuke (Anecdotes 198).
Further, when Honda Sei was cured of her abdominal edema, this prompted her younger brother Kitano Kumajiro to embrace the faith. The mission in the Wadasaki section of Hyogo Ward, Kobe City was said to be “enflamed with zeal,” just as Oyasama implied it would.
An analysis of Oyasama’s words
Upon reading the first set of instructions attributed to Oyasama in Anecdotes 199—”This is not the dust accumulated in your present life. It has been carried over from your previous lives. God will surely save you. You must not change your heart. You must not let go of this string at any cost. Since you know nothing about your previous lives, just ask God for forgiveness and just thank God”—I am reminded of Anecdotes 172. Here, Oyasama is portrayed telling a couple whose daughter had a habit of stealing: “That is the result of a previous life. Your daughter is not at fault. She only does what her parents did in a previous life.”
Regarding the instruction “Since you know nothing about your previous lives, just ask God for forgiveness and just thank God,” the publication Ikuri kotoba explains:
An illness does not suggest a person is guilty of some wrongdoing. Oyasama said that all one needs to do to be saved is to offer a small apology, fully entrust oneself to God, and be constantly thankful of being kept alive (p. 12).
After Sei received these first set of instructions from Oyasama, she made efforts to spread the teachings and save others despite of her physical condition. It may be notable that it is briefly mentioned that Sei’s illness was due to “the dust that she accumulated during her past three lives.” Sei’s apparent belief in this prompted her to action. Although Oyasama is said to have dissuaded others from practicing such physical austerities (Anecdotes 64), it is described that Sei did cold water ablutions before going out to spread the faith. Yet such was her way of repenting for the possible wrongdoings from her previous lives.
On Oyasama’s instructions “Let me lie down. Let me sit up. You must have heard her wrong. What she meant was to enflame the confraternity with zeal”: This can be viewed as an example of taking words uttered during what appears to be a dire situation and interpreting them in a positive way. This is a skill that certain Tenrikyo followers today are quite proficient at displaying.
Finally, on Oyasama’s words “She was reborn without having to die”: This is a theme that makes a few appearances in Tenrikyo literature. One occasionally sees it being referred as a “spiritual rebirth” or as being “reborn while still alive.”
A couple of examples come from 1998, such as the current Shinbashira’s Instruction One (“When people hear the voice of the Parent, awaken to the Truth of Heaven, and replace their minds, they can be reborn while still alive”) or his Autumn Grand Service that year (“What [Oyasama] taught was the means to be reborn while still alive.”).
However, the phrases “spiritual rebirth” or “reborn while still alive” most often appear in the context of becoming a Yoboku, or when a person is bestowed the Sazuke. Consider the following passage from The Doctrine of Tenrikyo:
As one progresses through the [Besseki lectures], one gradually sweeps away the dusts by virtue of the truth of the teachings, corrects one’s conduct and, finally, the mind becomes clear. The desire to be saved becomes a desire for the salvation of others. This is when the truth of the Sazuke is bestowed and the mind is reborn (p. 67).
Takano Tomoji. 1983. Shimizu Yonosuke denkō. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
Tenri Daigaku Oyasato Kenkyūsho, ed. 1989. Tenrikyō jiten, kyōkaishi hen. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.
Tenrikyō Dōyūsha, ed. 1995. Ikiru kotoba: Tenrikyō kyōso no oshie. Tenri: Tenrikyō Dōyūsha.