TENRIKYO (Religion of Heavenly Wisdom)

Founder: Nakayama Miki (b. 1798; d. 1887)

One of the first of Japan’s new religions or shin shukyo (see New Religion (Japan)), Tenrikyo was founded in 1838 by Nakayama Miki (1798-1887) a farmer’s wife with shamanistic attributes, from a village close to Tenri city, which is situated in the Yamato basin, only a short distance from the historic city of Nara. In 1838 Tenri-O-no-Mikoto (the God of Heavenly Reason), also known as Oyagami, God the parent, is believed to have taken possession of Nakayama Miki, also called Oyasama (Worthy Parent), for the purpose of revealing to her his divine plan and her role therein, and to bestow upon her the gift of healing.

Nakayama Miki’s mission was to consist of delivering people from suffering in preparation for the coming of a perfect divine kingdom (kanrondai sekai) in which human beings would enjoy the joyous and blissful life (yoki-gurashi) in union with Tenri-O-no-Mikoto. On becoming the shrine of Tenri-O-noMikoto, Nakayama Miki was also provided by this same deity with a plot of ground known as the jiba, believed to be the place of origin of the human race and its spiritual home (oyasato). On this land stands the principal place of Tenriko worship (Shinden) at the centre of which is the kanrondai or sacred pillar. Both the Shinden and the Kyosoden, the sanctuary of the foundress, are centres of pilgrimage. It is believed that Nakayama Miki continues to dwell in the Kyosoden where she is attended to as if still physically present by devotees who dust and clean her bedroom, prepare her food and look after her every need.

As in the case of other Japanese new religions founded by women (see Omoto) Nakayama Miki was also greatly helped by a dedicated male disciple in the person of Iburi Izo, a poor carpenter whose wife she had healed of childbirth fever. Iburi Izo displayed his gratitude for this cure by dedicating himself to hinokishin or volunteer work for the church, including the construction of a model of the first kanrondai in 1873, and a sanctuary for Tenri-O-no-Mikoto. Iburo Izo became the joint leader of Tenrikyo on the death of Nakayama Miki in 1887 and in his capacity as Honseki or oracle he spoke through the spirit of the foundress to God. His pronouncements were written down and came to constitute a set of sacred writings known as the Osashizu. These supplement the two most important sacred scriptures, the Ofudesaki (Tip of the Divine Writing-pen), transmitted to by God to Nakayama Miki, a transmission that was not completed until 1882, and the divinely inspired Mikagura-uta or poems which are used as the text of Tenrikyo’s worship.

The major Tenrikyo sacred ritual, the dance of creation, the Kagura Tsutome, takes place around the Kanrodai and is performed by dancers in masks led by the head of the Church who is known as the Shimbashira, a descendent of the foundress. The masks represent figures in the cosmogonic myth developed by Tenrikyo. This dance performed on the 26th of each month is believed to hasten the fulfilment of God’s plans and is given as the main reason for Tenrikyo’s existence. On the day prior to the performance the Shinbashira ‘ordains’ in a brief ceremony known as the honseki those who have completed the course of besseki lectures (the nine lectures required for initiation) and the Shuyoka course (three months’ intensive training). They are given by the Shinbashira, the sacred grant of Osazuke or healing and these graduates or yobuku (literally timbers) are now empowered to perform healing rites using a particular form of hand gesture known as teodori or hand dance, the gesture used in Tenrikyo worship.

The major festival for which members from all over the world come to Tenri City is the birthday of the foundress celebrated at the Oyasato or headquarters on 18 April. Other important services include the Tai-sai or great services held on 26 January and 26 October. There are memorial services for the dead in March and September and a monthly service, the Tsukinami-sai. Three times a month there is the popular sacramental rite of obiya yurushi or easy childbirth which involves the consecration of white rice which is then placed on the Kanrodai during the Obiya Tsutome service in which the creation is ritually re-enacted.

Regarded as a dissident religious movement Tenrikyo suffered increasing government probes and harassment, and the foundress, while proud of her country, was critical and at times even scornful of its of its ruling elite -as were other women founders of Japanese including Deguchi Nao. Nakayama Miki was frequently interrogated and imprisoned on seventeen occasions for among other things blasphemy and obstructing the public highways by performing elaborate ritual dances of the village on the outskirts of where she lived.

The movement’s fortunes changed and in 1908 it was recognized as one of the thirteen ‘Sect Shinto’ organizations, autonomous organizations authorized by the Government between 1868 and 1945.

In 1947 Tenrikyo, believing its teachings had become distorted by State Shintoism, launched the campaign for the Restoration of the Original Teachings (Fukugen). In 1970 it withdrew from the Association of Shinto Sects, and had itself placed in the category of ‘Other Religions’. It is one of the largest movements in this group with a membership of over one million in Japan. Tenrikyo is also present in many countries outside Japan including Korea, Taiwan, India, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States, France, and Great Britain, but in every case with the exception of Korea it has remained numerically small.

Tenrikyo has a number of important cultural and educational institutions including Tenri University founded in 1925, and the very valuable Tenri Library and Tenri Sankokan Museum. It has also established a publishing house and built a very modern hospital. In the latter both spiritual and scientific methods of healing are used together.

The structure and organization of Tenrikyo while formally bureaucratic is essentially based on the principle of the ie or family system and the Honbuin or central administration consists of descendants of the families of Nakayama Miki and Iburi Izo, or of families very close to theirs. The headquarters are in Tenri city and are known as Oyasato or Village of the Parent

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