Tenrikyo Europe Centre

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2015 September Monthly Service Sermon

by Noriaki Nagao (Church Headquarters official)

I would like to sincerely congratulate you for the Convention to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the founding of the Europe Young Men’s Association in the presence of Mr. Daisuke Nakayama, President of the Young Men’s Association.

Exactly 30 years ago, Jean-Paul Sudre, Koichi Iwakiri, Masaaki Tsuruta as well as myself, all present here today, were part of the members of the Young Men’s Association. I remember the time, as if it were yesterday, of our expeditions with the Center’s worn-out car. We set out to visit each and every Tenrikyo follower in Europe in order to convey the importance of returning to the Jiba for the 100th Anniversary of Oyasama which was to be held the following year, as well as the importance of establishing the Young Men’s Association in Europe. On the road, our car broke down several times and we also had things stolen. At that time, Europe was hit by a big cold spell that it hadn’t seen for decades, adding to our hardships. However, we surmounted each difficulty before us and we were able to visit almost every follower residing in Europe. We drove a distance of about 20000 km. Then, on June 9, 1985 we were able to organize a big assembly for the founding of the Young Men’s Association in Europe at which 230 people united in the presence of the present Shinbashira. The small sanctuary at that time was only big enough for 20 people maximum. And I remember that we put up a tent in the garden and held the ceremony outside.

It was 30 years ago that the Young Men’s Association in Europe was established. We could say that that corresponds to more than a generation. From here on also, I hope that with the young members at its core, it will continue to spread the Teachings of God the Parent throughout the lands of Europe. This would be a great sign of gratitude toward the Shinbashira and Mr. Daisuke. I have great expectations for the future of the young followers in Europe.

So then, what is happiness for human beings? It seems that we have touched upon this recurrent question since the creation of mankind. Isn’t happiness the state of mind that allows us to live in “Paradise on this earth” as referred to in Oyasama’a Mikagura-Uta Songs? This is not a question of richness in the material sense of the word. So we should proceed to search for the means to attain this state of mind. For me, this is precisely the goal of our faith.

I have in the past asked several people their definition of happiness. Their responses were of course diverse, but none were desirous of obtaining great financial wealth or high social status. The majority expressed the wish to see all of their family members in good health. This is probably a universal thinking that surpasses all borders. Continuing, I asked them, “What, for you, is good health?” To which I got a short reply, “Health means not being sick.” This goes to show that, for these people, happiness is represented by the knowledge that all members of their family were not affected by illness. But is that really it? That if I myself or a member of my family were to fall ill—is that necessarily incompatible with happiness? Does illness rule out the realization of a Joyous Life? Let’s think about this. Because after all, there are many people over 50 who suffer from ailments to different degrees, whether it be pain in their joints, high blood pressure, diabetes, gout or headaches. I myself suffer from lower back pain. If illness of a family member were an obstacle to happiness then we would only find unhappy families. To begin with, what are the reasons for which God the Parent has us confront illness or hardships? It is true that we might think we’d be happier without them. But personally, I think that the very existence of these ordeals of life allow us to attain happiness. In other words, we can consider it as a means for God the Parent to guide us toward a Joyous Life.

One example in the past was an English woman who, during a European Seminary class, received the blessings of being able to walk without her cane. Without that physical illness she would not have been able to be inspired by the faith of this Path.

With a mere rise in body temperature by one degree or a strained back, we human beings can be greatly deprived of our physical freedom. It is at that time that we first realize that we are not in complete control of our bodies. Illness opens our eyes to the fact that our bodies are things loaned to us.

I once said to someone, “The body is something we borrow from God.” To which he replied, “That’s right. The body is a gift from God.” And I answered, “That’s not it.”

If it were a gift, the relationship between the giver and the receiver would end after the gift were given. I think there aren’t many people who, after receiving a gift, express their gratitude year after year, whether it be with words or visits bringing little tokens of appreciation. On the other hand, for a loan, it would be necessary to regularly thank or repay the loan in some way or other until the final return of the thing borrowed. Furthermore, the ties that bind you to the lender, or in other words to the owner of the thing lent, will last as long as the loan. In fact, keeping in mind that the body is something lent to us makes us aware of the ties that bind us to God the Parent and the necessity of somehow responding to this benevolence. Basically, the fact that our bodies are able to live and function thanks to this loan is a manifestation of God and his blessings.

We are taught in the Ofudesaki:

So long as you remain unknowing that the body is a thing borrowed,
you can understand nothing at all.(III, 137)

It is only through Hinokishin, donation or the Service that we can express our gratitude for the body that we borrow. Basically, it is impossible to understand the Teachings of Tenrikyo without grasping the Truth of “a thing lent, a thing borrowed”.

In Shinbashira’s Instruction Three, we find the following passage: “The ever-growing tendency to think that all is well if it is well for oneself is progressively weakening interpersonal ties; indeed, even family bonds seem fragile in today’s societies.”

Today, the fabric of family is worn out. Some people even ask themselves about the social status of families or of couples with questions like “Are we talking about people who live under the same roof?” or “people who are blood related?” or even “you mean individuals who are legally connected?” The family no longer constitutes a well-defined entity, but something that changes and fluctuates. What’s more, expressions like “being together” and “doing things together” are not being used as much anymore. The meals that reunite a family and intimate moments together in the living room are becoming more and more rare. Even games today are a pastime that can be done alone with a computer. The idea of the couple and marriage have equally become old-fashioned.

My wife and I returned to Japan in 2009 after having lived at this Mission Center for 25 years. My wife’s mother lives with us today. Her physical health is not the best and her intellectual capacity is also diminishing with time. So the situation is not very easy for my wife. But as she lived for 25 years far from her mother, she considers herself happy to finally be able to show her filial piety. Thus, the line between happiness and unhappiness is not drawn by the opinion of others who observe from the outside, but can only be determined by our own approach to the situation.

One Tenrikyo Yoboku follower said, “All of our family members get along. This is happiness.” Just as he said, even if a family member falls ill, when everyone gets along well, there is happiness. I would even go as far as to say that illness of a family member tends to reinforce the ties that unite the other members of the family.

During the morning and evening service, we followers sing the verses, “Representing Heaven and Earth, I have created husband and wife. This is the beginning of the world.” This is the concept of the couple that is characteristic in our Teachings. The couple is at the origin of the beginning of this world. That is why peace within the couple corresponds to the peace within the world.

Again in Instruction Three, it is said, “Let us ensure that our own families—including husband and wife, who represent the truth of the embrace of heaven and earth—are living in accord with the teachings and implementing mutual help. In this way, let us expand the circle of the Joyous Life, starting right where we are.”

Even if I insist on the importance of the couple, there are evidently many people who are divorced, separated, or single. Does that mean that these people cannot follow the Path of this Teaching? Not at all. In the Osashizu, it is written, “Even in separation, there is the Truth of brotherhood”.

Earlier I talked about the term, “together” which is progressively falling by the wayside. As for “activities to do together”, the Service has no equal. If in these Teachings we have come to emphasize brotherhood or practicing the faith as a family, it is so that we can perform the Service. This is precisely the image that a family of faith should have.

It is taught in the Ofudesaki:

Ponder from your innermost heart to understand.
Through saving others, you will be saved.(III, 47)

This is also a teaching that is unique to our religion. The moral instruction behind this has always existed. We find this in expressions like, “a good deed is never lost.”. However, this Teaching is not taught through the ethical aspect.

In their relations, God and Man are habitually portrayed by a connection in a straight line in both directions: Man prays to God asking to, “Save me” and God in turn accords His protection to Man. But in our Teachings, salvation appears in connection with a third party. To those who asked to be saved from their illness, Oyasama told them to save others. And by doing so, they were in turn saved. Thus, we can illustrate the relationship uniting God to Man through the representation of an isosceles triangle and not with a simple straight line.

We repeatedly find the terms “to save” and “to be saved” in the Ofudesaki. But in fact, they are without fail preceded by the word “sincere” as in the following verse:

If your mind is sincere,
Tsukihi will assuredly save you.(VII, 84)

In our Teachings, “true” and “sincere” correspond to a “heart that is ready to save others”.

Furthermore, we find in the Okakisage, “The mind of saving others is the real truth of sincerity alone and, by this truth of saving others, you are saved.” Here we are taught that if we save others, we ourselves will be saved at the same time.

Saving another is not without effort or difficulty. But it is because there are moments of difficulty that it is possible to appreciate moments of joy. It is in the darkness that the light is even brighter. Likewise, you can always turn on a lamp in broad daylight but it will never be noticeable. By furnishing efforts for others, however small they may be, it inevitably will be followed by joy. Further, I would even say that there is no greater joy than to hear, “it is thanks to you that I was saved.” I have the conviction that the troubles we go through to save others with sincerity and enthusiasm will always go rewarded in one way or another.

Evidently, sometimes the outcome does not immediately correspond to that which we expected. But I feel that people are more touched by the trouble and effort we go to in order to help them.

There is a Tenri University student who is now dedicatedly attending the Besseki lectures. To begin with, she was not a Tenrikyo follower. It was through one of her friends at the university that she heard about the Teachings, and as she was moved by the daily life of the followers, she also started following the Path of the faith.

Her parents had divorced when she was 4 years old. Her father then left home. She had not seen him since and she held deep resentment toward him. But several months ago, she took the initiative to go and see him. She explains today that it was while she was learning about the Teachings of Tenrikyo that the resentment she held against her father disappeared. And at that time, her mother who absolutely does not believe in God said “How wonderful religion is!”

By the way, did you know that in the animal kingdom, polygyny, where males of a certain species have several female mates, constitutes the norm? Long ago, it was the same for human beings. We could ask ourselves why the opposite, polyandry, where females have several male mates, was not common. Personally, I believe that it is because with polyandry, it would not be possible to know the identity of the father of a newborn. With humans, we can know by DNA testing. However, in nature, it would not be possible. We can assume that as there is no greater sorrow than to not know one’s own parents, the animal world naturally rejected polyandry.

Furthermore, throughout the world, it is not rare to see people who stay single their whole lives, without a husband or a wife. Just as there are many others who might not have children, an uncle, an aunt or siblings. However, there is not a single person who does not have parents. Of course, there are those who, for some reason or other do not know their parents, who have lost them early or who have never met them. But even those people had at one time in their lives their parents. There is no one on this earth who did not come from the union of their parents. Among all the different types of relations that bind a human being to another, the only one that is equally attributed to all of us is that of having parents.

And if we think about it, we use the term “Oya” which means parent, for Oyagami (God the Parent) as well as for Oyasama who are the objectives of our prayers. It is a sign of solicitude so that each of us may fully experience the depth of this relationship. With regard to Oyagami (God the Parent), Oyasama asked us to consider God the Parent in the same way as the parents who brought us into this world. Parents would not have their children carry a load that is too heavy for them. They would only ask them to carry a load in relation to their physical strength. In other words, God the Parent Oyagami would never make human beings, his children, endure difficulties which are too unbearable for them. Daily problems or physical illnesses are given to us because God the Parent deems us capable of assuming the load. Considering this, I am convinced that it is possible to live with enthusiasm even in the face of adversity.

Last winter, I drove through a snowstorm to a Tenrikyo Church in order to give a conference. I brushed with death several times as my car skidded on the road. While driving, I regretted taking my car thinking, “I should have cancelled”. At that very moment, I heard the word “Tenrikyo” on the radio. I first thought I had misheard it. But listening attentively, I heard the radio announcer continue to say “Hinokishin in Tenrikyo is...” and he broadcasted a message that could spread the Teachings of Tenrikyo. Even in the midst of a violent storm, it was a delicious moment of happiness for me. It really filled me with enthusiasm. So I thought to myself that even this crisis was sent to me by God the Parent. And by facing it courageously, my happiness was overflowing. At the same time I was assured that the difficulties endured for the Path are always recognized by God the Parent.

In his sermon at the Spring Grand Festival of last year, Shinbashira said the following: “May Yoboku followers living in the same region get together regardless of their church affiliation. I would like followers to meet fellow followers... and I am hoping that they will encourage one another to start a movement to continually influence their local communities.”

With all my heart, I hope that all the Yoboku followers who live in Europe mutually help and encourage one another in order to spread this Path. And I conclude my sermon by urging as many people as possible to return to the Jiba on January 26th of next year for the 130th Anniversary of Oyasama.

Thank you very much.