Tenrikyo Europe Centre

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2016 August Monthly Service Sermon

by Saburo Morishita (Professor of Department of Area Studies of Faculty of International Studies of Tenri University)

Who would have imagined that a person like me – born and raised in a tiny Tenrikyo church in Los Angeles California – would be standing here before you today to give the sermon? Although some of you may have anticipated it, I for one, never did!

I came to the Centre for the very first time thirty years ago last month enrout to begin my studies in Italy. Back in those days, the worship hall was on the second floor in a different building which no longer stands, and its size was about the size of a residential living room. Now, as we can see, and may even take for granted today, this worship hall is so spacious, with its very high ceilings and natural light that shines through its enormous windows, its beautiful colors blending in such harmony. The significance of this special place becomes that much more important when we keep in mind the reason why it was built, and most of all, by whom: this place for doing the service is not only the result of combined sincere dedication and efforts of a countless number of you on the path in Europe, both young and old, bold enough to aim high in building a house of God, but this is also testimony of dedication and fire of faith by those who continue to make good use of it today.

It was also thirty years ago this October that Tenrikyo was officially invited to attend the first World Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi Italy. For some of you it may seem as though it was held only yesterday. Let us recall that it was the very first time that Tenrikyo wore what we are wearing today for the service, otsutome gi, and the very first time to do the seated service and dance the eight verses of the yorozuyo and entire twelve songs of the Mikagura-uta in public as a prayer for world peace. Rev. Chikayoshi Kamada, head of the Centre at that time, even brought with him wooden stands for the five dancers, a cassette tape of the Mikagura-uta, and believe it or not, a black rectangular cassette player to play it: when the “play” button was pressed, the Tenrikyo delegation naturally rose up and began to “dance.” Tenrikyo was assigned to publicly pray outdoors on a grassy lawn square in front of a medieval church called San Pietro, emerging graciously, overlooking the agricultural medieval town a few hundred meters below.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Tenrikyo delegation for I just happened to begin my studies a few months earlier in a town 26 kilometers away. Nobody knew what we were getting ourselves into since that special gathering was the very first time for everyone – even for members of the centuries old Catholic Church!

A question I usually get is whether or not I was embarrassed doing what we did and the way we did it: dancing to songs of the Mikagura-uta in our service garments (otsutome gi), and above all, in front of so many people – especially the media from throughout the world – outdoors. To this question I answer, “of course I was,” but to be honest, I was more embarrassed toward the end of our prayer when the Mikagura-uta began slowing down and get sluggish due to the dying battery level of the cassette player! (your supposed to laugh here).

Jokes aside, I was sort of accustomed to this type of “Tenrikyo display” prior to stepping foot on European soil as the Tenrikyo activities at my church in Los Angeles in the early 1980s consisted of many other “embarrassing” moments as doing kamina-nagashi in the neighborhood and beyond, you know, hoisting the huge elongated flag with the puzzling Chinese characters “Tenri-O-no-Mikoto” inscribed onto it, beating the wooden clappers, and singing the eight verses of the yorozuyo as we paraded along. We also did hinokishin in the neighborhood, sweeping filthy streets filled with beer bottles and other used up party by-products, and then putting the dirty debris into trash bags with our bare hands; from time to time, we even went for door-to-door niogake which was at that time considered quite dangerous.

Such activities done in front of, and to, others were and still are of course, “embarrassing,” but the rationale when engaging in them, our elders taught and tried to instil into us, was that these very activities were not your typical activities, and as such, were not carried out to be judged by other people. The real and true judges were God the Parent and Oyasama who, by the way, would be so very delighted and happy upon seeing such sacred acts being carried out. We were engaging in these acts on behalf of, and for, God, materialising God’s work as it were in human space and time. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed; rather, we should implement them if and when we can with conviction, with confidence, coupled with a sense of pride and dignity. Kamina-nagashi, doing door-to-door nioigake, hinokishin activities in the neighborhood, and doing the hand dance in public, therefore, all share a common thread that though they may be embarrasing and difficult to carry out at first, these very accomplishments will bring great delight and joy to God the Parent.

And so when it was time to dance the twelve songs at the Prayer for Peace in the otsutome gi in front of so many who did not know who or what we were, therefore, it was easy for me to recall the things I was taught growing up – that these Tenrikyo things, however absurd and foreign they might appear to bystanders and so very difficult to carry out today – were and still are worthwhile and respectable activities in the eyes of God. Today, I still continue to think that its easier said than done.

Most of the time, the Tenrikyo service is not done in public spaces, but in enclosed private, sacred spaces such as this one. Its formally done not only with the special service garment, but also with musical instruments and singers. We do the service, as we did today, together in harmony and with others in community. Parallel to what I mentioned earlier regarding this worship hall and my experience of dancing the Mikagura-uta publicly, allow me now to use what little time there remains to share with you what I’ve been pondering on with regard to the service.

I have come to think that the service represents an ideal state for which we not only try to achieve while actually doing the service, but more importantly, a state, or mode of being, we try to maintain and carry over long after the service is done. The service is a reminder of the way our lives ought to and could be if only we carry out what God tells us to do. The proof of achieving that ideal state would be living a highly spirited and vibrant Joyous Life each and every day. In other words, the service is a model of the Joyous Life – the very reflection of joyousness realised through and through. As a model, therefore, it serves as a criteria, a point of reference, for all our ways of thinking and doing as we strive to live joyously. One of the most basic criteria that emerges out of the service is this: well-balanced and complimentary interactions with others are so very indispensable for the realisation of the Joyous Life. If we emphasise the individual roles of the service – each of the nine musical instruments, the dancers, the singers, and also the worshipers who are there to celebrate – I feel that each separate piece is always interacting with other separate pieces to form a perfect whole.

To demonstrate this rather simple idea of complementary interactions with others, lets take the wooden clappers as our example. It consists of two refined pieces of wood and works when we bring them together. This sound is a rhythmic continuous balanced beat that runs throughout the songs, beginning to end. Sometimes it gets tricky when it has a double beat, but in principle, the wooden clappers is somewhat like the heartbeat of the service, pulsing from start to finish.

Interacting harmoniously with the wooden clappers is the high echoing clatter of the cymbals. This instrument never rings simultaneously with the wooden clappers – it resonates precisely on the opposite beat. If the service has both a down beat and an up beat, the wooden clappers sound on the down beat, and the cymbals clang on the up one. If the wooden clappers represents the right hand, then the cymbals could just may in fact represent the left. Taken together, though, they mesh perfectly to create one continuous steady stream throughout the service, that is, their interactions remind us of a balanced unfolding process toward the Joyous Life.

This might be used to describe interactions with a total “other.” Through this realisation, we maintain a certain type of complementarity: if I am ebony, the other is ivory. If I am the moon, the other is the sun. If I am low, the other is high, and so on and so forth. This harmonious balance interacting symbolically with others just might prove to be one important key to joyous living as shown through this simple, but oftentimes taken for granted, example of the wooden clappers interacting or conversing with the cymbals during the service.

The second reason why I believe the service is a model for the Joyous Life lies in the way the service performance demands a unity of minds. The Joyous Life, too, necessitates this very important mode of being in our daily lives. As individual performers of the service, then, we are constantly aware what the other instrument players are playing, how other dancers are dancing, and the way singers sing. We are also aware of the audience keeping pace with what is being put together by the service performers. Playing a specific instrument or dancing is not something we do for their own sake, but rather, something we do together. And when doing it together, we listen, consider, and react to those who are trying their best in fulfilling their roles. Performing the service is as much an externalisation of expressions as the internalisation of them.

A true unity of minds will therefore entail that the various parts – all which are detrimental for the performance of the service – melt into one. But what do those parts melt into? A unity of minds can only take place if we are able to rid ourselves of our self-centered imaginations, and by riding ourselves of those imaginations, we naturally melt into one with God. That is, when individual performers begin to perform for the sake of performing without consideration of what others are doing, it will only lead to mortification. In retrospect, therefore, all performers are asked that they have God the Parent at the center of their thoughts when doing the service. Likewise, and way after the service performance is done, if we are able to rid ourselves of our self-centered imaginations, we shall naturally have God the Parent at the center of our thoughts in our everyday life, enabling us to live the Joyous Life. As such, joyous living will emerge of itself, naturally and spontaneously, through and through.

Finally, and before closing my sermon today, I would just like to mention that the efforts in engaging in those “embarrassing” Tenrikyo activities probably did not directly effect the growth of our church or increase the number of followers – its still a small tiny congregation located in the same neighborhood in the same residential building. However, and as I may have alluded herein from time to time, no one can possibly predict and know for sure what fruits will grow from our efforts and, as I would have never imagined myself standing before you to do the sermon on this auspicious occasion today, it just may be that those small reluctant activities carried out on behalf of Tenrikyo on the streets of Los Angeles has allowed me to share these thoughts with you – and I only have God the Parent and Oyasama to thank for this occasion. Allow me, then, to end with an appropriate Ofudesaki verse for today’s sermon:

Perhaps people will say: What are you doing?
But the laughter of people will be God’s delight.Ofudesaki I: 72

May Oyasama be with you!

Thank you for your attention.