Miki Nakayama

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Miki Nakayama 中山みき (4/18/1798–1/26/1887; dates according to lunar calendar), or Oyasama, as she is referred to by her followers, is the founder of Tenrikyo. Her maiden name is Maegawa.

Analysis of the word "Oyasama"

The word "Oyasama" is composed of two elements:

  1. "Oya" or "Parent"
  2. "-sama," an honorific suffix (more reverential than the more common "-san")

Tenrikyo is unique that the two kanji that are applied to "Oyasama" are the kanji for "kyōso" 教祖 (founder) instead of what would be normally or more intuitively applied: 親様.

It appears this convention came to be as a compromise between factions who wished to refer to Miki Nakayama as "Oyasama" (written in hiragana, i.e: おやさま) as she was called during her lifetime and those who wished to refer to her as "go-kyōso" or "kyōso-sama," which was a later development influenced by Tenrikyo's time being supervised by the Shinto Honkyoku.[1] The convention to write Oyasama as "教祖" is also useful in that it helps clearly differentiate Miki Nakayama/Oyasama from Oyagami-sama 親神様 or God the Parent in writing.

While it appears to be a convention in the Pure Land Buddhist tradition in Japan to call its principle deity of worship, Amida Buddha, "Oyasama" as well[2], it is unclear whether this reflects an influence on Tenrikyo, a part of a larger trend in Japanese religion, or an unrelated coincidence.

A brief chronology of the life of Miki Nakayama

Miki was born in Sanmaiden Village in Yamabe County, Yamato Province, as the eldest daughter of Hanshichi Masanobu and Kinu Maegawa on 4/18/1798 (lunar calendar). Miki Nakayama lived during a time of great social upheaval and change: 70 of the final years of the Edo period (1600–1867) and the first 20 years of the Meiji period (1868–1912), when Japan was transformed from a feudal society ruled by Shogun and samurai into a modern monarchy.

The social status of Miki's father Hanshichi Masanobu Maegawa was that of a musokunin, which a quasi-peasant/samurai designation that allowed him the use of a surname and to wear a sword. This designation was bestowed upon him by the local feudal lord in exchange for supplying the fief with lumber from the mountains he owned. It was also a promotion limited to himself alone that could not be passed down to his descendants.[3]

In 1810, Miki was married to Zenbei Nakayama, the eldest son of a peasant landowning family of Shoyashiki Village, Yamabe County, that held some prestige in the area.

The first revelation

Miki is said to have been a model housewife and lived a relatively normal life for a woman of her time until the 10th lunar month of 1837. Shuji, the Nakayamas' eldest child and only son, suddenly experienced a pain in his leg. The Nakayamas turned to medical help and prayers to ease Shuji's pain, but to no avail. The Nakayamas then went to a renown Buddhist ascetic/healer by the name of Ichibei Nakano for assistance.

Ichibei ultimately decided to conduct an "incantation" (yose-kaji) to heal Shuji. This incantation was an elaborate and costly ritual where the Nakayama family invited everyone from the village to pray for Shuji's recovery and treated everyone who attended to a feast. While the incantation proved to be temporarily effective, the pain Shuji's leg would return. The ceremony was repeated nine times over a year.

On the night of the 10/23 (lunar calendar) in 1838, on top of Shuji being in pain, Zenbei suffered from pain in his eyes and Miki pain in her back. The healer Ichibei happened to be in the village, and he was summoned immediately in this hour of crisis for the Nakayama household. Ichibei called for another incantation.

However, the woman known as Soyo, who had until then served as the medium (miko) Ichibei used to communicate with the gods and spirits, could not be found and Miki served as medium in Soyo's place.

The incantation began the next morning, on the 24th. The ritual follow its usual routine where Ichibei identified the god or spirit responsible for the pain, the reason why the pain began, and finally, the means to appease the god or spirit. Instead, God the Parent spoke through Miki's lips, announcing:

"I am God of Origin, God in Truth. There is causality in this Residence. At this time I have descended here to save humankind. I wish to receive Miki as the Shrine of God."[4]

While the healer Ichibei and Miki's husband Zenbei initially refused God the Parent's demand, God would not take no for an answer. Negotiations continued over the next couple of days.

Finally, however, Zenbei, concerned over his wife's health, acceded to God's demand and assented to have Miki become Oyasama or the Shrine of God the Parent on the morning of the 10/26 (lunar), a date celebrated on October 26 each year as the Autumn Grand Service that marks the founding of Tenrikyo.

As the Shrine of God

It is said that Oyasama spent much of the subsequent next three years in the storehouse, neglecting her duties as a mother and housewife to have dialogues with God the Parent[5] Among first of God the Parent's commands was for the Nakayama family to "fall to the depths of poverty." Oyasama gave away her possessions and that of the Nakayama household in a prolonged act that was seen as excessive charity, to the point where the Nakayama family mansion was dismantled. It was considered disrespectful to treat what one inherited from one's ancestors in such a manner[6], and Oyasama was derided as insane and being possessed by a fox spirit or a god of poverty. In time, Oyasama and her family were treated as outcasts by her relatives and fellow villagers.

Oyasama is said to have initiated the Grant of Safe Childbirth in 1854 for the sake of expectant mothers. The Grant guaranteed the recipient a smooth and safe delivery of her child, quite significant during a time before modern medicine, when childbirth was potentially fatal for the mother and newborn. Oyasama eventually offered cures for a variety of illnesses and her reputation as a living god spread throughout the countryside of Yamato (presently Nara Prefecture), and she gradually attracted a devoted following, which drew envy from other religious figures in the area.

1864 proved to be a decisive year in the history of Oyasama's growing religious movement, for it was the year when she gained the loyalty of several influential men such as Izo Iburi, Chushichi Yamanaka, and Ryojiro Yamazawa. Construction of the Place for the Service, which would be used as Tenrikyo's first sanctuary, in use until the construction of the present North Worship Hall began in the ninth lunar month and was largely completed by the following year (1865).

Opposition and persecution

Since Oyasama was a farming landowner's housewife, she was not legally permitted to be a religious teacher. This became a serious issue toward the last years of the Edo period and especially so from the Meiji period, when the majority of what she taught—contained in Scriptures called the Ofudesaki (The Tip of the Writing Brush) and Mikagura-uta (The Songs for the Service)—conflicted with the government policy of making State Shinto the national religion of Japan and its canonical texts such as the Kojiki and Nihongi.

Thus, Oyasama was arrested or imprisoned on no less than 17 occasions for this very reason. Despite of such government interference and persecution, Oyasama is said to have remained cheerful and steadfast with her calls to her followers to perform the Service—the ritual she taught as God the Parent's means to purify the minds of humanity and bring about world salvation.

Tension among followers who wished to obey her urgings to perform the Service but who were also worried by performing it would attract the attention of the police and thus cause more imprisonment for Oyasama came to a climax in 1887. From this time, Oyasama used her physical condition to urge her followers to perform the Service and she increasingly spent more of her time in bed. A long detainment in prison during the previous winter seemed to be taking its toll. The fact that Gisaburo Nakata, who was detained with her, died in June 1886 only gave followers more reason to be concerned.

Oyasama's physical condition was perceived as her way to test the resolve of the faithful to perform the Service at all cost. Though these demands were met with hesitancy, followers asked for time so they could practice the hand movements of the ritual. Oyasama's physical condition initially improved but deteriorated once again.

As the followers were pressed by the urgency of the situation, they were motivated to perform the Service on 1/26 (lunar calendar) with the willingness of risking their lives if it were necessary. The performance of the Service that day did not result even a single police officer coming to interrupt it, which was considered a miracle in itself.

"Withdrawal from physical life" and the "everliving" Oyasama

However, contrary to the expectations that the performance of the Service would allow Oyasama to recover, as soon as the last refrain of the last Song was sung, Oyasama, who was listening with joy to the sounds of the Mikagura-uta, drew her last breath. She was 90 years old. Presently, Tenrikyo calls her death a "withdrawal from physical life," a euphemism that is reserved for Oyasama alone.

By this time, Izo Iburi, based on the Grant of Divine Utterance he received from Oyasama in 1875, also had the ability to communicate God the Parent's words. Once the devastated followers were able to gather their composure, they approached Izo to inquire the divine will. God the Parent delivered the following message through Izo:

"Because of My love for you, My children, the Parent shortened Her life by twenty-five years to step out and save the world from now. Observe well. Observe well what the path has been and what the path will become. . . Sah, there was a thing I intended to give My children but I was not able. I shall bestow this truth on you step by step hereafter. Remember this well."[7]

It was explained here that Oyasama cut short her life by 25 years so her "children" could perform the Service without worrying about the police coming to arrest her further emphasized the central importance of the ritual. God the Parent also informed followers that Oyasama in the meantime would continue to lead the movement without a physical body, which established the fundamental Tenrikyo doctrine of Oyasama as "everliving."

Further, the words "There was a thing I had intended to give to My children but I was not able. I shall bestow this truth on you step by step hereafter" referred to the Sazuke. Because of the oppression of Oyasama and her followers by the police, she did not have the opportunity to bestow the truth of the Sazuke on most followers during Her physical life. Through the above Divine Direction, Oyasama promised that she would remain everliving, and that she would gradually begin bestowing the truth of the Sazuke through Izo.

The "roles" of Oyasama

Tenrikyo theology holds that Oyasama has the three following "roles" (tachiba) as the founder of Tenrikyo that make her unique in the eyes of Tenrikyo adherents:

  1. the Shrine of Tsukihi (Tsukihi no Yashiro)
  2. the Parent of the Divine Model (Hinagata no Oya)
  3. the truth of the everliving Oyasama (go-zonmei no Oyasama no ri)[8]

The Shrine of Tsukihi

The settling of Oyasama as the Shrine of Tsukihi is seen as the founding of Tenrikyo. The expression "Shrine of Tsukihi" ("Tsukihi" being Moon-Sun, or one of the ways God the Parent is referred to in the Ofudesaki) describes Oyasama's unique role as the source of God the Parent's revelation and salvation, which represents a central tenet of Tenrikyo. In her role as the Shrine of Tsukihi, although her outward appearance was that of a human being, Oyasama's thoughts and words are considered to be that of God the Parent's. This is given expression in the Ofudesaki as follows:

"These thoughts of Tsukihi are spoken through Her: the mouth is human, the mind is that of Tsukihi. Listen! I, Tsukihi, am borrowing Her mouth wholly, and I, Tsukihi, am lending My mind wholly."[9]

Also, as Oyasama is said to represent God the Parent incarnate as well as the "dynamic" aspect of God the Parent. This is expressed in the phrase "Moon-Sun on Earth" (chijo no Tsukihi), as opposed to, assumingly, Tsukihi or Moon-Sun in the heavens.

The Parent of the Divine Model

Perhaps the most confusing of expressions concerning Oyasama, especially for English-speaking adherents who often assert along the lines of: "How can Oyasama be the Parent of the Divine Model? She is the Divine Model."

However, the expression "the Parent of the Hinagata" may also imply that Oyasama is just the first and original "Parent" of future exemplary models (hinagata) to come. To elaborate on this possible implication, the term "hinagata" is used in the Osashizu in limited contexts to refer to the model of devotion as shown by Iburi Izo.[10]

In any case, the fifty years Oyasama spent as the Shrine of Tsukihi is often referred to as Her "Hinagata" or "Divine Model," or the exemplary life that she led that demonstrates to guide all humanity to lead the Joyous Life.

The truth of the everliving Oyasama

Oyasama is considered as being alive in spirit or "everliving" by Tenrikyo adherents. Her passing in 1887 is described as her "withdrawal from physical life," implying that Oyasama had merely discarded her physical form and continues to guide and assist her "children" similar in the manner she did during her physical lifetime.

Another important attribute of Oyasama not covered above is that she is considered as having the soul of the mother at creation. According to Tenrikyo's creation story, the founding of Tenrikyo and the settling of Oyasama as the Shrine of Tsukihi represents a fulfillment of a promise God the Parent made at creation.

See also

External links


  1. 中山正善 Nakayama Shozen. 『続 ひとことはなし』 Zoku Hitokoto-hanashi, pp. 1–5.
  2. Brenion, Frederick. "Oyez! Oyasama."
  3. 天理教道友社編 Tenrikyo Doyusha, ed. 『ひながた紀行』 Hinagata kiko, p. 15, n. 15.
  4. The Life of Oyasama, Foundress of Tenrikyo — Manuscript Edition (third edition), p. 1. (online version); The Doctrine of Tenrikyo (tenth edition), p. 3.
  5. Anecdotes of Oyasama 3.
  6. 『ひながた紀行』 Hinagata kiko, p. 56.
  7. Osashizu 1887-02-18 pm; The Life of Oyasama, p. 240.
  8. 「教祖」 "Oyasama," 『改訂天理教辞典』 Kaitei Tenrikyo jiten, pp. 146–148. For English equivalent, see A Glossary of Tenrikyo Terms, pp. 268–274.
  9. Ofudesaki 12:67–68.
  10. See Osashizu 1889-11-07-10:40 pm.

Other references